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AMERICAN ATHEIST

A Journal of Atheist News and Thought 1st Quarter 2017

Vol. 55, No. 1

ISSN 0516-9623 (Print) ISSN 1935-8369 (Online)

55, No. 1 ISSN 0516-9623 (Print) ISSN 1935-8369 (Online) EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Pamela Whissel PWhissel@Atheists.org

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Pamela Whissel PWhissel@Atheists.org

LAYOUT and GRAPHICS EDITOR Rick Wingrove RWingrove@Atheists.org

COPY EDITOR

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1ST QUARTER 2017

Wiki Commons
Wiki Commons

On the cover: The National Prayer Breakfast is one of the most flagrant demonstrations of government mingling with religion. This year, Trump promised to repeal the law barring churches from endorsing or funding candidates for public office. If he succeeds, a significant piece of the wall of separation will be gone. Story on page 28.

In This Issue

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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Religion May Save Us After All | Pamela Whissel

On Congress, the Pope, and the Separation of Church and State | Rob Kirkpatrick

A Most Righteous Adventure | Natasha Stoynoff

DOGMA WATCH Balderdash on The Mount | Michael B. Paulkovich

Recovery without God | Elle Mott

Display the Ten Commandments Now! | Brian Bolton

DANTHROPOLOGY An Activist’s Toolkit | Dan Arel

It’s Time to Eat Some Babies! | Steve Cass

COVER STORY Political Action Churches | Amanda Knief

Dealing with Political Irrationality | Gleb Tsipursky

Why I Am An Atheist | Clint Barger

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 3

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Religion May Save Us After All A s Atheists, you and

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Religion May Save Us After All A s Atheists, you and I

Religion May Save Us After All

A s Atheists, you and I are still putting our faith in

an invisible, omnipresent savior who is powerful

enough to make sure that everything eventually

happens for the best. Despite occasional doubts, we are okay with leaving our fate in its hands. Unlike the other deities, this one sometimes does deliver when invoked. And because it sometimes delivers, we’re understandably tricked into believing it’s real. Just like god, this one is given different names by different people—names like Someone Else, The Organized Activists, or The Citizens Who Have All The Necessary Information. I tend to put my faith in The Citizen Who Has More Time Than I Do. Just like religion, this belief system masks the truth, which in this case is that the wall of separation between religion and government has never been weaker. The situation is identical to the truth about climate change. Unless we all do our part right now, life as we know it will no longer be sustainable. Here’s just a fraction of the evidence. Donald Trump is determined to get rid of the law barring churches from endorsing and funding political candidates. 1 When he was governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence successfully imposed his Evangelical religious agenda on state legislation several times. 2 Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not sure if a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a religious person. 3 Education Secretary Betsy DeVos believes that education reform should advance god’s kingdom. 4 In his confirmation hearing, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made a point of saying that he is “driven by morals and values.” 5 Those morals and values are driven by a literal interpretation of the Bible. So what do we do? This time, we don’t invoke Someone Else. We become Someone Else. Then, for the rest of our lives, we religiously practice the sacred rituals of democracy:

participating and voting. And although we may have doubts along the way, we must put our faith in this way of life. Just like twice-a-year Christians who say that it wouldn’t be Christmas or Easter without going to church, we believe that it wouldn’t be Primary Day or Election Day without going to the polls. And just like Jews who wouldn’t think of going a week without observing the sabbath, we wouldn’t think of going a week without observing a local government meeting. And just like Muslims who stop what they’re doing five times a day to pray, we stop just once a day to make five phone calls—one each to these people: your U.S senators, U.S. representative, state senator, and state representative. Add their numbers to your contact list, and it will take no more than five minutes. What do you say to them? If you flip through the pages of this issue, you’ll find plenty of ideas. Because they believe their salvation depends on it, religious Americans always find time for their rituals. We need to do the same. The wall that this country has already built needs saving, and we can use religion to make it great again.

1. “Read President Trump’s Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast,” by Ryan Teague Beckwith, Feb. 2, 2017, Time.com.

2. “Mike Pence’s Journey: Catholic Democrat to Evangelical Republican,” by Jonathan Mahler and Dirk Johnson, July 20, 2016, NYTimes.com.

3. “Attorney General Confirmation Hearing, Day 1, Part 3,” Jan. 10, 2017, C-Span.org (at 04:22).

4. “Trump’s Education Pick Says Reform Can ‘Advance God’s Kingdom,’” by Benjamin Wermund, Dec. 2, 2016, Politico.com.

5. “Housing and Urban Development Secretary Confirmation Hearing,” Jan. 12, 2017, C-Span.org (at 01:05:14).

Hearing,” Jan. 12, 2017, C-Span.org (at 01:05:14). Pamela Whissel Editor-in-Chief PWhissel@Atheists.org 4 |

Pamela Whissel Editor-in-Chief PWhissel@Atheists.org

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On COngress, the POPe, and the seParatiOn Of ChurCh and state

by Rob Kirkpatrick

W e Americans rightly tout our constitutional

separation of church and state, yet we routinely

look the other way when this wall of separation is

breached. Witness the example of the Red Mass, strategically held in Washington, D.C., every year on the Sunday before the first Monday in October, when the U.S. Supreme Court convenes for the purpose, as Andrew Seidel observes, “to ask for God’s guidance for the Supreme Court justices and others who work in the law.” 1 In 2010, Sandhya Bathija reported on that year’s Red Mass, attended by five Supreme Court justices and Vice President Joe Biden, in which “all of us heard Archbishop J. Augustive Di Noia, an American who now works at the Vatican, give a homily that instructed those in attendance on how they should feel about same-sex marriage, abortion, and the dire threat of ‘humanism.’” 2 When Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the man known now as Pope Francis, addressed a Joint Session of Congress in September 2015, it was universally lauded as an historic moment. And I agree it was an historic moment, as it was a breach of the wall of separation for which there was no precedent—and one that set an unsettling precedent for the future. First,wemustacknowledgehowrareitisforaforeigndignitary, much less a religious leader, to address both congressional houses. According to the “History, Art, and Archives” site for the U.S. House of Representatives, “Only twice have foreign dignitaries addressed a Joint Session of Congress: French Ambassador

Andre de Laboulaye, to mark the centennial of the death of the Marquis de Lafayette, and Cuban Ambassador Guillermo Belt, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Cuban independence after the Spanish-American War in 1898.” To further highlight the privileged nature of the joint session as a space for public addresses, the web site notes, “A Joint Session of Congress has been used almost exclusively to receive the President’s State of the Union Address (prior to 1942 called the Annual Message), other presidential addresses, and the counting of electoral votes for the President and Vice President of the U.S.” 3 Clearly, the pope’s invitation came from the space of religious privilege in America, and it is noteworthy that the invitation was formally issued to the pope by House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both of whom happen to be Catholics. “Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service,” Boehner said in a press release. “His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us—the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn—has awakened hearts on every continent.” 4 Boehner avoided overt reference to Catholicism, though his reference to “the unborn” is surely a reference to the Roman Catholic doctrine on abortion. Pelosi’s comments were more overtly religious: “Ever since his inauguration in 2013, Pope Francis has renewed the faith of Catholics worldwide and

Clearly, the pope was afforded a privileged space to address Congress purely through his status as a leader of a global religion.

It was an historic moment, as it was a breach of the wall of separation for which there was no precedent.

inspired a new generation of people, regardless of religious affiliation, to be instruments of God’s peace. In the spirit of his namesake and the namesake of my city of San Francisco, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis heeds the call to ‘Preach the gospel; sometimes use words’ [sic] by living his values and inspiring all of us to do the same.” 5 Indeed, the faith-based nature of Francis’ speech was clear. He began by telling Congress: “Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.” Certainly, the pope has a right to come to America and to address his followers in person, as he did for multiple events in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, in addition to his personal audience with our nation’s chief executive. But the invitation for him to speak to our official body of elected lawmakers—again, an invitation delivered by members of his particular faith, and for a forum normally reserved for the president of the United States or the Electoral College— was a clear act of preferential treatment granted before a body established for determining public policy. Given the Christian-majority population of America and (disproportionately) its political leaders, as well as the popularity of Francis with the liberal perspectives (relative to recent popes) he has voiced on some long-standing, controversial issues of Church doctrine, very few people noted the problem his congressional audience posed for the principles of a secular state. The arguments I’ve heard used to defend the occasion of his address, however, do not hold up if we are to be sincere in our efforts to protect separation of church and state. To address these one by one:

He’s not just a religious leader. He’s the head of an independent state, so it’s appropriate that he speak before Congress. This argument smacks of trying to get off on a technicality— and one that is easily countered. Aside from the fact that there is very little precedent for foreign heads of state addressing the entire Congress, it’s abundantly clear the pope was not invited because of his role as the head of the independent state. Did Boehner invite Francis so the United States could strengthen diplomatic ties or forge trade agreements with the fewer than 900 people who live in the 110-acre subdivision within Rome (a subdivision, by the way, which neither houses a U.S. embassy nor has a distinct one in a remote location)? In that case, I

believe I’ve missed similar invitations to Prince Hans-Adam II of Lichtenstein, Prince Albert II of Monaco, or the Captain Regents of San Marino. Clearly, the pope was afforded a privileged space to address Congress purely through his status as a leader of a global religion. If there is any doubt on this point, Boehner’s and Pelosi’s collective comments on his invitation, and the nature of the address, reveal this to be so. The pope’s speech lacked any reference to the Vatican state, trade policy, or geopolitical relations. On the other hand, it included allusions to “God” (nine times), “religion” (seven times), “Moses” (three times), “faith” (three times), “Catholic” (once), and three American religious figures (Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, and Dorothy Day).

But he had a positive message of peace and love. I am sympathetic to some of the pope’s sentiments, such as when he warned against income inequity and the excesses of global capitalism—though less so to the message sent by his canonization of Junípero Serra 6, 7 or his argument downplaying the Church’s sexism because it’s a “la” and not an “il.” 8 But this is irrelevant. Whether we like a religion is not a conversation we should have in this context, any more so than we should judge the politics of someone’s free speech before we selectively decide to respect their constitutionally protected freedom of speech. Do we want our elected officials to decide which religion, or religious message, we authorize, endorse, or give preferential treatment to? Does this not set a dangerous precedent? Now that we’ve granted this privilege to the Roman Catholic faith, which representatives from what other religions will we allow to address Congress? And who is to make that decision? Or is Congress granting preference to this one faith alone? And if so, on what constitutional basis?

As a global leader with many followers throughout the world, he deserves our respect. I’m sorry? Who is anyone to tell non-Catholics the head cleric of the Roman Catholic faith deserves their respect? And is having a sizeable audience of worldwide followers really the criterion we are to use now for issuing an invitation to speak to Congress? Shall we then invite Salafist cleric Mohamad al-Arefe, a man with 15.9 million followers on Twitter—six million more than the pope has? For that matter, shall we invite Katy Perry with her 93.6 million followers, 15.43 million more than Obama and seventy-one million more than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton combined? While these might seem like unlikely events, let’s consider some other hypothetical scenarios:

• Pat Robertson is invited to speak to Congress by virtue of his

Is Congress granting preference to this one faith alone? And if so, on what constitutional basis?

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Now that we’ve granted this privilege to the Roman Catholic faith, which representatives from what other religions will we allow to address Congress?

appeal to right-wing Christians, and he espouses his views of marriage with the husband as “the head of the wife.” 9

• At the suggestion of Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a high-ranking leader of the Church of Latter Day Saints is invited to speak to Congress, and he instructs our lawmakers about the sinfulness of homosexual acts. 10

• In an attempt to strengthen oil diplomacy, Congress invites a member of the ruling family from the rigid theocracy of Saudi Arabia—which our government recognizes as an ally, after all—to address Congress, and he voices intolerance of non-believers of Wahhabism or pushes for Islamic teachings to be incorporated into American school curricula. 11, 12, 13

In such instances, how quickly would the same people who have defended the pope’s speaking before Congress jump up to cry, “Separation of church and state!”? Ultimately, when it comes to protecting this wall of separation, it shouldn’t matter whether we like the message of a given religious leader. The government is not supposed to be in that business. Once they cross that line, they are, at the very least, creating an appearance of impropriety in giving a stamp of approval—an official endorsement of legitimacy granted by our lawmakers—to the establishment or practice of that religion.

But it’s good for world leaders to talk to each other. During his visit to the U.S., the pope did speak to the United Nations General Assembly, the appropriate venue for his mingling with other world leaders, and he was welcomed at the White House. Being granted an official audience, in his capacity as a cleric, with the lawmakers of our constitutionally secular state, is beyond the pale. And just imagine the cry of religious “insensitivity” if, for instance, the State Department sent an emissary from American Atheists to deliver moral instruction to the Holy See.

We have separation of church and state but other nations don’t, so we should respect this. This strikes me as similar to the regressive argument that America or the West should consider limitations on free speech out of “respect for” or “sensitivity to” other nations’ blasphemy laws. I disagree with this dangerous idea and hope any rational person would also.

What’s wrong with a little religion? We can’t force our lawmakers to be Atheists. We don’t require our lawmakers to be Atheists. We require them to be secular in their capacities as elected officials. We live in a nation where lawmakers are prohibited from favoring one religion over another. Not only do our lawmakers have an obligation to keep their personal religious perspectives out of the

lawmaking process, it’s actually a very good idea on a practical level for maintaining a pluralistic society. This wall of separation is not about elimination; it’s about mutual protection. In closing, let’s recall the words of Catholic President John F. Kennedy, who said: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute—where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act…I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source—where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.” What sounded reasonable then should not be an unreasonable expectation today.

Rob Kirkpatrick is a literary agent, author, and former acquisitions editor who has worked in the book publishing industry for nearly two decades. He was the editor and publisher of Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World by David Silverman, president of American Atheists. You can follow Rob at @wrappedupinboox.

Endnotes:

1. “Black Robes at the Red Mass: The Undesirable Religiosity of Supreme Court Justices,” by Andrew L. Seidel, Oct. 4, 2016, Patheos.com/blogs/FreethoughtNow

2. “Red Mass Mandate: Archbishop Advises High Court Justices about Religion and Government,” by Sandhya Bathija, Oct. 4, 2010, AU.org

3. H t t p : // History.House.gov/Institution/Foreign-Leaders/ Foreign-Leaders/

4. “Speaker Boehner Invites Pope Francis to Address Joint Meeting of Congress,” March 13, 2014, Speaker.gov

5. “Pelosi Statement on Announcement of Pope Francis’ U.S. Itinerary,” June 30, 2015, Pelosi.House.gov

6. “Saint or Sinner? Pope Courts Controversy with Canonization of Junípero Serra,” by Tracy Connor, Sept. 23, 2015, NBCNews.com

7. “Junípero Serra’s Road to Sainthood is Controversial for Native Americans,” by Alan Yuhas, Jan. 25, 2015, TheGuardian.com

8. “Pope Francis on Women Priests: ‘That Cannot be Done,’” Sept. 28, 2015, WomensOrdination.org

9. “The Top 10: Facebook ‘Vomit’ Button for Gays and Other Pat Robertson Quotes,” by Leslie Bentz, July 9, 2013, CNN.com

10. MormonAndGay.LDS.org

11. “Why the U.S. is Stuck with Saudi Arabia,” by Matt Schiavenza, Jan. 24, 2015, TheAtlantic.com

12. “Saudi Textbooks Still Teach Hate, Group Says,” by Vicky O’Hara, May 24, 2006, NPR.org

13. “Islam in America’s Public Schools: Education or Indoctrination,” by Cinnamon Stillwell, June 11, 2008, SFGate.com

a MOst righteOus adventure

In his first book, The Story of God: A Biblical Comedy about Love (and Hate), the co-creator of the Bill & Ted franchise focuses his satirical eye on the funniest story ever told: the Bible.

by Natasha Stoynoff

the funniest story ever told: the Bible. by Natasha Stoynoff G rowing up in Hidden Hills,

G rowing up in Hidden Hills, California, Chris Matheson wasn’t a class-clown type of kid. “I was an introvert,” says the writer-director, “I

was never ‘the funny guy.’” Hard to believe, because soon after graduating from UCLA with a degree in theatre, Matheson became the new go-to dude for clever funny. That’s when he teamed up with college buddy Ed Solomon to write the 1989 cult classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the story of two slacker teens journeying back in time to meet historical figures for a class report. The film spurred millions of Gen-X-ers to mimic Keanu Reeves’ signature tag-word—Exxx-cellent!—and an equally awesome sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, two years later. “It wasn’t until my thirties,” says Matheson, now 57, who based the characters on schoolmates of his and Solomon’s— or so he thought—“when I could look back on the film and go, ‘Oh, right, of course! Those guys were us!’” Matheson comes by his writing talents and time-travelling characters genetically. His father, author-screenwriter Richard Matheson, was an icon in the fantasy, horror, and science-fiction genres whose novels—including I Am Legend, A Stir of Echoes, Bid Time Return, and The Shrinking Man—became silver screen

successes. The elder Matheson, who died in 2013, also penned one of the most revered fan-favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” in which William Shatner sees gremlins on the wing of an airplane. “He was famous for taking horror out of the Edgar Allen Poe, gothic realm where everything’s a bit thick and making it very naturalistic,” says Matheson, “he took it into the real

world, where everything looks the same but one thing is off, and then you just play it out. He’d say, ‘You know, Chris, that’s a really good starting point for a lot of storytelling.’” Matheson took his father’s advice. But while Dad spun supernatural tales of ghosts and zombies as he wrote in a converted stall in the barn, his son (whose full name is, ironically, Christian) went on a search for truth and reason in his work, often on the subject of religion and always with more humor than horror. His 2013 film, Rapture-Palooza, tells the post-rapture story of a group of people left on Earth after all the “good” ones are whisked up to heaven, as per the Book of Revelation. “The antichrist is ruling the world,” he explains, “but he’s kind of a shit antichrist who is obsessed with women and sex,

there are nasty insects and giant

and he falls for a girl

and

Satan is Bugs Bunny to God’s Elmer Fudd.

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Donald Trump reminds me of the God character. Petty, vindictive, thin-skinned, misogynistic—a bully and a fraud.

rocks falling out of the sky marches down out of the sky

the people accidentally laser beam and kill him ” Yeah, he’s definitely his father’s son. In The Story of God, Matheson takes on the bogus journey of the Bible by delving into the psyche of the doubting, neurotic, flawed, self-destructive, jealous, angry God he found when he re-read the Bible in his forties (he was in his twenties when he read it cover-to-cover the first time around). From Genesis to Revelation, he essentially dismantles and rewrites the “good book” to expose its absurdity. “I point it out again and again,” he says, “because I don’t know how people believe it. It seems to come from a deep emotional need. Death is scary to human beings, and the idea that you’re not going to die but will instead see your loved ones again and that everything’s going to work out is clearly an attractive idea.” It’s a concept that continues to fascinate Matheson as well. At home in Portland, Oregon, where he’s still a quiet guy who “thrives on peace and calm,” he spent last year pairing up eternal frenemies God and Satan and came up with Satan's Story: A Postscript to the Story of God, which is included in the paperback and e-book versions of the book. This year, he’ll once again resurrect his time traveling pals of old, Bill & Ted, and put final touches on a third installment in their adventures—as two middle-aged guys on yet another quest. “This time,” says Matheson, “they’ve got to save the world.” Hmmmm. Two unlikely, bodacious messiahs? There’s a funny book in that.

and

and

then God shows up and

Jesus f lies out of the air and

Was reading the entire Bible a second time a different experience than the first? The first time, in my late twenties, I thought it was dull, and I muscled my way through it. A few bits and pieces were interesting, but it didn’t really hit me. But then, when I read it again twenty years later, I thought, “Oh, man, you’ve got to be kidding! This is the ultimate Emperor’s New Clothes! This is ridiculous!” That’s not to say it’s not pretty at times, because it is—and dramatic. The Old Testament in particular is kind of spectacular. But it’s ludicrous!

The Story of God really takes him to task. What inspired you? That’s a big question. It goes back to my childhood and my experience with absolute truth and absolute authority and not liking either concept.

Was your upbringing religious?

I didn’t set foot in a church, or any religious building of any kind, until I was in my late twenties. The first time I did, it was a Catholic church, and I was like, Whoa, this is intense, this is really interesting, there’s so much going on here. It was fascinating.

Did you realize at the time that everyone in the room believed the wafer and wine became Jesus’ actual flesh and blood? When I grasped that, my jaw dropped. What? Literally? What a bizarre idea. It was like magic…and so spectacularly morbid. This is my body. Eat me.

And yet, followers have believed it for over two thousand years now. That is the ultimate mystery, isn’t it? I would find myself bumping into that one again and again and again as I immersed myself [in the Bible]. Sometimes I’d stop reading and close the book and shake my head in disbelief and think, How can anyone take this seriously? I concluded that most people don’t actually read it.

But you knew good material when you saw it, so you got to work. Yeah. I thought it was an absolute goldmine for comedy. So I read the Bible a couple more times pretty carefully and made a lot of notes. My Bible is very, very scribbled on with comments and questions in the margins like “What about this? What about that?” I’m a comedy writer, and comedy writers make fun of things. When I was growing up, I loved satire—Huckleberry Finn and Gulliver’s Travels. Part of what I do as a comedy writer is mock. You don’t want to be mean, exactly, but when you’re making fun of the so-called creator of the universe, there’s no possibility of being mean.

God in your story reminds me of Richard Dawkins’ quote:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction; jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, capriciously ”

malevolent bully

And he’s stuck in his own narrative that he’s pure good, which is the most horrible trap for anyone to fall into. You’re fucked, because anything bad that happens, it’s always somebody else’s fault.

Wait. Your God character is starting to remind me of someone. Donald Trump. Donald Trump reminds me of the God character! Petty, vindictive, thin-skinned, misogynistic—a

God hates women and fears them. Adam is a weakling, Eve is not.

When you’re making fun of the so-called creator of the universe, there’s no possibility of being mean.

bully and a fraud. And they both speak for the angry, the resentful, the repressed, the ignorant, and the small. As black comedy, well, this is brilliant. For the country, yikes!

And neither your God nor The Donald seem qualified to be in charge. Right. God is all-powerful and all-knowing, yet his plans never work out! And it infuriates him. Either his plans are stupid—which they often are—or he’s a fraud—which he sometimes seems to be—or, and this is the funniest, he is profoundly mentally ill and deeply self-loathing, essentially wanting his plans to fail so that he can punish himself. All three are comedy gold and the last is platinum.

Let’s go over some of the stupid plans you so deftly point out. First of all, God gets confused by what Jesus says. Like when he calls himself “the son of man” so often. Is he implying that Joseph is his father? Wrong! He’s not the son of man, he’s the son of God!

And Lazarus

Bringing Lazarus back from the dead. Does [Jesus] not realize that doing this completely undermines the power of his own resurrection?

that

was a mistake.

The big flood he gets right, though. Because, as you point out, he had those giant, underground fountains installed ahead of time. It was very clever pre-planning, no? I like it because it makes it totally obvious that he was going to drown everyone from the start.

The Ten Commandments. Your thoughts there? It’s the ultimate crown jewel in the Old Testament and yet not that much of a jewel at all. Are we supposed to think that people thought it was just fine to rob and kill before this?

Then there’s the whole “life is eternal” thing. Big error, because you can’t ever really be rid of anyone. All you do is create even more enemies.

His Plan B, to bring in Jesus to save everyone after he bungles everything up, doesn’t work, either. Jesus was meant to take over the family business for a while, give God a break—but Jesus is half human—something God apparently didn’t grasp. He thought Mary was just a vehicle. Turns out she actually contributed genetically. And Jesus

kinda goes rogue and changes the rules and mainly talks about himself.

At least your God character chastises himself in the rare moments he sees he’s not perfect. I like how you get into his psyche and try to figure him out. I wanted to find an emotional center for him and play it

that he is very self-aware

he’s actually tormented by the

knowledge that all of these [f laws] are true, and that on some

level he’s not what he pretends to be. And it bothers him.

that

Let me guess. It’s all mom’s fault? Well, God either had no mother, which is tough, or she deserted him, which is brutal. God clearly dislikes women right from the start. He’s a misogynist when we meet him. The question is why. I think it’s about mother. What else could it be?

He doesn’t even bother to give names to a lot of women. He turns Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, but doesn’t bother to take two seconds to name her! Because women don’t matter. Because they’re inferior. Because he hates them and fears them. Adam is a weakling, Eve is not.

He likes handsome men, though. And he pays lots of attention to men’s nether regions, especially with the brilliant circumcision idea. He kills two birds with one stone. Get men to prove their love and devotion to him and also enhance the aesthetic of the penis. He’s obsessed with men.

um Is he gay? Ultimately, I think not. He’s stunted, obsessed with himself—and therefore with his own sex organs.

Is he

Is that why he gets jealous when people worship “that asshole Baal?” Because, as you write, Baal is the “fun, sexy god.” Yeah, God’s terribly repressed about sex—clearly scared of it, scared of failure maybe, or of his own desires. And then there’s Baal, whose people have orgies, lots of sex—and guess which one people are drawn to? God is an uptight prig, among many other things.

Satan, on the other hand, seems James Dean cool and way smarter in your reframing of their rivalry. He’s like

The Old Testament in particular is kind of spectacular.

But

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it’s

ludicrous!

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Satan is the only one who looks him in the eye and says, in effect, “You’re not what you pretend to be.”

the misunderstood anti-hero. I was rooting for him the whole way. On the page, he does very little that’s bad, but he’s defined as bad! And in a story where everyone grovels before God and nobody stands up to God and they all beg and plead and whimper, Satan is the only one who looks him in the eye and says, in effect, “You’re not what you pretend to be.” And it freaks God out.

The only other person who seems to tell the truth is Solomon.

I think Solomon is the hero

of the book in a lot of ways and is clearly trying to expand the belief system. To me, he’s trying to say to his people, “We don’t have to take this so literally. It’s a bigger picture than this.” I ended up believing that Solomon was the great visionary and was, in effect, planting a bomb at the center of people’s belief system.

What part of the Bible makes you laugh the most? God’s freak-out at the end of the Book of Job. He starts yelling down from heaven, and he’s so mean. And here’s Job, he’s just lost ten children and his life has been ruined, he’s in agony, and his whole body is covered with blisters. His three friends showed up and were complete assholes to him. And Job’s a really, really good man! God really likes him! But God starts yelling at him and bullies him and berates him and he brags and brags.

You grew up with no formal religion, but your father was raised as a Christian Scientist. Then he left it. He didn’t believe in that at all and became, for lack of a better word, “new-agey.” He’d hate to be described as that, though. He would call it his “metaphysical belief system.”

And it was huge, it was all-encompassing. His Bible was this book written in the early twentieth century, Thinking and Destiny, and it was like, “Here is the explanation for everything, here is the way the universe really is.” It was sort

of proto-L. Ron Hubbard, about how little blue men created everything. I finally read it in my thirties and I was like, “This is nonsense!” He didn’t like that.

I was like, “This is nonsense!” He didn’t like that. I’m envisioning invigorating discussions at the

I’m envisioning invigorating discussions at the family dinner table. We got into a lot of arguments over the years. When a very, very religious person has a very skeptical child, it’s going to be bumpy. My siblings more or less agreed with his belief system. I was the black sheep of a metaphysical family.

You can see how his beliefs influenced his writing. I can’t sleep if I watch his episodes of The Twilight Zone. Do you have a favorite? I like “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” It’s great that everyone thinks William Shatner is crazy. My dad was really good at writing horror. I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man—in that one, he really gets at male fears regarding women. His work was upsetting and scary. He immersed himself in [horror]. But even though he was naturally super-great at it, I think he wanted to transcend it, overcome it, so he built this metaphysical scaffolding of belief. He created a reality for himself that was very mystical and fantastic. He was the sort of person that if a closet door blew closed, or if the pipes made noise, it was a spirit that did it. He took me to astrologers, and they gave me big readings, and I was like, “Okay, I guess this is the truth.”

Continued on page 35

And just when you think it can’t get worse…

It gets worse. God starts to talk crazy and sounds like

he’s having some sort of breakdown. He starts talking about animals and then he goes off on his giant pet sea monster, Leviathan, whom you can dress up and open up the doors in

it’s so comedic. It’s

his face and have little girls play with and

magnificent. Jonathan Swift could not have written it better. It’s the most devastating, lacerating piece of unacknowledged satire ever written.

From Genesis to Revelation, he essentially dismantles and rewrites the “good book” to expose its absurdity.

DOGMA WATCH Religion has had an enormous impact on the world. In this series, Michael B. Paulkovich examines dogmas, myths, and religious notions past and present.

Balderdash on The Mount

by Michael B. Paulkovich

C hristians are taught that Jesus, the virgin-for-life

son of a virgin mother, was a perfect being. Thomas

Aquinas made this claim in the 13th century, and I

hear Christians today say it all the time. Joseph Belamy wrote in

the 18th century that to deny that god is an “absolutely perfect being” is—get this—“down-right atheism.” I’ll happily take his intended insult as a compliment. But even a quick read of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount proves that the “god” character and his son are pretty much the opposite of perfection. Comprising all of Chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the Book of Matthew, the sermon is the longest-running scene in the gospels. Early on in the program, Jesus claims that the hideous laws of the Hebrew holy book apply to all people forever (Matthew 5:17-19). “What hideous laws?” the naïve Christian will ask. Well, here are just a few:

• Parents must kill their children if they are disrespectful (Exodus 21:17).

• We are commanded to kill “witches” (Exodus 22:18).

• We must kill anyone who curses their father or mother

(Lev. 20:9).

• We must kill men who have sex with other men (Lev. 20:13).

• We must kill blasphemers (Lev. 24:14), adulterers (Lev. 20:10), any bride discovered not to be a virgin (Deut. 22:21), and anyone who worships the wrong god (Numbers 25:1-9) even if the condemned is in your own family (Deut. 13:6-10).

Let’s stop here for a moment and note that elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus rejects Old Testament law: “The law and the prophets were until John [the Baptist]. From that time the kingdom of God is preached and every one useth violence towards it” (Luke 16:16). But back on the mount, the J-man claims that anyone who calls another person a fool is in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22). Is Jesus saying that he sent the guys who wrote Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 to hell? Both of those verses say, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” Over in Romans 1:21-22 and Galatians 3:1, Paul uses the Greek word ἄφρων, which means “fool.” Did Jesus send “Saint” Paul to hell, too? Jesus himself calls other people fools in Matthew 23:17. Holy hypocrisy, Batman! But we did see this coming. Earlier in our program, the holy hypocrite himself calls other people hypocrites in Matthew 7:5. In Matthew 5:28-30, we have more perfect wisdom on that mythical mount: if you’re attracted to a woman you’d better

In the Capitol Building, which far too many Americans mistake for a church, every session of Congress opens with a prayer.

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Prayer is nothing less than blasphemy because who are you to question his plans for you?

pluck out your eyes and cut off your hands or you’ll be sent to hell. Such love! A few verses later, Jesus commands us to love our enemies, and “bless them that curse you” because God sends rain on both the just and on the unjust (5:44-45). That there is what we call Christian logic. So, love your enemies—and hate your family, as we learn from Luke 14:26. Chapter 5 of Matthew ends with Jesus saying that we must be “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” This is impossible to obey, and thus totalitarian and insane. The churches love this one, as such an impossible standard will always keep their subjects failing, returning weekly for guidance and forgiveness and contributing to the collection plate. This is nothing less than one of the all-time greatest business models. In Matthew 6:5-6, Jesus tells his disciples not to pray in public. Two comments about this. First, large groups of Christians meet in public all the time to pray; it’s called church. In the Capitol Building, which far too many Americans mistake for a church, every session of Congress opens with a prayer. Second, it seems that the better advice would be not to pray because by definition, prayer is nothing less than blasphemy because who are you to question his omniscience and his plans for you? Next, we get the ultimate wisdom from Jesus on that mount:

Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what

ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father

feedeth them

shall we eat (Matthew 6:25-31)?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What

Perfect Jesus thinks that because birds don’t have farms, god must be feeding them! So people should follow their example and never bother to hunt or fish or grow crops or even do any planning since the heavenly father takes care of birds, who, for some reason, get better treatment than the children in drought- ravaged Ethiopia. And for as much as god loves birds, he must really hate polar bears or he’d be doing something about those melting ice caps. The first words spoken by Jesus in Matthew Chapter 7 are, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” The thorny-crowned weirdo seems to have forgotten his own edict to obey the Old Testament laws, which commands us to judge: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor” (Lev. 19:15). Jesus

himself says, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge

righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Finally, Jesus brings the sermon to a close thusly: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” That’s right, once again take no thought, just pray. This “perfect being” also bought into the Noah/Great Flood nonsense (Matthew 24:37, Luke 17:27), actually believed Adam, Eve, and their sons were real people (Luke 3:38 and Luke 11:51), believed Jonah lived in a fish or whale (Matthew 12:40), and Lot’s wife turned into salt (Luke 17:31-32). Jesus taught that the cause of illness is “sin” or “devils” (John 5:13- 14, Matthew 8:31-33, Luke 4:41), which is why the sound methods of Hippocrates were replaced for centuries with exorcism. Thank you, Jesus! This deluded bastard child from Christian mythology was also convinced the world was about to end and “the stars shall fall from heaven” (Matthew 24:29). Yes, this perfect being thought that stars are tiny specks hovering in the sky, not colossal balls of violent fusion trillions of miles from Earth. Jesus sure was smart! The Encyclopedia Britannica states that the Sermon on the Mount is “a biblical collection of religious teachings and

on a new law of

love.” Ethical? New law? Love? Seems like the writers of that encyclopedia entry never bothered to read the sermon. The superstitious and ignorant men who wrote the Bible stories were the poorest of philosophers living in frightened clusters practicing slavery and rape and devotion to ancient fairy tales and immoral laws. Any thinking person who reads the Bible today can see that the writers lusted for the properties and virgins of rival tribes. Even the “good part,” the New Testament, is full of shameless morals and childish twaddle. After I finally read the Bible in its entirety, its inane and depraved teachings caused me to reject my Christian upbringing and embrace “down-right atheism.”

ethical sayings of Jesus of Nazareth

based

Michael B. Paulkovich is an aerospace engineer and freelance writer who also contributes to Free Inquiry and Humanist Perspectives. He is a contributing editor for The American Rationalist and author of Beyond The Crusades, with a foreword by Robert M. Price, published by American Atheist Press.

Bibliography Belamy, Joseph, An Essay on the Nature and Glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1762. Britannica.com/topic/sermon-on-the-mount

The sound methods of Hippocrates were replaced for centuries with exorcism. Thank you, Jesus!

Recovery without God

by Elle Mott

I n American culture, many of us look to support groups to

overcome our difficulties. What if you found a group that

was the perfect fit for your situation, except the members of

the group said the only way you’d get through your trying time is by first believing “God” would save you? Or what if they didn’t voice that, but with shushing nods expected you to join in the prayer circle before participating? I once found myself in just that predicament. Without knowing what to do about it, I wasted several years looking for the answers in the wrong place. It wasn’t a mistake to join a support group—far from it. I’m alive today because I joined. The mistake was in not being my own advocate, and as a result, I made myself vulnerable to religious indoctrination. And when I let that happen, the benefits of the support group disappeared, and my health plummeted.

gave me no clue as to where I was. Only a convenience store across the highway was in sight. Thankfully, it faced away from me, for I must have been an eyesore. My need both to relieve and to hydrate myself was a sign that a long time had passed since I had last been coherent—not that I felt all that sharp in my awakening, but that was normal for me when my addiction was in full throttle. It was Ruth (not her real name) who helped me get home to Springfield, Missouri. Her husband was a deacon in my church, and I was on friendly terms with her. I sucked up my shame to call her collect because I had no earthly idea how to get home. I wasn’t even sure if my battle-scarred car would make it there. Deep into my remorse, I couldn’t think well enough to make decisions. Ruth did the thinking for me. And the praying. She first instructed me to go into the convenience store and ask where I was. I had to admit I needed a bathroom and an orange

All the prayer chains in the world weren’t going to save me.

For me, it was the need to overcome my addiction through a Twelve Step recovery group. There are over two hundred Twelve Step Groups, which include Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous. These fellowships, with a worldwide membership in the millions, offer social support, group discussion, and a course of action with dependence on a higher power—often identified as “God”—to promote and sustain recovery from addiction. My own journey to recovery began when I woke up one summer morning in 1998 to find myself behind the wheel of my car, parked in a vacant gravel lot. I had no idea what time it was, save for the light of the rising sun bombarding my pounding head. I forced my eyes open and peeled my cheek off of my driver’s side window. A crossroads with a long, barren stretch of rural highway

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juice. With information gained from the store clerk, I called her back. She pulled out her road map and then prayed for me. Each evening, when I pulled into a rest stop for the night, I called her, as promised. On my third day, when I was close to home, I called her with the update. “Oh, good! I knew our prayers were working,” Ruth said. Normal people can stop whatever it is that gets them into trouble. I wasn’t normal. I could not stop because I was deeply engulfed in my addiction, which rendered me unable to grasp any coping mechanisms or solutions. In fact, I had joined Ruth’s Baptist church in the hopes of turning my life around. Try as I might—or as they might at church—my failures, defiant attitude, and fiascos so common to the traits of my addiction continued. My church family was both forgiving and encouraging, but all the prayer chains in the world weren’t going to save me.

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Thanks to Ruth’s help, my chaos-driven life slowed down to intermittent havoc until I awoke one day, a little over a year after

my parking lot episode, to find myself in the hospital bed of a detox unit. I was told that my best chance to beat my addiction would

be their six-week outpatient recovery program. Discharged three

days later, I joined about twenty other clients for six full days each week for counseling, education, and group discussions. It was

there that I was introduced to the Twelve Steps. Willing to do anything they suggested for the sake of my recovery, I immediately latched onto a sponsor. In most Twelve Step Programs, a sponsor’s role as mentor is an integral part of the social support system. In a matter of months, I exhaustively worked the Twelve Steps through prayer, written self-inventory, group meetings, unloading secrets to my sponsor, and, where I could, restitution to those I had hurt.

However, most members—both then and now—use the word “God” literally. The consensus of the vast majority is that to stay sober, you have to believe in God. Another imperative that is clearly communicated to recovering addicts is that your recovery must come before anything else in your life. That part did resonate with me. So once I had remastered the Twelve Steps with help from a sponsor, I felt strong enough to be discerning in my choice of meetings. In order to avoid lengthy talks about interpretations of a higher power, I favored meetings that focused on personal stories over those with an open-discussion format. And for obvious reasons, I stayed away from the meetings focused on the eleventh step (prayer and meditation) because those had dimmed lights, candles, and lots of praying. “[W]e have ceased fighting anyone or anything…” is a line

From the program’s point of view, I risked relapsing if I didn’t depend on God, yet I knew myself well enough to understand that I risked relapse by depending on something I didn’t believe in.

It worked for a while, and I stayed sober for almost seven years as I tried to make sense of the God concept. You see, I can’t believe in something without understanding why I believe. It was a double-edged sword. From the program’s point of view, I risked relapse if I didn’t depend on God, yet I knew myself well enough

to understand that I risked relapse by depending on something I

didn’t believe in (God). After a relapse that lasted a few months, I managed to stay sober again for almost four years without relying on a higher power. But not everything went well, and when I encountered

emotional and serious financial difficulty, I felt that I had to turn back to a higher power, even though I no longer believed it was real. So I went into denial about my Atheism, but like all denial, it was the wrong thing to do, and I relapsed again. For nearly three years, I gave in to my addiction and lived a life riddled with problems for which I couldn’t envision any solutions. Then, through a series of events that had no rhyme or reason, I landed in northern Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, on the weekend of my forty-sixth birthday, in May 2013. By June, I was back in the meeting rooms of a Twelve Step Group. There was no other place of recovery for me that I knew

of, and it had worked before, so I could somehow make it work

as an Atheist, I reasoned to myself. Like before, I latched on to a sponsor to guide me. Like before, I thoroughly worked my way through the Twelve Steps. However, when it came to the part where I had to “let go and let God,” I refused to listen. There are two books that guide Twelve Step Groups worldwide. They total 768 pages, and mention God 298 times.

A higher power is mentioned twenty-four times. That’s not

counting the times “him” or “he,” or other namesakes are used

in place of “God.” One of the books has a chapter titled “To the

Agnostic” which is condescendingly slanted to state that we must

find God in order to recover. The Twelve Step Program’s co-founders had intended the program to accommodate differing religious and spiritual views.

from the main recovery book’s chapter titled “Into Action.” But in my own recovery, I was still fighting a belief in a higher power, and was therefore fighting the very program that was helping me to stay alive. Then I met Quinn (not her real name) in late 2014. She, too, rejected the God concept, and so we set out on a mutual quest to find appropriate meetings. Our efforts were in vain, and we realized that if we couldn’t find the ideal meeting, we’d have to start one of our own because we didn’t want to abandon the Twelve Step Program. Out of hundreds of personal acquaintances and thousands of members in our area, we knew of only two others who might be interested in joining a steering committee to form a new group. For two weeks, we relied on word of mouth, and on January 6, 2015, our two-person idea became six people strong at our first steering committee meeting. I had reserved us a meeting room at a facility known as a recovery clubhouse, which works in cooperation with our Twelve Step Program, although not officially affiliated with it. With our reservation came our promise to the clubhouse manager that our steering committee meeting would be open to anyone who wanted to attend. I was fine with that rule because the more people who came to our meeting, the stronger our chance was to succeed. Meeting weekly through January, we openly and respectfully hashed out the issues of group name, format, location, time, and purpose. In making our decisions, we relied on the Twelve Traditions, which guide groups in forming and conducting their meetings. The greatest influence on determining our meeting format came from Tradition 4, which says, in part, “[E]ach … group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience.” This enabled us to eliminate all prayers from our format, despite it going against the grain of traditional recovery programs. Nearly every meeting in the country opens and closes

We eliminated all prayers from our format, despite it going against the grain of traditional recovery programs.

with a prayer. Some groups opt for a non-Christian prayer, but there was only one in the area that we knew of. But taking prayer out of a Twelve Step meeting leaves a void, and we wanted to come up with something to fill it. Besides starting with an opening prayer, nearly all Twelve Step meetings in this country follow that prayer with the reading or recitation of the official Preamble. So we decided to open our meetings by going right to the Preamble and to follow it with a preamble of our own, which would concisely articulate the mission of our group. In order to maintain the anonymity required by Tradition 11, I share only part of it here:

This is an autonomous group. Its focus is away from the mystical, mythical, and unproven and towards the taking of personal responsibility of being accountable. Anyone with a desire for recovery is welcome to attend this meeting. There are no other requirements. We do not endorse or oppose atheism. Nor do we endorse or oppose any form of religion. Our only wish is to assure those who suffer that they can find recovery in our Twelve Step Group without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs or having to deny their own. The intention of this group is to promote recovery from [our addiction] through the action parts of the Twelve Steps of [our main text book]: personal inventory, restitution for harms done, and helping others.

Another decision to make was meeting location. Many groups meet in church basements, but we unanimously threw that idea out because of its potential to imply a support of religion. That left our choices rather slim, and following discussion and voting, the clubhouse became our number-one choice. But first, we had to obtain permission from the clubhouse board of directors, which involved their approval of all aspects of our meeting. After we received approval and felt ready to “go live” with our group, we scheduled our first meeting for Tuesday, February 3, 2015. Although we had plastered bulletin boards all over Cincinnati with flyers announcing the date, our first group meeting was just the six committee members, but I felt right at home with the recovery program which saved my life. I had hope, unlike before. Two clubhouse board members joined us at our second meeting, primarily as observers. We encountered a minor setback the next day when the clubhouse board communicated to us that they had changed their mind about allowing our group to meet under the name we gave it: We Agnostics, Atheists, and Freethinkers. Feeling betrayed by this backfire, two people even left the group over this issue. We could have kept our name and moved to another location, but the four of us who remained were determined to make it work. We wanted to keep our meeting at this centrally located clubhouse, which, as one of the nation’s first clubhouses, has served as a location for countless Twelve Step Groups for over seventy years. That’s when we became known as All Shades of Belief (and Non-belief).

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Our name came from “A Newcomer Asks,” a pamphlet published by our Twelve Step Program, which says, “There is room in [our Twelve Step Program] for people of all shades of

belief and non-belief.” Among our reasons to start our group was to be there for newcomers who would otherwise turn away from

a great recovery program for lack of being able to comply with the

God concept. Where feasible, we replaced our posted flyers to show our name change. Where not feasible, we didn’t worry about it, because we were the same group, the only exception being our name. As a group, we next contacted our General Service Conference in New York, which maintains a national list of all groups who register with them. This list, which is available by request, is especially helpful for those who want to attend a meeting while traveling. Registration also gives us the right to vote on national-level issues impacting our group.

Next, we contacted the local office for our Twelve Step Group for inclusion in the directory for the greater Cincinnati area. That was important because volunteers who work a local hotline rely on it. For no reason other than having fallen through the cracks,

it was nine months and three rounds of directory updates before we were included.

During those months when we relied solely on our flyers and word of mouth, the number of members who trickled in were but

a few. Then Quinn dropped out for personal reasons unrelated

to the group. That left three of our six charter members, myself included. Because we all have lives and responsibilities outside the group, sometimes only two out of three of us could show up. Week after week, meeting after meeting, I was mystified there weren’t more like us pursuing a life of recovery without prayer. Despite my fears of having to fold, I never gave up on our group and showed up at every meeting. We gained a new member after I announced our group to an online community unaffiliated with any Twelve Step Program. More people found us after we were finally included in the local directory, and word-of-mouth continued to bring in others. By the time of our one-year anniversary, four more people became regular members. Today, two years and over one hundred meetings later, we routinely have a well-attended meeting. We are far from a large group, but are alive with an average of a dozen attendees at each meeting. Although I co-chartered this group, it is the collective conscience of our members that will determine our direction as we go forward. Just like other recovery meetings, we talk of abstinence, gratitude, and emotional well-being. We share our experiences with powerlessness and our hopes for sustained recovery. Like in other meetings, one might hear exuberant laughter or despondent crying. We are here to stay because we have found a solution to our problems, a solution that needed to exclude “God” in order to work.

Elle Mott (ElleMott.Wixsite.com/author) wrote the “Why I am an Atheist” column for the previous issue of this magazine. She is currently working on her memoir.

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Display the Ten Commandments Now!

Verbatim, Punishment, Enforcement

O pponents of Ten Commandments displays in

public venues have been reasonably effective

in keeping them out of capitols, courthouses,

and classrooms. Yet these successful efforts have only served to further enrage fundamentalist activists and cause them to intensify their spurious schemes. What is needed is a new approach that will thwart this obsession with the Hebrew Decalogue. Remember, Christian fundamentalists relegate Jews to eternal suffering for refusing to acknowledge Jesus as messiah. Why, then, are they so enamored with the Hebrew scriptures? A rational approach to addressing this fundamentalist fetish entails a complete reversal from the current strategy. Supporters of church/state separation should strongly endorse public display of the Ten Commandments, with three specified provisos that would surely have god’s approval, because they are entirely consistent with the letter and spirit of his divine word.

1. The full text of the Hebrew Decalogue must be reproduced exactly as god dictated it to Moses, verbatim et literatim.

2. The punishments ordained by god for violators must be listed with each of the commandments.

3. The commandments must be incorporated into the U.S. legal code and enforced in a manner consistent with god’s will.

This article summarizes basic facts about the ancient Hebrew Decalogue and outlines the impact of enforcement on the U.S. population. The biblical justification, with detailed scriptural documentation for this proposal, follows.

by Brian Bolton

Historical Perspective The most celebrated Ten Commandments battle in recent U.S. history was initiated in 2001 when Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore secretly installed a two-ton granite Decalogue monument in the rotunda of the Judicial Building. Two years later, after a federal judge ruled “Roy’s rock” to be unconstitutional, it was removed, and Moore was thrown out of office. A fitting epitaph for his tombstone would be: “If they want to get the Commandments, they’re going to have to get me first.” 1 Moore was re-elected to the bench in 2012 but suspended again by the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission in 2016. Over the past ten years, more than a dozen attempts to display the Ten Commandments have been undertaken by state legislators, county commissioners, district judges, and school officials. The targeted locations have included state capitols, county courthouses, public schools, municipal parks, and other government offices. States involved were: Alabama (2), Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma (3), Tennessee (2), Texas, Utah, and Virginia. 2 Almost all of these efforts failed, although in some cases the proponents are still fighting on behalf of their sacred symbol. The most recent major judicial confrontation occurred in Oklahoma and has some amusing similarities to Alabama’s melodrama from ten years earlier. In 2012, a six-foot-tall, granite Ten Commandments monument was erected on the capitol grounds in Oklahoma City after being authorized by the state legislature. Citing the State Constitution’s “no-aid” clause, which bars taxpayer dollars from funding religion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in 2015 that this contemporary megalith was unconstitutional. Shortly after Governor Mary Fallin vowed not to move the shrine, it was relocated to a private setting. More encouraging news came in November 2016, when Oklahoma voters rejected a ballot

A rational approach to addressing this fundamentalist fetish entails a complete reversal from the current strategy.

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Commandment 10 is the only one that, if violated, appears not to require the death penalty.

measure that would have removed the “no-aid” clause. It’s likely that the next Ten Commandments showdown will occur in Arkansas. In 2015, a bill authorizing a Decalogue commemorative on the state capitol grounds was signed into law by Governor Asa Hutchinson. Unlike the Oklahoma monument, the proposed Arkansas display will be modeled after the one on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, where the Ten Commandments are included in a much larger arrangement of seventeen separate markers situated on a twenty-two-acre lawn. The Texas Decalogue display was deemed constitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court in 2005. Because the Universal Society of Hinduism and the Satanic Temple have already indicated that they want representation in Arkansas, there will certainly be fireworks. We will give Scott Teague of Mountain City, Tennessee, the final word in this review. In defending a Decalogue display at the Johnson County Courthouse, he intoned, “God have mercy on the soul of any person who attempts to have these documents removed from this courthouse or any courthouse in America.” 3 It should be noted that Teague is a professional undertaker.

Indisputable Facts

• The Ten Commandants are clearly a religious code with the first four presenting theological edicts. They derive from a sacred text that was issued by the Hebrew god, known as Yahweh.

• The first commandment unambiguously acknowledges the existence of multiple competing gods, which are relegated to inferior status. Americans know that their government has no authority to tell citizens which of these gods, if any, to worship. •Inadditiontoprohibitingidolatry,thesecondcommandment contains god’s explicit promise to punish the innocent descendants of those who violate this injunction. In fact, god often punished children for the sins of their parents (e.g., Numbers 16:25-34; Joshua 7:13-26; Daniel 6:24).

• The fifth commandment to honor one’s parents explicitly appeals to the selfish motives of offspring by promising a reward of long life for obedience. Shouldn’t this be a sacred duty motivated by intrinsic values?

• Both the fourth and tenth commandments endorse slavery, and the tenth diminishes the status of women by classifying a man’s wife as one of his possessions, reinforcing the view that women, just like slaves and livestock, are property. • Legal scholars have demonstrated that the foundations of American jurisprudence are the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and English common law—not the Ten Commandments and not the Bible. This is the false premise on which the entire public display scheme is based.

• The Decalogue is not a useful ethical code. Nine of the commandments are stated as prohibitions against extreme behavior and don’t tell us how to act ethically. The absence of anti-social behavior does not constitute good citizenship.

Capital Punishment for Violators The following list provides a comprehensive biblical justification for enforcing the death penalty for violators of the first nine commandments. The death penalty is required for violating:

Commandment 1 - Anyone who worships or sacrifices to gods other than Yahweh (Exodus 22:20; Leviticus 20:1-2, 5; Numbers 25:1-9; Deuteronomy 17:2-7, 18:10; 2 Kings 10:24-

28; 2 Chronicles 24:17-26) or encourages others to worship heathen gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-17, 2 Chronicles 21:11-19). Commandment 2 - Anyone who worships idols or the sun, moon, or stars (Exodus 32:27-29, 35; Deuteronomy 17:2-5;

1 Kings 13:34, 21:25-29; 2 Kings 17:13-20; 2 Chronicles

21: 13-21) or engages in occult practices (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 1 Samuel 28:9;

2 Kings 23:5-7, 20-24; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14).

Commandment 3 - Anyone who curses Yahweh (Leviticus 24:10-23; 1 Kings 21:8-13) or engages in false prophecy (Deuteronomy 13:5, 18:20; 1 Kings 18:40). Commandment 4 - Anyone who works on the sabbath (Exodus 31:14-15, 35:2; Leviticus 23:30-31; Numbers

15:32-36).

Commandment 5 - Anyone who strikes or curses their parents (Exodus 21:15, 17; Leviticus 20:9; Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10). Commandment 6 - Anyone who murders (Genesis 9:6, Exodus 21:14, Leviticus 24:17-21, Numbers 35:16- 34, Deuteronomy 19:11-13) or kidnaps (Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7). Commandment 7 - Anyone who commits adultery or fornication (Leviticus 20:10-12, Numbers 25:6-18, Deuteronomy 22:22-27) or engages in homosexual acts (Genesis 19:23-25, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-32, 1 Timothy 1:8-11). Commandment 8 - Anyone who steals from Yahweh (Joshua 7:1-26) or the Christian community (Acts 5:1-11). Commandment 9 - Anyone who gives false testimony when the defendant is facing the death penalty (Deuteronomy

19:21).

Commandment 10 is the only one that appears not to require the death penalty if violated. It is also the only edict that involves no more than an “improper” attitude of envy or desire rather than an explicit action or behavior.

Americans already know that government has no authority to tell citizens which of these gods, if any, to worship.

Supporters of church/state separation should strongly endorse public display of the Ten Commandments, with three specified provisos that would surely have god’s approval.

It should be stressed that both Jesus (Matthew 5:17, 15:4, Mark 7:10) and Paul (Romans 1:26-32, 1 Timothy 1:8-11) unequivocally endorsed the death penalty as promulgated in Mosaic law.

Who Would Be Executed in the United States? We know from long experience that chronicling moral directives without imposing punitive sanctions on transgressors has minimal benefit. So shouldn’t we expect that those who propose displaying the Ten Commandments would also endorse Yahweh’s punishment scheme? What impact would enforcing the Mosaic death penalty in the United States have on the population? What would the execution rate be under strict adherence to the capital punishment requirements associated with the Hebrew Decalogue? The first commandment orders residents to worship only Yahweh and relegates all other gods to prohibited status. About one tenth of the population would be immediately executed unless they renounced their false gods. If Paul’s directive concerning the applicability of the death penalty to irreligious citizens is accepted, then an additional fifth of the nation’s people would be eliminated. Correctly punishing violators of the second and third commandments, which forbid idolatry and blasphemy, respectively, would exterminate the Deists, Wiccans, sculptors, astrologers, and mediums among us. While there is some disagreement about which day is the sabbath, in almost all U.S. communities it is Sunday (“the Lord’s Day”). Outlawing all work on the traditional day of rest as required by the fourth commandment would cause a major disruption of the U.S. economy. Furthermore, enforcement would involve executing millions of Americans, including entire hospital staffs; firefighters; police officers; paramedics; 911 dispatchers; security guards; professional athletes; store clerks; restaurant workers; customer service representatives; and many, many others. Regarding the fifth commandment, which counsels respect for parents, it is a sad fact that abuse of the elderly is a serious problem. The explicit appeal to the selfish motives of offspring doesn’t seem to enhance compliance with the directive. Likewise, it is doubtful that capital punishment for those who strike or curse parents would improve the situation, but they still must be killed.

Both Jesus and Paul unequivocally endorsed the death penalty.

20 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

What the Monuments Won’t Tell You:

The Ten* Commandments in Their Entirety Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days

you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is

a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any

work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall nor covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

*With an addendum a few verses later re: idols and altars (Exodus 20:23-26)

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The U.S. judicial system, with the overwhelming support of the citizenry, already does a great job of punishing violators of the sixth commandment, which prohibits murder, by invoking the biblical dictum of “a life for a life.” America is the only Western democracy that has not abolished state- sanctioned execution of its murderers, with Texas in first place among the thirty-one states that allow the death penalty. Uniform enforcement of the seventh commandment, which condemns adulterers, would result in a substantial reduction in the U.S. population, because one third of married residents engage in at least one extramarital affair. If Jesus’ equating of remarriage after divorce with adultery is included, along with the addition of homosexuals and fornicators, the lives of one half of all Americans would be in jeopardy. The application of the death penalty under the eighth commandment, which prohibits theft, would entail careful analysis of the crimes to determine just what constitutes stealing from Yahweh or the Christian community. While very few witnesses commit perjury in capital punishment trials, they would have to be executed in accordance with the ninth commandment.

Recommendations First, demand that the full text be included in all displays, so that the truly offensive elaborations cannot be omitted. Commandments 2, 4, 5 and 10 are absolutely essential to any exhibit endorsed by critics. To abbreviate any of god’s edicts is blasphemy and should be punished just as scripture mandates. Second, demand that god’s ordained penalties for violators of the first nine commandments be prominently displayed on all monuments and plaques. The compelling argument is that publicizing the required punishments will have a much stronger deterrent effect; moreover, this is god’s will. Third, demand that god’s sacred law as embodiedintheDecalogue be enforced precisely as god intended. This will necessitate prompt action by lawmakers, who will have to quickly enact

legislation that incorporates the Ten Commandments into the U.S. legal code. Will the fundamentalist Christian advocates of displaying the Decalogue also insist that the required penalties be applied as god ordained? Of course not. These pious proponents of public posting want to impose their sanctified rules on everybody else without assuming any responsibility for enforcement. Their fanatical promotion of publicly recognizing god’s moral mandates is selective, cowardly, and dishonest. Furthermore, anything less than total implementation and enforcement of the Ten Commandments is willful disrespect for god’s word and therefore constitutes blasphemy, a crime that requires and deserves the death penalty.

Brian Bolton is a retired psychologist living in Georgetown, Texas.

Endnotes

1. Gettleman, Jeffrey. “Judge, Protesters: 10 Commandments

Shalt Not be Moved.” Austin American-Statesman, Aug. 21, 2003, pp. A1, A7.

2. Church & State, January 2007 – December 2016.

3. Bathija, Sandehya. “First Amendment Feud.” Church & State, March 2011, pp. 7-9.

© jesusandmo.net
© jesusandmo.net

Book Excerpt

Book Excerpt An Activist’s Toolkit An excerpt from The Secular Activist: A How-to Manual for Protecting

An Activist’s Toolkit

An excerpt from The Secular Activist: A How-to Manual for Protecting the Wall between Church and State by Dan Arel

A fter just a few weeks in the White House, the Trump Administration has taken

protection allowing transgender students to use a school bathroom and locker room

that corresponds with their gender identity. The idea of a nationwide Muslim ban is

bold steps to crumble the wall that separates church and state. Gone is the legal

not yet extinguished. Congress is hard at work at a “religious freedom” bill that would legalize LGBTQ discrimination by Christians. If the wall is to survive this onslaught, our vigilance must be stronger and more confident than ever. And when I say “our,” I do literally mean all of us. I wrote The Secular Activist because not everyone realizes just how significant their impact can be on our democracy. Effective, successful activism comes in many different forms. Not everyone has to spend ten hours a day on this cause. You can still make a big difference, even

if all you can spare is ten minutes a month. This excerpt from the book shows you how.

Activism is not a one-size-fits-all activity.

If there is one thing I hate, it’s when one type of activist puts down other activists who are not doing things “the right way,” “the proper way,” etc. I prefer we all realize activists fit very different molds, have very different skill sets, and have varying amounts of time they can contribute. It is hard to criticize a parent who works full-time to support a family, and spends much of their free time with that family, for only being able to post status updates or attend protests once in a blue moon. Yet activists who devote their lives to a cause often struggle to understand why others don’t care as much as they do without realizing others do care as much, if not more, but often have personal restraints on how much they can do. Not everyone

can give up their job or find a job fighting for the causes they care about. Even for those who make a living as activists, they too must juggle life, family, and friends with their activism. To this end, every activist should ask themselves two questions:

• Are you doing as much as you want for your cause?

• Are you doing as much as you can for your cause?

If you answer yes to both, you’re doing great. If you answer no to one or the other, maybe it is worth considering whether you might support the cause in other ways that better match your passion, skills, and time. It is also okay to look at something and realize you just don’t want to make activism a priority. Even

Never forget that you have the power to change minds—

don’t be afraid to try.

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The hardest part about any online activism is keeping your cool

when you encounter the absolute worst of people.

assuming you have the time, not everyone is cut out or has the passion for such work. But if you realize you want to be doing more and can, then do it! Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back. Go out and give your all. Again, this could mean you donate money, you donate time, or you do other things that make a difference for the cause and that are meaningful to you. This will mean many different things to many different people. I highlight some of the ways to promote secularism below, but this is not a be-all-end-all list. It is simply a compilation of some of the forms of activism I have experienced that can help yield real change.

Petitioning When I was involved with animal-rights activism, I worked on a campaign in California called Proposition 2. It was to improve the lives of animals inside factory farms by removing battery cages for chickens and gestation crates for pigs. To do this, we needed to first get on the ballot, and to get an initiative on the California ballot, you need a lot of signatures. Now, many signature gatherers you see are paid. They make money per signature gathered. This was a practice we decided not to follow. We wanted the signature-gathering campaign to be volunteer only because we knew any money we saved there could be used to promote and defend the proposition. The initiative was a success. We got the measure on the ballot, and it passed. The Christian Right has no problem using petitions and ballot initiatives. This is how the Mormon Church fought to get Proposition 8 on the California ballot, which was a vote to define marriage as being between one man and one woman and to overturn a California Supreme Court ruling that had previously legalized same-sex marriage in the state. The church spent obscene amounts of money to make sure this passed. They may have used the initiative for evil, but just imagine what we could do if we were to use initiatives for good. Oregon residents did when they voted to legalize death with dignity. Each state will have its own laws regarding petitions and propositions for voters, but if you have the time and resources, pursuing such initiatives is a great way to encourage voter involvement in ending religious privilege on many subjects.

Letter/Email Writing This is really old-school, but get a group together and write letters or emails and slam local businesses or politicians, or whoever your target is, and make your voice heard. These emails do get opened, and even if the U.S. president or senator doesn’t read them, they go into their reports so his or her team

can analyze public opinion on matters. This is the same for almost all politicians. Sometimes it’s just writing a single letter that gets the job done. Phil Ferguson, host of a secular-themed podcast called The Phil Ferguson Show, tells a story about how his daughter’s public school was promoting a Christian breakfast in the mornings before school started. Of course, underprivileged kids would go to take advantage of the free food they desperately needed, but they had to be preached to just to enjoy a much- needed meal. Well, Phil decided to offer the same thing, but from a secular perspective. A free meal with no preaching. The school originally refused, but thanks to some crafty letter writing, the school finally agreed to promote the secular alternative before ultimately deciding to just stop promoting both.

Slacktivism Activism comes in many different shapes and sizes and you should not feel discouraged if you cannot get involved in large national campaigns or even smaller local ones. Not everyone wants to go speak in front of city council, or get into a head-to- head with someone like Ken Ham, but you may still want to be active and do your part. This is where slacktivism comes in. You ever see those people who never do or say anything political but suddenly change their profile picture to an equal sign to stand up for same-sex rights? Or people who don’t march in anti-war protests but post about being anti-war all day long? Those are slacktivists, and they are often discredited as being lazy, but they are, in fact, important parts of the activist community because they get messages out, trigger dialogue, and show solidarity. I often think of my own mother in this case, who rarely, if ever, posts anything about politics on her Facebook wall, but who one day changed her profile photo to an equal sign. I debated someone that same day about the usefulness of such a gesture; they argued it was a meaningless gesture, but I argued they play a much larger role than people give them credit for. For example, when my mom changed her profile picture that day, she in effect told people who saw her profile picture, without words, that she supported equality. As a result, perhaps friends of hers felt a new connection to her, or perhaps those who disagreed with her but respect her took a second to reflect on their own feelings on the issue. Even the debate I had about slacktivism was a form of slacktivism. I did not change the mind of the person I was chatting with—they were dead set in thinking such gestures were useless—but I saw numerous “likes” coming in on my

Slacktivists are often discredited as being lazy, but they are,

in fact, important parts of the activist community.

Don’t be discouraged by those who want to make you feel bad

for not doing more.

comments and realized people were reading the debate as it happened. Some agreed with me, and some did not, but I knew people were reading, and knew I had the potential to change minds or, at the very least, to make people think about what they believed. So what can you do as a slacktivist? You can do plenty.

Facebook Facebook is one of the easiest ways to make your voice heard online. You can share articles, join groups, and have discussions with people around the world about issues you care about. Don’t be shy about sharing your opinion; be bold and willing to have discussions. The hardest part about any online activism is keeping your cool when you encounter the absolute worst of people. The important thing to remember is often you’re not going to change the mind of the person you’re debating with, especially if the debate is about religion or politics. But remember that many people can be watching, and many may not have a position on the issue or are on the fence about it, so how you present yourself and the evidence for your case is important. If you flip out and tell someone off, it may come across that you don’t have a strong case for your position, which makes the other side look better. You will flip out sometimes, and some people will just rub you the wrong way and not care to have an open and honest discussion, but try your best to remember why you do what you do and that minds can be changed, even if not today, then perhaps down the road. Even if you don’t enter into debates, just sharing an article about keeping classrooms secular or supporting marriage equality shows others where you stand and may help them uncover where they stand on the issue or force them to evaluate their own views. Never forget that you have the power to change minds—don’t be afraid to try.

Twitter Twitter may be my favorite social media platform because it connects people from around the world with so much more ease than Facebook; you don’t even have to be friends with people to interact with them. It also has a 140-character limit and forces people to have more focused thoughts, so they can’t ramble on like they can on Facebook. Twitter has great search features that let you find tweets and address them. I used to do a daily search for terms such as atheist, atheism, and evolution and then pick tweets that seemed sincere but totally wrong and try to address them. Or, on really boring days, find some that are totally insane and just have fun with them, but that’s a different subject. For tweets that say something like, “atheists have no

morals because they don’t have a Bible,” tweet a response publicly explaining why atheists do in fact have morals, and that morality does not come from a book of rules. Again, you are unlikely to change the mind of the tweeter, unless they are genuinely mistaken and willing to be wrong, but you can rest assured your tweet will be seen by others. Much like on Facebook, the minds of readers can be changed. Great tweeters are out there for inspiration, too. Donovan Badrock tweets as @MrOzAtheist and does an amazing job questioning religious assumptions and correcting negative ideas about atheism. @GodFreeWorld is a professor of biology who takes a great deal of time out of his day to address those who incorrectly tweet about evolution or defend creationism. His tweets are often more educational for everyone reading than just the creationist. He has taught me a great deal about evolution even though I studied it in school! I could go on and on and on about amazing tweeters you should follow, but they are not hard to find. Twitter is a great resource for any atheist to connect to the online atheist community and learn more about atheism, science, and secularism and to see what battles are being fought in all different parts of the world. With Twitter, you are opened up to the whole world. For example, you can connect with atheists living in the Middle East who can’t even tell their own families they are atheists, but who speak freely on Twitter with those whom they have never met. Twitter is one of the easiest yet most powerful tools available to every type of activist. Use it to your advantage.

Blogging/Writing Blogging and any form of journalism are great ways to get a message out there. The easiest way to start is to sign up for a blogging system such as Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, or the many other sites that are totally free and let you blog away. You can start writing on topics you care about and share them on social media and try to build a following. Ideally, you should first write for someone else who already has a readership and thus can help you reach more people quickly. This is not too difficult to do, as it only takes emailing site admins and editors and telling them who you are and why you want to contribute to their site. For example, sites like Atheist Republic, which reaches millions through social media, are always looking for new talent who have something to say. I’ll tell a short story about how I got my start to show that it can be done. You can use it as a sort of template or motivational push. Initially, I blogged for myself. I would clear maybe eighty readers a month if I was lucky. I would write and write and

If you do nothing but talk only to your friends and family,

that is a start.

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You can be an activist in your own time and

on your own terms.

write, yet no one would read my work.

I was then introduced to a site called Emily Has Books,

which was full of writers discussing important atheist and secular issues. I emailed Emily, shared some of my work, and

told her why I wanted to write for her. My first piece for her had over a thousand readers, and I could not believe it. I wrote there for a few months and caught the attention of someone at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and

I wound up writing there a few times.

It all started because I sent one email to one editor and asked

to make my voice heard, and things grew and grew from there. Today I am sitting on my couch writing this, which will be my second book. Not too bad for a young guy who not too long ago was blogging for eighty readers a month, on a good month.

Movements For those looking to help others through writing or fundraising—or even by simply raising awareness—there is a very cool site out there called Movements (Movements.org). The idea is to crowdsource activism, to provide a space where

people, generally those actively oppressed in the Middle East, can post their story and ask someone to help them tell it. If you’re

a blogger looking to help and need story ideas, Movements is

full of them, and you can do a great deal of good with them.

YouTube For those of you who don’t mind a little extra work but still want to sit in your favorite chair, there is YouTube. The site offers a great way to make your voice heard and address social issues and has the potential to reach large audiences. Video interview shows, social commentary, informational videos, and humor all go a long way to further the cause. For inspiration, check out The Bible Reloaded. Though not appropriate for all ages, it is hilarious and one of my favorites. Creationist Cat is another clever show that rips on religion while making social commentary. It is so insanely dumb I cannot stop watching—I mean, it’s a cat that is a creationist. Some of the best guests are on Ra-Men, hosted by Aron Ra and Mark Nebo. Aron also tackles some of the biggest subjects in his solo videos and does a great deal to spread the fight for secularism and science education. You don’t have to start big. Record what you have to say and share it and if people like it, it will catch on.

Other There are many other ways to make your voice heard online, such as through an Instagram account that shares memes and information, a podcast, a Vine, or a Periscope. Be creative in the ways you reach people, and you will see results. Not everyone has to go take down a giant to make a difference. Simply make your voice heard, and tell people what you think they should know, and hopefully many will join you and get

involved as well. If you do nothing but talk only to your friends and family, that is a start. Many people vote and pick candidates based on information they receive from their social networks, so why not make your views known, especially if someone you know is on the wrong side of an issue? The point is, if you’re interested in being involved, there are ways to do it. You don’t have to be out in the streets or devoting the better part of your day to it if you don’t want to or simply can’t. You can be an activist in your own time and on your own terms. Don’t be discouraged by those who want to make you feel bad for not doing more. Often the ones who criticize activists the loudest are the ones who do the least amount of work.

Dan Arel blogs at Danthropology.net. He is also the author of Parenting Without God: How to Raise Moral, Ethical, and Intelligent Children Free from Religious Dogma.

Ethical, and Intelligent Children Free from Religious Dogma. 1ST QUARTER 2017 www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST |
It’s Time to Eat Some Babies! by Steve Cass Following the release of Monster on

It’s Time to Eat Some Babies!

by Steve Cass

Following the release of Monster on Sunday’s Reason Rally concert video, guitarist Steve Cass reflects on the band’s message

B ack in June, we packed up our instruments and caught a flight from San Diego to Washington, D.C., to play a gig that was anything but typical. We were going to headline an after-party on the

night of Reason Rally 2016—one of the largest gatherings of Atheists ever. It would be our job to help people let loose after a long, hot day at the Lincoln Memorial. Spirits were high as we boarded the plane. As I took my seat, I reflected on the things that resonate with concertgoers—the music, the lyrics, the personal stories— and looked forward to connecting with this particular audience in a special way. You see, our band has always been about more than just music. For us, it’s all about the message.

My wife, Tally Cass, and I formed Monster on Sunday as a way to speak out, which is something not enough artists in our craft do. As the songwriter, Tally writes lyrics that speak the truth: we are Atheists, we are not alone, we do not need god to be good, and wonder is not an activity best left to the faithful. Even her most angry songs carry the thread of the idea that we can be better when we live according to our own moral choices rather than allowing them to be directed by some religious authority or divine entity. Tally and I are more than Atheists; we are anti-theists, which means that not only do we lack a belief in god, we also think that religion contributes nothing but harm to the world. Our anti-theism comes from our backgrounds. Tally grew up in a Mennonite family, and I was raised Mormon.

Our anti-theism comes from our backgrounds. Tally grew up in a Mennonite family, and I was raised Mormon. I even put in my two years as a missionary.

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It was just apathy at first, and it took a while for the disbelief to show up. But once it did, I confronted all of Mormonism’s vapid teachings and irrational doctrines.

I even put in my two years as a

missionary. Growing up, Tally was the only one in her family who was never able to bring herself to believe in god. Her deeply religious father tried to scare Jesus into her when she was a small child. Terrified that devils might enter her unbelieving mouth as she slept, she prayed every night to the point of tears. Of course, nothing ever happened. No matter how she tried or how much fear and shame she felt, she could never understand why her family was so convinced of god’s existence. Nonetheless, she longed to be able to connect with her family on some

level, but they were never able to understand her. Today, her feelings as the rebellious black sheep ooze out of songs like Pain, which she dedicated to her father at the Reason Rally concert. Unlike Tally, I easily took to my indoctrination. I had been entrenched in the Mormon faith my entire life when

I decided to stop attending church a few years after my

missionary stint. For me, it was just apathy at first, and it

took a while for the disbelief to show up. But once it did,

took a while for the disbelief to show up. But once it did, I confronted all

I confronted all of Mormonism’s vapid teachings and irrational doctrines. And then I got angry at the guilt culture that nourished my wasted, brainwashed youth. By channeling that anger into my guitar-playing, I have found a home in a band that uses music to get out the message that faith is not a virtue. That message was not lost on the audience in D.C. as we tore through our album, Baby Eater. The band mockingly proposed a new set of commandments. Our music brought out an incredible energy in a crowd united by an idea that still is far less popular than its philosophical merits should demand. In the end this is what connects us—a need to be heard, a desire to be understood, and a hope that one day everyone will know that “Atheist” is not a bad word.

Watch the live concert performance on Youtube.com/MonsterOnSunday. Visit MonsterOnSunday.com for music, merch, and much more!

Visit MonsterOnSunday.com for music, merch, and much more! I have found a home in a band

I have found a home in a band that uses music to get out the message that faith is not a virtue.

P OlitiCal a CtiOn C OMMittees Trump’s Promise to Funnel Campaign Money through Religion by

POlitiCal aCtiOn COMMittees

Trump’s Promise to Funnel Campaign Money through Religion

by Amanda Knief

National Legal and Public Policy Director of American Atheists

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D onald Trump, like every president since Dwight Eisenhower, attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on February 2. The event is

sponsored by a secretive Christian group called the Fellowship, which works to provide elected officials with teachings about Jesus Christ. Controversy has swirled around the event because of this group and for the speeches presidents have given there. This year was no exception, but the president’s remarks were more than controversial—they were downright alarming with his promise to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that, remember.” American Atheists believes that the Johnson Amendment is a crucial part of the wall between religion and government, and we encourage you to contact your U.S. representative and both of your U.S. senators to tell them that you don’t want the amendment repealed.

Who is Affected? TheJohnsonAmendmentprohibitsnon-profitorganizations registered under provision 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code from endorsing or opposing any person running for elected office. It is not aimed at churches 1 in particular; the amendment applies to all entities that form for religious, charitable, literary, scientific, or educational purposes who register for this designation. Having 501(c)(3) status confers two valuable privileges: tax exemption for the entity and allowing donations to the organization to be tax-deductible for the donor. 2 American Atheists has a 501(c)(3) designation as an educational non-profit, and is therefore subject to the Johnson Amendment restrictions

History The Johnson Amendment became law in 1954 without fanfare or debate. In fact, the Congressional Record shows no discussion at all related to the bill, which was introduced by Lyndon B. Johnson, then a senator from Texas. Johnson sponsored the amendment in order to limit the influence of two anti-communism, non-profit organizations that were spreading the national conservatism of McCarthyism while also helping to fund the campaign of Johnson’s opponent in his senate re-election

The IRS does not require financial disclosures from churches.

bid. 3 At the time, the only political speech limits placed on 501(c) (3) non-profits were those related to influencing legislation.

Why It Makes Sense Proponents of the Johnson Amendment argue that with the privileges of tax-exemption and tax-deductible donations come reasonable government restrictions. No one forces an entity to register with the IRS as a 501(c)(3); it is a privilege that the government grants with the enormous benefit of being tax-exempt and accepting tax-deductible gifts. Because entities self-select to be 501(c)(3)s, they must accept the restrictions that come with it. 4 We also support the amendment because the government, through the IRS, treats churches differently than all other non- profits. The IRS lists five criteria that entities must meet to be considered a 501(c)(3):

1. The entity must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific, or other charitable purposes.

2. The net earnings may not inure benefit of any private individual or stakeholder.

3. No substantial part of its activities may be attempting to influence legislation.

4. The entity may not intervene in political campaigns.

5. The organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate public policy. 5

When an entity seeks this status, it must fill out an arduous application that requires it to register its Articles of Incorporation and the dissolution clauses of its bylaws. If granted 501(c)(3) status, each year the entity must submit a Form 990 that details its revenues, expenses, assets, and liabilities. Some organizations that receive large donations must also file a Schedule of Contributions, which includes individual donors’ names.

But If the Entity is a Church … Their only requirement for meeting these five criteria is simply to claim that they do. Churches do not have to complete any other part of this non-profit application, file an annual Form 990, or file a Schedule of Contributions. Why? Because

The Fellowship works to provide elected officials with teachings about Jesus Christ.

Churches are sheltered from the possibility of an IRS audit to a degree higher than is provided to any other individual, company, or organization.

they are churches. Churches “that meet the requirements of IRC Section 501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax- exempt status from the IRS.” 6

No Audits for Churches Either Churches are sheltered from the possibility of an IRS audit to a degree higher than is provided to any other individual, company, or organization. 7 The IRS may only instigate a “church tax inquiry” if a high-level Treasury official reasonably believes, based on evidence provided in writing, that an entity has violated a narrow list of restrictions. 8

What’s the Worst-case Scenario? If the Johnson Amendment were repealed, churches could become unregulated and unchecked sources of campaign financing. For example, without the amendment in place, a church could pass the offering plate in support of the 2020 Trump campaign, invite one candidate for elected office to speak at a church service but not their opponent, and receive donations in return for political endorsements. Because the IRS does not require financial disclosures from churches, all of the examples above would happen without transparency and public knowledge.

What are the Arguments for Repeal? Many detractors of the Johnson Amendment claim it is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech and free exercise 9 of religion because it prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates for elected office. These objections have some merit. The amendment does not prohibit non-profits from endorsing or opposing proposed laws, cabinet appointees, judicial appointees, or social issues. Nor does it prohibit voter education and activism regarding non-elected candidates, political issues, or how to vote. 10 So, opponents of the Amendment argue, why is voicing a position about an elected official taboo when no other political speech is prohibited? In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has become increasingly deferential to religious entities that claim a federal law restricts their free exercise of religion. In 2012, it ruled that churches can discriminate in their hiring, and they don’t

have to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act. 11 In its well-known Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling in 2014, the Court extended the recognition of entities having religious beliefs to closely held, for-profit companies (meaning that there are a limited number of owners and the stock is not publicly traded). 12 It could be argued that this deference, coupled with recognizing the constitutional rights of non-profit religious entities, could call into question whether the Johnson Amendment could be viewed as an illegal restriction on an organization’s ability to freely exercise its religious beliefs through speech. 13

Are Churches Being Penalized for Violating the Amendment? The IRS does not even appear to enforce the Johnson Amendment as it applies to churches. Since 2008, the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that advocates for less regulation of religion, has organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual event which encourages and supports clergy to speak about candidates for elected office, to record their remarks, and to send them to the IRS. In a 2015 story, the Washington Post reported that of the two thousand clergy who have participated in the Pulpit Freedom Sunday, only one participant has been audited and there was no penalty. 14

When Would Repeal Happen? Trump cannot “get rid of and totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment by himself. He needs Congress to repeal it, and progress is already underway in both chambers. On the day before the National Prayer Breakfast, Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act (S. 264), which would allow non-profits to keep their tax benefits while also being able to endorse or oppose political candidates. That same day, Congressman Steve Scalise of New Orleans introduced the same legislation (H.R. 781) in the House of Representatives. Right now, your senators and representative need to hear that you want them to uphold the Johnson Amendment. Ideally, they should get a call from you every day. If these bills move forward, American Atheists will lobby members of Congress to add a provision that would make all churches and houses of worship subject to the same requirements imposed by the government on all other non-profits. If

The government, through the IRS, treats churches differently than all other non-profits.

30 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

1ST QUARTER 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court has become increasingly deferential to religious entities that claim a federal law restricts their free exercise of religion.

this does happen, we will be posting news on our websites (Atheists.org and AtheistVoter.org) our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed.

Endnotes

1. The IRS uses the word “church” to mean all

houses of worship. “Glossary,” Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations, p. 33 (2015);

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf.

2. This is in contrast to 501(c)(4) entities which are also

tax-exempt non-profits but because they are organized to influence legislation, donations are not tax-deductible.

3. “LBJ, the IRS, and Churches: The Unconstitutionality

of the Johnson Amendment in Light of Recent

Supreme Court Precedent,” Regent University Law Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, p. 244 (2011-2012).

4. See Christian Echoes Nat’l Ministry v. United States, 470

F.2d 849, 857 (10th Cir. Okla. 1972) (finding “[i]n light of the fact that tax exemption is a privilege, a matter of grace rather than right, we hold that the limitations contained in Section 501(c)(3) withholding exemption from nonprofit corporations do not deprive [a church] of its constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech. The taxpayer may engage in all such activities without restraint, subject, however, to withholding of the exemption or, in the alternative, the taxpayer may refrain from such activities and obtain the privilege of exemption.”).

5. “Tax-Exempt Status”; Tax Guide for Churches

& Religious Organizations, p. 2 (2015); https://

www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf.

Continued on page 36

Rational Politics: Fighting Post-Truth Politics and Alternative Facts

The Rational Politics (RAP) project gathers reason-oriented citizens of all political stripes to fight the emerging politics which reject objective facts in favor of emotions and personal beliefs. We call this “post-truth politics.” RAP uses best practices in communicating and marketing to get people to care about truth in politics. RAP offers tools and resources that are essential to making wise political decisions that will benefit our society as a whole. RAP is a subproject of Intentional Insights, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting rational thinking and wise decision-making in politics and other areas of life to bring about an altruistic and flourishing world. Learn more about RAP at bit.ly/2jO5aht. To get involved, contact Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, project coordinator of RAP and president of Intentional Insights, at Gleb@Intentionalinsights.org.

of Intentional Insights, at Gleb@Intentionalinsights.org . 1ST QUARTER 2017 www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 31

Dealing with Political Irrationality

by Gleb Tsipursky

A theists in the U.S. cover the entire spectrum of

political views, despite the assumption that to be an

Atheist means to be a left-wing liberal. No matter

who you voted for or how much you were impressed or disgusted by the tactics used by the Trump and Clinton campaigns, there was a troubling amount of irrationality that was given wings early on and has now taken flight. If we let this go unchecked, the wall of church/state separation will be gone before the midterm elections because the Trump Administration appears determined to tear it down. This is evident from Trump’s announcement at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2 that he’s determined to remove the prohibition on churches endorsing political candidates (National Prayer Breakfast, Feb. 2, 2017, CSPAN.org). For as tempting as it might be to not dwell on the divisiveness in this country, we must take stock now and reflect on how to deal with the irrationality that is perhaps the worst problem in American politics today. Although we Atheists consider ourselves inherently rational by virtue of not believing in the supernatural, we are just as likely to be irrational in other areas of life. Rationality is the ability to assess reality accurately and thereby make wise decisions to reach one’s goals. This election has been a testament to the current inability of many voters to make correct assessments of reality, which leads them to make decisions that are directly opposed to their own best interests. Research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and behavioral economics shows that we make these irrational assessments and poor decisions because of thinking errors. We tend to see ourselves as rational creatures who form opinions based on facts and logic. But in reality, our brains are wired in such a way that emotions play a much larger role in influencing

our beliefs than we intuitively perceive. David Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) is one book written for a general audience that explains some of this research and its findings. Politicians skilled in the psychology of persuasion, as described in books such as Robert Cialdini’s 1984 classic, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, can take advantage of our thinking errors to manipulate us. Unless we are paying attention, we are highly likely to be influenced by their appeals to these flawed patterns of feeling and thinking and then make biased political decisions as a result. For example, polls showed that most voters on the eve of the election perceived Donald Trump as more trustworthy than Hillary Clinton, despite quantitative information provided by nonpartisan fact-checkers that proves Trump lies much more often than Clinton. 1 This false perception came from the Trump campaign’s success in manipulating many voters into believing that Clinton is less honest, even though the reverse is true. The Trump campaign did so through the illusory truth effect, a thinking error in our minds that happens when false statements are repeated many times. When this happens, we begin to see them as true, despite the evidence to the contrary. When something is repeated often enough, we are prone to agree with it more—regardless of whether it is objectively true or not. I’d like to stop here for a moment and have you notice that the previous sentence says the same thing as the one before it. It provided no additional information. Ask yourself if it caused you to agree with my claim more than you did after reading just the first sentence. The illusory truth effect was used extensively by Trump throughout the campaign. Consider his relentless repetition of the claim that NAFTA is the “worst deal ever signed” and cost America “millions of jobs.” Despite the fact that expert

We must reflect on how to deal with the irrationality that is perhaps the worst problem in American politics today.

32 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

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The illusory truth effect from Christian right-wing demagogues is a common tool for discrimination against Atheists.

opinions on all sides widely differ on NAFTA’s impact on the U.S. job market, Trump has successfully convinced millions that NAFTA is nothing but bad for American workers. The illusory truth effect from Christian right-wing demagogues is a common tool for discrimination against Atheists. Consider the statements made by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League. He repeatedly denounces Atheists with variations on an ad-hominem attack. An early version was lobbed directly at David Silverman and American Atheists, Inc., when he said that Atheists “believe in nothing, they stand for nothing, they think they came from nothing.” 2 His attempt at defamation became more insidious when he later said that Atheists “stand for nothing, believe in nothing, and are good for nothing.” 3 No wonder Atheists are among the least trusted and liked minorities. For instance, Atheists get around the same negative “likability” ratings as Muslims. 4 Another study showed that Atheists are also less trusted than Muslims and are at about the same level of trust granted to rapists. Yes, rapists. 5 Additional studies also show the distrust and dislike toward Atheists felt by the U.S. public, thanks in part to the thinking errors to which demagogues like Donohue appeal. 6 Donohue also joins legions of other pundits and politicians alike who employ the illusory truth effect when he says that

that we are a Christian nation.” 7 This false

“everyone knows

claim is the perfect example of the power of the illusory truth effect. How many times have you come across that statement, or a variation of it, such as our Constitution being based on biblical values? It’s probably as many times as I have, which is more than you can count. But in addition to hearing it in the media, we can easily find it among our own acquaintances. If you haven’t done so already, ask around, and see how many people assume that “under God” has always been a part of the Pledge of Allegiance or that “In God We Trust” has always been on U.S. currency. Another example of Trump playing to our thinking errors

was his proposed ban on any Muslim entering the U.S. The proposal was then reduced to an extreme vetting of them, along with a focus on policing Muslim neighborhoods and monitoring mosques. Today, terrorism is one of the biggest worries for the U.S. population. Yet for the past ten years, the people who died in the attacks on American soil were killed by terrorists who were either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Trump’s policy proposal is therefore irrational because it does not respond to a realistic assessment of the threat of terrorism. Instead, it appeals to the horns effect, an error in thinking where negative emotions about one topic—in this case, terrorism perpetrated by radical Islamists—are applied to all Muslims. And what about monitoring American Muslims since the attacks were, after all, carried out by citizens and permanent residents? Let’s take a look at the numbers. According to JohnstonArchive.net, the seven terrorist acts committed in the United States between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2015, were carried out by a total of nine people. Six of the nine were motivated by Muslim beliefs. 8 A 2011 survey estimated that the adult Muslim population in the United States to be 1.8 million. 9 Dividing the number of Muslim adults by the six who committed terrorist acts yields a one-in-300,000 chance that any Muslim you see would commit a terrorist act in one year. That’s like picking out a terrorist randomly from the number of people in several football stadiums. Applying this sort of probabilistic thinking is a research-based way to deal with any form of fear. It allows us to see whether these anxious thoughts are realistic. We can see that merely being Muslim is a very poor statistical indicator of whether someone is a terrorist, thus making the fear of all Muslims irrational. These facts do not, in any way, imply that religion is not at the heart of the problem. Although the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, it is the case that in 2015, six of nine terrorists in the U.S. were of the Islamic faith. Yet the other three terrorists were motivated by radical Christian and right-wing beliefs, especially

by radical Christian and right-wing beliefs, especially Our brains are wired in such a way that

Our brains are wired in such a way that emotions play a much larger role in influencing our beliefs than we intuitively perceive.

Bill Donohue’s defamation became more insidious when he said that Atheists “stand for nothing, believe in nothing, and are good for nothing.”

the November 2015 shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Today, there are more radicals in Islam than in other religions, but the focus needs to be on radical behavior as much as religion itself. Though it was to a much lesser extent, the Clinton campaign also appealed to human irrationality, mostly in response to the Trump campaign’s success with it. Consider the comment by Clinton that half of Trump’s supporters belong in the “basket of deplorables” and are “irredeemable” by their sexism, racism, and homophobia. This choice of words appeals to the horns effect by associating “deplorable” with a large portion of the U.S. population. Yet consider someone who was convinced by Trump’s rhetoric that Muslims are to be feared. This person has developed irrationally racist beliefs, but does this make the person inherently deplorable or irredeemable? Certainly not! At least she apologized for this comment, yet such rhetoric represents the perspectives of many liberals. Fortunately, we are not doomed to this fate of irrationality. Recent scholarship by Dan and Chip Heath in Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (2013) shows that we can become more rational in our voting and in how we assess politics in general. Doing so requires only four things:

1. It’s necessary, but not at all difficult, to learn about typical thinking errors.

2. We have to notice when they are potentially impacting us, and then resist this influence.

3. We must call out those politicians—and their spokespeople—who appeal to such thinking errors.

4. We need to learn how to engage meaningfully with others when we see that they are falling for such manipulation.

Many will claim that this is unrealistic and that U.S. citizens are inherently irrational in their politics. I beg to differ. Over the last few months, I have published many articles and appeared on a number of TV and radio programs to talk about how to make politics more rational. 10 I did so as part of my service as the volunteer president of Intentional Insights, a non-profit devoted to spreading rational thinking and wise decision-making in politics and other areas of life. Many people have emailed me to express gratitude for the chance to learn how politicians try to manipulate them. Some of them have asked how they can most effectively learn to make rational political assessments. Plenty among them now donate their time and money to support the mission of

Intentional Insights. While these people span the entire spectrum of political views, from the most conservative to the most liberal, they all care first and foremost about the truth. Making politics less irrational by helping people make accurate assessments of reality is a bipartisan issue. Everyone wins by having more rational citizens—except those politicians who rely on misleading and manipulative rhetoric to sway voters. Unfortunately, this election cycle showed how easy and effective it is to appeal to human irrationality. The future is dark for Atheists’ rights if we do not focus our efforts on addressing this problem in our political system. After all, it’s up to our elected officials and appointed judges to uphold church/state separation, which is in grave danger now that Trump has made it clear that he wants churches and religious organizations to be able to endorse political candidates—something that hasn’t been allowed since the passage of the Johnson Amendment in 1954. This will be a long, difficult fight because most members of Congress wear their religious faith proudly on their sleeves. They do this because it sways voters as effectively as misleading rhetoric does.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is an activist for reason and rationality. He serves as the president of Intentional Insights, a non-profit that popularizes science-based rational thinking and wise decision-making in politics and other areas of life. He researches decision-making as a professor at The Ohio State University. He is also a speaker, consultant, and coach. Go to GlebTsipursky.com to learn more.

Endnotes

1. “How the Heck Can Voters Think Donald Trump is More Honest than Hillary Clinton?” by Chris Cillizza, Nov. 2, 2016, WashingtonPost.com

2. “Dueling Billboards Face Off in Christmas Controversy,” Nov. 30, 2010, Religion.Blogs.CNN.com

3. CatholicLeague.org/adopt-an-atheist-campaign-begins

4. “How Americans Feel about Religious Groups,” July 16, 2014, PewForum.org

5. NCBI.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22059841

6. ScientificAmerican.com/article/in-atheists-we-distrust/

7. CatholicLeague.org/land-diversity-dishonesty

8. JohnstonsArchive.net/terrorism/wrjp255a.html

9. “Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support of Extremism,” Aug. 30, 2011, People-Press.org

10. GlebTsipursky.com/about

Ask around, and see how many people assume that “under God” has always been a part of the Pledge of Allegiance or that “In God We Trust” has always been on U.S. currency.

34 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

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A Most Righteous Adventure — Continued from page 11

My father had a little pyramid set up in the living room, and he’d lie down inside it because he was going to live to be 240 years old. It was kind of a joke, but not. He was really scared of death. Just look at his work, and you can see it’s everywhere. But we did talk about writing. I really admired and learned

a lot from him—especially the day-in-day-out discipline of how to be a writer.”

Did you ever consider writing in the horror genre?

I never would have wanted to be a horror writer—I would

have been too scared. I don’t like scary things. I’m already scared. I don’t want to see scary things. I love to laugh and make other people laugh. If you’re laughing at something, I think it’s really hard to be scared of it.

He liked to scare people, you want to make them laugh. Perhaps you’re both trying to purge or escape the same fears in different ways. Yeah, there’s truth to that.

What did you think of his metaphysical world?

I bought into it for a while, and then I started thinking,

This is all bullshit! It’s made up! It’s just to make you feel better!

I’d say, “It’s not a spirit in the hallway, it was your imagination, Dad. There’s a much simpler explanation.” And that would make him very, very mad. He’d say, “Why are you so skeptical? Why don’t you believe in anything?’”

Laughter—that’s your belief system. I’m a very worried, anxious person. It’s hard for me not to be upset about one thing or another. But laughter and play, those are the relief, you know? Those are the escape from that. The laughter feels so good to me, it always has.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a cult classic. Do people quote lines to you when they discover you’re the co-writer? People will say to me, “Excellent!” or “Whoa!” But there’s

a whole lot of people out there who have no idea what Bill &

Ted’s Excellent Adventure is. They’re like, huh? The majority,

I’d say.

What? Does this mean we’re old? Surely when they were kids, your children thought you were the coolest dad ever for writing that. No, not at all. It’s just Dad’s job, you know?

Well, as one of the old folks, I’m glad to hear you have a new Bill & Ted sequel in the works. Yeah, we’re going to revisit them at the age that they’d really

be now, about 45 or 47. They were given the responsibility to write a song that is going to save the universe, essentially, and transform reality. But they haven’t done it yet. And they get the call like, “You got to do it right now!” So they take another journey to try to find that song that’s going to save the world. It’s [tentatively] called, Bill & Ted Face the Music.

Will Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter reprise their roles as Bill and Ted? Sure, they’re part of the whole thing. [Co-writer] Ed Solomon and I started talking to them about this years ago. We’ve been working on this hand-in-hand with those guys for seven years now.

Who will you send them back to meet? At this point Jimi [Hendrix] is in the story, but what ends up on screen—if anything—who knows.

Too bad God doesn’t have a sense of humor. You could have sent them back to biblical times. If you think about it, comedy is strongly connected to surprise. God is incapable of being surprised. He knows everything.

Will we see a sequel to The Story of God? I’m thinking of doing a follow-up, because God is such a great character. Maybe I’ll follow him through the Quran and through the Book of Mormon, which is the dumbest, most laughable book I’ve ever read. It is ludicrous from beginning to end, much more so than the Old Testament.

Maybe you can send God to a therapist at some point. A Freudian one! Except he doesn’t have a mom. But it’ll work!

Do you think God will ever learn his lesson? Nope. He’s trapped. He is perfect and, therefore, incapable of learning anything.

And what about Satan? Does he finally get his due in Satan’s Story? Yeah, your speculation that Satan ends up being The One comes true. In the end, he’s clearly the smarter guy. Satan is Bugs Bunny to God’s Elmer Fudd.

Natasha Stoynoff’s most recent book is Chicken Soup for the Soul:

Curvy & Confident: 101 Stories about Loving Yourself and Your Body with Supermodel Emme. Her 2016 People magazine story about being grabbed by Donald Trump during a 2005 interview is not fake news— but she wishes it were.

When a very, very religious person has a very skeptical child, it’s going to be bumpy.

Political Action Churches — Continued from page 31

6. “Recognition of Tax-Exempt Status: Automatic

Exemption for Churches,” Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations, p. 2 (2015); https://www. irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf (emphasis added).

7. IRC § 7611.

8. “Special Rules Limiting IRS Authority to Audit

a Church,” https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-

profits/churches-religious-organizations/special-

rules-limiting-irs-authority-to-audit-a-church

9. Several Appeals Court cases have determined that the

restrictions of the Johnson Amendment and more broadly the restriction of 501(c)(3)s are not a substantial burden on religious exercise. See Branch Ministries v. Rossotti, 211 F.3d 137 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (holding that not being able to express opinions about candidates for public office does not substantially burden a 501(c)(3) organization); Christian Echoes National Ministry v. U.S. 470 F.2d 849 (10th Cir. 1972) (holding that limitations of conduct in 501(c)(3) are constitutionally valid and do not deprive an organization of free speech or free exercise of religion).

10. However, other provisions of 501(c)(3) do restrict attempts to influence legislation. The IRS allows a certain amount of lobbying to be done by these entities. See

“Instructions for Schedule C (Form 990 or 990-EZ), IRS (2016); https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i990sc.pdf.

11. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church

& Sch. v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171 (2012).

12. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751 (2014).

13. There is no court decision that says the Johnson

Amendment is unconstitutional; rather, the opposite is true. But recent decisions call into question previous court opinions. See Christian Echoes Nat’l Ministry v. United States, 470 F.2d 849, 857 (10th Cir. Okla. 1972) (finding “[i]n light of the fact that tax exemption is a privilege, a matter of grace rather than right, we hold that the limitations contained in Section 501(c) (3) withholding exemption from nonprofit corporations do not deprive [a church] of its constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech. The taxpayer may engage in all such activities without restraint, subject, however, to withholding of the exemption or, in the alternative, the taxpayer may refrain

from such activities and obtain the privilege of exemption.”).

14. “The Post’s View: Trump is Wrong. Pulpit Freedom

Already Exists.” Washington Post, Aug. 5, 2016; https://www.

washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-wrong-pulpit-

freedom-already-exists/2016/08/05/77706c10-5815-11e6-

9aee-8075993d73a2_story.html?utm_term=.8b8a000b6da0.

9aee-8075993d73a2_story.html?utm_term=.8b8a000b6da0. 36 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org From the co-creator
9aee-8075993d73a2_story.html?utm_term=.8b8a000b6da0. 36 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org From the co-creator

36 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

From the co-creator of the Bill & Ted movies

THE FUNNIEST STORIES EVER TOLD!

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DIR. REGIONAL OPERATIONS Ken Loukinen (S. Florida Reg. Dir.) KLoukinen@Atheists.org

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1ST QUARTER 2017

This book exposes the pre-Judaism roots of Christendom and the fabricated Jesus tales. It provides
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Available in paperback and e-book at
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“A sometimes funny, always informative look into the mind behind America’s frontline of Atheism. Dave reminds us that religion is everyone’s enemy.”

~ Taslima Nasrin, international human rights activist and author of Shame and Revenge

human rights activist and author of Shame and Revenge David Silverman President of American Atheists Support

David Silverman President of American Atheists

Support American Atheists by purchasing an autographed copy for $50 ($25 is tax-deductible where allowed by law), and receive a free one-year membership. Order online at Atheists.org/FightingGod or send payment to American Atheists, P.O. Box 158, Cranford, NJ 07016.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 39

AFFILIATES AND LOCAL PARTNERS

For the most up-to-date list, visit Atheists.org/Affiliates or contact Greg Lammers at GLammers@Atheists.org.

State

Group Name

City

Site

LOCAL PARTNERS

State Group Name City Site LOCAL PARTNERS G A Atlanta Freethought Society Atlanta

GA

Atlanta Freethought Society

Atlanta

http://atlantafreethought.org

MN

Minnesota Atheists

Minneapolis

http://mnatheists.org

PA

PA Non-Believers

York

http://www.panonbelievers.org

NY

Long Island Atheist Meetup

Lynbrook

http://goo.gl/K2koj

Island Atheist Meetup Lynbrook http://goo.gl/K2koj AK Alaskan Atheists Anchorage

AK

Alaskan Atheists

Anchorage

http://www.meetup.com/AlaskanAtheists/

AL

Birmingham Atheists Meetup

Birmingham

http://www.meetup.com/atheists-132

AL

Montgomery Area Freethought Association

Montgomery

http://www.montgomeryfreethought.org

AL

UA Alabama Atheists and Agnostics

Tuscaloosa

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2234029305

AL

West Alabama Freethought Association

Tuscaloosa

http://www.meetup.com/westalabamafreethought

AR

ArkLaTex Freethinkers, Atheists, Agnostics & Humanists

Texarkana

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=128265161357

AZ

Reason Riders

Glendale

Reasonriders.com

CA-N

Atheist Advocates of San Francisco

San Francisco

http://atheistadvocatesofsanfrancisco.com/

CA-N

Atheists and Other Freethinkers

Sacramento

http://aofonline.org

CA-N

Contra Costa Atheists & Freethinkers

Pleasant Hill

http://www.meetup.com/Contra-Costa-Atheists-and-Freethinkers/

CA-N

San Francisco Atheists

San Francisco

http://www.sfatheists.com

CA-N

Rosmoor Atheists

Walnut Creek

http://goo.gl/K2koj

CA-S

Humanist Fellowship of San Diego

San Diego

http://goo.gl/K2koj

CA-S

Backyard Skeptics

Villa Park

http://www.backyardskeptics.com

CA-S

New Atheists of East County

Jamul

http://www.meetup.com/New-Atheists-of-East-County/

CA-S

Riverside Atheists and Free Thinkers (RAFT)

Riverside

http://RiversideAtheists.org

CO

Boulder Atheists

Boulder

http://www.boulderatheists.org

CO

Metro State Atheists

Denver

http://metrostateatheists.wordpress.com

CO

Pikes Peak Atheists

Colorado Springs

http://goo.gl/K2koj

CT

Atheist Humanist Society of CT and RI

Norwich

http://atheisthumanist.org

DC

American University Rationalists and Atheists

Washington

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34367344446

FL

Central Florida Secular Alliance

Dunnellon

http://cfsecularalliance.weebly.com

FL

Gator Freethought (UF)

Gainesville

http://www.gatorfreethought.com/

FL

Sarasota-Manatee Atheists & Secular Humanists (SMASH)

Nokomis

http://goo.gl/K2koj

FL

Humanist Community of the Space Coast

Satellite Beach

http://goo.gl/K2koj

FL

Tallahassee Atheists

Tallahassee

http://www.tallahasseeatheists.com/

FL

Williston Atheists

Morriston

http://goo.gl/K2koj

GA

Atlanta Freethought Society

Atlanta

http://www.atlantafreethought.org

GA

Fayette Freethought Society

Peachtree City

http://www.meetup.com/Fayette-Freethought-Society

GA

Kennesaw State U. Student Coalition for Inquiry

Kennesaw

http://www.facebook.com/ksusci

IA

Atheists United for a Rational America

Iowa City

http://rationalamerica.com

IL

Chicagoland Freethinkers

Chicago

http://www.meetup.com/chicago-freethought/

IL

IL/WI Stateline Atheists Society

Rockford

http://www.meetup.com/statelineatheists

IL

The Secular Segment

Mt. Vernon

http://www.secularsegment.com

KS

U of K Society of Open-Minded Atheists & Agnostics

Lawrence

http://www.kusoma.org

KY

Lexington Atheists

Lexington

http://www.meetup.com/The-Lexington-Atheists-Meetup-Group

KY

Secular Student Alliance, Moorehad State University

Moorehead

Facebook.com/msussa

LA

New Orleans Secular Humanist Association

New Orleans

http://nosha.org

MA

Boston Atheists

Boston

http://bostonatheists.org

MD

Secular Student Alliance, Frostburg State University

Frostburg

Secularstudents.org/frostburg

AFFILIATES AND LOCAL PARTNERS

MD

Maryland Freethinkers

Annapolis

http://www.mdfreethinkers.com

ME

Maine Atheists and Humanists

Waterville

http://goo.gl/K2koj

MI

Atheists, Skeptics, & Humanists Assn, N. Michigan U.

Marquette

http://goo.gl/K2koj

MI

Mid-Michigan Atheists & Humanists

Lansing

http://www.mmah.org

MN

Campus Atheists Skeptics & Humanists

Minneapolis

http://cashumn.org

MO

Columbia Atheists

Columbia

http://www.meetup.com/The-Columbia-Atheists-Meetup-Group

MO

Kansas City Atheist Coalition

Kansas City

http://www.kcatheists.org

MO

O’Fallon Freethinkers

O’Fallon

http://www.meetup.com/OFallon-Freethinkers

MO

Secular Student Alliance @ UCMO

Warrensburg

http://www.centralskeptics.org

MO

Springfield Skeptics

Springfield

http://goo.gl/K2koj

MO

We Are Atheism

Grandview

http://goo.gl/K2koj

MS

Great Southern Humanist Society

Biloxi

http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/southernatheist

NC

A-News

Raleigh

http://www.apartmentJ.com

NC

Hickory Humanist Alliance

Claremont

http://goo.gl/K2koj

NC

WNC Humanists

Fairview

http://www.wnchumanists.org

NE

Lincoln Atheists

Lincoln

http://www.lincolnatheists.org

NJ

Camden County Humanists

Blackwood

http://goo.gl/K2koj

NJ

Secular Student Alliance @ Montclair State Univ.

Montclair

http://secularstudents.org/montclair

NJ

William Paterson Univ. Secular Student Alliance

Pompton Lakes

https://www.facebook.com/SSA.WPUNJ

NM

Atheist Community of Santa Fe

Santa Fe

http://goo.gl/K2koj

NY

Freethinkers of Upstate New York

Syracuse

http://www.funygroup.org

NY

Hudson Valley Humanists

Saugerties

http://hudsonvalley.humanists.net

NY

New York City Atheists

New York

http://nyc-atheists.org

NY

Westchester Atheists

Chappaqua

http://www.meetup.com/atheists-504

42 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

1ST QUARTER 2017

OH

Free Inquiry Group

Cincinnati

http://www.gofigger.org

OH

Freethought Dayton

Dayton

http://www.meetup.com/freethoughtdayton

OH

Mid-Ohio Atheists

Mansfield

http://midohioatheists.org

OK

Oklahoma Atheists

Oklahoma City

http://www.oklahomaatheists.com

SC

Piedmont Humanists

Greenville

http://www.PiedmontHumanists.org

SC

Upstate Atheists

Boiling Springs

http://goo.gl/K2koj

TN

Memphis Freethought Alliance

Memphis

http://memphisfreethought.com

TN

Rationalists of East Tennessee

Knoxville

http://www.rationalists.org

TX

Corpus Christi Atheists

Corpus Christi

http://www.meetup.com/CCAtheists

TX

El Paso Atheists

El Paso

http://www.elpasoatheists.com

TX

Golden Triangle Freethinkers

Beaumont

http://goldentrianglefreethinkers.org

TX

Kingwood Humble Atascocita Atheists

Atascocita

http://www.kha-atheists.org/

TX

Secular Humanist Society of East Texas

Nacagdoches

http://goo.gl/K2koj

TX

Wise Free Thinkers and Skeptics

Wise

http://www.meetup.com/Wise-Free-Thinkers-and-Skeptics

UT

Salt Lake Valley Atheists

Salt Lake City

http://nowscape.com/a

VA

NOVA Atheists

Leesburg

http://www.meetup.com/NOVA-Atheists

WA

Seattle Atheists

Seattle

http://www.seattleatheists.org

WI

Southeast Wisconsin FreeThinkers

Milwaukee

http://swiftnow.org

WV

Mountain State Freethinkers

Martinsville

http://www.meetup.com/Mountain-State-Freethinkers

WY

Wyoming Atheists

Facebook.com/groups/wyomingatheists

US

Black Atheists of America

http://www.blackatheistsofamerica.org

Intl

Southeast Asia Freethought Association

Intl

Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society

http://www.patas.co

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• 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;

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Why I Am An Atheist

Why I Am An Atheist by Clint Barger I was born into the family of a
Why I Am An Atheist by Clint Barger I was born into the family of a

by Clint Barger

I was born into the family of a Southern Baptist deacon,

so the yoke of indoctrination was waiting for me the

minute I arrived. For the first eighteen years, my

critical thinking skills were hindered by a dogmatic ideology

and reliance on faith instead of reason. By the time I graduated from Baylor University, maturity led me to suspect that Christianity was too exclusive and artificial to be some kind of virtuous, divine plan. Claims about god’s chosen people and eternal damnation for the rest appeared to be misguided human values, not infallible wisdom. I eventually moved out of my parents’ home and seized the opportunity to study many things for the first time. I started with Eastern philosophy and discovered it was actually a common-sense form of metaphysical naturalism. Meditation became a worthwhile endeavor, while prayer felt superficial and empty. I became receptive to reality at face value instead of insisting that it conformed to a specific set of predisposed beliefs. By having no higher purpose for anyone or anything than to simply exist, life appeared to be—ironically—still miraculous. Instead of being for the sport of a deity, existence had no ulterior motive after all. Life appeared to be for our own appropriation as naturally occurring agents of the Earth. Humankind turned out to be an essential, welcome feature of our planet, which was quite uplifting compared to the doctrine of original sin and the fallen paradise. With its threats of worldwide evil and an eternal hell, I also began to notice how much Christianity exploits our natural inclination to fear for our loved ones. Our families are held hostage and forced to choose between two destinies: one is our wildest dream and the other is our worst nightmare. Then, on

a particular September 11th, I suddenly realized that the three

Abrahamic religions of the Middle East had betrayed us all by pitting cultures against each other to bring about “Armageddon” without there ever having been a god involved. My family members and close friends remained dedicatd Christians as my skepticism continued to grow over the years. While I was a bachelor, my disinterest was not questioned very often. However, having a wife and kids made me a higher- value target, prompting renewed invitations to attend church. Above all else, religions need naïve children for survival, so recruitment is ingrained in their followers. Out of a determined sense of self-preservation, I mounted

a counter-offensive. Technology had finally provided access to the kind of information that I had lacked as a young adult.

Through audiobooks and YouTube debates, I finally had

unfettered access to the brightest experts in the world. For years now, I have spent my daily commute listening to lectures about Atheism, science, philosophy, and history by people who have an integrity that’s seldom found in churches. Since humans evolved from fish, there was no Adam and Eve to bring about original sin, and Christianity’s blackmail through atonement by blood sacrifice was unwarranted. This was no surprise. The idea that an omnipotent being had no choice but to allow the murder of his only begotten son had seemed far-fetched to me for quite a while.

I also immersed myself in biblical criticism and realized the

devotional format of church was a deliberate distraction from the real history of Christianity, which can be known when the Bible is taken seriously instead of literally. Christian history

demonstrates how the original scriptures were repeatedly altered to fabricate a divine legend out of a mortal revolutionary. The significant role Christianity played, and continues to play, in worldwide political conquest, war, and slavery also demonstrates how man-made the religion truly is. These facts were driven home when I learned that Thomas Jefferson and other American forefathers warned of how both Catholicism and Protestantism threaten liberty. Thanks to scholars like Diarmaid MacCulloch, Bart Ehrman, and Richard Carrier, I have come to recognize pastors and apologists as salesmen and propagandists. I also saw through the urgency for salvation, which is simply a psychological device no different than a Labor Day sale at a used car lot. I could no longer attend a church service without feeling that I was being sold a lie. This feeling was reinforced by the ruse of suspiciously elated welcomes from greeters posted at every entrance of the church building. Such contrived courtesy appeared to be a means of merely out- charming the other competitor churches down the street.

I became an Atheist in my adulthood because I realized

that blind faith in such self-imposed ignorance is irresponsible.

Wrong ideas are like pollution. They can appear to have a minimal impact at first, but when left unchecked, the effects on society can be devastating. Despite the scoffers, I decided to become part of the solution and share the honest perspective of Atheism with others in my life.

Clint Barger is a husband and father of two who hails from Irving, Texas.

46 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

1ST QUARTER 2017

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