June 20, 2014 - 10:28 am

This is my 184th article for OnFaith since I started writing for the publication back in November of 2008. OnFaith was founded by Sally Quinn and remained at the Washington Post until late 2013, when it moved to FaithStreet. What I liked about writing for OnFaith at the Post, aside from it being part of a prestigious newspaper, was that it featured contributors who covered the full spectrum of religious and nonreligious views. On the other hand, FaithStreet is not a street on which I live. Its work is primarily about connecting people to faith communities, but I’m more interested in disconnecting people from faith communities and connecting them with atheist and humanist communities.

Out of the approximately 150,000 words that I’ve written for OnFaith a few have involved positive comments about religious leaders and issues they’ve espoused, but I’ve not had one positive word about “faith.”

Initially, I didn’t think I’d be contributing very often — if at all — to the newest iteration of OnFaith, nor did I think the new editors would be interested in my contributions. The first piece I pitched for the new OnFaith, entitled “A Dangerously Incurious Pope,” was rejected, and later published here. I assumed my relationship with OnFaith was over, and so I published with Huffington Post and elsewhere. Then a “miracle” occurred when I was invited by OnFaith to give an atheist’s perspective of Lent.

What you’re reading now is my tenth piece for OnFaith at FaithStreet. I prefer “preaching” to religious believers on FaithStreet rather than to those whose views are similar to mine. Jesus purportedly went where the sinners are, and I like to go where the “faith-ers” are. I also think OnFaith’s Patton Dodd is an excellent editor. He improves my articles but doesn’t try to soften my criticisms of religion. (That’s what my spouse does).

Continue reading at FaithStreet>>

May 28, 2014 - 12:42 pm

I'm a liberal, but not a knee-jerk one. I’m an atheist, but not one who thinks all religions are equally problematic or that they should be judged by the violent behavior of religious extremists. I think the Bible and Quran both contain ridiculous passages and reasonable passages. Religious fundamentalists can quote portions of their holy books to justify loving their neighbor or killing their (infidel) neighbor.

But at the risk of being called Islamophobic, I think Islam is the worst and most dangerous religion by all human rights standards.

I’ve been more critical of Christians than Muslims because I live in South Carolina, where politicians try to meld public policy with Christianity and worry about sharia law being used in our legal system. If I lived in a Muslim country, I’d be more openly critical of Islam and sharia law — unless I had good reason to fear for my life. The threat of death is part of the problem, but it’s not what I think is the root of the problem — the real issue is their pervasive commitment to reading the Quran literally.

I’ll illustrate with six memorable events in my direct and indirect dealings with Muslims and ex-Muslims. 


Continue reading at Faith Street >>

May 22, 2014 - 8:53 am

In the recent U.S. Supreme Court case Greece v. Galloway, the five conservative justices ruled that sectarian content is permissible in public invocations and official prayer, while the four liberal dissenting justices felt that religious leaders should give nonsectarian prayers at government functions. I disagree with all nine justices. Their opinions reminded me of the quip from former Justice Potter Stewart that while he couldn't define pornography, "I know it when I see it."

I can neither define nor have I seen a nonsectarian prayer, but I know a sectarian prayer when I see it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, arguing for the majority in theGreece v. Galloway case, said that the government should not "act as supervisors and censors of religious speech," yet went on to describe when they should. Kennedy added that clerics should not "denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion."

Why should the government censor a preacher who feels called to warn us that we will all burn in hell unless we accept Jesus as our personal lord and savior? If Pope Francis were to give an invocation in a public forum, should we caution him against focusing on Satan and exorcisms, as he is doing more frequently than recent popes?


Continue reading at Faith Street >>

May 9, 2014 - 7:50 pm

In 1952, Congress established the National Day of Prayer. It has been observed on every first Thursday in May since 1988, but this year's day of prayer celebration was my favorite--by default. It was the first I've attended, quite by accident.

Here's how that happened. On Thursday, May 1, a film crew from Holland'sHumanist Broadcasting Foundation arrived at my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina to interview me about atheism in the Bible Belt. They planned to film me at an evening event called Reason Fest, sponsored by the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. When the film crew learned that the National Day of Prayer rally would also be taking place nearby, they wanted to film me at that prayer event, too.

Though I think a government-sponsored day of prayer should be unconstitutional because our government may not favor one religion over another or religion over non-religion, I reluctantly agreed to attend.


Continue reading at the Huffington Post >>

May 2, 2014 - 7:52 pm

I moved to South Carolina in 1976 to be a math professor at the College of Charleston, a school founded in 1770 that had been receiving modest publicity for its steadily improving liberal arts program. However, it became even better known in 1998 when the College's then-president Alex Sanders jokingly (I think) called its basketball team's upset of third-ranked University of North Carolina the greatest day in the college's glorious history.

Over the past few weeks, the College of Charleston has received more publicity than in its previous 244 years, as the New York TimesWashington PostMSNBC, and other national media outlets featured stories about the college. While I think almost all publicity is good, the "almost" might be applicable here because of the two controversies that led to this publicity. Each involved a choice: of a new president and of a new book.

The Board of Trustees unanimously chose state Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell as the next college president, despite strong opposition by faculty and students. A long time defender of the Confederacy, McConnell fought to keep the Confederate flag atop the Capitol dome. While a state senator, his Confederate memorabilia store sold items that included Maurice Bessinger's barbeque sauce, which lots of shoppers and stores were boycotting because of Bessinger's biblically justified pro-slavery tracts, and toilet paper with the image of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Continue reading at the Huffington Post >>

April 23, 2014 - 2:26 pm

Atheists bad, Christians good. That’s my four-word summary of God’s Not Dead.

This anti-atheist movie would be more effective if it didn’t portray every atheist as smug, angry, selfish, obnoxious, and unhappy. In contrast, nearly every Christian is kind, happy, generous. . . well, you get the idea.

The movie’s two protagonists are atheist philosophy Professor Jeffrey Radisson and Christian student Josh Wheaton at fictional Hadleigh University.

Professor Radisson is a bully who on the first day of class uses his bully pulpit to require that each student sign a “God is dead” statement or else convince him that God’s not dead — and, failing that, receive an F in the course. Radisson has been doing this for years, presumably without a complaint from students, other faculty, or administrators. In fact, he is about to become head of the Philosophy Department. He has a live-in girlfriend whom he started dating when she was his student, and he continually berates and belittles her in front of his academic colleagues. She turns to Christianity and finds the strength to get out of this abusive relationship after talking to Pastor Dave (more about him later).

Continue reading at Faith Street>>

April 16, 2014 - 2:48 pm

Few people will change their worldviews because of a debate. But some Christians might become less inclined to stereotype atheists if atheists debate differently.

As an atheist, I’ve had a number of debates with Christians on topics like whether God exists, whether we can be moral without God, whether science makes belief in God harder or easier, and more recently, whether atheism makes more sense than Christianity.

Usually, debate preparation depends on the topic and what your opponent has previously said, but there are some common strategies that work well in any situation. With a mostly Christian audience, I look for opportunities to change atheist stereotypes and raise questions some might never have considered.

Here are five ways to behave and ten questions to answer in every debate with Christian counterparts:

Five Behaviors

1. Praise the Bible. I like to mention that every educated person should read the Bible (this line is the only time I get cheers from conservative Christians) because it’s an important part of our culture. I also provide a list that includes books like A Demon Haunted World and The History of God to hand out to audience members after the debate.

2. Target the audience. Most conservative Christians are skeptical of whatever I say in a debate. The best I usually hear from them afterward is, “The atheist seemed like a nice person, even though he’s going to hell.” While atheists usually want me to bash religion, I try not to do that because I want to reach open-minded Christians who have never heard an atheist’s point of view from an atheist.

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

April 9, 2014 - 10:39 am

What will an atheist find when he attends services at a conservative Christian church in South Carolina?

Editor’s note: Church Invitation is an occasional series at OnFaith where we ask people of various backgrounds to attend houses of worship and write about the experience.    

On Sunday, March 30, I visited St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, just outside of Charleston where I live. The church’s stated vision is to re-evangelize our society and transform our culture. My intention was to learn more about this church that was established in 1827 and now has more than 3000 members. So I attended both the 9 a.m. contemporary service along with several hundred young and old congregants, and then the 10:45 a.m. traditional service with fewer than a hundred people, mostly older.

Both services began with music (guitar in the first and organ in the second), followed by the minister reading Bible passages. The homily was titled “TODAY: How Should I Read the Bible?” I translated that in my mind to “How Should I Read the Bible TODAY?” However, the homilies were specifically about reading the Bible without concessions to modernity.

Rev. Chris Hancock, who led the contemporary service, was dynamic and sometimes humorous. After a little trouble with his PowerPoint presentation, he riffed off the Lord Acton quote, “Power corrupts, but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” He told us to read the Bible “humbly, prayerfully, thoughtfully, expectantly, and obediently.” No mention of reading it skeptically. He warned of scorners (like me, I guess) who use difficult passages to undermine the Bible’s authority, and quoted 2 Timothy 3:16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”

Rev. John Burley had a more serious demeanor at the traditional service, though he made the same points. He warned of cultural biases that might lead us to follow only some parts of the Bible, saying that if any parts offend us, it’s because we don’t understand them. He also made the only reference to atheism, claiminginaccuracies in the film Noah were to be expected because the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, is an atheist. Burley added that we must trust only Jesus rather than those who appear to be good and moral. (Hmm . . . should congregants then not trust Rev. Burley?)

He told us to read the Bible “humbly, prayerfully, thoughtfully, expectantly, and obediently.” No mention of reading it skeptically.

I might have put money in the collection plate if the minister had said it was for a good cause, like helping the poor, but the first minister merely quoted Acts 20:35, “It is better to give than to receive,” and the second asked for an offering to God. So I kept my money.

Continue reading at Faith Street>>

April 2, 2014 - 2:53 pm

Why do I prefer our United States Constitution to the Bible? Lots of reasons, but I'll focus on one. The Constitution allows for do-overs. Its authors understood the document to be imperfect and made provisions for future generations to amend it.

Alas, there is no such biblical escape clause. What you see from way back then is what you get.

Neither the Constitution nor the Bible included freedom of religion, equal rights for women, prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or the abolition of slavery - but today, through amendments, the Constitution does. We also have a democratic form of government that allows for progressive laws that our 18th-century founders might not have considered or desired.

So what about those who believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, yet can't reconcile some portions with a loving deity? It's difficult to justify passages about killing witches, slaying all women and little children in a city, the blood of Jesus being on all Jews and their children, killing homosexuals, and many more. Even biblical literalists now try to interpret some of these passages in more enlightened ways.

Not only is slavery nowhere condemned in the Bible, but some have used Noah's curse of Canaan to justify it. ("Cursed be Canaan [presumed black]! The lowest of slaves will he be to his [presumed white] brothers.") Since nobody today condones slavery (and groups like the Southern Baptist Convention have even apologized for promoting slavery), interpretations abound. For instance, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis says Noah's curse had to do with a rebellious son, not skin color.

Apparently, it's easier for some Christians to be on the moral rather than on the scientific side of history. Albert Mohler, who Time called the "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U. S., believes that the incredible Adam and Eve story goes to the heart of Christianity - because the whole point of the crucifixion and the resurrection was to undo Adam's original sin, and that without a historical Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense.

Continue Reading at On Faith >>


March 19, 2014 - 10:29 am

I'm a "big-tent" atheist, which includes whatever non-theistic labels people prefer: agnostic, humanist, secular humanist, freethinker, secularist, and more. This list applies to the whole tent:

1. The prefix "a" can mean "anti" or "non." While some atheists are anti-theists, most are non-theists who have no desire to destroy religion. We don't have a problem with believers until they try to force their beliefs on others.

2. Atheists are not necessarily protesters, though that's how they are usually portrayed in the media. When they do protest, they protest government privileging of one religion over another or religion over non-religion.

3. Atheists are not angry at God (just as they are not angry at the Tooth Fairy), and most of us didn't become atheists because something bad happened to us. We became atheists because we find no evidence for any gods.

4. Atheists are not less trustworthy just because we don't believe in a judging God.Believing that of us only makes us think you would be untrustworthy were it not for your fear of God.

5. We can find joy without belief in God and an afterlife. We may not see any cosmic purpose of life, but we do find our own joyful purposes in life.

6. Most religious people are secular most of the time. Ask yourself how you would behave differently if you stopped believing in God. If you can't come up with a good answer, then you are what I call a functional atheist.

7. Calling atheism a religion is like calling baldness a hair color. The "religion" of atheism and secular humanism is not taught in public schools, unless you think that conveying the best available scientific information is a religious act. If you wind up abandoning faith in supernatural things because of science, as many do, that is a collateral benefit to critical thinking.


Continue reading at Faith Street >>




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