August 19, 2014 - 8:58 am

The 1969 protest song "War" asks "What is it good for?" and answers "Absolutely nothing!" If I substituted "Prayer" for "War," I would qualify my answer with "Almost nothing."

Prayer can be good for its placebo effect when believers feel they are doing something constructive, which might "cure" a psychosomatic disorder. On the other hand, replacing accepted medical practices with prayer has led to countless preventable deaths and injuries.

Many well-meaning people rely on prayer because it makes them feel upbeat when they don't know what action to take in a situation that is out of their control. Regardless of logic and statistical evidence to the contrary, fervent believers remain convinced that there is a god who listens to prayers. I've heard comments like "Sometimes our prayers are answered and sometimes they are not" and "God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is no."

Prayer can also be good for providing a sense of community to those who hope to achieve a desired outcome. But such prayers might not always be for outcomes beneficial to all, as depicted in Mark Twain's "The War Prayer," a prayer for the suffering and destruction of enemies, as typified by "O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shred." This "prayer" was left unpublished until years after Twain's death because his family considered it too sacrilegious.


Continue reading at the Huffington Post >>

August 8, 2014 - 3:49 pm

I can empathize with religious groups whose mission is to convert everyone in the world, since I think the world would be better if everyone “saw the light” of secular humanism. But whether religious or secular, I believe the best form of proselytizing is to lead by example. I think Matthew 7:16 had it right — “By their fruits you shall know them.”

What follows are two lists that relate to atheist’s interactions with religious people. The first suggests ways we can change people’s views of atheists, and the second is about how, on some fronts, we’re not all that different from religionists.

Rather than seek converts to atheism, I think we atheists mostly want our worldview to be respected in a culture that has at least two pretexts for disliking us.

The first is that you can’t trust atheists because they don’t believe in a judging God who will reward or punish them in the afterlife.

This allegation is foolish and demeaning. I’ve been asked in conversations and on talk shows, “What keeps you from committing rape, murder, or anything else you think you can get away with?” My response is, “With an attitude like that, I hopeyou continue to believe in a god.”


Continue reading at Faith Street >>

July 20, 2014 - 11:00 pm

South Carolina finally did the right thing by removing the Confederate battle flag from capitol grounds. The state had been bitterly divided about whether the flag represents heritage or hate, while I believe it represents heritage and hate. There is nothing in the South Carolina or U.S. Constitutions that prohibits flying the Confederate flag on public property, but the court of public opinion changed after a Confederate flag-promoting racist murdered nine African Americans recently in a Charleston church.


Read more at Huffington Post

July 18, 2014 - 9:48 am

The phrase “More Catholic than the Pope” usually refers to someone who is more religiously strict than the Catholic Church requires. Gordon Klingenschmitt, Republican nominee for Colorado House of Representatives District 15, is not Catholic, but I’d add him to the club.

Klingenschmitt was upset when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling against a Wisconsin public school district that had been holding graduation ceremonies in a local church. He assumed that atheists were responsible, and responded, “I have a solution. Let’s do an exorcism and cast the devil out of them and then they’ll feel comfortable when they walk into church.”

Klingenschmitt had previously claimed that President Obama’s support for gay marriage showed that Obama must be possessed by demonic spirits. He’s also said that Jesus will eventually rule against gay marriage and toss all gays into hell. It’s bad enough that Pope Francis and other Catholic clergy perform exorcisms on the gullible faithful in their own Church, but Klingenschmitt wants to exorcise the devil from everyone who disagrees with his theological and political views.

I rarely feel I can speak for all atheists, but I’ll make an exception for Gordon Klingenschmitt: Dear Gordon, I don’t know what your problem is with atheists, but it won’t be resolved with exorcisms. Any attempt to cast the devil out of atheists would be about as effective as my attempting to cast the Tooth Fairy out of you. We atheists can easily get rid of any evil spirits you dream up by simply not believing in them.


Continue reading at Faith Street >>

July 8, 2014 - 10:13 am

Unsurprisingly, Christianity is the largest religion in all 50 states. Surprisingly, Bahá’í is the second largest religion in my home state of South Carolina. This news inspired two local papers, the Charleston Post and Courier and the Charleston City Paper, to write articles about Bahá’ís. It also inspired me, an atheist, to attend a local Bahá’í meeting.

There are more Bahá’ís in South Carolina than Jews, Muslims, and Hindus combined; however, Bahá’ís do not outnumber atheists and agnostics. “Nones” (those with no religious affiliation) have grown to 15 percent nationally and 10 percent in South Carolina. And in a 2013 national survey of “nones,” atheists and agnostics were 50 percent of online respondents and 36 percent of those interviewed by telephone. Taking the lower percentage, more than 100,000 atheists and agnostics live in South Carolina compared with about 18,000 Bahá’ís.

The Bahá’í Faith likely became popular in South Carolina because of Louis Gregory, who was born in 1874, was raised in Charleston, and was one of the founders of the Bahá’í Faith in America. After this grandson of a slave became a Bahá’í in 1909, he travelled the country promoting racial equality. Gregory married a white Bahá’í woman in 1912, an act that was considered a crime at the time in parts of the country. The Louis G. Gregory Baha’i Museum is located in downtown Charleston.

Bahá’ís and atheists have not been very public about their views because they’ve been demonized within their surrounding cultures. The Bahá’í Faith began in Iran in 1844 when a young man now known as the “Bab” (meaning “gate” or “door” in Arabic) claimed to be the promised redeemer of Islam. The Bab also said that a second divine messenger would usher in the age of peace and justice promised in Islam. The Bab alienated Islamic clergy and was executed by a firing squad in 1850 at the age of 30. One of the Bab’s followers, Bahá’u’lláh, revealed in 1863 that he was the messenger foretold by the Bab. The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the foundation of the Bahá’í Faith.

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

June 20, 2014 - 10:30 am

In an unintentionally funny comment, progressive Catholic theologian Vito Mancuso said about Pope Francis’ old-school interpretation of the devil and the need for exorcists:“He is opening the door to superstition.” Where to begin when describing a Catholic door that for centuries has been more open than the mythical Pandora’s box? In fact (really, in fiction), the Pandora myth deserves credit for a foundational myth in Catholic theology.
As the story goes, Pandora, the first woman, was given a box (actually a jar) and told never to open it. Of course, the curious Pandora did open it, whereupon evil escaped and spread throughout the world. So it seems that Pandora committed the original “original sin.”
Eve, the first woman according to the Genesis myth, was also led by curiosity to bring evil into the world. While both myths are unbelievable, people in pre-scientific times used “just so” stories to explain unknown origins. The Greek word “theodicy” is an attempt to reconcile traditionally divine characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience with the occurrence of evil or suffering. I don’t think such reconciliation is possible, but that’s not a problem for atheists like me.
This brings me to Pope Francis’ belief in Satan as the cause for evil, which I don’t find any more superstitious than many other Catholic beliefs. 
Continue reading at FaithStreet >>

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 >>

The Secular District Featured blog posts from members of the coalition.