Friday, August 13, 2010

Lo, the twain meet (as religious bigotries cool)

Not angels but apes

But we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses. 
-- anthropologist and writer Robert Ardrey, in his book African Genesis (1961)

An Atheist runs for Congress in Virginia

The former president of American Atheists has sent around a bulletin of potential interest to many in the freethinking world. There is a Congressional race in Virginia which seems to be between an Atheist Democrat and a Christian Republican. Ellen Johnson writes:
We need your help to elect Dr. Wynne LeGrow to Congress.  Dr. LeGrow is the Democratic candidate for the 4th district in Virginia and he is an Atheist.  He is also a veteran and a physician.
His opponent is Republican Randy Forbes, who founded and chairs the Congressional Prayer Caucus [!!! - ZB]. Forbes has introduced such resolutions as H. R. 397 "America’s Spiritual Heritage Week" and H. R. 274 reaffirming the phrase "In God We Trust" in all public buildings and institutions.
We cannot sit back and allow Randy Forbes to be reelected in November. It's time to get serious about  electing Atheists to Congress. Dr.LeGrow is a candidate we can be proud of. Our goal is $10,000 to begin purchasing advertising and mailings for Dr. LeGrow.

We need to start this campaign now. We cannot allow this opportunity to pass. Please send your donation today so we can get to work to elect Dr. LeGrow to Congress.

And please ask your friends to visit and sign up for our e-mail alerts.

Please note that I am publicizing this message because of its news content, and not because I know anything about either candidate or seek members of the Boston Atheists or other groups to support one candidate over the other.

Dawkins: of course the repulsive burka should be legal

‘I do feel visceral revulsion at the burka because for me it is a symbol of the oppression of women.’

‘As a liberal I would hesitate to propose a blanket ban on any style of dress because of the implications for individual liberty and freedom of choice.’
-- Richard Dawkins, as quoted on separate occasions, for an article in The Daily Mail. Yes, Virginia, it is possible to be against the burka since its use is for the most part coerced, and be against legal remedies. Let us not forget that we have any number of extra-legal (not illegal!) means of resisting patriarchal, medievalist, and theocratic practices in our shared culture.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Turn the Bibles into frappes

That said, I think we’d be better off if all the world’s Bibles turned to vanilla milkshakes tomorrow. Over the centuries, humans have devised all sorts of diabolical institutions – genocide, slavery, misogyny, child abuse, homophobia, heretic hunts, witch cleansings, anti-Semitism – and you’ll find each and every one of them endorsed in Scripture, and almost no unequivocal denunciations of these evils.

James Morrow, author of The Last Witchfinder and other excellent novels that foreground a freethinking perspective, in an interview with Eric Mays at The Authors Speak blog.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Don't fool children with fake phone calls from your god

Dear Mr. Greg Bettencourt:

I was discouraged to read, in the Taunton Daily Gazette, that children attending the St. Nicholas of Myra vacation bible school were the recipients of phone calls purportedly made by the Christian god. Perhaps the article got it wrong, and the phone calls were placed not by someone pretending to be a deity, but by someone meaning only to talk to each child about issues of faith. I'd be glad to hear that this was the case -- perhaps you can confirm, one way or the other, what the nature of these calls has been?

In view of the chance that the article is accurate, and children have been receiving phone calls from someone claiming to be a god, I wanted to write and share my concern. It distresses me to think that the trust of children might have been abused in this way. As adult citizens and parents, we are entrusted to raise our children in this reality, and not to misrepresent the nature of that reality. The consequences of failing to meet this responsibility can be severe.

One example hits us particularly close to home here in Massachusetts, that of the Church of Christian Science. Christian Scientists who misrepresent reality engender in their children the notion that disease can be cured with wishful thinking instead of medical intervention. This game of make-believe has led to suffering and death -- children become the victims of medical neglect, and those who grow to adulthood inflict the same unreality on their own children. I'm sure as someone who works professionally in a pastoral capacity, you are aware of such risks.

Children are particularly vulnerable to believe in unrealities that are made real through the collusion of the parents and teachers -- think of how common belief in Santa Claus is. But then, childhood belief in Santa Claus doesn't often factor into a person's decision in adulthood to vote for one political candidate or another, or modify the way they raise their own children. A phone call from someone claiming to be Santa Claus will delight a child without causing harm, since belief in Santa has an extremely limited scope. Belief in deities like the Christian god, however, will resound throughout life, informing decisions such as where to live, who to vote for and how to raise one's own children.

Few issues are as serious as belief in the existence of gods; surely you can educate children on the history and nature of your tradition of faith without relying on outright trickery. If there are reasons to believe in the Christian god, I should hope you introduce them to children who are of such age as to be able to evaluate that evidence for themselves, and in such a way as to ensure that their ethical intelligence is allowed to judge that evidence rather than the less rational and more emotional components of our human selves. I find it ironic that this kind of betrayal of trust would occur in the parish of Nicholas of Myra, whose special regard for children is so famous. Using trick phone calls to reinforce belief isn't near the violation of the butcher who baked children into a pie, but I think St. Nicholas would be displeased just the same.

Although it is not for me to say how best for you to live according to the dictates of your religion, I would like to observe that this form of false witness seems not only to misrepresenting reality, but also to misrepresent your own faith. The expectation that a god is accessible by phone can only lead to disappointment.

Neither theology nor the trust of children should be treated so frivolously as this article suggests they have been in the program operating under your supervision. For such reasons, I encourage you to discontinue this practice of deceptive phone calls at the St. Nicholas of Myra VBS.


Zachary Bos
Massachusetts State Director, American Atheists

CC: Kendra Miller at the Taunton Daily Gazette; Tim Goldrick of Saint Nicholas of Myra Catholic Church

Friday, July 02, 2010

Freedom of conscience in the US and elsewhere

Freedom of conscience, what we non-theists call freethought, is called arrogant in these our United anti-intellectual States. Elsewhere in the world, however, the exercise of such freedom threatened with execution.

In thinking about Ron Rosenbaum's silly appreciation of "the New Agnosticism," I have been self-consciously this week evaluating my own "militancy." Am I one of those rude New Atheists who has never learned to live and let live, who takes pleasure out of calling other people wrong in their beliefs.

(The kind of New Atheists that many blogs and articles call-out for being so antagonistic.)

I think not; I'm proud of the work I've done to examine my beliefs,knowledge, and values, and not ashamed of having strong reasons to be confrontational against religious belief and religious authority. This video from P. Z. Myers blog gives me good reason to think that a confrontational attitude isn't just acceptable, it is essential.

About the video: "In the Muslim-majority nation of Maldives, a man stunned an audience during questions and answers period in a lecture given by an Islamic cleric, by stating that he had chosen freedom of conscience not to follow Islam. The man, Mohamed Nazim, was promptly attacked, taken into custody, and has been threatened with death and beheading, or other punishments for choosing his freedom of conscience. Maldives media are reporting that it is the first time in many hundreds of years that a Maldivian has publicly renounced Islam, since Sultan King Hassan IX converted to Christianity in 1552 and was deposed."

It is very easy, in our democratic republic, for members of the majority culture to confuse their numbers with their superiority. In a country with near-universal religious belief, it is possible for a speaker (as in this video) to dismiss a freethinker with the most feeble of arguments, and be supporting by rounds of enthusiastic applause. The same audience that endorses this dangerous nonsense will shun the freethinker, and not come to his defense when the police take him into custody, when public figures denounce him, and when his life is threatened for his minority beliefs.

Thinking about the Fourth of July, In view of Sunday's holiday, I recommend we all think about what it means to be a member of a dispossessed and unorganized minority community, one which is labeled as depraved, subversive, immoral, and arrogant.

When I sent a message to the Boston Atheists mailing list, to share the news of Nazim's situation, I told the list members -- I really like you arrogant, militant, atheistic people. And I am glad none of you live in the Maldives.

Thanks for P. Z. Myers for the critical, confrontation, conscientious work he does at Pharyngula, the source of the links I use above. More information about the incident of apostate Nazim can be found at

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

David Hart thinks atheism is dumb.

David Hart has written an outrageously condescending article for the Catholic journal First Things, in which he dismisses entirely the intellectual credibility of New Atheism -- that is, the fusion of scientifically informed, change-driving nontheism that he and other theists have good reason to be worried about. He's read ALL the new books, he writes, and finds them all boringly ignorant.

That sounds like just the kind of ad hominem position which is the last resort of a man with no other options. His worldview isn't defensible -- socially, empirically, ethically, logically, or, I'll go whole-hog, aesthetically -- and he's unprepared to identify the logical failings of atheism, so, he just sneers at it.

He writes, "A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe."

Really? Must I bother myself with fully grasping the deep incorrectness of every non-self-evident belief before I can fairly claim that I lack belief in it? Let's go all enroll in unicorn zoology, 101: or do you want to be accused of appalling ignorance for having rejected belief in unicorns?

He has a solution for our failings: get a little godliness in you. Because, you see, the best atheists are really closet prophets: "Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties."

God save me from ever feeling the "moral grandeur: of the prophets -- as distasteful a collection of woman-hating, sex-fearing, reality-rejecting delusionals as I can imagine. Though, there is something to possessing a deep abhorrence of "vicious idolatries that enslave mines..."

It is a mark of the true believer that irony has entirely left the building.

I hope many of us in the BA world will stop by the article and give it a read. It should put steel in your step and resolve in your work: this is the kind of diatribe that a huge proportion of believers finds entirely credible, and which lends to ant-atheistic prejudice a false polish of sensibility.

Write to Hart, personally. His pen is a pulpit, and he's spewing venom. That kind of demagoguery needs to be challenged, and not just with an anonymous comment in a message thread. Compassion and intelligence may not have the rhetorical efficiency of his fallacy-filled whitewashery, true; but we've constrained by good taste and principles to just be better than that. We all have our handicaps.

I read these articles and get so exasperated. One does wish that the children would step aside and let the adults handle things. Even with all their wailing, I am optimistic that we're participating in the dismantling of religion. I'm glad for it.

Read more about Hart at Wikipedia. I'm tempted to do a line-by-line response to his article, but this seems already to have been done by others elsewhere -- in parts by different authors, though it looks like all the necessary points have been made -- and in any case, does it matter? When a person believes in the nonexistent, and makes the study of such their professional career, you have to feel like evidence, logic and reasoning are all a bit beside the point. A variety of sensible responses appear at Comment #195 by Edward T. Babinski is fantastic.

Bonus: Read more horrendous twaddle from Hart at New Criterion, part of his campaign against the obvious and boring manifestations of modern atheism. Gosh, everything he writes is either theologically evil (Google to find his article on theodicy and tsunamis!) or piously, depravedly smug.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini Get Wrong

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini are no creationists, but 'outright, card-carrying, signed-up, dyed-in-the-wool, no-holds-barred atheists'. That, however, only makes worse the incoherence of their understanding of Darwinism. There is much that Darwin got wrong, from his views of racial struggle to his occasional espousal of Lamarckism. There is nothing in this book, however, to suggest a fundamental flaw in his central argument about evolution by natural selection.
-- Kenan Malik, in "Pigs Won't Fly", his review of What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (Profile Books 262pp £20).

Poll: "Milennials" ain't very religious

A Christian polling agency has determined that the members of the Milennial generation are not very religiously observant, according to an article in USA Today:
Most young adults today don't pray, don't worship and don't read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.

If the trends continue, "the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships," says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group's survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they're "really more spiritual than religious."
Feel free to join a discussion of this latest development in the demystification of American youth, over at the Boston Atheists message board.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Weighing intelligence in Atheists and the religious

In an article for Psychology Today, Satoshi Kanazawa -- "the Scientific Fundamentalist" -- examines the hypothesis that Atheists are more intelligent than the religion (since it requires novel features associated with intelligence to overcome the evolved tendency to believe in gods).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Christian healthcare in the Houston Chronicle

Citizens Against Altruism
Apparently if you watch the sex and the smokes, your fellow churchgoer may pitch in to cover your medical bills. It wouldn't hurt if you drop in a little prayer to make sure they pay, though, since they won't be under any legal obligation to do so. That's the thing with insurance: it's assured. It should also be non-profit, but that's another blog post.

From an article in the Houston Chronicle:
Here's how it works at Christian Healthcare: Members send in a monthly fee, resembling an insurance premium, which can range from about $50 for a single person to $450 for a family of four. That money, along with the payments from thousands of other members, is then distributed to pay sick members' medical bills. [...]

But they've been steadily growing in numbers and prominence — so much so that the recent federal health reform legislation has language exempting members from paying penalties most uninsured Americans will eventually have to pay. [...]

Said Chandler, the UH law professor: “People participating in this do need to have a little concern about solvency. You've sort of got to be relying on God here that this scheme will work out.”[...]

There are, however, a few catches. The ministries require members to be Christian, and they check with pastors for confirmation.[...]

There are also health care costs that can't be shared, most notably abortions or sexually transmitted diseases contracted out of marriage. Participants must also refrain from using tobacco and avoid sex outside of marriage, among other lifestyle requirements. [...]

Instead of paying more than $700 per month for premiums, Mark McLeod, a self-employed Houston geologist, currently pays Samaritan Ministries about $300 per month to cover himself, his wife and four of his children in a sharing plan.

“Who is going to take care of you — a company or people? I'd rather put my faith in people who believe in God.” McLeod explained.
Emphasis mine. Judging from the people I've met in the non-god-believin' community, I'm glad to say that Mark McLeod would be happily surprised to see how much he can rely on people of evolved ethics who happen not to share his religion. I've got no problem citing Scripture on this one, Galatians 6:2, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."

Oh, you Bible you. Even a stopped clock is correct twice a day. For "law of Christ" here, read "the law of decency."

Dennett in the Globe on the unbelievers

Doubt is healthy.

The Boston Globe today has an interview with Daniel Dennett, on his research into the number of clergy that lack belief in a higher power:
It’s true, here are these young people in seminary, they have come with the purest of hearts and the noblest of intentions and they’re going to devote their lives to God. And one of the first things they learn is textual criticism. They’re looking at all the existing papyruses and scrolls and so forth and learning about the recension of the texts — the tortuous and often controversial historical path from Hebrew, Greek, and Latin versions of the books of the Bible — and all the Apocryphal books that got rejected — to the King James Version and all the later English translations. And that’s not what they taught you in Sunday school.

That’s the joke that we often provoke from people when we talk about this: Anybody who goes through seminary and comes out believing in God hasn’t been paying attention.
The article cited in the interview, containing initial anecdotal results from Dennett's collaborative investigations, appears at the Washington Post website. An excerpt:
The interviews were all conducted by Linda LaScola, a clinical social worker with years of professional experience as a qualitative researcher and psychotherapist, and, until recently, a regular churchgoer. Like her co-author, philosopher Daniel Dennett, the author of Breaking the Spell, she is an atheist who is nevertheless a sympathetic and fascinated observer of religious practices and attitudes. For this pilot study we managed to identify five brave pastors, all still actively engaged with parishes, who were prepared to trust us with their stories. All five are Protestants, with master’s level seminary education. Three represented liberal denominations (the liberals) and two came from more conservative, evangelical traditions (the literals). (We decided to concentrate this first project on Christians, and we would have included a Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox priest, for instance–if we had encountered any, but we didn’t.) We initially had six participants, but one, a woman in the Episcopal church, had a change of heart as we were about to go to press and, at her request, all further references to her and quotations from her interviews have been removed.

Dawkins, Hitchens support legal challenge against Ratzinger

Richard Dawkins writes, in response to a Times article suggesting that he plans to arrest Joseph Ratzinger:
Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.

What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my 'Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope' article here:

Here is what really happened. Christopher Hitchens first proposed the legal challenge idea to me on March 14th. I responded enthusiastically, and suggested the name of a high profile human rights lawyer whom I know. I had lost her address, however, and set about tracking her down. Meanwhile, Christopher made the brilliant suggestion of Geoffrey Robertson. He approached him, and Mr Robertson's subsequent 'Put the Pope in the Dock' article in The Guardian shows him to be ideal.

The case is obviously in good hands, with him and Mark Stephens. I am especially intrigued by the proposed challenge to the legality of the Vatican as a sovereign state whose head can claim diplomatic immunity.

Even if the Pope doesn't end up in the dock, and even if the Vatican doesn't cancel the visit, I am optimistic that we shall raise public consciousness to the point where the British government will find it very awkward indeed to go ahead with the Pope's visit, let alone pay for it.
Also from the Times, an article surmising that the practice of sending abusive priests to therapy (rather than jail) contributed to high abuse rates.

What do members of the Boston-area nontheist community think -- how should the man known as Pope Benedict XV be held to account for the crimes of Catholic priests protected by the Church? Submit your vote.

Members of the Boston Atheists will be collaborating on a letter to the Archdiocese of Boston. We think the Catholic leadership should know what their secular neighbors think of the current situation. We're all in this together, eh? I don't think it is a legitimate argument that this is a Catholic problem to be dealt with by Catholics; rather it is a social problem to be dealt with by whomever is willing to step up and be counted as adult enough to accept responsibility for enforcing a durable ethics.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Finding God after losing a job"

From the T rider's daily scrapsheet, the Boston Metro: "The religious community is responding to those who ... are turning towards the church in their time of need. Across the greater Boston area, institutions of faith are providing support programs for the jobless, based mostly on professional help as well as spiritual guidance."

Spiritual guidance is of little help for secular problems. Whatever benefits there are for a religious person in seeking spiritual solutions to their problems, depend entirely on the degree to which they've framed their social and ethical worldview in religious terms. Everyone can use a little guidance, support, and aid from time to time. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if everyone could enjoy such help without having to believe in untrue things about the world?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Christopher Hitchens proposes new commandments

In Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens considers -- and finds fault in -- a version of the Biblical commandments. Not one to tear down without suggesting we prepare to rebuild soon thereafter, he concludes his column with an attractive alternative draft:
  • "Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or color.
  • "Do not ever use people as private property.
  • "Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations.
  • "Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child.
  • "Do not condemn people for their inborn [sexual] nature.
  • "Be aware that you too are an animal and dependent on the web of nature, and think and act accordingly.
  • "Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife.
  • "Turn off that fucking cell phone—you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us.
  • "Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions.
  • "Be willing to renounce any god or any religion if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above.
"In short: Do not swallow your moral code in tablet form."

Friday, March 05, 2010

Smut for Smut Program

CBS News reports that an atheist group at the University of Texas, San Antonio is giving out pornography in exchange for Bibles, a campaign they call "Smut for Smut". This of course prompted complaints from the University's Christian group with complaints that it is offensive. However, University officials have decided to let students conduct the swap.

"As long as students are not violating laws or violating the Constitution, they have the freedom of speech and assembly," stated University spokesman, David Gabler.

Personally I think the Smut for Smut Campaign is pure brilliance and I think more groups should follow this example. Although, I must admit, the comparison isn't quite fair. With pornography, you at least get something out of it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

German Christian homeschoolers receive asylum

The NY Times is reporting on a German Christian family that sought and has won asylum status here in the United States. A Tennesse court agreed that the German state ban on home schooling is a form of unconscionable political oppression. The rationale behind the German policy is that home schooling enables different communities -- of faith, of national origin, etc. -- to diverge from the mainstream culture. By prohibiting homeschooling, the government seeks to avoid the creation of parallel or pocket cultures -- such as the Christian "quiverful" families in the US Bible Belt.

We've discussed the issue of homeschooling on the Boston Atheists podcast, and how it pertains to childrearing and cultural ownership. Opinions vary, but education is obviously a topic of central importance.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The insufficiency of a theological response to Haiti

Thus the whole world in every member groans:
All born for torment and for mutual death.
And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!

-- Voltaire, from Poem on the Lisbon Disaster
This morning, Jackie Lavache -- an Assistant Organizer with the Boston Atheists-- asked me in her role as Boston Atheism Examiner asked me to put on my local organizer and State Director hat. She wanted to know what my response is to the news that a Christian ministry is spending time and money to send solar-powered talking Bibles to victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

My initial response is irritated revulsion. Hey! You! Get out of the way. Go back to church, study your scripture, and leave the problem-solving to us grown-ups who have learned to live in reality and to respond to reality in grown-up ways. This is an example of the consequences of believing honestly in untrue things. I can appreciate that the Christian folks at the Faith Comes By Hearing ministry think that they're helping to provide the most essential kind of relief, but thinking so doesn't make it so. Garbage in, garbage out -- when you believe in an eternal life after this one that can only be accessed through a relationship with a Bronze Age book, you're going to end up making some pretty wacky judgments about how to respond to crisis. What, there's been a natural disaster? Well, before we worry about food and water and infrastructure and medical care -- all of which cater to mortal needs only -- let's be sure we've got these poor people on board with the Gospel message. They might be battered, hungry, and hurt in the here and now, but they'll sure be glad in the long run that they've got eternity with God in the hereafter.

A friend pointed out to me that, since it is reasonable to guess that most Haitians are religious, solace of a religious kind will be greatly needed. True enough. I don't think that a good response to tragedy is to mock the faith of others and deny them the kind of comfort they are sincerely asking for. When I see that while some groups are sending food, money, and medicine, I have to shake my head at the relative placebo benefits of Bible study. But while I regret that religion is pandemic in Haiti, I don't think this is the moment for anti-religious crusading.

Now I read that Scientology is sending in personnel to do their version of disaster relief -- touch assists and detoxification, the usual flippery. Who knows how many prayer meetings have been organized already, and other calls to spiritual action. Certainly Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on well intentioned time-wasting. But: before we succumb to cynicism, let's consider that there are two separate impulses here. The first is the reflexive urge that human beings feel when others are in distress. Christians, Hubbardites, Atheists, all feel this urge. But then we have to channel this compassionate impulse into action, make decisions about how to help -- and that's when the worldview makes all the difference.

If you subscribe to untrue beliefs about reality, your judgment is likely to be impaired -- as we see when Christians pack and ship Bibles to Haiti, instead of diverting resources to aid agencies like the Red Cross. Or as when John Travolta uses his means to fly his fellow churchmembers down to Port au Prince to use the healing touch to accomplish exactly nothing.

Atheism doesn't have all the answers. It doesn't have any answers -- it is a doctrine-free worldview, one that consists simply and wholly of the lack of belief in deities. But at least atheism doesn't get in the way of our natural human impulse to HELP those in need. What we can learn from the response made by different groups to the Haiti tragedy is that people are most times better than their beliefs. And that people are better off without beliefs if those beliefs interfere with our ability to effectively discharge our duty as brother's keeper. What we can learn from the Haiti tragedy itself is that if gods exist, they are without question unworthy of our worship.

In such circumstances, let's put theology aside and roll up our sleeves. What's going on in Haiti isn't a "teaching moment." It is a natural disaster, and a call to action. The American Atheists website is reporting that Richard Dawkins has committed to paying PayPal fees (up to $10,000) for donations to Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross. The Non-believers Giving Aid project provides a gateway to donate money to aid agencies that are known to be effective: I'd be surprised if any of you reading this haven't already learned how you can donate -- and if you hadn't already donated, knowing how generous you are -- but if you haven't, I encourage you to consider these agencies. They are efficient, and they are on the ground now.

NB: The epigraph to this post comes from "Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne," in which Voltaire considers the 1755 earthquake that killed perhaps 100,000 people in Lisbon, Portugal. This event challenged religious and nonreligious thinkers alike to reconcile their respective worldviews with the existence of such profound suffering. The Enlightenment soon followed.

Theodicy is the branch of philosophy which attempts to explain the existence of suffering. I admit to being impatient with this project of understanding evil; rather I'm wanting a chance to pass judgment on the Christian god and his crimes. The image above, an engraving by William Blake, shows the Biblical figure Job being rebuked by his friends. Let us instead imagine that this is Jehovah, all-powerful and all-loving, finally brought to trial in front of the mortal beings whom he created and who He has subjected to such terrible needless affliction. This wish-fulfillment is exactly the plot of James Morrow's "Blameless in Abaddon," an excellent novelistic treatment of theodicy.