Sunday, December 09, 2012

Globe letter: 'atheists’ activism not evangelism'

Susan C. Pinsky of Acton writes:
I find it odd that the Associated Press, and, by association, the Globe assume a peculiarly Christian-style motivation (i.e., evangelism) for the atheists in the short news item “Christmas display fight goes to court” (Daily Briefing, Page A2, Nov. 19). 
Atheists set up signs, including the Thomas Jefferson quotation “Religions are all alike —–founded on fables and mythologies,” next to a 14-scene Christian diorama on public land. And the AP reporter characterized the members of this group as “eager to get their non-beliefs into the public square as never before.”
I would suggest that atheists are not proselytizing non-belief, but rather illustrating, by the notion that turnabout is fair play, that religious displays on public land are, at best, insensitive and inappropriate and, at worst, prejudicial and dangerous. 
There is no atheist evangelism here, only a challenge to blurring the separation of church and state. No one’s religious freedom is safe if government is in the business of celebrating religion.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Video from "An Ethic of Truth"

Spurred by his lifelong interest in and study of philosophy, BA member Josiah Van Vliet recently committed himself to the work of developing a secular ethics toolkit, in the form of workshops, essays, heuristics, and mnemonics devised for adult and youth audiences. On Thursday, October 4th, he accepted an invitation from the Humanists of Boston University to present his first workshop dealing with these subjects.

Speaking to an audience of about twenty participants, Josiah began by referencing a noteworthy principle that Enlightenment philosophe Denis Diderot found in the writings of Horace: "Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulce," 'Supreme merit to him who combines the agreeable with the useful'. Josiah's challenge to us was to figure out how the two concepts of "agreeable" (or, pleasurable) and "useful" can substitute for the somewhat more problematic concept of "ethical" when dealing with questions of moral goodness. In other words, when we're asked why we think it is true that something is morally good, we might answer by explaining that something is morally good if it brings about an increase in both pleasure and usefulness. A neat sleight-of-hand, this trick, since it changes the terms of moral consideration from "good vs. bad" (which as concepts are opaque, subjective, and private) to "useful vs. impeding" and "pleasurable vs. painful" -- terms that much more transparent, and negotiable, than the usual vocabulary of ethical value.

Josiah spent 20 minutes laying out his rubric (see the video of his talk appears above), and then broke the audience into groups that were assigned the task of figuring out whether his example scenarios -- e.g., a mother who for the sake of his son's health denies him candy, though it makes him miserable to go without! -- would fall into one of four quadrants: useful and pleasant, useful and painful, impeding and pleasant, and impeding and painful. The conversation in our group (and for all I could tell, in each of the groups) was probing, engaged, and fun.

If last night's workshop is representative of what we can expect in the other two sessions to take place this year, and of the ambition of Josiah's larger project, we have a lot to look forward to.

To learn more about his work with secular ethics, visit Josiah's blog at

Shelley Segal in Harvard Square on 10/9

The BA has booked Australian songstress Shelley Segal for a show at The Loft in Tommy Doyle's, Harvard Square. She'll be playing her unique style of thematically secular music infused with folk/blues/jazz influences, as well as material from her 2012 release "An Atheist Album."

Shelley is a popular and increasingly prominent voice in the secular movement (she was one of the featured speakers at the Reason Rally in DC this past March!), and talented, sensitive performer... for an Atheist, she's got a hell of a lot of soul. Don't miss this act! And please help to spread the world; this is a show our folks are not going to want to miss.

The Loft at Tommy Doyle's
96 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square
9-11 PM, Tuesday October 9, 2012 / Sets at 9:30 and 10:30
$5 at the door / All proceeds go to the artist / All ages

PLEASE SHARE these Facebook event links:

Check out Shelley's music:
And if you're on Twitter, tell the folks @tommydoyles that they've booked a great show!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Dave Niose speaks about a secular life


Dave Niose, speaking with Chris Johnson of The Atheist Book project, makes a persuasive, rational, disarming case for living a secular life. Niose is the author of Nonbeliever Nation and president of the American Humanist Association.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #24: Mistral

Boston Atheists member Mistral  writes:

Though my family was more of the "spiritual-but-not-religious" variety, lingering bits of my mother's British convent-school education and my father's upbringing in a "good Christian home" filtered down to me in bits and pieces throughout my youth.  Neither mom nor dad pushed these beliefs on me -- indeed, they encouraged me to explore my own ideologies and philosophies, but it is hard not be affected by these threatening superstitions when you are young and impressionable (hellfire and damnation for even thinking bad thoughts is not taken lightly at five years old...). 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #23: Jasmine

Boston Atheists member Jasmine writes:

I haven’t believed in a god since my youth, but my journey to declaring myself an atheist was a long one. The best description of myself before 2006 was probably a passive anti-theist. In 2006 I started to call myself an atheist. It was also at that time I felt it was okay for me to chime in when friends and others were discussing religion and/or spirituality. Before that date I would stay out of religious conversations. If anyone asked me about my religion...I would either say I was not religious, or that I wasn’t spiritual and leave it at that. In 2006, I decided there was nothing wrong with stating to people that I didn’t believe in a god.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #22: Robin

Boston Atheists member Robin writes:

My atheism story: I don't have a conversion story because I was brought up with no religion whatsoever. There was no discussion and the idea of God never came up. My mother had been brought up Catholic but after reflecting on all the senseless things the church believed, especially the misogyny, she decided that she couldn't put her own daughters through that. I think it all started with the fact that at the time, the church would not let girls serve at the altar, and she thought that was silly because she would have been the best altar kid ever. She doesn't think that religion has anything to do with gender.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #21: Barbara

Boston Atheists member Barbara writes:

Several years ago, I started on a quest for god, I questioned everything around me, and I was a believer at the time, but evidently not, I started to read everything and listen to everything I could on religion. I wanted god in my life but couldn't find him; I visited many churches, synagogues, never got to a Muslim temple though. The role of women in that religion immediately turned me off. I thought about changing religions, maybe that was it, not the right way to pray or to be religious in the right way, maybe that was my problem in my quest to find god.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #20: Adam

Boston Atheist member Adam writes:

I've got some of the same reasons for becoming an atheist as Vlad does [see the "Why I Am An Atheist" post of June 20, 2012]. I think that most self-pronounced atheists probably had very religious childhoods. Most people who weren't raised around religion don't seem to think it's as important to announce that they don't believe. Critical thinking, Science, Philosophy, etc. But I have a sneaking suspicion about another cause. Early infestation of Toxoplasma gondii.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #19: Raja

Boston Atheists member Raja writes:

I was born in a Hindu family. I did not become an atheist overnight. It came gradually to me. Although, it should not be much of a struggle to reject an ancient system that is founded and still practiced primarily on the basis of caste and mythical gods and goddesses, it did not come easily to me while formally rejecting Hinduism. True that it should have come much earlier than it did because my father was an atheist in his own way. He and Bengali (yes I come from an area in India where we are called Bengalis because we speak Bengali!!) youths of his time (and now too) experimented with Marxism. So it wasn’t too difficult for him to not go to temples or do silly rituals because that’s what all his peers did! My mother, on the other hand, in spite of adhering to leftist values, used to be (not anymore) a devout Hindu. I followed my mother’s footsteps for a long time before realizing why she attempted to show excess devotion to a moribund Hindu system. Of course, it was caste! She came from a ‘lower caste,’ whereas my father was from ‘upper caste Brahmin!’ As one can imagine that though no pressure came from my father, and they lived away from their respected families (a big deal in a society that glorifies living together with extended families), still my mother wanted acceptance from my father’s ultra-orthodox ‘upper caste’ family members. She performed all the rituals with devotion, and I did those too; but of no avail. She still remained a lower caste, and my father’s family still kept her separate from all family ceremonies. I wasn’t aware of it until I was 13, because thirteen is an age when Brahmins (boys only) are supposed to have an initiation ceremony. The archaic rituals required the mothers to be involved in various ceremonial occasions; and my mother, being a ‘lower caste’ was to be barred from joining those rituals. My father did not take a strong stand against it, probably because he felt weaker against the Hindu oligarchy, and partly because my mother wanted the ceremony to happen! When I learned all of these, I not only refused the entire silly ceremony but also rejected caste-Hnduism altogether. The Hindu ‘limbo’ is guaranteed for me!

I left caste-Hinduism, but yet could not leave Hinduism completely. Although I learned that others believe in other gods etc., but that did not bother me because in Hinduism there are millions of gods and goddesses! What really struck me is when I observed an strange phenomena where a new goddess was added into the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses in the 20th century India. The goddess came not from any ancient text, but from celluloid, from a Bollywood (I think) devotional film. After the film I observed people making temples in that goddesses name, and millions began worshiping that ‘celluloid’ goddess with the same devotion as they did to other million gods and goddesses! Even my mother became involved in this new phenomenon! Fasting, rituals, devotional singing, a special day for the goddess; everything came with the film!! Even my child-mind could not comprehend this bizarre cultural trend. But it did one thing to me; I learned to reject all of those millions of gods and goddesses at once. Here I must confess that a counter-culture at that time also flourished where ridiculing Hindu gods and goddesses were done in books and films in regular basis. Bengal used to be one in the forefront of this counter-culture. I still remember a film during the same time of the devotional film came out where they made fun of the Hindu system using a very popular devotional story. Then I read Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I am not a Christian,” and I read Bhagat Singh’s “Why I am not a Hindu.” All of these and many more helped me shape my thoughts on rejecting not only Hinduism, but also all religions.

Atheism came to me long after I rejected religion. No matter how much I read Hume or Kant, no matter how much I read Bengali atheist writers and no matter how much I watched avant-garde films, nothing could convince me the non-existence of a pantheistic god. First glimpse of atheism came to me when I read ‘A Brief History of Time.’ Next came when I became a biologist and learned evolution. I was still afraid of calling myself an atheist, and found an easy comfort in agnosticism! But when I read Dawkins, Harris and Dennett, I realized that there is nothing to be afraid of my complete lack of belief in god. I finally declared myself an atheist. I confirmed my atheism after reading Christopher Hitchens. The question that cemented my atheism is when I learned to ask, if creation requires a creator, who created the creator?

A thing that still bothered me when I read books like “Brief History….,” where Hawking says, “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God.” ---- why would he say that? Hitchens cleared that up for me. He said in a speech that Hawking or Einstein invokes God not because they want us to believe in a celestial God, but because they prove that our vocabulary is still of our infancy. He goes on saying that, they make no concession to the idea of our theist or theocratic dispensation. This was enough for me to accept that I don’t have to believe in a celestial dictator. And finally when it came to questioning how something is possible out of nothing ‘The Grand Design,’ gave me that answer too.
And that is how I became an atheist! And I am happy that I did.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #18: Toni

Boston Atheists member Toni writes:

I was brought up in an Agnostic family and this story rings very familiar to me.  My friends (mostly Mormon) told me about heaven, god, etc., and why I wasn’t going there.  When I told my parents, they were angry but my Dad said, “Your friends believe that all that stuff exists, I do not.  You can choose what you believe, but please do some research”.  Since I saw no more evidence for god as I did against god, I did not believe in a creator nor a place in the clouds, and soon, I became far too old to be proselytized.  I believe that must start very early or the human brain will have difficulty grasping the fairy tale.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #17: Jeff

Boston Atheists member Jeff writes:

I am an atheist-atheist. I was born an atheist, was raised in a secular environment, am an atheist and will continue to be an atheist until there is proof of the Sky Fairy. My father sat me and my brothers down and basically told us Jesus Christ was a fairy in a fairy tale. My upbringing was quite secular without much about religion. The older I get the more vocal about being an atheist I get. I guess I'm more of an anti-theist.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #16: Dave

Boston Atheists member Dave writes:

Why am I an Atheist?

Divine intervention.

(The real answer would take too much space...)


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #15: Jon

Boston Atheists member Jon writes:

I'm a third generation atheist. My mother and her mother were proudly atheist and proudly Jewish (ethnically and culturally). My mother made me go to Sunday school to get a Jewish education but, in response to my complaints, she sat in on a class and was horrified when the teacher answered a question about whether Abraham might have been wrong to agree to whack Isaac with something like, "no, because God said so." That was the last time I went to Sunday School.

When I went to college I learned a little about philosophical skepticism, which led to my rebellious phase in which I became agnostic. Eventually, though, I realized that I believed in the nonexistence of gods as strongly as I believed in the nose on my face, and given my heritage it's hard not to believe in that! I went back to being an atheist when I realized how silly it was to be agnostic about my schnoz.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #14: Reginah

Boston Atheists member Reginah writes:

Ironically, I became an atheist when i was searching for a way to be closer to god.
I was born into a staunch catholic family, went to catholic schools etc. But that wasn't enough, I felt that something was missing. I didn't feel close to god. Around age thirteen, I became a born again christian which made me feel like I had found what I was looking for, for a while but so many a lot of things didn't make sense about god and religion. I was in limbo for a while...

But then i took a philosophy class and I became a full-fledged atheist. And the funny thing is, I had never felt freer or happier until the realization that there is no god.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #13: Nancy

Boston Atheists members Nancy writes:

My parents were raised in Jewish households, but they were not religious and in fact met while members of the Socialist party, working in Washington D.C.  They never mentioned religion or God to me at all. When I was 8 years old, a friend told me about God: he was a man in the sky, he made the world and everything on it.  I was astonished!  How could that be up the sky--and my parents never told me!

My mother gave me what I thought was a great answer:  "some people believe that's true, but your father and I do not."  Of course, that's all I needed to hear at that age, and I took it for granted that they were right.  I grew up just not thinking about God, in spite of having friends who believed, reading about God in literature and taking a class in college on the Bible.

When I was much younger (I am a baby boomer), I wanted to believe in God, probably because I thought it would be comforting, and maybe also because I thought I'd like to experience the mystical and spiritual (which I found instead through smoking pot all through college!).....But I was never successful in convincing myself and long ago gave up.

I do find that lots of people are shocked when I use the word "atheist"....they seem to be okay with "agnostic."  I wonder whether "agnostics" are just afraid to admit that they really, really don't believe in God.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #12: Vladimir

Boston Atheists member Vladimir writes:

I call myself an atheist, but deep down I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster looking out for me. I just don’t have enough guts to come out of the closet yet. Hope you don’t mind a sincere Pastafarian around. Seriously, I think my lifelong interest in philosophy helped me to wake up. Books by Dawkins, Hitchens and Sam Harris helped me to shed any remaining doubts I had regarding religion. It was a difficult process to brake away from fanatical conservative church/circle of friends, because my family was also part of it. But by His Noodly Grace we are now more or less an atheist/agnostic family.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #11: Brett

Boston Atheists member Brett writes:

It's funny that we are doing this. In Christian circles this is a very common activity called giving testimony (sharing your come to Jesus moment).

That said, I was brought up in a pretty ordinary Protestant home. My family went to church regularly but they weren't evangelicals. But though my youth group I became pretty involved in evangelical Christianity to the point that I spent a year at bible college.

Before you think that the college was some nut house and that it sent me away let me tell you that the college was in England. Christians in Europe are different than here, they are more concerned with social justice and equality than promoting some doctrine and are just as likely to vote socialist as conservative. While there were plenty of nutters at the college it was my exposure to a new way of thinking about the world and how inequality is not necessarily what god wants that ultimately led to my fall from faith.

Upon my return to the US I found I was totally unable to reconcile my new beliefs to my fellow Christians who in this country are completely married to the existing social order and seem to think that inequality and ignorance are some sort of virtues. I slowly drifted away from the church and one by one rejected all doctrines in favor of scientific ideas. My fears of going to hell for my lack of faith slowly gave way to a realization that there is no heaven or hell. Then one day about 10 years ago a co-worker of mine made a comment about how there is not god. Suddenly I realized I was not alone there were other people like me! I am now an outspoken atheist and am happy to play the role of the devil in the lives of the faithful, sowing seeds of doubt whenever I can.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #10: Janet

Boston Atheists member Janet writes:

After twelve years of Catholic grammar school and four years of Catholic high school, not to mention a mother who was a converted Catholic which is just about as bad as being a born again Christian, I pretty much had enough of the religious scene.However, when I was diagnosed with the last stages of multiple myeloma and failed kidneys too boot, I started praying and reading the bible, but by then I knew nothing was going to save me. I took a leap of faith, but this time in myself, and decided I was going to treat my cancer the same way I had my businesses... that put me on the road to do whatever it took to get the job of saving my own life to me. It worked, I found a research team and they had a solution. Thus my experimental operation at the MGH which saved my life. But that still wasn’t exactly my “ahh..ha” moment to becoming an atheist. After I got back on my feet and instead of starting another business I went back to school and took courses in Geology, Anthropology, Archeology, Greek Mythology, Art History, Ancient Architecture, and Religion and Myths. By the time I got through all those courses I had taken, I was a full-fledged atheist. Only this time it wasn’t just because of my disappointment in my catholic religion and god, but more from my new-found knowledge.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #9: Annie

Boston Atheists member Annie ("grateful and proud!" [to be part of the BA community]) writes...

I became an atheist on December 26, 2004.    (Ironically, the day after Christmas).

I was brought up in a Catholic family. My mom was religious and dragged me to church every Sunday.  I did the whole first communion, confirmation thing...basically because I was told to. Dad didn't participate in any religion, and remained silent on the subject. The one time I felt brave enough to ask him how I was supposed to believe in god when I couldn't see him, he replied "you just have to have faith".  My little nine year old mind just figured I must be missing something. Later, I understood the glaring hypocrisy of dad staying home on Sunday mornings claiming that he had faith, while Mom and I went to church.

In my twenties I got tired of mass and instead chose to worship St. Mattress every Sunday morning, which suited me fine. But I still called myself (and thought of myself) as a Catholic, just to hedge my bets.

On December 26, 2004 when the Tsunami in Indonesia claimed all those innocent lives, I finally decided that there isn't a god. And if there is a god, he sucks.  Big time.

Then the 2009 Haiti Earthquake happened. And I got pissed.

My reading of Penn Jillette's "God, No!" enabled me to put an name to my beliefs and own them without the shame I'd been carrying.

I've "come out" to my friends, but not my family (yet)

This group has helped me immensely to shed the (useless, destructive and unfounded) embarrassment and shame I've felt at "betraying" my upbringing. Thank you everyone!!


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #8: Angelo

Boston Atheists member Angelo writes:

After thinking about it for some time, I came to some conclusions. I thought of all the gods throughout history. I thought of all the gods that are still around today. I thought that to believe in any one of these gods, you have to believe that all the other gods were just made up stories. I then  thought it was at least possible that the god I believed was also just a made up story. At that point it hit me, it is just made up, like all the other ones. Once I began thinking that specific thought, it was very difficult to feel how I once felt about God. That was the beginning of how I began identifying myself as atheist.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #7: Deb

Boston Atheists member Deb writes:

My story is not very interesting.  I never believed.  I was baptized, went to Episcopalian Sunday School more often than not from Kindergarten to being "confirmed" in high school.  I knew there were lots of other similar things no one really believed in or liked to do, but went along with anyways in order to stay civilized - like Santa Claus, or going to swim meets.

Religions and rituals from other countries and cultures were taught in school in terms of their value to a people to work through and stick together around big life events (marriage, death), understand their relationship to nature, establish the odd moral guideline.  Not as something I might believe myself.  I figured Christianity was the one I was born into, no one really believed all that nonsense anymore, but stuck to it for community, rituals, moral guidance.

I was horrified the day I realized, at age 19, that other people believed.  People at church, maybe even my parents and brother.  I made half-hearted attempts at learning more, investigating other beliefs off and on through young adulthood, but couldn't work up much of a compelling interest.  I worried that the misunderstanding and disbelief could be my own shortcoming.  Just like being really shy and bad at sports.

Mentioning my lack of belief among friends, colleagues and family seemed an egregious faux pas, so I pretty much never discussed it with anyone. Not that I felt like I was hiding a big secret, it just doesn't really come up in conversation.  Even with my husband, we're both atheists but never bothered to talk about it for many years.  

Don't get me wrong, I had contempt for fundamentalist/evangelical religious people from early on and this can usually be discussed in mixed company.  I've always admired philosophy, civic virtues and all that secular good stuff.  I never saw secular values as what set me apart, only my lack of belief.

I owe gaining an identity as an atheist to Kurt Vonnegut, and paying attention to the inspiring efforts of the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, People for the American Way, American Atheists and many others.  So thanks folks.  It's a relief to be able to say I'm an atheist and know all of these groups have got my back and then some.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #6: Drew

Boston Atheists member Drew writes:

I'm an atheist because as I developed my intellectual understanding of the world, I could not reconcile my religious upbringing with how the world actually worked. Once I found out Santa wasn't real, all the other stories of childhood started falling by the wayside. I didn't mind because even though Santa wasn't real, my parents still went out and got me presents on Christmas day, and I never liked some fat bearded concept more than my own parents anyway. Similarly, I didn't mind realizing God not being real, because the world still worked the way it works. Nothing changes when you stop believing in God--which was to me the ultimate denial of deity. If God's existence is synonymous with its nonexistence...why bother with God?

When I was going to Christian summer camp one year, I was talking to the other kids about the moment they Knew there was a god, their moment of revelation. I thought to myself "Alright, I'll start believing when I Know." To their great credit, the counselors told me I shouldn't seek out what I don't feel, and to wait for anything to find me. The moment never came, and eventually I realized it never would. I stuck by that camp but I never went back to Jesus.

I had it pretty easy I guess.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #5: Angie

Boston Atheists member Angie writes:

As a kid my family never discussed religion one way or the other.

I was puppy-dog in love and married at 23, my new husband decided to be ‘born again’ guy, I diligently read the bible every day to be a good little wife-y. The things I read brought me to tears, how could this be any god of mine??

The marriage broke up, I was a free woman at 26, dabbled in Wicca as a stepping stone. Then soon realized that even though a kinder and less misogynistic religion, I was still putting on an act, playing dungeons and dragons, the cleansing rituals involving incense and candles went nicely with my Ren Faire costumes however.

Coming out atheist was just a matter of not pretending anymore. A matter of growing up.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Friday, June 08, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #4: Dave

Boston Atheists member Dave ("proudly a new card carrying member of American Atheists") writes:

First I’d like to start by saying that I was brought up Catholic.  The Catholic Religion did nothing to keep me from their religion.  However as I entered my teenage years, I started to question things as many teens do.  The more I was exposed to people of different religions; the more I started to wonder if Catholicism was the “right” religion.   They all laid claim to being the only religion that would allow you into heaven.   This led me to question all religions including my own; spiraling me into being an Agnostic. Then after years passing of being an Agnostic, I took an introductory to philosophy course.

This is where everything involving religion in my life had turned around and changed forever.  I clearly recall what - what I call now – my “ah ha moment”.  I call it this because it precisely what I thought after the following.  One day after my philosophy class I was praying to god.  I was praying for god to forgive me for not believing in him.  It was in this moment something clicked in my mind like never before.  It just simply occurred to me how absurd it was to be praying to someone I didn’t believe existed.  I wanted to believe but just couldn’t.  There was nothing left to go on but faith which I ultimately found to be irrational.  That is how I became an Atheist.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #3: Will

Boston Atheists member Will writes:

When I was 6, my family briefly attended a congregationalist church. In Sunday school they taught me that Jesus was everywhere. After that, I was terrified that I would walk around a corner and run into zombie Jesus.

When we moved to the suburbs, we no longer attended church. Mom and dad never talked about religion, but I knew that mom was an atheist and dad a believer. Despite her atheism however, mom did believe in ghosts.

At 13 I was deeply depressed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to physical and psychological abuse. One form that the depression took was obsessive thoughts that the devil wanted me to sell my soul. I tried to put it out of my mind, but couldn't. So one day I said yes, I will sell my soul - I will sell my soul in exchange for the President of the United States calling me at exactly 2:00 the following day. Needless to say the president never called. But I learned a powerful lesson.

That knowledge could sweep away irrational fears. I began questioning my belief in god. I noticed that the only time I really thought about god was when I was in trouble or in pain. This seemed craven to me and offended my sense of integrity. One day I had the courage to say out loud that there was no god - all the while looking for a lightning bolt from on high.

By the age of 16 I was fully vested in reason as a means to learning about the world. I questioned everything and spent hours each day using logic to arrive at answers. I strove for complete objectivity in my thinking and viewed emotion as an unwelcome intrusion. However, at the same time I felt a schism in my consciousness between reason and subjectivity; between logic and meaning. I valued reason highly, but at the same time I was capable of having sublime experiences of awe and oneness that seemed supernatural in nature. I longed to heal this schism and through philosophy arrive at a unified viewpoint. At the same time, the abuse I had suffered as a child left me with emotional scars and a deep dissatisfaction with life. But I realized intuitively that the fault lay not with the Universe but with my perception of it. I felt that if I could just view existence from a slightly different angle everything would make sense and I would be happy.

I turned to reason to bring about this fundamental shift in perspective but soon realized that reason alone would suffice - something in ME had to change. It was at this time that I was exposed to Taoism and Buddhism. Having abandoned reason as a means to profound self-transformation, the idea of a knowing beyond words appealed to me; as did the idea of sudden enlightenment. I dropped out of college and joined a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. But ultimately I couldn't see how all the chanting would lead to enlightenment and I left.

Next, I explored many different religions and cults. I had contact with Eckankar, Scientology, Moonies, Urantians, and Jim Jones' ill-fated Peoples Temple trying to find something that I could believe in, but to no avail.

The next 10 years I engaged in an intense self-examination and analysis of my mind. During this time I could be described as a Deist. I had some vague notion that maybe there was some abstract thing out there that had set the Universe in motion and then went on vacation.

My years of self-analysis eventually lead me to question my concept of self and the existence of free will and this in turn lead to the enlightenment that I had been looking for all along. In questioning my concept of self I had successfully rooted out the last vestiges of supernatural thinking and arrived at a wholly naturalistic "spirituality."


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist, #2: Geoff

Boston Atheists member Geoffp writes:

My personal why-I'm-an-atheist story is not very interesting, other than the importance of teaching your children to be skeptics and ask questions. My religious grandparents were very upset when my parent decided not to baptize us. So my parents made a deal with my grandparents, that while religion wouldn't be practiced (or disparaged) in our house, they would take us to church and send us to Sunday school - my parents thought it was a good way to meet and socialize with our community, and there is value in some of the teachings. However, my parents, both scientists, taught us to ask questions, be skeptical, look for flaws in reasoning (including our own, very important). Having been armed with the tools to resist indoctrination and propaganda, those religious classes and sessions never made sense to my brothers and me. After a few years of frustration of both us children (for not getting good answers) and our religious teachers (tired of our 'disruptions') we ended up stopping going entirely. My parents were very happy.

The only downside is that at age 10 or 11, when you're supposed to think adults are these magical superior beings, I was stunned that so many clearly believed all these stories. It gave me a sense of incredulous superiority that set me up to be a right arrogant b*stard for most of my life. I hope I've curbed it a little...


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist, #1: Matt

Boston Atheists member Matt writes:

My path to atheism is a completely spiritual one. I was raised Catholic and was almost kicked out of public school for getting into too many fights and generally never doing what I was told (despite this, I was a straight A student). I was first sent to a parochial school, then a Catholic High School and finally a Jesuit College. I am all too familiar with Catholic underpinnings.

In High School I began to read certain books like “Zen and the Art of Archery” and “The Art of War” primarily because I was a martial artists and these were classic books associated with the sport. Eventually I read the Tao Te Ching. When in a high school religion class I was assigned a to write a paper on an alternative religion, it was a no-brainer. I chose Buddhism (Taoism was not on the list). After studying it, I was surprised to find that Buddhists have no gods.

They revere Buddhas, living people and teachers who passed on. They are more like saints. But there are no gods. If you asked a Buddhist what they believe, they might tell you of the nine-fold path to enlightenment or other tenets of their religion. Nearly all of Buddhism centers on cultivating the self. Some might believe in karma and reincarnation. But I found these pretty easy to grasp. Karma just says if I am mean to you, you will be mean to me. In fact, you’ll probably tell others I am mean and they will act the same. I never saw it as some divine power rewarding or punishing you. Reincarnation is another one. I simply saw as another way of saying something similar to what Einstein said - matter and energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. Buddhists do not believe your soul comes back complete with memories, but rather the essence of your being returns to the earth in a new form and most scientists would argue that at it’s fundamental level, that is true.

If you ask a Catholic what they believe, well, just read the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed (I still have them memorized due to rote repetition). You are required to believe many supernatural things. But in both of these, none concern themselves with how you deal with your fellow man or how you should attempt to make yourself a better person.

Before me were two paths, one in which I must believe supernatural claims and another that was concerned that I cultivate my self to become a better person. One said I was saved just by believing something regardless of the evidence before me. Another said I should work my whole life at being the best person I could. I felt the one the Buddhists were taking made more sense. Buddhists were far more moral in their beliefs because they were concerned with being good people. And they had no gods and very few supernatural beliefs. They didn’t need them to be good people.

I still believe that you do not need a god to be a good person.

A decade ago I would have fought for anyone to hold whatever religious belief they want. This was America were religious freedom is an important right. But in the last few years we have seen fanatics begin to pull far more attention from the media and from politician than they deserve. They undermine equality in the name of religion. They defeat science with dumb mental gymnastics. The ignore facts, evidence and reason and claim religious freedom demands that their beliefs be treated with equal weight. They impose these beliefs on others. In my time I have seen religion become more misogynistic, homophobic, anti children and protective of pedophiles. I found that the best way to defend yourself from such ignorance is to side with the atheists who nearly always can defeat the machinations of the religious agenda with facts and reason.

As for the belief that there is a man in the sky who punishes people he doesn’t like, I’m completely atheist. As to whether there is a greater order to the universe that we cannot comprehend because we are ants on rock floating in the massive expanse of space, well consider me agnostic on that front.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email

Saturday, April 21, 2012

4/25: Mary Roach award ceremony at Harvard

Letter re: town meeting prayer in Sandwich

This letter has just been emailed by Jane Logan to the Sandwich Board of Selectmen and Town Manager:
Selectmen and Women:

Starting the Town Meeting, or any official Town event, with an invocation / prayer is a violation of the separation of Church and State.

In a Supreme Court ruling Justice Stevens wrote " the delivery of a prayer (at a public event) has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship.

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should `make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State." Thomas Jefferson.

Citizens should not have to participate in a religious act to participate in Democracy.

Please uphold the separation of church and State and do not commence Town Meeting or any official Town event with a prayer.

I would appreciate a response as soon as possible prior to the May 2012 Town Meeting.

Thinking about "Rethinking Heaven"

When I saw headline "Rethinking Heaven" on the cover of the April 16th issue of Time magazine, I thrilled at the possibility that a mainstream publication might have taken a critical position against the unimaginative but widespread conception of an eternal afterlife defined by a cumulus set-pieces and a golden halo on every head.

I was mistaken; rather than adopting a skeptical outlook, author Jon Meacham addresses contemporary believers with both a corrective view  -- citing affable scholars of religion to remind readers that the New Testament doesn't describe a heaven-in-the-clouds -- and an aspirational one: "What if Christianity is not about enduring this sinful, fallen world in search of eternal rest? What if God brings together heaven and earth in a new, wholly redeemed creation?"

On the one hand, this article is a believer's argument that Christians would do well to rein in some of the more excessive and unfounded aspects of their belief in heaven. On the other hand, this apparent return to a less decadent and more exegetically sound soteriology seems like an attempt to reconcile ideas that aren't compatible. I wonder, if we left the pop theology conception of heaven intact, whether we wouldn't be giving believers an easier job of seeing the ethical problems and logical imponderables inherent in the Christian definitions of eternity and redemption.

In the way that sunlight is the best disinfectant, we might think of absurdity as the best alarm bell. To a Christian who thinks that "heaven" is really about rolling up our sleeves and creating the best life for as many people as possible here and now, the skeptic's view that there's no such thing as heaven seems like a sad misunderstanding. "Oh, clouds and harps? That's a caricature, man! If you had a more sophisticated and orthodox understanding of my religion, you'd see how much sense the idea of heaven really makes." But the Christian who thinks that good behavior earns you a ticket to that everlasting wispy resort named Heaven, is wearing their cognitive dissonance on their sleeve. Those are ideas you can lay out, side by side, for a comparison to modern ideas of morality and cosmology.

Friendly arguments, like the one Jon Meacham presents in this article, present a stealth threat. An irrational and superstitious belief like "heaven" becomes easier to hold if its given an ad hoc makeover, and shorn of the more baroque details. If the evidence is considered without first making a commitment to belief in supernatural entities, Christians have every bit as much epistemological warrant for believing in Pearly Gates and angel choirs as they do for thinking of heaven as something God calls on us to create in the here-and-now. It isn't more rational to believe in this latter idea of heaven; it's simply easier.

Here's my question for rethinking heaven: What if heaven isn't a reasonable thing to believe in? A pithy and urgent saying of Madalyn Murray O'Hair comes to mind: "An Atheist accepts that heaven is something for which we should work now, here on earth, for all men together to enjoy." The important difference between this view and that expressed in Meacham's article, is that there's no reference to the intention of a higher power. It isn't that "heaven is something for which we should work now, here on earth, because my god wishes it"; rather, "heaven is something for which we should work now, here on earth, because that is the more attractive option."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3/28/2012 Secular Mass Newsletter

The listing of links and commentary which follows is a roughly-weekly compilation of items of likely interest to skeptics, atheists, and humanists in Massachusetts and the area. The range of topics is typically diverse: politics, humor, research, culture. Feel free to suggest items for inclusion in the next mailer, by writing to "zbos" at Let me know if you prefer not to receive this mailing. -- Zachary Bos, MA State Director for American Atheists 

Events in our Area

  • TOMORROW, March 29, 2012: The Disproof Atheism Society will present "Abraham, Job, & Jesus: The Bible’s Attack on Reason", a discussion in support of the Reason Rally in DC, based on N. Zangwill, 'The Myth of Religious Experience,' and M. Piper, “Why Theists Cannot Accept Skeptical Theism.” In Room 442 of the BU Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary’s St., Boston. Free & open to all. For more information, email
  • April 1, 2012: Boston Atheists John McCargar will convene a book club discussion on the new book from physicist Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing. Join the conversation at Blue State Coffee, 957 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, at noon. If you don't have a copy, but would like to take a look, reply to this newsletter message by email and I'll get a sample chapter into your hands. RSVP at
  • April 4, 2012: At the Concord Area Humanists Wednesday dialogue this week, naturalist and author Peter Alden will be speaking about "Changes in Flora and Fauna from Thoreau's Day to Today." Social at 7 PM, program at 7:30, in the First Parish church building, 20 Lexington Road, Concord. To help planning, RSVP by email with "ALDEN" in subject line.
  • April 15, 2012: 3rd Sunday Luncheon/Discussion Program, sponsored by the Greater Boston Humanists. Harvard Kennedy School Fellows Laila Atshahn and Dina Kraft will speak about "The Impact on Women of Fundamentalism in Israel/Palestine". To take place in the Phillips Brooks House Parlor; free buffet lunch at noon, lecture to begin at 1 PM. To RSVP, contact Tom Ferrick.

Articles of Interest, and Other Items of Note

TWO HOURS OF ATHEISM. This past Sunday, the MSNBC show "Up with Chris Hayes" took an in-depth look at atheism in America and its role in politics, global warming, and the culture of belief. Among the guests were Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Jamila Bey, and Susan Jacoby.

BECK'S THE BLAZE REPORTS ON RALLY. "Now, at 16% of the American population, Atheists feel they are poised to effect change in the halls of America’s institutions, actively lobbying congress on issues most important to them. One current push is to dismantle any protections in place that would prevent religious employers from covering the cost of contraception to its employees per Obamacare’s controversial mandate." From Related: Video interviews of attendees at the Rally, ; and The Blaze's report on the Secular Coalition of America's lobby training session.

FAITH AS BOTH PLAYACTING AND BELIEF. Joan Acocella, for The New Yorker, reviews a new book by ethnographer T.M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. She writes:
Luhrmann warns us against calling the evangelicals' visions and voices 'hallucinations'; that is a psychiatric and, hence, pathologizing term. In her vocabulary, such events are 'sensory overrides'—sensory perceptions that override material evidence. [...] And she reports a vision of her own, which she had while working with the English witches. One morning, she woke up and saw six Druids looking at her through her window. (She lived on an upper floor.) In a moment, they were gone, and that was the only vision she ever had, but she has no doubt that she truly saw them.
All this hinges on what is meant by 'truly,' which, since Luhrmann, who is fifty-three, was educated in the time of postmodern theory, is not a straightforward matter. She says that the Vineyarders know that their 'faith practice'—their date nights with God, their asking him for a red convertible—is, in some measure, playacting. At the same time, they see it as a way of encountering God. She later adds, 'The playfulness and paradox of this new religiosity does for Christians what postmodernism, with its doubt-filled, self-aware, playful intellectual style, did for intellectuals. It allows them to waver between the metaphorical and the literal.'
JIMMY CARTER LEAVES CHURCH. The former President Jimmy Carter has decided to abandon his long-time affiliation with the Southern Baptist Church, in view of church leaders' prohibition on women being ordained and insistence that wives be subservient role to husbands. He writes: "The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world."

ATHEIST LOGO NOT ALLOWED. A consumer wanted his custom credit card image to be the "red A" of atheism; Capital One told him that's not allowed (but Christian crosses are pre-approved).

NAP SCHOLARSHIPS ANNOUNCED. The National Atheist Party, to encourage the expansion of knowledge and the principles of secular humanism, has announced the creation of two scholarship programs: the "Our Secular Future Scholarship" and the "Science Steps Forward Scholarship". Two awards of $1,000 will be awarded in each scholarship program to a college student and a high school student. College level submission deadline: November 1st, 2012. High school level submission deadline: March 1st, 2013.

A HEATHEN MANIFESTO. Thank you to BA member Jenna D. for bringing to our attention this article by Julian Baggini in The Guardian, where he lays out his 12 rules for heathens:
The so-called 'new atheism' may have put us on the map, but in the public imagination it amounts to little more than a caricature of Richard Dawkins, which is not an accurate representation of the terrain many of us occupy. We now need something else. 
This manifesto is an attempt to point towards the next phase of atheism's involvement in public discourse. It is not a list of doctrines that people are asked to sign up to but a set of suggestions to provide a focus for debate and discussion. Nor is it an attempt to accurately describe what all atheists have in common. Rather it is an attempt to prescribe what the best form of atheism should be like.


... the Cambridge-Somerville Secular Buddhists? This secular meditation group is open to people, from beginners to experienced meditators, who want to practice and to discuss their meditation practice with others. It is intended to connect people of diverse backgrounds who want to explore mindfulness practice. Learn more at

A bit of aht... 

Singer/songwriter Shelley Segal -- maybe you saw her perform at the Reason Rally this weekend? -- has released the first single, "Saved", from her debut CD, An Atheist Album. A taste of the lyrics:
Say that i need to be saved
Say with me the devils got his way
I want to know how when you are praying
And when you are doomsdaying
How you think you know that someone is listening to what you are saying.

A quote in parting

Not even the visionary or mystical experience ever lasts very long. It is for art to capture that experience, to offer it to, in the case of literature, its readers; to be, for a secular, materialist culture, some sort of replacement for what the love of god offers in the world of faith. -- Salman Rushdie

SUPPORT SECULAR COMMUNITY-BUILDING IN 2012. Whether you want to be more involved in secular activism, defending educational standards, or resisting the encroachment of religious influences in public matters; whether you want the companionship of like-minded freethinkers, and a social scene where you can speak your mind without fear of censure; or whether you'd like to be involved in one of the aspirational community groups developing congregation-type programs for its members, there's no shortage of groups in the area that would benefit from your participation. For a listing of secular groups in MA and New England, visit -- and let me know if you know of any groups that should be added to the roll.

WORK WITH THE BOSTON ATHEISTS. The Boston Atheists would welcome volunteer organizers who want to plan events, write for the blog or newsletter, develop programs, and work to increase the benefits of group membership. Drop us a line if you'd like to find out how you can be a part of what's going on.

What does [Catholicism] think of atheists?

This post is the first in a series which will document the official views of various religious denominations toward the worldviews of atheism and agnosticism. 

The following text is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and was brought to our attention by a recent email from Minnesota-based Catholic Philip Zehrer, president at "Scriptural Spiritual Direction & The Risen Jesus Still Heals and Reconciles Ministry". Over the past year, Philip has been calling and emailing atheist group leaders, including people here at the Boston Atheists. We appreciate that he's concerned about the state of our everlasting souls [sic], but gosh, we can think of better things he might have been doing with his time. He's on Twitter, which is not one of those better things. 

As I'm not equipped or inclined to act the theologian, I've added only a very few comments in brackets and red text. What do YOU think of the Catholic view of things? Share your comments below. - ZWB

2123 "Many . . . of our contemporaries either do not at all perceive, or explicitly reject, this intimate and vital bond of man to God. Atheism must therefore be regarded as one of the most serious problems of our time."58
2124 The name "atheism" covers many very different phenomena [I couldn't agree more]. One common form is the practical materialism which restricts its needs and aspirations to space and time. Atheistic humanism falsely considers man to be "an end to himself, and the sole maker, with supreme control [That'd be a pretty naive "atheistic humanist", to think he has "supreme control" over anything. Something secular people come to terms with is how the complex interactions of manifold forces are actualy the authors of our "history". ], of his own history."59 Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation. "It holds that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man's hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life on earth."60
2125 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God [substitute "recognizes the incoherence or impossibility of" for "denies the existence of"], atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion.61 The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. "Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely [That's it; I'm an atheist because I haven't read the Bible correctly], or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion."62
2126 Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God.63 Yet, "to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought to perfection in God. . . . "64 "For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart [The idea that there is a single, compatible set of "secret desires" in the "human heart" denies dignity to human persons whose desires are incompatible.]."65
2127 Agnosticism assumes a number of forms. In certain cases the agnostic refrains from denying God; instead he postulates the existence of a transcendent being which is incapable of revealing itself, and about which nothing can be said. In other cases, the agnostic makes no judgment about God's existence, declaring it impossible to prove, or even to affirm or deny.
2128 Agnosticism can sometimes include a certain search for God [Which god?], but it can equally express indifferentism, a flight from the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience. Agnosticism is all too often equivalent to practical atheism.

58 GS 19 § 1.
59 GS 20 § 2.
60 GS 20 § 2.
61 Cf. Rom 1:18.
62 GS 19 § 3.
63 Cf. GS 20 § 1.
64 GS 21 § 3.
65 GS 21 § 7.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An unfortunate scene in "Jack & Jill"

Most of the scenes in Adam Sandler's recent film "Jack & Jill" were unfortunate, I know (the critics seem to agree). But I want to hold one scene up for particular consideration, because takes a thoughtless, mean-spirited swipe at atheism:
Jack (played by Adam Sandler): Did I ever tell you that Todd is an atheist?
Todd (Jack's underling): Oh god.
Jill (played by Sandler in drag): A WHAT?
Jack: Hehe, have a great time guys.
Jill: How could there be a Grand Canyon if God doesn't exist?
Todd: (stammering) That's a very good point. I'm just saying maybe...
Jill: Maybe God wouldn't have given you a rat-face if you believed in Him!
Todd: I don't have a rat-face.
Jill: Yes you do have a rat-face, it's scary!
John McEnroe (playing himself, popping into the conversation from the crowd): Whoa whoa whoa wait a minute, this guy doesn't believe in God?
Jill: No!
Todd: (stammering) I'm, I'm, I'm just saying that there's no real proof...
McEnroe: (yelling) IDIOTS like you really make me MAD!
Crowd members: FIGHT! (chanting in unison) Fight, fight, fight...
(More people in the crowd join the chant, but as a birthday cake is wheeled in, their chanting turns into the "Happy Birthday" song.)
I don't object at all to seeing my worldview satirized -- may the nonexistent God save us from self-serious people -- but what I see in this scene doesn't pass the substitution test. By which I mean: if you replace the role of the implied majority viewpoint with that of the implied minority viewpoint (here, theism and atheism respectively), does the resulting exchange seem just as comedic, or does it reveal a darker aspect?
Jill: Maybe you wouldn't look so ugly if you didn't believe in gods!
Todd: (stammering) I'm not ugly, I'm just saying...
John McEnroe: Whoa, whoa, whoa, this guy believes in gods? IDIOTS like you really make me MAD!
This isn't comedy arising out of cultural differences; it's antagonism made presentable by silliness. Thumbs down, Happy Gilmore Productions, for mixing prejudice with scatological humor. Though perhaps I can't call this a thoughtless mistake on the part of the folks behind the movie -- maybe it was actually a savvy business decision intended to attract a pro-theistic audience. The reviewers over at (" in-depth analyses of current movies from a biblical perspective") think this anti-atheist scene "makes belief in God look cool." Because cool is whatever Adam Sandler in drag is doing... ?

In other words, I think it's unfortunate that there's this bit of anti-atheist sentiment in a movie whose main business seems to be to affirming the value of family, and in making childish audiences laugh at fart jokes. Nothing wrong with those goals; why does prejudice need to be a part of it? To the people responsible, we might say: "Idiots like you really make me mad." Prejudice and the hostility it gives fuel to, when they reveal themselves in real life, don't just go away when someone shows up with cake for everyone.


I actually really like atheist jokes. Such as: "Why can’t atheists solve exponential equations? Because they don’t believe in higher powers." This is from the Harmonia Philosophica blog; find more here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tweets from the Cranston school committee meeting

What follows is the Twitter report that I sent from my seat last night in the Cranston High School East auditorium, as residents of Cranston for and against an appeal in the case of Ahlquist v. Cranston. I intend to write a fuller account of my impressions of the evening -- the flashes of good will, the disturbing spectacle of hostility -- but it was a long night and that will have to wait.

These run in chronological order, from early in the evening to about 11 PM:
  • After 'they' sang God Bless America, 'we' sing America the Beautiful, are told to "GO HOME" #prayerbanner
  • Class of '63 wants to take religious words off mural, rather than remove it #prayerbanner
  • State rep wants appeal; because obviously majority of residents want it #prayerbanner
  • State rep says decision will lead to other attacks on constitution #prayerbanner
  • State rep says she's fought for rights... #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says there a place for this mural, but not in the school #prayerbanner
  • Speaker is being jeered for talking about being discriminated against #prayerbanner
  • The vilification of atheists represents a lack of compassion #prayerbanner
  • Speaker was booed for saying school is a community of learning... #prayerbanner
  • Teacher says her classroom is not a temple... #prayerbanner
  • Churchgoer says to love and accept others as they are #prayerbanner
  • Churchgoer discourages cruelty, belittling, wonders: why the fuss? #prayerbanner
  • Churchgoer says, fight violence in social media, instead of the mural #prayerbanner
  • Speaker is sad this case didn't provoke critical, constructive discussion #prayerbanner
  • Speaker asks, why not notice the district's accomplishments instead? #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says... continue the discussion WITHOUT a legal battle #prayerbanner
  • Resident admires the mural's values, but... it is Christian. #prayerbanner
  • Catholic supports Jessica BECAUSE of history of religious oppression #prayerbanner
  • Catholic says tax dollars should not support one religious view #prayerbanner
  • Believer supports Jessica, in view of history's religious oppression #prayerbanner
  • Resident sitting behind me is calling every speaker against the banner, sotto voce, a fecking 'hypocrite' #prayerbanner
  • Speaker asks that this case be a chance to model adult behavior #prayerbanner
  • Taxpayer, mother, says appeal makes no sense #prayerbanner
  • Taxpayer, mother, says, devote attention to education, not appeal #prayerbanner
  • Mother remembers prayer in school as coercive, confusing #prayerbanner
  • Vet says, mural is not a govt. document, so allowable #prayerbanner
  • Speaker reminds that we don't go to school to pray #prayerbanner
  • Speaker reminds us that Dalai Lama is an atheist #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says no appeal... conserve tax dollars #prayerbanner
  • Resident says appeal, as someone has to take a stand #prayerbanner
  • Teen invokes Roger Williams and religious tolerance #prayerbanner
  • Teen asks, what's next, taking IGWT off money? #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says progressive agenda is filth, evil, tragic #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says the suit was cowardly #prayerbanner
  • Student, a catholic, was shocked to learn of the suit #prayerbanner
  • Student says this is about morals [and is adamant, rambling] #prayerbanner
  • Teen doubts taxpayers want city to quit, tail between legs #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says, supporters should fund appeal, not taxes #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says appeal would snuff hope of fiscal health #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says personal feelings beside the point #prayerbanner
  • Father recalls daughter speaking against budget cuts #prayerbanner
  • Father says, we can't even spend $1k on trash bags! #prayerbanner
  • Father says, do not gamble with my kids' education #prayerbanner
  • Speaker thinks SCOTUS ignores 200 years of US history? #prayerbanner
  • Speaker: they're pushing our god out of public life! #prayerbanner
  • Speaker somehow equating this case with communism #prayerbanner
  • Speaker feels ill at spectacle of divisiveness #prayerbanner
  • Business owner says, save school money for education #prayerbanner
  • Resident says mural does not promote a religious belief! #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says prayers need not be religious, nor amen #prayerbanner
  • Speaker warns of traditions being torn down #prayerbanner
  • Atheist being booed for being atheist #prayerbanner
  • Atheist to give $500 to preserve banner outside school #prayerbanner
  • Speaker asks if supporters would support an Allah mural #prayerbanner
  • Financial planner says appeal makes no fiscal sense #prayerbanner
  • Resident says RW would find mural violation of SOCAS #prayerbanner
  • Speaker asks if they can appeal figure of $173k #prayerbanner
  • Priest says, I never viewed it as a prayer #prayerbanner
  • Teen teebower says, I am a servant of god #prayerbanner
  • Classmate says JA was never bullied #prayerbanner
  • Classmate says, this is a CHRISTIAN community #prayerbanner
  • Mother says the Ahlquists are wasting the school's money #prayerbanner
  • Resident says, appeal, don't surrender our rights #prayerbanner
  • While other speak, Chris Young is signing up more pro-appeal folks, to keep out-of-towners away from mic #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says ours is a DIVERSE nation, not Christian #prayerbanner
  • Mother says her kids' freedom of speech ignored #prayerbanner
  • Mother worried US on slippery slope, losing freedoms #prayerbanner
  • Speaker notes string of attacks on religion in US #prayerbanner
  • Speaker invokes Obamaplot, MLK, looming endtimes #prayerbanner
  • Conspiracy theorist gets rousing applause #prayerbanner
  • Speaker asks if JA changes her mind, can mural stay? #prayerbanner
  • Speaker [not a linguist] observes that "Amen" is not religious -- it's just an 'affirmation'! #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says mural is a poem, TITLED "School Prayer" #prayerbanner
  • Speaker thinks suit came from JA's sense of entitlement #prayerbanner
  • Speaker defines 'artifact', says mural is one #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says if mural goes, so should museum artifacts #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says victor gets the spoils, to write history #prayerbanner
  • Mother says HER mother would support an appeal #prayerbanner
  • Wistful speaker remembers school prayer #prayerbanner
  • Alumna of '63 says when JFK died we said the creed, not prayer #prayerbanner
  • Man sitting in front of me explains why he wants an appeal: America is in a sorry state #prayerbanner
  • Pastor says, we choose the traditions we honor #prayerbanner
  • Pastor says RI first place to have religious liberty #prayerbanner
  • Pastor says prayer not a govt. matter #prayerbanner
  • Speaker says post a disclaimer or take it down #prayerbanner
  • Speaker offended by Christian patriarchy #prayerbanner
  • Unassuming woman sitting next to me has filled seven notebook pages with angry words about atheists #prayerbanner
  • Speaker critical of Catholicism booed loudly #prayerbanner
  • Speaker recalls only Hanukah lesson from school #prayerbanner
  • Father says, hey, no one forced to recite prayer #prayerbanner
  • School committee members giving their yeas, nays... #prayerbanner
  • Lawyer with 24 years of experience says, this is a winnable case [displays dubious legal acumen] #prayerbanner
  • District executive is "first and foremost a teacher", yet will gamble with $500k of student funding #prayerbanner
  • Committee member supports a "minority of one", is booed #prayerbanner
  • Committee member says that for all the funds people have said is available, "not one dime" has been given #prayerbanner
  • Committee member (Brahe bless her) asks, where were donations when we cut music? #prayerbanner
  • The final vote, to cacophony of boos, is against appeal #prayerbanner
  • Yet the pro-appeal folks don't seem fazed; perhaps the vote reinforces their self-image as victims? #prayerbanner
  • At Dunkin Donuts rally point after the decision, Ahlquist dad wary of "goons"; JA just wants a donut #prayerbanner
  • I agree with James Croft -- let's raise money to cover the city's legal costs #prayerbanner

Friday, January 06, 2012

Penn vets prez candidates

Penn Jillette sizes up the major candidates in the 2012 presidential race in this video interview with Big Think. "Jillette's scorecard is unique in a number of ways. For one thing, it's decidedly non-partisan. Jillette directs his criticism at Democrats and Republicans alike. Another noticeable attribute: you'll be hard-pressed to find another voting guide out there that is quite so colorful, and so laced with profanity, as Jillette's."

Anti-evolutionism in New Hampshire schools?

A New Hampshire lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require public school science classes include scientists' "political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism." He claims the Columbine tragedy was caused by the teaching of evolution. (Mother Jones)


Speaking of The Granite State, New Hampshire freethinkers, please note: a new Humanist Meetup has started in the Hanover are, the Upper Valley Humanists Association. Check them out!

In the news: Boston Atheists @Xmas

The weekly Dig Boston, in its last issue of 2011, ran a nice profile of how some of us in the Boston secular community view the holiday season. The article doesn't seem to be online, but I've had it scanned and posted to the files section on the BA Meetup site, where you can read it as a PDF. I'm still in touch with the author, so if you'd like to follow-up with him, and let him know what you think of the job he did, let me know and I can pass your message on to him.


BA organizer Calvin Fisher brings to our attention an article on, whose author looks at Dave Silverman's proposed alternative to the silly practice known as Tebowing. It's called Thinkering.

Get in on the trend, hepcats.


As the ultra-Orthodox Haredi community in Israel continues to grow its numbers, its coming into contact with a, let's say, more modern culture, which isn't accustomed to segregating the genders. At the Wall Street Journal, you can read about the latest fracas, occurring when a female member of the IDF had the brazen audacity to sit in the front of a bus, to the horror of the Orthodox men who expected her to take her place in the back, where her sexual cooties couldn't brush off on anyone else.

In past weeks, there have been marches and even physical clashes in Israel, relating to similar incidents. Thank goodness the culture of the US isn't subject to, or under threat of being subject to, the religious puritanism of patriarchal fundamentalists! (Wait.... )

Introducing the National Atheist Party

If you stopped by the Boston Atheists solstice party last month (a great time!), you may have met Tanya Walker, the Massachusetts chapter leader for the National Atheist Party. "The what?", you might ask. Well, the NAP is "a diverse, all-inclusive, progressive, secular political movement and a response to the lack of representation for all free-thinking people who are legal, law-abiding citizens of the United States." Further, the NAP "is not against anyone's religion. We are not a group convened to combat religion. We are not an evangelical group for the promotion of atheism. We are a political party, convened to give atheists a voice in government that they have never had before. Open atheists, voting on issues. That's it."

There was a useful piece this week in WashPo about the NAP, whose officers over the past few months have been as Amish barn-raisers, raising funds, developing their web and social media networks, installing the expertise and logistical structure of an organization with state and national presence, and so on. Learn more about them at

If you'd like to learn more, two good points of access are 1) the MA State Chapter page on Facebook, s, and 2) the state forum on the NAP website.

I invited the Facebook page moderator, Mason Eaton, to introduce himself:
My name is Mason Eaton and I am the group administrator for the Massachusetts chapter of the National Atheist Party. As a young Atheist, I believe in equality amongst everyone regardless of their religious upbringing, and I feel that the secular populace in America is grossly misunderstood and not given a proper chance to share their voices. In the NAP, the voice of one is accompanied by the voices of many others, and as a group, we will not be silenced out. Equality and Reason, evolving our politics.
A most timely announcement about the NAP is, of course, its co-sponsorship of the Reason Rally in Washington DC this March. There is still time to reserve a seat on one of the buses driving down there from Mass.

How excellent it would be to have just an enormous number of people from Boston, Massachusetts, New England, down there at the Rally. To hear, among other speakers, Tim Minchin! See you there.