Atheist Nation Celebrates the Holidays

The Intellectual Highground

Nothing puts atheists in a worse mood than the holiday season. All these dimly-lit people and brightly-lit window displays, making merry over things that never happened, spreading lies, propagating falsehood, singing their rancid carols, and worst of all teaching impressionable, if rather preposterous, children to believe in intellectual crap when they could be playing Megaman 11 or Worms Reloaded–which they got last Christmas. How obscene, how humiliating: Behold, little Buddy praying by his bedside for Megaman, versions, 12-16 (“conveniently boxed as one item” from Amazon.com) to a non-existent deity, having just lodged the same request with the sex-offender in the Santa suit at the mall. No wonder America is going to the red dogs and blue dogs. “Isn’t anybody listening to the Voice of Reason?”

God to a six-year old

Help is on the way.

To combat the forces of Darkness and Superstition, the American Humanist Association and some allies have launched a new ad campaign to put the Grinch back into Christmas. An article by Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times charts the new ecumenical spirit of the quest, spearheaded by the same blithe folk who brought us the “Good without God” bus-o-rama and the “Just be Good for Goodness Sake” billboard extravaganza. The campaigns are financed by “a few rich atheists” with money to throw to the wind, and buoyed by research being done by the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life (Trinity College), headed by the eminently reasonable Mark Silk and based on Barry Kosmin’s American Religious Identification Survey, showing that as many as 15% of Americans are “Nones,” i.e., have no religious identification or association.

It is pretty obvious and at the same time hopelessly obscure how Nones relate to atheism (atheists hope they do: this is largely, sad to say, a recruitment push for membership and dues), but as Goodstein points out in her article, the combined membership of the sponsoring organizations numbers only in the thousands. The best course might be to see whether Nones can be divided into groups: Certainly Nones, Possibly Nones, and None Just Now, Thanks–but I mix my politics and religion, which is never a good thing.

Possibly None

I will be blunt: This whole business is idiotic. It is hard to imagine that people like Todd Stiefel, one of those well-endowed atheists with cash to burn, are really on a rampage because of passages like the one he cites from the Bible:

“The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” (from Hosea 13:16, New International Version).

Reassuringly if a little obtusely Stiefel says that “It [our democracy] has not been based on [verses like these] and should never be. Our founding fathers created a secular democracy….We must denounce politicians that contend U.S. law should be based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments.” I agree. Anyone who wants Hosea 13 added to our Bill of Rights should be tied to a chair, gagged, blindfolded, and made to listen to Diane Rehm read slowly through the whole Book of Leviticus. Presumably (or is it implicitly?) he is willing to throw serous money at billboards so that America does not become a country that kills babies. He will find many friends among Catholics and Evangelicals on that score.

Diane Rehm

If you think ripping open pregnant women is bad, read the story of the wandering Levite in the Book of Judges (ch. 19) where a consummately self-absorbed kidnapper–a Hebrew–offers his concubine to some Village- of- the- Damned- crazed youth who want to have sex with him, gang rape her, leaving her for dead–whereupon the Levite butchers her semi-conscious person into twelve pieces and forwards a limb to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Please: Don’t quote Hosea to me when there are passages that would make Tarantino wince.

The Levite's Discovery

But to be serious: Do the sponsoring organizations (which include besides AHA the American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation) think that these stories are read to Christian (or Jewish) children at bedtime? Is it bloody likely that a craven priest in Spokane is going to substitute the Legend of the Lethiferous Levite for St Luke’s Nativity story on Christmas Eve? I know that atheists feel they know a great deal about the mindset of the religious principles they reject, but one has to wonder why this isn’t reflected in their anti-Christian strategies?

Or are the campaigns only a reflection of the sponsors’ shocking ignorance of ancient myth and legend, whereof the Bible is a treasure hoard. I get the sense that the sponsors need to begin with the Brothers Grimm and then read backward in literary time to get a sense of how the grotesque has been used in history for both entertainment and moral instruction. Most “reasonable” people who are slightly sophisticated about the contours of culture know this. Many very nice religious people know this. They know that scaring people to death has been used by religion and nasty aunties for a long time to get people to change their wicked ways, clean up their act, and lead a better life. The question is, why don’t atheists know it? The shock of discovery seems entirely their own; it will not surprise the educated or awaken the irreligious passions of a Certainly None.

We don’t do that any more–scare people to death to make them good. Even very religious people don’t do that any more. The last really good sermon on hell was preached in 1917 by the torture-obsessed priest in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist. And I can’t name the last time I heard a robust sermon on Hosea 13.16. Given that real life lascivious priests are frightening enough, it seems unnecessary to reach back to the first millennium BCE for material.

Hell as you like it...

The intellectual isolation of the atheist from wider cultural movements and shifts in perception is one of the great stories of our time. Almost no one is covering it. If the question they are asking about religion is, Don’t these damned believers know what’s in the Bible, the answer is somewhere in the range between probably not to possibly so; but even if they do, they probably know that the Bible is not recommending carving up your girlfriend. And probably can guess that when you find blood and gore of this magnitude the story is about something else. Phrases and words like “symbolism,” “surface meaning,” “allegory,” “folk legend” and “myth” come to mind. Put it under the heading “Things Atheists Missed in College,” along with a good course in comparative religion, ancient history, mythology, and anthropology. It’s only people who have never studied myth who can write in such a yawningly banal way about religion being one.

I find myself constantly challenged on panels with atheists to lecture them on their understanding of words like “superstition,” the “supernatural” and above all “myth.” They in turn find me niggling and pedantic. But really, does the average atheist, village or city style, assume that the toxic texts of scripture are “in” the Bible for moral edification or because they reflect a time and culture different from lunchtime in Chicago?

Richard Dawkins lectures me, London 2007

Which brings us to the question, Who are these ads for? We’re told that a key reason for the aggressively confident style of the campaign (not to mention the unusual spirit of ecumenism that currently reigns in the atheist camp), is owing to their determination to get their “market share [of the Nones].” Leaving the most grievous puns aside, they are also inspired by the need to resist the Myth of the Not Lying Down Dead Horse, that America is a Christian Nation. And as we all know, there is nothing like a Billboard over the Lincoln Tunnel that announces, “You know it’s a Myth. Believe in Reason.” to get uncommitted people thinking and committed people scrambling for the nearest AHA meeting. Add a Hosanna to that and you’ve got something. (Tip for vandals: Spray paint “I’m Lucifer, and I approve this message” on the sign.)

In a particularly poignant way, weary commuters will also be treated to the cheery salvo of The United Community of Reason (not to be confused with Christians United to Oppose Rationality), a group in Washington. Their idea of decorating for the holidays includes spreading the good news of Reason on billboards and ads on bus shelters in about 15 cities: “Don’t Believe In God? Join the Club.” Fortunately, number-wise, the club can actually meet in the bus shelter. Add a few Nones and they can meet at a subway stop, except in cities where there are subway stops no one gives a rat’s whisker about organized atheism.

Far be it from me to lecture atheists. But please accept, along with an eggnog salute, the following advice. Grow up. Learn a little about what Being Clever means. I know we live in a world defined by short attention spans, coffee mugs, T-shirts and bumper stickers. But it’s completely unclear to me whether your ad campaigns will change a single mind, or even whose single mind your campaign is designed to change.

This is not a “struggle.” The upward march of unbelief is not the forces of liberation against the sources of slavery and oppression. I’m afraid religion beat you to that metaphor. It’s called Exodus. No one is paying attention because no one except your club members actually cares about the private conclusions of people who want to turn being disagreeable into a civil rights event.

Launch of Consider Atheism Campaign: Attended by Several

The slogans are insipid and can only have been vetted by very small committees of Like-minded People–and that’s a real problem, The modern atheist seems to get off on being distaff, minority, contrary, and ornery–the legate of a long free-thought heritage. Would your heart beat faster if you could persuade society that overturning a Salvation Army worker’s collection pot is an act of charity–extra points for snatching the bell? Would you praise a convert who defaced a nativity scene at Christmas, or saved a turkey’s life at Thanksgiving. Don’t be ridiculous, you say: that’s not what this is about. Don’t be ridiculous, I say: this is what you have made it.

Two last things in this little lecture:

Give up using the name humanism. You’re ruining it for people like me who don’t mean by it what you want it to mean. Equating atheism with humanism is a cheap trick, a cop behind the billboard (maybe one of yours?) kind of trick. Be proud of being an atheist. I know I’m not. You are not the American Humanist Association. You are full- frontally and outwardly the American Atheist Association.

And stop this ridiculous invocation of secular saints from Socrates to Einstein. Virtually none of the people you pray to became famous for being atheists and you know it. Not even Darwin. Certainly not Socrates. And Einstein: who knows?

“Yes, you can call it that,” Einstein replied calmly. “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.” (Quoted by Isaacson in Einstein, 2007)

1933, on a deserted beach in Santa Barbara, California

But the point is, you cannot claim the intellectual upper hand in arguing against “God and religion” and then resort to the authority-argument to win your case. Even if you were joined by all the Nones in America, yours is a lonely lot. Especially at Christmas. Accept it. Live with it. And take down those absurd posters.

31 thoughts on “Atheist Nation Celebrates the Holidays

  1. Sounds like the atheist campaign really bothers you: “Nothing puts atheists in a worse mood than the holiday season.” “This whole business is idiotic.” “The intellectual isolation of the atheist from wider cultural movements and shifts in perception is one of the great stories of our time. Almost no one is covering it.” “Grow up.” “The upward march of unbelief is not the forces of liberation against the sources of slavery and oppression.” “Even if you were joined by all the Nones in America, yours is a lonely lot.” etc. etc.

    Meanwhile, one person has been sentenced to death and another to life in prison for blaspheming the local superstition. But I guess that’s nothing compared to how annoying signs are to you.

    • Please provide the specifics of your allegation: “Meanwhile, one person has been sentenced to death and another to life in prison for blaspheming the local superstition. But I guess that’s nothing compared to how annoying signs are to you.” Are you saying the ad campaign is designed to free atheist prisoners of conscience in America?

    • Clearly this post has to do with the limited purview of American atheism, the focus of which is not the predations of Islamic extremism, except indirectly. It is precisely the tendency to tar all religion from benign (and yes, I believe there is such a thing) to toxic with the same brush that I’m dealing with here. Even if this were not so, do we really kid ourselves into thinking that an ad campaign targeting Xmas shoppers has anything at all to do with these cases?

  2. Dr. Hoffmann, I have enjoyed your essays immensely since stumbling onto this site a few months ago. As to your recent post re the “Consider Humanism” advertising campaign, I agree with you. In that regard, the following is a post I made on the American Humanist Association Facebook page:

    As a card-carrying, dues-paying Humanist, I have become concerned with the signals being sent through the recent “Consider Humanism” campaign. (See http://www.considerhumanism.org/)

    In a press release, American Humanist Association president, Richard Speckhardt, has said that the premise of the campaign is proclaim, among other things, that, “Humanist values are mainstream American values, and this campaign will help many people realize that they are already humanists and just did not know the term.” But upon inspection of the advertising materials, the message seems to be that “Humanist values” (whatever those are) are exclusive of, if not superior to, religious values (whatever those are.)

    Mr. Speckhardt goes on to say that, “a literal reading of religious texts is completely out of touch with mainstream America.” From what I’ve seen so far, I would argue that it is the Humanists who are out of touch with mainstream America. The referenced bible quotes in the ads are almost completely irrelevant today. Mainstream religion (meaning the Judeo-Christian faiths) condemn those passages as much as we non-believers. It’s as if the Humanists are trying to persuade the Christians and Jews to quit behaving as if they lived two or three millennia ago. This is as absurd as saying that all Indians are alcoholics, that all blacks are lazy, and that all Asians operate laundries. In that respect, the Consider Humanism campaign, in my opinion, is intellectually dishonest and thereby counter-producive.

    As to the comparisons of ancient scripture to the current Humanist dicta used in the ads, they merely reinforce the animus of the religionists toward the non-believers, thus producing, perhaps, the exact opposite of the reaction they seek. Whoever came up with this campaign idea must have been absent that day in Public Relations 101, where they were taught that more flies are attracted to honey than to vinegar.

    Therefore, I would hope that Humanists who truly value compassion, tolerance, and empathy will not participate in this project. Otherwise, we will surely have met Pogo’s enemy.

    Herb Van Fleet, President
    Humanist Association of Tulsa
    Tulsa, Oklahoma

      • It’s possible that some atheist do actually think that their ad campaigns are contributing to this issue – the human rights issue in countries other than the US – and that those atheists who do not join in the ad campaign are slacking off. Oh, well – perhaps they need to learn that hitting soft targets is not everyone’s cup of tea….

  3. Pingback: Seth vs R. Joseph Hoffman « Seth's World

      • OK – I went and viewed the video. It’s author is surely hung up on the word ‘delusion’. I should have kept a pen handy to take note of how many times this word was used! Sure, it’s a great word for getting attention re the god/religion debate. What with ‘meme’ and ‘delusion’, Dawkins has certainly achieved considerable impact with his books. However, the jump from ‘god is a delusion’ to religion is a delusion is a very big jump. The theological diet may be wrong – and causing serious problems (especially when tied up with social/political structures) but the need for spiritual nourishment is not a delusion, it is a fundamental human need. And as such has the capacity to produce values.

        Religion, seen as an expression of what each of us value as spiritual values (love, kindness, charity etc) seen as an expression of how humans strive to live and interact beyond the bare fact of existence, is, in actuality, something about human nature that could well be viewed as ‘sacred ground’. And perhaps it’s this ‘sacred ground’, that when trampled upon by the call to blaspheme, will give one big shudder of rejection, one big irrational outburst, will produce one big hole in the ground that will swallow up those who dare to challenge it’s power.

        (I love the words of Yeats: “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”.)

        In contrast, theology, does not stand upon ‘sacred ground’. It stands upon purely intellectual premises. Premises that are continually subject to the winds of change, to the onward call of intellectual evolution.

        Sure, the link between the ‘sinner’ and the man, between ideas and the man who holds them, is indeed there. But so also is the line between the two. A line that should never be crossed in equating the two. And this is where I think that all the calls for blasphemy fall down. This distinction is not kept in focus and the line is crossed. Resulting in a failure to uphold basic human values. Because however bad the man’s actions are, however bad is the theology, that is only a part of the man not the whole.

        The courage to mount the barricades is a wonderful thing. But for it not to end in a futile endeavour the target must be clearly seen. I don’t think the current crop of ‘revolutionaries’ are able to see further than their distain for all things religious – at least seems evident by the soft targets they are aiming at. Theology will keep spinning it’s wheels – that’s not the issue. The issue is keeping those wheels from running rough-shod over any social/political structures. Which means – that the social/political structures need to be aware of, and able to counter, any infiltration from theological sources. That’s where the barricades should be set up – not on buses, billboards and what have you. Canvassing for more atheists will not change the status quo – it’s more people, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, etc standing up to the fundamentalists, and the intrusion of theology into social/political structures, that has any hope of achieving a way out of the present social/theological problems.

        Yes, indeed, the super-naturalist god is a delusion. But there is much more to our fascination with religion, with seeking and upholding spiritual values, than simply a case of delusion.

      • I adore Yeats, Maryhelena, and bless you for citing him here. And for me personally at this point in my own time, I have ironically been reading him. “..I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet…” seems to resonate so well in this essay’s context too, though. If only ‘they’ could recognise that while parsimony does not reflect reality. If only they could understand the complexity of reality, and appreciate the human spirit. I do love the second poem too – it mirrors an image I have of my own when I close my eyes. Peace, inspiration, and nature.

  4. Lovely comment, thanks–very nicely stated. The Yeats (Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths…) is my second favorite poem.

  5. I offer this as an open ended challenge. I am not a theologian or an academic in any discipline. I have to depend on my best judgment of authority sources in any field.
    I take Albert Einstein to be generally regarded as the greatest physicist ever to have lived. As with the leading physicists in this century Einstein is committed to a mystical world view. As unconditional as I accept his contributions to physics, I as readily accept his religious covictions over against which I am forced to challenge whatever conflicting religious preconceptions I may have.
    The following quotes from Einstein: “There is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them (the development of religious experience from religion of fear to moral religion) even though rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. The religious geneiouses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling which knows no God conceived in man’s image, so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. However it is among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were, in many cases regarded by their contempories as atheists, sometimes as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Francis of Assisi amd Spinoza are directly akin to one another. While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religion or moral considerations, those individals to whom we owe the great creative achievements that this universe of ours is something perfect and suspectable to the rational striving for knowledge, if this conviction had not been a strongly emotional one and of those searching for knowledge had not been inspired by Spinoza’s “Armor Dor Intellectuals”, they would not have been capable of that untiring devotion which alone enables man to attain his greatest achievments”. Now to Baruch Spinoza.
    A correspondent wrote to Spinoza: People say that you conceal your opinion concrning Jesus Christ.
    Spinoza answered: “I do not think it necessary for salvation to know Christ in the flesh, but with regards to the eternal Wisdom of God, which has maniested itself in all things, and especially in the human mind, amd above all in Jesus Christ, the case is far otherwise. For without this no one comes to a state of blessedness, inasmuch as it alone teachess what is true or false, good or evil. And inasmuch as this wisdom was made especially manifest through Jesus Christ, as I have said, his disciples preached it, insofar as it was revealed to them through him, and thus showed that they could rejoice in the spirit of Christ more than the rest of mankind. The doctrines added by certain churches, such as that God took upon himself human nature, I have expressly said that I do not understand, in fact to speak the truth, they seem to me no less absurd than would a statement that a circle had taken upon itself the nature of a square.” How much more could and needs to be said!

  6. Poignant comment Ed. I think if I am anything at all it is a Spinozist. Einstein shared the same basic instinct, and I think Emerson did as well, though more poetically. What I don’t accept is the reductionist view that all religion that postulate “God” derive the same tenets from them. Clearly they don’t. It would be like deriving a theory of the “nature” of mankind from the fact that we are all human. And I am at a loss to see how the most vocal atheist can sell this palpable illogic.

    • Thanks Joe – naming Emerson requires a a few of his thoughts on Jesus.

      “Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eyes the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of His World. He said, in the jubilee of sublime emotion, “I am divine. Through me, Good acts, trough me speaks. Would you see God, see me, or see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think”.

      But what a distortion did his doctrine and memory suffer in the same, and in the the next, and the following ages. The idioms of his language and the figures of his rhetoric have usurped the place of his truth, and churches are not built on his principles, but on his trops. Christianity became a Mythus, as the poetc teaching of Greece and of Egypt, before. He spoke of miracles, for he felt that man’s life was a miracle, and all that man doth, and he knew that this daily miracle shines as the character ascends. But the Miracle, as pronunced by Christian churches, gives a false interpretation, it is Monster. It is not one with the blowing-clover and the falling rain”. Hitorical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it appears to us, and as it has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal. It has dwelt, it dwells, with exaggeration about the person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons. It invites every man to the full circle of the universe, and will have no preferences but those of spontaneous love.

  7. @ Ed Jones: Wonderful quote from Einstein. Thank you very much. There is much wisdom contained therein. It seems that wisdom for the new atheists is pretty much limited to dispatching the God of theism through evidentialism, and not much else. I too place myself on the map close to Spinoza. Along with Santayana and Schopenhauer in the same geographic area.

    • Steph
      Lots of emotional pull in some of the lines of poetry that Yeats wrote. And yes, some of those pesky ‘New Atheists’ would do well in realizing that intellectual ‘wars’ are not the be all and end all of our existence. Sure, Yeats saw dangers ahead in his day – as the “New Atheists’ do today with fundamentalism.

      “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
      Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
      The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
      The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.
      ……
      The darkness drops again; but now I know
      That twenty centuries of stony sleep
      were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
      And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
      Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

      The problem is not voicing warnings etc re dangers ahead. The problem with the ‘New Atheists’ is that they stop there – they don’t look down at their feet. I often think some atheists are in danger of putting a new god up there in the sky – the atheist ‘god’. It’s a bit like Galt in Atlas Shrugged (been there, done that and moved on…) who, in the last words of that book “raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar”. Having new gods to ones taste is all very well – but it’s the corresponding sign – the sign of a heart upon the sacred ground that seems to be missing…..

      Back to Yeats – yes, the man, however much he played around with mysticism and spiritualism, was never able to get away from that ‘old sod’ – the Irish ground beneath his feet.

      “He made the world to be a grassy road
      Before her wandering feet.”
      (The Rose of the World)

      Ground zero, basic fact of reality – the world beneath our feet. The beauty of our intellectual wanderings cannot surpass the sacred ground upon which we place our feet. So, in the context of the ‘New Atheists’, that means giving ‘ground’ to people’s dreams – however illogical such dreams might be – and taking the intellectual/theology ‘fight’ to the political arena ie set up the barricades against the would be ‘rough beast’ there.

      • They obnoxiously tread on our dreams, Maryhelena. Religion is so simplistic to them but reality is complex and there is a fine silky line quite indistinguishable between reality and non reality, I think. Story telling, mystery, wonder, magic, imagination, creativity all run like little streams in between. Why crush or ignore those? How do you define love, emotion, spirituality? Don’t let go of the mystery. There’s no sense of humour in simpletown, wit wanders freely without laws. But over there, it’s Christmas approaching, and raucous rivers of religious resentment resound.

  8. Steph, but they, the ‘New Atheists’ have dreams also. They dream of a world free from the infiltration of theological ideas into the social/political environment. They want to see theological ideas kept out of social/political structures. The problem is that their instruments for achieving their goal are useless. Mockery, ridicule, billboards, TV advertising etc can only serve to bounce back at them.
    Their ‘enemy’ can just laugh all the way to the bank of public opinion. The ‘enemy’ is there, the Rogue Elephant does exist, but caterwauling from the rooftops is not able to penetrate it’s very thick skin – or cause discomfort for it’s very large ears.

    So, those of us who may think we know better……….should at the very least recognize that for all their kindergarten antics the ‘New Atheists’ are, however inarticulately, giving voice to a dream that needs to become a reality. The achievement of a peaceful social/political environment will require the erecting of a “NO Theological Premises Allowed Here” notice on the door.

    Issues of social/political importance are never black and white. It’s not a case of either or. It is a case of accommodation, a case of a win/win context. Horses for courses. Context matters. Religion and theology are not going away. That’s pipe dream stuff, illusion. It’s simply a case of allowing space – and thus boundaries – for it to function.

    So, while we can knock those ‘New Atheists’ for their often obnoxious antics – we sell ourselves short if we think that is all they are about. We need to applaud their goal while we shake our heads at their methods.

    Yes, Steph, “Story telling, mystery, wonder, magic, imagination, creativity” are all important in our lives. But they won’t be bringing peace anytime soon. For that we all need to get our hands very dirty and engage in the rough and tumble of the reality of social/political problems. It’s not the dreams of the night that bring peace and harmony to our social interaction – it’s the eyes wide open dreamers of the day that see what is – and that what is does not have to be…

    “All men dream: but not equally, Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”

    T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

  9. Einstein is nice and generally full of wisdom but more simplistic here than Spinoza whom I possibly prefer. However I am dealing with grief and travelling from one side of the world to the other and round again mourning and trying to celebrate my mother’s life. Ergo, I want no debates.

  10. I’m a bit sleepy and suddenly remembered this: the best billboard I’ve seen is one put up all over Auckland last Christmas by St Matthew’s in the City, a progressive Auckland Anglican Church in New Zealand. Unfortunately a very small minority of fundamentalists objected… The billboard shows Joseph and Mary in bed together and says facetiously, “Poor Joseph, God was a hard act to follow”. …. Anglican Christians who read biblical stories reasonably, no less.

  11. “Please provide the specifics of your allegation” (which was “Meanwhile, one person has been sentenced to death and another to life in prison for blaspheming the local superstition.”)

    Sure…

    Walid Husayin (an atheist) was arrested for blasphemy; as far as I can tell, he’s still in prison. This story is from Nov 12:
    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/life/religion/new/7291256.html

    Asia Bibi (a Christian) was arrested for blasphmey and sentenced to death. As far as I can tell, she is still in prison and her family has had to go into hiding due to death threats. This story is from Nov 9:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/8120142/Christian-woman-sentenced-to-death-in-Pakistan-for-blasphemy.html

    “Are you saying the ad campaign is designed to free atheist prisoners of conscience in America?”

    Not at all. I’m saying that religious oppression needs to be fought, and one way to fight it is to loudly and repeatedly announce that there are people who disagree with the majority religious opinion.

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