To refute or promote?

March 10, 2011

There is an ongoing debate in the secular community about whether secularists ought to concentrate more energy on criticizing bad religious and moral ideas, or promoting positive values. This debate has frustratingly continued since at least early 2009, when I joined the Center for Inquiry, and has no apparent end in sight. While I do not propose to have a solution, I do feel the need to offer a few observations that could help clarify this dispute.

Broadly speaking, the debate features two camps. The first camp believes a robust public discourse includes a good deal of critical discussion on religious belief, considering that faith and dogma so negatively shape social and political life. The second camp thinks that the first focuses too much on disparaging religious belief, and presses for more attention to the advancement of positive values. But, for several reasons, there is no real conflict between the two, even if one is perceived.

It seems to me that a person cannot be against an idea without being for something. When arguing against an idea, one is surely tearing something down. But one is also doing so because he or she values things like science, reason, and secular thinking. Moreover, one can only critique an idea if he or she has a methodology by which to judge that idea. And a critical methodology is meant precisely to help people discard old, untrue ideas and keep building upon the better ones.

It is often difficult, or even impossible, to present an absolutely comprehensive case against someone's position and in favor of your own method and position in the same forum. Billboards, books, blog posts and public events only allow so many words. One does not always get the chance or have the time to fully outline their reasons for critique. But this does not imply that one does not hold good reasons, or thinks that reasons are unimportant. It only suggests a different approach.

For example, Christopher Hitchens is a proud secular humanist. But he spends more time writing and speaking about religious belief than he does clarifying his moral worldview. Is there any reason to doubt his secular humanist credentials because of this? Is his critique of religious belief not helping foster a secular humanist society? Is he really doing harm by increasing the amount of public discourse on religion?

In fact, refuting and promoting are sometimes two different but complementary discussions. This is because refuting religious belief might be about evaluating truth claims while promoting values might be about moral claims. This was the topic of another recent debate in the secular blogosphere , over the claims made by Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values . I do not claim to be a philosopher, but my position is that fact-based discussions of truth and untruth are different in nature than moral discussions of right and wrong -- though, of course, the two can be approached in a similar manner, and are sometimes inextricably tied. This means that concerns about the veracity of religious beliefs are different from concerns about constructing a positive moral framework. Both are important, but they are distinct.

In the end, I believe this is a mistaken debate between people with slightly differing interests. Slightly is the operative word here, for both groups would certainly be considered members of the same team. Many of them even work together at the same secular organization. The critic of religious faith and dogma is on the same side as the promoter of secular moral values. To squabble about whose interests are more important is to lose sight of the underlying problem: the staggering amount of uncritical thinking that is putting society to ruin.

Note: this essay was originally published on the blog Rationally Speaking.



#1 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Thursday March 10, 2011 at 1:41pm


While you make some good points, I’m not going to to take sides—positive vs. negative. Instead, my hope is this—if you are going to be critical (negative), get the right villains within your cites. Just compare the countries that have come from a Christian culture vs. Islamic and the abuses that go on in these countries. They will kill and declare Jihad with the ease of breathing.

Don’t just take a stand against religion—all people who have values have religion of one sort or another—take the right stand.

#2 Michael De Dora on Thursday March 10, 2011 at 5:14pm


Good point. There are a lot of related issues I didn’t address in this essay. One of them is the fact that religious belief itself comes in many forms.

However, I don’t believe we all have religion.

#3 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Thursday March 10, 2011 at 7:53pm


What then is your definition of “religion?”

#4 Michael De Dora on Thursday March 10, 2011 at 8:51pm

Roughly, “beliefs and practices about or related to the existence of another realm of being and/or a God.”

#5 Motivational Thoughts (Guest) on Thursday March 10, 2011 at 11:36pm

Yeah I believe so. When a person indulge into a debate, he relies on something which he really believes is true.

Well, I also don’t want to take sides. But I do know what I religion I stand for.

#6 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Friday March 11, 2011 at 4:59am


Why do you define religion relative to a belief in God? Why should this one particular belief thrust a group into this discriminated-against category? If God is your criterion, how would you justify it and for what purpose? Wouldn’t it be enough to merely call these “theistic” religions?

There are many so-called religions that don’t acknowledge a specific God – Confucianism; Buddhism. There are also many secular ideologies – Nazism, Communism, Existentialism – that serve in the same manner as those groups traditionally regarded as “religions.” Even Secular Humanists had regarded themselves as a religion!

Your real point is that theistic religions are malevolent and should be counteracted and discriminated against, while the ideologies somehow are given a free ride. Perhaps you need to first demonstrate that these religions, which believe in a supernatural realm, are particularly delusionary? (However, there are many religions that regard people who believe in the physical realm as deluded.)

#7 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Saturday March 12, 2011 at 1:12pm


I imagine the first step to determining the worth of a value system is its foundation.  If the belief system rests on a logically unverifiable idea, it should be dismissed.  Thus, any system that has an immaterial god(s) as the source of its morality should, rightly, be dismissed.

Bringing in something that isn’t there just adds confusion and contention.

#8 John Kelly (Guest) on Saturday March 12, 2011 at 2:07pm

Promote our values.  We need to let people know what we are and, in so doing, we will tell them what we aren’t.  When we differ with religion is when we will dissect their beliefs and expose them for what they are.

In short, let’s establish the high ground and force them to attack so that we can concentrate our message. Otherwise we’re scattering our shots trying to anticipate their focus.

#9 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Saturday March 12, 2011 at 3:23pm


//If the belief system rests on a logically unverifiable idea, it should be dismissed.  Thus, any system that has an immaterial god(s) as the source of its morality should, rightly, be dismissed.//

I’m all for truth, but we all operate under certain limitations. We all have morals and values. These aren’t subject to laboratory analysis. What “is” can’t determine what “should be.” We all have to make a leap into the dictates of the conscience. However, while a naturalist/materialist believes the conscience is no more than non-authoritative chemical-electrical impulses, the theist believes that these impulses reflect the input of an authoritative God – a much more logical leap.

Besides, while there isn’t a stitch of evidence to support the idea that our laws are natural and unintelligent, there are some powerful philosophical considerations that weigh in favor of supernaturalism (ID):

#10 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Saturday March 12, 2011 at 7:21pm


You keep stating the same fallacy:

There is no evidence that there isn’t a god.  I agree.  We’ve been through this before.  You can’t disprove a god idea because it is logically unverifiable.  Therefore it gets dismissed.  That is why ID gets dismissed as well and why ID can’t be taught in science class.

You can lie about this all you want, but one plus one equals two no matter how many times you challenge and refute it.

Further, you certainly aren’t for truth.  You are for defending christian morality.  Christian morality has had fifteen hundred plus years to prove itself.  It has failed: the inquisitions, the antisemitism, the homophobia, the slave trade.  It all gets so tiresome. 

Secular laws, secular governments, scientific/technological progress has improved the condition of many.  Secular morality does too.

#11 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Sunday March 13, 2011 at 4:24am


There are many highly satisfying arguments in favor of God (Supernaturalism, ID). Meanwhile, there is nothing in favor of naturalism—that our laws are independent, non-transcendent, and un-intelligent. Instead, there are many indications that they are transcendent—immutability in face of molecules-in-motion; omnipresence and uniformity in operation; omnipotence and irresistability; omniscience and harmoniousness—they are beneficent and don’t create conflict or self-destruct.

Meanwhile, naturalism is unable to handle many varieties of questions—the origin of the universe, the laws of physics, the cell, life, fine-tuning, logic, rationality, consciousness, freewill, moral absolutes—questions easily answerable from a Theistic perspective.

#12 John Kelly (Guest) on Sunday March 13, 2011 at 12:29pm


What satisfying arguments?  A book that is full of flaws, written at a time when people believed stars were little lights hung in the sky?  I love your third sentence, it’s so full of vagaries that are meant to lead us to one conclusion without actually saying the word God.

Your alternative to Naturalism is god?  I use the generic, uncapitalized spelling because the explanations for everything that exists have passed through many religions and dieties and much of what has been passed down as Judeo-Christian is a distillation of those moral codes.

Naturalism, as you call it, is simply looking elsewhere besides lore to explain our existence.  Since the Age of Enlightenment there has been an explosion of scientific investigation. Once people transcended witchcraft, satanism (Oh, are they still with us?) and the like they began to seek more satisfactory arguments and that is growing, no matter if you choose to hide from it. 

“Naturalism” is an attempt at understanding and it is progressing as more information and better methods emerge.  Laws are intelligent: the intelligence of the human experience over many centuries. 

It’s funny that you include logic, rationality and freewill as questions easily answerable from a “Theistic” perspective.  In denying “Naturalism” you crimp logic, rationality and freewill into a form that befits your foregone allegiance to the absolutism of theistic dogma.  That you had the terms freewill and moral absolutes side-by-side is laughable without need to explain why.

Humans have intelligence.  Those who wish to use this intelligence will continue to do so and more will be understood.  You must realize that in science every answer generates many more questions: Pursuit of answers to those questions broadens our perspectives and adds immeasurably to our common knowledge.

Omnipotence and irresistability; omniscience and harmoniousness . . . don’t create conflict or self-destruct?  No, of course not.  That’s why there are over 32,500 denominations of Christianity in this world, with 2 -3 new ones being added every week.  That’s why people who are dissatisfied in their current church environment need only go looking for another to feel comfortable with. Obviously omnipotence, etc. exists within individual limitations.

#13 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Sunday March 13, 2011 at 12:40pm


I’d like to know what satisfying arguments.  I’ve read many and have yet to be convinced.

As to ID, the adherents peddle it as science.  In science you need to be able to falsify an idea before it can be tested.  You can’t; you’ve admitted as much yourself.  Furthermore, ID has no model that allows prediction.  The case for irreducible complexity is bogus as is was overwhelmingly demonstrated at the Dover trial.  Therefore, ID isn’t science, it is science fiction.

You might want to recall that when ID went before a christian judge in the Dover case, real science triumphed.  The ID folk just looked stupid.

If you are ignorant of the trial, here is a link to the NOVA show,  Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.

#14 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Sunday March 13, 2011 at 1:43pm


Forgot, we understand laws of physics through science, not religious revelation.  You might want to consider that before you make another idiot claim that science produces no answers.

#15 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Sunday March 13, 2011 at 2:16pm

John and Jim.

//“Naturalism” is an attempt at understanding and it is progressing as more information and better methods emerge.//

We believe in science, laws, predictability and rationality just as much as you do. However, we also believe that the controlling laws/influences are intelligent and purposeful. What evidence do you have that they are unintelligent and purposeless, caused by nothing and sustained by nothing?

#16 John Kelly (Guest) on Monday March 14, 2011 at 1:55am

Daniel, the causes are manifold.  In the case of living things it can mean adaptation for survival, not nothing from nothing or unintelligent and purposeless.

What evidence do you have that they’re intelligent and purposeful?  Please don’t answer that it’s a book or thinking derived from that book.  I don’t think “we” believe in science, etc. as much as “you” do because if confronted by something unexplainable “we” would attribute it to ID. “You” investigates and tests and searches for answers.

And the use of “believe in” is not accurate.  Science is a system which uses rationality and logic to direct process, it’s not a belief system.

#17 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Monday March 14, 2011 at 3:26am


//And the use of “believe in” is not accurate.  Science is a system which uses rationality and logic to direct process, it’s not a belief system.//

You believe in naturalism, that the laws operate and sustain themselves naturally, as opposed to emanating from the mind of God. If you have any evidence for this, then provide it.

#18 J. (Guest) on Monday March 14, 2011 at 6:06am

Breaking news from the future: Bennedict DCCXCI says, “We’ve made a terrible mistake. I hope it’s not too late undo the damage.” Pope admits god doesn’t exist, liquidates church holdings and donates proceeds to the poor before declaring RC church defunct?

#19 John Kelly (Guest) on Monday March 14, 2011 at 11:30am


This is getting tedious.  Believe in a god if you wish, that is your prerogative. If your god is in charge of making things happen it’s doing a sloppy job of it.  Look around.  How supreme is this mess?  So give your god all the credit.  What you see is proof that god was created in our image and likeness.

What I look forward to is hearing of another great discovery.  I probably won’t have to wait long - we hear of them all the time.  Adding all of the discoveries over the past two centuries together we would probably something like a long freight train to contain them.  You’re a lucky guy.  All you need is one book, a couple of inches thick, to explain it all.

#20 John Kelly (Guest) on Monday March 14, 2011 at 11:43am

Hey J,

We might not need to wait for Benedict DCCXCI!  In the past few years the Catholic Church has closed both Limbo and Purgatory.  My understanding is that they’re developing Limbo into a retirement village, complete with some killer golf courses.  Of course there’ll be no wildlife as they just poop all over everything.

Purgatory is being converted into a spa extraordinaire: hot mineral baths, healing springs and, once they get the sulphur filters working, lung cleansing air.

#21 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Monday March 14, 2011 at 1:14pm


You have avoided the issue.  Since ID poses as science, it must follow the rules of science.

Any proposed idea must be falsifiable.  Thus, to bring in a creator to explain gravity, the origin of life, or anything else, you must be able to disprove the idea.  The christian god idea cannot be falsified, so it gets dismissed.  Therefore, your claim that you can’t disprove that physical laws are “unintelligent” is true.  It can’t be disproved; thus, it gets dismissed.  Argue and rant all you want, but if ID can’t follow the rules of science then it isn’t science.

When you can produce an idea that can be falsified, then please present it.  Until then, I suggest you quit badgering those who want to see humanity progress and take your comments to the Phelps’s.  They’re more your kind of company.

I know this simple truth bothers you, but it is true nonetheless: there is no god.

#22 Michael De Dora on Monday March 14, 2011 at 1:16pm

I just ran across a Robert Green Ingersoll quote (thanks to Tom Flynn) that is relevant to my essay, so I thought I’d post it here:

“The destroyer of weeds, thistles, and thorns is a benefactor whether he soweth grain or not.”

#23 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 3:42am


//If your god is in charge of making things happen it’s doing a sloppy job of it.//

How ungrateful!

#24 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 3:51am


//You have avoided the issue.  Since ID poses as science, it must follow the rules of science. Any proposed idea must be falsifiable.//

How is naturalism falsifiable?

#25 chandra widjaja (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 6:27am

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#26 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 11:35am


I’ve been through this before.  All scientific theories and achievements, such as the development of anti-biotics, stem from falsifiable ideas.

I see galaxies moving away from a central location.  I think that all matter must have expanded from a central point.  Hmmm, interesting, but can I disprove it: yes, if I find a galaxy that is moving counter to the direction of other galaxies, that would disprove my idea.  Falsification is usually very simple and that is how “naturalism” is falsifiable.  It does not allow logically unverifiable ideas into the process. 

If your point of view were taken, then why not teach students that undetectable adorable purple aliens control human governments; I know this because they favor me and have revealed it to my mind.  You absolutely cannot disprove this logically unverifiable idea.  It is no different than the idea that an immaterial god created and directs everything; I know this because it favored a few and revealed it to their minds. 

Do you think it would be acceptable to teach students that undetectable aliens control human governments in a Political Science class?

Awaiting your answer.

#27 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 12:29pm


You had challenged me about the hypothesis of God (supernaturalism, ID) not conforming the the criterion of falsifiability. I responded that it’s the same thing for naturalism—a challenge that you haven’t taken up.

Besides, there are some things that apparently exist that can’t be falsified. Logic and reason can’t be falsified without invoking them in the process. Even the existence of the universe can’t be falsified.

When it comes to your “purple aliens”—this is a hypothesis that fails to explain anything and is unsupported by evidence. Not so with God.

#28 John Kelly (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 1:06pm


What do you mean “Not so with God?”

What verification of the existence of “God” is there?  A book?  A book that is rife with fantasy and tall tales and childish stories to explain why things are?  Stories passed down by people who thought stars were little lights hanging in the sky?  This is evidence?

Daniel, I give you permission to believe what you want to but your comparison of your beliefs to verifiable “Naturalism” is totally without merit.  You substitute faith for fact, belief for process.  No, we don’t know everything about our universe or even our planet but we do have facts and evidence and we’re accelerating the process.  Next year at this time we will have more knowledge than we do now. Will you?

#29 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 1:38pm


Now you’re just lying.  I gave examples of how falsifiability is built into science.  The universe is a material structure that can definitely be falsified. 

The purple martians are no different than your god idea.  It explains just what the person to whom it is revealed wants, just like a god idea.

Math, like logic, rests on definitions.  The definition can be proved consistent or inconsistent.  That is how science works.

You know you’re wrong on this one.  ID poses as a science and yet has no characteristics of science.  Guess that is why the Dover case went in the favor of evolution and not ID. 

You’re not fooling anyone here Daniel.  You’re just proving that one can’t have an honest rational discussion with a believer.


#30 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 1:39pm


Evidently, I’m not communicating properly. While we all agree that the laws can be verified scientifically, naturalism can’t. It’s a philosophical belief about the nature of the laws, science and reality. It posits that things just happen naturally and continue naturally without intelligence and design.

I’ve already challenged you to provide one bit of evidence that the laws are natural and unintelligent, and you haven’t provided anything. Consequently, your religion of naturalism is no less “fantasy and tall tales and childish stories to explain why things are.”

#31 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 1:50pm


//You’re just proving that one can’t have an honest rational discussion with a believer.//

I’m afraid that your religious/worldview commitments are blinding you in regards to our exchange. I’m genuinely sorry about that.

#32 Jim, religion is bullshit (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 4:41pm


You’re purposely avoiding the point: I have explained how falsification is built into science and you keep avoiding that.  I imagine you have to because it dismisses your god idea.  Talk about being blinded.  I’m so sorry for you.

Let’s put it your way: what falsifiable idea and evidence do you have that allows for a god in explaining natural phenomena.  And, once you have provided that, explain how introducing this idea explains the fossil record, or that galaxies are moving away from one another, or gravity.

And, would you give me a good reason why this argument is any different than your god idea:

Undetectable purple aliens control human governments. 
The aliens are quarrelsome and dislike agreement.
That is why human governments have such a hard time getting along.
Once and a while the aliens form alliances and gang up on other countries.
I know this because the aliens favor me and have revealed it to my mind.

This explains why nations are quarrelsome and antagonistic.  You in no manner can disprove this. 

The christian god idea is no different:  an immaterial god created and governs the universe.  I know this because this god favored a few people and revealed it to their mind.

Since you believe that ID should be taught in schools, why shouldn’t someone teach about undetectable purple aliens in political science.  Both the ID position and the aliens are the same kind of argument based on logically unverifiable ideas that cannot be disproved.

Awaiting a specific answer.

#33 Jim, Religion is bullshit (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 4:48pm

By the way, you’re constructing a false premise about “naturalism.”  Science observes, tests, and finally explains.  I am not aware of anything in the scientific method that dismisses any testable explanation, a testable, falsifiable god idea included. 

Thus, your “naturalism” is a straw man.

However, if you can provide a science textbook written by a credible scientist that has been peer reviewed that dismisses a possible testable, falsifiable god explanation, please let me know.  I am not aware of one.

Awaiting a specific example.

#34 John Kelly (Guest) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 at 1:18am


Science builds a theory by observation, postulation and testing.  No theory is accepted without thorough peer review.  What is your peer review for the existence of god?

Another point.  I didn’t respond to your earlier admonishment to me:

“//If your god is in charge of making things happen it’s doing a sloppy job of it.//

How ungrateful!”

Ungrateful?  To whom?

Laws are given by god?  Europe fought wars among themselves for centuries.  The United States was one of the spin-offs of one of these wars.

After technology made war completely untenable, as WW I and WW II proved, Europe has moved together.  There is a European Union.  There is even a common currency among many of them.  Man has learned, as do the biological organisms, how to survive.  Though neither the Union nor the currency are a finished product, the beginning is well established.  The same with the United States.  The beginning was not the completed product, as the Civil War showed us Politics is the proof that as we mature, we change.  So we are not a “finished” product even after 245 years.

Bacteria and viruses demonstrate adaptability for survival, evolution if you will.  Flu vaccines must be constantly upgraded for new variations of the Flu, which is an adaptation from the last Flu virus which is another adaptation from an earlier Flu virus, and so on.  Antibiotics have been rendered less and less effective against bacterial infections because the bacteria have evolved to be able to withstand the antibiotics.

In larger life forms we see adaptations.  One such example is the Nene, the Hawaiian State Bird.  It is flightless.  It didn’t need flight before alien species of predators were introduced to Hawaii by western man.  The Nene is a variation of the Canada Goose.  Their ancestors were likely blown off course during migration and found a peaceful, verdant, non-predatory environment and didn’t use their wings for flight any more.  Their survival didn’t rely on their abilities for flight and the extraneous wings became too small for flight, which was needless anyway.

Vestigial legs are evident in the skeletal structures of whales and some lizards.  There are variations of bird species that enable them to survive better in specific environments.  And on and on.

Are either the societal adaptations or the biological adaptations from the hand of a god?  To quote a line from the movie “Jurassic Park”:  Life finds a way.

To argue this you have a flood story.  You have a theory, actually a fantasy since there is no basis in fact or evidence of this, that the Earth is 6,000 or 12,000 years old and man coexisted with dinosaurs.  If you don’t agree with these fantasies remember that they’re derived from the same book, no matter how contrived and twisted that derivation may be.

You have a bible story about the origin of languages from god’s wrath on man for attempting to reach Heaven by building a tower in Babel (a 120 foot tall tower, at that).  Of course, left out of that biblical reasoning, is the fact that Babel was a trading center in the trade routes.  People from far-flung countries gathered there (and other places) to trade goods.  Even after that godly tantrum the traders did not retreat back to their respective countries:  They just kept trading.  Or maybe they had already brought their languages with them, in the first place.

These are some examples of the fables in that book from which you derive your theory that the hand of some god makes everything happen.

#35 gray1 on Thursday March 17, 2011 at 10:01am

Good post here.

Religion per se is not a problem so much as the great variety of doctrines developed which disagree strongly with each other relative to original holy texts. I say this because of the domination that such a confused collection of “religions” nevertheless hold within the world power structure. Unfortunately this situation is currently getting worse instead of better.  I might also point out that atheists just don’t factor in with such groups as a qualified reasoning party, at least not yet.

It is therefore the many weaknesses to be found in the various doctrines (and some dogma) which can be much more effectively exploited towards reason than might ever be accomplished by simply chanting, “There is no god… There is no god” while pointing to the obvious flaws to be found with making literal interpretations of holy books.

Like it or not, religion is part of our evolution and has provided much of the basis for our existing civilization.  It certainly forms most of the basis for the rule of law and the support of human rights (where applicable) either of which we can’t really live without (literally) at this time.  Continued evolution of religion itself or whatever is to eventually replace it is best guided rather than shocked and it needs to be guided with some understanding, not simply beaten down out of frustration.

#36 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Thursday March 17, 2011 at 12:05pm


Yes, religion has a history with us.  However, it was a move to secular democracy that has improved the lives of many.  Our secular constitution has nothing in common with the religious heritage of Europe, whether it be christian or judaic.

Consider that a democratically elected government, the right to religious freedom, the right to free speech, the right to a trial by jury, and the elimination of slavery are nowhere to be found in christian or Jewish religious texts.  Secular democracy and democratic rights were a product of the enlightenment, a movement that elevated reason and was highly critical of religion.

Therefore, although religion has a history, departing from it has improved the human condition.  And, like it or not, the problems facing us our species—overpopulation, climate change, human rights—will not be solved through religion.

#37 gray1 on Thursday March 17, 2011 at 4:52pm


Granted at least partially, however my main point is that we have to deal with current conditions most intelligently in order to be effective while secular humanists/atheists remain a small yet vocal minority.  That said, no efforts will ever make progress while waving a “religion is bullshit” banner in front of an established power base consisting of conservative Christians, Muslims or just about anyone else for that matter. Frankly, it’s just not very impressive to do so and I suspect it hurts the cause much more than it could ever help.

#38 gray1 on Thursday March 17, 2011 at 7:33pm

We might mention that the British Empire complete with their religious heritage and official church outlawed slavery prior to the U.S. and didn’t have to fight a bloody war to accomplish same.  Personally I suspect that keeping their slaves was a strong motivation for the U.S. breaking away from jolly ole England because the writing was already on the wall that English law was soon about to free all the slaves.

Upon further reflection, all of Western Europe in spite of being long rife with monarchs and strong religious heritage is also rife with democratically elected governments, the right to religious freedom, the right to free speech, the right to a trial by jury, and the elimination of slavery as well as the highest levels of the quality of life.  On the other hand, in order to find the historical highest levels of mass murder and persecution of their own citizens we must travel to the various countries where we have found well defined atheists in complete control such as the former Soviet Union and Red China.  Go figure.

#39 John Kelly (Guest) on Friday March 18, 2011 at 1:06am


Yes, the people in control of Red China and the former Soviet Union were atheists.  The people who perpetrated the Inquisition were not. Hitler was raised Catholic and Stalin went to the seminary.  And Americans who were non-religious, atheist and agnostic fought those people on many fronts, including battlefields.

We’re not talking about people’s religion in this case but a common factor in human history: runaway power.  Stalin and Mao were totalitarians and so was the Catholic Church which pursued the Inquisition for nearly 600 years, with one form of suppression or another and with varying levels of severity.  Our Nation all but annihilated the Indian and destroyed their way of life.

All this means nothing in our discussion.  We’re talking about now.  My objection to the current state of affairs is that religion is interjected into every nook and cranny of our society, all too often with government sanction.

Many of our religious “leaders” have become rich preaching their gospel.  Kenneth Copeland and his wife became billionaires about a decade ago.  Billy Graham has a yacht that is too big to navigate the river into Kinnebunkport, ME and so must use an adjacent bay to anchor.  The Reverend Hagee, who funds Israeli settlements in Gaza, pays himself $1.4 million a year and employs his family to run his megachurch.  These “New Pharisees” and many more like them decry the non-religious and the atheists for profit.  And people complain about atheists being so angry.

The religious right are against almost everything scientific and they try to legislate their religious beliefs into school curricula.  This as the US slides further and further down in excellence in education.  Religious beliefs are shoved down the throats of those who don’t subscribe to those beliefs: birth control and abortion rights being among those rights targeted.  It’s gotten so crazy that laws in some states have been proposed to suspect a miscarriage as an abortion and be investigated as such by law enforcement.  Even a woman having a heavy menstrual flow would be suspect.

There are seven states that have laws and constitutions discriminatory against atheists: In Arkansas atheists cannot be a witness in a trial.  US law supercedes these state laws but they remain on the books.

Many, if not most, atheists are humanists.  It’s not mandated that we must be humanists, we just are.  Atheists are freed from dogmatic dictates in pursuing knowledge which makes investigation and discovery more likely.  It’s no accident that at least 91% of scientists in this Country are atheist, agnostic or non-religious.

Let’s stay in the here and now in this discussion.  Throwing stones at atheists is like throwing stones at mirrors.

#40 gray1 on Friday March 18, 2011 at 6:14am

No group whether religious or anti-religious is holy or sacrosanct.  If we are to throw stones at all then such justice should be fairly distributed when due even if it breaks a few mirrors.  We can’t document and use as example the many past errors and evils of one group while claiming perfection for ourselves.  That sounds suspiciously like the Pharisees we all know and love. 

It might surprise some to realize that on a whole there is more actual results of humanism currently being voluntarily distributed via religious avenues than secular ones.  This is not a poor reflection on the secular side, it’s just a matter of numbers.  Not quite all the church people are demons.

#41 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Friday March 18, 2011 at 12:16pm


I think I made it a point to say that life improved under secular democracies.

Totalitarian states—whether they be the christian Nazi state, the catholic monarchy of the popes while governing the papal states, or atheist communist states—oppress, torture, and kill.  What I find interesting about the nature of totalitarian states is that the philosophy used to justify them doesn’t seem to matter. 

The christian monarchies of Europe endured for over a thousand years and were just as brutal as the Asian, Arab, or pre-columbian monarchies in the Americas.  The love of this alleged Jesus did nothing to mitigate the viciousness of kings and popes or the peasantry for that matter (when Francis premier had the alleged murderer of his first born torn to bits, those good christian commoners played kick the ball with the dead man’s head). 

Rather, the bible was used to justify torture, murder, aristocratic privilege, and the impoverishment of the peasantry.

It was a move to secular democracy and the industrial revolution that improved the condition of many.  Secular reason, secular democracy, and science have improved the morality and the living conditions of humans, not religion.

I thought this comment of yours was amusing though:

“It might surprise some to realize that on a whole there is more actual results of humanism currently being voluntarily distributed via religious avenues than secular ones.”

Yes, that is why in the very christian nation of Uganda embraced those very christian American evangelicals who suggested that the Ugandans need a “kill the gays” bill.  These very good Ugandan christians are right now trying to get the bill passed into law.  I guess religious humanism is good as long as you’re straight.

Sorry, but the record of religious humanism isn’t very good.

#42 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Friday March 18, 2011 at 12:27pm


Forgot to mention that I’ve found directly confronting christians or muslims on their bullshit is useful.

I was on a bus the other day, and two elderly JW’s gave me a copy of the WatchTower.  I tore it up and handed it back to them.  I then said, “not interested in your bullshit.”  One of them replied, well I have the right to say what I believe.  I said, yes you absolutely do, so do I.

They kept quiet after that.

There are many roads to the same place and sometimes they intersect where you wouldn’t expect them to.  Although it is not usually my way to be non confrontational with christians, I don’t lecture people that it is counter productive to use non confrontational tactics.  You might consider that before you make proclamations of what is and what is not useful behavior.

#43 John Kelly (Guest) on Saturday March 19, 2011 at 1:43am


I support religious-based charities like The Salvation Army, Volunteers of America, St Vincent de Paul Society, and my local Catholic social services agency.  There is no religious test from them to receive assistance, they do good work and a very large percentage of the money given to them goes to humanitarian assistance. 

A few years ago Free Inquiry magazine had an article that noted that only about 2% of atheists joined organizations like CFI, FFRF, American Atheists and the like.  This smattering of membership makes it difficult to make a concerted humanitarian effort. The only charitable organization I’m aware of among these organizations is CFI’s SHARE, which I do donate through.

My local group is seeking ways to make humanitarian donations but the need for by-laws and registration as a non-profit and 401 (c) (3) organization makes it difficult to donate as a single entity for the largely informal group like us.

I am curious as to how many and how much the non-religious community (I say that advisedly) contributes to humanitarian causes.

#44 gray1 on Saturday March 19, 2011 at 8:37am


Well I guess we each can play the role we are best suited to.  Whether such is a drama or comedy only time will tell.  If we end up being hoisted by our own petard at least we were striving in the battle when it happened.


As I mentioned it is a game of numbers and the number of atheist organizations strictly billed as such is currently relatively small. There are of course the notable ultra-rich foundations and/or trusts such as that of Gates, etc. where “trickle down” seems to be working for some very worthy causes but I suspect these are closed entities as far as participating is concerned for reasons of paperwork and the fact that they probably already have a full time job just finding good homes for such massive funds. 

Some time ago I read an article about “What you can do with $1000” and it mentioned starting a non-profit/401 type of organization which would be the way to go if you wish to more directly control where your money actually goes.  By-laws are boiler plate stuff but it does take work and a level of responsibility.

I too admire the Salvation Army for their works, organization and attitudes.  Of course there are some organizations billed as religious who support a “believe anything you want” kind of attitude such as Unitarian Universalism which is a liberal religion that embraces theological diversity. I suspect that altogether atheistic views could also fit in there somewhere, plus the social diversity and potential for some interesting discussion is immense.

#45 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Saturday March 19, 2011 at 12:05pm

@John, Gray,

One of the largest volunteer, charity organization is the American Red Cross.  From what I’ve read, it is not a religious based organization and, yet, does tremendous good.  It also doesn’t proselytize or advance a religious agenda as does the Salvation Army. 

This last winter, I was outraged when I found out that the Salvation Army threw away a number of Harry Potter and Twilight toys that hard working people had paid for and contributed with the hope that a poor child might have a christmas present.  The Salvation Army didn’t consider that some children might be made very happy with the gifts; they just threw them away.

That is the problem with getting religion mixed up with charity; there is always the potential for advancing a religious platform rather than unconditionally helping the poor.

As for myself, I have volunteered my labor to a number of public services throughout my life, when I see a hungry homeless person, I take the time out to buy them good food or give them some money, I contribute to groups such as “Separation of Church and State,” “The National Center for Science Education,” which helps keep religion out of science classes, and I’ve been donating money to help the pro union protests in Wisconsin.

What I find so hypocritical about evangelical, born-again, corporate christians, is that they talk about charity and then elect politicians who want to eliminate welfare, fight against universal health care, family planning, and any number of programs that are designed to reduce poverty.  I think the position on the left is that eliminating poverty is more effective through politics.  You may want to remember that christian charity did not alleviate the suffering of the masses in the 30s.  Real relief came with the New Deal.

For conservatives who argue that conservatives give more to charities, you may want to see Robert Reich’s “The Work of Nations” where he examined that claim.  Yes, conservatives give more to charities, charities that tend to benefit the rich: opera, ballet, etc.  To the poor, not so much.

For those who truly want to see an end to poverty, I suggest you get involved in liberal politics.  While a number of charities, even christian charities, do some good work, none of them improved the standard of living as much as did the New Deal.

#46 John Kelly (Guest) on Saturday March 19, 2011 at 1:27pm


I annually contribute about 20% of my gross income to charitable causes.  I investigate those I contribute to before they get my money. Smile Train, Doctors Without Borders Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), NPR and PBS, Red Cross, CARE, Alternet, CFI, FFRC, USO, DAV, Food Bank, Feeding America, Nature Conservancy and more.

I will check with my local Salvation Army about having a policy of censoring toys.

I do volunteer, as well.  A very worthwhile group would be your local literacy group, like the Literacy Coalition.  I’m not sure that I don’t get more out of that experience than the student does. It is an amazing experience to see someone take off with reading.  Local Meal-on-Wheels always need volunteers and donations.  At Winter Solstice time adopting a family to pull them up requires money and effort and it’s, in my experience, a very worthwhile endeavor.  That’s something that is best done with a group.

I also contribute to political causes and candidates and one party.

Needless to say I don’t have a lot of mad money.

#47 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Monday March 21, 2011 at 11:44am

@John Kelly,

Here’a s link to the salvation army story.  It still pisses me off that in an economy like this, christians threw away toys that a lot of children would have liked and that a lot of working people paid for.

#48 gray1 on Monday March 21, 2011 at 12:36pm

It’s apparently better for the Salvation Army to bear the discontent of one pissed off atheist donor than a thousand (or like ratio) pissed off Christian donors.  Once again it boils down to a numbers game and in all fairness they do openly bill themselves as a Christian organization what with “Salvation” in their name and all that stuff.  When I was a kid I thought that meant they recycled stuff, Ha Ha.

Nevertheless, if any organization isn’t allowed to stand on their own principles they can’t stand at all. Maybe it is just like when the police elect to destroy seized firearms instead of selling them back to the public, in their qualified opinion they feel that they’re doing the right thing despite protests. I can only suggest we try getting the Christians to at least re-donate the Harry Potter type stuff to whatever charity it is that the witches are running.  But really, can’t we find something better to bitch about than this?

#49 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Monday March 21, 2011 at 3:24pm


Where did I say that they shouldn’t be allowed to do what they want.

I wrote that their policy wasted the money of contributors and kept a number of poor children from getting some good toys.  That is why I don’t donate to religiously affiliated organizations.  The temptation to use their position to proselytize is too great.

I doubt that they only pissed off one atheist.  I’m pretty sure that everyone who donated a Harry Potter and Twilight toy was pissed off as well.

They wouldn’t re-donate.  That was the point: they threw the toys away.

As far as something better to bitch about.  What is wrong with you.  People spent their money in good faith thinking that they were helping a poor child.  Their contribution was tossed.  My comment was in response to where to contribute.  I don’t think it is unimportant to point out that when contributing to a christian organization you may get burned.  I remember when it was discovered that most of the money mother Teresa raised for poor Indian women went to the Vatican and not to the poor women.  I don’t see much difference here.  Donators had an expectation and they were betrayed.

#50 gray1 on Monday March 21, 2011 at 4:43pm

I think the summary to the article lands right side up:

“Goodyear said the charity should inform donors which toys it chooses not to distribute.

“There are always learning opportunities,” she said.

“But in my 20 years with the Salvation Army, this has never been an issue,” she said.”

A learning opportunity which has never before been an issue in the past 20 years… I’d say that perhaps this will be a lesson learned and things will adjusted by SA towards better satisfying people as concerned as was herein expressed.  Nothing like shining the light to ward away evil, as Harry Potter would say.

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