Spread the story

Sam Bartlett, a player on the football team of Madison County High School, is happy that his school capitulated to a lawsuit over two scriptural passages on a monument outside the football stadium. He sees this as an opportunity to bring God’s message to a much broader audience. He wants this story spread.

Yes. Let’s do exactly what this kid wants. Let’s share this story far and wide. Let us shout from the rooftops how kids in this small school in Georgia can still pray to the God they believe in. They always could, and they still can. Let us celebrate that it is their choice who they should pray to, rather than being subject to the dictates of their coach, principal, or school board. Let us rejoice that this story is an example of liberty triumphing over peer-pressure-induced conformity. Let us proclaim that the kids in this school are now free to pray based on their own beliefs and consciences, based on how they were raised or what they have decided, rather than based on the peer pressure of the majority surrounding them.

Let us repeat Sam Bartlett’s story far and wide. It is an important object lesson. It teaches us how easy it is to mistake the fall of unjust privilege for oppression. The white man lost this privilege at the end of the Civil War. Men lost this privilege with women’s suffrage. And it was hard to adjust to the new way-of-things, just as it is hard for Sam Bartlett to lose his state of privilege as his school becomes finally neutral toward religion. We must always remember how hard it is to be on the wrong side of history, particularly when it is through the fault of upbringing rather than one’s own decisions.

Sam’s story, his feelings of loss and rebellion, are utterly natural. He represents a potent, pervasive worldview in our society, and we must not lose sight of that.

As religious freedom marches forward, we must go to great lengths to remember that Sam is not the enemy. We need to remind him, gently if possible, that we have not taken away his ability to worship how he pleases. Though I do not share his belief in God, I would fight to the death to protect that right of his to worship in accordance with his beliefs. He needs to have his eyes opened to the fact that this right is still his. Everyone that feels threatened by the onward march of religious neutrality must be reassured that their rights are not being taken from them.

So yes, Sam is right in one very important respect… we must share his story far and wide, because he is not alone in feeling the way he does. Wrong as he is about the rightful place of God in the public schools, he, and millions like him, have confused his religion’s loss of favored status with an attack on the religion itself. This is utterly false. Sam can believe, worship, and pray. He can do so with like-minded peers if they so choose. And I applaud anyone that does so of their own free will.

And that is the fundamental point, which even the religious should be able to see, which is why Sam’s story must be disseminated. Belief must be a choice rather than a default. If it is simply the thing that is always done before a football game, then it is hardly meaningful.

If religion is important to you, then show it. Stop diminishing its value by expecting everyone to follow your rituals. Make praying before a game mean something again… by recognizing that the meaning is lost when everyone is expected to do it.

New Essay (Free Will, Determinism, and Culpability)

I finished my essay at a more reasonable hour this week, so I’m hoping to have less of a headache tomorrow than I did last week.

At any rate, this week’s topic is “Free Will, Determinism, and Culpability.” In it I address the reasonability of society holding people responsible for their actions, and contrast the results with the reasonability of God holding people responsible for their actions.

I’m a bit surprised that last week’s page didn’t result in any reader comments. I suppose I scared everyone away.

Well, I hope at least some of you are back, because I value any comments and criticisms.

New Post: The Angry Atheists

So it’s still Tuesday somewhere, right? So I guess I’m officially on time. Somewhere near the International Date Line. If you squint.

This week’s essay changed character dramatically as I wrote it. It started out as a relatively rational discussion of atheist anger. It was spawned by a variety of discussions I have seen over the years, but most recently by some quotes by Kevin Sorbo expressing his bafflement about atheist anger. As I was writing, however, trying to explain what I as an atheist am not angry about, and then what I actually am angry about, I, perhaps not surprisingly, started to get angry. And that anger started to bleed through into my composition, first in a more liberal usage of visual memes than I usually allow myself, and later in the actual writing. 

My first instinct was to delete the post. After all, such anger isn’t conducive to the type of even-handed, rational dialog that I am hoping to encourage with this blog. But I then decided that posting it was the right thing to do. Humans are only partially rational beings; our emotional side is key to our character as well. Like it or not, whether it is comfortable for me or not, my emotional responses to important issues are a real aspect of my positions. And, for anyone engaged in dialog with me about theism and atheism, those emotional responses are important to both acknowledge and address. So, with this post, I am laying myself a bit more bare than normal, and the result is likely to be jarring, particularly for theists. It may very well come across as an attack, though the essay is not meant to be one. It is meant to be an explanation, which I hope will provide you with some useful insights into my thinking.

As always, I welcome comments and criticism.

New document (Belief vs. Faith), and site status

I am again a bit ahead of schedule with my new document post. Tuesday’s offering, here posted three days early, is, as promised, a discussion of belief and faith. In it I argue that when faith is understood as a particular manner of holding a belief, in which evidence is not part of the reason for holding it, then faith itself is both uncorrectable if wrong and dangerous to society. A conclusion that arises from this argument is my first real explanation for my atheism: if it is only valid to believe those things for which there are evidence, and if the evidence for the existence of god(s) is unconvincing, then atheism is the natural stance to adopt.

I had said in my preview of this document that I would include a discussion of how it is possible to live a life that doesn’t include faith at all, and I still intend to write a document on that subject. However, this document is already extremely long, and it would probably be best to break things up a bit. I will therefore address that topic in a future essay. (Update: I have now written that essay.)

The only other significant changes to the site involve updates to the about page to reflect the descriptions I used in my opening blog post.

Getting dialog going: Preview of next document concerning belief and faith

Update: The new document described below is now online.

So far on this blog, there has been minimal dialog or debate. This is not surprising, for several reasons. First, of course, the blog is new, and readership is not particularly huge (although stats have shown 275 views, which is pretty good!). Second, I have not advertised the site widely, relying primarily on word-of-mouth, and many of the folks that have initially taken a look at the site are also on the atheist side of things. Third, and possibly most importantly, the two main documents I have posted so far consist of (a) a technical discussion of an obscure issue and (b) simple definitions of atheism and agnosticism. In short, I have not yet provided an argument for atheism. My next document is going to take a large step in that direction. I am offering a preview here in order to solicit arguments and counterarguments that I can ensure that I address in that post. Continue reading