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20 February 2012


billy T

Can't wait for an atheist to hop on here and rant about how happy they are. I bet they bring up the Crusades, The Inquisition, Jonestown, and modern day child molester priests to neatly deflect the topic. Atheists usually point to the ills and shortcomings of people of faith to avoid the G word and, more importantly, how does their stance work in their lives.. I always distinguish the agnostic from the atheist. The word agnostic mean "not knowing". Could be a God and maybe there isn't. I don't know. The atheist says there is no God and I can prove it. Millions upon millions of people have boldly proclaimed that their faith in a living God has brought them purpose and meaning and a degree of comfort and joy in a crazy mixed up world. Hard to overlook the volume of folks utter such views. I enjoy simple observations to get a picture of what is going on, the man on the street's opinion if you will. Here is a observation from a friend years ago: My friend was in recovery for drug and alcohol issues. Being from the Bay Area, he found a 12 step program that barred any reference to Higher Power, God, etc. He said is was the most angry 12 step meeting he has ever attended and it sucked the life out of him. Maybe he went their on a bad day. I suspect not.

Todd Juvinall

Like minded people like to be around like minded people. Even libertarians in politics, the ultimate "leave me alone" folks, have come together in a "party". Atheists are a lonely group and humans, even atheists, need other humans to feel human. So, why not form a Agape? After a time, when the conversation ends after say, three minutes of religion bashing, they might start discussing their own "religion" and come to understand Jesus> Well, maybe not, but when you get them together they are at least thinking?

Douglas Keachie

One of the things that drew me into anthro (beyond the much superior senses of humor of the profs) was a search for understanding religion, and why people were in some cases quite fanatical about theirs to the extent that they wanted everyone else to join or be shunned (Fundy Christians, no Mormons in the White House, let alone, God forbid, an agnostic or an atheist) or be killed (Wahabi Islamists).

I recall somewhere around age 13 or so I realized that after death status was simply indeterminable from this side, but that three qualitative states could be determined.

It's either going to be, the same, worse, or better, and IMHO, 2 out of 3 is not bad.

So I became forever a hopeful, optimistic, agnostic. I do look forward to meeting old friends in something resembling a heavenish space, and would be disappointed if it turned out that this was all there is. I am comforted, however, by the simple fact that, if this is all there is, I'm not going to know about it. The message I get from virtually all the religions of the world, is, "be patient, grasshopper, in time all will be revealed, and behave yourself." (HT to Tom Sullivan) Were I to join anything for social purposes, it would be Unitarian or B'hai, or become an ethnic Jew. As it is, I'm sorta an ethnic Christian. I'll let George explain the use of the term ethnic in these cases, as I only learned myself a couple of years back.

BTW, Starbucks is pretty close to the restaurant Agape, and Facebook has lightly connected me to all sorts of similar thinking folks. I've always liked Pete Seeger's advice for when you are feeling down about things. "Go find somebody who is worse off and cheer them up." UNOWHO is my number one project here.

George Rebane

Atheists are a bitter lot to be sure. And they have every reason to be so as they seek answers for the questions their stark religion poses with no hope for an answer, comforting or otherwise. They spend their days in the futile attempt to prove a negative, Sisyphus had an easier task.

Account Deleted

Even better - http://www.reasonrally.org/
Already being billed as the atheists' Woodstock.
As to there being a need for folks of differing backgrounds and social strata to meet and fellowship together outside of a traditional religious organization, this is already accomplished to a great extent by special interest clubs and hobby groups. Not for everyone of course. I've been a member of such a group for over 30 years and have met and broken bread with an astonishing slice of humanity I would normally never cross paths with.
I find atheists to come in all flavors, much as I find folks of faith in God. Some are "fundamentalist" atheists and many are live and let live. I take them as I find them and usually enjoy their company.

Paul Emery

To be honest with you George I have met very few self proclaimed atheists in my life. Most can't stand up to the "how do you know what you don't know" line of questioning. On the other hand the "guy in the sky" types when asked to prove their Anthropomorphism don't fair to well either. I think it's human nature to want to believe in a higher purpose for our existence and, if nothing else, take comfort in the pursuit of inspiration.

George Rebane

Propounding an intellectual ‘proof’ of God’s existence that can be used to sway minds otherwise disposed is a hard task. Few (e.g. CS Lewis, Frank Tipler) have tried it, fewer have had success. Most religious traditions push their wares by sword, sanction, or solace. In the former we still hear the ringing ‘Accept Allah, or die!’, and the latter is usually offered as a personal invitation to ‘Try it, you’ll like it; I did.’ As a young man having endured the Lutheran tradition, I rejected it all at first; and was then lured back through a door I thought would lead me elsewhere for the solace I needed to again make my universe an integrated whole as I studied to become a physicist.

In endless conversations, the kind that university students have when they come together to open their hearts to one another, I saw nothing but barren landscapes ahead for those who frantically argued for a broader acceptance of their strongly held atheism. I had never then, nor have I since, seen such practice of desperate evangelism – ‘Please, come and believe with me! A more broadly shared nihilism is not all that bad.’

Paul Emery

Proving Gods non existence is probably a formidable task than proving Gods existence because first you must prove what you do not know is conclusive. My best friend or many years would personally speak with Jesus every night and he had no need to prove it. Atheists are burdened by their arrogance of their faith in the 'all knowing' human mind.

By the way, you can add "Onward Christian Soldiers" to your set list of religious slaughter tunes. (' Accept Allah or Die')

Paul Emery

typo 'more formidable task'

George Rebane

"... list of religious slaughter tunes". You may not be familiar with the provenance, use, and lyrics of 'Onward Christian Soldiers' as a set piece to inspire resolute evangelism in Christians. Such Christian soldiers are poorly equipped for traditional combat; it is a far different enemy they are preparing to confront. Their exhortation reads -

Onward Christian soldiers,
marching *as to war*.
With the cross of Jesus,
going on before.

The anticipated battle is a spiritual one that all Christians must wage first and foremost in themselves.


"the solution lies in starting an institution"

The Unitarians have been around for centuries already. One mostly Atheist friend of mine tried to lure me into his Santa Barbara congregation and used the "atheist" side of them as a lure, and he got a good giggle in when I told him I thought Atheists were just far too dogmatic for me to be a part of it.

Too bad, because that congregation's singles group had some of the best looking babes in town, and I was single at the time, but the hard left dogma of the entire group was just too much to take.

Paul Emery

Predictable counter George.

“Onward, Christians Soldiers” was adopted from the themes of Christian Crusades. I remember as a child being surrounded in church with images of the Crusades while singing the hymn. This includes paintings and stained glass of soldiers with armor and weapons of the era of the era.

The hymn is particularly disturbing to those of the Jewish faith who were slaughtered by the advancing Christian armies carrying the Cross of Jesus.

George Rebane

PaulE 129pm - A mighty try to take the discussion to once more orbit the barn labeled 'Christians have been a pretty bad bunch in days gone by, some still are, so let's do some Christian bashing for good measure.' Please check the topic of this post.

billy T

People of faith summon courage in dark times. I was sprinkled as a Lutheran infant (I was told), raised as a Holy Roller, attended a Presbyterian College and a Catholic University. That is when I rejected all religion and set out to sow my wild oats. My hatred for organized religion led me to discover the book "Foxe's Book of Martyrs" in the bowels of a Jesuit University of all places. It fueled my contempt for the early Church history coupled with additional reading how the Bible was put under lock and key and kept from the common man back in the day. The martyrs were burned at the stake, sliced, diced and beheaded by the Church. The common theme was each one died while "calling on the name of the Lord". Reminisce of the character Stephen, the early churches' first martyr. One by one these early believers who dared to follow their heart were "calling on the name of the Lord" with glowing faces as they were murdered. I pushed that out of my mind and continued my ways as being a god unto myself, trusting my human intelligence and reasoning power as the final say in everything. They say all drowning men pray to God. My volunteer work in prisons confirmed this as I had access to the "3rd tier" and death row. No matter how far down the social ladder they had fallen and spending the rest of their lives in a cage, they openly shared when alone their beliefs in a God Almighty, if you will. I had my drowning moment more than once and something deep within me called out to the God of my youth. Always enjoyed the story of John Newton, a rather imperfect fellow. A deserter, a slave trader and probably did more evil than history records. Maybe that is why I relate to him. http://www.anointedlinks.com/amazing_grace.html

Paul Emery

I was just trying to be "fair and balanced" in response to your Islam bashing.

I'm also confused as to your encompassing use of "secular humanists" as an intro to the lonely existence of atheists. Do you consider them to be one and the same?

George Rebane

PaulE 542pm - "... Islam bashing."??

A politically correct label for atheist is 'secular humanist'. It seeks to make sure that its various forms of humanist philosophy are not confused with the the 'sacred' forms of humanism which meld without further prodding.

Paul Emery

George Today 11:19
"In the former we still hear the ringing ‘Accept Allah, or die!"

Actually Secular Humanists distinguish themselves from Atheists although they do not believe in "God" because it does not pass their standards of truth based on Scientific observation.

"Secular Humanists hold that ethics is consequential, to be judged by results. This is in contrast to so-called command ethics, in which right and wrong are defined in advance and attributed to divine authority. “No god will save us,” declared Humanist Manifesto II (1973), “we must save ourselves.” Secular humanists seek to develop and improve their ethical principles by examining the results they yield in the lives of real men and women."

From Websters Dictionary

Secular. “Pertaining to the world or things not spiritual or sacred.”

Humanism. “Any system of thought or action concerned with the interests or ideals of people … the intellectual and cultural movement … characterized by an emphasis on human interests rather than … religion.”


George Rebane

PaulE 654pm - correct as quoted, and fully supportive of my thesis. Thank you.

But I'm still confused as to the Islam bashing charge. 'Accept Allah, or die!' is more true today than it was during the spread of Islam in concluding centuries of the first millennium. Is citing that historical demand what you call "bashing". I can accept that from the run-of-mill progressive, but give me a moment to collect myself if I have also to accept such rationale from you.

Brad Croul

"Secular humanists need religion too". They already have it: team sports. The country club and local bar also offer a place to "reclaim community" and find a shared purpose in life, n'est-ce pas?

The Agapes will, I am sure, splinter into sub-groups much like religion sects, with the Zen Agapist monks, the tea party Agapists, Agapists who want Saturdays, or Sundays off, etc. all fighting for converts.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ryan Mount

Oh I get it. It's like Jefferson's Bible. This Agape business has all of the mechanisms (liturgy) of say Catholicism minus the sweater vests and none of the bad Catholic after tastes like guilt, obedience or whatever. In my day, we called that being an Episcopal.

George wrote: "It seems that atheists are somehow not fulfilled in their flirtations with environmentalism, productivity seminars, yoga, moral relativism, and endless group and individual analyses by various therapists and psychological ‘rent-a-buddies’."

Where can I get one of these ‘rent-a-buddies' that you speak of? I'm not lonely per se, but it would be nice to have a friend around to hurl my sarcasm at rather than subject your blog to my smart mouth.

Anyhow, lots of red meat here George. Not sure where to start. However rather than taking a bite now, I'll stick to the silly topic at hand: Mr. Alain de Botton's most excellent satire. It was satire, right? I have no idea who he is, although a quick Wikipedia search reveals he's a GenXer, and therefore cannot be trusted. His mother is a prominent Bridge player and he's also somewhat estranged from his Father, which are more reasons to suspect his intentions. Assuming this is not satire, it appears that Mr. de Botton's is using the old "writing as therapy" method to work out his issues of loss. Back in college, my curmudgeon Practical Criticism Professor routinely warned us doe-eyed undergrads to avoid using our *public voice* in this fashion. When life gives you lemons, don't make lemonade but rather throw them at your enemies, he'd tell us.

As far as the red meat goes, I get your point here; however it's quite a overstatement to connect Atheists to any of the conditions listed above (moral relativism, productivity seminars, and other dreadful things). Attempts to paint people who simply don't engage in magical thinking as frankly defective, regardless of how beneficial magical thinking may or may not be, is simply not true. It's a false syllogism. And easily disproved by developing a simple Heuristic and finding one, just one, person who:

1) Doesn't believe in any ethereal entities/concepts (God, Zeus, Parameshwar, Ghosts, Loki, and Storage Wars auction hunters)


2) Is a well-adjusted, good person who avoids blog arguments and helps their neighbors out when a pine tree falls across their driveways.

We should be measured, to paraphrase Milton Friedman, not by our intentions or in this case how we're commanded to do by Religions, but by the output of our deeds. Not everyone needs an [organized] Religion(Methodist or Agape or whatever) or even a magical belief system to guide them.

Michael Anderson

Oh man...what Ryan said, in spades.

Todd Juvinall

I see George flushed out the atheists. What a hoot!

George Rebane

RyanM 1130am - excellent comment! To begin, de Botton's cited WSJ piece and his book are not satire, but a sincere effort to suggest remedies that he and others like him have perceived to be a widespread problem for their secular humanist (SH) brethren. I do not intend here to imply that secular humanists are incapable of social benefices simply because they do not subscribe to a religion or believe in the Big Guy in the Sky.

However, there is evidence that such people are not that different from their religious brethren who seek solace from their belief in a managed cosmos. Since the SH cannot access faith-based remedies, their needs are met by a large and well-established industry - part private, part government subsidized - of secular healers. Today there are more university level programs than you can count which pump out these people who get certified with various initials after their name. I know of what I speak, a close relative is in the business. And other relatives are steady customers of such secular 'therapists'. And then one is amazed at cocktail and dinner parties as to the number of people who take advantage of such professionals. The yellow pages are full of them.

Not to be outdone, religions and spiritual organizations have their own counterparts to help their people find comfort and fulfillment within the teachings of their faith. For example, my wife is a trained and practiced Stephen Minister (q.v.) with a record of having helped people within such a Christian ministry program.

I don't know what "red meat" one seeks from my little observation. I only want to highlight that the rejection of God does not include the rejection of life's other problems of the mind. It is clear that some substitute must be found, and de Botton's approach appears to acknowledge a number of characteristics and attributes as the desiderata of healing and/or supportive environments that may be extracted from formal religions. The question I want to leave with the reader is 'can such a partial transplant be done while leaving out the ingredient of transcendence?'

Ryan Mount

Hi George.

First off, thanks for allowing me to ramble on your site. I greatly enjoy your musings. Don't always agree with them, but that's why they make chocolate and vanilla, eh?

I get your point about "secular healing" vs. sitting down with your pastor. Certainly there is wisdom gathered from centuries of studying the human condition which most religions can provide. I'm not bashing that by any means. I think religious critics take the ball and run with it 50 yards in the opposite direction when discussion organized religion's shortcomings. They are quick to recall the Inquisition or various religious-inspired genocides (which are true) and somehow attempt to morally equate that to a moderate Grass Valley Methodist sermon. Which is weird. Again, another generalization. Sorry. We're prisoners to our language.

Anyhow, regarding the "Red Meat" comment, that was probably more of my hypersensitivity to the topic as witnessed in similar threads here, and also probably an example of good, old-fashioned hyperbole on my behalf. A good blogger, of whom you certainly qualify, knows how to keep 'em coming back. So it's more that than inflammatory rhetoric. The Red Meat comments was aimed at the assertion that Atheists are somehow, um, more defective to some extent. In all fairness, you've attempted above to clarify that. Although to be honest I think we might want to take it easy on the Atheist generalizations a tad and focus our criticisms where it rightly belongs: on Dr. Oz fans and people who fail to notice the utter destruction that the Discovery Channel's show Gold Rush inflicts on the environment. Greed, inc.

And to be perfectly honest, I'd happily choose the bombast of a Revivalist Sermon over any of this contrived and saccharine Agape business. I appreciate the spirit [pun] and imagination of the Agape crowd, heck they're probably friends of mine, but it just seems kind of silly to me; unless liquor is provided, then I'm so there.

Michael Anderson

Pivoting on Ryan's remarks, I'd like to add that I hope that George is not worried that the local yoga master is going to supplant The Pope any time soon: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html


There are people of all persuasions who need someone else to give structure to their life. An education forum I've been a part of for years (they helped give form to the textbook content standards that were the way California escaped from the whole language/whole math debacle of the '90's) saw a post recently that there are three kinds of people... the sheep, the sheepdogs, and the predators. Make your choice.

Douglas Keachie

You left out the guy with the shotgun protecting the herders. The 4th Estate.

Paul Emery

Gee George, I haven't been to "church" for 30 years, funerals and marriages excepted, and I have no confidence that a God exists yet my life is full and rewarding. What makes me different from the those who need to suffer the "built-in loneliness that comes from attempting to connect with people with whom there is really no common connection"?

George Rebane

PaulE 846pm - Other than your being a more gregarious, outgoing, and a generally outstanding personage, I have no idea. But de Botton has put in quite a lot of effort in studying the situation and concluding that some serious prophylactics are required to improve the quality of the secular human life, at least as far as fulfillment is concerned. Maybe he's wrong.

Ryan Mount

Believing something does not make one virtuous, although judging from commentary here and else where, notably the election cycle, we're led to believe that. I suppose in some obsessive minds, believing something is akin to doing something. I'm not, nor will I be an Obama supporter, but I believe many diatribes against him are based on things he *might* do, rather than things he *has* done. Granted some of the things he's actually certainly eyebrow-raising and reckless/insensitive...like all Presidents.

Anyhow, it's ones deeds and behavior that matter. Big duh.

That sounds very Catholic of me (the deeds part). At least that's what I remember when I was a kid.

Todd Juvinall

It depends on what you believe. If you believe in what the Thuggees believed in India, you could strangle your fellow humans and fit right in to the group. If you believe in Jesus, you might be a nice kind person who helps others. The atheist does believe in something, the something is "nothing".

Ryan Mount

People believe all kinds of weird things. If Ted Kaczynski just stayed in his cabin and followed his primitivist belief system, what harm is there with that? Heck, I've read his manifesto and it's weird and rambling but interesting at points. But what if he just wrote that, isolated in his Montana cabin and it made its way out onto the Internet without any crimes associated with it? Would we send the ATF in Waco-style onto his property?

It's what one does that we should measure. For Mr. Kaczynski, he harmed people. That's measurable. His crazy thoughts? Really? I would be curious how one might, for example, construct a law based on someone's belief system? And what would the incarceration and punishment look like for, say, Scientologists?

These, of course, are ridiculous and frankly ugly propositions, notwithstanding the protections guaranteed under the 1st Amendment. Thoughtcrime[sic] is insidious, as Big Brother proclaimed. Not that hasn't stopped people from passing laws against belief systems. History is littered with the stench of such "righteous" actions typically portrayed against minorities. BTW, such historical proclamations are presented as righteous activities, but really are expressions of power, dominance and usually exploitation. Sounds familiar...

However I think (I'm trying to guess at the narrative here) your point is that some beliefs, as you cite the Thuggees, are more virtuous than others. And I would agree with that:

FSM Pirates > Methodists > Scientologists > Agape Restaurants > Snooki fans > Dr. Oz followers (let's face it, they miss Oprah)

I think I got that right. But the point is about action and deed, not someone's belief system.

Paul Emery


Just because "atheists" do not believe in a guy in the sky doesn't mean they don't have strong ethical values that guide their behavior. There are may believers in Jesus that commit crimes against humanity. Our prisons are full of them. In my view there is no evidence that religious belief tempers human behavior. If it did there would be no wars or greed since most people consider themselves to be religious. In this country 3-9% claim to be atheist or agnostic. Interestingly enough the country with the highest percentage of atheists-agnostics is Sweden which has a much lower crime rate than this country. It's pretty obvious that belief in God has nothing to do with behavior. In fact it seems to be quite the opposite.

And George, while we're at it, note that Estonia has nearly 50% non believers.

George Rebane

PaulE 524pm - Estonia, along with a string of communist conquered countries, has a long road back from generations of state enforced atheism. And this has to be fought against the worldwide secular humanist onslaught from the west. Please don't mistake that I'm crowing, I am not. You guys are winning, but I do reserve the prerogative to highlight your need for at least the trappings of faith to fulfill your lives.

Paul Emery

Do you consider agnostics to be a secular humanists? It's an important distinction.

I don't think Sweden has a history of state enforced atheism and they have a higher % than Estonia.

Todd Juvinall

PaulE, I never mentioned anything about ethics or that atheists weren't "nice". It seems you are a bit defensive, are you an atheist?

Regarding you claims the prisons are full of the folks with religion. It is my understanding the criminals go in as atheists and then convert when the chips are down. Kind of like they are betting if you know what I mean. They could be a dead piece of meat in the garden or a saved soul in heaven. I think we know why.
Sweden is a country of tall, good looking blondes and they did not have much crime until they started letting in foreigners who did not look like them. They have even had some riots by those foreigners. The same for the Netherlands and France. So, maybe a country should keep out those folks to keep the crime rate down? Is that what you mean?

George Rebane

PaulE 549pm - most certainly agnostics can adopt the secular humanist ideology sans the firm belief that God does not exist. Sweden's experience is an important factor in this discussion thread. Since WW2 Sweden has been exposed to the full brunt of western secularist advance which it has easily embraced in exchange for the lame protestant religion which liberal Lutheranism became in the 19th century. In the same interval, the communist conquered countries secretly harbored their faiths to help them weather their nihilistic environment while waiting to express those faiths like the release of a coiled spring. However, even that pent up spiritualism, once released, did not find a satisfying purchase in the hollow shell that protestant Christianity had become during their years of incarceration.

And I do think that Todd's (551pm) questions are important and need answers.

Paul Emery

No George, agnostics cannot develop the belief that God does not exist. If so they would then cross over and be atheists.


Agnostic : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

Actually Deism was the popular spiritual bent at the time the Constitution was created .. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were deists.

Todds questions

I never said specifically our prisons are full of folks with religious bent. What I did say was statistically we are a very religious country and it does not seem to reflect on the way we treat each other an example being our high crime rate.

Todd quote
"If you believe in Jesus, you might be a nice kind person who helps others. The atheist does believe in something, the something is "nothing"...

Yes, Todd you might be that nice kind of person or you may not. I don't think religion has anything to do with the way we treat each other.
You imply here that being a Christian somehow means you also treat others better than those with non faith. I counter here with the crime statistics and the high number of "non believers" of Sweden that shows it to be a much more civil culture than ours.

Despite the inclusion of foreigners in Sweden they still have a very low crime rate so I'm not sure what you are trying to say with that inclusion.

I'm not an atheist. That's an arrogant and unsustainable position. If I were to put myself in a box and give my beliefs a name I would probably be inclined to be a Deist.


Deism is a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator rarely, if ever, either intervenes in human affairs or suspends the natural laws of the universe....

George Rebane

PaulE 1110am - "sans" means 'without'. Sorry that my use of that term was confusing. With this understanding, please re-read my 637pm.

Paul Emery

Got it and I agree. Certainly then anybody can be a secular humanist regardless of religious persuasion.

George Rebane

PaulE 1134am - actually, the 'secular' part excludes religions teaching Man's transcendence. Other than that, secular humanists have a pretty big tent.

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