<![CDATA[Freethought House - Foes of Faith]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 21:56:19 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Beyond Pure Evil]]>Sun, 08 Oct 2017 15:45:38 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/beyond-pure-evilby Bill Lehto
​There’s been far too much talk of “evil,” at least for my tastes, following the Las Vegas shooting. It is certainly a safe and easy bandwagon to jump on, and many have, including president Trump, who called the Las Vegas shooting “an act of pure evil,” and vice president Mike Pence, who said “Las Vegas came face to face with pure evil.”
 
But to call the shooting, and other such acts, “pure evil” is to give it a metaphysical, other-worldly quality: something that is beyond this world; something that, perhaps, only prayer is effective on; something, even, that cannot be prevented other than through prayer. We need to get past this notion of prayer being effective at all, other than making the person praying feel better about things or themselves. There is nothing beyond this world that prayers are reaching. There is nothing beyond this world that determines what is good or evil. There is no “pure evil”; evil is a human construct, a relative construct because there are no absolutes here: absolute evil is just as fictional as God or angels and demons. Calling the act “pure evil” is really a cowardly thing to do—it’s to point to something fictional for an explanation. No! This is a human act, not an act of pure evil or an act of Satan. Instead of appealing to something both fictional and not of this world for help with or an explanation for events like the Las Vegas shooting, let’s look at what, in this world, caused this person to do this. What, in this world, could have prevented this? What, in this world, can we put in place to help prevent this in the future? Blaming “evil” and calling for prayers is a complete cop out. Secularists should not be afraid to call this out. Secularists need to drop this notion of absolute morality.
 
“Whatever is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil” said the 19th century German atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Yes! But here we are, over 130 years later, still stuck in the quagmire of good and evil.

Bill Lehto is the publisher at Freethought House and editor of Atheist Voices of Minnesota.
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<![CDATA[The Grip of Racism and Overpopulation]]>Thu, 27 Jul 2017 12:23:02 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/the-grip-of-racism-and-overpopulationby Karen Shragg
​I hate racism. As a social justice activist my whole life, I have come to I hate all ‘isms’ that mean someone hates or dismisses an entire group of people just for being a member of that disenfranchised group. Every week I work with people from all communities. It is so much fun to relish the diversity of accents, dress, ideas, food choices and humor. I feel fortunate to be exposed to their talents and delightful differences they bring to my otherwise ordinary world. They make my world extraordinary.
 
Almost all groups, except privileged rich white males, are disenfranchised to some degree. The labels of those who are thrown under the bus of hatred seem to grow each day. Classism, fascism, antisemitism, and misogyny are all despicable realities that have a greater grip on us now that Potus #45 is in power. Ironically, many who profess to being Christian can also be found supporting hatred at every opportunity.
 
I am also an overpopulation activist. I hate the culturally invisible grip it has on our society and our world. I know that the earth has limits and that we have been exceeding those limits for over a century. As a naturalist I have learned that all organisms must live within the limits of their environment and that we are not exceptional even if we have pushed those limits with technology. Overpopulation is rarely blamed but it is the reason we are witnessing the loss of forests, clean air, clean water and other vital natural resources.
 
We gave up discussing overpopulation with any real integrity several billion people ago because it was deemed politically incorrect if not dangerous to approach. We directed the national and even international conversation toward the more acceptable areas of so-called green actions and renewable technologies. Organized religion played a heavy handed role in that but so did the NGOs who cheered them on with their silence. It is nearly impossible to find the basic numbers of our overpopulation problem on any website professing to be about helping the environment. We should all know that the planet is 5.5+ billion people over a sustainable number (at a European lifestyle) and that we are growing by an unsustainable 83 million net gain each year. The US is 150 million over its sustainable number. That is all verifiable and should be the first thing we teach when it comes to true sustainability.
 
Some of my fellow overpopulation activists have called for me to harp on the idea that mass immigration must end based on our ecological inability to support more people. I know these activists are caring people. I know they are deeply concerned about running out of resources. I know that they are technically correct. But I also seriously believe that if we start with an anti-mass immigration message before people understand the basics of overpopulation, we will fail twice. We will fail in getting people to hear our heartfelt concern because they will hear a message laced with xenophobia. We will also fuel the fire of those racists who would like nothing better than to have another reason to shoot people who look like immigrants. I don’t want their blood on my hands. I do not dispute the role mass immigration plays in overpopulation here and abroad - that is clear. But to focus on that as a solution before we deeply and collectively understand the overpopulation problem is a lot like having a doctor prescribe surgery to a patient who has not yet been told they have a disease.
 
I hope others will join me in calling for a dialogue about how we can come together to address the evils of both racism and overpopulation. We need to understand how they both negatively impact our world, particularly the poorest and most disenfranchised among us. We do not have to live in the polarity of either loving people or working on overpopulation. Our world demands that we do both. The present and future generations need us to be kinder as we address overpopulation with the hearts of activists who never want to be affiliated with those who hate others just for being different.
 
Karen I. Shragg. Shragg is a naturalist, writer and overpopulation activist. Her books include, Move Upsteam: A Call to Solve OverpopulationGrieving Outside the Box, and the Nature’s Yucky! children’s series. She lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.
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<![CDATA[Objective Morality for Atheists]]>Wed, 05 Jul 2017 17:53:02 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/objective-morality-for-atheistsby Lewis Vaughn
Moral objectivism (also called moral realism) is the theory that moral truths exist and that they do so independently of what individuals or societies think of them. In other words, there are moral facts, and they are not human inventions, fictions, or preferences. But we must not confuse this theory with moral absolutism, the idea that objective moral norms are inflexible rules that admit no exceptions and no variations in how the rules are applied across cultures. Objective norms need not be absolutist. Religious people, especially in Western religions, assume that moral rules are absolutist, but atheists rightly abhor this kind of moral rigidity. Bertrand Russell’s most severe criticism of Christian ethics was that it is absolutist to the point of ignoring the consequences of actions.
     
Some atheists reject objective morality, or any kind of morality, for the same reason that the atheist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre did—they believe that if there is no God, everything is permitted. That is, morality requires a God who makes it, a God who is the author of the moral law, and since there is no God, there is no morality. This notion about the source of morality is known as the divine command theory, and both atheists and theists have assumed it. But it does not follow from the nonexistence of God that there are no moral truths, and the divine command theory itself has been shown to be radically implausible—which is why even many theists won’t accept it.

Moral objectivism comes in two main forms: moral naturalism and moral non-naturalism. Moral naturalists believe that moral facts are natural facts—facts that can be investigated and confirmed by science. So there is no mystery about the existence of objective moral truths: science shows that they are as real as frogs and stars. For the moral naturalist, a morally right action is one cashed out in natural terms like “maximizes happiness,” “promotes flourishing,” or “enhances social harmony.” Moral non-naturalism, though, says that moral facts are not natural facts, not the sort of thing that can be detected with a microscope or Geiger counter. They are nevertheless real, the non-naturalist says, and there are good reasons to believe them so.

Moral objectivists of whatever stripe have good reasons for thinking moral truths are objectively real. Philosophers (most of whom are atheists) know that any worthy moral theory must meet one crucial standard—consistency with the fundamental facts of our moral practice and thought, what some call moral common sense. These facts—articulated in our considered moral judgments—are fallible, revisable, and yet highly plausible. And they can constitute credible evidence in our moral deliberations. Philosophers use them not only to formulate moral theories but also to test them for soundness. Common sense tells us, for example, that wantonly killing people is wrong, that equals must be treated equally, that slavery is an abomination, that the execution of gays and atheists is immoral, and that torturing babies for fun is evil. Common sense also reveals that there are such things as moral error and fallibility, genuine moral disagreement, the seeming fact of moral progress, the possibility of legitimately criticizing other cultures, and non-arbitrary moral judgments. We should have more confidence in our judgment that torturing babies is wrong or that moral infallibility is absurd than in any theory that says otherwise. The most devastating criticism of a moral theory we can make is that adhering to its defining principles leads to obviously immoral acts. And if someone denies our considered judgments, the burden of proof is on him or her to supply a good reason for the denial. It is moral common sense that gives the lie to moral nihilism (the view that there are no moral truths) and to moral relativism (the theory that moral standards are not objective but are relative to what individuals or cultures believe). It is moral common sense that helps guide both naturalists and non-naturalists to moral objectivism.    

Among atheists, the most important debate is between the two camps of moral objectivists—the naturalists and the non-naturalists. I suspect that most atheists take the naturalist route because they believe in science, and science seems to suggest that if morality exists, it must exist as a natural property of the natural world. They tend to regard moral naturalism as obvious and ineluctable, and they see moral non-naturalism as incredible and suspiciously akin to theistic morality or Platonic forms floating in the ether.

The arguments favoring moral naturalism are impressive (and have been put forth by brilliant thinkers, including David Brink, Judith Jarvis Thomson, and Frank Jackson). The moral naturalist contends that non-naturalistic moral facts don’t exist. They don’t exist, because science cannot prove their existence. In science, something exists only if it explains our experiences. Subatomic particles are thought to exist because they are the best explanation of what scientists observe in experiments. Gremlins don’t exist, because they don’t explain anything. Likewise, the moral naturalist says, non-naturalistic moral facts don’t exist, because they don’t explain anything either. We can point to no empirical facts and honestly affirm that non-naturalistic moral properties best explain those facts. Therefore, such moral properties are purely imaginary.

A related argument appeals to a common assumption about the nature of scientific knowledge. A popular version of it says that a claim is true only if it can be verified scientifically. The belief that smoking causes cancer is true—it has been confirmed in scores of scientific tests. A belief in angels (whether or not they dance on the head of a pin) cannot be scientifically confirmed, so there is no reason to believe in angels. The claim that non-naturalistic moral properties exist cannot be scientifically verified either. Therefore, the argument goes, there is no more reason to believe in these properties than in angels. They are both unreal.  

Moral non-naturalists are undeterred by such reasoning. (Among distinguished non-naturalists we can count Derek Parfit, Jonathan Dancy, and Russ Shafer-Landau, whose work inspired some of the points in this essay.) They argue that the burden to show that naturalism is the better moral theory rests on the naturalists, and that the latter have failed to make their case. The default position, the non-naturalists say, is the commonsense view, which is that morality is just what it appears to be—objectively real and distinct from natural properties. This conclusion is bolstered by the plain observation that normative moral truths don’t appear to be at all the same thing as natural states of affairs. The normative concept of moral rightness seems, on its face, not to be identical to any natural fact. And despite many attempts, philosophers who accept moral naturalism have had a difficult time demonstrating any such identities. Too often a natural state of affairs that’s supposed to be identical to moral rightness turns out in some situations to exemplify obvious immorality. Maximizing happiness or minimizing harm, for example, can sometimes conflict with our commonsense ideas about justice and rights. Plausibly identifying our considered moral judgments with physical properties is not easy.

Non-naturalists have also addressed worries about the alleged unreality of non-naturalist moral facts. As just mentioned, moral naturalists insist that such “facts” can’t be real because they aren’t needed to explain objects and events in the real world. But, the non-naturalist says, non-naturalist moral facts don’t have to explain empirical facts, for they aren’t in that line of work. Moral facts are normative facts. They prescribe how things should be, not how they are. They are like another kind of normative facts—epistemic facts, which prescribe what we should believe (like “we should portion our belief to the evidence” or “we should not believe contradictory statements”). Epistemic facts don’t explain anything, but they are nonetheless real, and everyone knows it. If we accept the reality of epistemic norms, there is no reason we should not accept the existence of (non-naturalistic) moral norms.

The non-naturalist can also easily handle the argument about scientific verification. The assumed principle is that no statement is true unless it can be verified by science. This world is naturalistic through and through, with no room for gremlins, angels, and non-naturalistic moral facts. But this principle is false, because it is self-refuting. It is itself a statement that cannot be verified by science, so if the principle is true, it must be false. Therefore, it is not the case that only scientifically confirmed statements are true. There are truths outside the purview of science.

Namely, philosophical truths. The verification principle itself is a philosophical claim. It is through philosophical inquiry that many of the fundamental postulates of science are evaluated and refined—postulates about what the scientific method should entail, what distinguishes good explanations from bad, what justifies scientific knowledge, what entitles us to believe in the truth of scientific theories, whether it is possible to have knowledge of unobservables, and whether scientific theories are true descriptions of an independent reality. (It is, of course, also through philosophy that arguments for the existence of God are demolished.) So there is philosophical knowledge—and as it turns out, ethics is a kind of philosophical knowledge, debated and distilled through logical argument and careful reflection. This process can, and often does, yield justified moral beliefs.

In light of the above arguments, and several others, I side with the non-naturalists. But nothing I’ve said here definitively proves my case. It would take a thousand more posts and several books to do that. Perhaps, though, I’ve at least provided some reasons to think that moral objectivism is a rationally respectable position and that moral non-naturalism is not the wishful thinking of soft-headed philosophers.   

​Lewis Vaughn is a writer specializing in philosophy, ethics, critical thinking, and religion. He is the former executive editor of Free Inquiry magazine. His memoir Star Map: A Journey of Faith Doubt and Meaning was published by Freethought House in May 2017.
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<![CDATA[Book Review: Kylie's Heel by Susan K. Perry]]>Mon, 29 May 2017 15:52:31 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/book-review-kylies-heelby Bill Lehto
Good fiction that explicitly explores the unique joys and challenges of living in the world as a secular person is difficult to find, but I’ve recently found one: Kylie’s Heel.
 
The author, Susan K. Perry, is a social psychologist who has written six nonfiction books including Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity. She has also contributed to a variety of university textbooks and has written over 1000 articles, essays, reviews, and advice columns for publications such as Psychology Today, Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Woman's World, and she has been quoted widely in national media.
 
Most recently, she has focused on the psychological and creative aspects of rationality, freethought, atheism, and humanism.
 
Kylie’s Heel is narrated by Kylie Moran, a writer who dispenses humanist advice to readers in her local newspaper advice column, A Rational Woman. The tension in the novel begins when Kylie’s twin sister Phoebe, a born again Christian, invites Kylie’s son to come along with her on a summer mission to Africa. And after a shock throws Kylie’s world into chaos, the question becomes whether or not Kylie’s rationality is enough to keep her going in a world she has little control over.
 
Kylie’s Heel is a wonderful and captivating novel that explores how a non-believer copes with tragedy without a god, church, or religion to fall back on. A page-turner with slowly building tension, it also explores both the joys and difficulties of living life as a rational human being. Perry’s fiction has a certain honesty to it that breaks down the barrier between reader and narrator that sometimes gets in the way of getting immersed in a fictional story. I felt as if I was living the narrator’s experience, which, for me, is rare (one reason I read mostly nonfiction). At turns darkly funny, startlingly sensual, and haunting, Kylie’s Heel has a style that completely absorbs the reader. It’s deeply emotional and full of psychological insights, while never being flowery or melodramatic.
 
After finishing it, I immediately wished there were other people that I could discuss the book with. Kylie’s Heel would make for great book group discussions, particularly for secularly-oriented book groups. 

Bill Lehto is the publisher at Freethought House and editor of Atheist Voices of Minnesota. ​
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<![CDATA[Response to "In Search of the Root of All Evil"]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 23:09:26 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/response-to-in-search-of-the-root-of-all-evilby Eric Jayne
In her recent blog post “In Search of the Root of All Evil”, M.A. Melby correctly observes that “atheists can be just as horrid…as a religious person”, and that there is “no guarantee” that an atheist is good without God. Melby then argues that it’s unfair to blame religion for humanity’s present and historic afflictions because religion is a “vague concept” that was “created and devised by people.” It’s people, not religion, that are to blame. This is the same argument heard in the gun control debate: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. I don’t accept the logic in either of these cases, but I’ll forgo the gun debate and explain why I believe religion leads to more harm than good.

The religion I’m most familiar with is Christianity since that is the religious faith I was brought up in by my parents. I got a good religious instruction with Sunday School, youth ministry, weekly church services, bible school, and family bible camp. My understanding of the other two biggies, Islam and Judaism, are less familiar but I do understand that they sprouted from the Abrahamic garden that provides a bounty of bloodshed, rape, infanticide, and ethnocentric attitudes endorsed by God.

An honest reading of the Abrahamic texts—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—reveals that this popular, wide-reaching, “vague concept” instructs believers that it’s okay to sacrifice your son to demonstrate your love for God (Genesis 22:2-13). It also promotes the eternal torture of children (Exodus 20:5), beating of slaves (Exodus 21:20-21), hatred towards LGBT community (Leviticus 18:22), killing boys and raping girls (Numbers 31:17-18), holy wars (Deuteronomy 3:22), and so much more.

Mark Twain analogized the Christian Bible as an old fashioned drug store, “its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes.” Twain goes on, “There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hellfire is gone, but the text remains.” As the nation wrestled with slavery, Twain pointed out that people “began to stir against slavery…. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one – the pulpit.” Twain correctly concludes that “the world has corrected the Bible. The church never corrects it, and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession and take the credit of the correction.”

Today in the 21st century religion continues to guide our nation’s public policy. Transgender people are forbidden to use the public bathroom they are comfortable using because religious folks in powerful lawmaking positions are uncomfortable with it. Furthermore, women’s reproductive healthcare is a constant fight because of moral busybodies eyeing a restricted sanitized afterlife instead of the reality of this world we live in.

Religion teaches believers that they are superiorly designed with souls and some are specifically “chosen.” Earlier this year, the artist known as Father John Misty released an album entitled Pure Comedy. The opening title track sums up the problem of religion in our society and I encourage readers to give it a listen. In it, Father John Misty sings: “Oh their religions are the best. They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed with risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits. And they get terribly upset when you question their sacred texts… Their languages just serve to confuse them.”

I will continue to be an unabashed foe of faith because I know what it’s like to be brought up with these strange, archaic, toxic beliefs. Whether or not religion is a vague concept or not, it’s a tool used by people to control thoughts and actions for a particular vision of how the world should be ordered and organized. Being a foe of faith is a decent thing to be. 

Eric Jayne is the former president of Minnesota Atheists, where he still sits on the Board. A contributing editor to Atheist Voices of Minnesota, he currently lives and works in the Twin Cities area. 
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<![CDATA[Star Map: A Journey of Faith, Doubt, and Reason]]>Sun, 30 Apr 2017 01:57:49 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/star-map-a-journey-of-faith-doubt-and-reasonMinnesota based secular publisher Freethought House has just released Star Map: A Journey of Faith Doubt and Meaning, by Lewis Vaughn, the former editor of Free Inquiry magazine.
 
Star Map is a touching and deeply personal philosophical memoir that explores the meaning of morality and life itself.  Lewis Vaughn recounts his struggle with fanatical faith and his frantic search for truth and meaning. His journey transforms him from a young Christian fundamentalist to a disillusioned agnostic to an atheist seeker of meaning in a godless world. Along the way he stumbles on the strongest empirical argument against the reliability of faith as a source of knowledge, and sees that life does indeed have meaning without religion. In the end, he never regains the faith he lost, but finds something better.
 
The book has received positive reviews by some noted individuals in the secular community, including Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who says "this warm but powerful memoir reveals that real meaning comes from this world, not from above," Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus, who calls it “a superb narrative for anyone who wonders if there can be meaning after faith,” and Michael Shermer, author of The Moral Arc, who calls it "a compelling memoir of Vaughn's courageous journey from darkness into light."
 
The author, Lewis Vaughn, is a writer specializing in philosophy, ethics, critical thinking, and religion. He is the author or coauthor of over twenty books, including The Power of Critical Thinking, How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age; and Anthology of World Religions. He is also the former executive editor of Free Inquiry magazine and the cofounder and former editor of Philo, a philosophy journal.
 
Star Map is the sixth book published by the Twin Cities based Freethought House. All proceeds from their first publication, Atheist Voices of Minnesota, continue to benefit Minnesota Atheists – nearly $4,000 has been donated to Minnesota Atheists thus far.
 
Star Map: A Journey of Faith Doubt and Meaning, released May 2, 2017, is available from Freethoughthouse.com, Amazon.com, B&N.com, and other booksellers. Also available in eBook.]]>
<![CDATA[In Search of the Root of All Evil]]>Sat, 15 Apr 2017 14:18:34 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/in-search-of-the-root-of-all-evilby M. A. Melby
We all know that religious doctrines can justify unspeakable evil. In Christian texts, you can easily find justification for slavery and the subjugation of women. Terrorists have used the Islamic religion to justify mass murder and sex slavery. Battles between religious groups throughout history have been disturbingly brutal. But is religion to blame? 
We all know that atheists can be just as horrid, just as wrong-headed and just as oppressive as a religious person. Sure, an atheist can be “Good without God” but there is no guarantee. We are human after all.
 
Atheism contends that religion is not an outgrowth of the supernatural, but a series of social institutions that were fundamentally created and devised by people. The contents of those religions are therefore created and devised by people. Often religious tenants were literally decided on by committee. People had the choice of what to write. People had the choice of how to interpret those writings. They, the people, are responsible for their actions, not some vague concept like religion or a god.
 
Further, the way in which a religion is internalized and acted upon appear disturbingly disconnected from religious texts and teachings – or even theological interpretations. The religion used as an excuse to go to war is cited as the basis for being a conscientious objector during war. The religion that gave rise to the Prosperity Doctrine is the same religion that formed a schism over whether Jesus owned his own clothes or not.
 
Religion is supposedly a unifying set of beliefs and values. It’s not. “Christian”, for example, is an identity that separates “us” and “them” and often has as much meaning as a star on the belly of a Sneetch. I can only imagine other major religions have met the same fate. There is no coincidence that those drawn to performative Christianity in “Christian Nations” are also drawn to Nationalism. For a great many in the U.S., national and religious identity have a similar purpose in service to the same psychological needs.
 
To fight “religion” is to fight against a vast religious community’s profound sense of belonging. To see religion as the root of evil is to give-in to the myth that religion is something that it’s not. It’s not the cause. Someone slapping the label of “Christian” or “Muslim” on themselves and building a community, church or identity around that label does not absolve them of the choices they make.

Islam does not cause grown men to take child brides. Christianity does not cause parents to beat their children to death. Don’t give into their excuses. Religion is not the problem. If religion disappeared tomorrow, a different justification would take its place.
 
Some folks beating the drum of anti-theism may argue that fighting against specific religious practices is fighting the symptoms of a disease. I think they have it completely backward. Religion is just an excuse, a post-rationalization, for the thoughts and actions of human beings for good or for ill.
 
To fight against practices and doctrines that are murderous, dishonest and unconscionable despite what excuses are used to justify them - those are the battles that need to be fought and won. 

M. A. Melby lives in Minnesota where she teaches physics. She is a contributor to Atheist Voices of Minnesota.
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<![CDATA[Jesus for Atheists?]]>Sun, 02 Apr 2017 12:17:55 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/jesus-for-atheistsby Bill Lehto
​I just got back from Santa Rosa, California, where I was working at Westar Institute’s Spring Meeting.
 
Westar Institute Fellows, who are scholars in religion, have been meeting together twice a year for the past thirty years or so, doing collaborative research on the history of religion in its “seminars”. The Jesus Seminar is its most famous program, in which the scholars looked at the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus, evaluating the likelihood of each saying or event being historical through a voting method. The controversial conclusions included that less than 20% of the words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament are likely to be historical, and that the physical resurrection of Jesus is unhistorical. That these conclusions came from a group of credentialed scholars in religion created a major controversy in the 1990s, and started a wave of critical scholarship in religion by such authors as John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk (founder of Westar), Bart Ehrman, and Robert Price, among many others. Today, Westar’s work continues as they look at the origins of Christianity, the diversity of the early Jesus movement, the myth of its origins as told in The Acts of the Apostles, and how what is today seen as the orthodox view won out over a diversity of others.
 
Westar has a way of making religion, even Jesus, interesting to non-believers. Not the incredible Christ of the New Testament – son of God, born of a virgin, and all of that – but the actual historical person who likely lived in first century Galilee and started this chain of events that has led to today’s Christianity. Who was this person? What was he like? What did he actually say and do? These are interesting historical questions, and when the layers of theology that have been added to his story over the past centuries are peeled away, a fascinating historical figure begins to appear. We may only see uncertain bits and pieces, but the person who was Jesus, by most indications from critical scholarship, is completely different than the Christ depicted by the Catholic Church and most modern forms of Christianity. This was likely not a man preaching himself as salvation, but an itinerant wisdom teacher whose stories and parables threatened Roman domination. It’s fascinating and important stuff, this historical research into Christian origins.
 
For me, this critical research into Christian origins, and putting religion in general in its cultural and historical context, is valuable for what it does to undermine fundamentalism. Discovering critical biblical scholarship is often the first crack in people’s blind faith, leading to further study and further cracks until it begins to crumble. But for others, the value is in finding renewed meaning in their tradition – to be able to continue to be part of the Christian tradition, but with integrity and rational, clear thinking. This is why we can have Christians who also call themselves atheist or agnostic. Their interest is in the positive, moral teaching of the historical Jesus, not the divine Christ of the New Testament. Some would even argue that the historical Jesus fits very well with the secular viewpoint. See Lloyd Geering’s Christianity Without God for an example of how this can work. I don’t consider myself a Christian, but my work at Westar Institute has shown me that people who do call themselves “Christian” do not necessary have all of that theological baggage we tend to associate with Christianity. Christianity is extremely diverse, as scholarship has shown it to be in its early stages as well.
 
So, just as we value historical research into any other subject in order to learn from the past and understand the present, let’s also value historical research in religion. As secularists, let’s actually value it in particular, given the largely dangerous and destructive role religion plays in the world today. 

Bill Lehto is the publisher at Freethought House and editor of Atheist Voices of Minnesota
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<![CDATA[I’ve Never Understood]]>Sat, 18 Mar 2017 12:45:14 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/ive-never-understoodby Mike Haubrich
I have a friend - a very close friend. We have known each other since we started working together at DecisionOne in Richfield, MN, nearly 20 years ago. When we met, I had separated and was in the process of ending a marriage of 7 years. I had taken a job supporting customers of a dial-up internet company. This friend was a fellow smoker there, and that is how we began our relationship.
 
We’ve been through ups and downs. There have been arguments over politics and religion. I am a liberal and an atheist, he is conservative and a Christian. I don’t mind so much that he is a Christian, in the sense that he has never been one to judge me for being an atheist. He has never been one to threaten me with Hell.  He doesn’t go to church and he doesn’t make a show in public of his religion. I asked him once why he believes in God and he told me that his life was so shitty as a child growing up in the foster system, that he started believing in God because then there would at least be someone, somewhere, who cared for him. There would be someone watching after him. 
 
I restrained myself from stating that God was doing a really shitty job of watching after him.
 
Three years ago he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He’s an independent business owner doing web design, and when he shopped for insurance he had trouble finding policies. He went to the emergency room at a catholic hospital in Las Vegas. They cleaned out the polyps that he had, told him he had cancer, and when they found out that he had no insurance they discharged him. Because of the premiums for a cancer patient being very high, he had difficulty maintaining coverage and being able to obtain treatment. Cancer has taken a serious toll on his body as well as his mental state.
 
He often talks about how he feels guilty and worthless and writes posts on Facebook, apologizing for not being a good Christian because his faith is weak and hard to maintain as his body fails him. He apologizes for not being able to show the strength he thinks that he should project to the world as a Christian. He writes that he realizes he is letting people down and letting God down.
 
The selling point of Christianity is that Jesus loved his people so much that he was willing to die a brutal death, nailed to a cross with his legs broken so that he couldn’t lift himself up to ease the agony of not being able to breathe. And he had been whipped and mocked and generally treated badly for a few days before he was crucified. It’s an uplifting story for some, that they have been redeemed by this sacrifice made willingly by their God so that they might avoid eternal hell. Somehow, and in some way, some of the poor and downtrodden look to this story and feel comforted that they are not worthy of being saved or healed of their natural inborn sinning nature, but God did this for them anyway.
 
I’ve never understood what they are healed from, and what they are being saved from is a mystery to me, but for those who believe, their faith in the healing and salvation are intended to bring aid and comfort. In their time of need and sorrow, they look to their faith to give them strength when they need it most, when they are at their weakest.
 
What happens, then, when their faith and their hope and their prayers leave them weakened and the hope for grace and comfort don’t come? Is it God’s failing, or theirs? Rather than blame God for failing them and for not living up to his promises, they blame themselves for not having enough faith to earn relief from their agony.
 
The story of Christianity is that humanity did not live up to God’s expectations of us, the aspirations he had for us to be satisfied in the Garden of Eden with all of our earthly needs met. No, Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation. They spoiled his Plan by eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  One wonders why that stupid tree was in the Garden in the first place. Were Adam and Eve, those guileless and innocent child-like souls, set up for failure? I suspect they were. They were led to sin and temptation in the Garden of Eden. They trusted God, God failed them, and all mankind had to be punished as death and menstruation and the pain of childbirth entered the world.
 
And also cancer.
 
Now Christians look at the Salvation of the Cross and they clutch this Salvation to their chest and the look up at God, like Sally Field holding her Oscar, and say “You like me, you really like me!” Then they pray for the comfort that rarely comes and they blame themselves for not having enough faith to deserve respite from the pain.
 
When my friend posts his doubt, his circle of Christian friends tell him he is in their thoughts and prayers. They tell him to have hope and strength and not give up because “With God, all things are possible!” When God, the Almighty, doesn’t bestow grace on one of us, but does on others, what effect does it have on the confidence of the less fortunate that the god, who could do anything, doesn’t favor them?
 
The Catholics say at Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be held.” The Lord remains silent, I am not healed. It’s my fault.
 
Christianity is a dehumanizing belief system. Humans are lowly, God and the angels are perfect. They could fix things, but they don’t. We beg and pray and hope and debase ourselves. We admit our wrongs and confess our weaknesses. We acknowledge our sins and take our punishment for the imagined wrongs against the Creator, the tyrant who demands so much and delivers so little.
 
My friend’s circle of Christians provide him with so little empathy, instead offering reproofs to pray harder, to believe harder and things will get better for him. He tells me that what he needs most of the time are love and sympathy and understanding, but he gets so little of it. I provide what I can, but when the pain of cancer and the reflection of a life of loneliness and his own feeling of inadequacy hammer at his heart, I can only give him so much relief.
 
He wants comfort from the god he has believed in all his life and he doesn’t get it, and he takes it as another one of his failings for not leading a blameless life.
 
Christianity doesn’t help people, it hurts them. It doesn’t give people dignity, it strips them of it. Faith isn’t a tool, it’s a measuring stick and it always reads that people come up short. 
 
This is why I am so dismissive of religion. Okay, to be honest, it is one of the many reasons I am dismissive of religion.
 
Mike Haubrich is a co-host of Ikonokast, a science podcast.  He survived several Minnesota winters, but is cagey on exactly how many, and is now happily hiking trails in Arizona.  He contributed an essay to the collection Atheist Voices of Minnesota.
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<![CDATA[Religions and Rigidity  ]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:20:51 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/religions-and-rigidityby Karen I. Shragg
It always comes up when you travel with strangers. You know, the discussion about your religious background and beliefs. One’s deeply held beliefs are often the last thing you want to share with people you are about to share long van rides and boat trips with. This time, however, on a trip to La Paz, Mexico, it turned into a positive experience.

Our home base was a very nice hotel, ironically named for the Catholic Church across the street. During the discussion on one of our longer van rides, I made sure to distinguish between personal philosophies and organized religion. I explained how I really respected the role of religious institutions as a place for the solidification of community support, especially around the rituals of life’s inevitable occasions. What I have a deeper problem with is the inflexibility of church doctrine to grow with the new and terrifying conditions we collectively face on planet Earth.

It is true that many religious institutions have charity drives and scholarship funds, preschools and weekly lectures. They give newcomers a place to feel at home. People like traditions. It makes them feel connected to their ancestors and in turn churches keep promoting them to insure that people will fill their pews with those who will fill the collection plate.

But underneath the veneer of these soft and fuzzy projects is a rigidity towards change. They have ritualized rules and traditions that were thought of when the world was a very different place. They are operating from a world view that formed before industrialization and technology. Their creation stories began long before the earth reached its first billion and now we are pushing 8 billion with little indication of slowing down. While it is deeply problematic that monotheism, at its heart and soul, never placed people in the web of life, this discussion was focused solely on adaptability.  

I got my co-traveler to agree that we need all institutions to adapt to our tenuous situation on our planet. Overpopulation-inspired climate change requires us to adapt and recreate our habits to ones which will sustain us and other species. The animals we were trying to save in the Baja are having a hard time adapting to the world we have created for them. Sea Turtles and Whale sharks are hurting because they cannot adapt to the way we overfish them and pollute their waters. Adaptation is the key to survival.  Raccoons do so well because they can change their preference for living in hollow trees to storm water pipes. They can eat french fries if necessary and make it. To be more like raccoons and less like the endangered species of the world, we need to be adaptable.

Research shows that it is our values which frame our behaviors, and so many of our values are inspired by how we grew up; and if it was in a church, then those voices have a lot of control over our ability to change.

If religions valued warnings from the scientific world and if they were flexible in their messaging, they would be screaming from their pulpits in an alarmed voice to their parishioners. They would be telling us more than to just take care of creation, they would create and read a new chapter and verse about pro-creation. They would preach that the old teachings about family size are no longer relevant in an overpopulated, resource weary world. They would have everyone sign a pledge to have just one-child families and frame it as an ethical choice.  For the future of life for their faith-based community, they would promote ways in which we can reduce our impact on our planet. Instead year after year, they continue to proselytize ancient interpretation of texts that do little to prepare their flocks for the chaos which lies ahead.

My last act in the lovely town of La Paz in Baha de la Sur Mexico was to give my remaining pesos to an old blind woman in a wheelchair who was left to fend for herself in a Catholic society that has no social safety net for its elderly. This woman was sitting across the street from the church where nuns were having a Sunday bake sale and priests were conducting Sunday services.

I do not have much hope that the churches will become the leaders we need as long as people keep filling their pews with those who continue to ignore their ecological irrelevance.

Perhaps the first step is to point out that at least they should stop praying for salvation long enough to go across the street and offer shelter to a woman discarded by a world that needs to stop lying about how much they care. 

Karen I. Shragg. Shragg is a naturalist, writer and overpopulation activist. Her books include, Move Upsteam: A Call to Solve OverpopulationGrieving Outside the Box, and the Nature’s Yucky! children’s series. She lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.
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