Un-shunned, But Out

Several people suggested that my experience with religion may have moved me to embrace atheism. I don’t deny the experience. But, religion was not responsible for my conclusion that no gods exist.

I was born not knowing. Somebody told me there was a god and I trusted they knew what they were talking about. As a child, I ‘believed’ in god because I believed who told me. For shorter periods of time I also believed in Santa Clause and the tooth fairy. I was also convinced monsters existed even though no one told me they did. I never saw a god, Santa, or the tooth fairy. I was sure I saw the monsters, and some lived under my bed.

I was initially told that all these entities existed except for the monsters, but they were the only ones I reacted to and lost sleep over.

I was emphatically told by my parents that there were no monsters and no ghosts. I was agnostic about the ghosts, having seen Casper cartoons. But no monsters? Bull shit! I knew what I saw was real! I began to have doubts about parental honesty.

Eventually, I unwillingly figured out the deal with Santa and the tooth fairy. I also gave up on the monsters, or perhaps they tired of me. Maybe the tooth fairy turned them into dust bunnies.

I figured out the god thingy last, around age fourteen. I was never dumb enough to tell anyone, even friends, that I no longer was buying the eternal life package. My father was the type of Irish-Catholic coal miner who would have attempted to pound belief into me. Besides, the religion thing worked to my social advantage. I often wonder how many of us practice religion for some social advantage or for financial gain, but don’t buy it either.

When my Catholic parish learned that I was an active participant in the protestant Episcopal church down the street, it pissed them off. That pleased me. If I could in some way return the ‘love,’ my parish seemed to have toward me, I was all for that.

Not so much with my parents, who were more upset. Those poor folks had a real shit-head difficult lad to raise, so church was the least of their concerns. Yet, I heard my mother say, “It may not be Catholic, but at least he has a religion.” I did not. But, if she was accepting, I wasn’t going to change it.

The church down the street was a playground of youthful debauchery. I was one of several Catholic teens (boys and girls) who participated in their youth group. My motivation for participation was likely untoward and had nothing to do with religion or god. That was then.

Now, my overall philosophy is a moving target that even I find difficult to corral and define. So, I stole this idea of a three-legged stool from somewhere. One of the legs of the stool is god, which is why the damn thing keeps falling over. Any god or gods get to share one leg and no more. The leg is there, but it’s symbolic. You could call it atheism, but not exactly.

Religion, which I define as the rules regarding humans dealing with gods, is the second leg of the stool. Religion and god relate but are not the same. The religion leg casts an unfavorable shadow upon the god leg. As splintered and twisted as it is, religion exists.

While the non-existence of god is almost a neutral, unemotional, changeable conclusion that came to me from thoughts; my vehement enmity toward all religion, especially the known ‘organized’ faiths, is unwavering and continues to grow as I age and reflect upon what I see and know. If god were to appear before me right now and provide enough proof to roll any skeptic, I would morph to belief in a New York minute, but I would continue to detest religion.

This is where my atheism gets confused with my religious experience. My bitter feelings about religion stem from experience and knowledge. While I am accepting of religious folks and I extend kindness to most believers (and they to me), what they believe I tolerate but don’t respect.

Religious mumbo-jumbo has nothing to do with whether any gods exist. Yet, I remain open to the tiniest of possibilities that something may change my mind. However, throughout history, nothing has ever happened to any human that would convince me otherwise.

What most people seem to believe about god and how to relate or interact with that god is manmade. However, religion has a lot to do with how people act toward each other. Call it morality. Theoretically, that should be good. Historically and practically, it has been otherwise.

The third leg is my spiritual philosophy, which is influenced by the other two legs (no-gods exist, and bad religion). The three legs support the seat, which is my overall philosophy (of life, my world view, reason for…whatever). The analogy isn’t perfect but it works for now.

In a debate Rev Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens once struggled to find disagreement because Sharpton kept trying to debate the existence of god (which he admitted he couldn’t prove) while Hitch pointed to problems with scripture, evil, and religion (Hitch admitted he couldn’t prove the non-existence of god). Two separate topics that influence the third philosophical leg of my metaphorical stool.

Atheism is not a religion, a belief system, a philosophy, or anything other than an acceptance of one’s opinion that god might not exist, or probably doesn’t. Atheists have divergent views as do most human groups. Some atheists are nihilist. Most are not. A few atheists go to church. Most do not. Some atheists make room for unscientific things in their opinions and how they live. Others claim that such opinions are not those of true atheists.

It can be confusing. But can’t the same be said of believers? Since I was a child, I was told that TV preachers were nonsense. I still think so. Many believers agree with me. Many believers reject the idea of a virgin birth, others call that heresy. I could go on about divergent religious beliefs, even within a specific religion such as Roman Catholic, Shiite Muslim, or Mahayana Buddhist. Dare I add Southern Baptist or Mormon? But that’s not my point.

While many atheists say that reading scripture will lead to disbelief, I contend that not believing in god is a rational decision not based on religion, dogma, or scripture, even though any of that will support atheism once the no-gods conclusion is reached.

While I claim to be rationally atheist for logical reasons, I think I’m also intrinsically incapable of believing in god without very concrete proof. No religion or religious person; priest, pedophile, or persecutor drove me away from believing in god. I tried to believe. I just couldn’t. Now, I openly don’t. I’m as pleased with that as believers are who foresee their blissful eternity simply because they believe and nothing more. I’m okay with that.

Look both ways in life. Learn from the past. Plan for the future.
Mind the gaps for denial and confusion.

“Does God Answer Prayers?”

Not the gap I had in mind.

Last Monday evening, I attended a community forum panel discussion about “does god answer prayers?” I wanted to hear what the atheist member of the panel said.

Panel members included:
1. A retired Presbyterian minister,
2. A female Jewish Rabbi (this lady),
3. A Messianic Jewish Rabbi/pastor (this guy), [Note: Messianic Jews are Jews for Jesus and are not recognized as Jewish.]
4. I didn’t hear the word atheist said all evening, even during the moderator’s intro of him. He authored this.

I would say the panel was a representation of the religious minorities in this community. Most people in this county are Nones in that they claim no specific religious group, but few are atheist. Other than that, most others are Christians: Evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and Baptists.

The atheist, retired minister, and moderator were all board members of the Community Forum which sponsored the event. That explains the atheist’s presence on the panel.

It would have been a better panel if it had included a Baptist or Evangelical Protestant, a Catholic, and no atheist or ‘Jews for Jesus’. I think that would have better represented the religious demographic of the overall community.

The three panel members who were religious ministers agreed that god answers prayers. If there were 100 of them, they would all have agreed.

However, having an atheist on the panel may have contributed to attendance. He was why I attended. People enjoy controversy, which was obviously avoided at the cost of quality.

The moderator said that this was the best-attended of the forums thus far. I counted slightly more than 100 attendees.

I felt disappointed with the atheist, an older PhD dude, who said, “God does not answer prayers.” Said like that left too much wiggle room for existence. Gods don’t answer prayers if gods don’t exist.

He offered empirical research evidence, which he said proved that god did not answer prayers. He did a good job of staying on topic and not offending anyone, but that should not have been his goal. The research evidence he mentioned proved nothing, much less the negative (not answer prayer) he proposed.

The Messianic Jewish Rabbi spoke in typical bible-belt, fundamentalist rhetoric. At one point he said that he would make a poor Southern Baptist because he occasionally enjoyed alcohol. I thought that if he removed his little cap and told me he was Baptist, I’d believe him.

His evidence of god answering prayers was that someone with stage IV cancer was cured with prayer. The pastor did not give a name or say if any medical intervention occurred. He also cited Chick-fil-A as further evidence. He said it was the top selling fast food business despite being closed on Sundays, but he was wrong.

The eat mor chickin business is currently reported as 7th in the fast food store sales behind Micky D’s (#1), Starbucks (#2) and four others. While Starbucks is a lightning rod for religious criticism of everything from their holiday coffee cup designs to the occasional idiot store manager, they are doing ok. Number 8 is currently Dunkin’ Donuts, another coffee empire.

The Presbyterian could cure insomnia. He said the amount of faith one has contributes to the likelihood of a prayer being answered. This idea of needing strong faith to be good enough for god translates to god plays favorites.

When the real Jewish Rabbi and Cantor stood up, she did the best of the four, despite (or maybe because of) frequently wandering off topic. Once she had to ask the moderator to repeat the question she was answering.

She wore a stiff, black, sequined, kippah or yarmulke that stood-out in her abundant bright blonde hair. Her floor length, straight, black dress with long sleeves was attractive, but in good taste and appropriate for a person of her position.

Bar none and by far, she was the most attractive Rabbi, or Cantor, I have ever seen. Her focus was more on style of, and reason for, prayer. She did not present arguments about whether god answers prayers, which she seemed to take for granted.

She favored chanting or singing of prayers in the original language (Hebrew in her case), a proposal I support over the random, impromptu wanderings of many long-winded lapses of reality proffered by Evangelicals and Baptists.

While there was potential for interest, the vanilla, shallow, and predictable comments of panel members were disappointing. Maybe the community forum should pray for enlightenment and better clerical participation in similar future endeavors.

I don’t know what he is praying for, but I want the answer to be Hell No.

Look both ways and reflect on what is real. Mind the gap.

A Test for Atheists



The Pew Research Center, in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, asked self-identified atheists how often they shared their views on gods and religion with religious people.

Nine percent said they did so at least weekly. Two-thirds said they seldom or never discuss their religious views with religious people. That may be changing as secularism becomes more acceptable. On line, these discussions often take the form of Q&A sessions.

Here are eleven sample questions that I promised to blog about. I Bogarted the questions from a variety of internet sources, but the responses are mine.

Why don’t you believe in a god? This is a difficult one to answer without appearing rude or offensive. The bottom-line, and most simple answer is that there’s no proof.

Are you really an atheist? Kind of insulting, but easy to answer. Atheists should not be drawn in by the temptation to be sarcastic. Leave out really from the question, or be young enough to excuse, and the answer is there.Test4

Are you absolutely sure there is not (are no) a god (gods)? The problem here is that the subject has now changed from belief to certainty. Absolute certainty of anything normally requires abundant proof of some sort – often, repeatable and testable evidence. My honest answer is no. I wonder what percentage of believers are absolutely sure of what they say they believe.

What happens when we die? Why would anyone ask this of an atheist? But again, easy for me to answer. I don’t know.

However, I still love this song. It’s fun and uplifting. Hear it Here (The Spirit In the Sky). Norm is something of a one-hit-wonder, but he wrote and sang a good one way back then. Interesting side note: while this is clearly a Christian song, Norman Greenbaum, to this day (age 73), is an observant Jew.

What if you’re wrong? That depends. Wrong about there being supernatural beings? Is that any different than being wrong about which religion, or which god is real or true? Again, I have no idea.

Without a god, where do you get your morality? First, I have some morality. Second, the same place you get yours. Morality comes from learning and being human. How often are immoral atrocities committed in the name of a god? Where do those offenders get their morality?

How does life have any meaning without a god? My life has meaning just as yours does. Mine may have more meaning to me than someone who believes they will be in Heaven or Paradise. I believe that this world is all there is for us (right here and now). As for the universe, it is the same but we only have access this part of it: Earth.

What about the love and appreciation of nature and art? We love nature as much as any believers, maybe more than some. I love art, read and write about it, and consider myself an artist. While atheists may not see nature as the work of a creator or supreme being, they have the same, if not more, appreciation of nature than believers do.

Where did the universe come from? This is where I might begin to lose it. Seriously? Do I have to explain the origin of the universe simply because I don’t believe there is a god to have created it? I don’t need to know and neither do you. Read Carl Sagan or something, then pick one of the theories. I was not there when it happened, no matter what my grandchildren think.



What about miracles? Have you ever noticed how the number of miracles has reduced as methods to record them has increased? I don’t think there are supernatural beings out there to bring about miracles. Unexplained things have always happened and perhaps science never will explain everything. At times in the past, believers decided that unexplainable events were witchcraft, or from the devil, and not miracles from a good deity or spirit.

Four Gods to believe in
Four Gods to believe in

Why do you hate God? Do you hate Santa Claus? Or Krishna? Or Thor? Zeus, Jupiter, and Saturn are all gods. If you don’t believe in them, is it because you hate them? I’ve known believers who were angry with their god. I always thought that was awesome. Being angry with an omnipotent being has to be special. I guess their god wasn’t doing a good job.


I admit that face-to-face, such questioning events are rare, especially following someone’s commitment to atheism. But they happen and I think they are fair enough.

Test8Personally, I don’t see why people shouldn’t discuss religion and atheism (or agnosticism or humanism, or any such subject), if they want. I realize two problems come into play. Human emotion and the need to defend turf, opinions, friends, or in some cases, a god.

Criticizing religion in general, or any religion specifically, is taboo. Oddly, that taboo is not applied equally to lack of religion or atheism. While insults and criticism may fly, I’ll wager that no atheist has marked someone for death because they criticized, or drew a picture of, anyone.

I hope that we can find ways to exchange ideas, discuss beliefs, and venture into better understanding of our diverse and complex world. I once had a man tell me this, “I don’t even know anyone who is not Christian.” How sad.

Atheism a Religion?

Atheism religion4

I was once amused by religious propaganda I read explaining what a Catholic was and what they believed. What I found interesting was that none of these articles sanctioned by the Catholic Church or written by a practicing Catholic. They were derogatory and always wrong.

When I discussed this with a catholic priest he gave me an explanation, which I have not forgotten, always liked, and apply to outsiders telling me things about what groups believe.

Church windows1

You’re outside. ‘Tis (he’s Irish) a lovely, sunny day. You’ve been told the stained-glass windows in the local church are beautiful works of art. You walk to the church and gaze upon the windows. You wonder how something so dark and dreary can be considered beautiful art. The wee folk inside the church open the doors and invite you in. You go inside the church. You now see the windows from the inside (from a different point of view or in a different light?). The sun is passing through from the outside. Now, you see the beauty of the art and craftsmanship. Being on the inside makes a difference. (Paraphrased)


Atheism religion6

While researching atheism and the question of it being a religion I discovered something that reminded me of that priest. I can find many non-atheists who claim that it is a religion. I have not discovered anyone claiming to be atheist who agrees with that. Some folks even claim to breakdown certain atheist opinions further into denominations. One even went so far as to list 15 basic beliefs of all atheists (dogma? 14 were wrong). Of course, none of the people who wrote these things are either complimentary of (critical of, yes) atheism, or self-identified atheists. But, they do claim to know all about it. Interesting, right?

Saying that atheism is a religion is not only wrong, atheists find it silly. Consider the following from The American Atheist web page.

Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion. While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. Two commonly used retorts to the nonsense that atheism is a religion are: 1) If atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color, and 2) If atheism is a religion, then health is a disease. A new one introduced in 2012 by Bill Maher is, “If atheism is a religion, then abstinence is a sexual position.” (American Atheist web page)

A friend of mine asked, “What do atheists believe? I want to know exactly what they believe.” As stated in the quote below from the web page, I said, “You can ask one, then you can ask another. If you are specific, you are likely to get two different answers. If you are not specific, you may be asked, ‘About what?’

Atheism religion2

“The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds. We are as unique as our fingerprints.” (American Atheist web page)

Indeed, atheism can be called (or associated with) a movement. Some of their organizations may be identified. Some church ministers who are now atheists may even have something like a Sunday service. Some people say it is a philosophy or a world view. But the audacity and ignorance of people who are religious to write long essays (in which they usually admit that it’s hard to define religion) making the claim that atheism is a religion puts them in the same category as those wonders who never set foot in a Catholic Church, but knew all about it. They don’t know shit!