AN ATHEIST’S GUIDE TO BECOMING RELIGIOUS
by Troy Conrad
Lately, I’ve had many atheists write to me, asking if now is a good time to become religious again. It seems that the departure of the Bush Administration has awoken the vast majority of the atheist community to the simple fact that theocracy is no longer a threat here or abroad. It is high time to embrace what we once called superstition, dust off that Bible lifted in protest from the Holiday Inn, and delve once more into the church, dear friends.
For some, a conversion or reconversion to reverence seems a daunting task. As freethinkers, we’ve gotten a bit rusty in the worship department. When working out the faith muscle, we must start slowly so it doesn’t get overtaxed. Start out at the Joel Osteen level, before you consider going full Falwell. If you’re one of the 5% still on the fence about taking this sacred surge, ponder the inarguable, massive benefit of taking the faith train to Godville.
Huge time savings. Take into account how much time you spend thinking. Now cut that in half. Now cut that in half, and repeat until you reach zero, because you now have a handy-dandy book that makes your decisions for you. As Ted Haggard said: “We don’t have to have a debate about what we should think about homosexuality. It’s written in the Bible.” Add up the time it would have taken you to mentally debate this, and use it to go golfing. It is estimated that by eliminating thinking by 95%, the average American would save 14 hours per week. Based on the new U.S. minimum wage increase, that translates to $5,278 per American each year. That’s almost enough to purchase a Smart Car.
It should be quite clear that there has never been a better time to stop and smell the rosary. Though there are obstacles ahead for the skeptical mind, here are some simple, tested guidelines to help you go from “infidel” to just plain “fidel” in just a few short weeks.
Make meaning out of small things, so that you can be trusted to make meaning out of large things. Before you can calm your inquisitive mind and embrace the idea of a loving, caring, and jealous God, you’ll need to start with baby steps. Reading tea leaves and taking fortune cookies literally is a good start toward making meaning out of everyday situations. Is a tearful image of God’s only Son right there in your bag of Funyons? Has an outline of the savior shown up on your shower curtain? Did your lawnmower leak lubricant, only to leave a loving image of God’s only Son on the garage floor? Course through all snack foods, pre-made burger patties, tortillas (both corn and flour), breakfast flakes, nut mixes, or hastily topped frozen pizzas. If the image of Christ or Mary appears, remind yourself that it is not simply coincidence.
Re-read The God Delusion with a more critical eye. Maybe Richard Dawkins himself was sent to test your faith. Have you considered that maybe the only reason Dawkins even writes books is because he thinks he’s better than you?
Develop your ability to follow orders. For freethinkers who have not been in the military, you have a problem with obedience to authority. This can be remedied by wearing a rubber band around your wrist. Simply snap it against your flesh each time you become inquisitive. Do this every day for 21 days, and obedience will become your second best friend. The virtue of obedience will also prepare you quite well for the workforce should something open up.
Watch The Flintstones. Seeing humans and dinosaurs co-exist again will help free the mind from any previous knowledge of anthropology, paleontology, or history. Likewise, shows like Two and a Half Men will leave you with no compulsion to watch documentaries and other shows that contain information.
Be stingy with your new virginity. Since virginity is restored when you become a Christian, don’t just go and give it away now. You need to save it for marriage or Senior Prom. Post a pledge to Bristol Palin’s abstinence organization, and join Promise Keepers right away to build a solid, iron-clad moral and ethical foundation. Additionally, the purchase of a Smart Car is a great way to keep from losing your virginity in the backseat this time around.
Invent a new controversy. If it’s possible to revive a formerly settled debate such as creation vs. evolution, surely there are scores of other settled controversies to renew. These new debates will bring more validity to your newfound belief system, and balance out all the science that’s stuck in your head. Next time you hear people arguing about abortion, say something like: “Whoa! This is almost as heated as the ‘prayer vs. single payer health care’ debate!”
Use the “caps lock” on your keyboard. Many atheists are prone to using a lower case “g” when typing the word “God.” This habit, left unchecked, is an embarrassing mistake for the newly anointed. Using the caps lock is a foolproof solution, making it impossible to mess up a phrase such as: “MAY GOD BLESS E. E. CUMMINGS.”
White-out the violent parts of the Bible. Let’s be honest. Any book that condones rape, murder, genocide, and incest can be a real bummer. Just memorize the parts with the word “love” if you want to really make a difference.
Put “under God” back in the Pledge. You may have loudly objected to the addition of those two words added to the Pledge of Allegiance during the McCarthy era. Noble at the time, but you’re a believer now. Besides, why not prepare yourself for a visit to Ireland? They’ve just passed a bold new Anti-blasphemy Law. It would be rude and illegal to omit “under God” when saying the Pledge in the Emerald Isle.
Write down what you would like your City of Gold to look like. You’re going to get one when you die (Revelation 21:18), so sit down and design your city intelligently. Gold is currently near an all-time high, so guess who just picked a great time to be a Christian?
Purchase a firearm. God loves you now, and you’ve taken an oath to “treat your body as a temple.” If someone is loitering near your temple, you better have the stopping power to keep it looking good. A .50 caliber Smith & Wesson will clear out anyone’s temple. Though Christianity is a religion of peace, there’s a nugget of wisdom in the phrase: “Kill ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out.”
Try a night of gay sex. If you end up liking it, you will meet more people to share your faith with. If you end up disliking it, then your repentance and faith will just get stronger. Either way, God wins.
(Note: Though it’s our responsibility to vote against same-sex marriage, same sex-one-night-hookups are not specifically forbidden by name in the Book of Leviticus.)
It is my hope that these steps to religiosity can help spark a return to the peacefulness of the Middle Ages. I am currently compiling some tips for nonbelievers with a background in Islam, so that they, too, can enjoy the massive benefits of a religious society. So, my fellow former-faithless friends… I am glad that we can all be a part of this new “beginning of faith” together, and I look forward to seeing you all at the Sunday meetups. I’ll be the guy in the Smart Car.
Troy Conrad is a comic, writer, and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. He is the creator of The Comedy Jesus Show, which toured internationally, and has just received distribution on DVD. He is featured in the upcoming Paul Provenza book “Satiristas” with Janeane Garafalo, Stephen Colbert, and George Carlin. To see videos from The Comedy Jesus Show, go to www.atheistcomedy.com or subscribe to “comedyjesus” on Youtube.
Below is a conversation I had with several people (who’s names have been concealed for privacy) on Facebook. Watch and see why it is almost impossible to joke with committed Christians. I didn’t edit this convo too much, besides concealing the names, only those comments that weren’t invloved in talking to me have been removed, other than that…it’s all there. Enjoy
Evangelical Friend (EF)- I got my license (FB Status)
Just one more driver-less car come the Rapture…oh wait…we don’t have to worry about something that isn’t going to happen…whew…I was scared there for a second
Friend of EF #1
You put a lot of effort into things that aren’t true.
Prove me wrong Stephen.
Friend of EF #1
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
Stephen. The bible isn’t proof. You’re using circular reasoning. Please try again.
Friend of EF
Pearls before swine, love. Pearls before swine.
That doesn’t make sense. If you’re calling me a pig, that is quite the intelligent, thoughtful, Christian thing to do…ad hominim.
Friend of EF #2
LOL! It’s an expression. Google it or something. 😉 Goodnight!
Or…don’t be 7 years old.
Friend of EF #2
Oh ho ho… Ad hominim, much? Joel….
To stick with the animal metaphors: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. But I really was talking about your conduct rather than you, so it really doesn’t qualify as ad hominim, please look up the definition of words before you use them.
Friend of EF #3
Joel, if you don’t like Christians, why do you like to start arguments with them?
I didn’t start an argument. I said something clever, you guys got pissed. Grow a sense of humor, please.
And for the record, I do like Christians.
Friend of EF #3
That does suck how quickly arguments get started on here…And sounds fair enough to me Joel.
Thank you, Chris. I like you for this very reason.
Friend of EF #3
And I do have to apologize, you didn’t start an argument, one just kind of…appeared…The only reason people got upset was because you were mocking our beliefs, same as you would feel if we mocked yours about something =/
I see and I understand. But in all seriousness I was only kidding around, as I usually am. Beliefs that are held to sacred make people crazy, stuffy and not fun to be around.
Friend of EF #4 (The Angry, Irrational One)
joel you’re seriously retarded. grow up. stop starting ridiculous arguments on something that has nothing to do with Christians at all. she got her license.. leave her alone.
good job EF! congrats! 🙂 do you have a car?
Sara, please see Chris’ comments and my responses to them. Get over yourself and get a sense of humor. I also appreciate the very Christian, thoughtful and intelligent ad hominim attack, great stuff. It’s original to call someone “retarded”. If your beliefs aren’t strong enough to stand up to a little ribbing now and again, get some new beliefs.
Friend of EF #4 (The Angry, Irrational One)
haha. you are a retard. thats why i called you that. you have no idea what you are talking about. leave danae alone. my beliefs are never threatened by your silly little jabs filled with words you find in a thesaurus. grow up. leave young girls you don’t know alone. i will NEVER understand why danae still has you as a friend.. or puts up with the drama you start. DANAE: you can’t help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped. delete him.
Quite judgmental for a Christian. Funny how you don’t know me at all and yet can claim all these things. I don’t use a thesaurus for my vocabulary, thank you, but I digress. For someone like you who resorts to childish ad hominim to tell me to grow up is the beginning of a good joke. Ya know, you could understand if you asked her…but since you’re a Christian I guess you’ve been discouraged from asking questions your whole life, just a guess though. I have more knowledge about your silly religion, called Chrsitianity, in my pinky, that you do in your whole body. Have a good night and be safe.
Friend of EF #4 (The Angry, Irrational One)
Christians are judgmental. they should be. there’s even a book called “Judges” in the Bible. next time do your research before claiming to know so much. And for someone so anti-judgement, you are pretty quick to say since i am a Christian, i have been discouraged to ask questions about life. man, you really are dumber than i thought…
Friend of EF # 5
Way to go! That is awesome! And I am saying that to both EF and Friend of EF #4 (The Angry, Irrational One)
One Nation Under a Spell
Christianity in America and Religion Around the World
DISCLAIMER: SAM HARRIS IS QUOTED HEAVILY IN THIS WORK BECAUSE OF CONTRAINTS PLACED UPON ITS WRITING BY THE CLASS FOR WHICH IT WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN
“Our world is fast succumbing to the activities of men and women who would stake the future of our species on beliefs that should not survive an elementary school education”
-Sam Harris, End of Faith
America, once a bastion of the Enlightenment ideas of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine, “is fast-growing as blinkered by religious lunacy as the wilds of Afghanistan.” (Harris, Idea City ’05) By this, Sam Harris means, that the United States of America is not just highly religious, but fundamentalist in their belief. Before continuing, what is a belief? Mr. Harris defines a belief as “representations of the world…that open the floodgate of emotion and behavior” that is appropriate for a particular belief. (Harris, Idea City ’05) Polls, both in the recent past and the present, show that Sam is not at all out of line in making these claims; for instance, “22% of the population [Americans] claims to be certain, literally certain, that Jesus is going to come down out of clouds and save the day sometime in the next 50 years.” (Harris, Idea City ’05) He adds, “Another 22% think that he probably will come back in the next 50 years. This is 44% of the electorate…this belief obviously does not exist in isolation.” (Harris, Idea City ’05) The most straightforward conclusion from this data, which he obtained from Gallup polls taken earlier in the decade, is that nearly 150 million people in the United States who, Sam points out, “not only elect Congressmen and Presidents, they get elected as Congressmen and Presidents.” (Harris, Idea City ’05) These facts should be wholly horrifying to those of all walks of life, religious or not, that are committed to a sustainable and above all, foreseeable future for the human species. Why is this so? This is so because these beliefs have severe geopolitical consequences, discussed in detail later. They also have the effect of making normally moral, rational people and making them hateful isolationists bent on bringing about the End Times. Sam Harris claims that religion, especially in the United States, is dangerous and that the moderately religious share as much blame as the fundamentalists in regards to the problems to be expounded upon in the following pages.
Christianity in America: Effect on Science and Public Health
“The time for respecting religious beliefs of this sort is long past”
-Sam Harris, Idea City 2005
It has been shown that at the time the United States was founded in writing, less people went to church less often. (Wills, p. 8) This fact flies directly in the face of those that claim we were founded as a Christian nation. Certainly, some famous settlements and early towns were very religious and chiefly comprised of Christians, all of whom believed the same as their neighbors of course. In fact, the legend of the Pilgrims leaving England to escape religious persecution is not entirely accurate; some parts are left out. For instance, it is not common knowledge that the King of England at the time of the earliest of the settlements, King Charles II, had to send a letter of instruction to the colony of Massachusetts ordering them to “stop executing his subjects for their religious opinions.” (Wills, p. 18) Though today we need not such declarations from our President, the myth of Christian tolerance persists. There have been, in the history of the U.S., a sheer myriad of Supreme Court cases dealing with, as one of its main issues, religious intrusion into the government or public services funded by taxes. Those cases worthy of mention are: McCollum v. Board of Education (Ruled that religious studies classes violated the 1st Amendment, 1948), Engel v. Vitale (Ruled that state lead prayer in schools to be a violation of the 1st Amendment, 1962), Abington v. Schempp/Murry v. Curlett (Ruled that bible reading in schools was unconstitutional, 1963), Epperson v. Arkansas (Struck down a law prohibiting the teaching of Evolution), Lemon v. Kurtzman (Ruled that the PA state’s subsidizing of religious school was unconstitutional, added third prong to what has become known as the Lemon Test, 1971), Edwards v. Aguillard (Ruled that the teaching of creationism to be a violation of the 1st Amendment), City of Boerne v. Flores (Ruled the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act to be unconstitutional, 1997), Sante Fe School District v. Doe (Ruled that believers cannot be favored over nonbelievers), and Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School District et al (Ruled that the requirement for students to be taught Intelligent Design was unconstitutional, 2005) . This list is a short enumeration of the victories for those on the side of secularism, be they religious or not. However, the list is not exhaustive and leaves out some defeats, such as the Scopes Trial. There exists currently a yet uncontested law in the state of Louisiana called “Louisiana Science Education Act.” This act encourages students to learn about Intelligent Design/Creationism without using the words. (Forrest, 2009) However, Section D of the law provides a glimpse into the motives of the authors, sponsors, and lobbyists (Discovery Institute and Louisiana Family Forum) of the law. Section D reads, “This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.” It begs the question as to why this section exists in the law if in fact it could not be construed to promote religion, specifically Intelligent Design/Creationism. Although this is a setback, it is in a minority of court cases in which we see overwhelming victory for the Constitution and freedom from religious establishment.
In spite of the utterly overwhelming evidence supporting the evidence of the Theory of Evolution, Americans seem wishfully against its acceptance. In 2005, a survey was conducted among 34 countries to determine the level of acceptance of the Theory of Evolution among adults. The results were less than flattering, as Harris points out that “the United States ranked 33rd, just above Turkey. Meanwhile, high school students in the United States test below those of every European and Asian nation in their understating of science and math.” (Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 70) Given the efforts of Christians in this country in the courts, attempting to promote creationism and intelligent design; in so doing they are misrepresenting science and confusing the public about Evolution and consequently all of science. Harris is in a sense arguing that Christianity, specifically Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity, is causing great harm to the education of our children. Whether or not Sam’s general claim is true, it is obvious that the religiosity of this country is having a significant and detrimental impact on a consensual and basic understanding of what is arguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, scientific accomplishments in history; the Theory of Evolution.
Though a public understanding of science (or lack thereof) is an important issue. A far more pressing and disturbing issue is that of public health. Regarding this issue, Sam again points to the overwhelming dangers of religious ideals and convictions interfering with the private lives and health of individuals, who is behind this movement to do so and why. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), thought by many to be very scientific and apolitical institution in the United States, is very much the opposite in terms of its upper management. It is evident that religious views are clouding the judgment of those that we are entrusting our health. Reginald Finger, a member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, “announced that he would consider opposing an HIV vaccine…because such a vaccine would encourage premarital sex by making it less risky.” (Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 28) I agree with Sam Harris when he says, “this is one of the many points on which [Christian] beliefs become genuinely lethal.” (Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 28) Until recently, stem-cell research was put on the veritable back burner. However, with the election of Barack Obama this backward, religious motivated agenda to stymie what Sam Harris calls “one of the most promising lines of research in biology”, is now being federally funded after being denied such funding by a religiously motivated Bush administration. (Harris, Idea City ’05)
Although these are not the only issues facing America in which the religious, mostly Christian, population in this country has found it necessary to thrust their narrow-minded and unfounded beliefs, they are, in the estimation of Sam Harris, a good representation of the general direction they are pushing public policy. Christian crusaders such as the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and pastor/author Joel Osteen are the leaders in a movement that is increasingly trying to control the public policy and even the personal matters of the citizens of the United States. However, such a narrow focus on the United States does not even begin to properly articulate the problems the marriage of religion and policy has on not only the liberty of Americans, but also their safety and, ultimately, the survival of the human species.
Geopolitics and Religion: Rights, Terrorism, and Armageddon
“O You who believe! take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport”
Islam has recently become the religion most associated with terrorism. Although there is some basis for this hasty and broad generalization and Islamic leaders have not done a good job distancing themselves from such violent actions, Christianity and Judaism have had their share of violence and terrorism. Though both Christianity and Judaism have done a good job covering it up, the fact they have had enough time to do this shows that they happened long ago, however, they are still relevant and will be discussed later. For now, we shall focus on the problem Islam creates on the geopolitical stage.
Islam, claimed to be founded by the “prophet” Mohammed in the 7th century C.E., is declared by many of its followers to be a religion of peace. Islam, they say means peace and thus, tell us that the terrorists that commit their acts in the name of their religion have no theological justification from the Quran (Koran), the holy book of Islam, and that they are committed for other reasons. They, and religious moderates of all stripes, say that their acts are committed because socioeconomics, lack of education and/or educational opportunity and politics. However, in the case of 9/11, Sam Harris remarks, “I don’t know how many more engineers and architects have to hit the wall at 400 miles-an-hour for us to realize that this is not simply a matter of education. The truth of our circumstance is quite a bit more sinister than that.” (Harris, Idea City ’05, 2005) What does he mean by this? He means that it is actually possible, and likely, that religion is the cause of this terrorism. This is frightening, because religion is based solely on beliefs that, in the case of fundamentalists, are immune to evidence or change of any kind. This also means that if the reasons for these despicable acts are religious there is no stopping them the way they would be if they really were the result of education or economics. Harris says, “It is actually possible to be so well educated that you can build a nuclear bomb and still believe that you’re going to get the 72 virgins.” (Harris, Idea City ’05) For Muslim terrorists their actions are in fact, contrary to what moderates believe, not only condoned by the Koran but also endorsed by it saying: “O Prophet! strive hard against the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them, their abode is Hell, -an evil refuge indeed.” (Qur’an: 9:73) Some verses later it reiterates this sentiment: “O you who believe! Fight the Unbeleivers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you: and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.” (Qur’an 9:123) According to the research of Sam Harris, the Had’ith is also quite clear about how to deal with the so-called “Unbelievers”: “ Jihad is your duty under any ruler, be he godly or wicked;  A single endevor (of fighting) in Allah’s Cause in the forenoon or in the afternoon is better than the world and whatever is in it;  A day and night fighting on the frontier is better than a month of fasting and prayer;  Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s Cause);  He who dies without having taken part in a campaign dies in a kind of unbelief” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 112). The Koran, taken literally along with the teachings of the Had’ith, lead Muslims to be extreme in their faith to the point that they commit such atrocities. One may say to themselves at this point, “yes, but these views and verses are used and condoned only by the extremists”. This is wrong, as evidenced by a 2002 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in which the following question was asked only to Muslims: “Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified or never justified?” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 124) The results should be shocking even the most moderate of moderates as this survey was given to 38,000 people. So it’s unikely that they just happened to ask 38,000 extremists. For breivity, only the top five will be taken into consideration: 1. Lebanon- 73% Yes, 21% No, 6% DK/Refused; 2. Ivory Coast- 56% Yes, 44% No; 3. Nigeria- 47% Yes, 45% No, 8% DK/Refused; 4. Bangladesh- 44% Yes, 37%, No, 19% DK/Refused; 5. Jordan- 43% Yes, 48% No, 8% DK/Refused. (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 125) If these numbers seem distrubing Harris asks us to “consider that places like Saudia Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories were not included in the survery.” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 125) However, the “Muslim tolerence for terrorism” picture become ever more frightening when we only consider those respondants who “could not find it in their hearts to say ‘never justified’.” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 126) The question then is, is it ever justifiable?. Again, only the top five are considered: 1. Lebanon- 82% Yes, 12% No, 6% DK/Refused; 2. Ivory Coast- 73% Yes, 27% No; 3. Nigeria- 66% Yes, 26% No, 8% DK/Refused; 4. Jordan- 65% Yes, 26% No, 8% DK/Refused; 5. Bangladesh- 58% Yes, 23% No, 19% DK/Refused. (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 126) An astonishing finding from this is that Pakistan, thought of to be a safe haven and manufactuer of terrorist not only isn’t in the top five, but in the second list is second from the bottom, right above Turkey. What do these numbers tell us about Islam and terrorism? They tell us that the problem of dogmatism, no matter how seemingly moderate, is far greater than previously thought and acts like the subway bombing in Madrin, Spain, the bus attacks in the UK or the events of September 11th, 2001 seem to be justifiable to these people so long as it is in denfese of Islam.
Though it may seem given the above that Islam is the sole perpetrator of terrorism, it most asuredly is not. Christians tend to pride themselves, and their religion (especially in the United States), on being caring, loving, compasionate, pacifist and, above all, true beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, Christianity has some skeletons in its closet; skeletons that even moderate Christians would be hard-pressed to explain away. Before examining specific examples, let us consider the Bible, particularly the New Testament, to see if moderate Christianity or fundamentalist Christianity is on the stronger theological ground. When it comes to the treatment of the non-believers, or unbelievers as the holy books refer to us, Jesus Christ does not differ much from the attitude of the Koran, saying: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”(The Bible: John 3:36) Though this does not seem quite as bad as the Koran telling believers to fight the unbelievers, Jesus makes sure his message is not mistaken: “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.”(The Bible: Luke 19:27) It was not just Jesus that scolded non-believers and thought they should be killed, Peter wrote: “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”(The Bible: 2 Peter 3:7) It is now sufficiently obvious that Christians, too, can square actions such as the nondescript and wholesale slaughter and/or torture of non-Christians with the Bible and the teaching of Jesus. If that wasn’t enough, “the great lights of the church, people like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine…in Aquinas’ case he thought heretics should be killed outright, in Augustine’s case he thought they should be tortured; Augustine’s argument for the use or torture actually laid the foundations for the Inquisition.” (Harris, Idea City ’05) It should now be immediately obvious that Christians could and did start religious wars and cold-blooded, calculated campaigns of mass death and torture, with other Christians and non-Christians; such as the French Wars or Religion, the 30 Years War, the Crusades, and, the Spanish Inquisition. However, the despicable behavior does not stop there. The Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch trials, considered by many to be well-organized terrorism campaigns, though with very different and separate goals, have their justification in the Bible, and nowhere else. Christian terrorism is still alive in modern times. Two examples come to mind. The first is an example of psychological terrorism. The Westboro Baptist Church, founded and run by pastor Fred Phelps has made a name for themselves protesting United States’ soldiers funerals and with their “God Hates Fags” campaign. Probably the most appalling aspects of this campaign is, their use of small children, holding signs and wearing t-shirts bearing these hateful and ignorant slogans. The next example of Christian terrorism, I am happy to say was a failed effort. Nonetheless, it is a story that one is grateful never came to fruition and shows the extent of their fundamentalist and apocalyptic goals. Due to a lack of knowledge about the Julian calendar, 1999 was thought to be the year before the millennium. Beyond the “Y2K” hysteria, there was also a fervor of millennialism, especially from fundamentalist Christians.
On January 3, 1999, the Israeli General Security Force known as Shin Bet raided two houses outside Jerusalem. Soon after the interrogation of three male occupants it was determined that the 14 total residents, including six children were to leave Israel immediately. These 14 people were members of a “Doomsday cult” known as Concerned Christians, based out of Denver, Colorado. Their mission in Israel was, to destroy the mosques on Temple Mount, the most well-known and holiest of which is the Dome of the Rock, in the hope of instigating war between Jews and Muslims. This, they believe, would have brought on Armageddon and the return of Christ as spelled out in the Book of Revelation. (New, pp. 1,9) At a glance the people of this group, with a most misleading name, may seem crazy or unhinged. This is not the case, given what they believe. Putting yourself in their shoes, if you came to believe that the most important event that could happen was about to happen and that you personally could have something to do with it coming to immediate and glorious fruition, would you commit or attempt to commit these actions? It is obvious that the problem is the beliefs themselves, not the people.
The obvious question then is, how do we stop people like this from injuring and killing others in this way? Sam Harris offers a distinctly simple, yet blunt answer that many could agree with. He says, “I’m talking about religious faith, and specifically a style of thinking that takes the sting out of death…in geopolitical terms we want the sting in death. You know, we don’t want groups of people well-armed who are not afraid to die.” (Harris, The God Who Wasn’t There) There it is, we stop these people by putting the sting back in death. What is the “sting” in death? Fear of dying; or to be more positive, the willingness to live. It is hard for many religious moderates and even some secularists to grasp the astounding notion that these people really do believe in what they say they do. As alluded to earlier, “if you really believe this stuff it is quite rational” to fly planes into buildings, attempt to blow up the Dome of the Rock, or convince 900 hundred people, included 300 children, to follow you to Guyana where they will die because you believe that it is what the creator of the universe wants you to do. (Harris, The God Who Wasn’t There)
It should be obvious to the most casual observer that I am talking about beliefs. Beliefs, which, are separate from the people, that believe them; in other words, the beliefs exist apart from the believers. Therefore, it is necessary to challenge these beliefs, quit equating such challenges as attacks or affronts to the people who believe them. The remedy for this is unbridled conversation in a way that updates, revises, and maybe totally reforms religious ideas in a way that makes them more compatible with the continuation of our species.
Deadly Beliefs: End of Days, Rapture and Christian Zionism
“Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.”
As briefly mentioned at the end of the previous section, there is a growing Millennialism movement within Christianity. However, that movement is not modern and has its roots in the 19th Century. John Nelson Darby (1800-1887), wasn’t the originator of the Millennialism movement but he did contribute arguably of the most significant, popular and controversial ideas to the Movement, that of Dispensationalism. (Wills, pp. 358-359) The idea of Dispensationalism is fairly straightforward for a religious idea. It is an idea that states that “the two Testaments, Old and New, are separate and discontinuous such that they were “ruled by different prophetical systems-one of them past, Israel, under the law, with all past prophecies applying only to it; and one of them future, the church, with its prophecies not to move toward fulfillment until the church was taken up by God before the End of Time.” (Wills, p. 359) This idea divided the future into dispensations which Darby named. The most important aspect of the End of Days of course are: the Tribulation (the final catastrophe) and the Millennium (the resolution, Christ’s victory over Satan, which includes the Second-Coming and the Rapture). (Wills, p. 359) The Rapture though has become very popular recently, so popular in fact that popular fictional book series called “Left Behind”, has been written on the idea and a website, http://www.raptureletters.com, was created for believers so that they could leave letters to their loved ones behind after they are taken up by Jesus Christ. The Rapture is the belief that those who are “saved” by Jesus Christ will be taken up into heaven prior to the Tribulation and the rule of the Anti-Christ. (Wills, p. 365) Those left behind, namely, unbelievers comprised of all non-Christians will be subject to the horror and agony that is to be until those unbelievers accept Christ as their savor. While this may seem to be a fringe belief, it is not. As mentioned earlier, 44% of Americans believe that this, the Rapture and the subsequent return of Jesus Christ, will happen sometime in the next 50 years. (Harris, Idea City ’05) This belief has some significant geopolitical consequences.
The United States’ support for Israel is as strong as ever. However, it is not hard to determine why our country would support a state like Israel in the first place. Christian Millennialism, as described above, gave rise to the support for Israel; a movement called Christian Zionism. This effect on foreign policy is due to in part by Jewish Zionist, those who actually had a significant stake in issue and by Christian Millennialists. Christian Millennialists “believe that the final consolidation of Jewish power in the Holy Land—specifically, the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple—will usher in both the Second Coming of Christ and the final destruction of the Jews.” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 153) Though the creation of Israel falls more in the hands of the British than the U.S., it is clear that the decision was nonetheless influenced by Christian Millennialists/apocalypticists, like British preacher John Cummings author of the book The End, had great political and social influence at the time. (New, p. 33) Thus, it is, to quote Sam Harris, “transparently obvious” that the beliefs of Christian Millennialists/apocalypticists are having a significant and dangerous influence on public policy. What makes their influence dangerous is not the simple support for Israel but their motives for doing so. Therefore, it is necessary to stymie this movement whenever possible as it may add to the longevity of the human species.
Free speech is also becoming a victim of religious zealotry. Recently, Muslim nations of the United Nations have gotten a resolution passed saying “that defamation of religions is a serious affront to human dignity leading to restriction on the freedom of religion of their adherents and incitement to religious hatred and violence, Noting with concern that defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, could lead to social disharmony and violations of human rights, and alarmed at the inaction of some States to combat this burgeoning trend and the resulting discriminatory practices against adherents of certain religions and in this context stressing the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular.” (Council, p. 2) This is a direct infringement of free speech that even moderates of all stripes are having a hard time supporting or even defending. This is encouraging, but the most vocal opposition in the United States to this resolution has been the secular/atheist movement. Notable activists have spoken out against this sort of restriction of free speech both before, Sam Harris, and after, Christopher Hitchens, its passing in the United Nations. What should be obvious is that religion, specifically Islam, is behind this deplorable attempt to restrict free speech. Given the principles and documents the United States of America is founded upon, we as a nation of free people should stand up against this encroachment of our liberty, reject the resolution, and resist its adoption.
Maintenance of Civilization
“I happen to think that how we deal with belief; how we criticize or fail the criticize the beliefs of other human beings, at this moment, has more to do with the maintenance of civilization than anything else that is in our power to influence”
-Sam Harris, Idea City 2005
Though I have touched on it somewhat in the preceding sections, I would now like to make explicit and emphasize the true and disturbing consequences of religion getting their way, both domestically and geopolitically. The fact of nuclear proliferation is undisputed and well known. The technology to carry such lethal violence to all parts of the world, regardless of location, has existed for decades and is now making its way to black markets and well-organized criminal undergrounds. Specifically and more frighteningly, in those places where people believe that if they kill themselves while taking many infidels with them, they will go to paradise and enjoy an eternity of cosmic splendor. We are, in reality, facing, as Bill Maher puts it in his movie Relgulous, a “religion-inspired nuclear terrorism”. That is, of course, unless we quit lying to ourselves about the cause of this lunacy and put an end to unquestioned dogma.
With any problem however, there are generally two extreme outcomes: the worse and best case scenarios. Not trying to be a pessimist, Harris says, “How many years do we have to wait before we learn that Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran or any other society, that still has its 7th century world-view intact, now has nukes that can reach any spot on the globe, maybe at best it will be 100 years. But it will take nowhere near that long. It would be magic if it took 100 years.” (Harris, The God Who Wasn’t There) Although he’s not too specific, he’s right. We know already that Pakistan has nukes, but lacks the delivery technology. However, it doesn’t take that much of an imagination to figure out a way for people who long to die to deliver the nukes in a way that still kill untold millions without the need for such technology. This is the worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario is just as optimistic as the worst-case is pessimistic. We could have a world where all ideas, not only religious ideas, are free to be challenged, revised and updated. Where theocracies do not rule a single country and where our moral identities are not dependent on what we have learned to call god or not believe in a god. I am not advocating the complete destruction of religion here. I am merely advocating for the rational and respecting exchange of ideas so that we can live together in a world free of terrorism of any kind, be it nuclear or not. Since neither of these is likely to occur, we would obviously hope for something towards the middle of the two, but closer to the best-case scenario. With all this talk of the consequences, it seems that I am hard-pressed to offer solutions.
The solutions, alluded to and peppered throughout this work, are simple yet require long-term commitment.
- Eliminating taboos on public and private criticism of religion.
- Push for reforms in all major religions.
- Advance science and reason as the main modes of thought and discourse.
- Complete separation of church and state.
- Promote and advocate freedom of religion everywhere.
- Finally, learn to appreciate the value of lives of every human being.
Though this list is obviously not exhaustive and quite vague, I think it offers a road map to the future in which humanity survives its religious adolescence.
“The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge having in key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists. By those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken.”
-Bill Maher, Religious
Since the dawn of man, men have looked to the stars for guidance. When the stars were silent, they invented gods, thought wishfully, and believed in magic. This is completely rational given their lack of knowledge about the world around them and who are we to judge from our lofty perch on the precipice of the 21st century? But now that we have past that age, it still has not occurred to a great many of us that there is a third option apart from asking the stars or inventing gods. That option is to talk to each other. Conversation about our ideas, hopes, dreams, beliefs and aspirations. We need to begin a journey through the ages as one species and not identify ourselves merely as Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Hindus or Buddhists. Nor should we identify ourselves by the imaginary lines we draw in the sand to separate ourselves from one another. The hour is late to indulge in such things, all of which now threaten our very existence more than any celestial body or virus. I will end how I began this conclusion, with a quote from Bill Maher:
“The irony of religion is that because of its power to divert man to destructive courses, the world could actually come to an end… Plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists. By those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken…Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it’s wonderful when someone says, “I’m willing, Lord! I’ll do whatever you want me to do!” Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas… The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that’s what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong…This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you comes at a horrible price…If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was. We learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it.-Bill Maher, Religulous (Emphasis added).
The Qur’an. (2005). (A. Y. Ali, Trans.) New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an Inc.
Council, T. H. (2009, March 12). U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution Combating Defamation of Religions. United Nations.
Forrest, B. (2009). Louisiana Coalition for Science. Retrieved April 14, 2009, from http://lasciencecoalition.org/
N/A (Director). (2005). Idea City ’05 [Motion Picture]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3YOIImOoYM.
Harris, S. (2006, 2008). Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Random House.
Harris, S. (2005). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Harris, S. (2005). The God Who Wasn’t There. (B. Flemming, Interviewer)
International Bible Society. (2008, April 27). Bible Gateway. Retrieved April 27, 2008, from Bible Gateway: http://www.biblegateway.com/
New, D. S. (2002). Holy War: The Rise of Militant Christian, Jewish and Islamic Fundamentalism. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
Wills, G. (2007). Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America. New York: Penquin Group Inc.
 The full text of this act can be accessed at http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=503483
 In Sam Harris’ book, Letter to a Christian Nation his intended audience is Christians of a particular ilk. Thus, the word Christian was used to replace the phrase “your religious” since the quote would not make sense in the second person.
 Not all percentages sum to 100.
 Ironically, this comes only 20 verses after the famous John 3:16, touted by Christians as evidence of God’s/Jesus’ love for us.
Abortion is one of the most controversial issues of our time. Like most controversies, there exist two main sides that seem diametrically opposed to each other. However, I believe that in this conflict there is a way for both sides to work together towards a common goal that will benefit both human life and society for the long term. Before continuing it is important to clarify where each side stands. Those on the “pro-life” side assert that abortion is morally wrong. This is usually, but not always, based on the assertion that God (usually the Christian god) has a purpose for all human beings and that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception. If one holds these assertions as truth it isn’t difficult to feel some sympathy to for their position. For those who stand on the side of being “pro-choice”, abortion is seen as primarily a medical procedure. Further, most “pro-choicers” would say that it should be a last resort only after all other options and factors such as personal socioeconomic situation and health have been carefully considered. This is because abortion, by its very nature, is intrusive, can lead to irreparable damage to the reproductive abilities of the woman and can have severe emotional side-effects (similar to those of women who have miscarried, ie. natural abortion). Therefore, they see abortion as a choice but one that should be used sparingly.
One side feels it is absolutely wrong while the other sees it as treatment and thus not completely wrong. Most of the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” individuals I have known through the years would generally agree with this summary of their general views on the subject. However, there are extremists on both sides. Carl Sagan[i] said of them, “doubtful arguments are trotted out as certitudes”. Thus, it would appear that there is little possibility of reconciliation between the sides. One side feels it is absolutely wrong while the other sees it as treatment and thus not completely wrong. How then could they be convinced to work together? To what common goal could they possibly work towards? To begin, I point out that both sides can agree that abortion is at minimum, undesirable. With this minor agreement as a foundation let us consider other procedures past and present that have either been eradicated from medical practice or are presently being phased out due to current medical therapies/treatments/advances.
For simplicity, let us consider another undesirable medical practice that is less controversial, at least ethically; amputation. Surgical amputations “date back at least to the time of Hippocrates (c.460-375 B.C.), amputating limbs to save lives did not become widespread until the sixteenth century.”(Source) Obviously, amputations “were performed mainly to remove tissue that was already dead. The reason for this limitation is that early surgical techniques could not control the blood loss.” (Source) Advances were made in surgical practices to prevent this hemorrhaging such as tying off the arteries. (Source) Amputation is an extreme medical practice which, over time given medical advances, decreases in use relative to the population. In a 1998 article in the journal “Diabetes Care”, Andrew D. Morris, MD et.al. found that “rates in the U.S. Amputation rates appear to have decreased significantly since 1980–1982.”(Source) The reason given for the decrease was education about diabetes and advances in care. Another study found that “[t]he frequency of major amputations in the country in 1986-87 of 40.9 per 100,000 per year declined by 25% to 30.9 per 100,000 per year in 1989-90.”(Source), stating further that “vascular surgery reduces the number of major lower limb amputations.”(Source) Given these and many other examples, it is clear that medical advances both in practice and education are responsible for a great deal of the reduction in the use of such an invasive, life-altering, and extreme medical procedure.
How does this relate to abortion? Not only is abortion undesirable, it is also invasive, life-altering and extreme. Thus, just as with the case of amputation; where instead of targeting the practice itself the causes were targeted, we should strive to eliminate the causes of abortions as much as possible. Abortion is obviously necessary in certain cases such as fallopian-tube babies, that if left to go to term, would kill the mother. Furthermore, just as education about diabetes helped in the reduction of amputations, so too can better sex education and the elimination of “abstinence-only” education reduce the need for abortions among ignorant or accident-prone young people. The following quote from Carl Sagani drives this point home: “Shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions.” Though it is true that you can’t prevent or solve all amputations, so too will we not be able to end all abortions. That is where technology and research is vital. However, we can, if we work together instead of fighting about who believes what, we can end most abortions by using sound judgment and trusted preventative practices to treat the causes rather than the treatment.
At this point I anticipate some resistance from those extreme pro-lifers who view contraception as evil and won’t have anything to do with it citing that it is God’s will that we end abortion. This argument seems fraught with logical problems. 1) If God chooses when we are born and when we die, then why couldn’t abortion be a tool of God? 2) If it’s God’s will that abortions end then shouldn’t he be offering a solution to us without us asking? 3) If it’s God’s will that we end abortion, could it be that his will includes research as described above and through His divine grace provide us an answer via data collected in such studies? In any case, it would seem to be in the best interest of even the most hardcore pro-lifer to work together with pro-choicers and to utilize sound and moral science to reduce the number of abortions. Instead of killing abortion doctors why not try putting them out of business in a more constructive and less violent way, and donate to an organization or research project that is attacking one of the many causes of abortions. That will accomplish far more than squabbling amongst each other about who’s right and who’s wrong. The truth is, neither group is right by themselves, they are only right together.
In summary, my hope is that I’ve made it clear to pro-choicers that pro-lifers are not all a bunch of scripture-spouting nut-bars that are out to turn the country into a theocracy. Also, pro-lifers are truly concerned about human life, just as much as any pro-choicer. The problem lies in the question of when “human” life begins. This question is not as clear-cut as both sides would like it to be, therefore the concerns of the pro-lifers about ending human life is a painful decision that is not completely baseless from a scientific point of view. Also, I’ve hope I’ve made it clear to pro-lifers that not all pro-choicers are malicious baby killers that care only for the reproductive rights of women and care nothing of potential human beings. There isn’t a single person that is truly for abortion, but one way to rid ourselves of it as much as possible is embracing science and giving medical research a chance to find the cure for the causes of abortion in an effort to greatly reduce the practice.
 ANDREW D. MORRIS, MD; RITCHIE MCALPINE, BSC; DOUGLAS STEINKE, BSC; DOUGLAS I.R. BOYLE, BSC; ABDUL-RAHIM EBRAHIM; NAVEEN VASUDEV; COLIN P.U. STEWART, MD; ROLAND T. JUNG, MD; GRAHAM P. LEESE, MD; THOMAS M. MACDONALD, MD ; RAY W. NEWTON, FRCP.
[i] In an article that first appeared in Parade magazine on April 22, 1990 entitled “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”, quoted here from his book Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death the Brink of the Millennium (1997). The article appears as Chapter 15 entitled “Abortion: Is it Possible to be both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice?”