Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hey everyone!

I had a really cool discussion the other day with a young man from Utah. I really did not know him, but I was able to surmise that he was religious (Mormon or Christian is my best guess.) He had taken umbrage with a post on FB which suggested that atheists are freethinkers and somehow more intelligent that those of faith. This made me really think about the relationship between intelligence and faith. Here are my thoughts about it.

There actually have been some scientific studies looking at this idea. Here are the links to the abstracts:

Basically, both studies do indicate that there is a correlation between intelligence and religion. However, these studies are flawed in several ways. They do not fully account for the cultural bias in IQ testing. They also do not fully account for societal pressures with become religious or non-religious. So, while they can demonstrate at least a correlation, it would be dangerous to suggest that there is a causal link.

However, while the science is yet inconclusive, I do have some ideas about it. Let me first say that I know many, many intelligent Christians. I have also met many very ignorant atheists. So, these thoughts speak in general terms and I will prepare for the hate mail . . .

I do believe that atheists are, in general, a more INFORMED group of people than Christians. This is not necessarily a reflection of IQ -- just a reflection of the body of knowledge that each has. Why is this? Why does it seem that atheists are more informed? It is because we are truly freethinkers.

What does freethinking mean? It means that we have freed ourselves from a worldview that is based upon the a priori assumption that God exists, has a plan for us, and wishes us to view the world from the lenses from the Bible (or other sacred texts.) We are able to explore the world and make decisions based upon facts -- not myths.

As freethinkers we have the following intellectual advantages:

1. We are allowed to read anything that pleases us without some sky-god possibly condemning us. Most freethinkers that I know are very well read. Those of faith, on the other hand, tend to read things which confirm their own beliefs -- as opposed to challenge them.

2. We are allowed to change our minds. HOW COOL IS THIS! If a better idea comes out, if research shows something different, if we learn something new -- we can change our minds about something. People who think via God, cannot do such a thing. No matter what. They start with their beliefs -- and then have to make the facts fit them. Just take a look at the creation museum to see the effects of this mental contortionism.

3. We let the facts of life do the talking. Facts and real information guide our thoughts. Most of the freethinkers I know are very well versed in the world of information. Why? Because we crave it. We want to learn about our world and how it works. We are curious people and we don't fill our curiosities with religion. We love science, sociology, literature and all things which give us knowledge and real beauty.

I don't know if religion is tied to intelligence. But I do know that freethinking is tied to being better informed about our world. I'll take freethinking every time.

Talk to you later!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Recently, I had a troubling conversation with a long time friend. This friend is very religious and we have had many interesting debates and discussion regarding God, faith, etc. However, when this friend visited my Facebook page, she wrote to me to tell me how offended she was by the posts. I believe that she was genuinely offended -- and for that I was honestly sorry. However, I could not back off of my positions. Ultimately, this whole incident threatened to end our friendship. I finally had to write this response to her:

Hmmmm . . . I think I touched a nerve . . .

I debated long and hard about how to answer your last note. I don't believe there is any right answer or any answer that would satisfy you. So, I am at a bit of a loss here. I thought about dealing with your note point by point -- but I realized that this may only exacerbate the whole situation. Soooo, here goes.

I fully understand where you are coming from. I get it. Don't believe for a moment that I am not aware that some of the content on my FB page is offensive. In fact, I selected some of it just for that purpose. Again, I don't agree with everything I post or suggest -- but I do believe that sometime hitting on nerves can be a positive thing. You ask why I should offend people. While I may have the right to do so, why should I? Why would I want to intentionally hurt so many people by mocking their most cherished beliefs?

I guess this is my best answer:I have some questions to ask you. (I know, I know -- answering a question with a question is poor form. But my answer will follow.)

1. The Catholic Church recently excommunicated a Brazilian woman and her doctor for allowing her 9 year old daughter to abort the twins she was pregnant with. However, the Church declined to excommunicate the girl's father who impregnated her. I understand the Church's stance on abortion. Why, however, should I respect an institution which time and time again has given a pass to child rapists?

2. Recently, a Hindu family married their young son to a dog to help their village ward off "evil spirits." Is this something that I should find acceptable? Is this something that is in any way rational?

3. Each year, thousands of women are brutally beaten, raped, and murdered in Islamic countries for offenses as simple as having bread delivered to their homes by men who are not male relatives or attending school, or driving. Am I to stand by and not be outraged by this nonsensical behavior?

4. The Pope recently decreed that condom use in Africa would further the spread of AIDS. Africa faces a catastrophic epidemic of AIDS. Conservative estimates suggest that over 100 million people will die from the disease in the next decade. Why is it that I should stand by and accept 100 million deaths? Why should I support an institution which has time and again blocked the only thing that will effectively stem the tide of this disease?

5. Each year, thousands of young women in Islamic countries have their clitoris ripped from their bodies and their vaginal opening brutally sewn shut (except for a small opening to allow fluids to pass). It is the husband's right to tear open this "gift" from his wife on their wedding night. Am I to accept this level of brutality against women? Should I just shut up and allow this sort of de-humanizing behavior?

6. Benny Hinn is currently under investigation by the IRS for fraud. He drives a fleet of Bentleys (at $450,000 apiece), wears $2000 custom suits, and lives in a palatial mansion all while many of his congregants are poor, under-educated, and easily duped into giving his "ministry" money. May I not mock this? May I not speak out against such things? At what point did Christ command his followers to fleece the poor and live large off of that money?

The list can go on and on and on . . .

Exactly how many people must die before I speak out? How many more must suffer before I am allowed to "offend" those who share these repulsive beliefs? What exactly is the threshold of death and destruction which will allow me to speak my mind and possibly offend those of faith? 150 million? 200 million? 1 billion? Must I just shut up and live and let live? I cannot. I will not.

You asked how I would respond if someone were to attack my family as I have attacked religion. This is exactly how I respond. My family is attacked by these things. All of humanity is attacked and disparaged by these things. I cannot stand by and allow my girls to grow up in a world where most religions consider them a second class citizen. You may (and likely will) argue that this is not representative of all peoples of faith. I may be likely to agree. However, when the "moderates" refuse to aggressively speak out against these injustices, they tacitly approve of them. When people try to defend these actions -- they only demonstrate that they would rather side with injustice and evil than side with improving the human condition.

You posed Pascal's wager in your past note. What if I am wrong? Let us assume that I am. Let us assume that I will face God and have to answer for myself. If God is merciful, if God is a God of justice, if God truly loves his human creation (as is posited by the Church), I am not afraid to answer to Him -- because I will have fought for mercy, justice, and an improvement of the human condition against those who would rather brutalize their fellow humans in the name of God. My guess is that I'll be okay.

I am truly sorry that you were deeply offended by my FB page. I hesitated to let you in because I was afraid that this would happen. But it has. The person on FB is no different that the one you have always known. I have always stood on the side of goodness and justice. However, I cannot stand on the side of religion when it does not promote these things. You have always known that about me. Finally, I will not "unfriend" you. If you choose to terminate our friendship because of this, I will understand. However, I have no intention of doing so. While we disagree -- I am always willing to hear your point of view and give it a fair hearing. Again, I am sorry that this has hurt you so much.

I hope you and the family are doing well -- and I hope to continue this discussion.


We'll see what happens from this. However, I cannot stand by and let religion destroy the world. I am willing to turn my back on old friends if they choose to side with those who would rather see most of the world burning in hell than help us all live a better life. It's a no-brainer for me.

Talk to you all later!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Dangers of Prayer

Hey friends, neighbors, and anyone else so daring to read my drivel! Recently a friend let me know that my name has popped up in several prayer chains. Apparently, some of my old acquaintances have been interested it trying to get me back to Jesus by using a prayer chain. Hmmmm . . . silly people. I have some thoughts on prayer chains, but even more on prayer in general. First and foremost, prayer chains, or prayer committees, or other prayer type groups are little more than gossip groups under the guise of prayer. As a veteran of one, I know how these things work. People pass on "prayer" requests to the chain. Then all of the people are supposed to add these requests in their own prayers. (As if God did not actually hear it the first time ... seems a tad redundant to me.) However, it was always the case the the more juicy or salacious the prayer request was (i.e. pray for Norma's daughter, Alice, who at the age of 14 became pregnant) the faster it moved through the chain. Basically, this allowed the gossip to be spread around the church without people feeling like they were engaging in gossip.

I could go on and on about the efficacy rates of prayer (no better than without prayer) but that is a topic that has been discussed many times. Rather, I want to discuss why prayer actually creates harm in society. Yes, prayer actually creates HARM in society. What prayer does is actually convince people that they are doing something about a situation when they actually are not doing anything at all. For example, I recently saw a church bulletin which requested that people in the church pray for fellow church-goers who were facing foreclosure. You know, see if you can get God to open up his heavenly piggy bank. Really! So, people prayed and prayed, but fellow church-goers almost certainly lost their homes anyway. (Maybe God does not care.) What would have actually done some good is if the church asked for donations which they could then distribute to those who needed help with their mortgages. The difference here is that prayer takes no effort, no money, and no other real resources other than a tiny bit of time. Actually doing something to help others can take many different resources. When people are tricked into thinking that prayer works, they are also duped out of doing any tangible thing for the person. After all, if it is God's will, it will be taken care of. So, if those fellow church goers lose their homes, then it must have been God's will because we all prayed for them not to lose their homes.

Atheists and other freethinkers, who are not wasting their time praying, tend to actually do something about issues. When you look at many different types of social justice causes, philanthropy, and other places where action is required, you will also find many, many atheists who are actively participating. We're not waiting for God to take care of it -- we're going to pool our resources and get things done. Of course, there are many religious groups who participate in community events. That is great and it does make a difference. But rest assured, their motivations are very different. Their first priority is to curry favor with God. If people are helped along the way, so be it. Atheists, however, actually have the priority of helping others through their charitable actions. It is a big difference. We're not kowtowing to some jealous sky God; instead, we look to find ways to better our community through actual, positive actions.

Praying that God will help others is not only a colossal waste of time, it is detrimental to society. Those who tend to pray for God to intervene are far less likely to actually intervene on their own. Thus, society is harmed by prayer. I encourage all of you to get off your knees and get busy actually helping cure social or other ills. I know as a fact that God will do absolutely nothing to help us. We're on our own on this Earth and we have to help each other out.

Catch you all later!