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I am a member of the most feared, hated and despised religious minority in the United States.  I am an atheist.  For years I never talked about it...because I've always been an atheist; I never thought there was anything particularly noteworthy about it.

But a few days ago I got into a conversation with an old friend who was in favor of tax-funded prayer in the public schools, and I "came out" as an atheist to him.  The subsequent back-and-forth was long and deeply unsatisfying, and reminded me anew of the amazing array of our society's misconceptions and fears about what atheists believe, about who we are, about what we're like.


I grew up in a family of atheists, and most of the people I've been close to over the course of my life have been atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and Hindus.  I wanted to contribute this diary to the Atheist Digest series, because one of the questions that is always asked about atheism is, more or less, "What shall we tell the children?  How do we teach them ethics and morality without God?"  

I was one of those children.

Follow me below the flip for more than you ever wanted to know about growing up in a family of atheists.  Fair warning: this is a long diary.

In which I discuss being a child in a family of atheists.

I have never prayed.

I didn't pray when I was growing up.  I went to church when we visited my mother’s parents, typically once or twice a year.  I never spoke the prayers out loud, and never sang the hymns.  In school, I left out the phrase "under god" from the Pledge of Allegiance, and in Boy Scouts I omitted "God" from the "God and my Country" phrase from the Scout oath (I confess I didn’t last long in the Scouts anyway, although it was a longer tenure than that of my brother, who got tossed out for giving the scout salute with the outer two fingers omitted).

My mother’s parents gave my brother and me Bibles one Christmas.  I was then (and have always remained) a voracious reader, so I read the Bible, cover to cover.  Most of it was incomprehensible, but I trudged on, because that was what you did with books: read them from cover to cover.  Later on, in my teens, I found some lovely poetry in Ecclesiastes, and there's a blue denim jacket in my closet with a verse from that chapter incorporated into a lot of hippie embroidery on the back.

The quote reads, "Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind."  One of these days I'll start teaching my daughter to embroider.

But from the point that I understood myself to be anything in the frothing confusion of religious identity, I understood myself to be an atheist.  My parents were atheists, and when I asked them questions about important things, their answers made sense.  I never felt a need to rebel against a deity or a religious tradition, because there was nothing for me to rebel against.  I didn’t rebel against atheism, either, because my parents never forced it on me.  They just worked and played and did the best they could bringing up two boys in a suburb of Boston while the cultural storms of the 1960s swirled around us.

The house was full of books, and full of discussion.  Most of my school friends found our family dinners to be unnerving; conversation was incessant and filled with philological digressions.  Often I was the designated looker-upper; when a point of argument hinged on the correct meaning of a word, I would have to get up and go to the nearest dictionary and provide the main and supplementary definitions along with etymology and any interesting tidbits of usage — following which, dinner would continue.  My parent’s friends were scientists; we did not to my recollection know any people who were overtly religious.

I encountered religion peripherally.  The Pledge of Allegiance is one such instance.  The lyrics to songs like "America the Beautiful" are another.  At some point I must have asked my parents what this stuff was that I kept hearing, about "God."  My mother recalls:

We were sitting in the living room, and having a discussion about religion...and [I told you about] how, long ago, when people didn’t have as much scientific knowledge as we did, and they needed answers to big questions, they made up gods.  Gods were their answers, and it was unscientific because...they didn’t have science, and these were their answers.   And you took that very seriously.

My father had this to say when I asked him recently for his view of religion:

...religion in my view is a particular varity of self-deception, and I think it stems from a primitive by-product of the central nervous system which makes people want to know why.   Given primitive ignorance of anything other than "if you hit a dog with a club you can knock him over, if you drop a stone, it falls..."  from the point of view of what the nature of the world is, all these phenomena have to have causes..."why does the stone fall, why does the sun shine?"

...If you don’t know, the need for rationale requires that you invent a cause, and my feeling has always been...that the modern religions are really the manifestation and crystallization of cumulated irrelevant explanations, coupled with deep brutality toward people who have different explanations.  In other words, people fell in love with their own unfounded explanatory statements, and therefore had to fall out of love with anyone who suggested something different...and I think it’s still going on.  With that, we have religious wars in which people do everything that violates all the tenets of their religion.  The Catholics at one time had the inquisition, and the extension of Islam by the sword is reasonably well documented...but all of these were to defend the causal charade, because it was more troubling for people to be told that their explanation is wrong than to be put in the position where they had to cut the heads off of other people.

Both my parents were psychologists, in consequence of which my brother and I yearly accompanied my parents to whatever city was hosting the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.  While most of the talks and presentations were over our heads, I remember vividly a film on some aspect of the commune movement (this was during the sixties, remember!) that ended with a few seconds of the commune’s members, arms linked, singing a long-drawn-out OM.  The sound mesmerized me; it lodged itself in my imagination where it remains to this day.  Indeed, when I have optimistic thoughts about what will happen to me when I die, I find myself hoping that I can simply rejoin the Great Hum of the Universe.

In which I decide that I am a pacifist.

My mother’s brother was also an atheist.  Once I asked why, if he was an atheist, he had a small Buddha on the dashboard of his car.  My mother said it was because when he lived in India, he was aggravated and angered by the superstitions he encountered, and the statue was to remind him of this.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s what I remember.  

I don’t know how I encountered the notion of pacifism, but by the fifth grade I had decided that I was a pacifist and would not fight.  I jokingly announced that I was a Buddhist, but this was a joke; I knew nothing of Buddhism beyond the fact that Buddha was a pacifist.  

What I do remember about becoming a pacifist, however, was that it seemed to make people angry.  Kids would beat me up... for the reason that I would not fight them.  And the teachers who were in charge of recess would say things like, "well, Warren, you should stand up for yourself." Even at that age, I recognized this as a senseless response; I was standing up for myself — those playground bullies weren’t going to make me fight (bigbangit!).  

Now, to be fair, I suppose a real pacifist would have acted to defuse the violence of the bullies; my grade-school agenda was more in the nature of deliberately provoking a violent reaction so that I could assert moral ascendancy over my peers.  I may have been nonviolent, but I was also obnoxious.  


I remember in seventh or eighth grade reading a line in one of Nat Hentoff’s young adult novels, in which a character quotes Cesar Chavez saying, "I am not a nonviolent man.  I am a violent man who is trying to be nonviolent."  That impressed me deeply; I have many strong emotions that demand physical outlet, but the notion of violence against another human shocked me then and it shocks me still.  Since fifth grade I have raised my hand to another person a total of twice; the memory of both occasions brings me sorrow and shame to this day.  

In high school kids found out that I was a pacifist.  I remember one big guy coming up to me and asking, "Hey, is it true that if I hit you, you won’t hit me back?"  I replied, "Yes."  Whereupon he hit me.  Hard.  High school was a dreadful experience (it was for most of us, of course...but for a long-haired self-professed pacifist two years younger than anyone else in the class, high school was really and truly teh suck).

My mother discussed my pacifism with me, approvingly.  This was in the mid-sixties, and I was too young for the draft, but she told me about "conscientious objector" status.  I thought this was wonderful, for if ever there was a conscientious objector, it was I.  But she told me that in the event that I ever became eligible for the draft I would probably have to be part of a church or religious organization, because their imprimatur was almost always essential for CO status to be granted.  I did not know what to do; fortunately the war ended before I had to face this question.

In which I find a personal hero.

When I was in 8th grade my parents gave me Irving Stone's wonderful book, "Clarence Darrow for the Defense."  I read it over and over, absorbing the details of Darrow's life and legal career.  One day my mother brought me home a slender paperback book: Lawrence and Lee's great play, "Inherit The Wind."  I knew the story of the Scopes trial from Stone's book, and the play enthralled me completely.  One moment in particular struck me with great force: just after Henry Drummond (Darrow) calls Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan) to the stand, and Brady states his willingness " sit here and endure Mr. Drummond's sneering and his disrespect."  In those days we didn't have VCRs, much less DVDs, so it was another couple of years before I watched the film (when I was in high school) — but here's the scene for your viewing pleasure.  Brady asks "Is it possible that something is holy to the celebrated agnostic?"  Drummond's response never fails to touch something very deep in me.

In which I learn the power of group singing, and accidentally discover a spiritual practice.

I went to a wonderful summer camp for five years between 1967 and 1971; there was constant music at Killooleet, and it was there that I first experienced the power of group singing.  I wasn’t a particularly good singer at the time, but the songs went deep inside me.  For all that it’s become a synonym for mushy liberalism, I can tell you that sitting around the dying embers of a campfire and singing "Kumbaya" with a hundred other kids and grownups was a genuine communion, the effects of which still ring in me, forty years down the road.  Killooleet was run by John Seeger, who's now 95, and still active and vigorous (his younger brother Pete's doing pretty well, too).

Once when I was at camp, all the kids in my cabin were on an overnight hike.  We made our campsite by the side of a lake.  During post-supper free time, I went and sat on the bank and looked out over the water.  There was a buoy with a blinking light in the middle of the lake, and as I sat cross-legged I began to focus my attention on the light.  I discovered that the combination of immobility and sustained attention to a repeated stimulus brought me to an unusual sort of mental stillness, which I liked.  After a while, I went and got one of my friends, and said, "Jim...if you sit quietly and just watch the light, it makes your mind feel very different." We sat there and watched the light together for fifteen or twenty minutes before it was time to go to bed.  I had apparently discovered meditation.

In which I ask my parents about the origins of their atheism.

Before I go much further, let’s have a little bit of back-story. In preparation for this diary, I spoke with both my parents and asked them about their childhood experiences.  Over the past fortnight, I've been enjoying transcribing the recordings, and I've learned quite a bit about my mom and dad, and about their lives.  

My mother...

...was raised by two very religious parents who had different religions: a Catholic father and an Episcopal mother.  I was raised Episcopalian, and at one time I thought I wanted to become a nun.  I was very much interested in religion, and touched by it.  Touched by the goodness of Jesus, and the fact that Jesus loved children and wouldn’t let anybody be brutal or rough with them.

...and then as I got to know, as I learned science...actually my real doubts started in junior high, when I wanted to be a physician, and that meant "be good at science."   I was active in church and believing in it, but it seemed to me — I thought a lot about what you might call existential questions, and one of them was determinism...and I didn’t see how you could be a determinist, which I became...and still pray.  These two views of existence didn’t fit, and the further I went, the less I could accept.  I didn’t understand the church doctrine....I learned words, tried to understand them, and got misapprehensions.  

I was badgered about religion at home, particularly by my mother, a little bit by my father...

One summer I read H. G. Wells’ "Outline of History,"  and there was a chapter in that on world religions.   As I read it I was very much impressed with Buddhism.  I thought, "This is really good,"  and then I thought, "Why am I a Christian?  Because my parents are Christians.  But in the world, most people aren’t Christian; it’s just a...just a chance, a low-probability event that I happened to come into the world as the child of two Christians."   I kept that thought to myself, but I did comment that I had found what I’d read on Buddhism to be very interesting, and my mother was so shocked and horrified that I never mentioned it — I scarcely dared think of it again.  

So I kept trying to understand, the end of college, I wrote my parents a letter and said, "Now you’ve had a chance to bring me up and you brought me up Christian, and I would like to reject Christianity, and this will disturb you and sadden you, and I’m awfully sorry.  It’s not a choice, it’s just the way I understand things, and I hope you’ll let up on me, and not badger me all the time, because it isn’t going to do any good."

...before that...while I was in college, I went to the rector of the church I’d been raised in, and I said, ‘I want to disaffiliate with the church.  I want to officially drop out.  How do I do it?"  and he said, "There is no way.  You cannot do it." And I said,  "Oh.  Fine.  Then it doesn’t mean anything that I’m said to be part of the church.  If there’s no way to get out of it, then it’s meaningless."

In the mid-1970s my mother had a form of religious conversion; since then she has continued to be both a spiritual seeker and a committed political activist with particular focus on reproductive rights and US policy in Central America.  (I diaried about one aspect of her life here).  She is a member of the First Congregational Church (UCC) of Amherst, MA.  We mostly don’t talk about religion (mostly because I don’t usually feel like it), but she knows that I’m a happy atheist (since that’s how she raised me).  Most of the time she's fine with it; once she voiced regret that my brother and I had not been raised with access to the comforting rituals and community engagement of a church.  I said that while those things had been important for her childhood, they held no allure for us...and that a religion-free childhood was one of the greatest gifts she and my father gave us.  

My father’s parents were Russian Jews who came to America in the hope of a better future.  My father, the youngest of five children and the only boy, recalls that his father, who arrived in the US in 1903...

...was a very logical man.  For him, there was always mechanism, and the task of the person is to discover mechanism.  So when I was very very young, he subscribed to Popular Science magazine, and if I said "how does it work?" he’d say "Well, go read about it."  and popular science did not say "Jove made it happen this way."  they would say "The water weighs more on the wet side of the watermill than on the dry side, so the wet side falls," and one learned that for each observed phenomenon there was an underlying mechanistic cause, and if you didn’t know it, you didn’t dream up something unless you could test it.  The idea was, "See if it flies!"

When he came [to this country]...he felt "foreign," so he thought, "Well, you have to figure out what makes an American American," so he actually went over to the local school and hour or two in first grade, maybe a day in third grade, and he eventually spent time over the course of the school year in each of the eight grades of the primary school.

I think that being Jewish in Russia was not a nice thing.  And [in America] religion did not play a formal role.  In other words you were not identified as being a this or a that unless you chose to be, and that gave him the opportunity of not identifying himself as anything.  That’s to the best of my understanding how it came about that I was raised in a non-theologically oriented or educated household.

At that end of Cambridge, virtually everybody was Catholic.  ...So most of my friends were Catholic, there were one or two Italians, mostly Irish Catholic...We didn’t particularly discuss it at home; there was no mention of religion at all.  In a sense, that was highly advantageous, because I grew up not rejecting god, but just never having committed the fallacy of believing it...

When I was about five or of [our neighbors] said to Mother, "Elizabeth, don’t you think it’s time that John began attending Sunday School?" and Mother replied, "If I were going to send him to a religious school, it would be a shul."   To which there was no reply.  I don’t even know whether Miss Perkins understood what Mother was saying, because they were... innocent of Judaism and they obviously did not consider [our] family to be Jews.  But that was all that was spoken on both sides, and everything continued as it was.  

So it was clearly deliberate on my parents’ side...they didn’t want the children to mess with any religion.  So it was simultaneously an abandonment, with respect to the outside world, of Judaism, and the desire not to be painted with any color.

The Roman Catholics routinely thought of all Jews as "Christ-killers" — so if there was a battle, there obviously was a vague perception that I was Jewish.  Nobody ever asked, and I would...I denied it, because I was not anything religious.  

...the issue never came up with [my] older sisters, because they, very carefully, made sure that it didn’t come up.  And as a result, they essentially painted the picture in which I was born.

Consider the period, the epoch in which the other girls grew up.  This was an epoch in which anti-semitism was rampant...So there was a good reason to conceal.  So from that point of view it is fully understandable to me why they suppressed any connection whatsoever to being a Jew, to Judaism, to anything... So I was raised in a state of neutrality in which no religion was mentioned.

In which I briefly discuss our family's tangential relationship with Organized Religion

There were occasional points when we bumped up against the demands of religious convention.  When my brother and I were very small, my mother’s parents wanted us to be baptized.  My father considered it irrational and superstitious.  But as my mother recalls:

I couldn’t see any harm in it.  And [your father] was so upset about it that I said, "Gee, you must think it affects the baby, if you feel so passionately about it.  I think it does nothing to the baby, but it does a great deal to my parents, and I don’t want to hurt my parents so terribly when it doesn’t affect the baby." ...and he could see the logic of that, so he stepped aside, and you were baptized.

We celebrated Christmas, with a decorated tree, stockings hung by the chimney with care, and family visits.  But the only time anyone ever said grace at our table was when my mother’s parents came to visit at Christmas or Thanksgiving.  There was a regular carol-singing event outside a church in Sudbury, where my aunt and uncle lived, and we participated.  I suspect that I sang more lustily on the songs where "Christ, our Savior" was not mentioned.  I did not want to sing something I didn’t believe in; while I was too young to articulate what I felt, it clearly made me uncomfortable.

But our atheism was not something we discussed outside the house to any extent.  It was simply that we never asked anyone about their religion, and nobody, to my recollection, ever asked us about ours.

In which I discuss the modeling of ethical behavior in my family, and how it has guided my ethics.

I asked my father for his thoughts on ethics:

My own philosophy about that was that ethics is admirable for its own self, because...ethics and morality are the lubricants that make a friendly society possible.  So there’s no need to bring in religion.  Religion teaches it as one teaches arithmetic: you learn the multiplication table, but that doesn’t mean you actually understand what’s going on, so that you really are being taught that it is because "God said this," "Christ said this," "somebody else said that" no reason at all.  One of the most telling things (which demonstrated, I think, that we had done something right) was a time...when we were coming back from the doctor’s, and you threw a candy wrapper out the window.

This incident has now become a deeply embedded piece of family lore.  As my father recalls, I tossed a piece of paper out of the car window as we drove along.  My parents stopped the car, and got out to retrieve the litter.  Endeavoring to explain why I’d done something wrong, my parents asked, "What would the world look like if everyone threw paper out the window?"  To which I replied, "Snow!"

In conversation with my dad, I pointed out that I might have been gleefully anticipatory rather than remorseful, and he agreed:

It doesn’t necessarily suggest that you were about to save the world from a snowstorm of trash, but to me it marked the difference between being a child and being a member of society.  In my view, that’s how morality and ethics should be taught: "What would happen if everybody did this?"  And then you don’t need to learn it as a catechism; you conclude that this kind of behavior is good for society and this kind of behavior is not.

I asked my mother about the same incident.  She replied:

We didn’t talk with each other about teaching ethics, but I assumed that of course, that would just be part of growing up...not that "Now we’ll sit down for an ethics lesson!" But that would be exactly like that incident that you had mentioned.  And I would say "Well taught."  You [and your brother] are both very ethical people, I think.

My mother and I used to hike a lot together.  She greatly enjoyed the outdoors, and we frequently spent weekends in New Hampshire or Vermont, enjoying the forests and mountains.  One of her regular directives was that I should "take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints." Further, it was understood that we would make a point of picking up any litter that had been dropped by others; we would sometimes take a plastic bag for this purpose.  She would note that people who degraded the commons were at best thoughtless and at worst boorish and ignorant.  

That was an example of their approach to ethics; what I later came to understand as the "categorical imperative."  They never mentioned Kant, but the broad application of this principle informed everything they taught me and my brother about correct and ethical behavior: if everyone acted this way, what would the world be like?  And if nobody acted this way, what would the world be like?

Thus: pick up your trash, because if everybody picked up their trash, there wouldn’t be any litter making the landscape ugly.  Don’t steal , because if everybody stole, stores would have to close and nobody would trust one another.  Don’t lie, because if everyone told the truth, people would be much harder to mislead and manipulate.  Think before you speak, because if everybody did that, people would speak more carefully and thoughtfully.

These principles informed the way they told us about, for example, the civil rights movement, and about the women's rights movement.  The sixties.  Whew.  There was certainly no shortage of "teachable moments" during those beautiful and terrible days.

Now, I make no claims to perfect application of these principles.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m sometimes thoughtless, unkind in my speech.  When I was a teenager I shoplifted a few times.  I have told lies; I’ve gossiped; I’ve failed to respect those who deserved respect, and occasionally groveled before those who deserved none.  I have compromised for the sake of comfort, and I have been rigid and inflexible when there was no need for it.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.  My point is not that being an atheist makes you a "sinless" person, except in the sense that my family’s particular brand of atheism never used the word "sin."  

No, my point is that, thirty-five years after I spoke hurtfully to someone at a youth group meeting, I remember the incident vividly and with deep regret.  I don’t need a theistic worldview to make me feel guilty; I feel guilty because I did a shitty thing to someone, and I’ll carry that knowledge with me till I die.  The only person who can forgive me is the person I mistreated, and that’s the way it is.

I remember stealing a paperback book, back in the early 70s.  I surely wish I could undo that; the knowledge of a misdeed lingers in the mind.  I do not think of myself as damned; nor am I in need of a soteriological solution to my guilt.  I made a mistake, way back then, and I learned from it and continue to learn from it.   How do I know I’m learning from it?  Because I continue to remember it with regret; because I still feel guilty.

And I’ll say it again: I don’t feel guilty because I sinned, and God is disappointed.  I feel guilty because I did something which made the world an infinitesimally crappier place to live.

One thing I never felt guilty about was masturbation.  

When my brother and I were getting into the puberty years, my mother dealt with a lot of the questions of sex in a very matter-of-fact and non-guilt-inducing way.  She was (and is) an excellent artist, and at one time had considered a career in medical illustration.

She took out her colored pencils and drew accurate, anatomically correct, inside and outside views of the human reproductive anatomy.  Then we got a detailed explanation of how all the parts worked.  We always considered her drawing ability sort of miraculous to begin with, and to have her providing us with the straight dope on all the stuff our peers had been speculating about...well, that was just amazing!  We became, briefly, the go-to guys for the facts of life.  

That was, of course, just part of the discussion.  As we grew to an age where it was increasingly likely that we would be sexually active, my parents reminded us that we had a responsibility to use contraception, and to treat our partners with respect.  

It was embarrassing, of course, since I hadn’t had any partners yet...and of course, later on those admonitions didn’t stop me from being a hormone-crazed teenager...but y’know, looking back on it at age fifty-one, I think I did okay.  I never got any social diseases and I never caused any pregnancies.  The relationships I had were pretty equitable, and while there are some I regret, there are also many I remember with warmth and affection.  And, of course, I knew that the only damage I could do when I was by myself was, um, chafing.  God, Jesus, Ceiling Cat, FSM?  Nobody was watching; nobody cared what I did with my sticky-outy-bits.

In which an alienated teenager becomes affiliated with (gasp!) a church group and meets many, many, many more atheists there.

In 1974, I wound up going to a summer camp that was loosely affiliated with a church.  Fortunately, the church was the Unitarian Universalists, and the summer camp was Rowe Senior High, in Rowe, Massachusetts.  

The feeling I got when I first arrived at Rowe was...well, the best analogy I can give is that it was like the feeling I got when I discovered Daily Kos, back in 2006.  Oh!  There are people like me in the world!  I am not alone!  I like these people, and I like being here!

A Rowe Senior High group portrait.  The man in the wheelchair is my friend Mark Reich, about whom I wrote here.

I didn’t know much about the UUs, but many of the campers were also members of a (now-legendary) youth group which was a part of the Unitarian Universalist organization.  And, fascinatingly, those were the folks with whom I felt the greatest unity of sentiment.  After my first summer at Rowe Camp, my friend Jack (who was, I knew, an atheist, because we’d had that discussion late one night while drinking very bad coffee from the giant urn in the Rec Hall) said, "Warren, you should get into LRY."

"What’s LRY?" I asked.  

"It stands for Liberal Religious Youth," he replied, "and it’s like Rowe Camp, only more so.  LRY has ‘conferences’ all over the country, and the people are amazing.  You’d love it."

We hitchhiked together to my first LRY conference, which was in Durham, North Carolina.  It was August, 1974, and this was the yearly "Continental Conference," to which literally hundreds of young people came by car, bus and thumb from all over the country.

And I did, in fact, love it.  There were more atheists in one place than I’d ever imagined.  There were people who were just as alienated in their hometowns as I was in mine...people who were,, bigbangit!... hippies.  And not, for the most part, dumb hippies.  These were hippies who were paying attention.  And this was August of 1974, and as fate would have it, it was during that week that Richard Nixon resigned.  And man, oh, man!  There were people cheering and clapping and dancing; it was great.

Group photo from a 1977 LRY conference.  I'm in there somewhere.

Incidentally, I found out years later that LRY was on Tricky Dick’s "100 most subversive organizations" list.  How cool is that?

But I digress.  One of the features of both Rowe Camp and the LRY gatherings I attended was what were called "worship" services.  These happened every night; attendance was entirely optional.  Over the years that I participated, I never heard anybody mention God or gods except in passing.  Nobody spoke of salvation, or damnation.  People talked about questions they found important, shared music they loved, created "rituals" in which all present participated.  Once, somebody played John Coltrane’s "OM" in its entirety (a lot of people left before that one ended — the recording is forty minutes long and filled with cacophonous saxophone shrieking — I loved it, needless to say).  

I got interested.  These "worship" events were essentially multi-media performance art with a transcendentalist slant (we were hippies, remember).  I began volunteering to run them, and for a few years I organized many worship services at LRY conferences on the East coast.  Hitchhiking to whichever church or community building was hosting the gathering, I’d bring a mirror and some lighting equipment (for ad hoc light shows), some recordings of unusual music or sounds, and some sources of inspirational, enigmatic or simply beautiful text.  Then I’d put them all together in the evening.   Once it was Terry Riley’s "In C," and once it was the result of three hours playing with a friend’s reel-to-reel tape-recorder, creating a multi-tracked drone fantasia with slowed-down voices reading passages from Italo Calvino’s "Invisible Cities."  It was fun.  Further, it allowed me an opportunity to convey some of my own perspectives on "spirituality" and "spiritual experience."

The fact that I (an admitted atheist who was unaffiliated with any church — even a UU chapter) was encouraged to direct "worship" services for my peers at LRY conferences says a lot about the UUs and about LRY.  The fact that I wanted to do it says a lot about me, and a lot about the particular version of atheism I inhabit.

In which I discuss my own personal relationship with "spirituality."

God or gods are not, to me, in any way connected to the experience of "spiritual awe."  God or gods may be the way that some people experience a connection with spiritual awe, but that strikes me as an important distinction.  You may experience a connection with your mother when you’re talking to her on the phone...but the telephone is not your mother.  Spiritual awe is what happens when humans confront things that are too big or too small for their perceptions; spiritual training is, I think, the development of perceptual faculties infra or ultra to our normal perceptual set.

For me, there are three things that consistently invoke spiritual awe: deep time, the natural environment, and music.  When I contemplate the total life span of our universe, I am staggered and silenced.  When I walk in the woods, I am reminded of my own membership in the world's community of life, and my responsibilities to it.  When I sing, when I hear other people sing (even when they’re out of tune) I am similarly staggered (although not necessarily silenced).  I remember reading (in the Cowells' biography) Charles Ives recalling his father George:

"Once when Father was asked: ‘How can you stand it to hear old John Bell (who was the best stonemason in town) bellow off-key the way he does at camp-meetings?’ his answer was: ‘Old John is a supreme musician.  Look into his face and hear the music of the ages.  Don’t pay too much attention to the sounds.  If you do, you may miss the music.  You won’t get a heroic ride to Heaven on pretty little sounds!’ "

My mother tells me that when I was about six or seven, she found me huddled over one of those Time-Life books: "Our Universe."  I was crying.  She investigated and found that I had been carefully studying the page which depicted the death of the sun: its final stages as a red giant and a white dwarf.  She tried to comfort me by saying, "Don't be scared.  That's not going to happen for a long long time," but (according to family legend) this only intensified my crying.  "No, no, no!" I sobbed.  "I want to see it happen!"

I rely on all three of these things for my own framing of ethics and morality.  

Analyzing one's own behavior or the behavior of others in different time-scales provides a more robust way to link ethical behavior to long-term sustainability.  Can we begin to think more than seven generations ahead?  Behaviors that will reduce humanity's chances of survival, or which will damage the fragile web of biodiversity which sustains us all, are intrinsically unethical.  To pay attention only to the short term is a moral failing.

To behave in a way that recognizes, respects and celebrates our membership in the global web of life is to behave ethically.  Now that the planet Earth is humanity's ecological niche, it is both ethical and essential to consider as many biological links outward from ourselves as we can.  

Musical phenomena offer me a set of metaphors and analogies which clarify the implications and qualities of my behavior or the behavior of others.  To be "out of tune" or "out of time" is a failure to listen carefully to one's environment; we see daily the extent to which conservatism listens only to its own voice, failing to hear the grating dissonance between its notes and those of the rest of the country and the world.  To be "in tune" or "in time" is to surrender a certain degree of one's own autonomy for the greater good; as anyone who has sung in a chorus or played in a drum circle can tell you, this may be a form of "surrender," but it is one that is ultimately profoundly ennobling and empowering.  

And what about when I die?

When I wax eschatological, I move easily between various possibilities.

The first is simply that I will end.  Once the physical substrate which carries my consciousness shuts down, so will that consciousness.  From there on, it's just...nothing.  Which doesn't scare me, particularly, aside from the fact that I'll never get to see how things turn out.  It does motivate me to do the best I can in the time available; to influence others to live simply and sustainably and in accordance with the principle of right livelihood.

Another possibility, to which I alluded earlier in this diary, is that I will "rejoin the great hum of the universe."  I don't know what that means, really; it's just a comforting thing I say to myself when I don't want to wrap my mind around the thought of just...ending.  I do believe that at some level, everything is vibration, and if my own consciousness ends by merging with all the other vibrations that are...well, that sounds just fine to me.

The third is an analogy which rests on my pathetically inadequate understanding of the physics of black holes.  An observer watching an object fall into a black hole would see it slowing down and eventually remaining motionless as it reached the Schwarzchild Radius.  I postulate that the physical shut-down of the body and brain is analogous to falling into a black hole.  The self-awareness of the individual, in this analogy, is the watching observer; as consciousness approaches extinction, it gets closer to the cognitive analogue of the Schwarzchild Radius, eventually slowing to a standstill.  Where it remains forever.

And if you're going to be stuck inside your own solitary consciousness forever, it is incumbent on you to lead a life that you can recall without too much shame and sorrow.

See?  An explanation of post-mortem survival of identity that requires no deity.  It's probably nonsense, but so what?  It's something I think about from time to time, and it helps remind me to lead a life I can imagine recalling without anguish and regret for all eternity.

Pete Seeger's beautiful song expresses what I feel when I contemplate my death:

To My Old Brown Earth

To my old brown earth,
and to my deep blue sky —
I'll now give these last few
molecules of "I."

And you, who sing —
and you who stand nearby:
I do charge you
not to cry.

Guard well our human chain;
watch well you keep it strong,
as long as sun will shine...

...and this, our home —
keep pure and sweet and clean,
for I am yours,
and you are also mine.

In which my music teacher clarifies an important point.

I am by profession an Indian classical musician; I perform and teach the songs of the North Indian "Hindustani" tradition.  In order to learn this style of music, I became the disciple of a master teacher, Pandit S.G. Devasthali, of Pune, India.  I studied with my Guru for many years, using the time-honored techniques of oral/aural transmission.

One day I asked him, "Guruji, I am not a Hindu; in fact I am an atheist.  How can I reconcile the singing of songs on Hindu religious themes with these facts?"

He responded, "If you sing a song in which Krishna or Rama is mentioned, substitute in your own mind whatever seems appropriate.  You need not feel any conflict.  No two people mean the same things when they sing these names, and you can make 'Rama' or 'Krishna' mean anything you wish."

I said, "That makes sense.  Thank you."

Incidentally, I later found that there is an atheistic branch of Hinduism, called Chaarvaaka, which "assumes various forms of philosophical skepticism and religious indifference."  It would not surprise me if Pt. Devasthali were an adherent; he  described himself as "a staunch Hindu" while treating the claims of religious leaders with contempt.  Saying, "work is my worship," he composed, performed and taught songs on both Hindu and Muslim texts throughout his career.

He composed a "bhajan" (devotional song) which I enjoy singing:

Repeat "Om."  Renounce ego.  
Don't regret; what's done is done.

On seeing the suffering of any person, offer succor.
Don't be proud or arrogant; uphold your dharma.

When you can, do a good deed;
Until this moment you have been asleep.

Renounce bad thoughts and immorality;
Don't be self-centered in the intoxication of youth.

Do good deeds from your heart, mind and soul;
So much of your life has been wasted.

Rama says this; Krishna says this:
Don't unknowingly do harm to anyone.

Zarathustra says this; Jesus also says this:
Love all in the world.

Allah says this; Eeshwar also says this:
Don't make quarrels between different religions.

Repeat "Om."  Renounce ego.
Don't regret; what's done is done.

In which I consider what to do now that I'm a parent.

In 1986, while living in India, I met Vijaya.  Two years later we were married.  In 2005 our daughter Sharada was born.

My wife, in her own words, is "atheist, agnostic and Hindu."  Her family is Hindu, and to the extent that we reference a religious tradition, it is Hinduism.  My wife and I both sing songs on Hindu themes around the house; I, of course, teach them to my students every day.  The little one loves these songs and has been singing them sotto voce to herself more and more.  We have some children's books on Hindu legends, and they're frequently requested — "Mommy!  Please read me 'Boogie Woogie Ganesha'!"

We celebrate Christmas.  Sharada loves to help decorate the tree.  Eventually she'll ask for more explanations.  

This year we had a holiday over Easter.  On the way home from school, we had the following colloquy:

Daughter: "Daddy, why is there no school tomorrow?"

WarrenS: "Tomorrow is a holiday, sweetheart."

D: "What's a holiday?"

W: (thinking frantically) "People everywhere love to tell stories to one another, darling. People in our part of the world have a story they love very much, and so they decide that they'll have a special day when they'll all tell that story to one another.  That's a holiday."

D: "Oh."

W: (breathes huge sigh of relief).

When it's time to talk about religion, I'll tell her something like this:  "Human beings tell stories to one another to make sense of their world.  Because they are stories, the characters can do anything the storyteller wants them to.  Some of them can fly, or live forever, or control the actions of others, and they're often important characters in world-explaining stories.  A "god" is a character in a world-explaining story who can do things human beings can't...and there are as many gods as there are stories."

We have been taking her on nature walks.  The other day the two of us were out in a nearby forest, turning over rocks and watching the insects scuttle for cover.  I said, "Sharada, there is life everywhere!  Under every rock there are little bugs and worms!  In the rotten log there are ants and slugs and moss!  Everywhere you look, there is something alive, doing its work.  Isn't it wonderful?"

On our way home we heard a rustling from the underbrush.  We stopped, and I looked for the source of the noise.  When I saw what it was, I confess I almost said, "Nothing to see here, move along, move along."  But in the event, I chose to call her attention to it:

WarrenS:  "Sharada, look!  There is a snake, and it's in the middle of eating a big toad!"

Daughter: (looks, wide-eyed) "Is the toad dead?"

W: (gulps a little) "No, sweetheart.  It will be dead soon, but right now it's still alive.  You can see it breathing."

D: (turns away) "Oh, the poor toad!"

W: (gulps some more, cudgels brain frantically for something to say) "Well, yes.  It is sad for the toad.  But remember that now the toad will become part of the snake.  And perhaps a bird will catch the snake and eat it, so the snake will become part of the bird.  And perhaps the bird will die and fall on the ground, and bugs will eat it.  So the bird will become part of the bugs.  And perhaps a toad will come along and eat the bugs, so they'll become part of the toad.  We are all part of the Earth; we all come from the Earth and we will all go back to the Earth."

D: (remains silent and thoughtful for a long time as we walk home)

That afternoon she told her mother what she had seen, and recited back the simple version of the cycle of life I'd given her.

My wife and I are bringing our daughter up to love and respect the world and its community of life.  We will be bringing her up to live ethically, creatively, empathically and gracefully.  She will be whatever she wishes to be.

I was fortunate in that my atheism was not a rebellion against some form of imposed belief system; I bear no grudge against The Church for lying to me, since I didn't grow up hearing any lies.  I grew up without fear of supernatural forces (unless you count a sleepless night after watching "Bride of Frankenstein" on late night TV when I was eleven).  I hope that we can help our little girl grow up without irrational fears...and I hope that by the time she is old enough to read these words, people like her father are no longer irrationally feared and hated by the majority of our country's population.

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                              THE BOILERPLATE SECTION

Thanks to all who have participated in this diary series thus far! You guys rock! (For the most part, both diarists and commenters have been respectful and forthcoming.) A note regarding future diaries:

   Date TBD (Maybe August 27?) – Topic 9 – Creation, Cosmology,  Deism, and the Space-Time Continuum. - (Chicagoa)

   Chicagoa:  This will be "a diary on cosmology - physics, logic, and theory - to explain to the haughty deists why we don't accept their First Cause or Kalam Cosmological arguments for the existence of a non-interventionist designer deity."  This will possibly include a discussion of the philosophy of infinite/finite time and space, and explore the common misperceptions of Einstein’s and Hawking’s views of "God."  

   Date TBD - Conclusion: ‘Why We Care So Much’ - (XNeeOhCon, with input from all)

   This one is pretty simple, but needs more attention.  We need to make everyone see why we are so ‘obsessed’ with religion and what it really means to be Atheist in the United States.  Within this section we will restate why we felt like participating in this series, and what we hoped to accomplish.  We’ll try to tie up as many loose ends as possible and we will get some brief concluding statements from any of those who participated that would like to submit them.

Originally posted to WarrenS' Blog on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 11:42 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Superb--just superb. Thanks for this. (9+ / 0-)

      My personal story of conversion to atheism is far different, but the same in the end.

      I don't wear my atheism on my sleeve, so I rarely directly confront the hatred you talk about.  But, it's there, and a sad thing.

      "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

      by rfall on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:28:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I really wanted to write this diary... (5+ / 0-)

        ...because I was never "converted" to atheism.  While my mother started out as a believer, my dad was raised, as he put it, in a "theologically neutral" environment.  And so was I.

        Many people who "convert" to atheism are much more emphatic in their non-belief....because they have something from which a separation is essential.  

        I had a lot of fun writing this.  It took a long time, because I kept thinking of more stuff I wanted to include.

        Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

        by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:50:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Excellent diary (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, WarrenS

      Tipped and rec'd

      "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

      by KateCrashes on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:30:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I am torn (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, WarrenS

      When I was a kid, I was an agnostic and I loved beating up obnoxious athiests...especially the obnoxious, pacifist athiests.  Sometimes I was swayed toward athiesism because then I would never have to feel guilty about beating anybody up-even agnostics.  As life is only the here and now, logically, I should strive purely for my own self satisfaction at any reasonable cost.  But then I would sway towards deism and wonder if I might burn in hell for eternity if I kept beating up athiests or suffer in some other unpleasant manner for eternity.  As an agnostic I was torn whether I should enjoy myself beating up agnostics or play it safe and stop. Even today, I am torn....


    •  Wow. Wowwowwowwowwowwow WOW (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      (How articulate is that?)

      I was away this weekend and missed the brief time in which one can recommend a diary (or your tip jar).

      I just want to say


      And to say that, with a few minor changes, your life story, and your parents' life stories, and your daughter's story to date, could have been mine, or mine yours, my parents' and my two daughters'.

      In fact, it is striking how many similar pivotal experiences and insights we share, down to that freakin' Time-Life book and our reaction to the portrayed death of the Sun. (and both being musicians, and early attraction to Buddhism, and the consequences of being a pacifist in school, and being obnoxious about it, and being exposed to nature, in all its glory and savagery, from a young age, and and and)...

      (Much of the above also points to the fact that there used to be, for good and for ill, many more common cultural experiences and exposure to common literature, music, etc, than we have in today's Balkanized net-world.)

      One of the big differences you had was the opportunity to be a part of like-minded communities growing up, in the camps you attended. I never had that experience (until the advent of the Internet, and the virtual communities that are not the same, but just as valuable in their own way).

      I have said before that you are an excellent writer.

      In this case, I just want to add that you personally touched me very deeply, and that this is the favorite diary I have ever read here on Daily Kos - and I have been reading diaries here, in one form or another, from the beginning.

      I'm 49, so a couple years younger than you, but old enough to feel how rare and remarkable it is to say that what you wrote really makes me feel better about myself and a little less alone in the world.

      Thank you, Warren, for sharing so deeply and profoundly with all of us. Thank you for taking the time and devoting the energy and attention to writing this diary.

      And thank you for being a kindred spirit who makes like-minded people like me feel less alone in America.

      One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

      by RandomActsOfReason on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 01:27:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wow right back at you. (0+ / 0-)

        If you're ever in Boston let's go get a beer.

        Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

        by WarrenS on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 05:22:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ironically, I lived there until Nov (0+ / 0-)

          for 18 years.

          Actually, we've been casually introduced once or twice, in the musical world.

          I attended Berklee in the very early 80's, same time as Makoto Ozone and Keichii Ishibashi, and I used to gig with some NEC students.

          Haven't played professionally for more than a decade, but I'm slowly getting back in to the scene now I've moved to Portland, OR.

          One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

          by RandomActsOfReason on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 06:43:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  We have guests in the house. (8+ / 0-)

    I will be ducking in and out to participate in comments for the next hour and a quarter...then I'll be out of commission for 2 hours, then back again for another hour or so...expect me to be intermittent.

    If I could have picked a different day (either for guests or diary posting) I would have...but that's just the way this particularly cookie crumbled.

    Thanks for reading!

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 11:47:33 AM PDT

  •  I don't dislike atheists. At all. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, WarrenS

    I respect everyone's right to believe, or not.

    I am also pretty certain that even an atheist will go to heaven if they live a life that follows the example of Christ - doing the right thing for only the right reason, if you will.  I give atheists credit for that.  I guess you don't have to hedge your bet if you always do the right thing.  

    I do wonder, however,  how atheists are so sure that they are correct in their beliefs. Unlike agnostics, they seem to be unswervingly faithful to the belief that there is no God.

    How are you so sure?  Seriously.  I enjoy hearing the reasoning of people who believe differently from me.   Regards.

    PS:  I enjoyed your diary.  Tipped and rec'd.

    Having credibility when making an argument is the straightest path to persuasion.

    by SpamNunn on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:11:01 PM PDT

    •  To extend a popular atheist analogy.... (11+ / 0-)

      ...asking me how I'm sure there's no god is like asking a bald man how he's sure his hair has no color.

      I was raised without a god; without reference to a god or need for one.

      I do recognize that some people seem to need a god or gods, and I'm perfectly happy to stipulate that God or gods exist — for those people.  God or gods just aren't there for me.

      Glad you liked the diary!

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:21:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  "unswervingly faithful"? (8+ / 0-)

      I do wonder, however,  how atheists are so sure that they are correct in their beliefs. Unlike agnostics, they seem to be unswervingly faithful to the belief that there is no God.

      Oh my.  The old and familiar comment that "Atheism is a faith, just like belief in God!".

      Why is it that "faith" is always reserved for one who rejects the idea of a deity but not other ideas?

      If I mention that the notion of David Berkowitz's neighbor's dog telling him to kill people is preposterous, not one ever says "But how do you know? Why are you so unswerving faithful to that belief?".

      If I reject the existence of vampires, a massive conspiracy to cover-up a Kenyan birth of our current President, or the idea that Tyrannosaurs live in underground caverns on the moon, I'm not met with incredulity from Kossacks about my "faith" in these things.  My lack of belief in all of these things is considered (at least here on dKos) quite logical.

      But to disregard the notion of a deity?  "Faith!"

    •  The claim that atheists are certain (11+ / 0-)

      has to be one of the stubbornest misconceptions around. I'm not certain. I could be convinced of the existence of gods tomorrow. But it would take evidence.

      I don't believe in gods because I have no reason to. I do have plenty of reason to believe that gods are created by people to fill gaps in understanding, as this diary puts very well.

      We're on a blind date with Destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!

      by Prof Haley on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:38:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And there, in a nutshell, is the difference (4+ / 0-)

        ...between faith and logic/science.

        Logic/science is a system which allows one to say "There is insufficient evidence for your assertion, but if you provide such evidence, I can be convinced."

        Contrast that with faith.

        "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

        by rfall on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:10:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  That's a common response. (8+ / 0-)

      I do wonder, however,  how atheists are so sure that they are correct in their beliefs. Unlike agnostics, they seem to be unswervingly faithful to the belief that there is no God.

      I don't presume to speak for this diarist, but I will speak for myself.

      First if all, it's wrong to make the general statement that atheists are "unswervingly faithful to their belief that there is no God" (or, as I prefer to say it: "that there are no gods"). Since atheism is not an "ism," and atheists are not a group, one cannot make any general statements about us.

      Atheism isn't a "belief": it's a lack of belief. This is very, very difficult for some people to grasp. Apparently they just can't imagine living their lives without "faith" in something. They seem to assume that if a person doesn't believe in the existence of gods, they must believe in something else instead.

      But if you put a hundred randomly chosen athiests into a room, it's likely that they will find they have very little in common with each other. Their positions, perspectives, and believes are likely to be all over the map.

      It's worth pointing out that one major problem with the term "atheist" is that it defines a person by what he is not, and by what he does not believe. Which is the main reason why I've never been comfortable with the term. As one person once put it: Calling atheism a "belief" is like calling not stamp collecting a "hobby."

      As for myself: I don't accept a proposition without evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The world religions make extraordinary claims for which they offer no evidence whatsoever. I see no reason why I should accept those claims. If someone produces some actual evidence, though, I'll be glad to look at it. (Note: the Bible, Quran, etc., are not evidence. They are claims presented in written form.)

      In essence, that's really all there is to my "atheism." The word comes from Greek and the "a-" prefix means the same as the English "non-". My view of the world is non-theistic. It includes no belief in gods or the supernatural. To me that's no big deal, but every so often I run into someone who insists on making a big thing out of it.

      Medicare for everyone.

      by Night Train on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:42:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Perhaps you should read some of the other (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, snakelass, Prof Haley

      diaries with the "Atheist Digest" tag.

      Economic Left/Right: -4.00 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.82

      I rebuke myself when under stress - The Lord/King Crimson

      by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:08:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  How sure are you (6+ / 0-)

      that God isn't the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Do you worry that you might be wrong?

      "There -- it's -- you know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." --GWB

      by denise b on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:36:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, I don't worry. If there is a God, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I will have eternal life.  If I am wrong, you and I will be worm food together.  

        Having credibility when making an argument is the straightest path to persuasion.

        by SpamNunn on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 04:06:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm not worried either (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          "There -- it's -- you know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." --GWB

          by denise b on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 09:06:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Isn't a balancing out great? (0+ / 0-)

            Now, people no longer need to ask if we atheists are worried, because it's the same answer to are Christians/Jews/Muslims/Buddhists/Zoroastrians/etc. worried.

            Lack of respect or even ignorance . . . those are different issues.  And, I suspect those tend to motivate this question, more often than not.  Even when malice or prejudice is far from the questioner's conscious mind.

            "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

            by wader on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 10:05:44 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Pascal's Wager (0+ / 0-)

          One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

          by RandomActsOfReason on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 01:31:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  What? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          If there is a God, I will have eternal life.

          How could you possibly be certain of that if-then statement? (Especially after scoffing at how atheists "are so sure that they are correct in their beliefs"?)

          Human beings have believed in thousands upon thousands of gods; many of those deities, if they exist, promise to do disgustingly awful things to you after (or for that matter even before) you die, and your belief in Christianity will not help you--indeed, in the case of several deities, you will be damned because you're a Christian.

          How can you be "so sure that [you] are correct" that the real God doesn't approach afterlife matters in a way that would be awful for you--say, by damning all theists to Hell and rewarding atheists with heaven?

          If you're going to cite unjustified certainty as atheism's Achilles heel (even though we have no such certainty), you might want to explain how you come to be so damn sure that your idiosyncratic conception of theological reality is correct.

    •  what about the dead Greek religion? (5+ / 0-)

      Thought experiment here:  Let's say the Greeks were right and ONLY their religion was correct and that believing any other religion was an insult to the petty Greek Gods. Imagine Hades, where they take their sick frustration out on Christians, Mormons, Muslims, and Jews.  "Ha ha!  We provided the truth and you ignored it!"  This is what Christianity will be some day:  a dead religion with no adherents. Does it make any more sense to follow Christ than it does to follow Zeus?  Seriously, dude, there is NO GOD! Get out of the Middle Ages!

    •  On the other hand (4+ / 0-)

      why would you be pretty certain that there's a heaven for anyone to go to?

      We're on a blind date with Destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!

      by Prof Haley on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 03:09:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  To each their own... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, WarrenS

    I am not an atheist, but have no problem with others who want to follow that path. I also do NOT want church and state to mix - ever.
    However, I do not follow the path of any one established religion. I do not believe in pearly gates or the fires of hell, a god in a white robe and sandals, or a devil with red horns and tail. It's more complex than that.
    I just finished reading the book Old Souls. Fascinating. It's based on the life work of a Dr. Stevenson, a psychiatry professor from Virginia, who has traveled the world, studying children who remember their past lives.
    Now I know what you might say - coincidence! Impossible!
    But it is an idea that I, personally, entertain - that we might, indeed, live over an over again. And when you think about it, it's an interesting idea - that each life touches others and has meaning in taking care of others and the earth while you're here.
    Basically, NO ONE knows what happens after death. But from all I've read, reincarnation is one of the most possible/probable theories.

    Electing conservatives is like hiring a carpenter who thinks hammers are evil.

    by MA Liberal on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:14:22 PM PDT

    •  As I say in the diary... (7+ / 0-)

      ...I think of "god" as a tool for establishing a connection to whatever one values as "spiritual experience."  Since I found ways into that experience from early on without the need of an intermediating god, it never occurred to me that I would have to have one.  I just never needed that particular tool, I guess.

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:26:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  if my hammer was like religion... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'd have to mutter a needless incantation with every swing. How much human energy is wasted on pointless religious ritual?  With the hammer-as-tool-like-religion, you see!  It's just goofy to use such an inefficient tool when we have philosopy, science, and art.  Gods are so 1523!

    •  Have you continued your exploration (0+ / 0-)

      by reading critiques of Dr. Stevenson's methods, analysis and conclusions? That would be the rational way to proceed.

      Google "Debunking Dr. Stevenson" and explore what you find, with the same openmindedness with which you read Old Souls.

      Then, you will have at least some criteria by which to evaluate the veracity of his claims, other than how emotionally appealing they might be, and how much fun it might be IF they were true.

      One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

      by RandomActsOfReason on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 01:36:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  tipped and rec'd (6+ / 0-)

    from a fellow atheist, albeit a more militant one.
    Then again, i live in the middle of JesusLand...

    by De Rat Bastert on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:21:28 PM PDT

    •  Well, if you're surrounded... (6+ / 0-)

      ...ya gotta be strong.

      For me it was very different.  As I say in the first few lines, almost all the people I have ever known have been godless.  Many of them have been that way from birth.

      I only started getting angry at those who pound the drum for their deity when they started interfering with the principles that make America possible.

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:24:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary (5+ / 0-)

    keep up the non belief.

  •  I don't give it a name (7+ / 0-)

    I brought my kids up without religious baggage and they all turned out to be a lot more "christian" than a lot of so called christians I know.  They are kind, thoughtful and inclusive - because they were brought up that way.  'Do unto others' and 'how would you feel if someone did that to you' were basic teachings in my house - they didn't need the threat of punishment from some mystical being in order to be a nice person.  People who do need that threat in order to be ethical are the ones with the problem.    

  •  The "A" word carries too much negative baggage (7+ / 0-)

    I suspect there many folks who would freely tell you that they think the Bible is mostly mythology, and that many of them are church members, and would blanch if you described them as "atheist."

    I'm very suspicious of the surveys that report 80%+ of the population as Christian. I think a lot of people identify themselves by the denomination they were raised in as deference to their beloved, deceased parents. The fact that they stopped believing the myths when they grew up is just a technicality.

    For years I was one of many who kept quiet about my non-belief because I didn't want to waste my time with pointless arguments. In addition, if your boss happened to be a theist zealot, you could damage your career.

    The more well-known people come out as non-religious, the better accepted we will be, and the more our concerns about theocratic pressure on our public schools, health care system and government social services will be taken seriously.

    Conservative columnist George Will revealed in an interview that he is an atheist. George, when will you denounce the theocrats who are making your beloved conservatism a laughing stock?

    60 Minutes humorist Andy Rooney is an atheist. Andy, what have you got to lose, at this point in your career? Why not step up?

    Larry King. You too.

    •  I was "outed" at work (6+ / 0-)

      For years I was one of many who kept quiet about my non-belief because I didn't want to waste my time with pointless arguments. In addition, if your boss happened to be a theist zealot, you could damage your career.

      I was coming in for a shift, logging into my workstation, while two guys from the outgoing shift were having a good-natured talk about belief.

      The ex-male-stripper-turned-2x-GOP-nominee-for-Minnesota-legislature was talking about having a "personal relationship with Jesus", thus he knew for a fact the existence of God, despite the atheism of my other co-worker.  My supervisor turned, surprised, and said to this co-worker, "You're an atheist?".

      He replied, "Sure.  Lot's of people are.  Like [Collideascope]", pointing at me.

      I just looked up from my work, like a deer caught in the headlights.

      It was harmless, but it caught me off guard!

    •  Wow. (5+ / 0-)

      George Will? Andy Rooney? I had no idea. Yes, society would benefit if such people would step up and declare their non-belief in gods. People might begin to see that it has nothing to do with one's age or political orientation.

      I'm very suspicious of the surveys that report 80%+ of the population as Christian. I think a lot of people identify themselves by the denomination they were raised in as deference to their beloved, deceased parents. The fact that they stopped believing the myths when they grew up is just a technicality.

      My (now deceased) father was like that. He always identified himself as Roman Catholic, and would have said so to a pollster if he'd been asked. But when I once asked him if he believed in the virgin birth or the Resurrection, he frowned and said: "Hell, no!"  

      Medicare for everyone.

      by Night Train on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:57:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's the problem with self-identification ... (5+ / 0-)

        ... in opinion surveys.

        Jews who don't believe in God still identify as Jews. Why should it not be the same with other religious traditions? Why not honor your ancestors by calling yourself a "secular Christian," i.e., there's no such thing as God, but I admire the Christian ethic of charity for those in need, forgiveness, etc.

        I'm fairly certain that several well-known Catholic Democratic politicians meet the above description, but they can't admit to it in public.

        •  Yeah, I'm never sure how to answer these surveys (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wader, DennisMorrison

          I sometimes answer Jewish and sometimes answer atheist. Partly it depends how the questions are worded.

          Economic Left/Right: -4.00 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.82

          I rebuke myself when under stress - The Lord/King Crimson

          by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 02:29:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Eh.... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Jews who don't believe in God still identify as Jews. Why should it not be the same with other religious traditions?

          Jews who don't believe in God but still identify as Jews generally don't think that identification has anything necessarily to do with a "religious tradition." From that perspective, Jews are a people, not a religious category:


          Secular Humanistic Judaism is a human-centered philosophy of life combining rational thinking and Jewish culture with the best ethical insights of the Jewish and human tradition. It is a non-theistic celebration of Jewish identity that affirms the power and responsibility of individuals to shape their own lives.

          Judaism is the culture, the continuing creation of the Jewish people. Therefore, we freely adapt our celebrations, whether holidays or life cycle events, to the needs of those celebrating. Secular Humanistic Jewish ceremonies take place in both community organizations and in family settings all over the world. Secular Humanistic Jewish communities offer communal celebration, adult and youth education, ethical action, and emotional support.

          In North America, the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations and the Society for Humanistic Judaism are the two community organizations that support the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and are served by its graduates.

          (Boldface added.)

          Why not honor your ancestors by calling yourself a "secular Christian," i.e., there's no such thing as God, but I admire the Christian ethic of charity for those in need, forgiveness, etc.

          Because, unlike Jews, Christians are not a people--and I do not remotely accept that any praiseworthy "ethic of charity for those in need, forgiveness, etc." owes a debt to Christianity.

          Christianity is a religion; having left that religion, millions of us are ex-Christians, not "secular Christians." Moreover, this ex-Christian don't think that religion deserves much in the way of compliments, including the claim that we remain associated with it.

      •  I enjoy this (4+ / 0-)

        "There -- it's -- you know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." --GWB

        by denise b on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:42:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Beautifully Written (4+ / 0-)

    Thanks so much for your heart-felt diary. It's amazing what can happen when people are open to what they hold to be true and of value and try to live in accordance with. It sounds like you grew up in a wonderful family-I'm more than a little jealous, to tell the truth.

    I came to my atheism much more gradually, over a long period of time. Growing up catholic, it seemed like everything I was learning in school contradicted some of the more outrageous claims of my religion. Virgin births, spontaneous regeneration, manifestations of god's body in wafers, the list goes on and on. The idea that this world and humanity, less than a speck in terms of time & space, could entertain a personal relationship with a god that regularly breaks the laws of nature (miracles), was simply unbelievable. There were far more credible ways of looking at myself, my relationships with others and the world.

    Many people who come to learn of my atheism want to relegate it to a container labeled "reaction against organized religion." Some reaction. It took 25 adult years to feel comfortable admitting to this orientation. Others are automatically dismissive or belittling. Still others are actively hostile.

    I wish I could be as nonviolent as you appear to be. I still can get furious at what fundamentalist, right-wing christians are doing to this country. I still rail against the active discrimination primarily christian groups bring to bear against the LGBT community. I still am offended by such groups being at the vanguard of continually trying to control women's reproductive rights. I still point out the absolute hypocrisy of jesus-lovers supporting every questionable war the United States has been involved in since the end of WW II. Prayer in school, intelligent design? Don't get me started.

    So there's more than one reason I appreciate your diary. It's not just in terms of supporting a world view I've come to believe is most probable- it's the promise of living in such a way as to be actively engaged, yet free of the rage I too often feel when confronted with religious intolerance, hate, control and hypocrisy.

    •  Oh... (5+ / 0-)

      ...I've got plenty of rage, believe me.

      After the 2004 election my wife and I were out walking and I got approached by an Xtian hustler, offering me a free trip to heaven.

      I was sooooooo furious — I really let him have it.  Eventually my wife called me away from haranguing the guy, and we went on with our walk.  I turned to her and said, "that was fun!  Let's find another one!"

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:53:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  and also... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, Oke, snakelass, Night Train write:

      a god that regularly breaks the laws of nature (miracles)

      To me, the laws of nature, and the nature which they make possible, are the true miracles.  I am continually amazed by the relationships that emerge in the study of the natural world.

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:57:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Einstein's Famous Quote (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wader, Oke, snakelass, WarrenS

        I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

      •  I'vespent the last hour, and then some, reading (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wader, WarrenS, RandomActsOfReason

        your diary, and rereading various parts. An outstanding piece of work. The video I'm watching again after I post my comment.

        As one whose non-belief began did with the scars of religion, I found the roots of your atheism refreshing. Religion tore our family foundation apart from as far back as I can remember. Even before I was born, my maternal grandmother would not attend my parents wedding because my mother had left the Catholic church to became Baptist and marry my father.
        Bitterness, hurt, rebellion, they all played a part in my initial denial of a God, or Gods.
        That isn't the case at this point in my life.

        What you said in the above comment fits for me.

        To me, the laws of nature, and the nature which they make possible, are the true miracles.  I am continually amazed by the relationships that emerge in the study of the natural world.

        Thank you.

        When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. ~John Muir

        by Oke on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 04:38:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I too was raised entirely without religion. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, snakelass, WarrenS

    I was never baptized because my parents wanted my brother and myself to decide what we wanted to believe on our own and they encouraged us to go to church or temple when our friends invited us. We got Christmas presents and Easter baskets but never went to church. I finally decided I was an atheist after I read The Source by James Michener. My brother got baptized as a Methodist after they had their first child. My husband is a lapsed Catholic and we all get along just fine.

  •  Amazing diary (5+ / 0-)


    I got a chuckle out of this:

    Often I was the designated looker-upper; when a point of argument hinged on the correct meaning of a word, I would have to get up and go to the nearest dictionary and provide the main and supplementary definitions along with etymology and any interesting tidbits of usage — following which, dinner would continue.

    Reminds me of when I was a kid and we kept our unabridged Webster's near the kitchen table. It's about 50 years old now and nearly fallen apart.

    Economic Left/Right: -4.00 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.82

    I rebuke myself when under stress - The Lord/King Crimson

    by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:52:40 PM PDT

  •  I was raised without any real direction ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, snakelass, WarrenS

    ... in this regard.

    Of course, I was bombarded by messages from society at large, mostly in favor of a deity, mostly of one Christian sort or another.

    The only parental comment either way I recall was one from my mother.  At some age, I'm pretty sure it was before I was 10, I mentioned to her about cultures who worshipped the sun or moon or other things we now understand to be mere inanimate objects, noting how silly such beliefs were.  

    "No sillier than a belief in God" was her reply.

    I don't even recall of this was before or after I had rejected the idea of there being a deity.  It was never anything I wrestled with personally, though I learned rather quickly that there could be some seriously adverse reactions from people who found about about such a lack of belief.  

    I'm sorry to say that at least one of my children (now 12 years old) has made the same discovery for himself.

  •  This is helpful to me, too. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, snakelass, WarrenS

    As an Athiest (for the most part, the universe is far too complex for my limited understanding)I've been wondering when I will be asked by my children "Whats God?" and how I will respond. My main game plan has been story books. I can read them the Bible story of creation, for example, and then throw in Greek mythology, Native American, the old stories from African tribes, Norse etc. The point being "This creation story holds the same weight as these others."
    And, of course, without a certain biblical literacy, there are cultural references that will be lost on them: Eve and the apple. Daniel in the Lions Den. 30 pieces of silver. Wash my hands of it. He's a Judas, a Pontius Pilate. Worshipping the golden calf. The parting of the red sea. Noahs ark. Sampson and Delilah. Hoisted on his own petard. Bring me his head on a platter. 40 days and nights in the wildreness. David and Goliath, etc. etc.

    "YOPP!" --Horton Hears a Who

    by Reepicheep on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 12:57:52 PM PDT

    •  Yes... (4+ / 0-)

      ...I tend to think that rather than a "Bible as Literature" course in schools, there should be a course on "Religious Sources in Literature," which thereby opens the door to some of the other Great Books which have shaped cultural discourse around the world.

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:00:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hoisted on his own petard... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, snakelass, rfall not Biblical in origin.  The petard was a form of bomb developed, IIRC, in the middle ages.  But I'm off to teach, so I can't google it for ya.

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:02:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In our house, we say, ""Oh my gosh" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and that's a very specific habit.

      We also have words that are not nice, those that are silly, fun, etc.

      One day after picking up my daughter from her day camp, she mentioned how a friend that day exclaimed, "Oh my God!" and she become embroiled in an argument with him, sincerely correcting his use of a "not nice" word. (!)

      I realized that it was my fault for crossing the streams a bit and reiterated another important point: just because we may not believe in a supernatural "God" who tells us what to do through the supposedly divined words of others, does not mean that they are wrong.  They just believe differently about how to view their lives and those of others.  So long as they are not mean or unfair to others, that's OK and we should do our best to understand and respect it.

      They're six years old and arguing about whether God/god(s) exists on a playground.  I had to chuckle.

      "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

      by wader on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 10:14:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Okay... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader student has arrived.  I'll be OOC for an hour, and then will duck in for a few minutes before my next student gets here.  Thanks to all for commenting...keep the conversation going!

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:01:23 PM PDT

  •  Great Post (6+ / 0-)

    This is a very thoughtful post. I hope to read more from you Warren. I was born a Muslim and until the age of about 16 prayed dutifully 5 times a day. Then I started to see the absurdities on which Islam was based and moved away from it. Later I realized that all other religions were just as absurd and the belief are infantile. With that understanding over a period of decades, all the contradictions that religion placed in my head started melting away and I became more and more at peace with myself.

    I now consider myself to be an anti-theist now.

    •  My view is that there is both (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, snakelass, WarrenS, wayoutinthestix

      brilliance and absurdity in every religion I know of, just like in most people. In that sense it's a very human enterprise.

      Economic Left/Right: -4.00 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.82

      I rebuke myself when under stress - The Lord/King Crimson

      by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:14:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Really? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wader, snakelass, WarrenS

        Honestly I am perplexed with what you mean by brilliance. Could you come up with some examples.

        If you mean that religions promote morality then I would disagree. Someone said to me that without religion there would be no morality. I responded that morality was discovered very early by men and for that matter animals well before all the commandments and religions edicts. How? When the cave man stole from another or raped someone's child or killed his brother, he lived in fear of retribution. That is how morality began, pure and simple - if you do harm onto others there may be retribution or fear of retribution, neither of which is good for your health and well-being.

        •  For my part, I would agree with AISD: (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wader, snakelass, WarrenS, wayoutinthestix

          I would say that "brilliance" comes from the poetry of the Bible, the metaphors it uses to explain complicated moral situations, the simple messages like The Golden Rule.

          I would add that morality does not require a faith in a supreme being, and that the Bible gets many things wrong.

          But, I consider it a wonderful piece of literature--but useless as a science text, a work of historically accurate tales, or an internally consistent moral code.

          "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

          by rfall on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:27:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I'm not sure I agree with your view of (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wader, snakelass, WarrenS

          morality, although I don't think religion is a reliable guide for making moral decisions. But despite the fact that it isn't reliable, there are times when it can be a vehicle for expressing moral ideas in a way that resonates with people.

          Economic Left/Right: -4.00 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.82

          I rebuke myself when under stress - The Lord/King Crimson

          by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 02:21:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  You mention: "what to do now that I'm a parent" (5+ / 0-)

    Try Center For Inquiry "Camp Inquiry"...

    ... to build on your early group experiences for your kids to benefit from.

  •  I was also raised by atheists (5+ / 0-)

    but I'm fairly sure I would have been one in any case. Religion just isn't in me. I think maybe it's genetic.

    A moral sense is there, however. It's human nature.

    "There -- it's -- you know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." --GWB

    by denise b on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:39:47 PM PDT

  •  Inherit the Wind at BYU (5+ / 0-)
    Iwas raised Mormon and went to BYU.  For a year.  I did not return because I realized that not only was I not Mormon I was probably not even a theist at all.

    But while I was there, two very brave young men,Dave Carter and Dave something else, decided they wanted to put on a production of Inherit the Wind.  At BYU.  The theatre department was very much NOT interested, so somehow they got approval to do it independently... I was told it was the first independent student production ever allowed on campus.  

    I was lucky enough to be cast as Henry Drummond and the role made a whole lot of sense to me.

    As I was helping clean up the hall after our one and only performance, I found a program on the floor.  Somebody had taken the time to write down one of my lines, I am glad that they left it there for me to find.  It said "An idea is a greater monument than any cathedral."  Amen.

    I want to thank you and the rest of the Kos community for these diaries, they have given me the strength to come out more than I have in the past.  I have become a more vocal and unapologetic atheiest and for that I thank you.

    Side note, I am a social christian, in my small town it has been a good way to meet people and socialize our children.  I am "out" to several people in the congregation, so far my Mormon background seems to be a weirder thing than my current atheism.  Today I acted as the liturgist, and because the guest pastor was late I came within about 7 minutes of delivering an impromptu sermon.   I think it would have been well received, I intended to talk about the importance of making choices positively instead of just letting things flow along the path of least resistance.

    What a strange world we live in, and happy am I to be along for the ride.  Maybe I can help steer the ride a tiny bit, maybe I can help other people enjoy their journey a tiny bit. is America's Blog of Record

    by WI Deadhead on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 02:08:42 PM PDT

    •  A great story - thanks (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WI Deadhead, wader, snakelass, WarrenS

      I also like the sketch of your congregation. One question I'd like to see in some of these religion polls would be to identify people who practice a religion, but understand it as myth. UUs would likely fit, but I'm just guessing. I'd be interested in how many self-identified Christians really don't think that God's offspring walked the earth, for instance.

      We're on a blind date with Destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!

      by Prof Haley on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 02:33:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There are surveys specifically about that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Prof Haley

        you'd be depressed at the results.

        For one thing, a majority of Americans believe that their god literally created humans in their present form fairly recently.

        They don't just reject natural evolution, they even reject theistic versions where god guided evolution. They even reject intelligent design.

        A majority of Americans are young earth creationists.

        This actually fits in with the enormous numbers of evangelical/pentacostal Christians in America.

        We have to face reality. Over half the population are literal religionists. About 15% of the population follow no religion at all (at least a third of whom are outright atheists/agnostics). That doesn't leave too many people in the middle.

        One of the prevailing myths on this site is that most Americans, or at least a significant proportion balancing out the fundies, are liberal theists.

        All available data points in exactly the opposite direction.

        One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

        by RandomActsOfReason on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 01:48:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  In addition, there are surveys that have examined (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Prof Haley

          whether people consider themselves "secular" or "mostly secular" or "religious" or "mostly religious" - separately from their self-identified religious affiliation. There are also questions about frequency of attending church, and a whole array of other specific measures that are designed to tease out precisely the kind of nuances being discussed here.

          All the data supports the notion that the US is markedly anomalous in relation to other developed nations in the world when it comes to theism and theistic attitudes.

          While the number of atheists is growing, so is the number of fundamentalists - and they start from a much, much larger base. Increasingly, it is so-called "liberal theists" that are vanishing as a force in America.

          That may be a bad thing, but it is the data.

          Folks really should look at the data, rather than relying on wishful thinking, if we wish to change things.

          One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

          by RandomActsOfReason on Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 01:52:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Hm. I grew up with one atheist parent, (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AaronInSanDiego, wader, snakelass, WarrenS

    my mother. My father was more a religion-avoider, I guess. They both became UUs when I was younger. I ended up spending a couple years as an atheist, thirteen as an evangelical Christian, and have now settled into happy liberal squishy semi-Discordian Paganism.

    I have found that the nicest Net atheists I've met as a group are the Aussie atheists. Fantastic people.

    I have also found that saying, "When you say atheists are like (bad stereotype), I hope you realize you're saying that about my mother, who is a wonderful loving woman," really helps shut down some of the negative b.s. around atheism.

    Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

    by allergywoman on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 02:27:26 PM PDT

  •  as usual (3+ / 0-)

    excellent diary. The aspect of supernatural forces really struck home. My parents never talked about such forces and I was brought up to not have fear of dark rooms as a child.

    I have a friend who was raised catholic but no longer attends the church. She plans to take her kids to the church only to make sure they understand how bad organized religion can be and they don't get sucked up by the bible thumpers roaming on college campuses.

  •  question (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, WarrenS

    I hope you don't find it offensive but I am curious as to how come you named your daughter Sharda knowing its a Goddess name albeit, I agree its Goddess of Music, so I do get the connection.  

  •  Coincidentally, I was recently challenged on this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    site for claiming to be an easily spiritual atheist.  To me, it feels simple to allow the usual filters and perspectives to fall about the wayside and bring run inputs through my brain without a (consciously) desired processing path.  Through meditation or repetitive, habitual mannerisms, all other things may slowly fade and darkness briefly encroaches upon my vision, to be slowly filled by new visions.  It is what it becomes, essentially.  And, I can think about what it might have meant, afterwards.

    Are we not allowed imagination and freedom to roam beyond our daily confines of thought and action?  I should say so.

    I well remember your diary of Mark's inspirational history and of those who have so willingly supported his expression of abilities (and attainment of basic needs) over time, though this piece actually hit home more directly, with several parallels to my own non-religious upbringing.  Right down the my Mom also expressing, late in her lifetime, some momentary regret that her kids weren't given that communal, religion-based experience of church or synagogue (i.e., we're Jewish Methodists, by cultural heritage) - my response was similar in tone and direction to yours.

    Highly pleasant diary, thanks.

    "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

    by wader on Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 10:00:44 PM PDT

  •  Too late to rec or tip... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WarrenS, RandomActsOfReason

    (which could get me going on a whole screed about the absurdly short half-life of diaries on kos... these longer-range things ought to be in a different category of some kind, that remain commendable and tip-able indefinitely) but anyway, great job, Warren, and beautifully written, as always. And thanks for including a scan of Devasthaliji's Omkar Bhajan. Brilliant! He's a new Kabir, but perhaps less cranky.

    My dept. chair (a rhetorician) is working on a 20th C. history of the rhetoric of creationism, from Scopes to the present. He's got quite a collection of tracts and creationist textbooks. I'll be curious to see the final product. He had an interesting point about considering the social milieu of smalltown, southern America in the 40's & 50's, when The Bomb and Sputnik suddenly granted the sciences a rhetorical power that could challenge biblical literalism.

    Fast forward to the 80's and 90's, when many small towns were teetering or beyond teetering, economically, and the richest folks in town started to be the doctors and engineers and hoteliers from Asia. So what I'm saying, I suppose, is that these beliefs don't exist in a social vacuum, unrelated to the vicissitudes of power and economics. It's generous of you to treat them as if they do, however.

    I'm curious whether he'll also address the Scopes-era ties between evolution and miscegenation fears: if we're descended from monkeys, it becomes hard to object to interracial marriage.

    And kudos to the stamp collecting comment. I'll treasure that one. I hope I get a chance in life to use it, but I usually steer clear of conversations about religion, because I'm not all that interested in the pros or cons.

  •  Fantastic diary, Warren. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WarrenS, RandomActsOfReason

    As a fellow atheist/music major/white-guy-married-to-a-wonderful-Indian, I'm very sorry I'm late to the party.

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