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Archive for the ‘Atheism’ Category

Book Reading Update

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

imageThis morning I finished reading Aron Ra’s book The Foundational Falsehoods Of Creationism. Much of this was read during bus trips into Dundas to visit my grandmother – otherwise I might have finished it sooner.

A book such as this might have helped me reach my atheism conclusion faster since I had clung on to creationist ideas long after I had stopped attending church or praying. This is a good read and provides a solid primer on the notion of clades – indeed, Ra has sometimes referred to himself as The Ace Of Clades as a nod toward Motörhead.

The writing is very approachable, which is appreciated. It is based on Aron Ra’s YouTube videos and the conversational nature of that shines through.

Although it is not likely that a creationist will read this; since they love to hide behind lies. The book makes very clear the correct definitions and uses of words like “theory” and “evolution.” By providing demonstrations of how these terms are misused in creationism, Ra tears away at the already flimsy shielding they have.

Goodness knows I was guilty of the same such abuse of language back in the day!

imageSpeaking of language; I am now getting embroiled in Steven Pinker’s The Sense Of Style.

I began reading this on my trip to Florida for Photoshop World. So far so good. I cannot add much else to this until I am further into it; so I will certainly post about it again.

FFRF 2016 National Convention

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Last weekend I was in Pittsburgh for the 39th National Convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

This was my fifth convention already! I’ve been to Hartford, Portland, Madison, Los Angeles, back to Madison and now Pittsburgh. Next year will be in San Francisco. This is one reason that I attend; I get to travel to cities that I might not otherwise visit. First and foremost though is the socializing with like-minded people.

This convention was no exception to that. On Sunday afternoon, I walked around Pittsburgh for over two hours with a fellow attendee. We crossed two bridges (Pittsburgh has more bridges than Venice) and used two funicular railways to ascend and descend Mount Washington. But I get ahead of myself!

The link above will tell you the names of the speakers. I’d like to summarize how many of them made me feel.

FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel gave a preview of his forthcoming book with his talk, “Is Christianity Un-American?” This promises to be an excellent read – I cannot wait for it to be released. Andrew has set out to completely dismantle the argument that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

Friday evening was rather moving when a former preacher from East Tennessee came out publicly as an atheist. “Adam Mann” was one of the first people in The Clergy Project and he went to great lengths to conceal his identity. He had yet to tell his wife that he no longer believes in the fairy tales of the bible.

I hope his coming out to friends and family goes just as smoothly. It really is a serious problem for many clergy. Welcome to the ever-growing family Carter! We’ve got your back!

Professor Lawrence Krauss accepted his Emperor Has No Clothes award and gave a science-heavy talk that built on his excellent book A Universe From Nothing. He suggested that last year’s confirmation of gravitational waves might be used to see beyond the cosmic microwave background. Exciting stuff!

Unfortunately, my copy of A Universe From Nothing is still packed in a box somewhere. So I bought The Physics Of Star Trek and had Professor Krauss sign that instead.

The new Forward aware was bestowed upon Rafida Bonya Ahmed. She barely survived the Islamist machete attack that killed her husband Avijit Roy. Her speech was inspiring and helped to explain the major problems facing atheists in Bangladesh. I certainly never had to fear for my life while living in Texas; so the atheist bloggers and publishers in Bangladesh deserve mighty praise and even more support.

Professor Jerry Coyne – who won Emperor Has No Clothes at the Hartford Convention – spoke on “Evolution & Atheism: Best Friends Forever.” My recent move thwarted me again, I couldn’t get my copy of Faith vs. Fact signed. Professor Coyne has given a interim blog post about the Convention.

Lastly, Professor Daniel Dennett spoke on “Has The Dam Broken? Omens and Worries.”

It should be obvious how much I love the FFRF National Conventions. There is always interesting and inspiring stuff – I only scratched the surface here.

I have intentionally left out the group tour of Fallingwater. That amazing part of the weekend deserves its own post after I have sorted through my photos.

The 10th Anniversary Of “The God Delusion”

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Today Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist published about the 10th anniversary of Richard Dawkins’ excellent The God Delusion.

Like so many other thousands of people, The God Delusion was a major factor in my de-conversion to atheism. One day I will write a detailed, personal account of that process. For now, I want to express my gratitude to Professor Dawkins for his incredible work.

The near future of the world will be better as more and more atheists are able to come out openly. Today’s youth are rejecting organized religion in record numbers; soon they will be raising their own families and hopefully the new generation will be equally non-religious. Meanwhile, the older generations are facing the inevitability of death.

The future is secular. I can’t wait!

Latest Books Read

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

imageSure, it is atheism and religion again. Shoot me! Open-mouthed smile

50 Simple Questions For Every Christian is a really good read. The title pretty much says everything about the book. What are miracles? Why doesn’t everyone believe what you do? Have you read the bible?

Guy Harrison offers his own atheistic/skeptical answers to each one; but he clearly means for a believing reader to ponder these on their own. Each question’s “answer” from the author typically covers 2-4 pages.

The book is in no way an attack. Harrison is respectful throughout. I wish that I could keep my cool like that. But his demeanor is refreshing and definitely made me imagine asking these questions of my mother.

I know there is no chance of her reading this though. What a shame.

So, I had to kick things up a notch with the current book I’m reading – devouring actually, I’m already two-thirds through it.

imageDavid Silverman’s first (and hopefully not last) book Fighting God is considerably more direct and confrontational.

It is less the autobiography that I thought it would be and much more his defense of being a firebrand atheist. Silverman comes out swinging with the chapter, “Atheist, Know Thyself.” He makes the case that we non-believers should use the word atheist. Don’t use humanist, freethinker, agnostic or other labels.

First, most people don’t know the meaning of those other words; but they do know the meaning of atheist. Second, the more we use the word, the more normalized it will become. Anything else makes atheists appear to be a smaller minority than we actually are. That is just what the religions of the world want people to think!

So far it is a great read but with nothing surprising (so far) if you have ever seen David Silverman speak publicly.

Both books are well worth the read.

A Better Life

Saturday, July 30th, 2016

A Better Life book coverIt was a couple of years late, but I finally bought Chris Johnson’s book A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God. I say “a couple of years late” because I first heard Chris speak at FFRF’s 2014 National Convention in Los Angeles.

He gave a wonderful talk about the idea for the book and the work that went into creating it. It really does make a beautiful coffee table piece and Chris’ photography really inspires and explores what is beautiful in life. Many of the people featured inside have been past – or will be future – speakers at the FFRF Convention.

I often buy several books at the FFRF Conventions; but this time around, I couldn’t. I rectified that a little over a week ago and in spite of the possible postal strike in Canada, the book arrived a couple of days ago.

Check it out! Buy your own copy! It is worth it.

Newest Books Read

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Three weeks ago, I said I hadn’t done anything worth mentioning. That wasn’t quite true. I’ve continued – slowly – going through my book collection.

Alas, my commute time to and from work has not been as productive as I would like. I usually snooze.

imageNonetheless, I have recently finished reading two more books from the ever-growing atheism/religion/politics section of my shelves.

Dan Barker’s newest book is GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character In All Fiction. The title is, of course, taken from the well-known opening tirade in Chapter Two of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Barker breaks down his book into one chapter for each one of Dawkins’ adjectives. He provides dozens of verses from the bible to support every single one of those adjectives. It is both astonishing and disturbing that those words are so easily proven by the very words that are supposed to entice someone to believe in him and think of him as “good.”

However, Barker raises the bar. He finds additional adjectives to apply the moral monster that is The Lord Jealous.

imageNext up was Darrel Ray’s book The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture. It is an interesting extended metaphor of faith and religion as a biological virus. It surprised me just how far Ray was able to go with this idea.

The book does not focus on any one religion. Ray uses terms like the “Catholic virus” and the “Islamic virus” when he needs to get specific but then refers to the “God virus” for broader general concepts. He is able to apply concepts of evolution – just at they apply to biological virii – to explain how God virii adapt and change over time to continue infecting other minds or to protect themselves against other God virii “invading” their territory.

On one level it is obviously tongue-in-cheek; but on another level – as one ponders the ideas a bit – it makes a lot of sense.

Both books are well worth reading.

New Books & Reading Progress

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

One nice benefit of a commute to Mississauga or Toronto on the GO Transit system is that I can get more reading time in. Still not as much as I would like – I have found that the evening trip home is especially difficult to focus on something deep.

didJesusExistI mentioned previously that I want to dig-in to the historicity versus the mythic stories of Jesus. To that end, I have begun reading Bart Ehrman’s excellent (so far) Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument For Jesus Of Nazareth. Ehrman is certainly a historicist; it is not a spoiler to say this because it is printed right on the dust jacket flaps. Ehrman is focusing on the evidence he sees for Jesus having been someone walking around early first century Palestine.

Currently, I am approaching the half-way mark. So far Professor Ehrman has considered the evidence from the Gospels and from the Bible outside of Gospels (focusing specifically on Paul’s writings). He has touched on Flavius Josephus and his epic The Antiquities Of The Jews and will examining this in greater depth later in the book.

islamAs a bit of a change, I also read the short book Islam And The Future Of Tolerance by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz.

This book is slightly longer than Harris’ Letter To A Christian Nation, but a marginally slower read since Letter is more like a rant and this book is a back-and-forth discussion between two very smart men.

It is refreshing to give Harris enough time to expound on his ideas. Famously, on Bill Maher’s show Real Time, Ben Affleck began a shouting session – actually changing the topic since Harris was not on the show to discuss Islam – that devolved rapidly.

Nawaz is a former radical Muslim who spent time in an Egyptian prison. He did not come out of prison a non-believer. He still practices Islam; however, he agrees that there needs to be secular reform. He helped create the Quilliam Foundation to promote and foster these ideas.

It is dialogue like this that gives me hope. As an atheist, I wish religion would just disappear; but I know that that won’t happen.

Both of these books are well worth reading.

Finished Another Robert M. Price Book

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

Although I do enjoy reading Robert M. Price’s books, they usually take me a long time to get through. He is spectacularly knowledgeable on the subject and explores issues very deeply. I often need to take extended breaks from reading before returning to them.

jidJesus Is Dead was not that different. I did manage to finish it faster than The Incredible Shrinking Son Of Man but that was mainly due to it being a shorter book!

Still, it was an enjoyable read covering a subject that I will certainly be exploring in greater depth in 2016. In short, was Jesus a real man or completely fictional? It is a fascinating question.

In Jesus Is Dead, Price tackles several Christian apologists with a chapter for each one. He takes apart each of their arguments with laser-like precision. Price easily pokes holes in their theories – doubtlessly his former life as an apologist helps.

As one can guess, Price is a mythicist – Jesus is created out of whole-cloth from previous myths and hero tales. My favourite author on the subject of the Bible is Bart Ehrman and I believe he is a historicist – Jesus was a real person whose story has been exaggerated with miracles and such.

Like Price, historian Richard Carrier is a mythicist. I have books by both Ehrman and Carrier on this subject. I’m curious to find out which author presents the best evidence.

Although I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions; I do hope to read a lot more books in 2016. My list grows faster than I can clear it!

Remembering Hitch

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Four days ago was the fourth anniversay of Christopher Hitchens’ passing. Most atheist Facebook groups were filled with links to his speeches and debates or pictures of glasses filled with Johnnie Walker scotch.

I decided to offer up my own tribute to this incomparable man.

Hitch

In these days of jaw-dropping religious lunacy we need to remember Hitchens all the more. Nobody can replace him; but he has inspired many to take up the battle.

So I Went To Church Today…

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

I just could not bring myself to write about yet another mass-shooting or the sheer, bat-shit lunacy of the Republican candidates. The first is far too depressing and although it is being talked about by better writers than myself, I find it too difficult to hope that anything will change. The second I got totally wrong. I thought a Trump candidacy would be hilarious; how wrong can one be? How much more toxic can this campaign get?

Screeching segue… I went to church today.

Honestly, I cannot remember the last time that I was inside a church – much less intentionally listened to a sermon. The last two times I watched a minister acting in an official capacity were weddings. Both being held outdoors.

New Vision United ChurchFor the past few years when I was visiting Hamilton, I noticed that a Pride flag was hung outside Centenary United Church (sorry for such a poor photo, maybe you can see the flag above the pickup truck). Curious, but not entirely out-of-line with the United Church Of Canada.

Now that I am living downtown, the church is just two blocks away from my condo. There are two churches that are even closer to me (an Anglican and a Presbyterian) but these seem to maintain a more – uhm…traditional – set of appearances.

It turns out that Centenary church merged with St. Giles to form New Vision United.

Although there is clearly a large sanctuary in this building, the congregation meets in the basement. I use the word loosely because entering from Main Street puts the meeting room directly in front you. The (former?) sanctuary requires climbing staircases. My guess is that they meet here to make it easier for elderly and infirm members. Cool. I picked up a bulletin and sat in the back.

Members were friendly and welcoming. Since there is only about 40 of them, a new face is pretty easy to spot. Several people greeted me.

I’m not familiar with the church rituals. Things differed substantially from the church my family attended when I was a kid. There was a Lighting Of Our Candles ceremony. The white candle symbolizing Christ’s light in the world. Sure, whatever. Then there was the rainbow-striped Pride colours candle to symbolize the congregation and all their diversity. Alright, nice touch there.

The opening hymn was Like A River Of Tears. No, not the Eric Clapton song. I tried to find the lyrics to this hymn online, but could only find Clapton’s work. You have to see these lyrics to believe it. What a jumble of mixed metaphors and awkward rhymes! Just terrible stuff.

Reverend Ian’s sermon riffed off of Malachi 3:1-4.

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

I am sorry to say this Reverend, but the sermon was every bit a word salad that Like A River Of Tears was. I really want to say more on this, but the above quote came from Bible Gateway (using New Revised Standard Version) and it is not matching well with what was printed in the church NRSV. The key parts of the pastor’s sermon are missing in the above quote.

This reminds of the half-serious, half-joke question, “Why do you need so many versions of the truth?” But I digress.

He opened discussing the first person grammar of the first verse and the third person grammar of the rest. I found that bit interesting – that is the bible study that fascinates me and why I read Robert Price and Bart Ehrman. Sadly, the rest of the sermon went downhill from there, dropping into repeated but still incoherent thoughts about the meaning of the verses. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this recent Friendly Atheist post.

There was a communion. More differences from my childhood experiences. I didn’t partake since it is a silly notion to me and I did not want to – profane, I guess – a ritual that is clearly important to these people.

Reverend Ian greeted me afterward and welcomed me to the church. He wasn’t the least bit put-off when I said I was an atheist. In fact, he agreed that living in Texas would do more to turn people into atheists! Bravo sir! He explained that the church is affirming. I have to admit that I like that word to describe inclusiveness.

Since I mentioned that the Pride flag is what brought me into the church, he introduced me to a lesbian member. She was from Indiana but her partner is Canadian. Like myself, she had to leave the USA due to work visa issues. So the two of them settled in Hamilton after finding New Vision United through online searches.

I was also introduced to a bisexual, polyamourous woman who is married to an atheist (former Catholic). In an odd coincidence, this young woman works in 3D animation! Her husband worked on the short-lived Ugly Americans series. Neat!

Will I return? Well, I didn’t get an answer to how this church squares the circle with the LGBTQ community and the vile hatred poured out by the “holy” texts. Shouldn’t they be killing these people as directed in Leviticus? At least 3 Republican candidates appear to think so…

Stay tuned I suppose!