Atheism Is Not a Synonym for Bernie 2016

When I was growing up in the 1970s, the few times I ever heard anyone use the word “atheist” it was always in a political context. Typically, it was someone inveighing against the atheist Communism of the Soviet Union. The general sentiment was captured by Ronald Reagan in a 1985 speech,

Atheism is not an incidental element of communism, not just part of the package; it is the package.

It was just a foregone conclusion of adults I knew that atheism and Communism were one and the same thing.

Fast forward 40 years, and the idea that atheists are or should be politically homogeneous is still around. With the end of the Cold War, however, it is typically
atheists themselves who insist that atheism necessarily entails not only statements about religion, but also politics.

John Loftus, whose books I have read and enjoyed, offers up a particularly facile instance of this on his blog when he wonders why atheist leaders aren’t falling all over themselves to endorse Bernie Sanders for U.S. president.

I’m going to talk Presidential politics folks. Atheist intellectuals and activists are failing us when it comes to something that may do more for atheist causes than anything else we can do, or say. Atheist leadership should lead. So far they are failing us. I’m talking about leaders like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Valerie Tarico, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker, David Silverman, Russell Blackford, Hemant Mehta, Daniel Dennett, Jerry Coyne, Peter Boghossian, Barbara Forrest, DJ Grothe, Phil Zuckerman and others, some of whom I am personal friends with, and all of whom I respect for their contributions. What am I saying? We should all be speaking out in support of Bernie Sanders for President for these reasons!

Loftus doesn’t even bother to make a case why atheist leaders should line up behind Sanders–other than that Loftus himself apparently shares Sanders’ politics and wishes his fellow atheists did as well. Instead he simply says things like,

If you value my opinion at all, getting Sanders elected as the next president of the US may be the most important thing we can do.

The. Most. Important. Thing. We. Can. Do.

Even atheists can be true believers, even if not about God.

Loftus seems like a decent guy and I’m fairly certain this is an example of him being an overly enthusiastic Sanders supporter. But when I read it, the post irritates in much the same way it grates when I happen across arguments that Christians need to unify behind someone such as Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum.

Let’s Get High and Deny Christ!

This comic panel first appeared on the internet at I Heart Chaos, but other than that I haven’t been able to track down where it originally came from.

There is a lot of weird religious comic book stuff out there–including some fundie Archie comics–but this seems more like it was intended as satire (or possibly the dialogue in the speech bubbles is photoshopped).

Either way, an excellent comic.


Let's Get High and Deny Christ


Occasionally when I am in a social situation where someone learns I am an atheist I will get strange looks as if the person meeting me was just realized I was a space alien. Fair enough, since I typically have exactly the same reaction when I realize someone is a genuine, whole hearted believer.

Anyway, the thing is that most religious people I meet are, in general, not very interested in knowing much about religion. Oh, they tend to know a lot about their particular little corner in religion land, but they often don’t know and usually aren’t interested in understanding how their own particular religion has been instantiated and practiced over time, much less other religions.

I suspect this is a defense mechanism because once you start looking at religion from a sociological or historical perspective, you start to run into a lot of Weird Shit(TM). Consider a folk religious practice adopted by some Christians in the UK called sin-eating, which believe it or not, was taken quite literally by its practitioners. According to Wikipedia,

This ritual is said to have been practised in parts of England and Scotland, and allegedly survived until the late 19th or early 20th century in Wales and the adjoining Welsh Marches of Shropshire andHerefordshire, as well as certain portions of Appalachia in America (documented in the Foxfire cultural history series). Traditionally, it was performed by a beggar, and certain villages maintained their own sin-eaters. They would be brought to the dying person’s bedside, where a relative would place a crust of bread on the breast of the dying and pass a bowl of ale to him over the corpse. After praying or reciting the ritual, he would then drink and remove the bread from the breast and eat it, the act of which would remove the sin from the dying person and take it into himself.

In his 1926 book Funeral Customs, Bertram Puckle wrote the following about sin-eating,

A less known but even more remarkable functionary, whose professional services were once considered necessary to the dead, is the sin-eater. Savage tribes have been known to slaughter an animal on the grave, in the belief that it would take upon itself the sins of the dead. In the same manner, it was the province of the human scapegoat to take upon himself the moral trespasses of his client–and whatever the consequences might be in the after life–in return for a miserable fee and a scanty meal. That such a creature should be unearthed from a remote period of pagan history would be surprising enough, but to find reliable evidence of his existence in the British Isles a hundred years ago is surely very much more remarkable.

Professor Evans of the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen, actually saw a sin-eater about the year 1825, who was then living near Llanwenog, Cardiganshire. Abhorred by the superstitious villagers as a thing unclean, the sin-eater cut himself off from all social intercourse with his fellow creatures by reason of the life he had chosen; he lived as a rule in a remote place by himself, and those who chanced to meet him avoided him as they would a leper. This unfortunate was held to be the associate of evil spirits, and given to witchcraft, incantations and unholy practices; only when a death took place did they seek him out, and when his purpose was accomplished they burned the wooden bowl and platter from which he had eaten the food handed across, or placed on the corpse for his consumption.

Howlett mentions sin-eating as an old custom in Hereford, and thus describes the practice: “The corpse being taken out of the house, and laid on a bier, a loaf of bread was given to the sin-eater over the corpse, also a maga-bowl of maple, full of beer. These consumed, a fee of sixpence was given him for the consideration of his taking upon himself the sins of the deceased, who, thus freed, would not walk after death.” He suggests the connection between the sin-eater and the Jewish scapegoat of the old Testament.

On the one hand….ewwwww.

On the other hand, this is hardly any stranger than the Eucharist and the belief in transubstantiation. When you are at a point where you do not rely on a rigorous method of investigation, such as the scientific method, to try to understand the world, then anything goes.

US Supreme Court Declines to Hear American Atheists vs. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by American Atheists in American Atheists vs. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security which effectively leaves Kentucky’s bizarre faith based security measure in place.

The law empowering Kentucky’s state Office of Homeland Security includes a provision that,

(2) The executive director shall:

(a) Publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth by including the provisions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and educational materials. The executive director shall also be responsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3);

KRS 39A.285(3) in turns reads,

The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln’s historic March 30, 1863, Presidential Proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: “For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.'”

This lawsuit goes back to 2008. American Atheists won a ruling in its favor at the Circuit Court level, but that decision was overturned by the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

In an October 2011 ruling, the Appeals Court held that the publication of the text in question was simply a recognition of the the role of religion in American life rather than an unconstitutional attempt to compel religious belief. The Appeals court argued that the law was similar to an Ohio’s designation of “With God all things are possible” as the state motto which in 2001 was held not to violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Cause.
The Kentucky State Supreme Court, like the US Supreme Court, refused to hear an appeal by American Atheists.

International Humanist and Ethical Union Report on Discrimination Against Non-Religious

The International Humanist Ethical Union has issued its first report on discrimination throughout the world against humanists, atheists and the non-religious.

In a press release announcing the report, the IHEU said,

The report highlights a sharp increase in arrests for “blasphemy” on social media this year. The previous three years saw just three such cases, but in 2012 more than a dozen people in ten countries have been prosecuted for “blasphemy” on Facebook or Twitter, including:

  • In Indonesia, Alexander Aan was jailed for two-and-a-half years for Facebook posts on atheism.
  • In Tunisia, two young atheists, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, were sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for Facebook postings that were judged blasphemous.
  • In Turkey, pianist and atheist Fazil Say faces jail for “blasphemous” tweets.
  • In Greece, Phillipos Loizos created a Facebook page that poked fun at Greeks’ belief in miracles and is now charged with insulting religion.
  • In Egypt, 17-year-old Gamal Abdou Massoud was sentenced to three years in jail, andBishoy Kamel was imprisoned for six years, both for posting “blasphemous” cartoons on Facebook.
  • The founder of Egypt’s Facebook Atheists, Alber Saber, faces jail time (he will be sentenced on 12 December).

The full report can be downloaded here (2mb PDF).