One Nation Indivisible

In 2010, FreethoughtAction organized secular groups throughout North Carolina to form the North Carolina Secular Association (now, the Carolinas Secular Association) to conduct a billboard campaign during the month of July featuring the original words of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance “one nation indivisible” over the American flag. The billboards appeared in six cities across the state, from the mountains to the sea (Asheville, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Wilmington), and each city had its own media representative.

Below is a link to a video I put together about a year ago about it. The first few minutes tells the story of the campaign and the remainder is just some of the television coverage the campaign received in each area, concluding with coverage from the national ABC Evening News broadcast. The entire video is 32 minutes.

I think it’s very interesting to watch on a number of levels.

A Very Brief History of CAA (2003-2013)

The following was written in 2013 as a result of the 10th anniversary of the Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics (CAA). It serves as an example of how one secular group began and evolved a little differently than most groups of its kind. 

The ‘official’ birth of ‘Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics’ (CAA) can be traced back to January 2003 when an email distribution list at YahooGroups was created for the few atheists who had previously been meeting once every 3 months or so through

In the summer of 2005, the group became affiliated with American Atheists. Later, it would also become affiliated with the American Humanist Association and Atheist Alliance International (now, Atheist Alliance America).

In January 2007, Dan Russell-Pinson built the first website and forum for the group, and he became the official group organizer.

During those first several years, meetings were occasional and purely social.

Meetings were held at places like: Hartigan’s Irish Pub, Applebees, Outback Steakhouse, and the Mellow Mushroom.

The meetings usually topped out at around 10 people.

As the group began to grow, people inevitably envisioned different directions for what CAA should be: some wanted a purely social outlet, some wanted more formalized activism, and so on.

In March 2009, to avoid fragmentation, CAA enacted bylaws and elected its first officers.

Dan Russell-Pinson became the first president….

A mission statement was approved…

“To create and foster a close-knit community of non-believers and to put a positive face on atheism through education, public outreach and community service.”

The group had grown to such an extent by then that it had to find a new place to meet. It found a “home” of sorts at Dilworth Neighborhood Grille, where members could take over the room in the back or the space downstairs.

CAA decided not to make any changes regarding the purely social aspect of the now monthly socials, but started holding separate “planning” meetings each month.

When some wanted to start having speakers, CAA made that a separate event as well–and so on with any other activities–until the calendar was filling up each month with many different types of CAA events.

There were monthly community service projects, charity drives, movie nights, and book club meetings, and there was now an annual Garden of Eatin’ picnic added to the calendar….

While Dan was president, he was interviewed on radio, television, and for “Charlotte” magazine…

A new website and forum were built, and the groundwork was laid for CAA’s participation in the statewide “One Nation Indivisible” billboard campaign in 2010.

In the spring of 2010, Dan passed off the torch to Mike Tooney, who became the second president of CAA.

That summer, CAA received several rounds of media attention—local, national, and international–from its involvement with the “One Nation Indivisible” billboard campaign. CAA member William Warren was the media representative for the billboard in Charlotte.

Over 300 new members joined the new CAA website as a result of the campaign, bringing the total to over 1,300, and the following monthly social drew a record 75-80 people.

In the spring of 2011, Shawn Murphy became the third CAA president with Mary Snow as VP.

Monthly steering committee meetings began, monthly “alternative” socials were tested, and annual Darwin Day brunches and annual fundraising Summer Soirees were added to the calendar.

A youth group was launched, more speakers were brought in, a group page was started on Facebook, and CAA adopted a street in downtown Charlotte to keep clean….

President Shawn Murphy was interviewed on radio and television, and participated at interfaith events….

In 2012, several CAA members attended the Reason Rally in DC and Rock Beyond Belief in Fayetteville, NC.

Later, CAA representatives spoke out in the “Free Speech Zone” at the Democratic National Convention and received some media attention as a result.

CAA’s original logo, seen in the picture above, was replaced with a new one….

CAA became affiliated with the Carolinas Secular Association, and  later went on to help sponsor and host two of that organization’s conferences held in Charlotte.

CAA also became an endorsing organization of the Secular Coalition for America and later joined the Charlotte Coalition of Reason (Charlotte CoR).

For two years running, CAA was able to get former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to sign proclamations proclaiming a “Day of Reason” for Charlotte…

This resulted in more media attention when Foxx was appointed Transportation Secretary for the Obama Administration shortly after he signed the second one….

In 10 years, CAA went from not being able to gather five people together more frequently than quarterly to a thriving group with over 1,300 registered members on the website.

In the summer of 2013, CAA celebrated its 10 Year Anniversary with a dinner banquet at Dilworth Neighborhood Grille…

An Argument for ‘Xmas’ as a Secular Holiday

I’ve always thought these other holidays like HumanLight and Festivus were kind of lame attempts to compete with Christmas. After all, Christmas has a lot of cultural evolution behind it that has caused it to succeed very well.

Everyone should know that Christians have appropriated many older customs to form this holiday to try and make it their own. I don’t see why we can’t appropriate it for ourselves just as they did. It is already well on the way to becoming a “secular” holiday anyway, so maybe we can just push it the rest of the way.

There are many Christians who don’t understand the history of why it is sometimes abbreviated as “Xmas,” and they object to that abbreviation because they think it is “Xing out Christ from Christmas.”

Rather than trying to continually enlighten them about this issue, why not embrace their misunderstanding? We can say, “Yes! that’s exactly what we are trying to do!!! We are going to celebrate Xmas just like you celebrate Christmas, but without the Jesus BS.” We can still have the tree, the lights, and the gifts etc., but without a Jesus in the manger.

If Christians can steal it from pagan traditions, then we can steal it from them.

It could also be considered somewhat edgy, just like the X-Games relate to the Olympics. We could add our own extra flourishes to replace those that we are excluding (possibly crowning the tree with a Flying Spaghetti Monster rather than a star, for example).

I think it may be easier to appropriate it than to compete against it.

A Divine Epiphany

God just spoke to me….

He was in the bathroom while I was shaving.

He said that he wouldn’t intervene (except in this one instance) to tell me what he thought, and he asked me to pass it along.

He told me personally that all your problems and moral concerns are not his, and that you have to work them out yourselves, using your own reason.

He said he doesn’t need to punish you or reward you, because you are well equipped to punish or reward yourselves.

He said, “Either you can work this out yourselves or you can’t. If you can’t, it is your own fault and you will suffer the consequences.”

“On the other hand,” he said, “you can reap the rewards of your own efforts, and take responsibility for your own life and meaning.”

He said, “I say this: live the life you have and make it the best you can. Do your best while you can. It is the only life you get.”

He also said, “Any god who needs state support is a false god. Any god who needs you to worship him is a false god. Any god that threatens eternal torment to anyone for anything is a false god.”

He said, “If some god wants to punish you in hell-fire for eternity, then fuck him and the donkey, ass, or horse–winged or otherwise–he rode in on.”

Then there was my epiphany moment….

Just as Abraham had his epiphany moment and concluded there was just one God, I had mine and realized that there were none.

The God I was seeing was my reflection in the mirror. The God I was hearing was me.

“Well, what did you expect?” he asked.



According to Wikipedia, “Buddhism is an Indian religion and dharma that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to the Buddha. Buddhism originated in Ancient India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, from where it spread through much of Asia, whereafter it declined in India during the middle ages. Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravada (Pali: “The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (Sanskrit: “The Great Vehicle”). Buddhism is the world’s fourth-largest religion, with over 500 million followers or 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists.

“Buddhist schools vary on the exact nature of the path to liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices.”[]

In what follows, I’ll be citing Wikipedia quite a bit (though, not exclusively). The main reason is that it’s convenient. I could easily cite other encyclopedias and reference books that cover the same information, but that would require readers to make trips to the library or bookstore to review them. Some may ask why I don’t cite this or that particular Buddhist website instead. I do in one case below, but mainly the reason is that many of them may only present one interpretation or tradition of Buddhism while Wikipedia at least attempts to cover it as objectively as possible as a result of a collaboration of perspectives rather than one in particular. There are clearly a number of different interpretations or traditions of what I’m about to cover. I’m sure people from different traditions may take issue with some of the things I say below, even when I’m covering the most general and basic bits of information. That only goes to show how many different traditions and interpretations there are.

Justifiable or not, Buddhism seems to get more of a pass from the secular community than most other religions. Of course, some say it is an atheistic religion, and you can find people who will argue that it is a philosophy and not a religion at all.

The problem is that it may depend on how you define “religion,” along with the fact it seems different people all over the world have different ideas in mind about what “Buddhism” actually is, with each of them claiming their version is more accurate or more “original” [Just like various sects of Islam and Christianity who argue their tradition is the only “True” one.]

The difficulty with this is that the traditions were passed down orally for hundreds of years (~400 to 500 years) before anything was written down. Anyone who has played the game “telephone” should be familiar with the problems associated with oral communications handed down through successive generations. Just as with Jesus and Muhammad, there are no writings attributed to Buddha, and we are forced to try and puzzle together an origin story well after the fact with conflicting information from these much later texts and traditions. Because of this, not only is it difficult to know what Buddha actually taught, advocated, or believed in his lifetime vs. aspects of Buddhism which were added on later by others, it is difficult to know details about his life that are accurate vs. what was later made up or became legend. In fact, as with Jesus, it is even possible that Buddha didn’t exist at all and the whole story is a legend. However, most assume the story was at least based on an actual person even if his story was altered and embellished over time.

As Wikipedia says: “The details of Buddha’s life are mentioned in many early Buddhist texts but are inconsistent, his social background and life details are difficult to prove, the precise dates uncertain.” Various traditions place Buddha anywhere between the 19th Century BCE to the 4th Century BCE. Wikipedia places him somewhere between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. [] That’s a pretty wide guesstimation for someone people claim to know even greater details about. In other words, people are assuming details of his life, sayings, and teachings without even knowing for sure what century he was born in.

According to Wikipedia, “The classification and nature of various doctrinal, philosophical or cultural facets or schools of Buddhism is vague and has been interpreted in many different ways, often due to the sheer number (perhaps thousands) of different sects, subsects, movements, etc. that have made up or currently make up the whole of Buddhist traditions.” Because Buddhism emerged from Hinduism, it is likely some ideas and concepts from that tradition influenced—and were adopted by–Buddhism from the beginning, and it was later mixed with other traditions and beliefs as it spread, which is why there are thousands of sects and traditions in Buddhism today.

It seems unlikely we will ever be able to know what “original” Buddhism looked like beyond reasonable disputes, and claims about what may be “essential” to Buddhism are problematic. People who talk about what Buddhism is or isn’t without qualification have probably never studied it, have only studied one tradition, or are assuming things about it from what they’ve heard or seen without examining it much further. I will only be able to cover some of it superficially here, but hopefully enough to make some of the points I’d like to make about it.

I will attempt to show that there are supernatural traditions in Buddhism (including deities), that the westernized form is only one tradition (which may be just as problematic as any other), and that there are some concepts and practices that are also problematic (some of which have similarities to Christianity and other religions).

Supernatural Traditions

While it seems to be the case that Buddhism rejects the idea of a creator deity, many of the traditions and sects have various kinds of demi-gods, spirit deities, wrathful deities, and other supernatural characters (e.g.: hungry ghosts). Some even worship the Buddha as a deity.

Here are just a few examples:

“The term Brahmā in Buddhism refers to the leading god, but in some Suttas the term broadly refers to all beings (deities) who live in heavenly realms. Ancient and medieval Buddhist texts define seventeen, or more, heavenly Brahmā realms (along with demi-gods, hungry ghost and hellish realms), in a stratified manner, which are reached in afterlife based on monastic achievement and karma accumulation. A brahma in these texts refers to any deva in the heavenly realms. The Buddhist god Brahmā himself resides in the highest of the seventeen realms, called the Akanistha.” []

“A deva in Buddhism is one of many different types of non-human beings who share the godlike characteristics of being more powerful, longer-lived, and, in general, much happier than humans, although the same level of veneration is not paid to them as to buddhas.” []

Other supernatural traditions apart from supernatural beings include—but are not limited to–the idea of heavenly and hellish realms (as noted above); the idea of an afterlife—or multiple lives through reincarnation or rebirth–which also implies the concept of a supernatural something that is being reborn (Buddhists reject the idea of a “self” or “soul,” but they disagree on what it is that is being reborn); and the concept of some kind of supernatural “karma.”

While some of these supernatural elements in various traditions of Buddhism may have been later additions or “corruptions” of whatever was “original”–and I’m sure that some can successfully argue that some most certainly were—it doesn’t appear possible that anyone can honestly say with any certainty that there were no supernatural elements in its original form, or to know for sure what the original form might have been. In fact, it seems almost certain there were at least some supernatural elements even in its earliest formations.

Just as in other religions, the various sects may dispute with each other over different interpretations, as well as what aspects of Buddhism are best, essential, or original. And just as in other religions, there may be disputes regarding what parts should be viewed as metaphorical or allegorical vs. what should be taken literally.

“Western” Buddhism

It seems that the more recent “western” forms of Buddhism have attempted to strip out as many of the supernatural elements as possible from the various eastern traditions. It seems these western forms are attempting to build a more “rational” or “intellectual” form of Buddhism, which they like to suggest is closer to the “original” or “essential” Buddhism, but which may never have existed in reality. They do this by selecting (cherry-picking) only the Buddhist texts and practices which might be more appealing to modern “Western Culture,” and by disregarding as much of the rest as possible to try to make it into a respectable philosophy of life. In many respects it reminds me of those Christians who argue that Christianity is a philosophy and not a religion. And just as in other religions, the difficult or problematic elements are either ignored or they become metaphors, just like some Christians who argue that some problematic parts of the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally (e.g.: the 6 day creation story, Adam & Eve, etc.).

They have been successful enough with these efforts that it has drawn in many in the secular community… even to the point that some vague western form of Buddhism is all many seem to know about, and others make assertions about Buddhism (e.g.: “Buddhism is atheistic,” “Buddhism doesn’t have gods,” “Buddhism is a philosophy,” etc., etc.) without any qualification about what type, form, or sect of Buddhism they are talking about.

How successful different versions or sects might be in stripping out various supernatural elements and/or making it more “rational” or appealing may vary depending on which version one picks. The concept of some sort of supernatural karma seems like it may be the most difficult to dispense with, but I’m sure some may have. Additionally, some may cherry-pick their own personal version of Buddhism that they think best suits them and then they may become a kind of superficial or weekend pseudo-Buddhist. They may just be a fan of some of the “philosophy” and/or enjoy the meditation, for example. But even this may be problematic as I’ll try to cover below.

Considering that “Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha’s life” and “No written records about Gautama were found from his lifetime or some centuries thereafter” and “The sources for the life of Siddhārtha Gautama are a variety of different, and sometimes conflicting, traditional biographies.” And also taking into account such things considered “essential to Buddhism” such as “The Four Noble Truths” and “The Noble Eightfold Path” are thought to be “later developments,” saying that this or that aspect of Buddhism is or isn’t “essential” or “original” when no one knows exactly what he was teaching hundreds of years before it was written down, sounds like a bit of a stretch to me. []

Some Problematic Concepts & Practices

One of the concepts that can be found in Christianity is the idea that everyone is a “born sinner,” that we are born with a flaw or defect, that there is something inherently wrong with us, and that the Christian religion provides the only “cure” through Jesus and his supposed teachings.

The concept of karma in many traditions of Buddhism suggests that if we are miserable or suffering in this life, it may be some kind of justifiable consequence for something either done by us in this life or in some previous life, and Buddhism is the “cure” through Buddha’s supposed teachings.

I imagine it may be just as psychologically harmful for some people to have the idea that whatever suffering they might be going through is always justified because it’s their own flaw or fault (i.e.: karma) as it might be for others to be told they are “born sinners” or born flawed, and that any suffering is a test from God or the result of turning away from God (as some Christians have it).

There is also a similar idea in both Christianity and Buddhism that the things of this material and sensual world can pose a danger and should be avoided to attain a better state in heaven or nirvana.

According to Wikipedia, “The Four Noble Truths refer to and express the basic orientation of Buddhism in a short expression: we crave and cling to impermanent states and things, which are dukkha, ‘incapable of satisfying’ and painful. This craving keeps us caught in samsara, the endless cycle of repeated rebirth and dying again, and the dukkha that comes with it. There is, however, a way to end this cycle, namely by attaining nirvana, cessation of craving, whereafter rebirth and associated dukkha will no longer arise again. This can be accomplished by following the eightfold path, restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation.” []

And, “The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right “samadhi” (meditative absorption or union).”

Elaborating further on the “Noble Eightfold Path,” we find ideas like:

“Right View: our actions have consequences; death is not the end, and our actions and beliefs have also consequences after death; the Buddha followed and taught a successful path out of this world and the other world (heaven and underworld/hell)….

“Right Resolve: the giving up home and adopting the life of a religious mendicant in order to follow the path….

“Right Conduct: no killing or injuring, no taking what is not given, no sexual acts….

“Right Livelihood: beg to feed, only possessing what is essential to sustain life….”

…and so on. []

Of course there are various traditions and interpretations depending on which tradition or interpretation of Buddhism you want to look at or discuss (for example, the Chinese and Pali canons have a tenfold path instead of an eightfold one). But the basic idea seems to be a suggestion to turn away from (or renunciate ) the “impermanent states and things” in this world because they cause “craving and clinging,” which results in pain and suffering.

You can find the same kinds of ideas in other religions. There are dozens–if not hundreds—of examples from the Bible….

“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” – Matthew 6:19

“Keep your mind on things above, not on worldly things.” — Colossians 3:2

“…abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” –1 Peter 2:11

“For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” –1 John 2:16

“Don’t love this evil world or the things in it. If you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. This is all there is in the world: wanting to please our sinful selves, wanting the sinful things we see, and being too proud of what we have. But none of these comes from the Father. They come from the world.” –1 John 2:15-16

Other examples can be found in James 1:13-15, 2 Peter 1:4, 2 Timothy 2:4, Colossians 3:5, Galatians 5:16-21, Titus 2:12, and so on and on.

As Jesus supposedly said (according to John 18:36), “my kingdom is not of this world.”

In Buddhist cosmology, there are the six “Realms of existence.” []  While Humans are supposedly in one of the higher realms, the whole point of Buddhism is to advance beyond that, beyond the pain and suffering of the endless cycle of “samsara” or “the beginningless and endless cycle of rebirths throughout the six realms; the confused state of suffering from which Buddhists seek liberation” or “the worldly realm of suffering; conditioned existence” (that’s two definitions among many).

“Nekkhamma is a Pali word generally translated as ‘renunciation’ or ‘the pleasure of renunciation’ while also conveying more specifically ‘giving up the world and leading a holy life’ or ‘freedom from lust, craving and desires.’  In Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path, nekkhamma is the first practice associated with ‘Right Intention.’ In the Theravada list of ten perfections, nekkhamma is the third practice of ‘perfection.’ It involves non-attachment (detachment).


“The entire course of practice from start to finish can in fact be seen as an evolving process of renunciation culminating in Nibbana [Pali; Skt: Nirvana] as the ultimate stage of relinquishment, ‘the relinquishing of all foundations of existence’ (sabb’upadhipatinissagga).” []

“Dukkha (Sanskrit duhkha) or dissatisfaction (or ‘dis-ease’; also often translated ‘suffering’, though this is somewhat misleading). Nothing found in the physical world or even the psychological realm can bring lasting deep satisfaction.” []

Also, in the Mahayana tradition, for example, they have the “Five paths.” The “path of accumulation” includes “Renunciation of the worldly life.” The path of seeing includes “Realization of the emptiness of reality.”

“The goal of all Buddhists is to reach Nirvana. Death, for a Buddhist, is not the end.  Buddhists believe in re-birth. To attain Nirvana, we must break the cycle of birth and rebirth, which is only possible when a person is free from ignorance, hatred and greed. Buddhists believe that everyone can reach enlightenment. However, many young boys and girls train to be monks and nuns from an early age.

“They willingly give up all material possessions except the following eight objects:

a bowl to receive alms
a belt
a razor
a needle and a ball of thread
a water filter
a walking stick
a tooth pick” []

Some of the most serious Buddhists become “monks or nuns,” giving up material possessions to focus on attaining nirvana.

There is this idea in many religions—if not most or all—that we are somehow inherently flawed and this world is flawed, and that we should try to avoid the material or the sensual to focus on the spiritual in hopes of being liberated from this life into some better one, that life in this world is something to be escaped or liberated from. This concept gives some people the idea that suffering in this world is inevitable, so it’s something to be accepted rather than addressed.

One thing I’ve somewhat glossed over is the Buddhist concept of the self or soul which Buddhism rejects. This may be surprising considering the concept of an afterlife or rebirth into this realm or some other one in Buddhism would seem to imply a belief in one. It would seem to be problematic. What exactly is being reborn? Of course, as you might expect, there are different explanations in different traditions. Rather than try to parse through what different traditions believe gets reborn into different realms, I’d like to just touch on what the nirvana objective is supposed to be….

According to Wikipedia, “The state of nirvana is also described in Buddhism as cessation of all afflictions, cessation of all actions, cessation of rebirths and suffering that are a consequence of afflictions and actions. Liberation is described as identical to anatta (anatman, non-self, lack of any self). In Buddhism, liberation is achieved when all things and beings are understood to be with no Self. Nirvana is also described as identical to achieving sunyata (emptiness), where there is no essence or fundamental nature in anything, and everything is empty.”[]

So, in addition to the idea of being liberated from the material world, there is supposed to be a liberation from the self as well. Focusing on the selflessness of the world is supposed to be helpful in causing Buddhists to act more selflessly and easing the fears of death….

Here are the results of two surveys on the subject:

“In short, the no-self doctrine, rather than equipping the Tibetan lamas with serenity regarding end of life, seems to provoke a deep-rooted anxiety of self-annihilation, and does nothing to reduce overall fear of death.

“In another survey, we gave participants a tradeoff task to measure generosity in end-of-life decisions. Imagine, we said, that you have a terminal disease that will kill you in six months unless you take a medication. There is only one dose of the medication available. If you take it, it will prolong your life by six months. If you don’t take the medication, it will go to someone else who has the same condition and, like you, will die in six months. If the medicine would prolong his life by twelve months instead of six, would you still take the medicine? What about two years? How much more life would the stranger have to receive before you would give up your medicine?

“What we found surprised us. While Abrahamic and Hindu populations chose to give their medicine away when the stranger would live an additional couple of years, Buddhists were exceedingly reluctant to give their medicine away under any circumstances. If there is a ceiling on how much Buddhists value their lives over others, we never found it. Our scale only went up to ‘more than five years’—more than 70 percent of Buddhists selected this option.

“Much of Buddhist philosophy and religious practice is aimed at cultivating selflessness, rechanneling concerns to the larger moral universe around us. But we did not find this effect in our studies. Ironically, it seems that these teachings, instead of mitigating fear of death and nurturing generosity, engender some of the behaviors and thought patterns they seek to destroy. These effects are especially strong among monastics who have the deepest understanding of these doctrines. They are the most fearful of self-annihilation, and the least generous with their lives.” []

Even the Buddhist seemingly beneficial or innocuous practice of meditation seems to be problematic for some people….

“Research on meditation suggests how variable its effects can be. Meditation reportedly reduces stress, anxiety and depression, but it has been linked to increased negative emotions, too. Some studies indicate that meditation makes you hyper-sensitive to external stimuli; others reveal the opposite effect. Brain scans do not yield consistent results, either. For every report of heightened neural activity in the frontal cortex and decreased activity in the left parietal lobe, there exists a contrary result.” []


As an atheist (i.e.: without a belief in a God or gods), I find whatever supernatural claims there are in Buddhism just as absent of any empirical evidence to support them as in any other religion. It has contradicting origin stories, sects, texts, and traditions just like many other religions. It has some differences, but it also has many similarities with both eastern and western religions. I find the attempt to westernize it by making it more palatable or “rational” for a western audience–with claims about what is or isn’t “essential” or “original”—to be misinformed (or arrogant) and problematic. They are not much different than competing sects of Christianity who claim their version is closer to the truth, or how some want to sell or repackage Christianity as a philosophy rather than a religion. While Buddhism may promote some positive things, other religions can make the same claim. And while it may be better than the Abrahamic religions in some respects, I’d suggest a Humanist philosophy of life is even better without the woo, bullshit, and religious baggage (IMO).

Finally, I find problems with some of its concepts and practices (or “philosophy”). While those may vary from sect to sect and person to person, there seems to be some basic or general implications that are contrary to—or seem to be in competition with–human flourishing, enjoyment, and appreciation for our life in this world (which is the only life we know we have). It seems some of its practices—like meditation–may have varying and opposite results depending on the individual (and are therefore problematic), that some of its ideas may be psychologically harmful, that some may be a disincentive to focus on making this world a better place, and that some may create a “deep-rooted anxiety of self-annihilation” and selfishness in at least some of those who seriously practice it.

There may be some sects of Buddhism somewhere that are entirely free of all the problems I cite here (though, I’m not aware of them), and, just like in other religions, some may say it works for them. That may be great for them, but it’s not for me.

I want to live in the here and now, and I enjoy trying to have a close, personal relationship with reality… to whatever extent it can be determined by empirical evidence. I have human goals and desires for making THIS world a better place, not escaping or being “liberated” from it. I accept—and maybe even need—the pain and suffering insomuch as it gives me motivation to combat it and make things better, or to whatever extent it helps me to appreciate the joys in life to an even greater degree.

As an atheist, I accept my own “self-annihilation” when I die. Death is what makes every moment in life more precious and valuable. I’d rather embrace life, and enjoy as much of it as I can in the sort time I’m here, living in–and focusing all my attention on–this world to make the best I can of it.

Defining Atheist


Over the years the word “atheist” has been used in various ways. At one time Christians were called “atheists” by pagans because Christians didn’t believe in their gods. Later, deists like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine were called “atheists” by Christians. So, for many years, believers have used the word to define those that didn’t believe in their particular god, even if they believed in some other god or concept of god.

Some definitions of the word in the last couple centuries or more may define an atheist as someone who “denies or rejects the existence of God” and/or someone who “believes there is no god,” or variations of these. These definitions were likely formulated by believers and not the atheists themselves.

This explains quotes by people like American writer and professor of biochemistry Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), who seems to have one of those definitions in mind when he said….

“I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”

Definitions of this sort are the ones many self-identifying agnostics also seem to have in mind when they resist self-identifying as “atheists.” They correctly think that asserting a claim either for or against the existence of a god without empirical evidence is “intellectually unrespectable.” Some believe these types of definitions puts “atheism” on the same ground as belief, requiring an equal conviction—or “leap of faith”–without knowledge, and frequently leads some to assert that “atheism” is equivalent to religion in that respect. Using definitions like these may also unfortunately result in placing the burden of proof on both sides–theism and atheism–in equal measure.

Typing “atheist definition” into Google today comes up with this result: “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.”

Other online sources that come up near the top of search results include the following:

The Urban Dictionary: “a person who lacks belief in a god or gods.”

Merriam-Webster: “a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods.”

Rational Wiki: “Atheism, from the Greek a-, meaning ‘without’, and theos, meaning ‘god’, is the absence of belief in the existence of gods.”

Wikipedia: “Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities.”

These are more modern definitions of the term.

I submit that the best definition for “atheist” is someone “without a belief in a God or gods,” or as the Oxford Book of Atheism defines it, someone who has “an absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods.”

Here are my 5 main reasons….

#1: Practical Use

According to their website, “Since 1963, American Atheists has been the premier organization fighting for the civil liberties of atheists and the total, absolute separation of government and religion.” American Atheists is a national organization representing thousands of self-identifying atheists in America.

American Atheists use this definition: “To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.”

Dan Barker is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), FFRF is the largest national organization advocating for non-theists in the U.S. On page 135 of his book Losing Faith in Faith he says: “Atheism is not a belief. It is the ‘lack of belief’ in god(s).”

Aron Ra is the president of the Atheist Alliance of America, he has said that “A-theism means ‘without theism.’ It is not necessarily a claim of knowledge or even a conclusion. It is simply any perspective that does not include or accept the beliefs held in theism. It is the default position regarding the failure of theists to make an adequate or compelling case for their unsupported and evidently false assertions. Theists know they can’t bear the burden of proof, so they try to reverse it, to shift it onto us, by saying that atheism is a belief that there is no God. No, atheism is a lack of belief in the existence of a god; not the existence of belief in the lack of a god.”

These organizations–American Atheists, FFRF, and Atheist Alliance of America–are the largest membership organizations of this type in the U.S. and they all advocate for a definition that is absent (or without) a belief in a God or gods.

Having been well engaged in the secular/atheist/humanist/freethought movement over the last decade, I can say this definition is typical in local, national, and international nontheist secular organizations.

The American Humanist Association (AHA), for example, touts that one can be “Good Without God.” Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA has said, “By definition, identifying as atheist indicates that one doesn’t have a belief system that includes a god, nothing more.”

From a 2012 Center for Inquiry (CFI) blog post: “Being an atheist doesn’t even mean that you must deny the existence of God. That’s why the proper definition of an atheist includes ‘lacking belief in any god’ and not necessarily also ‘claiming to know no gods exist.’ Reasonable doubt, not epistemic certainty, is enough for an atheist.”

There are other examples, but these are some of the largest nontheist secular membership organizations representing secular nonbelievers in the U.S. that I’m citing. I am not aware of any counter-examples which propose any kind of rejection, denial, or belief that there is no God as definitions of atheism.

Of course, I haven’t surveyed atheists across the world to find out how all of them might define themselves, but it seems we might pay at least some attention to how those organizations who represent them might define it. And it would seem if there were any significant objections from their various memberships, there would be some significant noise about it, which there doesn’t seem to be.

The point is that it might be most relevant to use the definition that people who self-identify by that term would use, especially those organized atheists who are most invested in it. To impose a definition on them from outside would seem to be less accurate in understanding what they actually think.

#2: The Various God Definitions

“God” is certainly a term that is well-known to be used by different people to mean different things. [Note: I won’t be focusing on secondary definitions of the word here (such as: His “god” was money), but more on primary definitions.] Believers of different religions (or faiths) have different concepts in mind when they use this word (although there is some overlapping among some of them, and sometimes different words are used such as “Allah” by Muslims), and different sects within each religion may have somewhat different things in mind when they use the word. It may even be difficult to find two people of the same sect who have exactly the same concept in mind. For this reason, some have suggested that each believer creates “God” in his or her own image, and some charge believers with SPAG (Self Projection As God), but I will pass over that here. Nevertheless, if this is the case, then the term could have a different meaning for each believer.

A review of some selected dictionaries seems to indicate a difference between the use of the word when it is capitalized and when it’s not. For example, Merriam-Webster seems to be providing a definition for the lowercase “god” with its second definition here: “a spirit or being that has great power, strength, knowledge, etc., and that can affect nature and the lives of people : one of various spirits or beings worshipped in some religions,” and explicitly provides a lowercase definition as “one of several deities, especially a male deity, presiding over some portion of worldly affairs.”

Focusing solely on 1st definitions in these dictionaries and the uppercase use of the word, we find Merriam-Webster defining the term as “the perfect and all-powerful spirit or being that is worshipped especially by Christians, Jews, and Muslims as the one who created and rules the universe.” According to The American Heritage Dictionary, “God” is “a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions,” and according to Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, “God” is “the creator and ruler of the universe; Supreme Being.” The World English Dictionary defines “God” as “a supernatural being, who is worshipped as the controller of some part of the universe or some aspect of life in the world or is the personification of some force.” Collins English Dictionary defines “God” as “the sole Supreme Being, eternal, spiritual, and transcendent, who is the Creator and ruler of all and is infinite in all attributes; the object of worship in monotheistic religions.” And defines “God” as “the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.”

According to Wikipedia…

“God is often conceived as the Supreme Being and principal object of faith. In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. In deism, God is the creator (but not the sustainer) of the universe. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. The concept of God as described by theologians commonly includes the attributes of omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one God or in the oneness of God. God has also been conceived as being incorporeal (immaterial), a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the ‘greatest conceivable existent.'”  

Without exploring every last dictionary and encyclopedia available, we can began to gather some idea of how many different believers conceive of the term when it is used in an uppercase sense. “God” seems to be a supernatural and supreme being who created and/or rules the universe. As a result of this “supreme” status, other attributes might or might not include: an eternal and necessary existence, transcendence, perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipresence.

However, as the Wikipedia entry attempts to address, there are some differences between the theistic, deistic, and pantheistic concepts of “God.” If you explore even further, you will find different–and sometimes highly developed–schools of thought about the definition of “God” not only among theists but deists and pantheists as well.

Therefore, it is important to understand what someone means when they use the word in order to understand what they might be claiming or talking about. If the term is undefined, it could mean a very wide range of things. The person using the word may be talking about a personal God who intervenes in the world or they may be talking about an impersonal God who doesn’t. They might have some Eastern concept of God or they might have some Western concept. They might be talking about a Christian God or an Islamic God. They might be talking about “Nature’s God” or even just “Nature,” or they might even be talking about “All That Is” or some ill-defined or undefined “force” or undetectable “energy.”

Muhammad had a different “God” in mind than Martin Luther. John Calvin had a different “God” in mind than Thomas Jefferson. Albert Einstein had a different “God”  in mind than Billy Graham, and so on.

It was precisely because Einstein didn’t define what he meant when he used the word “God” at one point that he had to clarify it later because of the confusion it caused….

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. 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.”

In order to understand what anyone means when they use the word, it is important to understand the context or the definition that individual might be using, including the possibility they might be using it only as a metaphor.

So, if we define “atheist” as “someone denying or rejecting the existence of god” or “someone who believes there is no god”–as some persist in doing–we run into the problem of what definition of “god” we are talking about. While I might be able to rule out some definitions as possible (if they are self-contradictory or irrational, for example), I might not be able to rule out all of them. And I certainly can’t rule out every definition any believer might come up with prior to learning what that definition is.

The burden is on the person making the claim to define what they are talking about when they use the word “god.” If they refuse to give a definition, they might as well be using a nonsense word, so what they are talking about is meaningless, and it can be dismissed as such with no reason to even consider it. Until the word is defined, nonbelievers have no way to know what they are talking about, so it would be difficult (if not impossible) to have an opinion on the subject (unless they themselves are assuming their own definition). For example, if the person using the word simply means “nature,” I imagine you would be hard pressed to find an “atheist” who didn’t believe in nature. This is just one example. Some people use the word to mean “All That Is.” If that is what the person using the word really means, then again, you would probably have a hard time finding an atheist who didn’t believe in that (while one might suggest the believer use other words for clarity regarding what they are talking about, we have no control over how people might use the word). I think you will have a difficult time finding an atheist anywhere who is willing to reject the possibility of any and/or every definition of “god” that a believer might come up with.

You might find some who will positively reject some definitions of “god,” perhaps because those definitions are internally self-contradictory or illogical/irrational, which may be fully justifiable, but not every possible definition someone might present. And even if someone thinks they know all possible definitions, new ones are likely to spring up at any moment.

As Gordon Stein pointed out regarding the word “atheism”:

Actually, there is no notion of “denial” in the origin of the word, and the atheist who denies the existence of God is by far the rarest type of atheist — if he exists at all. Rather, the word atheism means to an atheist “lack of belief in the existence of a God or gods.” An atheist is one who does not have a belief in God, or who is without a belief in God. The importance of these distinctions is that one cannot understand what one cannot define accurately. An atheist cannot deny the existence of that which he finds to be without meaning, namely the term *God. In order to deny the existence of something, one must know what the term one is denying means.

Certainly one cannot reject or deny what has yet to be defined. That would be irrational.

#3: Burden of Proof

As I pointed out in the introduction, using definitions for atheist such as someone who “denies or rejects the existence of God” or someone who “believes there is no God” unfortunately puts the same kind of burden of proof on the atheist as it does the theist who believes there is one. The definition “without a belief in a God or gods” avoids that problem entirely.

As a result, this definition is useful in combating the theists’ common assertion that atheism is as much a belief system as theism is, and that it takes just as much “faith” to say there are no gods of any possible definition as it is to say there is one.

It removes the “intellectually unrespectable” issue that Asimov struggled with, as well as the issue that self-identifying agnostics who shun self-identifying as atheists have with it.

#4: Etymology

As Michael Martin (1932-2015) former professor of philosophy at Boston University explains it:

If you look up “atheism” in a dictionary, you will probably find it defined as the belief that there is no God. Certainly many people understand atheism in this way. Yet many atheists do not, and this is not what the term means if one consider it from the point of view of its Greek roots. In Greek “a” means “without” or “not” and “theos” means “god.” From this standpoint an atheist would simply be someone without a belief in God, not necessarily someone who believes that God does not exist. According to its Greek roots, then, atheism is a negative view, characterized by the absence of belief in God.

This would result in treating the definition of “atheism” in the same way we treat other words like “amoral,” “atypical,” and “asymmetrical,” with the “a” meaning “without” or “not,” which would seem to make the most sense.

Here are some other related quotes on the matter, selected because they may be of some interest….

Atheist, in the strict and proper sense of the word, is one who does not believe in the existence of a god, or who owns no being superior to nature. It is compounded of the two terms … signifying without God.

— Richard Watson (1781–1833), British Methodist theologian, author of A Biblical and Theological Dictionary

Etymologically, as well as philosophically, an ATheist is one without God. That is all the “A” before “Theist” really means.

— G.W. Foote (1850-1915), English secularist and journal editor, author of What Is Agnosticism (London, 1902)

The word atheist is a thoroughly honest, unambiguous term. It means one who does not believe in God, and it means neither more nor less.

— Robert Flint, (1838-1910), Scottish theologian and philosopher, author of Agnosticism (Edinburgh, 1903)

If one believes in a god, then one is a Theist. If one does not believe in a god, then one is an A-theist — he is without that belief. The distinction between atheism and theism is entirely, exclusively, that of whether one has or has not a belief in God.

— Chapman Cohen (1868 -1954), English freethinker, atheist, and a secularist, author of Primitive Survivals in Modern Thought (London, 1935)

… the absence of theistic belief …

— Joseph McCabe (1867-1955), English writer and speaker on freethought defining the word atheism in A Rationalist Encyclopedia (1950)

Obviously, if theism is a belief in a God and atheism is a lack of a belief in a God, no third position or middle ground is possible. A person can either believe or not believe in a God.

If theism is the belief in the existence of God, then a-theism ought to mean “not theism” or “without theism.”

— Gordon Stein (1941-1996), American author, physiologist, and activist for atheism, former senior editor of Free Inquiry and the American Rationalist

“Atheist” is quite clear in its meaning of “somebody without a belief in God.” It is more complex in its usage since it has often been used to blacken anyone with the slightest doubt about the teachings of religion.

— Jim Herrick (born 1944), British Humanist and secularist

All children are atheists — they have no idea of God.

— Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), French Enlightenment philosopher

The man who is unacquainted with theism is an atheist because he does not believe in a god. This category would also include the child with the conceptual capacity to grasp the issues involved, but who is still unaware of those issues. The fact that this child does not believe in god qualifies him as an atheist.

— George H. Smith (born 1949), American author of Atheism: The Case Against God (1974)

Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color.

— Don Hirschberg, in a letter to Ann Landers

Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.

— Bill Maher (born 1956), American comedian, political commentator, and television host

Atheism is a belief system, like “OFF” is a TV Channel.

— Ricky Gervais (born 1961), English comedian, actor, writer, producer

“Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

— Penn Jillette (born 1955), American magician, comedian, author

#5: Inclusiveness

If we accept that an atheist is “someone who is without a belief in a God or gods,” then atheism and agnosticism (or theism and gnosticism) are not mutually exclusive because one has to do with belief and the other has to do with knowledge.

One can be…

An agnostic atheist – one who thinks we can’t know with certainty, but lacks belief.

An agnostic theist – one who thinks we can’t know with certainty, but believes regardless.

A gnostic theist – one who claims to know and believes.

A gnostic atheist – one who claims to know and doesn’t believe.

You will find some who refer to the agnostic atheist position as weak, soft, implicit, negative, or pragmatic atheism and the gnostic atheist position as strong, hard, explicit, positive, or theoretical atheism.

If the “without a belief in a God or gods” definition is used, then not only is it compatible with agnosticism, it also necessarily includes all atheists (weak/soft/implicit/negative/pragmatic/agnostic and strong/hard/explicit/positive/theoretical/gnostic). It becomes an all-inclusive umbrella definition for atheists of all stripes.


Therefore, I submit that the best definition for atheists is “without a belief in a God or gods” or “an absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods” because 1) that is the way I think most organized atheists would define it today, 2) that definition resolves the issue of rejecting in advance something that is yet to be defined, 3) it removes the problematic burden of proof issues, 4) that is the etymology of the word, and 5) that definition makes it compatible with agnosticism and it can include all types of atheists (weak/soft/implicit/negative/pragmatic/agnostic and strong/hard/explicit/positive/theoretical/gnostic).

If anyone is interested in going into further detail regarding some of the things I’ve covered above, as well as some reasons that I didn’t cover, I’d suggest reading this excerpt from the Oxford Book of Atheism on “Defining Atheism.” It is a little long, but it is also interesting and informative.


Mocking Invocation

Regarding the unfortunate ruling in the Greece v. Galloway case, instead of just banning invocations outright, the Supreme Court ruled that invocations before local city council meetings can be allowed when they are open to everyone.

To test this, Humanists have suggested applying to give Humanist invocations, Satanists have suggested applying to give invocations to Satan, and others have suggested atheists might apply to give invocations to the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

All of the above might be better ideas than this one….

My first inclination after the ruling was to try and make a total mockery of the occasion (to an even greater extent than giving invocations to the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn might be).

Imagine showing up as some kind of cross between a witch doctor and a magician (e.g.: body paint and a rattle, a magician’s hat and a wand, etc.). Then, giving an invocation like this…

Ooogla Boogla, Ooogla Boogla, Ooogla Boogla, Shazam!
Abracadabra, Alakazam, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!
Hocus Pocus, Voodoo, Hoodoo, You do!
Jantar Mantar, Jadu Mantar, Joshikazam!
Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho!
Klaatu barada nikto!
Sim Sala Bim, Presto, Ju ju!
Ep-pe, Pep-pe, Kak-ke!
Hil-lo, Hol-lo, Hel-lo!
Ziz-zy, Zuz-zy, Zik!
Meeska, Mooska, Mickey Mouse!
A la peanut butter sandwiches!
Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy!

Of course, aside from dancing around and shaking a rattle, you could throw around some glitter and blow some “Miracle Bubbles.” You might even consider becoming “possessed by the spirit” at the end and conclude by frothing at the mouth and shaking violently on the floor.

Note: The words above were drawn from a number of sources related to “magical words.” I’ve also included the chant from the novel (not the movie) “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” It’s the chant to summon the flying monkeys.


According to Wikipedia, “Easter is the most important religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. It is believed by the Christians to be the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe occurred on the third day after his crucifixion around AD 33.”

In fact, it might be said that Christianity stands or falls based on whether or not the resurrection of Jesus actually occurred.

The “evidence” is sketchy.

Jesus isn’t credited with writing anything himself and there are no contemporary accounts of his life or death. The earliest texts mentioning him come from “Paul the Apostle.” Paul never met Jesus, and Paul’s first writings are dated roughly 15-20 years after Jesus’ supposed death (and Paul doesn’t reveal any knowledge of Jesus’ birth, or much of his life or his ministry, so he isn’t a good source for an historical Jesus).

Paul relays stories of people who he says Jesus appeared to after his death and ends this list with himself (1 Corinthians 15). It is certainly unclear if he is describing some kind of “spiritual vision” or an actual bodily resurrection since he includes his experience on equal footing with the other appearances (and his experience seems to have been of the former type).

The four so-called “Gospels”–which are supposed to be the primary accounts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection–were written even later, decades after the fact (and none of those were written by actual eye-witnesses). [We can include the “Acts of the Apostles” here as well.]

We do not have the original copies of any of these texts. The earliest sufficiently complete copies we have come hundreds of years after the supposed events. They are fragmentary and are copies of earlier copies, which are themselves copies of earlier copies, and so on, to an unknown degree removed from the originals. Comparisons of the various copies that we do have indicate variations between them and indicate that copying errors occurred.

The sudden appearance of new sections of text in later copies (text that doesn’t appear in any earlier copies) suggest that some things were added later and were most likely not contained in the original versions. This opens up the possibility that additions were made before the earliest copies available to us as well.

Even the originals, from which the flawed copies are derived, were written years and/or decades after the supposed events took place. None of them were written by actual eye-witnesses, so they are second-hand accounts at best. They are actually even further removed from the supposed events than that, either based on prior writings that are lost to us and/or oral traditions that were passed down over time. [The reliability of stories passed down orally should be suspect to anyone who has ever played the game “Telephone.”] Additionally, the original authorship of the various texts is entirely unknown (except for some of the ones said to be written by Paul).

The various texts that we are left with are in conflict with one another in many details regarding the events that supposedly took place. They are also in conflict with what we know about the history, culture, and traditions of that time, place, and people.

They include accounts that are suspiciously similar to other earlier stories that were told about other god-men that we now consider mythological, and these accounts claim various extraordinary and supernatural events taking place that most of us would consider wild, outrageous, and unbelievable were they to be told about something happening in today’s world with no more evidence than what we have here.

Even if we assume that Jesus existed and that the whole story wasn’t an invention, distortion, or in any way embellished, that the written translations were more or less uncorrupted and somewhat accurate translations from the original texts, and that the original texts were based on accurate reports of more or less uncorrupted and somewhat accurate oral accounts given in good faith by actual eye-witnesses (which is quite a LOT to assume), there is still the possibility that the witnesses were mistaken or deceived.

So we have flawed translations of conflicting reports by biased and/or anonymous authors who were relaying hand-me-down hearsay-accounts of wild, extraordinary, and supernatural events given by unsophisticated witnesses, who were possibly duped, mistaken, or lying (if the authors themselves weren’t fabricating or embellishing, which appears likely), and that are suspiciously similar to earlier stories circulating at the time which we now consider unbelievable mythology.

This kind of “evidence” would be laughed out of any court of law today.

It is certainly not much to base your life on.

Occam’s Razor and common sense suggest that there are any number of other more rational/natural explanations for these accounts of supposed events than the one Christians believe.

I think it unlikely that most Christians would even believe it, if they were presented with this evidence for the first time as adults and not brought up to believe it as children when they were most impressionable.

Regardless, as Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

In this case, we have some very extraordinary claims which lack even the minimal requirements for evidence of even ordinary claims.

PS: Resurrection Myth Development

While I’ll not get into the conflicting resurrection story details found in the various Gospels, I’d just like to review how the resurrection myth developed over time in the Gospels themselves….

In Mark (the oldest gospel), you have an empty tomb and a young man in a white robe to tell what has happened, saying Jesus would be seen in Galilee. In Matthew there is an earthquake and the young man has turned into an angel blazing like lightning, flying down from above to zap a couple of guards and roll away the stone to the tomb with one hand, then saying Jesus would be seen in Galilee (but instead, he shows on up right away and repeats what the angel said). In Luke, the one boy is now two men in dazzling raiment, but rather than Galilee, the place to see the visions has become Jerusalem. Then some more time goes by and we get to the story of John (the last gospel) where the boy in Mark has become two angels!! and Jerusalem is again the place to see visions.

Also, as the myth grows, we see Jesus go to more and more trouble to prove that he has a physical body. In Mark, he isn’t there. In Matthew, they grab at his feet. In Luke, he asks his disciples to touch him and eats some fish. In John, he shows his wounds, breathes on people, and lets Thomas put his fingers into the wounds themselves.

It is as if the authors have more and more they want to try to prove about the resurrection, so they keep adding more details and taking it further and further.

Now it has been taken so far that it has become The Greatest Lie Ever Told.

PPS: Matthew’s Resurrection Zombies

Some of my favorite humorous parts of the Bible are the fabrications “Matthew” spreads regarding the aftermath of the crucifixion…

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. The graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” – Matthew 27:51-53

Matthew is the only one to report any of this. None of the other Gospel writers mention it, and there is no extra-Biblical support for it (as you would imagine there should be for such an extraordinary event).

One of the funniest commentaries about this I’ve ever read is from Thomas Paine in his “Age of Reason.” He sounds almost like Mark Twain here….

“It is an easy thing to tell a lie, but it is difficult to support the lie after it is told. The writer of the book of Matthew should have told us who the saints were that came to life again, and went into the city, and what became of them afterward, and who it was that saw them — for he is not hardy enough to say he saw them himself; whether they came out naked, and all in natural buff, he-saints and she-saints; or whether they came full dressed, and where they got their dresses; whether they went to their former habitations, and reclaimed their wives, their husbands, and their property, and how they were received; whether they entered ejectments for the recovery of their possessions, or brought actions of criminal conduct against the rival interlopers; whether they remained on earth, and followed their former occupation of preaching or working; or whether they died again, or went back to their graves alive, and buried themselves.”

Recent Religious Studies

The BBC recently released the results of a survey they had commissioned with the research consultancy ComRes.

Here are some of the results…

• Half of the people surveyed didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection (including a quarter of people who described themselves as Christian)
• There was an equal split among those who say they believe in a life after death (e.g. reincarnation, heaven, hell) and those who do not (at 46% each).

More from the survey can be found HERE.

Tables from the survey HERE.

Another recent study from the Pew Research Center says that “For years, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has been rising, a trend similar to what has been happening in much of Europe (including the United Kingdom). Despite this, in coming decades, the global share of religiously unaffiliated people is actually expected to fall, according to Pew Research Center’s new study on the future of world religions.”

The main reason given is that “This relative decline is largely attributable to the fact that religious ‘nones’ are, on average, older and have fewer children than people who are affiliated with a religion. In 2015, for instance, the median age of people who belong to any of the world’s religions was 29, compared with 36 among the unaffiliated. And between 2010 and 2015, adherents of religions are estimated to have given birth to an average of 2.45 children per woman, compared with an average of 1.65 children among the unaffiliated.”

In other words, the religious are outbreeding the nonreligious.

I’d like to suggest that the religious have always been outbreeding the nonreligious and the only way the percentage of those who do not identify with any religion has been rising recently in spite of that is because of the internet.

As I’ve said previously, “if you look back on the rise of the nonreligious, it seems to coincide with the rise of the internet,” and “for the first time in the history of humanity, religion will have to fight it out in the marketplace of ideas like it’s never had to do before.”

I guess only time will tell which way it will go.

A report of the study is HERE.

The study is HERE.