Skeptics continue to eat their own

Some of the shine of the Unholy Trinity is starting to wear off.

Seth Andrews and Aron Ra have announced they are pulling out of MythCon IV in Milwaukee after the organizers refused to deplatform three speakers, just weeks after Andrews went on the record opposing a radio station doing the same to Richard Dawkins who was supposed to speak at Berkely about his new science book.

Atheists and skeptics continue to eat their own over issues of identity politics. And I am just wondering if I should join the others who give up and walk away. Because eventually, every person will end up across some invisible line the identity politics people create, and that’s it. They’re done.

Apparently the current dust-up is over the lineup of speakers at MythCon in Milwaukee on Sept. 30, with social justice activists working to get people to not attend and/or put pressure on the conference organizers and even the venue owners to disinvite and deplatform three of the speakers, two of which are controversial and one of which is very offensive, at least to certain people.

Mythcon Speaker Mashup.jpg
The MythCon speaker lineup

The biggest issue people have is with Sargon of Akkad, who has more than 600,000 YouTube subscribers and frequently posts inflammatory and controversial videos on topics both in the religious and political realm. He is one of the featured speakers at the convention where he will be interviewed by podcaster Thomas Smith, who is diametrically opposed to most of Sargon’s positions on topics, especially in the realm of social justice.

 

Then there is the Armoured Skeptic and Shoeonhead, another two YouTube posters, who will be speaking on skepticism and social media. While not at controversial and confrontational as Sargon, these two have also drawn the ire of some in the atheist movement, including Steve Shives and Kristi Winters, many of whom have called for the three of them to be take off the speaker list of the conference.

Many of their detractors have used loaded words, calling Skeptic and Shoeonhead rape apologists, member of the Alt-right, White nationalists or even Nazis. I thought there was a rule in the skeptic community that when you have to call someone a Nazi…

Sargon has taken some pretty awful positions on issues regarding feminism. Perusing YouTube one day, I saw Armored Skeptic bring up Benghazi and Hillary Clinton. But I didn’t know that being able to speak at a conference required people to check off approved views on some sort of litmus test. Because we will all eventually fail someone’s litmus test. Just check out David Smalley’s podcasts where he speaks about being called a Nazi for his nuanced views on Antifa and Black Lives Matters.

Because we will all eventually fail someone’s litmus test. Just check out David Smalley’s podcasts where he speaks about being called a Nazi for his nuanced views on Antifa and Black Lives Matters.

Aron Ra, with his wife Lilandra speaking for him, pulled out and applauded others who did so with Lilandra saying there are no progressive or social justice viewpoints at the conference. Melissa Chen, an American citizen who emigrated from Singapore, also apparently falls on the list of not being for social justice enough, as do Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, an Iraqi-born human rights activist who faced death threats from Al-Qaida, and women’s rights activist Asra Nomani, who will be the featured debate speakers at the conference.

Apparently, a number of people have taken offense to the words some of the people on the lineup have spoken. Seth Andrews linked to this YouTube video to point out some of the inflammatory, offensive and disturbing things Sargon has said.

Although for activists who say everything they say is turned into 12-second quote-mined soundbites, linking to someone else’s 12-second mining of Sargon’s channel should be researched a little more.

But what about what atheists say? Describing summer bible school and Sunday school as indoctrination and child abuse? Aron Ra regularly compares faith in the scriptures to mental illness and delusions. While not as raw, rough and offensive as other terms that could be used to say the same thing, I am sure these phrases are considered offensive and harmful by the faithful. But they add to the dialog and get people to think about their actions and their culture, even those in the faith who originally take offense before sitting down and unpackaging.

People have every right to not attend the conference, but the actions by many to keep others the dislike from attending is what really angers me and gets my blood boiling. Seth Andrews in his Facebook post announcing his departure lamented the fact that the organizers wouldn’t pull the offensive speakers in return for keeping Seth in the lineup and said that in the future, he would like conferences to allow attendees to pre-screen the speakers if they are “controversial.”

1) My original agreement to attend MythCon was as a special guest at the film premiere of “Batman & Jesus,” not as part of a speech experiment. I don’t think MythCon purposefully pulled a bait-and-switch. But I do think that the selection of such a controversial lineup should have been submitted to each of the pre-agreed special guests, to make sure they approved.
2) I don’t know or follow other content producers’ material (with a couple of exceptions, when time allows). I know and admire Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Melissa Chen, Thomas Smith, Matt Dillahunty, Aron Ra, and familiar and compelling icons like ex-Scientologist Ron Miscavige.
Three others on the schedule, the controversial Sargon of Akaad, ShoeonHead and Armored Skeptic, were pitched as the inclusion of activists not known well or listened to in “mainstream” convention models, and I was told that MythCon would be an exercise in bringing opposing views together for respectful discourse and an exchange of ideas. I support dialogue, even/especially when people stand apart on critical issues, and I supported MythCon’s right to invite and include whoever they saw fit (just as the rest of us can decide if it warrants our own participation or endorsement).

A few months ago, atheists and skeptics were sounding the alarm when Richard Dawkins was disinvited by a private radio station from speaking at Berkely about his new book, “Science in the Soul,” after the radio station said his controversial and offensive comments about Islam came to light.

Dawkins has offended many in social justice spheres. He is called an Islamophobe by many activists, and his tweets and positions on topics about women have also been called misogynistic. But that didn’t stop activists including the Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, and others from calling out the deplatforming and lamenting the fact that he had been silenced by his critics for what they described as “abusive, hurtful words.”

Why is it okay in the atheist and skeptic movement to do the same to other people, who are less well-known and aren’t the poster-child of the movement? Why do their voices mean less? And if we only listen to those we agree with, admire and like, then how do we learn, grow and adapt?

 

 

 

 

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Ray Comfort exploits mental illness and suicide to minister on the streets

Ray Comfort is back with another cringe-worthy YouTube video that attempts to use human suffering and tragedy to preach his version of the Gospel.

His video, “Exit: The Appeal of Suicide” seems to indicate that suicide in on the rise because we are a godless society and involves several scenes where Ray Comfort preaches to people who have openly admitted to him that they are battling suicide and depression.

Instead of making sure they get the professional help they need, this multi-million dollar televangelist and street preacher decides it is more important to witness to these people and then make sure to use their stories for his own personal gain.

But what do you expect from The Banana Man, who steadfastly remains ignorant of logic, reasoning, medical science and anything else that doesn’t come from a book written by Bronze and Iron Age societies or from his wishy-washy form of charismatic street preaching which is chock-full of feel-good platitudes and non sequiturs and very little profound advice.

Comfort begins this “free, full-length movie” by finding people suffering from depression and mental health issues to prey upon. The third person he interviews apparently hates her family “for every bringing her into the world.”

Comfort tries to pass this off as a typical example of the mental health crisis in our secular society, but I figure this person is either stringing him along or has some deep psychological issues. If it was the latter, this person definitely needs professional medical help much more than she needed to be preached to for ten or fifteen minutes then dumped at the wayside after Comfort got his fifteen-second video clip.

Later was a whopper about someone who suffered from depression after she was gang-raped at her church. I know these kinds of traumatic experiences exist, but how many people did he have to walk up to on the street in order to get the perfect variety of shock value to blast viewers with?

 

Exit Robin Williams
Even Robin Williams’ memory isn’t safe if Ray Comfort thinks it will get him a buck.

This is followed up with several YouTube clips and interviews about celebrities who suffered from depression and mental health issues. Robin Williams makes the cut, as well as other famous musicians and actors such as Prince. He then focuses on the issue of suicide on college campuses, which has seen an uptick of stress, anxiety and mental illness in recent years.

 

This then morphs into a vague insinuation that it’s our secular lifestyle that is leading to this mental anguish. He plays more YouTube clips of actors talking about their atheism and intense fear of death, about how there isn’t an afterlife so life itself is meaningless and the fear of death becomes crippling.

Unspoken is the assumption that these atheists and nonbelievers are rebelling against god and heaven and that is the reason we are seeing more mental illness and suicides. And he throws in some shade against mental health professionals and psychiatry by saying depression was recently reclassified as a mental illness (apparently the 1970s is recent) and that anti-depressants are controversial (only to Scientologists and other fundamental faiths).

Not mentioned in this video is the increased stressors in our modern-day life. We’re living longer but also working longer and sleeping less than we used. We sit at desks for long hours staring at screens and technology, while a boon, has also isolated many of us and turned our natural community structures and supports upside down.

While a staunch atheist and person who thinks organized religion has done a lot of harm, the anthropologist in me realizes that we probably need alternatives. Churches did bring people together once a week as a community. And fables about a heavenly afterlife probably have had a profound uplifting effect on people’s psyches. Even if it is a lie, it probably helped us cope with the fact that we die. Archaeological excavations show some of the first things to develop with society alongside cave paintings were burial rituals.

Even if it is a lie, it probably helped us cope with the fact that we die. Archaeological excavations show some of the first things to develop with society alongside cave paintings were burial rituals. It doesn’t mean we need to believe the lie, but we should probably come up with a better and more holistic way of coping with this natural fear of death.

Instead, Ray plays his word games with college-age kids into “converting” to Christianity. He confuses them with some mumbo jumbo, speaking fast and reciting his shtick about lusting after women (like a lot of fundamental Christians, he is obsessed with sex) and accepting Jesus into your heart. If you have ever seen a street con man or illusionist, fire off a rapid series of questions to confuse his audience, you know what a Ray Comfort conversion is like.

 

Exit the Appeal of Suicide II
Ray scraped YouTube for a number of suicide videos, just to throw in some shock and awe right before asking audiences to repent and seek Jesus.

The worst part of the movie was when Comfort shows clips of attempted and completed suicides. He apparently skulked through the darker side of YouTube to glorify those who committed suicide and shock people, like the purveyor of religious fluff and snuff that he is.

 

I have thought about suicide before, fantasized about it. I’ve felt hopeless and overwhelmed with life and I suffer from anxiety and depression. But death scares me even more. I love stories and experiences; if I die, then I don’t get to read one more book, watch one more movie, play one more video game or go on one more date with my partner.

This movie is offensive. But even worse than that, it isn’t helpful; not one bit. If Comfort had any faith, he’d be begging the god he says he believes in for forgiveness. He spent 40 minutes exploiting suicide to preach, confuse, obfuscate and ignore a serious problem gripping our society. But he doesn’t care, as his only goal is to “save” people. Their earthly lives have no value to fundamentalists like him (even though he has a multi-million-dollar Malibu beach home he jet sets to when he isn’t street preaching).

If you or someone you know are showing the warning signs of depression or suicide, seek professional help such as a local healthcare provider, licensed counselor, or even a trusted pastor (but make sure they help treat the symptoms and don’t just preach to you).

Talk these people. Asking about whether they are suicidal does not make them more likely to do it, contrary to the urban myth. Intervention does help.

These warning signs include:

  • Threatening to or talking about wanting to die.
  • Increased apathy, hopelessness.
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits.
  • Acquiring a gun or stockpiling pills.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Putting personal affairs in order.
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and activities usually enjoyed

You can also find more resources at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 1-800-273-8255. Depression can be treated and people can live happy lives. Mental illness shouldn’t be a stigma anymore and deserves to be tackled head-on in a rational, reasonable and scientific way.

Crazy Arguments Against Evolution — Alien evolution edition 

The other day I had a phone conversation with someone about my atheism. But instead of attacking my thoughts on whether there is a god or not, this person attacked my so-called “belief” in evolution, as if it were a faith like any other.

Now, the truth of evolution is separate from the truth of whether god exists and which one it is. Atheism is a statement about religion, evolution is a scientific theory of the diversity of life on earth and species change over time.

But to this person, being an atheist meant I “believed” in evolution, even though he had several problems with the theory.

Humans are special and need a designer

His biggest argument was that there wasn’t enough time. Humans were too majestic and too complex to have evolved over several billions of years from the first primordial life on earth. Instead, he argued, some kind of intelligent designer must have come along to separate us from the apes, kittens and all those lower forms of life. His intelligent designer was aliens who he said changed chimpanzees into humans, but I’m not going to go into that.

But where to begin in all of this incorrect information, arrogant assumptions and other errors?

The origins of humanity

First things first. We did not evolve from chimpanzees. A chimpanzee did not pick up a banana one day and decide to be a human and start hunting and gathering, making clothes and building a civilization.

Apes, including chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and humans share a common ancestor. Our lineage branched off millions of years ago from the lineages that would evolve into chimpanzees and other apes. Our ancestors were no chimpanzees, they were other hominids such as Australopithecus, which evolved into homo habilis, then homo erectus, and about a quarter of a million years ago humans finally diverged.

While all these hominid species were apes (just like we are apes), note that none of them were chimpanzees. If you want to see a crazy sci-fi movie where chimps learn to talk and become human-like, go watch War for the Planet of the Apes. Which is total fiction, just like the idea that a chimp picked up a banana one day had a brain fart and became a human.

Humanity isn’t special

The Australopithecus genus first evolved over 4 million years ago. According to the California Academy of Sciences, fossil records show that these human ancestors were using tools as far back as 3.4 million years ago.

Humans aren’t the only species that use tools or modify their environment. Beavers make dams not only as homes but to modify the streams and rivers control their environment. Birds not only make nests, they will germinate seeds in order to more easily digest them, similar to how dogs will bury bones and meat to ferment it and make it more digestible.

Nor are we the only intelligent species. Obviously, other apes such as bonobos and chimpanzees have complex social structures, have advanced child- rearing skills, use tools, etc. But dolphins are also incredibly intelligent and social creatures.

Raccoons share our dexterity, with deft hands that allow them to get into trash cans and manipulate their environment. But dolphins and raccoons lack the complementary traits for their skills. Dolphins may have an ape-or-even human-like intelligence, but since they have flippers, they will never be able to do anything with it. Raccoons have the ability to manually impact their environment, but they lack the intelligence to do more than basic problem-solving.

Luckily for humanity, we had the happy accident of having both. We had huge brains that allowed us to think, and to communicate. And we had the tools, such as opposable thumbs to leave a mark on our environment such as building structures and eventually leave a written record.

But other ape species don’t build skyscrapers. We’re the only species to have gone to the moon. We’re too special to have evolved this intelligence on our own so quickly.

Well, let’s take a step back. Our ancestors were using tools 3.4 million years ago. 3.1 million years later, humans had evolved and we hadn’t really progressed passed that.

It took more than 240,000 years for humans to start domesticating animals. A few thousand more for people to figure out they could collect seeds and plant them to make farms. It would take another 4,500 years before people figured out how to write things down, and that’s where things really exploded, as knowledge could now be passed on much more reliably.

After 4,000 years of thinking and writing things down such as philosophies, laws, literature, Rome emerged, the height of civilization in Western Europe at the time. The next big invention was the printing press, which didn’t emerge in Europe until 1440. Steam power came along in the 1800s, with computers showing up in the 1940s.

But for more than 95 percent of human history, we weren’t much more talented than our chimpanzee and gorilla cousins (who can be taught language such as sign language and can paint and draw like our cave ancestors did). When you put all of this into perspective, how unique and special are we really?

Pray away the cancer!

It’s the one thing you never want to see on your social media feed — a post letting friends and family know that a young child was battling cancer.

The poor little girl, bald from the chemotherapy treatments used to attack the offending biological cells making her sick, couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. But she was still smiling, even in the videos where she was playing with toys in yet another doctor’s waiting room as the worried parents waited for the results of some new test, blood draw or scan.

And then I saw the cover picture for the girl’s Facebook Page. It is the first image you see before being hit up for money to help the family cover all those medical expenses, travel expenses, missed days of work and sleepless nights worrying about how to keep all the plates of doctor’s appointments, meals, everything spinning.

“Dear God, may every cancer cell be wiped out your by Your powerful hands. Amen!”

And that’s when you realize that burning sensation is because your face has met your palm near the speed of sound and you sigh about how families like this can put so much effort into fighting the battle and then congratulate some invisible friend for supposedly doing all the heavy lifting.

I’m going to riff a lot on the thoughts of atheist activist Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist with this post. You can check out one of his many takes on the subject of cancer, faith and religious attitudes towards science, health and the world here: youtube.com/watch?v=Qht73MF6C84 and here: youtube.com/watch?v=vM5n8jESUEk&t=115s.

I-Swear-If-Anyone-Says-Thank-God-After-This-Im-Putting-The-Tumor-Back-In

According to the American Cancer Society, evidence of this terrible disease has been found far back into the history of our species, with ancient human skeletons pock-marked with the tell-tale signs of having battled cancer. The Greek physician Hippocrates, from whom we get that famous oath, is believed to have coined the word to describe the cancerous tumors he found in his fellow citizens.

Since I am pretty sure the Greeks were praying to the gods back then, followed by the Christians and the Muslims and the other faiths that have followed, one has to wonder how much longer people have to keep screaming at the top of their lungs before God gets off his fat butt and finally starts wiping out those cancer cells?

Or is it the other way around? After the tens of thousands of dollars of radiation, chemotherapy and proton treatments; after the drugs and supplements to help heal the body and keep it going; the dozens if not hundreds of human specialists and experts on your cancer team; not to mention the thousands of people going back to Hippocrates who have studied and struggled and reached for the stars to find new medicines, new treatments, and new ways to better understand this horrifying disease, do these people really think God deserves the credit? Then why not pray for him to take care of your hospital bill too instead of hitting people up on CaringBridge?

I spoke with a cancer survivor who lost her hand to a nasty case of sarcoma. She originally didn’t want anything to do with the healthcare field because of that experience and others in the hospital. But the knowledge, expertise and caring nature of the nurse practitioners she had by her side through all the struggles inspired her to go into that field.

She donates her time a camp for children battling cancer where they can hang out, eat junk and play outside; you know, be kids for a change. People like here will wipe out all of the cancer cells, not God.

The life expectancy in the United States is a tad under 80 years. That is nearly double the 45-year life expectancy an American citizen had around the turn of the 20th century. According to a data map by FiveThirtyEight, the death rates for cancer have gone from 240 deaths per 100,000 people in 1980 to 192 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014.

That data also shows the death rates from cancer are much higher in the evangelical parts of the southern United States, those places where you would expect more people to be praying to God to eradicate all of the cancer cells. Then again, the Methodists have the only true avenue to God, unless of course, you are a Baptist, and all those competing prayers must be canceling each other out.

 

Cancer Rates
According to this map by FiveThirtyEight, all those prayers don’t seem to be doing squat to stop cancer in the Bible Belt.

 

Part of that is due to the millions and billions of dollars that have been raised and funneled into cancer research, coming up with breakthroughs over the past seven decades.

But according to data from nonprofit Giving USA, the majority of charitable dollars went to religion (32%), education (15%), human services (12%), grantmaking foundations (11%), and health (8%) in 2015, the most recent year data was available. Of the top five categories of giving, four times as much money went to the prayer factory (which we know doesn’t work) than went to the cure factory (which we know does).

If you want to help change that statistic, here are three great organizations to donate to: The American Cancer Society Donation Page, The American Breast Cancer Foundation Donation Page, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Donation Page.

This appeal to a miraculous God who cures cancer doesn’t just insult the doctors and nurses who stood by your family day in and day out. What about the family, friends and entire communities that help out? The good Christian makes sure to thank God and Jesus for the moral support he provided, but then forget the friends who helped cook, clean, bought drinks and offered shoulders to cry on during the bad days, celebrated on the good days, and organized fundraisers to help provide the tens of thousands of dollars the family needed to cover medical, travel and other costs associated with this struggle.

“I thank my God every day. Even though these are challenging times, I know my God would never give me more on my plate than I could handle.”

“Oh, Betty, I don’t want another seven-layer lasagna, it gives me gas. But it’d be great if you could look after the kids while my husband and I are at the hospital.”

And this is why Atheists face-palm.

 

 

My journey to non-belief

“You’re just mad at God,” I’ve been told.

Or they say, “You just need to keep believing. Jesus is there for you and you’ll see that soon.”

So how did a white, rural, working-class kid fall away from Christ and the Church? Did I have a bad experience and leave the church in anger? Was it because I lost a loved one and left God in grief? Did my parents fail to raise me as a good, clean-cut Christian?

Did I have a bad experience and leave the church in anger? Not really. Luckily, I wasn’t raised Catholic as a schoolboy, especially here in the Upper Midwest. Seems there is a new story about a pedophile priest every day.

Was it because I lost a loved one and left God in grief? Nope. It wasn’t God that took family members away from me, it was accidents, illness or old age.

Did my parents fail to raise me as a good, clean-cut Christian? I went to Sunday School and vacation Bible School. I read the lines in every Christmas pageant and was confirmed like any good Christian.

Then what happened? Ever since I can remember, I just realized all the fables and verses and platitudes just didn’t make sense. So let me share my journey.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been a bit of a hellion. I’ve always had one of those personalities that tries to stick it to the man.

The first time I started to wonder if the Bible was bullshit was in Sunday school. Like a lot of small, rural churches, the teachers of the Sunday School classes were usually the daughters of the pastor of other high-ranking families in the church, all of whom were woefully unprepared to be teachers as they were usually high school or young college students and being a Sunday School teacher always seemed to butt up against the fact that women weren’t allowed to have any authority in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod:

16. As the head of the wife and family the husband has the prime responsibility for the spiritual instruction of the family (Eph 6:4).

In the Church

17. The biblical principle of role relationship applies also to the gatherings of the church. All believers, men and women, will participate at gatherings of worship, prayer, Bible study, and service. The scriptural applications that a woman remain silent (1 Co 14:34) and that a woman should not teach a man (1 Ti 2:11,12) require that a woman refrain from participating in these gatherings in any way which involves authority over men.

18. In church assemblies the headship principle means that only men will cast votes when such votes exercise authority over men. Only men will do work that involves authority over men (1 Co 11:3-10; 14:33-35; 1 Ti 2:11,12).

19. All Christians, men and women, are to use their God-given gifts to serve each other (1 Pe 4:10). Women are encouraged to participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where the work involves authority over men.

We were doing our coloring assignment in the worksheet and on the front of the booklet was a copy of some oil painting showing the descendants of Adam and Eve going out from some city or village. We were learning the Genesis story and two logical problems seemed to come up.

The first was the fact that if God made us in his image, then he was a person. And a person needs a family so where were God’s parents and brothers and sisters? I didn’t know about Mormonism at this time, so I didn’t know there was another crazy religion that thought about and tried to answer this question.

The second was the question about Cain. According to the Genesis story, Adam and Eve only had two children at the time Cain murdered his brother Abel. Yet the scriptures speak about mysterious other people who existed at this time and with whom Cain built a city and a civilization in Genesis 4:

16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.

But if Adam and Eve only had two kids, where did these people come from? At the time I didn’t know of the racist explanations some apologists — also known as people with a full-time career in religious bullshit — gave: that Cain had taken his wife from the apes, their children were dark-skinned and this explanation is a racist and Eurocentric explanation for the origin of the African people.

These doubts and suspicions continued throughout my school years, but I went along. I sang the songs at Easter and at Christmas about how Jesus loves all the little children in the world. I recited the passages during the pageants and learned about the weird things in confirmation class about how Jesus had given people the keys of salvation and damnation. This was another weird thing, as one of the things Lutherans have hammered into them from birth is how only Jesus’ forgiveness, or grace, can get you into Heaven, unlike those evil Catholics who follow the antichrist and have weird ideas about good works.

At least after I was confirmed and received my special scripture, which I promptly forgot that weekend, I didn’t have to go to church anymore. I bounced around different churches friends invited me to attend until my sophomore or junior of college, where after trying all sorts of evangelical denominations and even a residence hall bible study, I gave up on this whole church thing and called myself agnostic and would tell people about how lightning and trees had more majesty than the hate of organized religion. At that time I was still spiritual, even though I didn’t really know what that meant and probably couldn’t have explained it if I tried.

Part of my distancing myself from organized religion did come from the death of a family member. Not because I was angry at a pastor or a doctrine, but because people’s doctrines were so stupid. After hearing for the tenth time that this family member was in a better place and how this was all part of God’s plan, I wanted to start strangling people.

I knew these were just platitudes they were telling themselves to make themselves feel better. The person I had lost had died in an accident, and thus it was another person who had taken them from me, not God. And thinking God has a special plan for all of the billions of people in the world seemed to me to be especially arrogant for us humans to think.

Shouldn’t we have to take ownership of our own actions? Why would God plan for children to get bone cancer? Or for people to maim, kill and rape each other in the horrors of war? If free will means anything, then it means God has jack shit for a plan and we have to take responsibility for what we do.

After moving back home from college, religion tried one last time to grab hold of me. My hometown church invited me to attend services and I accepted the invite, showed up and even stayed for the annual meeting where the women cooked all the menfolk a big, hearty meal and then left less they intervene in the men’s work of making all the decisions on how to pay the pastor and run the church.

I was not inspired by the sermon, or the people or the arguments for God. Slowly, as I had begun to learn more about how much scientists were discovering and learning about the cosmos, I gave up my feeble attempts to argue that lightning, or trees or coral reefs were proof of some kind of deistic god and became an atheist.

Over the years those convictions have become stronger. And now that Evangelicals are kicking and screaming about being persecuted and having the freedom to impose their beliefs on others, I figure it’s time to become more of an active participant than just a passive observer.

Religion is a huge force for harm, such as the child abuse perpetrated by the Catholic Church, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others that continue to this day. Christians continue attempts to persecute those they dislike such as the LGBTQ community and have politicians such as Donald Trump, many of whom are willing to give them special privileges and consideration, hold back science education and spend public funds on boondoggles such as Ken Ham’s Ark Park.

Some people may think the Upper Midwest is like the Northeast and thus a secular utopia, where we don’t have to deal with the crazy of people like Ken Ham or Ray Comfort. We tend to vote more secular, like our Bernie Sanders and don’t try to force schools to teach creationism.

But our communities still have churches on what feels like every third street corner. We have Amish enclaves that refuse to provide modern medical interventions to their children and entire families shun a member who has lost their way. We turn a blind eye in the name of religious tolerance as Good News Clubs scare very young children into believing they have to take Jesus into their hearts or they will burn in the fires of Hell and parents enroll their children in private religious schools that take public money to teach kids that sexuality is a moral evil, the earth is 6,000 years old and climate change is impossible because God gave man dominion over the earth and promised never to wipe out mankind again after Noah’s flood.

These things need to be spoken out against. To borrow from two intelligent and well-spoken atheists, people need to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible and while you have a right to wrong, I have a right to be right and point out your bullshit.

Please feel free to comment here or elsewhere on the site with your thoughts and feelings. If there are any topics in the atheist/secular movement you want me to address or important issues in the Upper Midwest, let me know and I’ll try to tackle them. You can reach me at thomas_paine_09@hotmail.com.