Sunday, November 17, 2013

15+15 Things You Shouldn't Say To an Atheist

After having lots of conversations about religion, particularly with Christians, certain unfortunate trends have started to emerge. I started thinking there should be an atheism FAQ that should be required prior reading for anyone entering into conversation with an atheist.

While not strictly an FAQ, Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist) has posted two videos along those lines.

Part 1 is a generic list of "15 things to NEVER say to an atheist."

For your convenience, I've compiled a text version of the list:

  1. Where do you get your morality from?
  2. Do you not believe in anything? Your life must be so EMPTY!
  3. Why are you MAD at GOD!?
  4. You can't prove God DOESN'T exist.
  5. What if you're WRONG?
  6. You just have to have FAITH!
  7. Just OPEN your HEART to God.
  8. You were never REALLY religious. (aka You were never a true Christian!) This one's a personal pet peeve of mine.
  9. What happened in your CHILDHOOD to make you an atheist?
  10. Have you read the BIBLE?
  11. I'll PRAY for you.
  12. Do you worship the DEVIL?
  13. You aren't really an ATHEIST, you must be an AGNOSTIC.
  14. Isn't atheism a RELIGION?
  15. Why are you so ANGRY?

Part 2 is specifically for a Christian audience: "15 Things Christians Say to Atheists (And Shouldn't)"

Text version:

  1. You don't believe in God because you just want to SIN!
  2. You're an Atheist? You don't ACT like an Atheist.
  3. When you are SUFFERING, you will call out to God!
  4. [Atheism] is just a PHASE you're going through!
  5. I don't have enough FAITH to be an Atheist!
  6. Have you heard about JESUS? 
  7. Where will you go when you DIE?
  8. So we all came from MONKEYS?
  9. Isn't evolution just a THEORY?
  10. But where did the UNIVERSE come from?
  11. Where did the MOUNTAINS[/ANIMALS/ANYTHING ELSE] come from?
  12. A lot of SMART PEOPLE are Christians.
  13. Why do you only PICK ON CHRISTIANS?
  14. But what will you teach your CHILDREN?
  15. Do you eat BABIES?

I didn't include any of the answers to these comments here because the videos have pretty good responses already. If you are even thinking about asking me these questions, watch the videos first. It will be 10 minutes  now that will save us both a lot of pain and suffering later.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Update on Penn Secular Society Banners

Just a quick update on the Penn Secular Society banner situation.

After collecting feedback from many of our members and some outside influences, we put together this banner for the week. I think it's a significant improvement in several respects.

First, it contains three quotes about the importance of diverse opinions from secular and religious thinkers alike. It simultaneously responds to our vandals and detractors while sending a positive message about freethought.

Second, it contains the info about our next meeting time front and center (though I wish it were a different color).

Finally, it includes a "statement of intent" which spells out the intended message of the banner more explicitly.

Thus far there has been only positive response to the banner. Everyone I've talked to has seen it as an improvement.

Also, our president Seth just published his editorial in response to Noah's last week. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Read at your own Risk

Yesterday I ran into a street preacher of sorts in front of the UPenn bookstore. He didn't say a word, he just stood their with his sign handing out booklets:
"Benjamin Franklin said of America: 'Atheism is unknown there...'
Atheism is sin. God teaches."

I couldn't resist and grabbed a copy of the booklet. From what I saw I may have been the only one to do so; he wasn't pushy.  Maybe I'll go through the claims later, or at least put together a greatest hits, but for now I just want to post the booklet in it's entirety for reference. Read on at your own risk.

Penn Secular Society Sign Vandalized

Running a secular group at an institution like the University of Pennsylvania has a few unique challenges. Unlike many schools across the US where secular groups are outcast and face opposition at every turn on religious grounds, at UPenn groups like the Christian Association, the interfaith group PRISM, and most of all the Chaplain's office have been our greatest outside supporters. Groups that would oppose us tend to keep to themselves. Penn has such a diverse religious life that most people have become extra accommodating to people of other beliefs, and I'm glad they've begun to include non-believers in that umbrella.

All of this love and support can be a burden as well when it comes time to ask the hard questions some of our members want to ask our classmates. Questions like "what good is faith?" Or "why do you put so much value on a book that supports slavery?"

This culture of interfaith cooperation is naturally resistant to any cross examination. Certain venues do exist for this type of discussion, but most are Christian organizations like InterVarsity, Cru, and Veritas Forum which have varying degrees of evangelistic missions.

Last week, the Penn Secular Society attempted to strike a balance by appealing to common ground. On the main campus walk, the PSS banner proudly displayed a partial list of "Gods you probably don't believe in."

On the right side in soft, non-pushy writing sat the lingering question: "so what's one more?"

We reasoned that this would be inoffensive enough to our religious classmates (seeing as we stuck with Gods no longer widely worshiped today), yet it would encourage people to think about their beliefs in a hopefully new way.

Apparently, not everyone felt that way.

It's hard to see in the picture, but by the end of the week someone had torn down page one and thrown coffee on the middle of the banner. The banner's fine, but very sticky.

When the vandalism came up at the next meeting, the unanimous decision amongst those present was to respond with something a little more provocative. We decided to go with some popular Abrahamic holy books' views on women. Three verses were selected and quoted without commentary, followed by a message:

"Do you dislike this display? Please don't deface our banner - find us on Facebook and tell us why."

Not 5 hours had gone by when we noticed someone hadn't read the instructions:

So in a new record for Penn Secular Society, someone has thrown soup on our 5 day long banner campaign less than 5 hours into the week.

We've decided to not clean the banner this time, in the hopes that passers by will take notice of the vandalism and hopefully learn something.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Non-Discrimination Law is....Dangerous?

Most reactions to advances in LGBT equality don't surprise me. Many are even understandable. 

I can understand someone who has a fear of gay scout leaders when they've been taught that gay is the same as pedophile. 
I can understand when someone thinks marriage is a holy and special bond between people who wear different kinds of swimsuits. From that viewpoint, marriage equality makes no sense as gay marriage would never be the equivalent of "real" marriage.
I can understand the person who is worried about their religious beliefs being overridden by the state because they won't perform gay weddings in their place of worship.

These reactions are wrongheaded and usually based on misinformation and stereotypes, but I can at least comprehend their origins.

That being said, I cannot begin to understand this email from the Minnesota Family Council (emphasis mine):

Election Day & Dangerous ENDA Legislation
But select capable men from all the people--men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain--and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens ~ Exodus 18:21 
Good morning 
Unfortunately, on this Election Day I have some bad news to report. Last night, the U.S. Senate (with the help of our Senators--Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken) moved the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), a dangerous piece of legislation granting special privileges based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" that also denies adequate religious liberty protection, towards its final vote on the Senate floor.  
ENDA is a dangerous piece of legislation that would cause serious harms by limiting employer and employee free speech and religious freedom rights, and by granting special privileges based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity"--ambiguous terms that (unlike race, which is an immutable characteristic) are commonly understood to be subjective and inclusive of behaviors. 
Here are just a few examples of serious consequences that would likely arise if ENDA becomes law. First, as National Organization for Marriage noted, ENDA legislation can be used as a "Trojan horse" to further attack true marriage between one man and one woman across the nation. ENDA would prevent an employer from considering the concerns of female employees over having to share a bathroom with a biological male who claims to identify as female. Also, the Civil Rights Act allows employers to take sex into consideration if it's reasonable to do so for the job--like hiring a female camp counselor for a girls' camp. However, the ENDA bill contains NO such provision allowing employers to consider sexual orientation or gender identity, even when reasonable to do so for the job. 
The ENDA bill is dangerous, unfair, and needs to be stopped. Please, contact our Senators TODAY to urge them to oppose this harmful legislation. 

In what possible world is preventing employers from discriminating against employees not only wrong but DANGEROUS?! I simply cannot wrap my mind around that thought.

Also, since when is non-discrimination a "special privilege?"

And name me one job for which it would be "reasonable to [consider sexual orientation or gender identity]" for which it wouldn't also make sense to consider the applicant's gender at all.

I would hope that everything else wrong with this email is obvious enough that I need not insult your intelligence by outlining every one, but allow me to briefly expand on the religious freedom question. Currently, an employer could not tell a Jewish applicant "I'm sorry, but people who share your faith killed my savior so I'm not going to hire you." Nor could that same employer turn away a Muslim, atheist, Jain, or different type of Christian for that matter based solely on their religious profession (which is hardly an "immutable characteristic"). Perhaps the MN Family Council thinks this should not be the case, as "it tramples First Amendment rights and unnecessarily impinges on citizens’ right to run their businesses the way they choose." Still, that is the law.

Besides, your right to free speech is not being impeded in the least. You can scream about how terrified you are that LGBT people are becoming accepted as human beings until your lungs give out. The moment you do harm to someone else by making a discriminatory hiring decision based on characteristics completely irrelevant to the job, that's no longer free speech.