Separation of Church and State

Among the Nonbelievers

Atheist activists in Orlando talk separation of church and state, sick kids, and Evil God.


Moving Secularism Forward was the aim of the annual conference put on jointly by the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) last week in Orlando. I participated as the token libertarian on a panel discussion that asked, "Does Secular Humanism Have A Political Agenda?" Yes, but more on that at a later time. The 130 activist atheists and secular humanists at the conference were split pretty evenly between conference staple grey-hairs and students; the sorts of people who can take time off to reflect on the big questions of existence and politics.

At the opening reception, Ronald Lindsay, head of the CFI, said that the three chief goals of secular humanists are to (1) reduce the influence of religion on public policy; (2) cut the flow of tax dollars to religious groups; and (3) fight discrimination against atheists. The first formal panel at the conference dealt with all three of these issues. Lindsay opened the panel by reiterating his organization's strong support to maintaining a high wall of separation between church and state based on the First Amendment. He observed that some Republican Party presidential hopefuls didn't apparently agree, especially noting "little Ricky Santorum's tum tum gets upset when he thinks of it." 

Lindsay reviewed some of the history of First Amendment separation of church and state litigation, suggesting that the post-World War II trend toward ever stricter separation of church state began to reverse in the 1970s. He highlighted the 2001 case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in which the Supreme Court ruled that Ohio could issue vouchers to parents who could use them to pay for private education even if the schools were religiously affiliated. "Essentially the Supreme Court endorsed money laundering," declared Lindsay. I made it clear later that I don't agree with this characterization.

As another troubling example of blurring the lines between church and state, Lindsay cited the 1999 Mitchell v. Helms case in which the Supreme Court ruled that certain tax-financed educational materials, books, and computer software, could be allocated to private religiously affiliated schools. In that plurality decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, "If the religious, irreligious, and areligious are all alike eligible for governmental aid, no one would conclude that any indoctrination that any particular recipient conducts has been done at the behest of the government." In addition, Lindsay said that the federal courts were much less likely to grant standing to bring a case dealing with separation of church and state issues based on the fact that a plaintiff is merely a taxpayer.

So people concerned to maintain church/state separation have turned increasingly to state courts for protection, explained Lindsay. Interestingly, 38 state constitutions have even stronger strictures against state support of religious institutions. Florida is one in which its declaration of rights in the state's constitution guarantees [PDF]: "No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution." Lindsay highlighted the case of Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil in which the CSH is challenging the use of Florida taxpayer dollars for faith-based substance abuse prison programs run by Prisoners of Christ, Inc., and Lamb of God Ministries, Inc. While the case is still wending its way through Florida's courts, Christian opponents have mounted a referendum campaign trying to get that provision of the state's constitution repealed.

Church, State, and Cash

Next up was Willamette University law professor Steven Green who talked about the history of the various state constitutional provisions prohibiting taxpayer funding of faith-based institutions. In 1875, Republican congressman James G. Blaine proposed an amendment to the U.S. constitution that would have very explicitly prohibited any tax monies from being used to support any religious activity. It passed the House of Representatives with only seven nay votes but failed by four votes in the Senate. Green countered the argument that these so-called Blaine amendments were motivated by anti-Roman Catholic animus by pointing out that 17 states in which Methodists and Baptists were asking for tax funding for their schools had already adopted such limitations many years before the Blaine Amendment was proposed. Interestingly, at the same time the National Reform Association was trying to get an amendment that would recognize the U.S. as a "Christian nation." No such amendment was ever passed by Congress. 

Tom Flynn, who is the editor of CFI's flagship publication Free Inquiry, argued that the tide of secularization has been rising in the West for the past 1,500 years. In the era of failed states known as the Dark Ages the Church was the only organization that could take on tasks like education, care of the sick, patronage of the arts, and international diplomacy. Gradually since the Dark Ages more and more of these worldly tasks have devolved to states or the private sector.

Flynn noted that if you like the environment in which contemporary parochial education operates, one can thank the "no-aid" amendments in state constitutions. Specifically, with regard to schooling, Flynn pointed to the 1864 Syllabus of Errors issued by Pope Pius IX which stated that it is an error to believe that "the best theory of civil society requires that popular schools open to children of every class of the people, and, generally, all public institutes intended for instruction in letters and philosophical sciences and for carrying on the education of youth, should be freed from all ecclesiastical authority, control and interference, and should be fully subjected to the civil and political power at the pleasure of the rulers, and according to the standard of the prevalent opinions of the age." Flynn noted that today's system is a compromise that permits believers to educate their children but does not require other citizens to support religious instruction.

Other errors of belief identified by Pius IX include believing that "every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true"; that "the Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church," and that "the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization." Errors all, I am sure.

Begone Sinners!

Next came the harrowing story of EllenBeth Wachs. Wachs lives in Polk County, Florida where she challenged the regular opening of public commission and school sessions with an invocation for Jesus Christ's help. Wachs' suit to stop the practice was dismissed by a local judge whom she said was one of the main initiators of a Red Mass in Polk County. The Red Mass is a Roman Catholic tradition in which law enforcement officials and officers of the court are blessed by a priest. The judge ruled that the invocations constituted no violation of church/state separation since the prayers were offered by a wide diversity of Christian groups.

Wachs claims that most Polk County officials are members of Polk Under Prayer (PUP), an organization that, among other things, anointed all the roads leading into the county with blessed oil to encourage angels to inspect every vehicle for those who would seek to do evil and bring them to "a state of submission and repentance." What happens if sinners are not repelled by the anointed roads? PUP explains, "If they will not submit to God's way of living, then the prayer is to have them incarcerated or removed from the county." According to PUP, the anointing is working since the county has recently arrested a number of sinners for drugs. (Hold on a minute. Wouldn't evidence for effective anointing be no drug arrests, thus proving that anointing roads had repelled the godless evildoers? You can't make this stuff up!)

In road-anointed Polk County, Wachs was arrested for practicing law because she signed a letter threatening to sue by adding Esq. to her name. She formerly practiced law in Pennsylvania, but is not a member of the Florida bar. Later she was arrested for allegedly making sexual noises in her home that could be heard by a 10-year-old boy. For that she spent six days in solitary confinement. After some legal rigmarole, the charges against her were dropped last August.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, was next up. After he described how his organization selected separation of government and religion cases to litigate (always with an eye to winning because if one loses they become precedent for the believers), he promoted the Reason Rally, which will be held on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on March 24. Billed as "the largest secular event in world history," the Rally will feature an all-star cast of nonbelievers including biologist Richard Dawkins, skeptics James Randi and Michael Shermer, and activist Taslima Nasrin.

Another presenter was Rita Swan who lost her son Matthew in the 1970s to a treatable illness after being prayed for by a Christian Science practitioner. She and her husband left Christian Science and have been crusading against religious exemptions to laws that protect children from neglect and abuse by allowing parents to substitute spiritual treatments for medical treatments. She pointed to their recent success in Oregon where the legislature removed several exemptions, including one in which it was a defense against homicide by abuse or neglect if a parent claimed to have "treated" an ill child using spiritual methods and prayer instead of medicine. Swan acknowledged that not every sniffle mandates a visit to the doctor and that parents surely have the right and duty to decide how much care a kid should get when the harms of treatment are likely to outweigh the benefits.

The Challenge of Evil God

The afternoon session featured a diverse panel focusing on the International Academy of Humanism. The first presenter was University of London philosopher Stephen Law who rehearsed his Evil God Challenge. Many late-night college dorm philosophers have puzzled over the conundrums involved with the claim that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. If all that's true, how can there be evil in the world? The theistic response is that some evil is the price that God has to pay for greater goods. 

Law questions this by pointing out that there is an enormous amount of pointless pain and suffering in the universe. A theist might reply that it's not pointless, but then Law counters by asking the theist if the deaths of one-third of all children before the age of five in previous generations is really the price for a greater good? Theists also argue that God gave us the ability to choose evil because free will more than compensates for the suffering it brings. And then there is the argument that the material world is the "vale of soul-making" in which bad experiences cause us to grow spiritually and morally. And of course, there is the old standby: God works in mysterious ways, so how dare you question Him!

Law turns all these theodicies on their heads, by asking what if God were all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-evil? In this case, why is there so much good stuff in the world like healthy young bodies, beautiful children to love, and the ability to do good deeds? Free will is just the price that the Evil God must pay in order to produce a universe full of moral evil and enables us to suffer the agonies of temptation and guilt. The Evil God must give us the good stuff, but then takes it away to increase our suffering, including disease, old age, death, watching our beloved children die, etc. Indeed, the Evil God works in mysterious ways and puny humans simply cannot hope to understand the mind of the Evil God. Law argues that in terms of "reasonableness," both cases are roughly symmetrical. Why is first case "reasonable" and the second one not?

After Law's talk, the assembled secularists were treated to a lecture by Rutgers University biological anthropologist Lionel Tiger on "Male Original Sin." Basically, Tiger was summarizing and updating his observations about growing masculine anomie and rootlessness in modern America made in his 1999 book, The Decline of Males. As evidence, he noted that the college attendance ratio is now skewed 58 percent female to 42 male. He asserted that 90 percent of "Ritalin victims" were male, and the drug is used to modify their behaviors more in the directions characteristic of women. One consequence is that women increasingly reject these low-ambition emasculated males and choose to have children on their own. One participant later made it clear that she had not come to the conference to hear men whine about being emasculated.

The final presenter was Nobel Prize-winning chemist Harry Kroto whose nominal topic was the abject failure of our educational system with regard to the effective teaching of science. It never occurred to him (or anyone else at the conference that I could discern) to wonder if education monopolies supported by government might have something to do with the that failure. Actually, Kroto spent most of his time noting how many world leaders have visited with Pope Benedict XVI. Kroto was also obsessed with Rupert Murdoch's malevolent influence in the world, particularly the baleful effects of Fox News in America. I got the impression that Kroto thinks that most Americans are thoroughly brainwashed by Fox News, but that is hard to understand since Fox averages fewer than 2 million viewers in prime time. Kroto ended with a 1994 video clip [YouTube] of British television writer Dennis Potter who was then dying of pancreatic cancer saying that as his last act he would like to shoot Rupert Murdoch. Apparently, even secular humanists occasionally entertain violent fantasies about offing their enemies. 

Disclosure: I want to gratefully acknowledge and thank the Center for Inquiry for inviting me to participate and for paying my travel expenses. I have been out as an atheist since my early teens. 

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. Gradually since the Dark Ages more and more of these worldly tasks have devolved to states or the private sector.

    LOL No it has devolved to the state, which is what sadly most of these people now worship. It sounded like one long tendentious meeting Ron.

    1. Yep. To a prog, establishment of religion means anything that stands in the way of establishing the Total State as the sole object of worship and devotion in society. Chief among these is anything which inhibits state indoctrination of young people (which is why left-wing homeschoolers are not “progressive”).

      1. And yet, progressives want to establish the state, itself, as a religious idol.

        And we heathens best get to worshippin’, or face their wrath.

  2. Bailey with what I believe is his first alt-text win.

  3. Ronald, as a theologically liberal Presybterian, and a lover of science and inquiry, I must say that your report was wonderful and fair. Thanks for your work. That was killer, dude.

  4. And something tells me the people of Polk County Florida could be atheists and still be crazy corrupt fucks who don’t like people questioning their authority. That is just how small town government types are wired. Only the psychotic want the job.

    1. That is just how small town government types are wired. Only the psychotic want the job.

      Damned straight. 😉

      1. How do you think I got my latest job?

    2. Polk County, Florida, does seem to be rather fucked up. Across the board.

  5. My problem with humanism is that it’s often used to justify coercive acts concerned with “humanitarianism.” Projecting a vague definition of humanity onto moral law seems sketchy to me. The problem is that it seeks to define a collective human good, and this justifies the power to enforce their definition of humanity. Don’t want to pay higher taxes? Why do you hate humans?

    1. Well the problem is just that a majority of humanists are modern liberals. They’ll use whatever justifications they can imagine.

      1. I am one of a few atheists who are staunch capitalists.

        1. Same. We’re a small minority, I fear.

        2. Buffett, Gates, Jobs, Soros, most of the top capitalists are atheists.

          Unless “staunch” means right-wing.

          1. They strike me as rent seekers, not capitalists.

            1. You mean like the fucking Kochs? No one manipulates “the political and societal environment for profit” like they do.

              In other words you don’t like the fact liberals make the best capitalists – (or possibly vice-versa).

              1. Starting public foundations to influence thought through media is not rent-seeking. Obtaining a competitive benefit from the government is rent seeking. Buffett is the poster boy for that. Soros is certainly guilty of it as well. Jobs and Gates to a lesser extent. You can’t obtain that much wealth and the accompanying power in modern America without ingratiating yourself to the government in one way or another. So yes, by definition, the very wealthy are virtually universally statists since cozying up to the men with the guns is how they obtained their wealth in the first place in most cases.

              2. All of the fuckheads you listed manipulate the political and societal environment, shrike… and they probably make a pretty dollar doing it, too.

                But you’re okay with that, which is why you’re a sick goddamn creature.

              3. “No one manipulates “the political and societal environment for profit” like they do.”

                The fact that you can say this with a straight face immediately after listing George Soros serves well to underscore your disconnection with reality.

    2. Don’t want to have humanistic concerns? Fuck you and your tax demands, then.

      1. No… fuck YOU and YOUR tax demands.

      2. I wasn’t aware that it was “humanistic” to steal money from one set of people and waste it on programs for another that have proven again and again not to benefit anyone except the egos of rich Liberal types.

        1. I just don’t get how someone with no concern for the welfare of human beings has any right demanding ANYTHING from his fellow human beings, such as low tax rates.

          1. Tax rates are just fine and fuckin’ dandy where they are, Tony.

            34% vs. 39.6%, current vs. previous. Five point six cents on the dollar. And you and your fellow travelers whine about it incessantly.

            Like fuck, you only want to go back to the old rate… you would need a FUCK of a lot more than a nickel on the dollar, to fix the spending fuckups your Team has heaped on our great-grandchildren.

            Even if you got that old rate back, within three months your side would be demanding *another* tax hike.

            You’re touching yourself now, aren’t you?

            1. They clearly aren’t high enough since they aren’t funding the things we’re buying. If you want to sell dismantling Medicare to voting seniors, be my guest, but you don’t get to pretend that revenues are adequate just because you hate taxes.

              1. Revenues are more than adequete for a goverment that would use those funds prudently and wisely. It should be telling that every couple of years the goverment comes hate in hand and says:

                “Please* sir if only you give a little more then we will surely solved those problems that plauge society, poverty, pollution, racism.”

                It’s been 70 years after social security and 40 after the great society, remember the war on poverty? Yet all those problems for which those programs were created still exist. Proof positive that goverment spending doesn’t work.

                *the please is perfunctory as we know the moment said citizen says no the guns are drawn.

    3. The two mean entirely separate things though. Mother Theresa was a humanitarian while Christopher Hitchens was a humanist.

      But yes, the two intersect to some.

      1. Mother Theresa was a humanitarian

        Yeah, condemning poor folk to wretched poverty by banning birth control, resulting in hordes of starving, unwanted, ignorant children, doomed to a life of suffering…that’s what humanitarianism is all about, Charlie Brown.

        1. Point conceded. She was purported to be a humanitarian. I couldn’t think of a better example at the time.

        2. And don’t forget Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu’s (“Mother Teresa”) denying pain meds to those dying in her “care” so they could become “closer to god.”

          The woman was a monster.

    4. If you replace in your comment “humanism” with “religion” the results are the same. Any group exercising control over the state to press their agenda is a problem, and the reason why we need a return to restricted, limited government.

      1. “restricted, limited government”

        A meaningless phrase.

        “a return to”

        When was this era of limited government?

        1. The first was probably redundant. For the second you could delete “a return to.” Nothing of substance in what I said changes with your edits, but if you like that better, sure.

          1. I’m not being a grammar nazi, I’m asking you “what do you mean by restricted, limited government?” and “what era of humanity are you referring to in which this ideal had been achieved?”

            1. Restricted, limited government is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a government this is restricted or limited from taking certain actions. It’s the reason why a lot of countries nowadays are jumping on this whole “constitutional” trend where you have a governing document that defines the terms of your government.

              Relative to the government we experience today, I’d imagine the OP was referring to early American government in terms of the limited structure to which we should return – pre Civil War before the executive branch expanded its powers so dramatically.

              1. Just because you hate that concept, Tony, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

                Not with the Teams in power, at least.

                1. Who in their right mind would want to limit government in any way?

                  1. People who actually bother to learn from history, for starters.

                    1. Yu mien goe too skoul?

    5. If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

      (Hint: Libertarians eat Liberals.)

      1. I eat babies.

        1. The Bible: It’s a cookbook!

  6. The atheist haters are apparently so worried about their non-beliefs that they don’t want to be exposed to any religious activity or religious expression.

    1. I just don’t want to pay for, or be subjected to, your beliefs. Nor do I want you to be subjected to my lack thereof. You can dance naked around a bonfire with feathers shoved up your arse, or whatever you do, as long as my tax dollars are kept out of it.

      1. “Subjected” is the issue. I have no problems if some orthodox Jews or Buddhist use a public space for their worship. This is in stark contrast to the insecure atheists whose life seems to come apart if they witness a religious action.

        Tax dollars? Whose talking about tax dollars? A prayer at the beginning of a meeting and the atheists/anti-religionists become unhinged. Is this being “subjected to religion”? If you don’t agree with it, tune it out. Grow up. You go to any public meeting and you will be “subjected” to plenty you don’t agree with.

        Renting a school space on a Sunday morning not only doesn’t cost taxpayer money but brings some money into the coffers.

        1. Establishment clause, bitch.

          1. Tell Obama he needs to stop using Biblical phrases when he is on the campaign stump, then.

            Or on “the public airwaves”.

            Shit, that last phrase makes me wanna vomit…

          2. Libertarians want to “go back to” the Good Constitution. But church-state separation is part of the Bad Constitution! Like the amendments vindicating the abolition of slavery.

            1. THe constitution merely stated that the state shall make no official religion. The seperation of church and state had nothing to do with whether a local municipality could put up a nativity scene or not. It is only in modern America were this happens.

          3. How is renting space in a school regardless of message Congress making a law respecting establishment of religion?

        2. “Tax dollars? Whose talking about tax dollars?”

          The guy who actually seems to know what he’s talking about on the subject.

          You just seem to have some prefixation with making the issue about the use of public space as a Straw Man to try and open the door into the tired old “atheism is a religion, too!” fallacy.

          1. religion is simply organized spirituality. If you got a group of atheists that put forward a dogma then yes their brand of atheism would be a form of worship. Atheism is a belief system, the definition of beleif being a premise that the holder believes as true. Atheism is the belief that there is no supernatural deity, though some atheists tend to be swarmy they say atheism is the absent of belief, they are wrong, being the opposite of theism doesn’t indicate a lack of belief. No one can really know, or possess gnosis, whether or not a diety exists based off of empirical evidence. You may believe, be gnostic, towards atheism or theism, but in reality you don’t know, you believe you know.

            And if atheists wanted to use a public space, or rent out a school ground, to have a get together and commune about the absence of god then thats fine by me.

      2. I thought that was our little secret.

      3. I just don’t want to pay for, or be subjected to, your beliefs.

        I expect many feel the same about yours.

        1. “I expect many feel the same about yours.

          Either provide an example of tax dollars going to further Atheist -not secular, ATHEIST- principals and practices or kindly shut up.

          1. Care to explain the difference in the two terms?

            1. care to learn the English language before sounding like a dumb-fuck?

        2. Just the tax breaks on real estate and other investments are enormous and gives churches a huge competitive advantage in the market.

    2. LOL. We’re not the ones who constantly need to pray, or who wear magic charms to proclaim our beliefs.

      We’re constantly exposed to your religious expression. That doesn’t bother me. It’s your right, and provides an amusing-if-pathetic spectacle.

      What we object to is subsidizing you, and granting you special rights.

      Why is it that religionists always lie about this?

      1. Substitute science for magical charms and there you go. Fact is there is only one group as fucking irritating as bible thumpers and that are athiests like yourself. Just as swarmy, self important, and cocksure that what you believe is right. And anyone that doesn’t conform with your worldview is held with scorn.

      2. Why focus on religion and its subsidies? Shouldn’t a libertarian organization be focused on eliminating all subsidies period?

        This is where I feel the people at Reason fall short sometime – they pick one specific agenda they want to fight for, rather than declaring putting a stop to the whole mess. What’s the point in going through what subsidies are handed out to what groups if we want them all to stop?

        That’s like mom or dad telling their kids “no more cookies,” and then focusing on one kid and the cookie they’ve gotten.

        Every single person on here is getting a tax break in one form or another, but just like many liberals, people on here want to focus on tax breaks received by others and not their own.

        New headline for Reason: end all subsidies, deductions, credits, and grants for all individuals and corporations, period. Done.

    3. Please define “atheist hater”. WTF do you mean?

  7. Do events like these tend to be “overwhelmingly white”?

    1. clearly you know nothing of the black church.

      1. Fuck Whitey!

  8. I attended one of Randi’s Amazing Meetings. I enjoyed myself, but there is a very strong liberal bias within the atheist community. Penn & Teller and Shermer are the only noticeable exceptions. Among skeptics (and atheists) there is a strong distrust and dislike towards religion and conservative politicians, but they are unable to make the conceptual leap that extends this mistrust towards the government and liberals. It’s a shame, especially since the gov. has far more power than the church, and liberal ideology, under the guise of progressivism and nanny state social welfare restrictions, is gaining ascendence over moral conservatism. Both sides are equally restrictive and dangerous to a free society, but they can’t see that. But Adam Savage is a nice guy and I spent my time chatting with Shermer about his book, Mind of the Market.

    Good article Bailey.

    1. A free society and one that ensures shared prosperity and a social safety net are not mutually exclusive. Liberals (rightly) believe these things to be requirements of a free society.

      Libertarianism is the ideology of minimum freedom–that is, maximum freedom for the smallest number of people.

      1. Tony|3.7.12 @ 5:17PM|#
        “Libertarianism is the ideology of minimum freedom–that is, maximum freedom for the smallest number of people.”

        Thanks, shithead, for proving your ignorance once again.

      2. Only if you define “freedom” in the most Orwellian of terms. I.e., “You won’t pay for my car? I have no freedom to drive!”

        1. Only a Christ-fag thinks that way, PM.

          1. You misspelled “socialist”, shriek.

      3. A free society and one that ensures shared prosperity and a social safety net are not mutually exclusive.
        they are the definition of mutually exclusive. “Shared” prosperity implies the taking from some to give to others which is the antithesis of freedom. We’ve seen liberalism in action; it fucks up everything it touches and the only shared commodity is misery.

        1. Actually Somalia. By which I mean, your ridiculous assertion that “the only shared commodity is misery” has absolutely no connection to the real world as we see it, when we compare “welfare states” versus “Somalia”.

      4. I think his IQ is in the negative numbers.

      5. “A free society and one that ensures shared prosperity and a social safety net are not mutually exclusive. Liberals (rightly) believe these things to be requirements of a free society.”

        Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength, of COURSE! How could we not have seen this from the beginning?!

    2. Yeah, if this were 1012 instead of 2012, the church would be a bigger concern.

    3. Randi…Savage….these are my people.

  9. “Does Secular Humanism Have A Political Agenda?”
    Yes, most are leftists and tend to be anti-capitalist.

    1. Suggesting that leftism and anticapitalism are the most rational political/economic worldviews.

      1. Tony|3.7.12 @ 6:01PM|#
        “Suggesting that leftism and anticapitalism are the most rational political/economic worldviews.”

        Suggesting that shithead is incapable of thought.

      2. Because secular humanists are inherently the most rational people. It makes perfect sense.

        1. Capitalism has its flaws, but there’s no better system out there, Tony.

          1. Yet any attempt whatsoever to correct its flaws, even in the most minor way, is beaten down and equated with Stalinism by you and your cohorts.

            1. That’s because we have more than enough shit from your side of the aisle, Tony. We don’t need to go anywhere NEAR Stalinism, or anything even remotely like it. Enough of that shit in our society already.

      3. “rational” as in, “let’s make sure everyone is as fucked as I am.”

      4. “Suggesting that leftism and anticapitalism are the most rational political/economic worldviews.”

        Until you pick up a book and see what happens to rights, property and human lives when these ideas are put into practice.

  10. The State is the god of the liberal atheists. It sets all moral standards, smites the unholy and shelters the faithful, in their minds. In truth, the state is very much like the Old Testament Yahweh; Irrational, greedy and easily pissed off.

    1. But less Creative.

    1. …they do have a religion, and its temple is called the White House.

  11. “I just don’t want to pay for, or be subjected to, your beliefs.”

    Lame. You already do pay for and are subjected to his beliefs. And the beliefs of others who don’t share yours. Where the fuck do you think the Department of Defense gets its money from? Non-believers in American military might?

  12. As long as there is social order and political boundaries, you will ALWAYS be subjected to other people’s beliefs. The trick — yes, it’s a trick! — is to create a society in which those beliefs are mitigated nearly to non-influence.

    1. No trick, but yes as the numbers of non-believers grow believers will lose influence. See also, humanity discovers earth is round; flat-earthers persist but lose influence.

      1. Who says the number of nonbelievers is growing? People are just substituting ideology for religion, but they’re still basically going on faith.

        1. Religious structures in the brain (i.e. the parts that light up during prayer) are present in about 90% of the population. I was reading a study utilizing an MRI which found that most people identifying as athiest or agnostic (I know, the terms are incorrect, it bugs me but I’ve decided to just go with it) still had that part of the brain associated with religious feeling light up. This lends evidence to your belief. It seems that the non-biological athiests are still in need of a religion.

          As a biological (I’m assuming, since I was raised religious, but I never really “got it”) I used to believe that we would all be better off without religion. I now see it is as a vaccine against state worship, albiet one which is easily rendered useless by “divine right”.

          1. “Religious structures in the brain (i.e. the parts that light up during prayer) are present in about 90% of the population.”

            Do you remember where you read the study?

            1. Matthew Alper’s “The God Part of the Brain”?

              1. Well it comes down to the question. Do people have a desire to worship something divine because it exists or because it is hared wired into our brain? There is some evidence of spirituality amongst greater apes and elephants. But the fact is that it is entirely irrelevant, it (desire to worship/spirituality) exists and that is all we need to know. What we do with it, attend some sort of religious service or dismiss spirituality as primitivism, is entirely up to the individual.

                I do not think that there are more athiests now than there were in the past, they simply can be more vocal about it now than in the past. Admitting you were an atheist even 200 years ago would have been very bad for you, and farther back would have been deadly. There has always been athiests,just as there will always be religion.

          2. Why do I get the feeling these same areas of the brain would light up if I was singing Rolling Stones songs in my head?

            1. Or doing acid?

            2. Well if singing Rolling Stones was a spiritual experienc for you then it might.

  13. is to create a society in which those beliefs are mitigated nearly to non-influence.

    I’m not a social engineer.

  14. it probably sounds lame, seeing as how most people here like to berate each other and whatnot (nothing wrong with that i suppose, internetting like that is kind of fun), but i kind of just wish there was a little more support for atheists. you can have a pissing match about how one group never gets it right or is just as hypocritical as another, but any group shows these traits, even people here.
    anywayyyyy, a pretty good article. i like to at least see some atheist community building and public events. perhaps with more exposure a wider set of philosophical views will be incorporated.

    1. You can create or join a community for any number of reasons. There’s nothing special about atheism. Do what you want, but if you want to make a community I would recommend not basing it upon the lack of a certain belief.

    2. i kind of just wish there was a little more support for atheists
      Be as atheistic as you want, but don’t be a complete douche bag. You don’t believe in Christ, I get that, hell I don’t either. But try and stop fucking up Christmas (meaning Santa, Rudolph, presents, stockings etc..) and I won’t give a shit about your beliefs. I will allow you to live your life the way you want. Christmas, Easter, etc.. may have started out as Christian/Pagan events, but I do not care. I care about the fact that my youngest son is excited to spread “reindeer food” on the front lawn so Rudolph can visit his house, or that the special eggs that he has colored always end up in spots he can find. That may not be important to the “evangelical atheist” but it is to me. and as long as they mess with it, I will continue to fight against it.

      1. “But try and stop fucking up Christmas (meaning Santa, Rudolph, presents, stockings etc..) and I won’t give a shit about your beliefs. ”

        I love how you type always trot out Christmas when grasping for straws to demonstrate atheists being bullies, yet it’s always the CHRISTIANS who are the ones whining in December whenever somebody acknowledges the half a dozen other holidays present in the month.

        1. Christians get pissed because schools start doing things like Happy Holidays in order not to offend people. It isn’t grasping for straws, it’s a reality. There are people out there, athiests included, that look for reasons to be fucking butt hurt. Your doing it right now.

  15. This demonstrates a truth that a lot of libertarians fail to grasp: libertarian ideology is no more welcome among the non-religious left than the religious right. Libertarians tend to be disproportionately hostile to religion, but the secular humanist community has its own type of orthodoxy as well – statism.

    1. And DAMN, do those Church of Statism creeps like to proselytize.

      …at gunpoint, if necessary.

    2. God (and Rick Santorum) forbid that everyone could believe and support what they believe.

    3. God (and Rick Santorum) forbid that everyone could believe and support what they believe.

      1. Sorry about that error.

  16. “Many late-night college dorm philosophers have puzzled over the conundrums involved with the claim that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.”

    At times (for example, upon noticing that the latest Rand villain in the public eye is named after a Trematode), I have wondered whether reality is actually a designed narrative of some sort — book, movie, holodeck simulation, whatever.

    God as The Author is much less problematic. Such a God is technically all-powerful, as any lone author must be. Perhaps limited by what can be communicated to an audience, but that’s not a limitation the characters would be able to perceive.

    1. Such a God is not necessarily omniscient in the strictest sense, but it doesn’t matter — continuity issues aside, once God take a position on a fact, it is true. The waveform collapses. The cat lives or dies. God is the Ultimate Observer. Anything that God hasn’t paid attention to isn’t important to reality.

      God as the Author doesn’t have to be good — she has no moral obligation to her creations any more than any author has to his characters. Of course, God can empathize with her creations, but that doesn’t mean they are “real” to her in any meaningful ethical sense.

      As for the problem of evil — total crapsack worlds are only compelling to a small, masochistic audience. And they often sow the seeds of their own destruction. But a world of total happiness and the absence of conflict or opposition has no drama. It might be nice to live there, but it’s boring to read about.

      1. my biggest problem is the jesus freaks whose answer to everything is pray. So, the folks killed in this week’s tornadoes didn’t pray enough? God help me, pun intended, it is the single worst thing about living in the South.

        1. You only have to hear a portion of that nonsense. I, on the other hand…

          At least I’m not Mohammed. That dude starts to twitch and yelp out random shrieks at least 3 weeks before Ramadan. Pretty soon he’s in a fetal curl, in the corner with his hands over his ears.

          1. …to blame, for failing to deliver.

  17. “I participated as the token libertarian on a panel discussion that asked, “Does Secular Humanism Have A Political Agenda?” Yes, but more on that at a later time.”

    You and your right-wing talking points! There is no political agenda, and there is no such thing as secular humanism either, the Right just made it up.

  18. Personally, I do not see the “religious” as any more a threat to my life than any other belief system, be it “liberal”, “progressive”, “republican (little r on purpose)”, or who ever the fuck wants to force their beliefs on me. The way I interpret the first amendment, is not so much in religious terms but in “leave me the fuck alone to live my life by the morals, mores, and beliefs that I hold”.

  19. On a related note, I once got into an argument with my sister because she was mad at my daughter for attending a church that believed that only their beliefs were correct. Her point was that my daughters religious beliefs were wrong because they stated that theirs were were right and that those who didn’t believe like they did were wrong. It became a vicious cycle, so my daughters beliefs were wrong because they didn’t accept all beliefs as correct (yes), but all beliefs are correct (yes), but doesn’t that make my daughters beliefs correct (no). All beliefs but hers are correct.

  20. i’ve heard (usually liberals) some people make the claim that it is a violation of the “seperation of church and state” (note that phrase is not in the constitution) for people to use vouchers to pay for religious schools.

    they fail to grok the locus of control issue. it’s not the STATE choosing which institution gets the money, so it’s not a state endorsement any more than me using my taxpayer funded paycheck (thanks guys!) to donate to a religious cause is a state action

    however, iirc, WA state takes this seperation thing so far that in our state, if the state grants certain scholarships etc. to high academic achievers etc. those scholarships CANNOT be used to pay for religious schools

    that to me, seems CONTRARY to the 1st amendment (as well as individual liberty and marketplace freedom) and i’d be interested in what others think.

    1. “”seperation of church and state” (note that phrase is not in the constitution”

      The phrase, no. The concept, yes. read the bylaws.

      1. i’m well aware of where the reference comes from. i’m just making the distinction. the seperation of church and state was referenced in a famous scotus case, but the constitution references what is commonly referred to as the establishment clause.

        the constitution no more mentions a seperation , than it mentions privacy.

        fwiw, i listed the case below.

        imo, (and i realize the courts disagree) WA’s law is UNconstitutional

        1. I understand you here. By disallowing that money to be spent at a University that has religious sponsorship, they are in effect discriminating AGAINST religious institutions.

  21. “This situation occurred recently in Locke v. Davey, where a student who was awarded a scholarship by the State of Washington attempted to use it to enroll in a theology degree program at a Christian college. Id. at 717. The State responded by denying him the scholarship under its constitution and state cases which interpreted the clause to prohibit even indirect funding of religious instruction for future clergy. Id. at 719.

  22. (continued)
    The student filed suit against the State and the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held that the State, pursuant to its own laws, could validly deny the scholarship without violating the Free Exercise Clause because, among other reasons, (1) the scholarship program was facially neutral with respect to religion and thus not presumptively unconstitutional, (2) the State had a substantial interest in refusing to fund theological degrees, and (3) the denial placed only a minor burden upon students such as the plaintiff. Id. at 725.

    1. Well refusing to fund a theology degree DOES make some sense, I see where that decision comes from.

      1. Would they have ruled the same if the student had tried to pursue a degree in “Womans Studies” “Minority Studies” “Or some sort of Socialist cover studies”? I doubt it.

        1. yea. that’s kind of my point. the main thing to me is locus of control. the scholarship is for the STUDENT not the school. as long as it’s HIS decision, whether he chooses a religious program, or a secular program, should be irrelevant

          i’m really surprised it was found constitutional. it seems sucha clear cut example of discrimination AGAINST freedom of religion.

  23. OK, you have to admit that dude makes a LOT of sense man. WOw.

  24. Belief in a god or the allmighty state is pretty much the same thing, so the fact that there are an atheist community where there are alot of liberals should be a great place to argue the libertarian cause. These are people that get the problem with blind belief and that good intentions do not justify irrational choices. Atheism and libertarianism have plenty of things in common.

  25. I’m not an atheist so I can join an organized religion… But what the hell. It’s all sort of amusing to watch.

  26. So, if you felt your presence was just tokenism, why did you bother to participate?

    1. Probably the same reason token workplace minorities participate in their jobs, to hit on the white women!

  27. Psychiatry is the secular religion for many atheists. They have unbounded faith in its unverifiable diagnoses.

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