• Lles Nats

    So…from principals and discipline to a cutesie word that is meaningless used to describe a doctine that stands for everything.

    That is american progress!

  • mike

    As a former Christian and a former member of the American Humanist Association, I appreciate her comments about “movement atheism.” I remain attracted to much in the AHA, but unfortunately it seems to be characterized more by what it’s against rather than what it’s for. In many ways organized secularism differs little from organized religion. Until that changes, I’ll remain a None–completely unaffiliated.

  • sirwinston

    Please change the name of this site to “Anti-religion News Service”

    Thank you.

  • Curious

    “…[A]ddressing structural inequalities like sexism, economic injustice, and homophobia isn’t mission creep; it’s part and parcel of secularism.”

    Now I’m confused. Just a few months ago on her blog, Sarah Jones seemed pretty emphatic about NOT being a secularist: “I’m not a secularist, as I’ve already said” [*]. But now this statement seems to suggest that she considers herself to be a secularist. I don’t think I”m misreading her first statement, but perhaps I’m misreading this one? What is Sarah Jones’ understanding of “secularism” and is it something she supports or not?

    [*] http://anthonybsusan.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/islamophobia-is-real-and-you-should-care/

  • ronald

    I, too, originally felt like you do when I first discovered this site.

    However, after a few days I came to realize that Religious News Services provides a really good function for religion. Are you familair with the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine? I’m sure you are from watching movies or tv shows.

    If gung ho religious warriors like you and me are the Bad Cop, this website is the Good Cop. We get all up in the heathens faces and yell at them and tell them to confess (repent), and then Good Cop comes over and says, Hey, sorry about that jerk. We’re the Good Cop. We’re nice and we believe in charity and being tolerant. Why, some of us are even “faithiests” who don’t believe in God but still act religious! You can trust us. We’re not fundamentalists.

    But the Good Cop is still a cop, do you get it? And it’s still religion. It’s just an act to trick people! So this site does a pretty good job of fooling people into thinking religion isn’t as hardcore as they think it is. And after they’re softened up, we swoop in and GET THEIR SOULS FOR CHRIST!!!!! YEAH!!!!

  • larry m

    Ms.SJ…I hope you will take that as a compliment but your last comment is as Christian as it gets.

  • Lles Nats

    The main American humanist website practices censorship of opposing views like a mad dog. They have this cutsie section of cartoons where they post cartoons making fun of various religions.

    To me, religions are basically just a personal worldview…just as secularism or atheism. So I suggested in the comments section that we post a few cartoon interpretations of some gay jokes I know. Of course I did not actually post the narrative of the jokes, just the suggestion.

    They banned me immediately, and sent me a personal note from their chief admin assistant who was highly offended at the thought.

    See….apparently humanists can dish it, but they can’t take it. They have grown soft under their legal protection as an endangered species of human, and apparently think they can say whatever they want about other worldviews while theirs is to remain happily protected.

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  • Hey Chris (& Sarah)! Something’s up with your RSS feed. The last post I have in my RSS reader is for July 3rd. At some point after that, your feed broke. The RSS feed for your comment threads and the feed for the entire Religion News website are working fine, but not the one for your blog.

    FYI, the feed looks just fine when you view it from a web browser, but my RSS reader no longer pulls in headers for your new articles. Maybe your IT person can give it a look-see?

    Thanks to Twitter, I just now realized you’ve published a bunch of articles this month, but I missed most of them.

    Yay technology. 🙁

  • Thank you so much for letting me know! I’ll pass this message along. So sorry for the issue!

  • Thanks, Chris. 🙂

  • dvd

    Self-imposed stumbling blocks are rooted in—SELF….her reasons for leaving religion would be exhibit A of “SELF”

  • Who can truly say that one’s own religious philosophy is the only viable path in life? Because you were raised in a particular culture, a particular country, and/or a particular historical era which posits one particular religion as the only culturally recognized path?

    Your religion is as much an accident of birth, timing, and circumstance as any other person’s. The question is: do you have the humility to accept and recognize this, or will you assert that only you and the peers of your particular religious following have embraced the “sole universal truth”?

    There are a lot of religions and religious followers who make claim to the “sole universal truth.” Have you all found your own individual “stumbling blocks” of self? Or will you admit that you are collectively bumping around and wandering in the dark like the rest of us limited, mortal humans?

    Will you be guided by the arrogant pride and misplaced confidence that so many religious believers stumble upon? Or will you accept that none of us, limited beings that we are, can make such claims of omniscience?

  • John

    The unique claim of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It stands or falls on this alone. If he did rise from the dead, then I see that as a total game changer and it brings legitimacy (truth) to his claims. No other religion has that. Lots of religions argue about who has the truth, so you are right to ask how are we to know. Christianity’s answer is the resurrection. You can reject that and continue with another argument, but recognizing this unique aspect of Christianity is not up for debate…it is settled.

  • mike

    John, It’s true that Christianity’s belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not up for debate. What is up for debate is the reality of the resurrection. That’s purely a statement of faith without any factual basis.

  • Again, nearly all religions think they have some unique, unchallengeable claim to the events of the world, the nature of reality, the nature of divinity, or the nature of humanity.

    OK, so your religion thinks a Jewish messianic revolutionary (one of many in ancient Judea, btw) was executed by the Roman imperialist occupiers of ancient Judea in collusion with Jewish religious authorities, both in response to the challenge Jesus presented to the social order. Your religion thinks this human being is actually a god-man sent to earth as a sacrifice for the flaws that your god imbued humanity with and was brought back to life as proof its forgiveness of those god-imbued flaws.

    Why is this so special? This particular body of religious stories speak to you but not others. You were raised in a culture that primes people to accept a series of fantastical, reality-bending narratives as the unquestionable truth. This is hardly unique as religions go.

    Of course you think your religion is special, has a unique understanding of the world and its relationship with divinity, and sees all other paths as false. Again, what is new, here? That your religion has an immortal god-man at the center of its stories? The emperors of Rome were god-men too. Certain variants of the modern Pagan movement see human beings as taking on the very embodiment of the divine. Many Pagans believe in reincarnation. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt were believed to be the embodiment of the god Horus and that this god returned to Earth reincarnated as other Pharaohs. That your concept of divinity has chosen to take on a death defying variant of human form is hardly unique.

    Most of living in Christian-dominated cultures are well aware that Christians truly believe that their god-man rose from the dead 2000 years ago. You can point to events 2000 year ago and assert that virtually anything transpired but those claims are still just stories. Show me a human being who is brought back from the dead several days after their death in 2014. Until that takes place, your religious stories are just stories… as fantastical and unproven as any religion’s body of legends.

    You can believe whatever you want to about events which took place two millennia ago. Anyone can. If that gives you a sense of meaning and peace, fine. However, your faith in such matters is hardly unique.

    Again, you are as human as any member of any other religion and you share common patterns of perception, social conformity, and a need for social inclusion. You share a belief in the impossible because it gives you hope in a world that is torn by violence and strife. You grow up in your culture’s traditions, you embrace them, and you try to transmit them to the next generation, regardless of how fantastic your religion’s claims are.

    You are utterly human. As human as me. As human as any person who has walked upon this planet. Believe in your messiah, believe in your god… but do know that your cultural practices are as human and as everyday as billions of others across the globe, each partaking in their own faith traditions.

  • John

    Ok, I get the whole comparative religion thing. Nothing new there…old hat. Kinda reminds me of the guy from The Incredibles movie – “If everyone’s special then no one’s special.” Not a good argument. The claim of Christianity still stands – a man overcame death, the great enemy of mankind and the guarantee that this is not the final end. What you do with Jesus will determine everything. Keep arguing around the issue if you want, but victory over death is a game changer.

  • John

    The same people who wrote about his life, which is accepted by historians, are the same ones who write of witnessing the resurrection along with many others. Either believe what they write or believe they are manipulating you for some other ends. Jesus was right or he was wrong, not much in between. And everything rises or falls on his claims. I understand the doubt of something as over the top as a resurrection, but I chose to believe the accuracy of the reports and the untiy of scripture as a whole. No doubt the next comments will be about the unreliability of scripture. Again, I am well versed in those debates. They have been around since the times of Jesus and will never end. But a good historian will recognize that over time, biblical claims have grown stronger through archaeological evidence and other external writings.

  • Of course, John. You’re a true, blue believer. There’s not much I can say to you that would punch through that starry-eyed faith…

    Human to the core. 😉

  • For the record, I’ve never been trained in comparative religion. At best, I’ve had only fleeting contact with the topic. I do have a basic knowledge of sociology, however. Looking at this through a sociological lens, human beings tend to repeat similar behavior patterns on a collective level and religion and spirituality are no exceptions.

    Or, put another way, human beings tend to behave like human beings, even when we think our group is the exception to the rule.

    I know that can sometimes bleed away the wonder and romance of spiritual practice. People want to believe they have a special, unique relationship with their notion of divinity—that their god has chosen their group as true followers who enjoy special attention from divinity. So, I imagine it’s at least mildly annoying when someone says, “Well, you share a lot in common with those folks outside of your religious group—the ones whose belief is seen as sacrilegious and anathema to your own.”

    To be completely honest, this deeply saddens me. This tendency produces a kind of reflexive prejudice against anyone outside of the religious group in question. We live in a world that is riven with prejudice: race, class, ethnicity, national origin, gender and so on. To add patterns of spiritual tribalism to this mix of ill will is to pour yet another splash of accelerant onto a steadily raging fire.

    Spiritual connection can be a beautiful thing, and yet, humanity’s tribalism renders this connection as yet another basis for dangerous animosities to evolve and fester. To fail to see our similarities in a theater of deep, long-lived conflict, is to set the stage for more fear, more abuse, and deepening social exclusion.

    I don’t make these observations from a place of being willfully pissy. I make them in the hope that we can stare into the other’s eyes and see hints of our own reflection… our own shared humanity. That we allow tribalistic conceptions of divinity to blind us to this reality and thus, turn us against each other is saddening. We render that which might be beautiful into something horribly tarnished by our fearful, warring natures.

  • A part of this process, which I see as a hard pill to swallow for many, is to recognize that almost every religion has a body of mythological stories which undergird that system of faith. Those narratives usually conflict with other religious traditions while deeply straining the boundaries of mundane reality.

    I would hope that people can gradually learn to step beyond these limitations and accept that all of our stories are created by human hands and are as fallible as we are… that to assign one set of mythological narratives the status of social superiority is an act of hubris, possibly leading down the road to fear and prejudice. In doing so, we inadvertently place the collective pride and the solidity of faith of our own religious groups over the well being of others.

    That many of us share a need for a deeper sense of connection with all that is, is really what’s central, and to recognize that there is no set path in exploring that process. We add to these paths our individual experiences, cultural histories, and personal needs but we still share our humanness, irrespective of our particular paths.

  • John

    Calling a religions’ stories mythology reduces them to trivial instances that misses both the reality and the intended point. That just washes over the real debate and insulates you from real conversation about them. I can even agree with many of your points regarding sociology and our common humanity, but those things do not rise to the level of the spiritual. Now it may be that in today’s world that the spiritual is minimized or redefined to suit the masses, but I do not see spiritual discussion/belief as something we should move beyond as you say. Honestly, I do not have as much faith in humanity as you seem to. But I do have faith in one who was larger than life, and so much so that he conquered death itself.

    Going back to the original article, I was sad to read that Sarah Jones had some unfortunate and yet all too common bad experiences with church that drove her away. God’s people (or people from any religion) can often make a real mess of thing and cast the wrong light on what Christianity and Jesus are all about, but the discerning and truly interested will seek out the deeper meaning.

  • Atheist Max


    There is no sign that any religion means anything.
    Religion is not depth.
    Religion is shallow. As shallow as it gets.

  • Atheist Max


    “Your religion is..and accident of birth…do you have the humility to accept and recognize this?”

    It doesn’t take humility. It takes education.
    No religious claim has yet survived scrutiny.

    Humility is required to accept when one has been wrong.
    But because of indoctrination the problem with religion is much worse than realizing you were wrong. One needs also to acknowledge that one’s entire family was wrong also, and the priests and THEIR priests and one’s churches have been wrong over hundreds of years and multiple generations.

    That is not humility. That is profound de-conversion.
    And for most ex-Theists education was the only cure.
    Humility comes much, much later.

  • Calling a religions’ stories mythology reduces them to trivial instances that misses both the reality and the intended point.

    That depends upon the religion. Many Pagans, for example, accept that the stories which undergird their faith are indeed mythology but find meaning in those stories any way. Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler does a good job of describing this process.

    I get that many people will find the act of calling a religion’s stories mythology to be an offensive suggestion that only reduces those narratives to a triviality, but religions do that already: they so often dismiss the stories of other religions as mythology. So, I’m guilty of nothing that religious people don’t already do. But again, insisting that one’s fantastical stories are the only allowable narrative while one dismisses the mythological narratives of other religions involves a large degree of collective hubris and ignores that all of these stories were born of human voices and all that entails. The fallibility of humanity, which Christianity so focuses upon, undermines its very own stories… which is an interesting irony.

    Honestly, I do not have as much faith in humanity as you seem to.

    Hardly. Read through what I wrote once more. Notice that I spoke of tribalism, prejudice, a “warring nature”, and a number of other negatives that I see deeply embedded in human nature. I’m concerned over the impact of religion upon the world precisely because I expect human beings to twist their sense of connection with the divine into an pathway to abuse others… a fear that is well justified by centuries of war, slavery, and the oppression of religious minorities, all supported by powerful religious institutions, mind you. Christianity alone has a bloody and terrible history, as do many other religions.

    To establish your religion as the superior path—the only path—has dire social repercussions but again, that reflects the tribalistic, war-like patterns of human interaction. You expect a god to overcome these failings and yet people interweave a human propensity for violence with the very inner workings of their faith and their quest to connect with the divine.

    How do we reform this? Obviously, some people think all religion should be abolished, that it is all dishonorably stupid balderdash. I don’t see that as a viable solution nor is it very pluralistic in nature. It tastes of the same tribalistic exclusivism that is reflected in the worst aspects of religion. After all, none of us truly knows or understands the fabric of the universe we live in. We grasp at it, find glimpses of it, but none of us is fully omniscient. In that gap of knowledge exists humility and an understanding that many of our paths of understanding will diverge radically.

    So, I’m curious as to how people can reform religious expression and people’s understandings and expectations of that expression. That is an approach that I believe is far more realistic. Religion isn’t going away and the impulses that drive it aren’t going away, either. How do we guide those impulses and drives in a direction that doesn’t lead people into shitting upon others? I suspect you believe otherwise, but Christianity has not found the solution to this quandary. Nor has anti-theism. Nor have other religions.

  • Atheist Max

    “After all, none of us truly knows or understands the fabric of the universe we live in.”

    Yes. So Atheism is the right opinion to have.

    Atheism is the lack of belief in Gods – that’s all it is.
    Atheists make no claim that any particular god is impossible. Nor does the atheist deny mysteries or the fun of mystery.

    Religion cannot ‘be abolished’; such a thing should not be tried.
    But people should abandon religion by their own volition as they become educated and learn the truth.

    Gods may exist, but until such time
    as they are shown to exist
    all religious practice should be shrugged off and dismissed
    and treated for the dangerous, ridiculous nonsense it is.

  • Atheist Max

    At the moment, I think the AHA and other Atheist groups
    are too distracted and pre-occupied by an onslaught
    of religious edicts chipping away at the separation of church and state.

    It has become a ‘whack-a-mole’ situation
    with the confluence of a less religious younger demographic being taken by surprise by a religious old guard getting a second wind to bring Theocracy and Oligarchy to America.

    And the Theocratic Oligarchs are winning.
    We will be forced to accept Christian laws and Christian corporations whether we like it or not, until other Christians sects decide to have wars over this stuff.

    That is why the AHA seems to be so ‘against’ everything these days.
    The religious right is not going down easily.

  • Gods may exist, but until such time as they are shown to exist all religious practice should be shrugged off and dismissed and treated for the dangerous, ridiculous nonsense it is.

    Yes, deities might exist and that’s precisely why I can respect a person’s desire to explore that possibility, just as I can respect that someone chooses not to engage in this exploration… for whatever reason. How a person goes about expressing those two diverging paths is what I take issue with. For example, does a person treat others like shit in the process? Do they engage in prejudice and/or a desire to intertwine their process with establishing social hierarchy?

    In contrast, you take issue with the very act of walking down the “god path” in the first place.

    *shrug* We’re never going to see eye to eye on this Max. But Max, you’ve posted on this blog long enough that many of us regulars are familiar with the fact that you think that all religion is preposterous crap that is an inherently disastrous waste of time.

    OK. That’s your approach. Others don’t share it. What results between you and I is an impasse of highly incompatible perspectives. You and I have gone many rounds on this in the past… I don’t think either of us had much influence on the other. The likelihood of that ever changing is negligible.

    But you still keep plugging away. 😉

  • Atheist Max

    Timber, you may shrug off my concerns, but the evidence is clear that religion is a threat to us all.

    Meanwhile, Until someone can explain to me
    why Faith is not an utterly disgraceful practice, disastrous to the individual and the society at large,
    I see every reason to treat it as dangerous nonsense.

    If someone claims there is a god watching over us without providing evidence, that person should be warned that they are damaging themselves and possibly others.

    Yes, Gods may exist. I don’t claim that to be impossible.

    But to make a claim that something is true
    without demonstrating why one arrived at that conclusion – to claim something without evidence on personal faith alone – is to embrace indecency and to promote something immoral and destructive to our society and its attempt to solve problems.

    I have no problem with interesting speculations and entertaining ideas about what Gods could exist or where gods might live, etc.

    I embrace possibility!
    But I reject untestable CLAIMS.

  • Ah. I’ve heard this before. During our first meeting, I believe.

    So, do you like to hike? Any favorite vacation destinations?

  • Atheist Max

    “you take issue with the very act of walking down the “god path” in the first place.”

    No. I have tried repeatedly to be clear that this is not the case.
    Like most Atheists, I have no objection to pursuing any ‘god path’ as long as it remains speculative and fluid and conversational.
    It is FUN to ponder what sort of evidence may exist for a God if we were able to find it.

    Only when one *claims* to have arrived “at God” do I require a firm challenge. It is not only for my sake but for the sake of the person who is making the claim – religion unchallenged is dangerous.

  • Do you prefer Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or some other ereader? Perhaps a tablet instead? Or just old fashioned paper?

  • Atheist Max


    I’ve read most of your blog over the last few months – dipping in from time to time.

    As you ask me about hiking and foods, I notice that culture is not something you have blogged much about – or perhaps i am missing it?

    My world is full of art:
    Jazz, pop, outdoor oil painting, watercolor, film, literature, poetry, travel, architecture, sculpture, fine wines, daydreaming with guitar in hand, acting in theatre and film – in other words, everything banned by some religion somewhere.

    And as you know, Culture is denied to people in countries where religion is strong. Some Christians don’t allow dancing. Muslims have no nonreligious music, they can’t drink good wines even though in Iran they cultivated the finest Shiraz grape for centuries before Islam took over.

    Death of culture is death of whatever ‘spirit’ there is to life. So perhaps you’ll understand how limited MY world would be without culture. Yes, it is criminal to deny these beautiful things to people just because someone claims they are bad.

    Who can compare a self-induced spiritual delusion
    to the magnificence in museums, art history, classical music, opera, a great landscape or seascape – or especially the wonderful people all around us, just accepting them as they are.

    People; their creations, their loves, their music, their stories, their unfettered ideas and passions – those are the things to celebrate. That is culture.

    Religion slams the door against all of that – and manages to even get one to brainlessly say, “Thanks, God for killing my desires”!
    That is why it is poison.

  • Atheist Max


    Angry Atheists annoy you. Anti-Theists annoy you.
    Pushy people annoy you. I get that.

    But Church and State are colluding
    into a Theocratic Oligarchy to concentrate religious power.
    It bores you. I get that. You’ve heard all this before.
    Hobby Lobby? SCOTUS rulings? – you are *past* that angry atheist activist phase. You’ve been there, done that. You’ve come to hate that Atheist demographic.

    Me? I think there is evidence that something can still be done
    to persuasively argue for sanity and freedom from religion before all is lost.

    That is our impasse.

  • Do you have any favorite contemporary novelists?

    I’ve been reading The Order of the Air series by Melissa Scott & Jo Graham. It’s historical fiction, of a fantasy/sci-fi flavor, set in the early days of aviation. They’re really great writers who obviously did a lot of historical research for their books. Another book is due out in the fall.

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  • There is one misunderstanding that I feel compelled to set straight. I am not an atheist. I don’t have an opinion on whether deities exist. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. Sometimes I lean one way. Sometimes I lean another. Sometimes I just sit down rather than leaning and contemplate the lint in my navel. Maybe the universe has its own paradigm that transcends any human notion of god, non-god, or a wholesome 5-grain breakfast cereal.

    I am a spiritual “none”, agnostic at most, preferring no labels and no affiliations with any common philosophy regarding religion, god, or breakfast foods, be that atheism, theism, polytheism, pantheism, or eggs-and-toast-ism.

    It has been a long time since I’ve posted to my blog. Things have shifted a little.

    Having said that, what is your favorite breakfast cereal? Do you prefer milk with that, or a non-dairy option?

  • mike

    timberwraith, I appreciate your thoughtful, measured comments on this matter. Along with some others, I frequently get frustrated by much of the behavior of organized religion, but responding to them with angry screed helps no one and it may only harden them in their positions. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

  • Thank you for your kind words, mike. However, I’m not exactly “behaving myself” in the comments on the post Atheists are disliked — but new data shows interfaith dialogue can help.

    I feel a fairly strong degree of acceptance for religions people of a progressive stripe, and, to a lesser degree, for those of a more moderate stripe. Not so for the more conservative part of Christendom. Far too often, that branch of religion embraces and promulgates prejudicial/oppressive behaviors toward others. I make no apologies for calling out such bigotry when I encounter it.

    But again, thank you for your kind words. It’s really nice to get the positive feedback.

  • Atheist Max


    Favorite novelist this summer so far is Michael Chabon.
    “Telegraph Avenue” is one of my favorites this year so far – for the person who loves old record stores and the characters who built them. Also I just read his “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” which is about two genius kids. Very easily addictive.

    Other good novels I’ve read recently:
    Anita Diamont’s “Last Days of Dogtown” was wonderful. It is a historical fiction about a northern Massachusetts by the coast with a rich fishing history.

    Jess Walter’s “Beautiful Ruins” was an excellent book.
    Looking forward to the next one.

    I’m just finishing “Mason & Dixon” by Thomas Pynchon.
    I loved “Gravity’s Rainbow” which I finally read last week.

    My Recent Non-fiction:
    Michael Cunningham’s “Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown”
    is a short, spectacular gem for those who enjoy
    remote beach towns full of original characters. Quick read.

    Finally read Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”
    and it was pure greatness. Also loved “A Walk in the Woods” which I read last month. Spent the month of March this year reading both of those.


  • Atheist Max

    What is wrong with anger?

    In the face of a terrorist (Christian, Jew or Muslim) how is one supposed to act?

    “You are going to Hell” is a form of child abuse.
    “You may not get certain medicines because my corporation forbids it” is a Religious Edict.
    “I’m here to remove your clitoris because God” is a form of terrorism.

    Mike. Ask yourself. How can someone who is informed not get angry?

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