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The 10 most read ‘Faitheist’ stories of 2014

I started writing my ‘Faitheist’ column at Religion News Service in December 2013, so the bulk of my pieces here appeared in 2014. Looking back on the last year, it’s very interesting to see what resonated most with readers.

As we begin 2015, here’s a look back at the 10 most read stories from last year:

10. The ‘War on Christmas’ is actually a war on atheist voices

From a 2013 appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor." Image via YouTube screengrab.

From a 2013 appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Image via YouTube screengrab.

The last week of 2014 was busy around here. My second-to-last post of the year snuck in at number 10 for the year (and my last post of the year went even higher). This piece looks at how the ‘War on Christmas’ doesn’t actually represent the views of most atheists, and how the stories that Fox News and other networks choose to tell about atheists promote a harmful narrative:

I’ve only ever been invited to Fox News to talk about the so-called ‘War on Christmas.’ But there are so many other stories they and other networks could be covering. Why aren’t they reporting on the positive contributions of atheists and agnostics, like the newly launching Humanist Service Corps? I’d love to see Bill O’Reilly invite atheists on to talk about those things, instead of an imaginary “War on Christmas.” Until he does, the “War on Christmas” feels a lot more like a war on the voices of most atheists.

9. Gay and nonreligious in a Republican state, Rep. Brian Sims puts his faith in humanity

Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims. Photo courtesy Sims.

Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims. Photo courtesy Sims.

Pennsylvania state Representative Brian Sims—who first received national attention after becoming the first openly LGBT legislator to be elected in his state—spoke with me about being openly nonreligious in a nation where most elected officials pledge allegiance not only to country, but to God:

“I’m the only elected official in Pennsylvania that didn’t have to set foot in a house of worship to get elected… For the last ten years, if someone has asked, I’ve said my faith is in humanity.”

8. Giving Humanism a voice: An interview with Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry. Photo courtesy Fry and British Humanist Association.

Stephen Fry. Photo courtesy Fry and British Humanist Association.

Actor, comedian, author, and activist Stephen Fry told me about why he narrated an excellent video series on Humanism for the British Humanist Association, and how Humanism informs his approach to life:

“Humanism is an approach to life which encourages ethical and fulfilling living on the basis of reason and humanity, and rejects superstition and religion. The most immediate impact of living as a Humanist is that we believe this life is all there is—so what we do and the choices we make really count.”

7. Yes, atheists can be fundamentalists

Sign from the 2012 Reason Rally. Photo by Brad Pennock via Flickr Commons.

Sign from the 2012 Reason Rally. Photo by Brad Pennock via Flickr Commons.

Guest writer Sarah Jones of Americans United for Americans United for Separation of Church and State—who generously contributed more ‘Faitheist’ guest columns than anyone else in 2014—argued in December that atheists can in fact be fundamentalists:

This strain of atheism is simply an echo of religious fundamentalism, by virtue of being principally a reaction to it. It should therefore be placed in the same ideological category, and treated the same way we treat religious fundamentalism: As an impediment to pluralism.

(Jones’s post was part of a debate; James Croft argued the opposing side.)

6. ‘Year without God’ pastor: Why I’m no longer a believer

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

My last column of 2014 was an interview with Ryan Bell, the Christian pastor who spent 2014 living as an atheist. In the final week of the year, he told me why his ‘year without God’ isn’t ending—and what he will do now that he is an open nontheist:

“I don’t think I’ll be joining a crusade to destroy all religion anytime soon, though some days I’m tempted. I just know too many good people of faith to see religion as any kind of universal evil. But I do think that there is much work to be done with and among atheists.”

5. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: Did they have an atheist wedding?

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the Cannes film festival in 2007. Photo by Georges Biard, via Wikimedia Commons.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the Cannes film festival in 2007. Photo by Georges Biard, via Wikimedia Commons.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s August wedding may have inspired a tabloid frenzy—but it also inspired me to reflect on atheist weddings:

You may not care about Pitt and Jolie specifically, but the wedding between two very high profile atheists raises an interesting question for some: What exactly happens during a wedding ceremony for two atheists, agnostics, or otherwise nontheistic people? … Whatever their ceremony was like, I hope that Pitt and Jolie felt that it was a sincere representation of their love for one another and the other people in their lives. But beyond that, I hope their wedding will be an opportunity for all of us to acknowledge the many ways in which people celebrate love—atheists included.

4. Barney Frank: Why I didn’t talk about my atheism while serving in Congress

Former Congressman Barney Frank. Photo courtesy Frank.

Former Congressman Barney Frank. Photo courtesy Frank.

On the day he was named 2014 Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association, I spoke with former Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts about why he didn’t reveal his nontheism sooner and what his experience was like as a nonbelieving elected official:

“When I took the oath of office, I never swore and said, ‘So help me God.’ But members of the House take the oath en masse, so nobody noticed.”

3. Jessica Ahlquist looks back — and ahead — 2 years after Ahlquist v. Cranston

Photo courtesy of Jessica Ahlquist.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Ahlquist.

In 2012, 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist was a plaintiff in Ahlquist v. Cranston, which successfully challenged the presence of a “School Prayer” banner at her high school. Ahlquist’s involvement in the lawsuit made her the target of vicious harassment, but her story also touched a great many people. Two years after her legal victory, I spoke with Ahlquist about what she learned and how her life changed:

“I will admit that the biggest change for me personally has been my attitude about life. During the case, especially with all of the hate and threats, I became extremely depressed and negative. Today I have much more love in my life and it has certainly helped me let go of the sadness. It has been difficult to get to this point. Throughout the lawsuit I felt as though I would never feel or be normal again—and I suppose my life will never go completely back to the way it was because my experiences have not only changed my life forever, but they have also changed me as a person.”

2. As atheist TV characters increase, here are 5 of the best

Gillian Jacobs speaking at the 2012 WonderCon in Anaheim, California. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Gillian Jacobs speaking at the 2012 WonderCon in Anaheim, California. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Apparently, a lot of people like lists and television (and clearly I’m one of them). Inspired by the rise of atheist characters on television, I offered my picks for the five best—from Piper Chapman of Orange Is the New Black to my favorite, Britta Perry from Community (coming soon to Yahoo!):

Her friends may use her name as a synonym for screwing up, but Britta (played by Gillian Jacobs) is truly the earnest, justice-oriented core of Dan Harmon’s hilarious and heartfelt Community. While she’s every bit as flawed as her study group friends, she’s also an endearing and ultimately winning atheist presence on one of network TV’s best-reviewed shows.

1. 5 reasons atheists shouldn’t call religion a mental illness

A meeting of Sunday Assembly, a "godless congregation." Image via Sunday Assembly.

A meeting of Sunday Assembly, a “godless congregation.” Image via Sunday Assembly.

This was far and away the most read ‘Faitheist’ piece of the year. Responding to a number of prominent atheists who have equated religion with mental illness, I consulted with Miri Mogilevsky and David Yaden and compiled five reasons atheists should avoid this problematic parallel. I truly appreciate how many of you engaged with this piece, and am glad that it contributed to a vital conversation about the harmful way some atheists talk about religion and religious people:

Calling religion a form of mental illness as a way to insult believers is not only crude and wrong—it also contributes to a culture that marginalizes people with mental illness and defines them solely by their illness. Atheists, agnostics, and Humanists should actively promote dignity for all people and strive to challenge dehumanization, rather than contribute to it.

Honorable Mentions

Left to right, Keith Lovett, Melik Smith, Victoria Smith, Linda Smith and Antonio McDonald, hold candles during a gathering of people at the QuikTrip in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday (Aug. 14). For use with RNS-FERGUSON-VIGIL, transmitted on August 14, 2014, Photo By David Carson, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Left to right, Keith Lovett, Melik Smith, Victoria Smith, Linda Smith and Antonio McDonald, hold candles during a gathering of people at the QuikTrip in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday (Aug. 14). For use with RNS-FERGUSON-VIGIL, transmitted on August 14, 2014, Photo By David Carson, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

While they didn’t make the top 10, other popular posts included pieces on Louis CK’s comments about atheism, Carl Sagan’s Humanism, family conflict and the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate, wrongheaded efforts to replace feminism with Humanism, a friend who thinks I’m probably going to Hell, atheists songs and books you may have missed, the biggest misconceptions about atheists, atheists and Ferguson, homophobia and sexism among atheists, how people misidentify the ‘Nones,’ the first university-funded Humanist staff position, Tim Lambesis and atheism, a proposed book comparing belief in God to an abusive relationship, why Millennials are leaving religion, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and free speech, why people should stop calling atheists ‘immoral’ and believers ‘stupid,’ reactions to Saudi Arabia classifying atheism as a form of terrorism, Richard Dawkins and privilege, whether or not atheists can be spiritual, atheism in the Air Force, atheist arguments about gay pride, and the missing voices from the Bill Maher and Ben Affleck debate about Islam—as well as interviews with Frans de Waal, James Woods, Maria Greene, Rebecca Goldstein, Gretta Vosper, Monica Miller, Philip KitcherKaren Stollznow, Anthony Pinn, Kayley Whalen, Morgan Spurlock, Alom Shaha, Melanie Brewster, and Nick Sagan.

Want more atheism from 2014? I invited a panel of atheist activists, scholars, and writers to submit their choices for 2014’s top stories in atheism.


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  • The scriptures state that Satan seeks to blind the lost from the soul saving gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:3-4 ) and that even after God implants the seed of the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ in the human heart, Satan attempts to snatch it away before one comes to saving faith (Luke 8 ). Trust In the LORD, If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.-John 15;19

  • Many are lead by a blind EYE. God loves and cares for all of his children even when we dont love HIM. GOD created man, man did not create GOD. There is one GOD a living GOD. Science cant never create human life only GOD can and HE left no blueprint or instructions on how to. From the beginning of time Satan has tried and he will always fail. GODs way of thinking is something a human, science or, some ex- terrestrial can ever do not even imagining to do so. Something or should I say SOMEONE so powerful awaits for judgement day. This will be the day for all non believers, satanist, voodo, witches, Muslims, Pentecostal, Babtist, Jews, kabala, richman & poor man will all bow before the and say from our own mouths confessing JESUS IS LORD. GOD is a love and even when man carry corrupted hearts and minds, HE awaits for man to a changng heart. JESUS is the way he will allow man to make his own decision to whom he chooses to serve. HE will never force anyone to come HIS way. He knows the struggles that man has. HE’S not a liar or a cheater. Sin has no place in heaven, sin cannot enter HIS heart. If a mans tongue speaks destruction denying HIS existing, denying HIS love or blasphemy he allows you to take this decision. He removes HIMSELF from any mans life. But be aware all that shines gold isnt gold. The enemy waits for this very moment to setup camp to cloud the minds of man. He places, t.v. sports, movies, hatred,etc.etc. seven deadlist sinsto move in walking yu directly to the pits of hell.

  • Its funny how nature obeys GOD’s law but man will not. Earth was built for Adam and his descendants but lost his rights by following satan. Adam turned the key over to him this is curse that man endures from that action Adam & Eve did. For now satan has the key but it came with a time span and that time is near. Satan and his dark angles are working overtime to fool man blind side him givng gains blessing Man with book knowledge ready thngs that are full of lies and sin. Keeping man busy working to make man take pride in himself. Satan delivers a powerful punch dividing mankind. Satan tells you look st what you have in life I gave this not some GOD whom you nevet seen before. Science fiction babble glorifing watchcraft, wherewolves, vampires, magic, adultury, fame, etc.etc. these things are snares even though your just reading book or viewing a movie. He grabs and defiles flesh trading one sickness for another. Medicine that are suppose to help you but comes with a price. Take a look at meds for arthritis eases pain and flare ups but may cause cancer heart attacks or weaken immune symptoms.

  • Seek wisdom from GOD himself if you really want to know him. A one on one relationship with the LORD will show his purpose for mankind. No one can give the truth Only GOD himself is able a foolish heart wont be able to unlock the WORD he can read it but thats all he can do just read it with no understanding. There are things that amaze me with GODs works. The sea shore knows not go past Its mark. The diffrent types of animals that obey his word you will never see lions and bears mating with one another. Polar bears will not leave their place of habitat just as the sea life does. The four seasons change process that allows trees and plants to bloom at a certain time of a year. What BEAUTIFUL LORD WE SERVE HE’s the best…

  • Americans want to know why the church is dying… The media has not satisfied the question yet! Let’s publish. says it’s because few young adults believe in Satan or that Christianity is the only true religion. Why don’t they believe?

    The primary reason for the exodus is sociological. Most young adults go to school, work, and live with diverse friends now. But the church, as always, insists that their religions are an abomination.

    This long standing precept of the church has struck a cultural nerve with most young adults. With Indians, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and middle easterners all around them, they’re quitting church because this policy is divisive and offensive to their new friends. So Americans are searching for, and finding non-discriminatory spirituality outside the church. This micro phenomenon is becoming macro, and could be the undoing of the world’s largest religion.

    Let’s talk about this and other contributing factors.

    Truly, Brad O’Donnell, Richmond, Va. Video:
    [email protected]