Book Review: God No! by Penn Jillette

 Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, recently release his new book entitled God No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales that I believe to be a great addition to the atheists library.

I purchased this book because I’ve been a big fan of Penn Jillette, Teller, their show Bullshit!, their magic acts, and Penn Says. Naturally I’m going to be drawn to his writing.  On top of all that, Penn Jillette is my unmistakeable doppelganger. Multiple times every week I get someone coming up to me and saying, “You know you who look like?” and I always say “Yea” – they proceed to tell me that I look like that Penn guy, you know, that Magician from Las Vegas. We’ve got the same hair, same build, similar facial structure, same glasses, same goatee…I swear it was never intentional, it just happened. Honest. We are both very, very sexy men.

God No! initially caught me off guard a bit. I expected philosophical and scientific musings explaining why Penn didn’t believe in a god and why belief in god was outdated and outmoded as a way of life for the human race in the style of Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.  What I got instead was a collection of very personal stories about family, friends, sexual exploits, and freedom all of which conveniently tied into an atheistic interpretation of one or more of the 10 Commandments. Though it wasn’t what I expected, I’m glad that this is how the book was presented and in the end I wouldn’t change anything about it.

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Rules of Engagement

I don’t particularly like to use terms of war when I discuss what I call Positive Atheism – or activist atheism if you will. In this case I find it rather difficult to find a better term to use, but to be crystal clear, this post is in no way a call to arms or a declaration of war. This is a discussion about engagement in the form of intellectual and philosophical discussions and debates. (I don’t want there to be ANY confusion here – or any opportunity for the less scrupulous individual to make claims that might hinder reason or falsely indicate a “war mentality” here.)
In a previous post, from what seems like forever ago, I discussed what I felt was a moral obligation on my part to reduce faith and increase understanding. In this post I intend to talk about the Rules of Engagement that I have developed when engaging in these sorts of discussions. These are my personal rules, some may not find these necessary – but for me it draws a line in the sand as to what conversations are worthy of my time and attention, as I have a tendency toward extremes. If at least one of the following criteria are not met, I won’t bother engaging.

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Why Republicans Should be Pleased with the DOMA Ruling

Just a couple days ago, on July 8th 2010 a Federal Judge ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. If you aren’t familiar with DOMA and Section 3 you should know that it established an official definition for the word ‘marriage’ as the legal union only between one man and one woman, furthermore it required the word `spouse’ refer only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

Judge Tauro came to his ruling for various reasons; the atmosphere at the time of  DOMA’s passage in the senate was one where epithets and religious jargon were openly used in the chamber to describe the homosexual act leading him to believe that DOMA was intended to punish a group of people that were politically unpopular,  nor did the law do anything to protect the family as was it’s stated cause, most importantly for the purposes of the points I intend to make is that Section 3 in particular is a violation of States Rights as guaranteed by the Constitution in the Tenth Amendment.

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‘A’ Week – Letting the World Know

The Scarlet A - use this as your FB profile picture for A weekNext week will be the first official "A Week on Facebook" in which thousands of Atheists will be changing their profile picture to the well known Scarlet letter 'A'. The purpose for this is to show the world that we, as atheists, are here and regardless of what the world may believe about us, good without God.

I not only think this is a great opportunity to tell the world who we are and to renounce the myth that a deity is the provider of morality, it is also a wonderful time to come out of the closet and let your own friends and family know that you are an atheist if you have yet to do so. Of course I'd never encourage anyone to come out that may be hounded or threatened by their family, but if you are a person with a somewhat reasonable surrounding then perhaps you should consider taking advantage of this opportunity. If you aren't in a location or time at your life where it is safe to do so you have my sympathies – I've certainly been there as well.

I also want to encourage other minority groups to organize an event such as this one. I think something like this would be most beneficial to the GLBT community and I know that many atheists would be willing to show our support for GLBT rights and identity if it were done.

All the details of 'A' Week can be found at This Website or this Facebook Page.

I'll be participating and I've encouraged those on my Facebook Fan Page to do so as well, will you? Why or why not?

The Effects of Evangelism on Christians in India

I’m Pissed.

You see, the other day I found a video showing Christian’s in India being beaten and stoned to death. According to this video the reason they are being beaten and stoned is solely because they are Christians. The video featuring the pastor of Cornerstone Church, Francis Chan, is located here.

*Warning: This video contains very disturbing and graphic images, if you are offended by violence, blood, or evangelism you should not watch this (nor should you read the Bible).

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The Frontlines of The War on Christmas

If you’ve never been exposed to the annual deluge of commentary from Christian pundits and lay persons alike, consider yourself lucky. In America today, especially in the Bible Belt (where I so begrudgingly abide) you can’t look twice before you find someone claiming that there is some sort of “War on Christmas or Christianity”. I wouldn’t have a problem with people like Glenn Beck or Bill O’rielly if they actually had a leg to stand on when they make these egregious claims, but the simple truth is that they do not. Today I am going to explore not only why these consistently bad claims are entirely incorrect but also give a surprising retrospective view of my own position on Christmas and other traditionally Christian holidays.

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Double Standards

I’ve always been a relative extremist, somewhere in my genetic code is the overwhelming desire to be right and to make my correctness known to mankind. This explains the evangelical nature of my Christian faith, as well as the nature of my atheistic stance. Ever so slowly I have recognized the folly of extremism and attempted to reconcile my competing worldviews with a more balanced position. I’m nowhere near perfect at this,  I still consider myself a strong atheist and feel a moral obligation to make reason a more acceptable worldview. Balance has defined my politics for longer than it has my views on theism however.

When I was 18 I joined the Democratic Socialist Party after reading the Communist Manifesto in combination with the  Acts of the Apostles (I realize now a bit better about the communal nature of the early Christian Church, so lets not turn the comments into that). My ideals still hold that above all things people should be free, fed, healthy, and informed – something I do not believe capitalism will ever provide. I have also dabbled greatly in the world of conspiracy theory and the underground occult which shaped my worldview during the Bush administration as a member of the 9/11 Truth Movement (again, not debating that here). Through that movement I noticed all the conspiracy nuts (of which I don’t think I belong any longer) rooting for the Presidential campaign of one Dr. Ron Paul. Through Ron Paul I discovered the roots of the Republican Party, I began to realize that the GOP was  not what theocrats  like Jerry Falwell had made it out to be and instead was about individual freedom, self guiding markets, States Rights, and policies that did not cause havoc in the lives of the people of sovereign nations. Not a list of things that I agree with 100%, but I find them to fit a political ideal that is realistic. When Ron Paul didn’t get the GOP Nomination I voted for Barack Obama as opposed to having Sarah Pahlin anywhere near the White house. Currently my political views are a strange conglomeration of Socialist, Communist, Republican and I consider myself a lover of freedom. I strive to explore  all sides of a debate before I make any commentary or form a strong opinion and I think that is how I came to be such a plethora of political contradictions.

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My Gripe with the TEA Party: The Pastor Responds

This is a continuation of the last post: My Gripe with the TEA Party: My Town Responds please read it after you have read my original post: My Gripe with the TEA Party

The final letter that was addressed to me was from none other than the pastor that I focused much of my attention on in my original submission. Understandably he too thought that I was the heckler that shouted and interrupted his speech at the rally. I have attempted to call Rev. Hicks to inform him that this is not the case and left him a voice mail to that effect. I hope to hear from him soon, perhaps he would be willing to go grab a cup of coffee with me sometime. Due to the length of this letter I will only post it in portions, then deal with it a paragraph or two at a time. His letter can be read in it’s entirety Here without any of my comments inlaid.

Dear Editor, In the last edition of this newspaper, I was the main target of a lengthy letter to the editor. Inasmuch as the writer identified me by naming the church where I pastor, I feel compelled to respond. It is the right and privilege of the writer of that letter to express his “gripe” as he sees fit. I am thankful for the right to respond.

First, thank you very much for your relatively gracious response. We are both mutually thankful to have our right to respond and have gripes and I am even more glad that we can do so in a civil way. My intention was not to bring any negative attention onto you or your church and I am very sorry if that has been the case – I will try to better explain my intentions and failures as we progress here.

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My Gripe with the Tea Party: My Town Responds

Last week, as you remember, I wrote a letter to the editor of The Dodge County News regarding the T.E.A. Party tax rally held by some private organizers and citizens of Eastman, GA. That letter can be found in it’s entirety Here along with various comments from locals and my internet friends.. The Dodge County News runs weekly, every Wednesday and when I got my paper yesterday I was delighted to see that there was nearly a full page in total dedicated to answering my letter. I am going to post these answers and reply to them here rather than write another letter to the editor because I simply do not want to continue monopolizing the space of the paper, but I do want the Dodge County News to know that I am eternally grateful for their inclusion of my letter and it’s responses – the media is so often either a lame duck or a slanted medium to push policies and opinions of it’s editors that I find it very refreshing that even in my small conservative town a voice of dissent (and in my opinion a voice of reason) is not silenced despite the pressures that the editor may receive from various parties. It means a LOT to me that they allowed my voice to be heard and that tells me that this paper is one of integrity – Dodge County is lucky to have it.

I am breaking this up into two separate posts because this entry will be over 5000 words if I do not, the two shorter responses will be on this post and a very long response from the pastor that was a target of my original TEA Party letter will be on another post.

July Fourth – Religious Holiday?

The first response I would like to reply to is one that comes from a misunderstanding of the writer, and evidently a few other folks. While at the TEA party there was an individual standing outside the grounds at which the rally was being held that started yelling at Rev. Hicks, the speaker that I spent most of my letter complaining about, things that were pretty well in agreement with what I said in my letter. The individual yelled something to the effect of, “What the hell does this have to do with taxes?” among other things that I couldn’t quite make out. Though I agree with the general sentiment of the heckler (as I will call him henceforth), that heckler was not I nor was it anyone within my company at the time. The most protesting I did whilst at the rally was shaking my head at some of the things the speakers were saying, but I did not yell or interrupt the speakers at any point. The letter is as follows:

Editor, There was a letter in the paper July 8,2009 addressing the contents of the T.E.A. party held on July 4, 2009. The person that wrote the article would, by his actions, like to silence the tone on born again Christians.
The 4th of July holiday was picked by those that planned the gathering with the intention of giving a Christian tone, because the 4th of July is a holiday that is celebrated across our nation thanking God for the privilege of assemble. I was one of the people that was in the planning, paying my money and time to have the right to select the speakers that we wanted and giving the right to even an atheist the privilege to attend. Take notice that we did advertise that we would have barbecue, yet this intruder elected not to participate. He brought his own and stayed out of the venue that had been reserved for the TEA Party. By his actions, his purpose was not to come and listen, but was to cause trouble. The 4th of July is a holiday that was selected for Christians to assemble, and if the atheist that wrote the article really wants to organize something for his cause, he should locate and rent an old phone booth and invite all that wants to hear him. He could hold this gathering on the atheist holiday, which is April 1. At least he wouldn’t be bothered by any born again Christians to heckle him. In closing, Mr. Oxley has the right to be wrong. JW (Initials for privacy)
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My Gripe with the T.E.A. Party

The following is a letter I recently wrote to the editor of my local newspaper, the Dodge County News. I am not sure if it will be published in the edition that should be coming off the presses right now, but I do expect it should be included in next weeks edition. I have included in my salutation that I am a fiscal conservative Atheist and included my website, hoping to get some feedback from the local folks but I am actually quite nervous about it. See, I am out about my lack of belief…I don’t do anything to hide it and if someone asks me anything about religion I am more than glad to let it be known that I am indeed an Atheist. I have not, however, made an uninvited public statement as of yet which is why I know that members of my family and the family of my wife may be surprised to know of this and it may be a shock to them. Therefore, before I post this letter, let me just explain a few things:

Disclaimer

  1. I did not choose to be an Atheist, I simply chose to think critically about my religious beliefs and it led me to this place, I am not making an effort not to believe, I simply find it impossible to continue belief in any god especially the god of Christianity.
  2. This is not the fault of anyone, it has nothing to do with a less than perfect (though it had it’s high points, don’t get me wrong) family life or any sort of trauma over the problems that my family has had.
  3. I do not hate the religious, I respect those that wish to continue believing. I have no intention of fighting the religious establishment in this town publicly. I just want to see common sense used when political rallies are held and false pretenses are used to attract participants. I still believe in the freedom to believe in whatever god or gods you please so long as your belief does not drive you to harm other people, I would fight to keep that freedom for everyone if there was ever an attempt to take it away.
  4. My morals have not changed, there are no black robed satanic rituals occurring at my home nor any wild orgies. I still love my wife and am wholly dedicated to my marriage.
  5. None of my opinions, views, beliefs, or lack of beliefs are necessarily shared by my wife. She believes whatever she wants to believe and I have not made any effort to stop her from believing in god. Please don’t apply any words that you read here to my wife because they simply are not her statements. If you want to know about her beliefs or disbelief you will have to ask her though she doesn’t seem too very inclined to discuss those things with a whole lot of people.

If you came here after reading my letter please feel free to comment in the comments section, I will not censor any views so long as there are no threats made against myself or my family. Sometimes people do irrational things in the name of god and I know that %99.9999 of you would never do anything to harm another person, but for that individual that cannot tolerate questioning his/her beliefs people like me on occasion fear the repercussions of not participating in the status quo. I love my fellow man, I care about this country, and I worry about it’s future – this is why I wrote this and why I continue my blog in the way that I do.

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