Atheists Should Stop Trying to Destroy Religion

Atheists Should Stop Trying to Destroy Religion

By David G. McAfee, author of The Belief Book

I’m an atheist who studies religion. You might think that seems contradictory, but to me it makes all the sense in the world. I’ve never been religious, but I have always enjoyed learning about how religions start and spread, how they interact with and influence one another over time, and the psychology behind the ideas themselves. I’m incredibly interested in beliefs and myths and understand that there are good and bad aspects of faith, so imagine my surprise when people assume I want to “destroy,” “obliterate,” or “abolish” religion altogether just because I’m not a believer.

I partly understand the assumption because I know a lot of non-believers who want to do exactly that. I’ve heard people, who often call themselves “anti-theists” and who others might call “Fundamentalist Atheists” or “New Atheists,” refer to religion as a “cancer” that they want to surgically remove from humanity. But calling religion a cancer implies that it is always bad in all circumstances – that it isn’t beneficial to anyone and is dangerous in all its forms. Can we really say that’s the case for religion?

Rape or religion?

I consider myself a fan of a number of works written by Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and author often referred to as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse,” but he said something I think was off in a 2006 interview with The Sun Magazine. He is quoted as saying, “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion.” He went on to explain that “more people are dying as a result of our religious myths than any other ideology.”

While I agree with Harris that religious extremism is dangerous, I don’t think religion itself is inherently evil and I certainly wouldn’t say it’s worse than rape. Religion isn’t a crime or a violation – it’s a tool. It’s been used to justify violence and bigotry, yes, but (due to the contradictory nature of holy texts) it’s also used at times as a means to promote well-being and reinforce positive ethics.

To answer the rape or religion question simply, think about all of the instances in which you think rape is completely acceptable and then compare that to the number of times when religious people are harmless. Think of your friends or relatives who quietly practice a religion without affecting others because it makes them feel good or because it provides a sense of community. Rape always causes harm – there are times when religions do not.

Wiping out religion.

While Harris’ scenario was hypothetical, magical, and – he admitted – inflammatory, there are many people who actively seek to destroy faith-based belief systems entirely. Some anti-theists hope to outlaw faith by enacting some sort of (unenforceable) thoughtcrime legislation, others think ridicule alone will completely eradicate supernatural beliefs, and a small number of these anti-theists want to end religion so badly that they see violence as the answer.

Recently, I was approached by a self-described anti-theist who suggested that killing every single religious person – man, woman, and child – was a viable “cure for religion.” This would be almost negligible if it were just a one-off occurrence, or if the person was saying it for shock value, but I’ve heard this proposal a number of times and this particular individual stressed his military background and demanded a logical rebuttal to his position. I told him that killing all religious people to end religion isn’t just a disturbing thought, it also wouldn’t work.

The urge to believe.

As someone who studies comparative religion, the idea of obliterating faith-based practices through genocide is especially confusing. It is well established that religion itself is a cultural universal and that it likely has or had evolutionary benefits, so why wouldn’t new religions arise after the mass deaths? History and anthropology tell us that new systems would arise, and they would look a lot like the old ones with different names and stories.

You can’t remove religions by force, either by banning them or by killing those who believe, because the feelings and circumstances that caused us to create them have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years. The urge to believe still exists inside the minds of people, as does our desire to know “the unknown.” The fact is that we will probably never completely outgrow religion. We are prone to superstition, organization, and wishful thinking — and religions are often forged when those tendencies are realized.

Pascal Boyer, Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, says his research suggests that “atheism will always be a harder sell than religion because a slew of cognitive traits predispose us to faith.”

Is Religion on the Ropes?

The Pew Research Center recently released a report indicating that “the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.” This is good news because it shows that people are less likely to identify with a restricting dogma, but it doesn’t mean religion is coming to an end any time soon. In fact, more than 70 percent of American citizens still identify as Christians while the “unaffiliated” make up only 22 percent and atheists only three percent.

That isn’t to say religion will always be as strong as it is today, however. Tufts University Professor Daniel C. Dennett, another one of the so-called “Four Horsemen,” recently argued that “the future of religion is bleak.” I agree with the thrust of his article – that there is a rising tide of secularism in the age of information – but even he clarifies that this won’t mean an end to religion.

“If this trend continues, religion largely will evaporate, at least in the West,” Dennett wrote. “Pockets of intense religious activity may continue, made up of people who will be more sharply differentiated from most of society in attitudes and customs, a likely source of growing tension and conflict.”

What can we do?

So, if you can’t enact a successful prohibition on religious ideas, and it won’t work to kill all believers, how do we fix the issues that stem from or are justified by religion? We work to reform religion – to fight against the aspects of it that are harmful and allow people to practice those that aren’t – and promote secular religious education to help people better understand religions and how they arise.

I, for one, don’t hate religion. It’s not that black and white for me – I don’t have to either endorse all actions done in the name of religion or condemn its practice entirely. I hate religious extremism, but I don’t hate meditation or meditative prayer; I hate that religious ideals have consistently impeded science and invaded secular governments, but I don’t hate food drives and soup kitchens; I hate the “God is on our side” mentality and that millions of people think that religion is necessary to live a happy and moral life, but I don’t hate peaceful religious practices or people who happen to believe differently.

Are all religious people extremists? Are they all against science and in favor of knocking down the wall of separation between Church and State? Do they all hate people who believe differently because they’re evil? The answer, in each case, is “No.”

Fundamentalism as a common enemy.

Religion is not something you can simply erase; it’s an integral part of our history and (for better or worse) it will help shape our future. Religion was man’s first attempt to explain the unknown and it continues to be an inspiration for major (charitable and horrific) acts around the world every day, so it will likely exist for the foreseeable future. But does it have to exist in a stagnant state as it has for thousands of years? Many people, whether they identify with a tradition or not, think we can change religion for the better.

When reformation (and not extermination) is the goal, we atheist activists can find common ground with many believers. I know many Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists who would agree that fundamentalism within their respective religions is a problem that needs to be stopped – just as most atheists I know would never advocate violence against believers.

There are other areas of agreement between the rational but largely silent non-religious and religious majorities. I think most religious people and most non-believers, for instance, oppose things like Young Earth Creationism being taught in science class and are in favor of things like same-sex equality. If we work with open-minded religious people, we may be able to reduce religious extremism without eliminating anyone’s freedom to believe or worship and without killing anyone. I think it’s worth a shot.

Ultimately, you have to decide: do you think belief in god(s) is our biggest problem right now? Or organized religion? Or, like me, do you see scientific illiteracy and civil rights as the key issues?

Can we debate religion in a friendly manner?

Can we debate religion in a friendly manner?

David G. McAfee is a Religious Studies graduate, journalist, and author of The Belief Book, a children’s book explaining the origins of beliefs and religion, and Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer. He is also an editor for Ockham Publishing and a contributor to American Atheist Magazine. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions.

Fun in the Philippines

Fun in the Philippines

By David G. McAfee

 

MANILA, Philippines — I recently traveled more than 7,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to an island country in Southeast Asia. The thousands of islands that make up the Philippines were beautiful, but I didn’t come to enjoy the view: I was invited to speak at the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society’s second annual convention. Continue reading

I’m in an open (and loving) relationship

 I’m in an open (and loving) relationship

By David G. McAfee and Holly Samel

 

 I belong to a minority group of people that many others think of as immoral or “sinful.” Members of this group often looked at scientific evidence, as opposed to cultural norms, to reach their current position. People in this group are also regularly forced to conceal or disguise their views for fear of judgment based solely on (undeserved) social stigmas. I’m not talking about being an atheist, childfree by choice, or even a feminist… I’m talking about the fact that I’m in a non-monogamous, “open,” relationship.

What does this mean?

An open relationship could mean just about anything, as it is interpreted by the participants, and non-monogamy refers to a whole host of lifestyles and relationship dynamics. For me, however, it’s pretty simple: I am socially monogamous and sexually open. I have a long-term partner to whom I am dedicated, but I’m not limited to one woman sexually. I don’t have multiple girlfriends and I’m not going to marry anyone – let alone have more than one wife.

This isn’t what every non-monogamous person does, but it’s what I’m doing now and I am happy. I take proper precautions to avoid sexually transmitted infections and pregnancies, all people involved are consenting adults who are made aware of the situation, and it has actually brought me closer to my partner. If we are happy, safe, and more honest in life, then nobody will care what we do, right? Wrong.

Reactions.

Publicly acknowledging my open relationship is still new to me–I haven’t really spoken to many people about it and I only changed my “relationship status” to reflect the change a little more than a week ago. Even after such a short time, however, I’ve already had some interesting responses. The first notable message was from someone who said he and his wife are themselves in an open relationship and that “being able to articulate this without stigma is often difficult.” I immediately thought of the similarities between the negative stereotypes associated with non-traditional relationships and those atheists face in many regions – and how I might be able to help.

The second jarring reaction I received after I mentioned non-monogamy as “natural” was from a Christian apologist with a podcast. In response to what he called an “endorsement of non-monogamous relationships,” the apologist said, “Add that to the list that includes things like abortion, infanticide, incest, etc.” He continued to compare non-monogamy, consensually sharing multiple sexual or romantic bonds, with bestiality, sex between humans and non-human animals.

In case that wasn’t bad enough, the third response I’ll mention really missed the mark. This comment came from a Facebook friend who saw my relationship status change and implied that I was seeking sexual favors online. He thought the fact that I was honest about the type of relationship that I have, and that my relationship isn’t similar to his traditional paradigm, meant that I was soliciting my fans for sex. He even compared my status change, which was for the sake of transparency and is only visible to my friends, with Richard Carrier’s recent blog post. In that entry, Carrier, an atheist author who is polyamorous, asks his fans if they want to go on a pre-planned date with him.

Needless to say, I was confused by the onslaught of assumptions and accusations. I have never lied to my partner about my feelings and I’ve never acted unethically by treating my fan page like a dating website, so it’s difficult for me to see these as anything more than uninformed attacks. In fact, in my mind, I’m not doing or saying anything that crazy. I’m simply acknowledging what scientists have known for a long time: human beings don’t naturally mate for life.

What does science say?

Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, recently pointed out that infidelity “lurks in your genes.” He noted that, while for some people one partner is perfectly fine, for others “sexual monogamy is an uphill battle against their own biology.”

“Sexual monogamy is distinctly unusual in nature: Humans are among the 3 to 5 percent of mammalian species that practice monogamy, along with the swift fox and beaver — but even in these species, infidelity has been commonly observed,” Professor Friedman wrote in a piece for the New York Times.

Noted relationship advice columnist Dan Savage has a similar view, also rooted in scientific understandings of human biology. He told astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in a recent interview that, “we are not naturally monogamous; it is a difficult struggle for us.”

“No primates with testicles our size are monogamous, sexually monogamous,” Savage said. “The truth is if you make a monogamous commitment to someone you love, you will still want to have sex with other people. You will refrain from it. It will be difficult.”

Savage went on to reference sex writer Chris Ryan in saying that, in many cultures, adultery is met with the death penalty. We can’t say monogamy comes naturally to us as a species if we have to kill to enforce the rule, he argued.

“Well, no other species has to be threatened with death to do that which comes naturally to it,” Savage told Tyson during the interview. “We don’t point guns at dolphins and say swim. Right? But we point guns at each other and say don’t cheat.”

Forget what you’ve been told.

A lot of people are more comfortable sweeping subjects like this under the rug. They think that, because we have always been told things are one way, that there are no other options. But studying other regions of the world will tell you that many things are cultural and not so black and white. In many cases, we are governed not by facts but by social lies: rules, codes of conduct, or ideas that guide how we behave but are based on self-deception.

For example, do you think the color pink is really a feminine color? Do you agree that other cultures might find it masculine or even gender neutral? The fact is that we are told pink is a “girl” color and that blue is for boys, but those perceptions come from marketing – not reality. It is now a powerful connection in our minds, but that doesn’t make it an objective truth.

“Cheating” is another social lie – this one formed as a result of our jealous nature. We are told our loved ones are our property, that we shouldn’t share them with anyone else, and that cheaters deserve the worst possible punishments. These ideas are reinforced by movies, television, and other media, and are attached to religious views and marriage vows. These pre-conceived notions of what it means to cheat have even caused millions of divorces and even murders. But I don’t “cheat” on my partner because I don’t think we have to use society’s definition. I think cheating should be defined by the participants of any specific relationship and be based on desires and comfort levels.

Savage argues that social lies that surround cheating exist because we are given unrealistic relationship standards from day one.

“What we said, what we believed, what we’re told as children, is one day you’ll grow up and fall in love with someone and you’ll make a monogamous commitment to them, and that means you’re in love with them,” Savage said. “And when you’re in love, you won’t want to have sex with other people.”

But we know that, for many people, this just isn’t true. For them, no matter who they are with, sexual monogamy will always be a problem. Because humans are among a number pair-bonding animals that often have sex outside of their partnership, Savage and others often refer to us as a “monogamish” species.

Why speak out?

Non-monogamy is extremely common among humans and throughout the animal kingdom, but that doesn’t stop people from treating it like a perversion. In fact, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, 91 percent of Americans find marital infidelity “morally wrong.” That is higher than the percentage of people who opposed polygamy, human cloning, and suicide, according to the poll.

Savage says the negative stereotypes are reinforced by the fact that we only hear about the bad non-monogamous relationships and not the good ones.

“If a three-way or an affair was a factor in a divorce or breakup, we hear all about it,” Savage wrote. “But we rarely hear from happy couples who aren’t monogamous, because they don’t want to be perceived as dangerous sex maniacs who are destined to divorce.”

With all the negativity surrounding non-monogamy, despite the fact that it is such a natural and recurring concept throughout history, many people have decided to hide their true colors to satisfy the moral majority. But that doesn’t really solve anything for anyone else in that position. It won’t make it easier for them to talk about the issue because the social stigma remains strong. When asked why it’s important to speak out about this topic, I can’t help but think back to a quote from Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist:

By telling people you don’t believe, you’re making it a bit easier for the next person who has to. You are making it that much easier for the next generation and helping to change the (very false) perception of atheism as something that is anti-god or even pro-evil. More than anything else, coming out as an atheist gives you the opportunity to educate believers — to show them that it is entirely possible to be morally good without believing that we are being policed by an all-knowing deity.”

I think similar reasoning can be applied to this subject.

I cheated and this is my punishment.

I cheated and this is my punishment.

Ex-Leader of Hindu Temple Gets 27 Years for Ripping Off Followers

Ex-Leader of Hindu Temple Gets 27 Years for Ripping Off Followers

By David G. McAfee, author of The Belief Book

April 19 – The former leader of the now-defunct Hindu Temple of Georgia was sentenced April 13 to more than 27 years in federal prison after being convicted on more than 30 felony counts, including bank fraud, tax fraud, bankruptcy fraud and obstruction.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia sentenced Annamalai Annamalai, who was convicted on 34 felony counts after a two-week jury trial in August, to 27 years and three months in prison. Judge Batten also ordered him to not to engage in any “spiritual service for compensation.”

Prosecutors say Annamalai, who also goes by Dr. Commander Selvam and Swamiji Sri Selvam Siddhar, charged his followers fees in exchange for “spiritual services.” The adherents typically paid via credit card and Annamalai charged the cards multiple additional times without authorization, according to John A. Horn, Acting U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia.

“Annamalai perverted the sacred institution of religion by using it as a vehicle for greed and personal profit,” Horn said in an April 13 statement. “He convinced his victims that they had a problem in need of spiritual guidance, and then took advantage of their vulnerabilities for personal financial gain. The sentence rendered against him is lengthy but just and fair considering the irreparable harm he caused to his victims.”

Disputed Charges.

The prosecution says Annamalai made multiple false charges to his followers’ credit cards and, if they disputed the transactions, he submitted fraudulent supporting documents to credit card companies. Annamalai then filed “spurious lawsuits” against those who challenged the dubious charges, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Annamalai is further accused of manipulating audio recordings to make it appear as though his victims had agreed to the unauthorized charges. Annamalai then sent the altered recordings to police departments that were investigating criminal complaints levied against him, according to the government.

Annamalai Convicted.

Annamalai was convicted Aug. 25 of bank fraud, tax fraud, money laundering and bankruptcy fraud in connection with the temple’s petition for bankruptcy protection in 2009. Annamalai concealed funds from creditors by diverting credit card receipts and the temple’s donations to a bank account in a different name, prosecutors say.

Annamalai was also found guilty of three counts of obstruction and false statements in relation to a grand jury investigation into the bankruptcy case. The defendant sent a fake e-mail to a special agent at the Internal Revenue Service pretending to be a witness in the criminal investigation and sent false affidavits to the grand jury and the bankruptcy court, according to the indictment.

On April 13, almost eight months after Annamalai was convicted, Judge Batten sentenced him two 27 years and three months in prison. In addition to the prison term, the judge ordered the defendant not to charge for spiritual services and not to file any more frivolous, abusive or malicious lawsuits.

Judge Batten also recommended to the Bureau of Prisons that Annamalai be housed in a “Communications Management Housing Unit,” where his telephone calls and electronic communications will be closely monitored.

Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation, said the sentence is a “vital element in maintaining public confidence in our legal and financial system.”

“Annamalai Annamalai, a self-proclaimed ‘child prodigy’ and ‘priest,’ received his fate today for the fraud that he perpetrated on the faithful followers that believed in him,” Hyman-Pillot said. “This defendant utilized the nation’s financial system to steal money from unsuspecting victims and then used the money for his own personal benefit.”

By David G. McAfee

Bio: McAfee is a Religious Studies graduate, journalist, and author of The Belief Book, a children’s book explaining the origins of beliefs and religion, and Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer. He is also an editor for Ockham Publishing and a contributor to American Atheist Magazine. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions.

Annamalai Annamalai Gets 27 Years

Annamalai Annamalai Gets 27 Years

Renewing the Focus on Arguments and Evidence

As many of you may know, while I always redact the identifying information of people who send me private messages, I’ve often posted public discussions on social media without censoring the names of participants. This was never an attempt to “shame” people who disagree with me, and in fact I applied that policy equally to “debate posts” as well as “featured comments” and other regular features on my Facebook page, but I don’t control the actions of others. And because of abuse I’ve personally witnessed, I’ve decided to start removing all name data from my posts. Continue reading

Religious Studies Grad, Artist Team Up To Teach Children about Beliefs

Religious Studies Grad, Artist Team Up To Teach Children about Beliefs

Secular author David G. McAfee and illustrator/writer Chuck Harrison worked together on “The Belief Book” – an interactive children’s book that helps to teach kids (and kids at heart) about critical thinking, the origins of beliefs, and religions.

February 7 – Religious Studies graduate and skeptical author David G. McAfee teamed up with Chuck Harrison, an illustrator and writer, to create The Belief Book, which helps kids of all ages on their journey toward understanding the world’s most important beliefs and how they are formed. Children young and old who embark on this quest will learn many things they may have always been curious about, including where the first ideas of “gods” came from and how the earliest religions were created and spread.

This first-of-its-kind children’s book has mental exercises and puzzles that can help anyone understand what beliefs are and how they affect everyone and everything. More importantly, The Belief Book outlines the difference between good beliefs, which are supported by evidence, and bad beliefs, which are based on emotion or biases.

With interactive activities and vivid illustrations, The Belief Book teaches children how to examine evidence and form their own ideas. They will learn the importance of definitions, of language in general, and of the scientific method. The book strives to show readers how to think about things in a way that will get them to the right beliefs, and not just which facts to memorize.

Readers will look at some of the most important questions ever asked, including “Where do we come from?” and “Who made us?” and “Why can’t I have ice cream for breakfast?” By the time they are done with the book, children will not only understand the answers to many of their biggest questions, but they will also see why their questions – and all questions – are so incredibly important.

 

The Belief Book

The Belief Book

For interviews or questions, contact:

David G. McAfee | PO Box 9661 | Canoga Park, CA 91304 | United States | David@DavidGMcAfee.com

About David G. McAfee: McAfee is a Religious Studies Graduate, journalist, and the author of two other titles: Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer and Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings. He is also a contributor to American Atheist Magazine and an editor for Ockham Publishing. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions. He believes strongly that religious education and history should be taught in public schools, including and especially in the United States of America – where general knowledge about those topics is severely lacking. It is only by understanding how the religious systems work, and not by ignoring them completely, that McAfee says we can help others to make rational decisions about them.

About Chuck Harrison: Harrison is an illustrator and writer who lives with his son called Puff and his cat named Monkey in New York. His caffeine fueled works have been printed by DC Comics, Color Ink Book, The South Wedge Quarterly and in many other fine publications. Everything else you may wish to know about him can be discovered at iLikeChuckHA.com.

David G. McAfee interviews ‘Spirit Psychic’ Noah Alvarez

David G. McAfee interviews ‘Spirit Psychic’ Noah Alvarez

I have always been fascinated by people who claim to have supernatural or mystical abilities, including so-called psychics. While I can’t say I was ever a believer, the idea that some people could read others’ thoughts or see the future has interested me all my life. In an effort to learn more about this phenomenon I studied cold and hot reading tactics and, when reading about them wasn’t enough, I even implemented those methods myself as Suroh the Seer. But that still wasn’t enough. I wanted to find out even more about the people who claim to have these fantastic abilities, so I did the next logical thing: I asked them questions.

I decided to interview a psychic in my area and, after some online research, I stumbled across “spirit psychic” Noah Alvarez. Alvarez advertises that he is an internationally known psychic medium with a sixth sense, specializing in counseling and “healing.” I chose Alvarez as my first interview subject primarily because of his dozens of five-star reviews. Clients insisted that Alvarez’s readings were “dead on” and “the real deal” but, perhaps just as importantly, they said he was friendly, open, and transparent. For my purposes, that’s ideal.

I met Alvarez at 10:00AM on a Saturday at his psychic studio in Chatsworth, Calif. Noah greeted me and my first impression was that his reviewers were right: he was personable, friendly, and empathetic. I also took a moment to scan his studio, which featured a number of (often conflicting) religious and spiritual symbols. There were dozens of Buddhist statues and monuments and relics – something you might expect from a psychic who also calls himself the “American Buddha” – but there was also a single dramatic statue of Jesus Christ being tortured on the cross. Understanding that Noah was likely trying to appeal to as broad a base as possible in his work, I proceeded to the back room for our discussion.

Continue reading

My talk for Houston Oasis – “How to Discuss Controversial Topics”

On Nov. 16, I spoke for Houston Oasis, a freethought community in Texas. It was my first experience with what the media has labeled an “atheist church.” I didn’t know what to think before, but now I know that this group is nothing like a church. There was no charismatic pastor-figure, no prayers or hymns, and no rituals. It is a large group of like-minded thinkers who meet weekly and provide free daycare. Here is my presentation on how to discuss controversial topics in a friendly and effective way.

Letter Urges Hotels To Promote Diversity In Religious Material

In February, I launched a public funding campaign with the goal of purchasing copies of Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings for distribution in hotels, libraries, book stores, and more. Thanks to all of you, we reached (and surpassed) our $1,500 goal and I am now reaching out to hotels in my local area in hopes of getting their permission to place copies alongside their Bibles in each hotel room.

Here is the first draft of the letter I intend to send to hotel owners:

 

Dear hotel proprietor or manager,

I hope you’re well. I’m writing today to inform you of an outreach campaign aimed at providing a balance to the types of information available to hotel patrons.

As you are likely aware, the evangelical Christian group Gideons International is well-known for its efforts to ensure Christian Bibles are distributed in great numbers to hotels all over the world. While I understand that the group’s intentions are likely positive, as a non-Christian and advocate for secularism, I can’t help but see how diversity in reading material would be beneficial for everyone involved.

One option to address this disparity would be to allow other religious organizations to place their sacred books, too. Admittedly, this move may not be very practical. A second action, of course, would be to remove the religious reading material altogether. This would buck tradition, I’m sure, but would keep any group from being excluded and would enable you to perhaps allow Christian patrons to “opt in” to having a Bible placed in their nightstand. If neither of those methods work for you, and you sincerely seek to address this issue, you could also provide secular material to go alongside the Bibles already available.

As the result of a public funding campaign, I’ve recently purchased more than 300 copies of Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings, a critique on biblical literalism with an admittedly provocative title. The book cites chapter and verse throughout and examines the world of Christianity while attempting to refute many of its key principles. Because of the generous donations of hundreds of secular activists and fellow non-believers in the area, I am able to offer you free copies to accompany the Bibles, if you so choose.

Regardless of your action or inaction on this matter, I hope to hear your thoughts on this important and controversial issue.

Yours in reason,
David G. McAfee

Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings

Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings

If You Love Jesus, You Are Religious

If You Love Jesus, You Are Religious

By David G. McAfee

It’s perfectly understandable, in my opinion, to find good things in the teachings of Jesus Christ or any other figure, mythical or otherwise. But to base your life on the teachings of Jesus as they are portrayed in the Bible and claim that you are not religious is disingenuous.

“It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!”

Without the religion, without the archaic and flawed holy texts, there wouldn’t be anything for you to manufacture a “relationship” with. Without the wars and forced conversions key to the religion’s spread across the globe, it may have died out long ago like so many others have. If that were the case, you wouldn’t know the characters of Jesus or God or Muhammad or any of the tales and myths associated with a particular faith. Religions concern themselves with preserving and worshiping these myths as realities, without regard to substantial evidence to the contrary.

If not from ancient religious texts, where does one glean knowledge of Jesus’ teachings? Can’t one simply be a good person without doing it in Jesus’ name or because he would have done the same? The fact is that without cultural indoctrination, all of us would be atheists or, more specifically, while many may dream up their own Gods as did our ancestors, they would certainly not be “Christian” or “Jewish” or “Muslim” or any other established religion. That’s because, without the texts and churches and familial instruction, there are no independent evidences that any specific religion is true. Outside of the Bible, how would one hear of Jesus? The same goes for every established religion.[1]

More importantly, what are Jesus’ unique teachings that are so crucial as to be valued above those of all others? I often challenge Christians to give an example of any of Jesus’ alleged ideas that were new to humanity, never used by anyone who lived before, without a definitive and novel answer. For many Christians, Jesus is worshiped in such a way that his followers actually change his teachings, sometimes to an extent that his original (biblically-attributed) claims are forgotten or marginalized. It is for this reason that, if a person needs a life advisor, I usually recommend a living person with fluid ideas over archaic and stagnant scriptures for guidance.

What other baggage does Jesus have?

Jesus claimed to be God incarnate  (John 10:30). It is taught in the Bible that “Jesus” and “Yahweh” are the same omnipotent Creator, that the former was simply the latter’s physical form while on earth. This was no doubt a way for Christians to justify the blatant worship and idolization of Jesus, in light of the Old Testament God’s warnings not to worship “other gods” – an idea that is common in the Hebrew Scriptures and is highlighted in the first four of the Ten Commandments, which leave out such atrocities as rape and slavery.

This means that, according to Christian doctrine, and according to the vast majority of modern Christian denominations, Jesus IS God. Jesus is the same jealous and angry God that abhorred homosexuals and condemned them as “an abomination.” He is the same deity that gave instructions on how to beat slaves and the same divine Creator that suggested the stoning of non-believers and disobedient children. You have to accept the good along with the bad… after all, he came not to abolish the Hebrew laws, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). The jealous and angry God that justified the killings of millions and set plagues on first borns is the same God that Christians believe came to earth in Jesus. Whether Christians choose to obey early Old Testament laws or not, the deity hasn’t changed.

“But that’s the Old Testament!”

What we consider “moral” has changed greatly since the days of the Old Testament. The outdated moral laws present in the Hebrew Scriptures demonstrate Bronze Age ideals – and it’s understandable that modern Christians distance themselves from that era as much as possible. But to discount the entirety of the Old Testament is to discount the religion’s history and the actions of God “Himself.”

So, before you claim to hate religion and love Jesus, take a look at what Jesus claimed and understand that the Christian religion was built upon those teachings.

David G. McAfee is a journalist and author of Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer and Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings. He is also a frequent contributor to American Atheist Magazine. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with dual-degrees in English and Religious Studies, with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions.

"I hate religion, but love Jesus!"

“I hate religion, but love Jesus!”


[1] Quote from Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide To Coming Out as a Non-Believer.