Sunday, July 27, 2008

A God, You Say?

I hate to interrupt Andon's amazing posts, but I really must tell this story...

Just as fun back story, today I broke my little toe. It was pretty obviously broken; all sideways and stuff. Anyways, I was in the emergency room and I was being quizzed about the information they keep on record and keep updated. Well, after a series of semi-normal questions, like my mother's maiden name, I was asked, "Religious preference?"

My family and I had had the atheist talk and so we all were silent for a second and maybe laughing awkwardly when I chimed in with, "none." My Dad decided to revise this by mumbling some stuff and then said he guessed it'd be Christian.

The guy who worked in the emergency room then replied, "Well, Christian is better than..." And kind of trailed off. What? Christian is better than none?

Thanks, world.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Another Ex-Catholic

A journey from Kimberly, an activist, a mother and a bio-geek:

I was raised in a Catholic family. My mother was catholic by marriage. She says that she is a christian but I do not ever recall her going to church or mass or even owning the book. I was a good kid but whenever I did something wrong I remember her saying that I needed to get down on my knees and prey so I would not go to hell. I cannot imagine saying that to my children. It really was not a big deal as I was pretty GodDamn sure I was not going to hell.

During those early days I was trying to figure in God's creation of the world and the dinosaurs. I was skeptical. My Dad's family is from Mexico and they have a long history of catholicism. However, I must say like most catholics they have a great deal of respect for the rituals but are far more openminded than my Mom's protestant family. If I were going to be a christian, I would definitely be catholic. Catholics do enjoy their drink so that is a plus. Thought about buddhism but I like my wine too much.

Then I went to college and received a degree in microbiology. This is were I decided christianity was not for me. As a scientist I have great deal of respect for reason and so evolution makes perfect sense. However, it was probably more my anthropology and history courses that really helped me come to the conclusion that there was no God. I mean, consider what the catholics did to the Aztecs and Native Americans. What the protestent missionaries did to the Native Americans. All in the name of God. Of course, I think we know there was more behind it than God. Like Oil, Gold and Land.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Right Reasons

The long awaited conclusion of the saga of Zach:

I have attached a facebook note by a friend of mine followed by a series of comments. In the note my friend comes out against Christianity and as an atheist. He gets mainly non-confrontal feedback from friends. I post a comment about what his reasons are for becoming an atheist, and he gives me reasons to which I reply, "Good. I was just checking to see if you were an atheist for the right reasons." I get a reply saying, "I am wondering, Zach, what are the "right" reasons for being atheist?" From there, all hell breaks loose. It's all in the attachment, but I warn you, there are some 50 comments mostly between my friends and me debating religion.

Just to let you know, in those comments of mine in the attachment I compare god to: Zeus, Brama, Wotan, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, unicorns, leprechauns, and of course...a teapot.

However, the only ones people get offended by is when I compare god to unicorns or leprechauns. Hmmm.....

Facebook Discussion (Word Document)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oklahoma Christian

The second of three in the Zach saga:

I went to a Dark Knight midnight showing. I was sitting by myself because all of my friends had gone back home for the summer and my coworkers were in another theatre. Anyways, as I was sitting reading my book I get to talking to a guy next to me who’s with a group. We introduce ourselves and I said I was going to OU and he said he was going to OCU. I asked him, “Oklahoma City University?” And he said, “Oklahoma Christian.”

We proceeded with some small talk until his friends got his attention and I proceeded to read my book. A few minutes later he asked me what book I was reading. I hesitantly turned to the front cover to him revealing the words, “The God Delusion.” We laughed a little bit and talked some more, but didn’t get into a big argument or anything. (After all I was going to be sitting next to this person for the next two and half hours.)

A few minutes later, I sneezed, to which he quickly and sincerely responded, “Bless you.” I started laughing mainly because I knew he didn’t do it on purpose but just the irony of the situation.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Half the Catholic and Twice the Fun!

From Zach, a sophomore at Oklahoma University:

I was raised Roman Catholic and was an alter boy until about my early to mid-teens. I always pretty proud of Catholicism for allowing the theory of evolution, but that was pretty much it. I knew everything in the Bible wasn’t true and I thought, “Well, why do I consider the rest of it true?” My answer was in science. I never really fully believed everything that the Church or the Bible said, but it was starting in my junior year in high school I started having severe doubts about my religion.

It was during this time that my brother was too, so him and his wife converted to Episcopalian or “half the Catholic and twice the fun,” as they would put it. By the time I graduated high school in 2007 at the age of 17 I considered myself agnostic, but not necessarily an agnostic theist, nor an agnostic atheist. I started college in the fall, and by December realized that was an atheist but told myself that I could be an agnostic theist around my family.

I remember visiting my dad and he wanted me to go to mass with him. I went, but I didn’t want to. I believe I mainly did it for him. Over the previous months my parents had separated, my mom just basically left my dad because she just didn’t want to be with him anymore after 24 years of marriage. He was in a rough time and I didn’t want him to think that their separation caused me to turn away from god (which it didn’t). But by the end of my spring semester in 2008 I realized I was an atheist and if it came up I would tell the truth (sort of).

I came home during June for a weekend (I was taking summer classes) and Sunday morning came around, but my Dad didn’t ask me to go, nor did he mention going to church at all during the weekend. I wasn’t guilt tripped into going to church, nor did the subject of my atheism come up. A week or two after that my sister called me. She wanted me to be co-godfather to her son (one of the godparents has to be Catholic). Since I was technically a confirmed Catholic I went ahead and accepted. I also thought the idea of godparents was nothing more than a tradition that had absolutely no utility.

Anyways, afterwards at the get-together at my grandmother’s house my brother and his wife arrived and we were talking and I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but I let them know I was an atheist. Ever since then they have been very supportive of me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Oklahoma Atheist Meetup!

I'm in Oklahoma for the summer, and of course surrounded by religious people on a daily basis, so I needed a little break. I checked to see if there were any Atheist groups in the area, so I could find someone on the level to talk to, and was pleasantly surprised to find FOUR groups in the area. Excited beyond comprehension, I joined the nearest meetup and contacted the organizers, to see if we could schedule something before I left. They arranged for a potluck, and I brought the last non-ramen menu item I had left, brown rice. The energy and excitement of such people to be around others that think like them is amazing. The conversation ranged from liberal politics to renewable energy for a while, only barely skimming upon religion and lack there of.

At one point, I interrupted what looked like the beginnings of a heated argument about the military with the statement "Hey, so, like, we don't believe in god and stuff right?" Which was funny because in any other situation, that statement would have ignited a heated argument, not squelched one!

After we ate, we began a discussion about where our morality comes from, which was really interesting and really got everyone's mind going. It started with a video by Vilayanur Ramachandran on The Science Network, a scientist who talks about the neural structures controlling such things as empathy and consciousness. From there we discussed the idea that empathy is hardwired into the brain, and David (the organizer) made the distinction between this hardwired morality and an "intellectual" ability to make moral decisions. The example he used involved a lifeboat with too many passengers on it. Your instinctual morality tells you to save more people, but your intellectual side realizes that if you let one more person on, the boat will sink.

From there the conversation turned to in-group out-group dynamics, basically the idea that people only care about their "in-group" and disregard anyone outside of it. Brett, a psychology grad student at Oklahoma University, described an experiment he was involved with
that explored the issue. The subjects were presented with one of four news stories and asked what they thought of the main character and how much they should be rewarded or fined for their actions. One story involved an OU student saving a student from the University of Texas (the schools have a rather bitter rivalry), the next a UT student saving an OU student. The last two involved an OU student throwing a keg at a UT student, and a UT student throwing a keg at an OU student. Only one of these was presented to each person, so they didn't get to compare and decide on rewards or fines. Interestingly, people not only rewarded the OU students more highly, they also decided to punish them more harshly. Brett's explanation is that you care more about the actions of the people around you, be they positive or negative, because they have more potential to affect you.

Being in such a red state, the conversation often turned to creationism, and there was much preaching to the choir about why its stupid and evolution rocks. A popular idea of the night was that "God is in the gaps" or that as science continues to explain more and more of the natural world, and the role of god is used less and less to explain natural phenomena, religious people use god as a kind of scientific filler. In the old days, god was invoked for everything from weather to tidal waves, but now we have decent explanations for those things, so intelligent design type people have to find ever more creative places to stick their god.

For example, how did the universe start? Oh, it was the Big Bang. But what about before that? Well, we don't know, so it must have been god. How did DNA first form? We've created early Earth-like conditions and gotten amino acids out, but how do we get from there to DNA? We don't know, so it must have been god. Brett even mentioned an idea he'd heard from some of his colleagues, that "God is in the error" of experiments, hiding in the decimal places you can't get to.

Overall, it was a great night. I asked everyone in the group to email me a story for the blog, so hopefully we'll see some posts come of that in the near future. I believe that might work better than trying to get tons and tons of co-authors on the blog, so if you have a story you'd like to share, please email it to me at

If you're worried about your writing skills or what to put down, let me know and we can even do a phone interview where I can just take notes and write the story for you. And good times will be had by all.