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Rationalist Scum!
I'm one. Are you? You? I mean, one of those people who doesn't believe in god, Zeus, Mohammed, The Great Pumpkin, The Easter Bunny, or The Tooth Fairy. Radley Balko writes in Reason about the person least likely to be elected president -- a logical, rational thinker; a person who doesn't believe in stuff just because they're told to, but requires evidence; in other words, an me.

Isn't it kind of embarrassing that American, by a substantial margin, refuse to elect an a person committed to rationality as our leader? Instead, Balko writes, we've got this sort of silliness in our leader:

Take the war on terror. President Bush has made no secret of the fact that the hand of God nudged him into office at the same time radical Muslims launched the attacks of September 11. He believes he was put in the White House by the divinity to fight the war on terrorism.

Since those attacks, his administration has declared that it has the power to spy on American citizens and foreign citizens on American soil without a search warrant; to arrest and detain them without giving them access to a lawyer; to torture them; to try them without a jury, all without letting them see the evidence (or in some cases, even the charges) against them, and with a lower standard of proof than in other criminal cases. Some of President Bush’s supporters have even argued that the government should be able to arrest and imprison any journalists who dare to expose any of this.

"God," who we can't go to for verification, just like Mommy, operates on the "Because I said so!" principle. I'm sensing a theme here.

And those are just enumerated rights. The power of the Constitution is not that it grants us the liberties expressed in the Bill of Rights, it's that it maintains we retain all rights, save for the small power we grant to the government to protect those rights. The Bill of Rights only expressly lists those rights necessary to preserve all the others. This is why we have the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. They're redundant, but James Madison and others thought they were necessary.

This administration has been even more hostile to unenumerated rights. The White House believes a sick person (or for that matter, a healthy person) doesn’t have the right to smoke marijuana for relief; that he doesn’t have the right to play a game of poker over the Internet; and that he doesn’t have the right to consume pornography involving consenting adults—all within the privacy of his own home. They don't believe that long-suffering people have the freedom to end their own lives peacefully and painlessly. President Bush also believes the federal government has the power to take money from some people and use it to buy prescription drugs for other people. Only a word count limit prevents more examples.

None of these policies is remotely consistent with the theory that the people have inalienable natural rights, and that the government’s only powers are those that we the people grant it in order to protect those rights.

...None of this is to say that religious people aren’t capable of respecting our rights. There are of course countless devout believers who are also eloquent defenders of liberty.

But to say that a man without religion can’t be trusted to respect our rights is nonsense. Especially when religious faith has motivated so many of our prior political leaders to erode them. Not least the man who currently occupies the White House.

What I'm consistently astonished by is the fact that people who have an evidence-free belief in god aren't embarrassed and don't hide it from everyone but their closest friends. Why people don't understand that this should be as mortifying as running around with a little idol to worship, I don't know. Instead, people parade around like this guy I saw yesterday on a New York City Street, advertising the fact that they run their whole life around believing, utterly without reason, in god.


Sorry about the dirty window. Since I don't believe in god, I can't either blame it on god or say god will be around with a bottle of Windex. I'm always amazed when there's a tragedy and people say "god" spared them because he heard their prayers. Yeah? What of the 10-year-old down the block? Did he pray wrong, or was he just such a shitty kid that god decided to smite him?

Posted by aalkon at March 10, 2007 8:56 AM


As you've made clear, Amy, you believe it's ridiculous to believe in God/Allah/Whatevah because there is no actual proof (but I'm sure there are many people who could argue that and start smacking people with their bibles). I agree totally that whilst living this life on this planet we will never KNOW with pure, undeniable absolution if there is a higher power.

In the same light, however, I cannot disprove the existence of a higher power. Just as I believe I cannot 100% believe that a higher power exists, I also believe that whilst living this life on this planet we will never KNOW with pure, undeniable absolution if there is NOT a higher power. Just because we cannot prove that God exists doesn't mean there isn't a God of some sort. But when people try to say that they "know" it pisses me off. Why? Because they don't know. They believe. They have faith. The difference is night and day. I've also found that people who "know" also interpret the bible literally and approach life's problems in a completely irrational/psychotic manner.

The idea of knowing for sure that their is or is not a higher power is beyond us at this point.

Just some food for thought - speaking of food, time to go out for my birthday breakfast.

Ciao - and please leave a juicy argument for me to check out tomorrow!

Posted by: Gretchen at March 10, 2007 7:11 AM

Here's a question for you: Do you believe in a giant Bugs Bunny ruling over us all? You can't disprove the existence of one either. Could there be a god? Could there be a Bugs Bunny over us all? Sure. But, it seems unlikely, since there's so much evidence pointing to life being random and nobody being up there to give a shit about whether we're naughty or nice. If there were a god, my boyfriend, who is, to put it mildly, and extremely decent human being, would never suffer. At the moment, he has a temporary digestive disorder, and I got him some activated charcoal and bottled water and he's sleeping himself better, I hope.

P.S Happy birthday, and thanks to all the people who wished me happy 43 yesterday. I feel young, I just can't see shit from afar these days, which totally sucks, since I used to be able to read somebody's open book from across the street.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 10, 2007 8:01 AM

> I just can't see shit from afar these days

Interesting. The first sign of my ageing was that I couldn't read the crossword clues in the morning. Distance vision is still good, at least 10 years later. As for the other symptoms, we just won't go there.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at March 10, 2007 8:31 AM

Oh, that sucks. I hope he feels better soon.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at March 10, 2007 8:58 AM

That guy in the photo looks kinda hot. In a totally irrational, weird thing on the head, not interested in my godless heathenism way.

Posted by: christina at March 10, 2007 9:41 AM


Actually, the inability to disprove any gods is not a major problem for atheists/agnostics. The burden of proof rests on the believer. By having the atheist try to disprove a god is just a tactic to avoid the real issue behind the debate. There will never be any evidence for the belief in any gods or grand imaginary friends intervening in the daily affairs of the inhabitants of planet Earth.

Personally, I feel atheists and agnostics should embrace apatheism. Yes, I do not believe nor do I care to believe in any gods. It is completely irrelevant to my life. The reason why I am active in the public discourse, because various religious groups are active in the national discourse. Trying to break down the separation of church and state and endorse laws based on inapplicable religious texts.

Posted by: Joe at March 10, 2007 9:55 AM

I love that -- "apatheism." It's pretty much the way I put my lack of belief: God is of no consequence whatsoever in my life. It's like the giant Bugs Bunny. Since there's no evidence of a giant Bugs Bunny, why would I care about a giant Bugs one way or another?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 10, 2007 9:59 AM


Happy birthday!! You look pretty good for 43 years old. The secret must have been the beauty sleep you were able to get every Sunday morning. I will not be late in wishing you happy 44th birthdays next year now I know your birth date. I never had a nerve to ask a woman their birth dates. I will celebrate your existence on this planet with or without god. Don't worry about your eye sight. You still have the killer eyes, which will turn the heads of guys from across the street.

Chang Cho

Posted by: Chang Cho at March 10, 2007 10:09 AM

Posted by: Joe at March 10, 2007 10:13 AM

Another happy birthday from me to Amy! I'm 48, and my vision started getting weird around 44. I just need reading glasses now, which I didn't need before, and it still pisses me off. My distance vision is still like a hawk, though.

Apatheism - the word of the day. They never used that one on PeeWee's Playhouse.

Posted by: Chris at March 10, 2007 10:16 AM

Happy Birthday Amy. Cent'anni.

Posted by: Joe at March 10, 2007 11:01 AM

"What of the 10-year-old down the block? Did he pray wrong, or was he just such a shitty kid that god decided to smite him?"

Here's where the Christian believers will cite the book of Job (wasn't he the guy who got all those horrible diseases, even though he was really nice?) In that story, Job asked God why he was being "punished" so much, and God replied with something like "Hey, I'm God. I have big, big plans -- plans so big that your puny little human mind could never understand them. And in pursuit of those plans, you had to get squashed. Such is life in my universe. Now, stop whining already. Don't you think it's time you sacrified a couple of sons in my name?"

Lest you think I'm a bible reader: The anthropologist Mary Bateson discussed this allegory in her book, "Thinking AIDS." Highly recommended, but probably out of print.

Lena Cuisina
Rationalist Scum/Cock-Sucking Heathen

Posted by: Lena at March 10, 2007 11:27 AM

It is the intellectual dishonesty of believers who believe on how a god intervened on the lives on one person and completely neglects other people. Selective faith? What is the excuse used for the neglected people? Well, it is a test of their faith.

Posted by: Joe at March 10, 2007 12:30 PM

Hey, thanks! I never knew the terms "apatheism" and "apatheist." However, I have often called myself an "apathete," by analogy with "aesthete" and "athlete."

Despite its bad name in many circles apathy (in many if not most of its manifestations) has great social value: apathetes do not, as a rule, deny other people their civil liberties or commit atrocities.

Posted by: axman at March 10, 2007 12:44 PM

"What is the excuse used for the neglected people? Well, it is a test of their faith."

Yeah, faith/God/whatever is the all-purpose explanation for everything. It gets really boring, doesn't it?

Posted by: Lena at March 10, 2007 1:07 PM

Quite so, Lena.

Posted by: Joe at March 10, 2007 2:55 PM

"apathy (in many if not most of its manifestations) has great social value: apathetes do not, as a rule, deny other people their civil liberties or commit atrocities."

But, by definition, doesn't apathy (ie, a-pathy) make it difficult for one to see any pathos in the denial of civil liberties? Doesn't it make it easier to dismiss the seriousness of human rights abuses?

This reminds me of something I read recently about an item on the Beck Depression Inventory that reads something like "I don't care about anything." It's been shown that this item isn't such a strong indicator of depression among teenagers (although it is among adults), because teenagers generally see apathy as something very cool.

Posted by: Lena at March 10, 2007 5:49 PM

Oh, come now -- clearly religion isn't all bad. A big part of my week is hitting the New Beverly on the Sabbath just so I can ogle all those orthodox Jewish women slinking around the neighborhood in those dark, tasty, achingly severe dresses. Mmm-mmm. Thank you, YHWH!

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at March 10, 2007 6:00 PM

Happy birthday, Amy! I'm also 43, by the way. Generally feels good, except in the back...

@Lena: Love your comments about the book of Job. I always thought the story ends to soon, as we never learn about Job's reaction when he finally goes to heaven and finds out about the reason. ("Y-You mean my whole life was a cruel roller-coaster ride just because of a sick bet between you and Satan? Let me outta here..") But then again, Ye Olde Testament didn't have an afterlife yet. That came with the new and improved Testament 2.0, if I remember correctly...

Posted by: Rainer at March 10, 2007 6:38 PM

Still, as an atheist I kind of like the Book of Job because it highlights one of the core truths of our godless existance: that it's not about what we want. To Mistress Nature we're just disposible brat factories, and happiness and love are just chemical illusions that hide a deeper, anti-individualist agenda. Nature doesn't give a shit if we're happy, as long as the babies keep coming. As a matter of fact, it's probably in Her interest to go heavy on stick, light on carrot because it keeps us off-balance and more likely to cling to her lines of force out of desperation. You can try to rebel, but She doesn't care if you die unloved and alone. Learning to accept, and even savor the fact that life is going to suck and you're never going to get a headlock on happiness -- if you even get that close -- is not a bad thing. And it's certainly something the secular replacement for religion in our mighty future deity-free utopia is going to have to handle. I still say Mahler's 3rd.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at March 10, 2007 7:46 PM

I think it's really interesting that people who believe most strongly in ghosts in the sky, despite the dearth of evidence for their existence, are the very same people least likely to believe in global warming and our role in it, despite the mounatins evidence for that. What a strange lot.

Posted by: GMan at March 11, 2007 6:00 AM

Paul, I like you a lot. We share fundamental beliefs, and you're really good at putting them into words. These are ideas that need to be read on Amy's blog!

Two notes:

1. The problem with human life isn't just that we're unhappy (though you're right, it might be tolerable nonetheless ). The big issue is that we're not very nice, either.

2. Germans are great, but you should listen to more Italians.

Posted by: Crid at March 11, 2007 6:52 AM

Paul and GMan both make excellent points.
I'm particularly interested in the thought that "happiness and love are just chemical illusions."
What an entirely true statement. Feeling happy doesn't mean that your life is put-together perfectly. It means your body happens to be producing lots and lots of endorphines at the moment. Happiness is nothing more than a sugar-rush, or a quick high.
True satisfaction is just the bigger picture. What we build over time, and it can't come from another human being. It has to be something that we craft for ourselves.

Posted by: Gertie at March 11, 2007 8:11 AM

The Sky-Ghost (Space Ghost?) believers think the end is near, so they don't have to take any responsibility for their actions. Nice way to live, isn't it? Reminds me of frat brothers who trash their place because they know they can move back in with their rich daddies anytime they want.

The Job story always makes me laugh. If God thinks so little of humans that he messes with them the way little kids fry ants with a magnifying glass, why would the believers think he cares about their problems?

Posted by: Chris at March 11, 2007 8:17 AM

From the Bateson book I mentioned earlier:

"The equivalent today of the lesson in natural history that God gave to Job might be the depiction of the extraordinary elegance and complexity of the finest grain of natural phenomena, the microscopic dramas and adaptations of other organisms, including the AIDS virus that makes its nest and brings forth its young within the human immune system itself. The widened perspective that Job is given might today include other human ways in other times and places, ways of surviving and finding pleasure far outside the Hebrew imagination of right and wrong. But of course Job's comforters are engaged in 'saving God,' which means hanging on to a way of thinking about the universe that makes sense to them."

Published in 1988, this book was a much-needed call for reason, exposing both the uncompassionate moralizing and the new-age bullshit of early responses to AIDS in the U.S. as nothing more than quaint attempts to make sense of something frightening-as-hell for humans and business-as-usual for Nature. Epidemics are only one of many reminders here that we're not the center of the universe. We're not being saved, and we're not being punished. Oh, well. All the best.

Posted by: Lena at March 11, 2007 5:52 PM

Good blog comment.

Posted by: Crid at March 11, 2007 7:22 PM

I'm dog-paddling in a sea of Christian fanatics (my mother answers the phone with "Praise the Lord, hello"), so I've had ample opportunity to question believers' logic when they say crap like "But for the grace of God, I wouldn't be alive." When I query with "What about the others who died in the same incident? Why weren't their prayers to be saved answered?" I am always assaulted with variations of the same answer: "Ours is not to reason why. God has other plans for those poor dears."


If God has so many plans that we can't thwart, why bother praying at all???

Posted by: Tess at March 12, 2007 7:14 AM


Posted by: Crid at March 12, 2007 7:59 AM

Why do you bother trying to convince an irrational (from your perspective) person by way of a rational argument? Why do you keep returning to this theme? You might just as well debate politics - there the beliefs might be equally irrational, but at least the outcomes are provable.

Posted by: MarkD at March 12, 2007 9:08 AM

Why do I keep trying? It's a variation of the theme about the only thing that will allow evil to prevail is if good men do nothing: the only thing that will allow our country to continue believing that devout Christians are the majority is if good atheists say nothing.

I don't expect to prevail. But I expect that if I'm vocal enough, often enough, others like me will eventually have the confidence to "come out of the closet" and denounce religion as the illogical pacifier that it is. I actually believe that there are a lot of closet atheists, and they might stand up and admit it, if they realize they're not a tiny minority.

I do make a lot of enemies in the process, though. And as Winston Churchill once said: You have enemies? GOOD. That means that you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

Posted by: Tess at March 12, 2007 12:28 PM


I suppose some "people of faith" would wonder why those with "an evidence-free" disbelief in God feel they can cynically call themselves "brights" (implying non-atheists are dim) or suggest those who do believe in a prime mover are incapable of logic. Even if the atheist is correct and the believer wrong, the atheist still loses. In a sense, the atheist is rooting for his or her own permanent death. Some might say that's a pathology.

I know it's impossible to prove a non-presence, but I think it might be a little misguided to be so blindly sure of the correctness of one's atheism as, say, Richard Dawkins or Amanda Marcotte (ugh).

Regarding the latter, I find it utterly incoherent that she will blithely mock "fundies" in one breath and rail against the "patriarchy" in another. Both "God" and "the patriarchy" are nebulous abstractions that cannot be seen, tasted, visited or touched and cannot be described except by anecdotes and feelings. One difference is that 4 billion people believe in a god of some sort. Only Marcotte and 3,000 others believe in the patriarchy, all of whom are professors of sociology or women's studies.

I've read enough here to know you're not Marcotte (by any stretch).

And I know how it feels to see Bill Donahue or Fuhrer Dobsen dictating the agenda of Congress or the White House.

Taking that frustration out on white-picket-fencers or a rabbi (I don't know if that's a rabbi or just a guy with one of those little hats), both of which are likely too preoccupied with living their own lives to think too deeply when answering an unsolicited poll...well, I think that's going a little too far.

At the end of the day, I'm as agnostic as anyone. My only objections to religion are when it mixes with politics and I think the fundamentalist influence in politics is finally waning. Bush has greatly injured this cause through his and his subordinates' incompetence.

I largely agree with the Balko piece, but at the same time, I think people have a right to be prejudiced against atheists. I could vote for a Christian, Atheist or a Jew, but I could never vote for someone who believes God picked a convicted swindler to read the next testament of Jesus from a rock that was in his hat.

Although, I'm way more wary of Islam than with anything I've written above.

Posted by: Steve at March 12, 2007 2:30 PM

I think it might be a little misguided to be so blindly sure of the correctness of one's atheism

To borrow from the brights, being an atheist means having a "naturalistic" orientation to life, meaning I don't believe in anything there's no evidence for. That seems very smart, doesn't it? Regardless of the claim at hand.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 12, 2007 3:02 PM

P.S. I like you, Tess, and think accordingly.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 12, 2007 4:40 PM

"Why do you bother trying to convince an irrational (from your perspective) person by way of a rational argument? Why do you keep returning to this theme? You might just as well debate politics[...]"

Oh hell, MarkD, we might just as well debate the justifiability of geographic variation in the price of Pampers.

Posted by: Lena at March 12, 2007 7:11 PM

When I speak to a smart audience -- say, the high school kids who heard me speak on atheism via the Arselyn Foundation -- I find that I do at least interest people in considering living rationally. You tell a reasonably intelligent person that it makes no sense to believe in something without evidence, and if you can just get them to engage their minds (instead of turning to rote brainwashing of religion) what can they do but agree with you?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 12, 2007 7:44 PM

If it's so terribly futile to argue, MarkD, then why are you beginning this whole debacle in the first place.
Take your own advice, and forget all about it.

We argue out of passion and confidence for what we believe. The objective isn't to sway others one way or another, but to make them understand exactly why we believe in Atheism, or anything else for that matter.

Posted by: Jaime at March 12, 2007 9:31 PM

Damn. We have the same birthday.

Posted by: red river at March 22, 2007 12:07 AM

bumble bee tuna

Posted by: hfdbbtdhthirbjg at April 9, 2007 9:51 AM

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