Archive for atheism

Book Review: “God, No!” by Penn Jillette

Posted in opinion, pop culture with tags , , , , on September 2, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales
by Penn Jillette
Published by Simon & Schuster
Kindle version: $11.99 USD

I bought this book because I’m a huge fan of Penn Jillette. Since I’ve known about him and his comedy/magic show Penn and Teller, I’ve been a huge fan. I’ve read every op-ed article he’s written thus far, I’ve tried to catch as many episodes of his Showtime series as I could without a subscription to Showtime. It probably shouldn’t be repeated, but I will anyway: I’m a huge fan of Penn Jillette.

So when I heard that Penn Jillette had written a new book, I bought it. Not immediately when it came out, because I was still waffling on whether to shell out $20 for a hardcover copy. Eventually I settled on the Kindle version, because it was cheaper, and I could read it from my BlackBerry, giving me something to do on the toilet other than play an endless amount of games of Solitare or Texas Hold’em.

I bought the book Monday evening, and read it all night. I read it for most of the day on Tuesday, too, and finally finished it Wednesday morning. I couldn’t put it down. I was sucked into the anecdotes from the moment I started.

Granted, the book is not for everyone. Even as I read the book, I found myself not exactly agreeing with some of the claims that he was making (specifically his definition of what an “atheist” is, but that’s another discussion entirely). The book is simultaneously sweet and vulgar, with anecdotes ranging from touching tributes to his mother, father, and sister (who are all deceased), to his adventures riding the “Vomit Comet,” to a couple of questionable bets he made in the past, including one involving spending an evening in a gay bar in the 1980s.

Personally, one of my favorite anecdotes is entitled “King of the Ex-Jews,” about a young man who made the conversion from Hasidic Jew to atheist, and asked Penn to take him out for his first non-Kosher meal: a bacon cheeseburger. The story is hilarious and touching, and even though it comes toward the beginning, it’s a story that suck in my mind throughout the rest of the book.

I wish I could tell you more, I really do. But it’s one of those books where the more you tell, the higher chance there is that the book will be a let-down for others. But I’ll tell you what: it’s been a long time since I’ve read a whole book in under 48 hours. Even the final Harry Potter book, which I bought at midnight, took me five whole days to read from cover to cover.

The book is definitely R-rated for strong language and sexual content. But if you can get past all of that, it’s a book definitely worth the read.

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Atheism vs. Anti-Theism

Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , on March 9, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

In my experience with religion and religious people, I’ve learned that there are many different types of belief systems out there, even outside of the realm of Christianity. I’m proud to say that in my circle of friends, I have access to many different belief systems, which generally lead to some pretty good discussions. However, I also realize that within these different belief systems, there are some undesirable people. To me, there are two different types of “non-belief” systems: atheism, and anti-theism.

In my personal definition, atheists are people who choose not to acknowledge the existence of God in their personal lives, but pretty much leave other belief systems alone. Sure, they’re more than happy to get into the philosophical discussion about the existence of God, and where the proof lies, but they also recognize that they will have just as much success changing another person’s religious views as that person will have changing theirs.

Conversely, anti-theists are militant atheists. They are the atheists that are out in the world that choose not to acknowledge the existence of God in their personal lives, and try everything in their power to rid the world of all religion. Often, anti-theists are antagonistic and will resort to ridicule and button-pushing in order to “prove” that religion is for the weak.

In my experience with these two types of people, they are generally good people. They are usually intelligent, and given any other topic, they can hold conversation. Religious beliefs generally have nothing to do with a person’s personality or their interactions with other people, so removing that aspect of a person, they are normal human beings.

However, I’m not a fan of Anti-Theism. I don’t feel it’s my place to impose my beliefs on other people, and I feel that that same courtesy should be extended by everyone onto everyone. However, most anti-theists can’t extend that same courtesy. By simply believing in a higher power, I have apparently proven myself to be an inferior person, and only if I join forces with them and campaign against all religion will I become a worthy human being.

I believe that religious beliefs are a personal decision. If you choose to be a Christian, a Buddhist, or an Atheist, that is your choice, and I can fully respect that. I may not agree with it, and I would love to discuss it further, but as far as my influence on your personal life, I have none. I can’t convince you to join my team, no matter how hard I try. I would love it, but I can’t force you to do anything.

The practice of militant atheism is a confusing and disturbing one to me. There is no high score in religion. There is no prize in the afterlife for the belief system that gathers the most recruits. So there is no point for the antagonism.

My message is one that goes out to all people, regardless of religious identification: respect the beliefs of those around you, and if you do win one over to your side, chalk it up to providing a good example and enough evidence to be convincing, and not whatever clever tactics you employed in your little game.

New Pew Study: Upsetting, But Not Surprising

Posted in current events, religion with tags , , , on September 29, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

In a study released by the Pew Research Poll yesterday, it was discovered that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than those who subscribe to a faith. Out of 32 questions, atheists and agnostics answered an average of 20.9 questions correctly. An average score across all of those polled was 16 out of 32 questions correct.

While these answers may enrage some people, it shouldn’t be entirely shocking. In the realm of modern society, it is often the atheists that are seen as well rounded and intelligent, while Christians are often seen as ignorant and unintelligent. The fact that atheists and agnostics are more knowledgeable about other religions can appear to play into that mindset, as the questions in the survey included all religions, from Christianity to Buddhism to Islam.

These results also aren’t shocking because there are countless videos online of atheists proving that Christians are stupid and the Bible is flawed. When asked about the Bible or Christianity, Christians are continually shown to be unknowledgable about their own beliefs.

Looking at these results logically, they seem to have a straightforward explanation. Atheists and agnostics, in an effort to find a belief system to subscribe to, explore the many different religions and beliefs that the world has to offer. They study and explore these faiths, and only when they have examined all avenues do they decide. This wide exposure to religion allows them to be well-versed in everything, which may be the cause of such high scores.

While the results do seem disappointing, I feel that this should be a call for people of all faith to do the same. Explore your religion deeper (as the majority of people could not name Martin Luther as the initiator of the Protestant movement), and don’t be afraid to learn more about other religions, too. The biggest problem with religious debates, as I’m sure I’ve stated before, is that people are unknowledgeable about other points of view.

People see Americans, especially American Christians, as ignorant because they refuse to see a different point of view. And the survey seems to prove that statement true. However, this doesn’t mean that it has to stay this way. As with everything in this world, things change. We can use this information to instigate some change.

This study should be a call for people of all faiths and non-faiths to take the time to learn more about the religions of our world. I don’t know how to say it any clearer. Take the time to go beyond stereotypes and learn about the world around us. Improve your mind. Improve yourself.

How to Have a Religious Discussion

Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , , on August 25, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Recently, I got a chance to re-watch one of my favorite movies on religion: Religulous starring Bill Maher. It’s one of my favorites because it takes a look at all religions, and many of the idiosyncrasies involved with them. It’s brilliant, in that it cuts right to the core: there is no, “Tell me about the tenants of your religion,” or, “What should people of Faith X know about Faith Y?” It dives right in, with snarky observations and sharp wit that can only come from a comic great like Maher.

My only problem with the film as a whole is that Maher is sometimes unnecessarily cruel. He goes into interviews, claiming that he wants to learn more about a religion or a culture, and yet every time, the interview descends into Bill “trapping” the interviewee into a question that they cannot answer, and then not allowing them to answer. This means that the interview is over, not because they were out of questions, or the conversation ran its course, but because the interviewee realizes that they aren’t getting a say, and would rather say nothing than look like a fool.

“You guys are smart people,” Bill continually says, yet he doesn’t let them prove it.

The interviews in this movie are a good start, but it still doesn’t address the big problem with religion: no one is listening to each other. Bill shows that while intentions are good at the start, it is human nature to be biased, especially toward something that you identify with. We start with an open mind, but before long, the things we disagree on are blown out of proportion, and we end up in a shouting match.

I believe that we can have an intelligent, rational discussion about religion, one where we can all be on the same page. There just have to be a few ground rules.

The first rule sounds obvious, but it needs to be said: Listen. The biggest problem with these sorts of discussions is that people ask a question, and they wait for an answer they want to hear, rather than the answer that is given to them. This sort of half-listening means that, while some valuable answers are being given, they don’t fit the narrative that already exists in the mind.

The next rule is one that might be a little controversial: Get right to the point. Religion is a tough topic to discuss, especially with people of other faiths. In a world of political correctness and constant preaching of tolerance, it’s tough to discuss something like religion without seeming insensitive. Sometimes tough questions need to be asked, and while there still needs to be some cordiality, any fear or intimidation must fall by the wayside.

Bill Maher was right in cutting right to the chase and asking tough questions in his interviews. Where he went wrong leads to the final rule: Don’t have an agenda. Religulous was a documentary that was meant to show that religious people are crazy people, smart people who were sucked up in the delusion of religion.

This agenda he was trying to push meant that questions needed to be especially tough for the lay-person. This also meant that anytime someone was on a right path, he needed to twist words or constantly interrupt in order to make the interviewees look stupid or uninformed. Having an agenda is the worst thing to do in any conversation.

It’s three simple rules. But they are rules that could mean the difference between a religious discussion and a religious shouting-match.