Atheists, It's Time to Stand Up to Jesus

By Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk, Comment Is Free.

Civility has its uses, but atheists should not be afraid to mock faith to undermine religious power.

Religious teachings promise us much — eternal life, spiritual salvation, moral direction, and a deeper understanding of reality. It all sounds good, but these teachings are also onerous in their demands. If they can't deliver on what they promise, it would be well to clear that up. Put bluntly, are the teachings of any religion actually true or not? Do they have any rational support? It's hard to see what questions could be more important.

Surely the claims of religion — of all religions — merit scrutiny from every angle, whether historical, philosophical, scientific, or any other.
Contrary to many expectations in the 1970s, or even the 1990s, religion has not faded away, even in the Western democracies, and we still see intense activism from religious lobbies. Even now, one religion or another opposes abortion rights, most contraceptive technologies, and therapeutic cloning research. Various churches and sects condemn many harmless, pleasurable sexual activities that adults can reasonably enjoy.

As a result, these are frowned upon, if not prohibited outright, in many parts of the world, indeed people lose their lives because of them. Most religious organisations reject dying patients' requests to end their lives as they see fit. Even in relatively secular countries, such as the UK, Canada, and Australia, governments pander blatantly to Christian moral concerns as the protection of religiously motivated refusals to provide medical professional services demonstrates.

In a different world, the merits, or otherwise, of religious teachings might be discussed more dispassionately. In that world, some of us who criticise religion itself might be content to argue that the church (and the mosque, and all the other religious architecture that sprouts across the landscape) should be kept separate from the state. Unfortunately, however, we don't live in that world.
When religion claims authority in the political sphere, it is unsurprising — and totally justifiable — that atheists and skeptics question the source of this authority. If religious organisations or their leaders claim to speak on behalf of a god, it is fair to ask whether the god concerned really makes the claims that are communicated on its behalf. Does this god even exist? Where is the evidence? And even if this being does exist, why, exactly, should its wishes be translated into law?

In many situations, it is better to be civil, as Paul Kurtz has pointed out, but satire and  mockery have traditionally had a legitimate place whenever absurd ideas are joined to power and privilege. Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire often used mockery to show the absurdity of  ideological stances — including religious ones — that were considered sacrosanct. Mockery is one way of saying that a view does not deserve to be taken seriously. Religious views are fair game if one can also show, on a more serious level, why the view in question does indeed not deserve serious respect.

Perhaps some rationalist or humanist organisations, such as Kurtz's venerable Center for Inquiry, do have good reason to maintain a scholarly and dignified brand image. But there is also room for the younger, brasher atheists whom Kurtz inaccurately brands as "fundamentalists", and, in any event, there is a world of difference between appropriate civility and keeping quiet.

In the US, unfortunately, some atheists appear to have concluded that even civil and thoughtful criticism of supposedly "moderate" religion (i.e., almost anything that does not dispute evolutionary theory) should be discouraged.

These "accommodationist" atheists tend to be focused on science advocacy, particularly the teaching of evolution in public schools. In seeking public support for their positions, they think it prudent to take the various American demographics as they are. Since they want to sell evolutionary science to very large numbers of pious Americans, the last thing they want is to see it linked with atheism.
Once you think in that way, from a kind of marketing perspective, it can take over your approach to what you think you ought to say. Sincerity goes out the window, and everything must be "framed" to please the audience. We doubt that this strategy can work.

Religion cannot be eradicated — that is not a realistic goal — but the many problems with religious dogma can and should be highlighted. As atheists, we should state clearly that no religion has any rational warrant, and that many churches and sects promote cruelty, ignorance, and civil rights abuses.

There are harmful consequences to real people in the real world if the views of churches and sects are enshrined in law or given undue social deference - the acceptance even in liberal secular societies of conscientious objection as a legitimate reason for health care professionals and even civil servants to refuse to provide professional services to certain citizens is a case in point. For these reasons it is important that we should speak out and publicly contest the special authority that is accorded, all too often, to pontiffs, imams, priests, and presbyters. Religious leaders are not our moral leaders, much as they clamour to be, and however much the politicians flatter them. These spiritual emperors have no clothes, and we shouldn't flinch from saying so.

Found at AlterNet.

Thanks to Bill for sending this to my Morgantown Atheists group. While I've been guilty of being overly accommodating regarding religion, I find myself agreeing with this argument. Sure, there's a place and time for civility, but in general, I think this article, and my awesome husband Butch, are right. Religion should be heartily mocked for its unfulfilled, ridiculous promises and stories that people eat up like candy.


  1. The funny thing is, that people think doing what they want us to do, "shut up", is somehow a good thing.

    They show no mercy. Their view of you won't change, you will still be evil to them. If, say just for example, homosexuals didn't criticize the view that they can't be married... I think you get the point.

    Here's the difference...
    Atheists will attack their religion, their beliefs.

    The religious, will attack us.


    They are taught, to treat us as evil inferior beings. And the only way to change this, is to stand up for ourselves. Not criticizing their beliefs is the same as saying you'll let them do whatever they want, and they will take you up on that.

    We must criticize their beliefs, as their beliefs call to treat us as inferior beings.


    That didn't come out as well as I wanted. Hmmm... need to write more, started to get rusty.

  2. I no longer practice the faith I was raised in-I simply did the analytic homework and decided there were too many inconsistencies, that I would live a lie if I continued.
    I stand with Bill Maher, I sell and ask questions that sell "doubt"; however, I have to qualify myself as an agnostic.I believe there is some force greater than this world, but I cannot define it or configure a doctrine that says what it wants-impossible!
    Go ahead though, and mock rituals and those who believe.Many people have a secular moral code because they were raised in a religion that they now live in abandonment of.The rituals and services meant something to them at one time in their lives, moreover, it did help to shape their sense of conscience.
    A student once mused that no one could be a moral person unless they accepted the ten Commandments.Most people accept Charleton Heston as a godly figure;having said that,I mentioned that the Code of Hammurabi preceded the famous "10"-and that Code was nothing mushy.
    What I guess I'm getting around to is that pissing these people off by mockery and bashing their faith will not change where they stand. They will stand stronger, and pray for you all the more, because they are invested in their religious belief: it is a way of life for them.
    Rather, when the opportunity presents itself, ask leading questions which will either silence them or will go to their intellect where they will have to reckon with it.Grandstanding, trying to convince them just doesn't work.Try the Maher Method.

  3. But ritual cannibalism is such good practice for when they get to eat the unbelievers! (J/K, i hope).

    More power to the atheists who stand up for themselves, but there should be more. Christians should also not be afraid to undermine religious power, either through mockery or serious questioning of the those who claim to be leaders.
    My own beliefs are much in line with Marianne's, does that make me an accommodationist christian? Perhaps, but I am appalled by some of the thing people do and say in the name of god. Christianity needs more strong criticism, especially internal questioning, and if people cannot answer those questions they ought to reconsider what and how they believe.
    Will that ever happen? I don't know, but it doesn't hurt to try. No one can listen if the mockery is never spoken. Fire away!

  4. I agree, GMN. And I would add that by not criticizing their beliefs, isn't that saying that you tacitly accept them?

  5. Yes, I agree to ask leading questions. Not that it matters with dogmatic belief.
    I still believe that criticism and correcting their glaring lies is crucial.

  6. That's a great idea, Johnny. Humor can be such a great tool, as well as taking a tactful approach like you suggested.

  7. Christianity definitely needs more strong, reasoned criticism. Religion in general needs to be under the magnifying glass of reason.
    Yes, no one can listen or start to question if the criticism is silent.

  8. James Smith João Pessoa, BrazilJanuary 2, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    Enlightened Self-Interest

    See my blog at

    A popular deist argument for religion is “Without religion (god) we would have no ethics.” So without religion can there be morality? Certainly, because true moral behavior is based upon simple self-interest. The guiding ethic is to truly act in your own best interest. That would mean treating all people fairly, honestly and, as it says in the Hippocratic Oath, “Cause no harm.” Religions invent all other “sins” to increase their control over people.

    People can practice what I term enlightened self-interest.  An individual’s self-interest is best served by doing no harm to others except in defense of themselves or those in their care.  This thinking does not need threats of eternal punishment to follow, It only requires thinking about what will ultimately yield the best results for yourself.  Treating others fairly and generously is always better for yourself, personally, financially, and socially.  Those that co-operate and adapt have always been more successful.

    For example, robbing a bank may yield temporary wealth, but at the expense of either a prison term or a life of fear, running from the law. Similarly, cheating others in business dealings may increase profits for a time. Eventually, your reputation will be so poor that your business may fail. This is a simple principle that “It’s always cheaper to make a customer happy than it is to make him angry.” That same idea can pay dividends in ordinary human relations. For reasons I don’t understand, few businesses or people appreciate this idea. Maybe it’s because they operate on deist principles? Everything is forgiven if you repent before you die. Although that wouldn’t seem to help those you cheated, treated badly or even murdered.

    So should nothing be discouraged? Should everything be permitted? Capable, informed individuals could engage in any activity that interests them even if it puts them personally at risk.

    An example would be an automobile race. It is certainly dangerous to drive at racing speeds and it is equally dangerous to stand near the race course to observe or record this event. Two people may choose to do these things if they understand and accept the risks involved.

    One question that arises from this would be, what if one or both of these people have a spouse and children that depend upon them for financial and emotional support? Should they still do this knowing that if they are injured or killed it will cause some degree of harm to these dependents? If they choose to do so, does anyone else have the right to prevent them?

    Those are ethical questions that can and should be debated, but each person must be free to choose his own answer. No other person, religion, or government should have the right to make these choices for us. If you are keeping in mind that humans are often in error and thus prepared for all possible consequences, no matter how remote the possibility, you can do what you think best.

  9. James Smith João Pessoa, BrazilJanuary 2, 2010 at 1:05 PM

    Perhaps your idea of deists and theists are different than mine. Personally, I know of no difference. I see the distinction you are making, but I have never met anyone that fit your definition of a deist. It would make sense to a lot of people but I see no evidence of it nor have I ever heard anyone state that they have any such evidence.

    I don't see what any of that has to do with my post about morality existing without a god-figure, either. But it's entirely possible that I have missed a point.

  10. I don't believe you've ever met a deist. See no evidence? Google it, even do wikipedia it even.

    Take for example, Christians, they are not deists. Deists are a religious identity just like Muslims or Jews. You are talking about theists in general.

    The point? What is the first sentence you put down... You immediately targeted the wrong group, very much degrading your whole argument. Your references are unfounded and incorrect. Shall I say, it makes your whole rant sound incompetent when you don't even know enough to know what a deist is, and tell the difference between a theist and deist.


    You're wrong anyways.
    "but at the expense of either a prison term or a life of fear, running from the law."
    So we aren't supposed to do bad things because the big bad government will punish us?

    No. Your argument just replaces god with the government. You've ignored our evolved compassion help others. You ignore that people don't always act in self interest. Anybody raising a child, also throws your whole argument out the window.

    Self interest, can only go so far. It's why our evolved sympathy for others exists, and has benefited society greatly. Coming together as a group, after all, does help us individually, but it helps us as a race to survive. Self interest is negligible in the long run, you are only thinking in the short term, IE, a single life instead of future generations.

    Religion often hurts this by outcasted groups they do not agree with as enemies of the faith... but that's a discussion for another time.


    The truth of the matter, your post has little to do with the article really... so uh, yeah. I don't see what anything you have said with your post is relevant at all to the original article.

  11. James Smith João Pessoa, BrazilJanuary 3, 2010 at 12:53 AM

    Obviously, you don't understand anything I've said. so your opinion and your comments are worthless.

    Where am I wrong? You saying it is just like the argument of religious people. "I (or the bible) says it, so it's true."

    DO you think that being imprisoned is not good for one's self-interest? Or are you saying that governments are bad?

    I did not ignore that people do not always act in self-interest. Or did you forget that people do rob banks? What does raising a child have to do with it? That children also do not always act in their best self-interest? YOU seem incapable of thinking beyond your own desires. That obviously is not in your self-interest. YOu rapidly become boring with your lack of intellect and understanding. Bye.

    I was not commenting on the original article at all. So it seems that was lost on you also.

  12. James Smith João Pessoa, BrazilJanuary 3, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    Amazing, even after I pointed out your mistakes, you STILL don't get it. Instead you bring up unrelated and irrational comments. Nor do you answer direct question. These are all the same techniques religious people use when they are directly challenged. I suspect that you are really a "god person" trying to make rationalists look stupid.

    From your posts, I can see that you are incapable of understanding the concept of enlightened self-interest. So I won't bother trying to explain the obvious to such a limited mentality. It's the old "wrestling with a pig" situation.

    I've posted this piece on other sites and on my own blog. You are the FIRST person not to understand it or even question it.

    So here's something even a person of your obviously limited intellect can understand. Go down to "Brains 'R Us. They're having a sale.

    NO more replies from me, you're far too stupid for me to waste more time evening reading your drivel.

  13. I believe the one ignoring things is yourself. The reason why nobody questions it, or even replies normally is because it's garbage. You are incapable of understanding that "enlightened self-interest" or your garbage brain child version is obviously pointless...

    For you still didn't grasp, ALL YOUR DOING IS REPLACING GOD WITH GOVERNMENT. You solved zero moral delimnas.

    Nothing I've said is unrelated, or even irrational. I'm an gnostic atheist, and I don't just blindly follow garbage simply because it attacks theists. AND THAT IS THEISTS, NOT DEISTS. Heh, just run away when your trapped right?

    Good ridden, spamming troll. Or did you not even understand that part? That you are a spammer, nothing better than a bot.

    Your own blog, by the way, is destitute, nobody looks at it. And everybody else ignores it, because your a spammer. Get it?

  14. Oh, for your information, I too, was going to just simply ignore your post... until you gave your little response to Johnny, which was simply too much to bear listening to. Especially the hypocrisy of posting such irrelevant material to an article.

  15. Well, this has degenerated enough. Troll has been removed. Ad Hominem attacks can cease and desist now. :P