Season’s Warning: The Bowery Mission


The other day, I got this piece of mail soliciting donations for a "Thanksgiving meal ticket" for New York City's homeless, from an organization calling itself the Bowery Mission:I skimmed the letter, which looked like a run-of-the-mill charity solicitation. (I normally give to America's Second Harvest for this sort of thing.) I was about to throw it away when a thought occurred to me: The name "The Bowery Mission" sounds distinctly … [Read more...]

Left Behind and Selective Literalism

In "The Rapture and the Fig Tree", I wrote about how end-times believers are always looking to reconstruct the past, seeking to force-fit the present into a framework of scripture written to apply to events in long-gone times. Given that many of these verses apply to people and places that no longer exist, a major part of this contrived exegesis is what I call "selective literalism": interpreting one verse literally and another one metaphorically, or even interpreting different parts of the same … [Read more...]

Theocracy Watch XIV: Religious Right Lawbreakers

As reported by Americans United, thirty-three religious right churches endorsed Republican politicians from the pulpit on Sunday. This event was planned and orchestrated by the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious right legal group, which hopes to use it as a test case to have laws against church politicking declared unconstitutional.Let's emphasize at the outset something that religious-right spokesmen, in the coming weeks, will be working their hardest to deceive everyone about. There are no … [Read more...]

Extinguishing the Fear of Hell

The other week, I received an excellent suggestion from a Daylight Atheism commenter via e-mail. He suggested I write a post on the following topic: How can a former believer overcome the vestigial fear of Hell?I suspect this is a common problem. Many religions go to great effort to inculcate in their followers an instinctive terror of breaking the rules, and this irrational fear can often linger and continue to traumatize a person even after they have consciously and rationally decided that … [Read more...]

On Expertise

One of the most common complaints leveled against Richard Dawkins (and other atheist writers) is that his understanding of religion isn't sufficiently sophisticated - that he dismisses religion without delving into all its intricacies of doctrine. For instance, Terry Eagleton:What, one wonders, are Dawkins's views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?What any … [Read more...]

The Contributions of Freethinkers: W.E.B. Du Bois

It's often been observed that atheism, or at least outspoken atheism, seems rarer among America's black community than among American society in general. Although I don't know why that's true, I suspect that it may stem from the tendency of a minority group, especially one that's often discriminated against by wider society, to seek to preserve its heritage and uphold its distinctiveness by emphasizing a shared cultural identity.Regardless, it would be unfortunate if the black community in … [Read more...]

The Fading of the Church

The growth of atheism is coming at the expense of religion. As freethought makes gains in society, it will inevitably start by appealing to those who are religious only by default - the people who go to church because they've never known an alternative, those who are receptive to our message and easily persuaded. And as their members join us or simply drift away, the larger, established churches are bound to begin feeling the sting of declining membership. There are encouraging signs that this … [Read more...]

Do You Really Believe That? (The Missing Pages)

Of all the major faiths in the world today, few surpass the bizarreness of Mormonism. The church was founded in the 1830s by Joseph Smith, Jr., who claimed to have been guided by an angel to a set of buried golden plates which he miraculously gained the ability to translate. These plates, supposedly, were the records of a lost American civilization, descended from a family of ancient Jews who had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and founded a large, advanced society in the New World. After … [Read more...]

It Pays to Advertise

I have a remarkable story to share with you all:Last Friday, I had made plans to go out with some friends after work. At the end of the day, I debated whether to go and meet them directly or whether to go back to my apartment first and change, but I ultimately decided to go home first. The subway was jam-packed, and the first train that arrived was too crowded to get on. Likewise the second. I was getting impatient and determined not to miss the third, so I went all the way down to the end of … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: In Westminster Abbey

Today's poem was one I first read in Christopher Hitchens' The Portable Atheist. This is slightly odd since its author was not an atheist himself. However, this poem is a biting little satire of prayer, one whose point is all the more valid for having been made by a believer, and as such, it makes for a good entry in this series.John Betjeman was an English poet who lived during the twentieth century. He studied at Oxford, where he ultimately left without obtaining a degree. While there, he … [Read more...]