On Magic(k)

Throughout history, groups such as the Puritans have railed against what they see as the overly elaborate and ostentatious ceremony and ritual surrounding religious events. But despite the fulminations of religious reformers, ceremony and ritual are not superfluous add-ons to faith, but very much at the core of it. Belief in the supernatural is usually intended to give the believer a sense of control over events, and a highly elaborate, ritualized ceremony is often more effective at this than a … [Read more...]

Why I Am Not a Libertarian

I: The Dilemma of the CommonsI don't usually post purely political essays on Daylight Atheism, as opposed to posts that touch on religion in some way. But the new series beginning with this post is personally important to me, and deserves an exception.Though I only have anecdotal evidence, it's my experience that the majority of atheists hold a politically liberal view. The second largest group, a substantial minority, takes a libertarian stance. (Classic conservativism is a distant … [Read more...]

Futile Good Will

In the recent post "Atheist Charity", I quoted one example of a charge often laid against atheists: that we have not done nearly enough to help the needy among humanity, as opposed to religious groups that build hospitals, run soup kitchens, and so on.I have a counterclaim: in terms of actual good done, rather than the narrow measure of dollars donated to charity, atheists can rightly claim credit for a great deal. Since the dawning of the Enlightenment, atheists and humanists have played a … [Read more...]

Not Knowing the Enemy

The Christian site Crosswalk.com has published an article by Tony Beam, director of the "Christian Worldview Center" at North Greenville College in South Carolina. Reporting on a talk given by ex-Watergate felon and current prison minister Charles Colson, Beam discusses what in his eyes are the two greatest threats facing Christians today: fundamentalist Islamic radicals who blow up buildings and kidnap and murder innocent bystanders with the intent of establishing a fascist, patriarchal … [Read more...]

Christian Terrorism

On July 29, 1994, a religious fundamentalist named Paul Hill attacked a Pensacola, Florida family planning center, murdering abortion provider Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett with a single blast from a pump-action shotgun. With numerous eyewitnesses, Hill surrendered peacefully and confessed to his crime at the scene. Hill was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, convicted by a jury, and given the death sentence. On September 3, 2003, he was executed by lethal … [Read more...]

Ancient Atheism

In my last post, I wrote about the explosive growth of atheism in recent decades. As the menace of the religious right has become increasingly clear, atheists have been increasingly driven to speak out in response and have become more visible. Viewing this trend, some commentators have erroneously concluded that atheism is a modern movement. But this is not so. Atheism is not a recent innovation. If we travel back into history, we can find clear evidence of atheists in many cultures and many … [Read more...]

What Is Christianity Good For?

What is Christianity good for?I ask this question in all seriousness, not as an insult. I genuinely want to know. Eternal life in Heaven is usually held out as the greatest benefit of becoming a Christian, but that reward is said to be in the next life and is impossible for us to verify. Does Christianity have any benefits in this life, any evidence that can be offered now as partial substantiation of its grander promises later on?I'm not looking for personal testimonies about how … [Read more...]

The Veil Is Dehumanizing

I've written before about religion's harm to women, but today I'd like to focus on a more specific example, the face-covering veils and shrouds that are often imposed on women in fundamentalist sects of Islam. These garments oppress women and are an affront to human dignity. By design, they are dehumanizing and degrading, and remain so even if the woman freely chooses them for herself.If there is anything that defines human beings as a species, anything we do that differentiates us from … [Read more...]

The Doctrine of Double Effect

In my recent post on euthanasia, a thought experiment was mentioned which I'd like to address at greater length:In one dilemma, you are standing by a railroad track when you notice that a trolley, with no one aboard, is heading for a group of five people. They will all be killed if the trolley continues on its current track.The only thing you can do to prevent these five deaths is to throw a switch that will divert the trolley onto a side track, where it will kill only one person. When … [Read more...]

An Exercise in Perspective

If you're not familiar with the HubbleSite, you should be. The official website of the Hubble Space Telescope is rich with scientific background, news releases and announcements of new discoveries, and of course, jaw-dropping imagery of the cosmos, taken by one of humanity's most justifiably famous scientific instruments.One of Hubble's newest images has left me feeling inspired, and I'd like to say a few words about it. But first, the picture itself:This stunningly gorgeous image is a … [Read more...]