Ask Richard: What Books Can Help My Catholic Siblings Become More Rational?

Richard,

I read your column with interest, as many of the issues pertain to my family situation.

Immersed in Catholicism until age 19 when I quit the seminary and joined the US Navy, I left behind a thoroughly delusional extended family of Catholics, none of whom have ever doubted the world view they were indoctrinated into, and therefore never tested the waters of more worldly philosophic alternatives. That was 50 years ago.

As a result, to this day they are all still firmly in the camp of the holy see (except possibly for the rhythm method); and their political proclivities are completely predictable. They would be overjoyed that our supreme court now has a plurality “on their side,” if indeed they were aware of such esoteric details.

I have tried to avoid provoking, insulting, or disparaging their unsubstantiated beliefs; but have made it clear that I had long ago been deconverted to a rational, humanistic, and progressive Weltanshauung, shortly after leaving the hollowed halls of the seminary and the family nest. Of course, “leaving” was my moment of lucidity that enabled deconversion.

Here’s my question:

Can you suggest one or more starter books which I could send to siblings who might have a hidden spark of curiosity about the natural world, if only they could get over their damned fear of eternal damnation?

In recent years I have expounded with several of my siblings, including the monk, on the absurdity of this malevolent doctrine central to two of the three Abrahamic cults; but I was met only with rolling of the eyes and shaking of the head, no doubt gestures of pity for me.

So they clearly are not ready for Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, or Hitchens (all of whom I highly esteem). But maybe there is an author I have not yet read, who could worm her way past this monumental hurdle, and allay their fears.
It really is an insidious trump card that Christianity and Islam have played on humanity. I suspect Daniel Dennet is on target… Let the old folks live out their lives in the comfort of their illusions… or words to that effect.

god free in Seattle

Dear god free,

Perhaps you’re not fully god free until you are also free of the importance of getting others to be god free, at least so that the mere fact that they still have god beliefs does not disturb your personal serenity.

You’re about 69 years old, and so I assume your siblings are roughly the same age. By your description, they are not just deeply indoctrinated in Catholicism, they’re deeply entrenched in it, and they have shown no interest in matters that would distract them from that focus.

You’re hoping that something they read will get them past their “damned fear of eternal damnation.” I doubt that they want to get past it. In many years as a counselor, I have worked with thousands of people and their fears. Telling me about their fear didn’t necessarily mean they wanted to be free of it, and if they didn’t want to let it go, I couldn’t take it away.

For some people, lifelong, deeply engrained fears are familiar, orienting, and reassuring walls of containment. Think of the difference between claustrophobia and agoraphobia. You felt in a sense claustrophobic, stifled and imprisoned by the Catholic dogma, and so you went out into the wide world, (and in the Navy, you’re as out in the open as you can get.)

Your siblings are in a sense agoraphobic, feeling exposed in the wide world, intimidated by the countless possibilities and risks radiating out from them in all directions. Boundless freedom means boundless responsibility and boundless jeopardy. It’s too large, too cold, and too chaotic for them. They want a smaller, warmer, more predictable habitat, hemmed in by fearful fantasies on one side and reassuring fantasies on the other. With fewer options, they know exactly what is expected of them, and they feel confident that they can deliver.

God free, some of the commenters here may have some excellent books to suggest, but there are no magic books. The reader must be already open to change for any book to facilitate change. Just as reading the Bible now would not likely reconvert you back into its boundaries, so any book that even suggests looking outside those boundaries will not likely be accepted by your siblings, unless they have as you say, a hidden spark of curiosity, and they are already peeking outside.

Atheism is a hard sell. One basically has to say, “Hey, all you nice folks huddled inside that cozy little dogma yurt! Come outside! Sure, it’s cold and windy, but there’s lots of room! Alright, we have to accept that we’re orphans in a hostile, dangerous universe that not only doesn’t care about us, it isn’t even aware of our existence. But the complex, deadly, mindless immensity of it all is breathtakingly beautiful! Okay, yes, we have to use our own judgment to make every decision, and make them based on incomplete information, and we have to accept responsibility for the consequences. But by golly, we’re free to think our own thoughts and be true adults! You’ll like it once you get used to it! …Hello?”

If a person is going through an adjustment of belief or even a deconversion, I’ll do what I can to inform and comfort them, but it has to be their decision, their ordeal, their emancipation. I will not interfere with their leaving their beliefs or returning to them. I will accept their development as it unfolds. I’ll agree or disagree with them honestly, but I only manage my own mind. That’s hard enough.

Your peace of mind must not depend on what’s inside someone else’s mind. Try to accept your brothers and sisters just as they are, living within the accustomed confines of their fears and hopes. Their thoughts are their own, but their actions are a different matter. If they try to pull us in, to force that confinement upon us, yes, we must resist and even fight. But if they simply want to stay inside, then leave them be. We have our work to do out here. We have to keep vigil on the wide, dangerous, beautiful world.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. All will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a large number of requests; please be patient.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Pensnest

    That is a truly awesome response.

  • Vy

    God Free,

    I hear you. I think you also want some understanding on your end from your siblings and that is fair. I suggest listening to Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God.” Which has waves of humor and personal truth to the author. It may not change their minds and they may find they still have more questions, but I use to be a very devout Catholic and listening to this helped me answer some questions I was beginning to have. Hope this helps.

  • Ron in Houston

    It always amazes me how people feel they have some right or mandate to change some other person’s beliefs.

    You really have no right to change my firm belief in the Easter bunny. So long as I’m not force feeding you candy leave me and the big fuzzy guy alone.

  • William

    I know what started it for me was evolution creation debates that led to a lot more inquiry. I also liked reading the Shermer books. The one that started me off was Why People Believe Weird Things.

  • http://backwardsbuddhist.com Backwards Buddhist

    Amazingly enough I posted the following on my blog today. It seemed to fit here. “What we do between birth and death is what occupies our lives on a practical level. On a spiritual or absolute level, the non-physical, the astral, the intellectual, whatever term you chose (inadequate all) opinions and perceptions range widely. The discussion of these views occupies a lot of time and air-space these days. How convinced is anyone by the rhetoric of another? I look on it as addiction in a broader application than usual. Addiction – “In these kinds of common usages, the term addiction is used to describe a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in some specific activity, despite harmful consequences, as deemed by the user himself to his individual health, mental state, or social life.” Wikipedia- seems to describe the level of dependence of some on a “Creator God.” The fact that the existence or non-existence of this “being” cannot be demonstrated stops no-one from discussing it ad nauseam. It divides families, it creates hostility in communities, it has led to numerous armed conflicts. If you take alcoholism, drug addiction. eating disorders or smoking as examples of addiction instead of the more “loaded” God-ism, it is obvious to most people who have dealt with one or more of these issues either as the addicted or the victim of the addicted, it becomes clear that the recovery process is in the hands of the addicted. Support groups and professional assistance are all helpful and essential parts of the program, but if the person lacks the motivation or desire to be free of the addiction, no amount of information, intervention or intention from the outside will effect a change. So my question remains – why beat a dead horse? People will believe what they wish to believe until they are motivated internally to change. Nobody else can live my life, but me – no one can live it for me. I tell myself this daily when I am drawn to “help” others with the way they perceive life. Supportive I will be, but I work hard to stay out of the “Father/Mother knows best” mode that seems to come as a default setting for parents.

    Freedom of belief or no-belief – AWESOME!”

    I just thought it was an interesing bit of coincidence.

  • littlejohn

    Most any book you give is unlikely to be read, especially the in-your-face stuff from Hitchens and Dawkins.
    But “Why I’m Not a Christian” and “Letter to a Christian Nation” might get read.
    Just don’t expect an instant conversion.

  • EB

    Ron, we have a right to change someone’s beliefs when those beliefs are poisonous and dangerous to one’s self and to others especially if they are affecting the rest of the populous as catholicism and christianity do here in the US.

  • Jim (elbuho)

    A great one for Catholics is ‘Letting Go of God’ by Julia Sweeney. She also gave a monologue based on the book. The early version she gave at TAM2 is more spontaneous and fresh than the more polished version she toured with:
    http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=471C4759A90CE6B9&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL

  • rrraphy

    “Why I’m Not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell, a classic even more than 50 years later.

  • Killer Bee

    I don’t understand the need to try to convert others to disbelief in the absence of any harm.

    I also don’t understand the relevance of the makeup of the supreme court.

    I think all of us live within a delusion, whether it’s religion, or morality/ethics, or some other dogma that guides us in our decision making process. We all put on our special glasses that, rather than help us to see more, actually act to help us to see less. Because all the random data would quickly overwhelm our puny minds and paralyze us, we choose to find a line of reasoning and follow it, ignoring what’s on the right and the left.

  • Alex

    If you really want to mess them up, start talking about whether or not we really have freewill.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Ron and Killer,

    There’s isn’t a mandate, but most humans would rather understand the universe around them and at least say that they would rather know the truth than not do so. So most humans at least seem to claim that they’d like to be told when they are wrong. So in so far people make that sort of claim, trying to explain where you see incorrect beliefs and to convince people of that is something that people want you to do.

    By the same token one shouldn’t get annoyed at religious individuals who try to convert people. Everyone should do their best job to engage in critical thinking and discussion about many different issues, includin religion.

  • Killer Bee

    Everyone should do their best job to engage in critical thinking and discussion about many different issues, includin religion.

    I take this attitude, myself. For myself.

    From the letter it seems that his family is very content with their Weltanschauung. No doubt in 5+ decades of life they’ve been exposed to all kinds of ideas and have steadfastly chosen to remain in the camp of the holy see.

    I suppose I do understand his altruistic motivation for sharing his openminded philosophy with his family. I just don’t share the instinct.

  • littlejohn

    Killerbee,
    I’m not much given to arguing, but I’m astonished you aren’t concerned about the makeup of the Supreme Court. They arguably have more power than any other branch of government. They picked our president in 2000, for example.
    I don’t know your politics, but most atheists, I’d guess, are liberals. The four liberals currently on the court are the oldest and/or sickest.
    The conservative majority are the youngest and healthiest.
    I know this isn’t a political blog, but it seems to me that Supreme Court appointments, especially since so many church-state separation questions end up there – are extremely important to atheists.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Most people here are saying that books will not be well received (or even get read). If that is the case, you could try providing them comedy links (if they are internet savy). Sometimes one can “get away” with stuff in comedy that they can’t get away with in other mediums.

    There are a lot of comedians talking about religion out there. Be sure to check out George Carlin and Ricky Gervais.

    A youtube search with comedian and religion keywords should bring up others as well.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    One book that I highly recommend is “Jesus for the non-religious” by Shelby Spong.

    Shelby Spong is a retired Episcopal bishop who doesn’t take a literal interpretation of scripture. He basically deconstructs the gospel stories and then provides a different interpretation. Even if you don’t agree with his interpretation, you have to like the deconstruction. :)

    Since Episcopalians are “Catholics but without a Pope” :) , your relatives may not reject him out-of-hand. (If they can get past “Non Religious” written on the book cover.

  • Killer Bee

    littlejohn,

    I know this isn’t a political blog, but it seems to me that Supreme Court appointments, especially since so many church-state separation questions end up there – are extremely important to atheists.

    Sure, but he’s putting the cart before the horse. They aren’t even unbelievers, yet.

    Even if they abandon Catholicism, there’s no predicting their political preferences or whether state-church issues would even take precedence over other values they might still share with conservative justices.

  • Eric VDG

    Ron, Killer,

    Ultimately, it’s about decision-making processes – that is what makes unskeptical believing (i.e., religion) so incredibly dangerous.

    Believing what one wanted would be fine were it not for the fact that ‘what’ we believe and ‘how’ we believe influence our decision-making processes and outcomes in reality.

    Whether we are talking about explicit and specific beliefs (Leviticus) or whether we are referring to belief processes (e.g.,the willingness to think and commit oneself or one’s resources unskeptically, uncritically, with little or no evidence, polluted by logical fallacies, weak rational constructs, or immature conclusions, etc.) – all of these attributes contribute to a model of reality that is untested and, consequently, frequently distorted.

    People adopting critical, logical, evidence-justified thinking and implement cognitive responses over limbic responses are ultimately able to produce better outcomes for themselves and the communities and societies they contribute to.

    Region is one form of poorly-evidenced belief system. It often primes the brain and the decision-making process to accept the unsubstantiated as valid and indisputable fact. This alone – in itself – is the danger. The specific religion itself can be almost moot (with some exception).

    It is irresponsible and negligent of us to be complacent when our peers adopt demonstrably flawed belief-systems and decision-making systems. Complacency on this subject is as abusive as remaining silent when they partake of substances that are demonstrably toxic.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Eric, that’s a curious position to take. I’d have to ask how far do you take your comparison to ingestion of toxins? In particular, a) how do you feel about freedom of religion and b) do you get upset when religious individuals proselytize to you or to others? I’m particular interesting in the second of these. In the case of religions which believe in eternal damnation, the impact on non-believers is far worse than that of consuming toxic substances.

  • Richard Wade

    Eric VDG,

    I agree with you that believing in unsubstantiated things that are inconsequential, such as gods, can foster believing in unsubstantiated things that have serious consequences, such as political rumors or false assumptions that influence foreign policy. (see death panels and WMD in Iraq.) So in principle I agree that being completely complacent about our peers’ flawed belief systems carries a degree of social irresponsibility.

    However, when dealing with people and their challenges, I tend to have a very practical viewpoint of things, and over the years I have seen unsolicited attempts to get people to abandon their religious beliefs fail miserably almost every time. Such overtures usually result in greater enmity and in people being even more entrenched and guarded against rational arguments. As in my analogy of the cozy dogma yurt, on an emotional level we’re asking them to do something that is very unappealing from their point of view.

    So while I might in principle disapprove of an obstructive stone wall, if the only tool I have to use to knock it down is my head, I’m not going to spend my strength bashing my head against it.

    Instead, I might be able to use my head to somehow make rational thinking more attractive, so that some of the folks on the other side tear it down for themselves, a little bit at a time.

  • Eric VDG

    @Joshua Zelinsky,

    Freedom of religion? I think that’s fine. I think it’s a mistake, but it’s fine. Please forgive the hyperbole, but it’s a little like freedom to not to take your prescriptions or to engage in dangerous stunts.

    When others proselytize to me? No, it doesn’t bother me. It’s a gateway to conversation and to volley skeptical questions. I dislike it when they force me to bow my head or recite prayer (etc) and I do get angry when they proselytize to others – particularly those under duress, the poor, or the poorly educated and especially to the young.

    I am not so much an enemy of religion as I am of uncritical, illogical, evidence-free thinking. It just so happens that religion is the most common and most dangerous of this kind of thought.

    The beauty of critical thinking (atheism, if you will), is that decisions and beliefs are not predetermined nor declared / dictated; they are defined by evidence, by thoughtfulness, by contesting your own best assumptions. True critical thinkers are open to the idea that they may be wrong on multiple subjects and don’t ‘cherish’ beliefs, but change their ideals based on mounting and convergent evidence.

  • Chris-UGA

    @Ron. It also amazes me how people feel that they have the “right or mandate to change some other person’s beliefs.” That is why I, and many others, are against the staunch missionary work of so many of the world’s major religions. If you, Ron, are an atheist, then you miss the point; if you follow one of the major religions, then you probably should check up on your denomination’s beliefs to ensure that it does not support missionary work or else risk being a hypocrite. As far as the fuzzy Easter bunny shoving candy down our metaphorical throats, well…when religious proclivities force people to vote to deny equal rights and privileges of two other people that are in love and want to marry simply because they are the same sex (to cite only one example) it does become an issue.

    @Killer Bee. I would likewise agree with you that the need to convert others to ‘disbelief’ in the “absence of any harm” would be quite perplexing. The fact is, that mere belief by so many of the world’s population is, and has throughout history, caused irreparable harm. The above example applies here as well, but to use an even more dangerous example, the Catholic ban on the use of contraceptives, and their intentional subversion on this point in the African continent has undoubtedly contributed to the spreading of the HIV virus on that continent, and also to the overpopulation and economic poverty of many of the Latin American nations who are significantly Catholic and tend to have larger families due to the ban on contraceptives.

    The relevance of the Supreme Court simply illustrates ‘god free”s point that many people will support others of their same religious background without even knowing or understanding the candidate’s beliefs and intentions.

    You are also completely correct that everything from music and movies to books and theatre exist mainly as “special glasses.” You state that fact well. I would postulate that the policy of ignoring reality rather than attempting to face it is unwise and possibly dangerous. I would challenge you not to discredit your mind and power to reason so quickly and believe that you, as well as all of us, have more than a “puny mind” so easily overwhelmed, but one that has the power to create and envision amazing feats.

  • J.Allen

    I’m with Erin. I don’t think delusional thinking can really be considered harmless. A drunk driver in a parked car needs only a destination.

    I understand Richard’s live and let die sentiment, it certainly is the less stressful path, but I don’t think it’s an ironclad position ethically speaking.

    I’m for everyone’s right to believe and speak what they wish, but when someone says we should not talk about something, I feel like it’s a dangerous position.

    The bad part about religion is not the fact that they think they are right and are not afraid to say so. The bad part is when they discourage debate about the matter, censor others, and claim that faith is more important than reason. The latter part is the true intolerance that we need to avoid. (okay, one bad part)

  • Ron in Houston

    First of all, beliefs are not really a problem. It is only when those beliefs lead into actions that they become a problem.

    For instance, many atheists use words like “delusional,” “crazy,” or “insane” to describe religious believers. Those are simply beliefs. They don’t mean much except to the person that holds them.

    However, when someone goes from those beliefs to thinking that those people must be “dealt with,” “eradicated,” or even “marginalized” then at that point it become a problem.

    Believe what you want. Heck, most of the time even when you act on it then your actions will likely be benign. It’s only when your actions become malignant that things become a problem.

  • Vy

    This is the hardest thing about making simple requests… some people prefer to answer the motives or possible outcomes of the question instead. The gentlemen requested something he can have his siblings read. Just recommend something! Sometimes, it isn’t about getting someone to “come to this side”, it’s just about wanting to understand what the other understands or to be understood.

    I am so tired of hearing fellow free thinkers tell other free thinkers how they should go about thinking freely. “Don’t call names”, “Don’t try to convert them.” Blah blah blah. Yes, sometimes I want to be very candid and wear my non-believing shit on my sleeve and other times, I’m much more sensitive. The point is, ANSWER THE QUESTION.

    Dear god free, again, Julia Sweeney is a good choice, because she was once catholic, so it spoke to me more than others. Also, a neuroscience book might help. It doesn’t have to do with religion directly, but some of them open our minds and somewhat forces us to dig deeper. At least this helped me. Good luck!!

  • Ron in Houston

    Vy

    I’ll make you a deal. I’ll make suggestions to him if you let me write all your religious friends and suggest books they should send to you?

    What do ya think?

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Ok. Valid point Vy,

    So relevant stuff that may help: I would suggest starting with stuff that focuses on other fringe beliefs or pseudosciences and only then slowly transition to their religion. Maybe a book or two about why astrology or UFOs are silly, and then after a few of those, give them Martin Gardener’s “Do Adam and Eve Have Navels” which deals with both religion and lots of pseudosciences. This slippery slope tactic does a surprisingly decent job although I’ve seen it work primarily with younger rather than older people.

    @Eric, so let me ask then a) if you ran the government would there be freedom of religion? b) would there be freedom to not take prescriptions?

  • prospera

    I’ve wrestled with many progressive Christian books and books about other religions, as well as some atheist books (which I enjoyed); but ultimately, it was the Bible that convinced me to leave Christianity. It simply ran out of answers for me. If you take something that claims to be the one and only truth and ask “why” enough times, it is bound to eventually reveal itself as what it actually is – just a book.

    But I would have to agree with Richard that no one could influence someone to let go of their religion if they have no desire to do so.

  • muggle

    Richard, I think this was your best column yet. The question was a very interesting, heart-felt one and your answer just great.

    I agree with Ron absolutely here. On this one, he’s 100% right.

    I find it utterly amazing, considering what a small minority we are, that any nonbeliever would devalue religious freedom. How does so small a minority go about saying we should strong-arm the majority. That’s logical? Comparing religion to drunk driving is absurd and trying to keep that under check would only harm us. We’re the ones with the most to lose if religious freedom is lost.

    Now if you’re just talking trying to deconvert everyone you run across, well, at least that’s less scary even if it is as absurd. If that’s your attitude, I don’t want to hear one more complaint about someone trying to convert you. You are doing the exact same thing.

    Frankly, here in the Western world, yes, there are believers that are benign. No, we have no guarantee they will remain that way if someone stirs them up. But, hell, obviously they feel the same way and given the anti-theism currently socially acceptable by many (it’s not to me and I know I’m not alone) nonbelievers, that’s not unfounded either.

    Whether they may be stirred to action or not is beside the point. There is no need to take action against them unless they are. No it won’t be too late. It will just make us the more rational and tolerant. You don’t make peace by waging war. That has never worked.

    Yes, I know. You’re not proposing that. You’re just proposing hounding them about their belief. But I say live and let live until it’s a danger. Yes, gay marriage should be legal. You’ll do more to make it legal to discuss gay marriage politically instead of alienating them. Same goes for a balanced supreme court or any other issue religion has an undue influence on.

    Fact is, there are plenty of tolerant, open-minded Christians and other theists out there. Yes, there are. The best tactic is to encourage such broadmindedness within belief. If it eventually leads them away, as Richard says, it has to come naturally from them. But we want believers, since they are for the immediate future anyway going to exist, to be of the more tolerant god is love kind. It’s to our benefit.

    So encourage a live and let live attitude and actually have one yourself. All this antagonism harms everyone, believer or nonbeliever. Building tolerance benefits everyone alike too.

    So, as Ron put it, don’t mess with someone’s belief in the Easter Bunny until they force feed you candy.

    Oh, and “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” is on tonight. I highly recommend everyone watch it and watch how Snoopy handles that intolerant, selfish bitch Lucy.

  • stogoe

    Perhaps you’re not fully god free until you are also free of the importance of getting others to be god free

    This is a pile of bullshit. What you’re saying, in effect, is “don’t grow the movement”. “Don’t try to reduce the harm that religion causes.” Of course we should be breaking the chains of others. We have the most successful method of investigation and truth-seeking in the history of life on this planet, science, and it’s constantly pushing back the veil of the unknown, with no gods in sight.

  • Kamaka

    god free

    Tell them to read, really read, Leviticus.

    That book should set ‘em to thinking.

  • Richard Wade

    Stogoe,
    If you’re going to quote me, please be careful to quote enough so that you do not change the apparent meaning of what I was saying. The sentence that you truncated was:

    Perhaps you’re not fully god free until you are also free of the importance of getting others to be god free, at least so that the mere fact that they still have god beliefs does not disturb your personal serenity.

    That is essentially what the rest of my response is about. By personal serenity I don’t mean being complacent. I mean knowing well what works and what does not, and staying strong and healthy by not squandering your strength on what doesn’t work. From his letter, god free seems to have spent half a century being frustrated about his siblings’ inner thoughts, and all of his efforts to change their thoughts have some to naught.

    I’m not saying “don’t reduce the harm that religion causes,” and if you’d read the rest of my response you’d see that. The harm is in a few believers’ actions, not inside all believers’ heads. When believers try to force or insinuate their beliefs into public schools, others’ bedrooms, doctors’ offices, research labs, courtrooms or the halls of legislatures, I’m right there fighting back. But just as they have no business bringing their religion into those rooms, we have no business intruding uninvited into the rooms of their minds. We have no control of what goes on in there, and no right to trespass, and I hope that we never do. Such power would be immediately used against everyone, including us.

    I agree with you about science being a very successful method of understanding the world around us, and I am directly employed in its popularization. But I think that science and rational thinking should be encouraged through attraction rather than unsolicited and confrontive promotion.

    Go ahead and try to “break the chains of others.” I hope you can. But the means you employ will make an enormous difference in the possible harm you will do to others and perhaps yourself in the process. There’s what works, what doesn’t work, and what seriously backfires. I’ve tried them all, and I’ve watched others enough to think that I know which is which. Your experience and results may differ. I wish you well in your efforts, as long as you don’t harm others’ rights.

    Greta Christina has wisely written about how we need our firebrands and our diplomats. Though most people might assume I’m strictly the diplomat type, I actually have a strong streak of firebrand in me. You didn’t know me before. But I’ve learned that fire should be used skillfully and sparingly, lest we burn down our house rather than light candles.

  • plutosdad

    For me the two books that started me on my journey towards atheism were
    The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan
    and
    Shadows of Fogotten Ancestors also by Sagan and Druyan.

    The first talks about the importance of wonder and curiousity, while at the same time tries to hammer home the importance of critical thinking. He does this by showing many harmful things people believe based on faith, like astrology, and how they use the same arguments as modern Christians. But he doens’t really push it home to attack Christians, so it’s something people can read and start them thinking.

    The second book is kind of an introduction to evolutionary psychology. It is pretty old now and there might be better ones. But just the very idea of animal behavior mirroring our own and studying it to learn about our own instincts was something I’d never learned in school or even considered. The very concept blew my mind and started me thinking of so many other questions about where our morals come from, who are we, if we are so similar to animals then what does that say about being made in “god’s image” and what need do we have of god?

  • Gary

    “God free in Seattle” understates things a bit when he talks about Catholics having “a plurality” on the Supreme Court. The court currently contains six Catholics, two Jews, and one Protestant. The Court is beginning to look like it’s turning into the Capitol Hill chapter of the Knights of Columbus. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration. Justice Alito is a member of the Knights of Columbus. I don’t know about the other Catholics on the Court (except for Sotomayor, who wouldn’t be eligible for membership, though she could join an auxiliary).

    The religious composition of the Court might or might not be relevant to anything. Why someone might think it could relevant depends on whether you can say “abortion.” Or, indeed, whether you can say “Pledge of Allegiance.” The words “under God” are there in part because of the political activity of the Knights of Columbus. The Knights continue to be active before the the courts to keep those words there. They boast on their official web site, “The Knights of Columbus scored an important victory in federal court in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Sept. 30 [2009], when U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe upheld the constitutionality of the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance…. As with the California case [brought by Michael Newdow], the Knights of Columbus sought and received permission from the court to become a ‘defendant intervenor,’ allowing attorneys representing the Order (from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty) to participate directly in the court proceedings.

    The “Becket Fund for Religious Liberty” indeed….

  • Vy

    Ron in Houston,

    Like I stated, I use to be very Devout Catholic. I studied it for a long time and was once a youth minister. I also grew up in a school that was a 50% Mormon population. I studied their religion too. I am now married to a Jewish man. I study his religion. My friends invite me to their church and I attend. So you can write to my friends and request them to send me stuff, but chances are, I already have it. So, sir, SUGGEST something.

  • Tim S

    You may want to order FFRF nontracts. These are very small fliers that you can easily hand out and can be read in just a few minutes: http://www.ffrf.org/publications/nontracts/

    My favorite nontracts are:

    o Confused? Bible Contradictions

    o An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity in the Bible

    0 Nontract Sample Pack (A sample of all 13 nontracts)