Tag Archives: Religion

A brief but fascinating look into the life of two KKK groups

From the Washington Post: A photographer hung out with the KKK in Tennessee and Maryland. Here’s what he saw.

KKK Wedding

It’s fascinating to see these people doing their thing. I’m surprised to see that these people closely match my idea of the KKK. It’s rare that one’s idea of a group so exactly corresponds to the actual people in that group.

A Conversation on Atheism and Extremism

The idea of atheism is so easy to understand, but seems to be misunderstood by most. I attribute that misunderstanding to a combination of lack of education and willful (possibly unconscious) misunderstanding due to the threat atheism poses to theistic belief systems.

I’m going to begin posting interesting conversations I have on religion, including atheism, for the potential benefit of others. This conversation began with my posting of the Oatmeal comic below.


Commenter: Oh… I thought the atheist extremist was one killing off 25% of the population in the genocide of Cambodia in the seventies, or one causing starvation and death for millions in the Soviet Union under the collectivisations of Stalin. But ok, there are extremists of different kinds.

Me: You’re expressing a very common misconception.

As the comic points out, atheism isn’t a prescriptive worldview, like Christianity and Islam. Atheism is descriptive, not prescriptive. So atheists are free to do whatever they want. As the comic notes, atheists tend to be well educated and peaceful people who love science. The causation flows the other way, of course. People who are well educated, peaceful, and love science tend to reject religion because it doesn’t conform to their understanding of the world and doesn’t serve their needs.

Your examples depict totalitarian socialism, not atheism. Atheism was only a part of those movements because they were anti-theistic. The leaders persecuted religions for the same reason they persecuted specific cultures, intellectuals, and artists, because the leaders considered them threats to their absolute power.

Hopefully this clarifies things.

Commenter: I thought we were talking about extremists. Are you really claiming that Christians and Muslims in general are not educated and peaceful?

Me: You’re misrepresenting my points, or perhaps misunderstanding me. I’ll restate in simpler terms.

1. Atheism doesn’t tell you what to do. There is no such thing as an atheist extremist. It’s nonsensical to have someone have an extreme lack of belief.
2. There are certainly anti-theists, but those are generally people who hate one or more religions, often the middle eastern monotheistic ones. Atheism does not cause anti-theism.
3. There are totalitarians, but atheism does not cause totalitarian thinking.

Commenter: I do not think I misunderstand or misrepresent. However, I think Oatmeal gives a twist for humorous purposes, which you seem to think reflects reality.

Talking about extremists there have historically been virulent anti-religous movements, inspired by quotes like “religion is the opium of the people.” These extremists were inspired by atheism and atheists movements, and they caused the deaths of millions. This kind of atheism does tell you what to do.

I do not know what you mean by “atheism does not cause anti-theism.” Surely anti-theism and anti-religiosity would not be possible without atheism. It is a necessary (but not on its own sufficient) condition to create extreme anti-religiosity.

Likewise, religion is not a sufficient condition to cause religious extremism.

Oatmeal uses humour – I sure smiled a brief moment, but it is not by any means a representation of reality.

And stepping on the border of Godwin’s law: imagine if the atheist Russians Communists and unreligious German Nazis had been overtaken by moderate religious figures. WWII would simply not have taken place.

Likewise WWI would not have take place if people had not had the nationalist fervour they had, and if they instead had been inspired by moderate religion.

Me: Because you insist on erroneously defining atheism and interpreting history to support your faulty worldview, I don’t see an advantage to continuing this conversation. Good bye.

I wish I could say the willful misunderstanding and ignorance of history displayed by this commenter was rare, but it’s the rule rather than the exception. The above is not at all my best writing, but I think it’s clear enough that I’m presenting the conversation verbatim so you can see what actually transpired.

The original G+ post I used as the basis for this post can be found here.

Should we respect all beliefs?

I’m reposting an intriguing question I encountered on G+. The original post is first, including a beautiful picture as well as a comment by Sam Harris, followed by my response.

Should we respect all Beliefs? Here’s an interesting take by Sam Harris…

Consider for a moment this notion that you should respect other people’s beliefs. Where else in our discourse do we encounter this?

When was the last time anyone was admonished to respect another person’s beliefs about history, or biology, or physics? We do not respect people’s beliefs; we evaluate their reasons.

Illusion Art 4

Harris’ take on this is thought provoking and tempting to follow, isn’t it? My response is below.

We don’t need to respect people’s beliefs. We do need to respect people. It’s fine, and very desirable, to critique a set of beliefs. That’s fundamentally different than criticizing a person for their beliefs.

If you critique beliefs by analyzing them and pointing out deficiencies as well as strengths, especially in a process of dialogue, then you gain understanding of the framework in which those beliefs exist, and you also allow the person holding those beliefs room to engage you openly and examine their beliefs if they’re willing. If you criticize the person, then you shut down the possibility of dialogue and place them in a defensive stance, focused on defending themselves and their beliefs.

What do you think?

Here’s a link to my reshare of the original post – https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherLamke/posts/jBEWpqBvbdV – The comments on mine and especially the original are worth reading if you’re exploring this topic.

No Man is an Island

No man is an island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 


This wasn’t written as a poem, but as part of Donne’s “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions”, a reflection on life while he was seriously ill. The words below are from Meditation XVII, and it’s well worth reading the whole of that meditation.

More on Donne’s Devotions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devotions_upon_Emergent_Occasions

The whole of Meditation XVII: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Meditation_XVII

Note: I just realized I posted on this topic in 2013. This is an expanded and somewhat different entry.

We have a moral duty to discuss the place of religion in society.

I mostly disagree with Harris on this, but I think it’s important that we have serious public and private discussions on the issue.


In response to a question by a G+ friend, I’ll elaborate on my one line comment above.

I don’t agree we should criticize a person’s faith, but we should absolutely be able to discuss it, and we have a moral duty to do so if that faith affects others. I think criticism just causes a religious person to close down any potential for dialogue, and (especially in the case of the western monotheistic religions) supports the religious idea that the world is against them.

Religious beliefs are getting people killed, or at least these belief systems provide a framework for dehumanizing others and making it easy to harm them. The current hateful situation in the US is not caused by religion, but religion acts as a catalyst, enabling and speeding the dehumanization and violence against the most vulnerable people. These belief systems keep humanity from advancing by causing us to divert much of our creative energy to attacking and destroying one another.

I also consider a wide variety of religious beliefs to be offensive. As far as reasonableness, I don’t think reasonableness is applicable to metaphysical belief systems. We can apply such a standard, but the religious believer won’t accept it and none of the theistic religions pass the reasonableness test.

Harris’ main point seems to be that religion is going to get us killed and is fundamentally incompatible with civilization, which I interpret as the belief that we need to eliminate religion if we want to maintain human civilization and not go extinct. I disagree with this point. Religion is neither necessary nor sufficient for violence and destruction of civilization. Humans have many traits that were useful in the past for survival in a hostile world, but are now slowing our advance toward a more peaceful and prosperous existence.

We spend much of our time and energy trying to achieve power, acquire things, and satisfy our desire to dominate and destroy, all at the expense of others, human and non-human, and these traits existed before the first proper religion was born. Perhaps most importantly, we often lack the empathy required to live together in diverse groups.


Conservative Christianity is Self-contradictory

Conservative Christianity is self-contradictory. It doesn’t exist, other than as a tribal identity.

Millions of people who were raised in Christianity and have not advanced beyond tribal ethics claim this term in order to band together with like-minded people and create a safe space for themselves in the world. The internal inconsistency makes this a very fragile belief system, so they experience any opposition or questioning as an existential threat.


This chart is obviously not derived from a rigorous study, but it’s true for purposes of this post.

Religion Satisfies a Human Need

Religion is neither inherently good nor bad. A great deal of good as well as evil is done in the name of religion. Whether the good outweighs the evil or vice versa is unanswerable, but I note that both good and evil are done outside the bounds of religion and as far as I can tell, independently of it, so religion is neither necessary nor sufficient for good or evil.

My focus here is on religion as a way of providing meaning to life. To live full lives, human beings require a framework of meaning, something to help them understand why things happen and why they are the way they are. Religion, as a belief system or fundamental worldview, clearly provides meaning to a large portion of the world’s population and thus fulfills a basic human need.

Religion provides comfort from the realities of sickness, loss and death, and can make human life more joyful and less painful. Anything with this power deserves our support, particularly if it’s possible to maximize the joy and minimize the pain provided by the system. It’s possible, though very difficult, to do this with religion.

I understand statements like the one Chris O’ Dowd makes below, and I’m frustrated daily by the evil done in the name of religion as well as the way in which religion slows or destroys progress. But I disagree with both the prediction he makes and his desire for it to come true.


I don’t think we’ll cleanse the world of religion anytime soon, and I don’t think we should try. Religion is one way of providing structure and meaning to life, something all of us need. Many people are constitutionally incapable of creating their own meaning through reflection on the world or study of philosophy. Different structures are suitable for different minds.

I prefer a rational approach to giving our lives meaning, but it’s impractical to base our standard of meaning entirely on what is true or rational. Many of the most important aspects of life are not rational.

It’s worth sharing a comment Peter Billing left on my Google Plus post of this graphic:

I agree we shouldn’t try.  Change like that will always be organic.  But I think he’s right that it will.  Offensive might be too strong a word, though.  Probably more like pitiable or incredulous.  

Rightly or wrongly – and YMMV wildly – religion seems to me to be much more of a benign mob mentality thing.  Whereas racism I tend to attribute more to an individual malicious intent.  Without wishing to invoke Godwin, I suspect in time it’ll be more like how we think of the German’s during the Nazi era.  More ‘how could they have fallen for it’ than ‘man, those guys were bigots’

I think Peter may be right. I think we may organically move away from religion, but some things need to happen first.

Religion serves a purpose. Even today, when we’ve come so far technologically, decay and death are just as inevitable. All thinking people must look for meaning, and religions are ready-made boxes of meaning, with all the rules and structures necessary (in most religions) for fending off the fear of death, knowing how to live without questioning, and satisfying the human tendency to tribal behavior and aggression against an other.

When I see the followers of militant Islam and Christianity, and the absurdly constrained lives of Orthodox Jews, I can’t think of anything non religious that can begin to take religion’s place for these people. I wish I could. Particularly striking are cases like a friend’s brother, who left a wealthy and highly educated life in the United States for life as an Orthodox Jew in an Israeli community, where he studies ancient documents and follows rules that govern every aspect of his life. The only explanation I can come up with for this behavior is fleeing freedom. Some of us are not constituted to live freely. The existential angst that accompanies an awareness of constant freedom can be maddening to some of us. Religion removes this burden from those who cannot carry it.

Christians Responsible for Most Hateful Internet Speech



An article in The Christian Post discusses the claim by Washington Post religion reporter Sally Quinn that Christians were behind the majority of nasty and vile feedback she had received throughout her career. This vicious behavior by Christians will be no surprise to anyone who’s spent significant time on Twitter, Google Plus, or other social networks discussing anything of substance.

I’m sharing this article because it’s critical that Christians stand up for what Jesus taught and call out those falsely claiming to follow him while acting contrary to his life message. As an atheist and humanist, I know I need to become more active in opposing those who attack theism under the banner of atheism.

I can empathize with those who lose their tempers when discussing these issues. It’s hard for me to remain calm on many political and religious issues, but it’s critical. I’m working on it … 🙂 … The moment my rage overcomes my empathy and I start attacking my opponent, any chance for humanity and dialogue is lost.

GOP Catholics of Convenience and their Trouble with Pope Francis


The GOP’s so-called Catholics have long had problems following the principles of their church, but with the advent of Pope Francis, their opposition to most of Jesus’ teachings in The Gospels, as exemplified in Francis, has become much more prominent. This Salon article highlights the issue.

It’s remarkable how even a supposedly ardent Roman Catholic like Santorum is a Catholic of Convenience, freely working against the head of his church when it suits him.

As someone noted in the original post, these men would argue against Jesus if given the chance. The majority of their beliefs and actions directly contradict those of Jesus in the Gospels. They exist for themselves and their values, independent of any religious or moral system. This independence of thought and action would be commendable if they would be honest about it. Instead, they pretend to follow a great spiritual leader, while in reality they follow only their own desires.