Monthly Archives: March 2012

Atheists Exist, And Some Of Them Are Nurses Too

A while back, there was an article written by Christina Feist-Heilmeier titled “No Nurse is an Atheist”. Like many people who read it, I was outraged by the numerous claims in this article, namely things like this:

Just as there are no atheists in fox holes, there are no atheists in nursing. If by chance there may be some atheistic nurses in existence, I have never met one personally.

There is also the disgusting insinuation that all good nurses are religious and go to church.

And nearly half of the article draws from the supposedly inspirational figure of Mother Teresa, who was undoubtedly a massive fanatic, fundamentalist, and fraud of the Catholic Church. She believed that suffering was a gift from God. Her “compassionate nursing” composed of taking stolen money given to her by dictators like the Duvalier family in Haiti. She spent the millions of dollars she received building “homes” for the sick and dying–places that had horrendous facilities and nearly no medical treatment. And as Christopher Hitchens says, “Mother Teresa was not a friend of a poor. She was a friend of poverty… She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women, and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”

But I was very impressed and inspired by the responses to this article. Atheist nurses (yes, there are LOTS and LOTS of them) spoke up against this kind of explicit marginalization and demanded to be counted. They explained carefully their passion for the profession, their love of serving other people, and their ability to be Good Without God.

Here are some of them.

I’m an atheist pediatrician and I know numerous atheist physicians and nurses. My life is not empty. It is much more precious and beautiful to me now than it ever was when I had some imaginary friend and afterlife to believe in.

I give good care because I am smart, well educated, and because I care about my fellow man. It rewards me in THIS life – it’s not intended to impress some imaginary friend so that he may let me into his country club when I die. Which is the more noble motivation? And seriously, after having met and worked with several christians, I’m pretty proud to say I’m NOT one.

I became an atheist about 2 years ago, but the level of care I give my patients has not changed at all. Why? Because of such things as empathy, and compassion which come from within, not from any holy book.

My best friend is a nurse, AND an atheist. But she doesn’t go around telling people at work she is an atheist, for fear of being ostracized by fellow nurses like you.

I’m a proud US Army veteran, and was just accepted to graduate nursing school. I am also a proud atheist.

Yet another atheist nurse here who knows many, many other atheists in our line of work. Compassion does not require faith, and coping and renewal do not require prayer or church.

I have been an atheist my entire nursing career and despite your ignorant assumptions it has been very rewarding. Religion is not the sole basis for morality, empathy or compassion. I take pride in caring for my fellow humans and I do it without the crutch of religion.

There are atheists in fox holes and in the nursing field. My brother is an atheist in a foxhole and I am an atheist nurse. Perhaps you’ve never heard of humanism.

My sister in law is a nurse and atheist…she is even working on becoming a “humanist” chaplain so she can comfort those in need, without being religious.

There are many many atheists in honorable professions. We help other people because we want to. We serve with dignity, with respect, and with responsibility because that’s the right thing to do. We strive to better ourselves, and to treat all people equally. And no, we don’t do it because of religion.


Neil deGrasse Tyson Was Asked What the Most Astounding Fact About the Universe Was…

This was his answer. We are stardust.

Why Reason Rally Was A Success and An Inspiration

The Reason Rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. was an amazing, unforgettable, life-changing experience.

The Thinking Atheist made a video recap of his experience at Reason Rally. It’s a captivating overview of the emotions, the sights, the congenial atmosphere, and overwhelming awesomeness of the whole thing.

Everywhere I went I had this awareness that I was amongst friends. And if you’ll forgive the cliche, I felt that I was home.

For me, I was inspired by the words of Nate Phelps, the son of Westboro Baptist Church’s Fred Phelps, who talked about the sadness that he felt watching his family protest, and how it reminded him of the incredible amount of human potential that is wasted on religious dogma.

I was also inspired by people on Twitter and the support we received around the world. A tweet from Iran was made in solidarity with American atheists and in the hope that one day, there will be Reason Rallies in Tehran too.

I was inspired by everyday people who showed up. Students who flew from Wyoming. My fellow Chicagoans who drove ten hours to get to Washington. The family in D.C. who welcomed me personally to the city. My fellow interns from Foundation Beyond Belief. All the students. The surprising number of seniors I saw. The families. High school teenagers (like Jessica Ahlquist). It was an incredibly diverse crowd of everyday people, of all colors and backgrounds, from all corners of the country, wanting to take a stand for Reason.

Just look. Look at the picture above again. Stare at it, and think about each person’s life, each person’s journey of skepticism, doubt, and *maybe* religious upbringing. Think about why they came, why they thought they wanted to be part of something much much greater than themselves.

I was inspired by the passion, the dedication, the love and compassion that atheists showed for each other and the greater humanity that we care so much about.

In Defense of Atheism

Greta Christina recently published her book, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless. Although I have not read it yet, I think I have a good idea of what it is about because I have read her blog posts on these topics, as well as those of her atheist inferiors like Chris Stedman. She has been an inspiration not just to me but to atheist activists around the world, and her clear critique of religion is a sharp, nuanced, and on-the-money argument for why we need more direct criticism of religion, not less.

As open atheists, we’ve all heard the usual “Sh*t Religious People Say”. Especially for those involved in the wave of secular activism that is exploding in influence and numbers in this country and society, we’ve all heard complaints about supposed atheist anger, confrontation, activism, passion, etc. All the time we are told to “tone down our voices” and to “win over people in nonoffensive ways”.

Part of why Greta Christina’s message is so powerful is that she outrightly declares that our movement, which has been enormously successful so far, will be most impactful when we don’t censor ourselves, when we don’t “catch more flies with honey” (Who the hell wants flies anyways?), and when we channel real legitimate anger into a force that will change the world.

Atheists are not angry for the sake of it. We’re angry because we care deeply about this world, and all the inhabitants in it. “We aren’t angry because there’s something wrong with us. We’re angry because there’s something right with us.”

We’re angry because the untestability, unverifiability of religion is what makes it uniquely capable of grotesque immorality and unbelievable disconnect from reality. It’s what makes religion unlikely to promote open, liberal societies. It’s been 2000+ years, for heavens sake. We are sick of watching this world go by like this. We don’t want to see people suffer and wallow in delusion anymore. We want to see this end. 

And yes, we want to be respected, too. Rather than being criticized all the time for being angry or confrontational, we want society to actually listen to our arguments and criticisms about why religion is wrong. We want people to consider that maybe, just maybe, atheists have things to be legitimately angry about. We want people to consider that maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t with atheism or atheists, but with religion.

Of course, we want the same rights and treatment as religious people in this society. Whether that means opposing faith-based initiatives or taxing churches, standing up for people like Jessica Ahlquist or fighting to improve our status as the most distrusted minority in America, we will work hard to be respectful members of society. We will condemn hate and bigotry, but we will never ever compromise the truth.

We will walk hand-in-hand with our brothers and sisters to make this world a better place. We want to continue to fully and unconditionally support the goals of the LGBTQ and feminist community. Atheists want to organize in ways never done before, whether that means supporting closeted atheist clergy members, volunteering as a group at a homeless shelter, or raising millions of dollars for Doctors Without Border or for the fight against cancer. Instead of being bullied, threatened, or discriminated against, we want to be integral parts of YOUR community.

And yes, we want to be able to spread our values. We want to organize events like Reason Rally as a celebration of what we’ve accomplished so far. We want politicians to come to these events to acknowledge that we are citizens too, that the separation of church and state actually means something, and that we don’t just have a voice, but a vote. We want to feel and be empowered to navigate this world in loving and supportive communities, to know that we belong and that there are a lot more of us than the religious would like to acknowledge.

My defense of atheism is not about epistemology or science. That argument has gone and passed. It’s over. And it’s been over for a long time. My defense of atheism is about our collective humanist values. We love this world too.  And sometimes, just sometimes, and maybe, just maybe, we do a better job than most people give us credit for.

When Religion Claims to Tame Natural Impulses

Often one hears from the religious (and from Christians in particular) that religion tames the natural state of the human. The creationist pseudo-intellectual John Piper, for example, often talks about this in his oh-so-sophisticated “analysis” of atheism.

But why should we believe that the willingness to put rules and regulations on human freedom in the name of mystical ascetic values is not natural tooReligion, as described by Daniel Dennett, is entirely natural phenomenon. It is exactly what one expects from a species that, having evolved for billions of years, still have frontal lobes that are too small and hormonal glands that are too big. Even with our frontal lobes, we are host to countless cognitive biases that we are very seldom aware of and which seriously disrupt our ability to make reliable, accurate inferences from available evidence.

It is therefore no surprise that we, as natural people, have a long history filled with superstition and off-the-charts irrationality. We have and we continue to believe that witchcraft and demonic possessions are real things, and that we can kill witches or perform exorcisms. We have people that fall for Nigerian scams and arguments like Lewis’s Trilemma or TAG. We have a surprising number of highly educated people committing the conjunction fallacy. We have a very difficult time understanding Bayes’s Theorem.

The methods of skeptical inquiry that we take for granted, the methods of science, rationality, and logic are not natural. We are not born with nearly the kind of sharp rationality that we should have; rather, we are inescapably mammals full of delusions and beliefs that we don’t realize we have.

The secular idea of human freedom, of living in a pluralistic society with a separation of church and state, is also not natural. It is politically radical, religiously blasphemous, and chronologically modern. The history of humanity is filled with patterns of oppression, and much of this oppression comes from ideas about how we should control the apparent “natural” impulse of man. This need, this will to political and moral power, is as natural as the impulses themselves, and it leads to very bad places.

These ideas are a rejection of our supposed “natural” ideas of sex, of work, of family life. They’ve placed women in bondage and homosexuals in jail. They’ve made certain days of the week “holy” enough to not allow anyone to work (or sell alcohol). They continue to haunt us through taunts of, “we love the sinner, but hate the sin”. They seek to define what people can wear or how they should present themselves (often with extra regulations for a specific gender). They care about your family and your marriage and feel threatened when your family isn’t like theirs. They’ve warned against the dangers of skepticism, of free inquiry, of rational inferential methods. And they absolutely cannot stand atheism, because all people are born without a belief in God, and whatever people are naturally can’t possibly be good.

If religion wants to tame us as natural people, then it has to start at the fundamental level. It has to demonstrate why it is correct outside of the realms of “personal experience” and other fallacious methods of inquiry. It has to demonstrate, and not merely assert, why it is morally superior. Even after hundreds or thousands of years, there is still work that they haven’t even started.


Shelley Segal, The Atheist With An Amazing Voice

I’ve recently been captivated by a singer named Shelley Segal. An atheist and a secular humanist from Australia,  she has been intimately involved in the secular movement. She recently released “An Atheist Album”, a collection of seven songs reflecting her thoughts about religion, science, and the place of humanity in this universe.

Her songs are amazing contributions to the world of atheist music. In “Saved”, she asks us to question the religious beliefs and “moral” codes that we take for granted. Her song “Gratitude” is my favorite because it is deeply inspirational. Her description is as follows:

It makes the point that you do not need to be religious to appreciate and be grateful for the life you have. In the face of dissatisfaction, fear, loneliness and the rest of life’s hardships it is possible to be overwhelmed with gratitude and awe for existence without the perceived comforts of believing in a caring creator or everlasting life.

Finally, another notable piece is “Apocalyptic Love Song”, which is a tribute to Christopher Hitchens and the idea that we are a tiny speck in a gigantically awesome universe. This is really great stuff indeed.

It is altogether fitting, therefore, that she will be kicking off Reason Rally in Washington, DC on March 24. I hope to see you there, but in the meantime, let us enjoy this top-notch music!


What “Appreciating” Means

There’s no need to acknowledge a divine being in order to appreciate a sunset or draw inspiration from it.

Even so, we don’t need to get rid of “appreciation” in order to be good humanists either. We can be secular and have a healthy appreciation for nature and its wonders too without falling into the metaphysical pitfalls of religionism.  “Appreciation/Inspiration” needn’t be anathema to us as ideas or ways of approaching the world. They’re as legitimate to us as human beings as far more technical, hardline scientific concepts are, and ultimately more rewarding and relevant for us when compared to the alternative.

The “just-so” of a sunset (or any event in nature for that matter) is as much a cultural statement and a skewing of reality as the poet’s or mystic’s view of the world.  “Appreciation” allows us look past the veil of the “just-so” in the world, the so-called ‘humdrum’ or ‘ordinary’ nature of reality, and to glimpse the universe in ways which make our study of it a far richer one.

“Appreciation” doesn’t need to be ‘canned’ with metaphysics.  Doing so will only rob us of life’s real richness and meaning, whether or not we cut out the nonsense of god and religion.

Remarkable Time-Lapse Photography

Well, this is pretty self-explanatory.

The Lives She Saved, For The Humanity She Loved

Tina Strobos, famous woman of the Dutch resistance who sheltered more than 100 Jews during the Holocaust, recently passed away from cancer at the age of 91.

She risked her own life for total strangers. She found ingenious ways to forge travel documents. She let carpenters build hidden rooms in her own house. She was arrested multiple times and survived all the interrogations. Her house was searched multiple times. She didn’t fail.

“I never believed in God,” she said, “but I believed in the sacredness of life.”

So don’t ever ever ever let anyone tell you that we can’t be Good Without God.

So speak up. Be brave. Do amazing things.  Know that godless doesn’t mean voiceless, and atheist doesn’t mean heartless.

We Are In the Universe, and the Universe is in Us

It is the most intriguing story we know of: our existence here is dependent on extraordinary processes that happened on a nearly incomprehensible scale. The death of stars, the explosions, the unbelievable carnage that allowed our Universe to have such a rich chemistry eventually led to the existence of reproducing forms in a tiny, insignificant corner of some random galaxy.

Neil deGrasse Tyson explains this amazing scientific and true story about our shared history and our connection with everything around us. Let us keep asking questions and keep inquiring. That’s the spirit of science, and it’s an endeavor that will, from time to time, take your breath away.