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Website_ Episode #022 Changing Our Myths (feat. Marissa Alexa McCool)

On this episode, I speak with my friend and LGBTQ-rights activist and speaker Marissa Alexa McCool. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with three degrees in English, Anthropology, and Cinema & Media Studies. She hosts multiple podcasts, including The Inciting Incident Podcast, The Cis Are Getting Out of Hand, and We Too – Our Stories, and in the space of two years has authored six books with a seventh in the works, including two novels. She won a 2014 Keystone Award for Excellence in Journalism and co-founded The Trans Podcaster Visibility Initiative with Callie Wright in 2017. According to her website, Marissa “tends to blend her theatrical background and fiery passion for atheism, humanist and secular values, and intersectionality.”

Marissa and I discuss her personal journey as a trans woman bringing her experiences to bear on her activism in the secular humanist movement, including the epic story of how she personally confronted an evangelical hate pastor on the campus of the university she attended. We also discuss the power of myths and the often-subtle ways storytelling and narrative influences culture and society as well as individual lives and attitudes. Along the way we critically examine the concept of echo chambers, identity politics, intersectionality, and how to be a true ally to minority groups and marginalized individuals.

Links:

Marissa’s website: http://rismccool.com/

Marissa on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RisMcCool

The Inciting Incident Podcast: http://www.incitingincident.libsyn.com/

The Cis Are Getting Out of Hand podcast: https://www.spreaker.com/show/the-cis-are-getting-out-of-hand.

Marissa’s GoFundMe page for “Operation Science Vagina Recovery”: https://www.gofundme.com/3z5hf2

 

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at www.facebook.com/groups/aleapofdoubt.

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt.

Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, Chris Watson, and Kim Bojkovsky for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license. The editing was done by Rich Lyons of the “Living After Faith” podcast.

Check out our website: https://reasonrevolution.org.

Give us a like on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reasonrevolution.

Website_ EPISODE 13_ PASSIONATE ATHEISM

On this episode, I speak with Sally Hunt, atheist activist and author of the blog and YouTube channel The Passionate Atheist. According to her website, she “advocates for the separation of church & state, comprehensive sex education, sex-positivity, feminism, social, racial, & economic justice, and equal human rights for all.” She is the Public Relations Director of The Original Motto Project, which seeks to replace the divisive and discriminatory U.S. motto, “In God We Trust,” with the original – and rightful – U.S. motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” (meaning “From many, one”) or the first three words of the U.S. Constitution, “We the People.”

Sally and I discuss her public, peaceful opposition to the huge “In God We Trust” display emblazoned in the town hall meeting room of the Board of Aldermen in Wentzville, Missouri, and of her experience being cut off and kicked out of the meeting. We discuss her appearance on Fox News’ show “The Ingraham Angle” following that event, where she faced off with Ingraham and MO State Senator Bob Onder. We also talk about the failure of abstinence-only sex education and Sally’s campaign against Thrive’s “Best Choice” program, a curriculum written by Christians with an agenda to insert religious doctrine concerning sex into public school classrooms.

Links:

Sally Hunt’s website and blog: http://thepassionateatheist.com/author/sallyhunt/

Sally Hunt YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/sallymander44

Sally Hunt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sallybhunt

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/passionateatheist

Expose Thrive website: https://www.exposethrive.com/

Hemant Mehta, “Atheist Kicked Out of MO Town Meeting After Criticizing ‘In God We Trust’ Sign,” Friendly Atheist, February 16, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y7jlmchl.

The Original Motto Project’s video of Sally Hunt speaking at the Wentzville, MO council meeting opposing “In God We Trust”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=la7TJKVSwsM

Sally’s appearance on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzunZpw-jv4

Sally’s commentary and analysis on her Fox News appearance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYpfG506JmY

 

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at www.facebook.com/groups/aleapofdoubt/

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, and Chris Watson for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license. The editing was done by Rich Lyons of the “Living After Faith” podcast.

Website_ EPISODE 12_ ROBERT INGERSOLL AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF FREETHOUGHT

In this episode, we are diving into the history of the American freethought movement, specifically the “Golden Age of Freethought” from the late nineteenth-century to the beginning of WWI. The orator, essayist, and freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), who was widely known as the “Great Agnostic,” was a key figure during this period, and so we talk about his life and work at length. My guest for this episode is Justin Clark. A public and intellectual historian and graduate of Indiana University, Justin wrote a Master’s thesis on the life and work of Ingersoll and is the co-founder of ReasonRevolution.org, a website about secular humanism, atheism, skepticism, and free thought.

In our discussion, Justin and I covered a lot of ground, including: what differences and similarities exist between the Golden Age of Freethought in the American Midwest and the Enlightenment Deism of eighteenth-century American politics? In what sense can Ingersoll be considered a public intellectual of his time? How and why did the freethought movement in America fall apart by the turn of the twentieth century? Are we living in another Golden Age (or Silver Age) of Freethought in America today? We also tackle the importance and under-appreciation of synthesis and popularization of intellectual endeavors for the benefit of all members of the public.

Links:

Reason Revolution website: https://reasonrevolution.org/

Reason Revolution on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReasonOrg

Reason Revolution on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reasonrevolution

Reason Revolution on YouTube: https://tinyurl.com/ydc8fhe4

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_G._Ingersoll

 

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at https://www.facebook.com/groups/alopdiscussion/

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, and Chris Watson for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license.

Alcoholics Anonymous: the Science, Law, and Secular Alternatives by Patrick Hinsel

“12-Step recovery programs do more harm than good.”

This statement, though it can be passionately argued for or against, with emotional resolve and with anger, cannot even come close to being discredited by evidence. That is because good evidence regarding the efficacy of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous eludes us. Most estimates place it at approximately a 10% success rate, or equivalent to cold turkey.  In his recent book, The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, Lance Dodes, MD, a retired psychiatry professor from Harvard Medical School, measured AA’s retention rates along with studies on sobriety and rates of active involvement (attending meetings regularly and working the program) among AA members. Based on this research, he put AA’s actual success rate closer to 5-8 percent. By definition, AA is anonymous, so honest and reliable statistics are difficult to come by. But insurance companies pay for the 12-Steps. The medical community endorses AA, NA, and the 12-Steps.  Governments sanction AA and NA. Therefore AA is ubiquitous, to the exclusion of more reasonable alternatives.

Untold numbers of people find AA off-putting because of the religious aspect. Yet, AA enjoys a monopoly in the recovery community. Secular alternatives are not available all day, everyday, at multiple locations in every city and town in America like 12-Step meetings are. Secular meetings, even in large cities, may only meet once a week, if at all. So the overtly religious 12-Steps, unacceptable to so many, preclude countless individuals from getting the help they seek and need. They suffer for it, and their families suffer too. When we hear about a celebrity relapsing or a rock star overdosing, why should the assumption be that they failed to work their 12-Step program? It is more likely the 12-Step program failed them.

To be clear, AA is religious.

The courts say so, at least.[1] And then there is the fact that most meetings are held at Christian churches. Meetings begin and end with a Christian prayer, usually the Serenity Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer. And seven of the 12-Steps deal with God, Higher Power, Prayer, and Spiritual Awakening. Only five do not:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These Steps are read at the beginning of every meeting, along with statements like, “There is One who has All power, that One is God. May you find Him now!” and, “Probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism…God could and would if He were sought.”[2]

The courts have returned their verdict as well. Between 1996 and 2007, five high-level US courts (three federal circuit courts and two state supreme courts) each ruled on this issue. AA is religious and therefore the State cannot force people to go. Because the cases involved the Establishment Clause, they reached the highest level of judiciary scrutiny, only one level below the US Supreme Court.

While AA and its members may deny that it is grounded in religion, these high court rulings clearly explain that when newcomers are told that they should accept the existence of God as a requirement for continued sobriety, and tell them to seek their God through prayer, confess all wrongdoings to Him, and ask Him for removal of shortcomings, and then expect the newcomer to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the end of meetings, the fellowship is indeed practicing “religion.”

Separation of Church and State

Bill W. and Dr. Bob are the Patriarchs of AA, dating back to the program’s Judeo-Christian roots in the 1930s. With other AA members, they were able to influence medical decision makers well into the 1950s and 60s and made presentations to Congress and Medical Societies that had clout at the time. Physiologist E. M. Jellinek collaborated with early AA member Marty Mann, and published the results of a survey mailed to 1,600 AA members. Only 158 were returned. Jellinek and Mann culled 45 that had been improperly completed and another 15 filled out by women, whose responses were so unlike the men’s that they risked confounding the results. From this small sample (98 men) Jellinek drew sweeping conclusions, and his “medical literature” became AA gospel, leading to the medical community’s eventual acceptance of the 12-Steps as the Gold Standard method of treating addiction.[3] With Medicine’s blessing, government and insurance companies began paying for 12-Step based treatment, opening the door for religion and removing the wall between church and state.

“You’re in terrible shape, you need to get yourself to an AA meeting”.

AA manipulates people when they are at their most vulnerable, desperately seeking guidance. Even agnostics and atheists go to AA looking for help in early recovery, because they cannot find any alternatives to the 12-Steps in their area. Some manage to get sober in spite of God, not because of Him. Criminals, including pedophiles and sex offenders, anonymously mix into the groups. Fragile newcomers are easy prey. The manipulation even extends to a “13th Step”, in which male AA members with some clean-time in the program will befriend a female newcomer, ostensibly to offer guidance and support. But in reality the goal is to sexually exploit, or “13th Step”, the female newcomer.[4]

Secular Alternatives to AA and 12-Step Programs

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If this is true, why would repeated returns to the 12-Steps be the solution to repeated relapses? It stands to reason that people have better treatment outcomes when they’re offered choices and not coerced to accept one thing or another. In a 2012 report on addiction treatment in the U.S. by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia, researchers concluded: “Evidence clearly demonstrates that a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment typically is a recipe for failure.” In her book Inside Rehab, Anne M. Fletcher illustrates a science based perspective on recovery and takes a thorough look at the state of affairs of addiction treatment in the US. To be fair, she acknowledges 12-Steps can be helpful for those who willingly pursue it. But other options do exist. Unfortunately, most in the recovery community are unaware or unfamiliar with secular options due to the glaring eclipse that is the 12-Steps.

Refuge Recovery is a mindfulness based recovery program designed by Noah Levine in California. This program is becoming more popular across the US. It emphasizes meditation and Buddhist philosophy, practicing compassion and empathy in the day to day lives of members. In-person group meetings create a social community and support network. Like the other secular groups listed here, Refuge Recovery welcomes people looking to address all spectrums of addiction, including alcohol, food, sex, opioids, meth, and process addictions. There is no mention of any God or Gods as a part of Refuge Recovery. It also has a robust online community.

LifeRing Secular Recovery is an abstinence-based, worldwide network of individuals seeking to live in recovery from addiction to alcohol or to other non-medically indicated drugs.

SMART recovery is science based, and it is probably the largest 12-Step alternative today, world wide. It teaches self-help and common sense with a goal of empowerment.  Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) techniques are used to achieve positive, lasting changes in the lives of its members.

SMART Recovery evolves as scientific knowledge of addiction evolves. It welcomes change when there is an improvement. By contrast, The Big Book of AA was written in the1930s and the AA community adamantly resists changing or adapting it. The Big Book’s chapter “To Wives” reflects an overtly sexist worldview that is increasingly considered unacceptable in modern times. Chapter 4, the “Chapter to the Agnostic” is not an argument of persuasion, it is an arrogant line in the sand, “There either is a God, or there isn’t”  (the implied answer is that there is, just one).  SMART Recovery has wider popularity in Europe than in America right now. Also, an interesting difference in Europe is AA meetings traditionally do not say the Lord’s prayer, and the religious aspects are toned down in AA meetings compared to the USA.

SMART meetings are for all addictions and are facilitated by a moderator experienced with cognitive behavioral techniques and who has significant clean time. In-person meetings can be hard to find in most American cities. For the techniques involved, on-line and chat based meetings are not usually ideal.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is a nonprofit network of autonomous, non-professional local groups, dedicated solely to helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety from alcohol and drug addiction, food addiction and more.

Women for Sobriety A non-profit organization of women, for women, dedicated to helping women discover a happy New Life in recovery from Substance Use Disorders. It encourages emotional and spiritual growth and is endorsed by the American Humanist Association as a secular or religious-neutral option for recovery. WFS has certified moderators and chat leaders leading mutual support groups online and in person, as well as phone volunteers available for one-on-one support. Any woman seeking an abstinent New Life is welcome to join WFS.

Agnostic AA is a website for agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers who are involved with AA but desire a non-religious, safe place to engage in fellowship. It is a great location to find recovery literature, materials, and books that are secular in nature.

Pharmacotherapy is an underutilized, evidence-based option to treat addiction. Experienced  physicians, trained in addiction medicine, help alcohol dependent patients with prescriptions like Topamax (topiramate) and Antabuse (disulfiram). Naltrexone (vivitrol) has shown efficacy in the treatment of opioid maintenance of sobriety, as well as alcohol long term sobriety. A wide spectrum of treatment options exist, depending on the individual and the substance(s) to which they are addicted. The difficulty is finding physicians who are able to handle this, and getting the treatment covered. The American Medical Association recently estimated that out of nearly 1 million doctors in the United States, only 582 identified themselves as addiction specialists.

Therapy.  Counsellors experienced in the treatment of addiction offer hope to those with the means to access this type of care. Unfortunately, in many instances, insurance does not cover mental health treatment like this, or patients find the cost beyond their means. The Secular Therapy Project arose to help secular individuals having a hard time matching with a counsellor in a faith based world. Many offer sessions via confidential Skype-type arrangements with special software. See SecularTherapy.org as an example.

All of these secular groups will help you if you are interested in starting a new group in your area. The costs of attending these groups are the same as the cost of AA:  free or donation only.

The Dalai Lama says, to paraphrase, “Listen to what I say, and keep what you want. If something I say is helpful, great. If something I say doesn’t fit with your experience, disregard it.” The secular recovery programs listed above are all in keeping with this line of reasoning. They don’t require faith. AA has a motto, “Take what you want, and leave the rest.” Many people in AA do modify their program to their personalities and it works for them. But AA and the Big Book’s statements about God are unequivocal. Some nonbelievers may be able to overlook this for a while and get sober. Countless others are not comfortable with this. They cannot square the fabrication of a “God” in which they don’t believe with a “program of rigorous honesty,” so they either never attend AA, or they cut their losses. They end up aborting the misadventure of AA, and go on suffering while they search for that elusive secular alternative.

Progress 

Just in the past couple of years, the American Board of Family Medicine began making changes to its board exam questions, phrasing them to better reflect secular options in recovery. Instead of the answer being simply “AA,” a broader option was given, to the effect of “a recovery meeting,” or “an AA or secular recovery meeting.”  The label “Person in long term recovery from alcohol” is emerging to replace “Alcoholic.”  It’s slow progress, beginning in academic medicine. Physicians practicing in the real world lag behind. Insurance and politicians will eventually begin to follow. It is a step in the right direction.

But still, religion permeates. Can you imagine a world in which a doctor says,“You have a primary brain disorder. It’s called Parkinson’s. You need to get on your knees and pray to God. That’ll be $200.” We wouldn’t accept this for Parkinson’s. Why on Earth do we accept this for the most common primary brain disorder, addiction?[5]

No doubt there is benefit to be found in group solidarity, working through a common struggle. It is hard to dispute the upside of support from like-minded individuals who have been through similar circumstances and can offer general advice and guidance. It is comforting to have a place to go where others believe the same as you do and want the best for you. It is helpful to have an old, well established book to refer to in times of doubt. It is reassuring to hear familiar sayings and chants at every gathering. What does this sound like? It sounds like a church. It reflects a religion because that’s what it is. And like religion, it is comforting and reassuring for its adherents. But that does not mean its faith claims are true, and it doesn’t make the claims of AA/12-Steps superior “efficacy” true either. In the words of the late Stephen Hawking, “It is not necessary to invoke God.” He was speaking on other things, but the words ring true in addiction treatment as well. Bringing God into it just complicates things and slows progress. Bill W. was right about one thing, though, when he said, “We are engaged upon a life-and-death errand.” The recovery community deserves better than faith healing.

 


 

[1] See Griffin v. Coughlin (1996); Kerr v. Farrey (1996); Arnold & Evans v. Tennessee Board of Paroles (1997); Warner v. Orange County Dept. of Probation (1999); and Inouye v. Kemna (2007).

[2] https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-10_howitworks.pdf

[3] http://www.a-1associates.com/aa/testimony.htm

[4] http://www.the13thstepfilm.com

[5] https://www.asam.org/resources/definition-of-addiction

Website_ EPISODE 11_ FROM RELIGIOUS CULT MEMBER TO ATHEIST ACTIVIST

In this episode, I dive into the topic of religious exclusivity and cult-like doctrines. My special guest is Joseph Magestro, author of the book Ask an Atheist: What You Should Know When Discussing God and Religion. In this book, Joe describes himself as “just an average person – your average atheist” who enjoys “discussing religion with numerous individuals and being a resource for anyone who wishes to open their mind to something new.” But Joe’s backstory is not so average, and he has a fascinating personal story to tell. When Joe was a Christian believer, he was involved in Iglesia ni Cristo (or “Church of Christ”), a fundamentalist, cult-like Christian church whose members claim to be exclusively the only true Christians. The church has a small presence in the US and elsewhere, but they are historically and currently based in the Philippines, where it was founded in 1914 by Felix Malano.

In my discussion with Joe on this episode, we discuss what life is like inside the church, how he became involved with it initially, some of the scandals and controversies that have put the church in the news, and what chain of events and thought processes led him to abandon the church and abandon religious belief altogether to become the atheist activist he is today.

Links:

Joe Magestro’s book “Ask an Atheist: What You Should Know When Discussing God & Religion”: https://tinyurl.com/yacc94f5

Milwaukee Humanists on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MKEHumanists/

Joe Magestro on the “Real Life Beyond Faith” podcast: https://reallifebeyondfaith.podbean.com/e/ep-25-joe-magestro-ex-cult-member/

Robert R. Reed, “The Iglesia ni Cristo, 1914-2000: From Obscure Philippine Faith to Global Belief System,” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde(Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania) 157, no. 3 (2001): 561-608. https://tinyurl.com/yd6h8n3t.

Eric Rankin, “Philippines-based church has ‘means and motivation’ to kill refugee if returned: IRB,” CBC News, January 25, 2018,  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/refugee-philippines-church-lowell-menorca-1.4502614

ABS-CBN News, “Timeline: Iglesia ni Cristo in Crisis,” http://news.abs-cbn.com/nation/08/28/15/timeline-iglesia-ni-cristo-crisis.

INC Kids’ music video “Always Submit to the Church Administration,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nmYOQIidqo

 

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at https://www.facebook.com/groups/alopdiscussion/

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, and Chris Watson for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license.

Recently I wrote on how I was disappointed by the Matt Dillahunty and Jordan Peterson dialogue produced by Pangburn Philosophy. Although I still remain fundamentally disappointed by it, a few things have been clarified for me by Matt Dillahunty’s reflections on the discussion.

The thing that made the discussion so interesting was that Matt Dillahunty was not interested in debating or strawmanning Peterson. His goal, and I take him at his word, was to have a good conversation, be open and honest, seek clarification, and see where they agree and disagree. He wasn’t even the slightest bit disappointed in the dialogue, thinking he succeeded on many fronts. Maybe so. I just want to clarify a few open questions Dillahunty has concerning Peterson’s positions. Although it is quite odd Dillahunty did so little research on Peterson before the discussion, not even aware, in this recent video, of Peterson’s decades-long work as a clinician, the interchange seemed to have happened in good faith, and I have faith that this conversation can now move forward.

Language Use, the True, and the Real

One issue Dillahunty has with Peterson is he thinks people who no longer believe in God but still find religious language useful need to say they’re using religious language idiosyncratically, because they’re not talking about the God people believe in, but the human condition, and the kinds of Gods people invent to cope with that. This point on the face of it appears to be about simply being clear. In Peterson’s view, this is is actually indicative of Dillahunty’s primarily Enlightenment over Darwinian influences.[1] For Peterson, you can’t be a post-Enlightenment rationalist thinker and a Darwinian at the same time because what the latter explicitly conceptualizes the former ignores; that is, you can structure your world according to different presuppositions, and different systems of thought have different purposes. Furthermore, from his Darwinism, Peterson concludes that what is “real” subjectively and objectively, though they may be distinguished for analytical purposes, cannot be ultimately separated in reality. They have amorphous and porous borders, and this point seems lost on the post-Enlightenment thinkers.

Peterson thinks American pragmatists figured this out. The pragmatic concept of truth articulates the meaning of truth as that which works. As a result, the only kind of knowledge we can have about our environment is knowledge that is sufficient: knowledge that allows us to survive. To abstract ideas from survival value and assume that facts as they pertain to belief about morality, the world, and ourselves exist in and of themselves, separate from how they serve or diminish life, is suspect for Peterson. The assumption of post-Enlightenment thinkers is that the knowledge gained by this reduction doesn’t diminish the possibility for genuine human flourishing. Peterson says, “I think it’s dangerous to consider truth independent of its effect upon us.”[2]

This brings us to the question of the real and the true. Peterson takes what he calls a Darwinian position on the question of the real. The real is that which is consistent and endures across time. This is why Peterson is so fixated on religious myths. Dominance and competence hierarchies are some of the oldest evolutionary structures: over 300 million years old, older than trees. The patterns that constituted the competence hierarchy is the place from which ethics derives. What religious myth does is distill the grammar of competence hierarchies. Therefore to know the meaning of religious belief is to understand the millenia long solution to the problem of suffering and chaos, and this, Peterson believes, grounds our ethics.[3]

The question of what is real is actually connected to the question of the true because what is true is what is real, and what is real serves life. This is Peterson’s basic Darwinian position. Some things are only true for one thing, some things are true for ten things. Some are true for thousands of things. And that truth which is more pervasive and most enduring is the most true. Because the true and the real are connected in the notion of that which serves life, and in Peterson’s estimation, when we try to reduce the truth to just facts we have left out the thing that connects truth to reality. It’s not correspondence, and it’s not coherence. It’s life.

Are True Atheists Murderers?

One idea that got online atheist communities in an uproar is a comment Peterson made about nobody being a true atheist. Dillahunty seemed to have taken great offense at this, and perhaps rightfully so, for Dillahunty certainly doesn’t believe in a supernatural being, and he can ground morality in self-interest, of all things. Why do we need a god to be good?

The problem is Peterson isn’t actually taking the typical Christian apologist position on this issue. He’s rather concerned about the consequences of what would happen if the   of our culture is lost.[4] For Peterson, the person who lives after this event is the true atheist. People in the west who call themselves “atheists” do not in fact live after this event, for atheists of the west still live within the metaphysical substrate established by the Christian  myth. Atheists of the west today are different, for instance, from atheists in Athens. Lack of belief is where their commonalities begin and end, for atheists before the west without the Christian mythical substructure did not have a belief in the inherent dignity of individuals, the value of self-interest, natural law (which grounded the first human rights language), and the like. Although, for instance, somebody like Socrates could have argued for natural law, and so it would seem the philosophers of Athens were in effect taking a modern stance on morality, they still believed that the ordering of nature, with its natural inequality, made women and slaves naturally inferior to citizens who could participate in the polity.[5]

Another way to conceptualize Peterson’s idea is in the way Joseph Campbell did in the popular Myths To Live By. In chapter four, “The Separation of East and West,” he begins

“It is not easy for Westerners to realize that the ideas recently developed in the West of the individual, his self-hood, his rights, and his freedom, have no meaning whatsoever in the Orient. They had no meaning for primitive man. They would have meant nothing to the peoples of the early Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, or Indian civilizations. They are, in fact, repugnant to the ideals, the aims and orders of life, of most of the peoples of this earth. And yet—and here is my second point—they are the truly great ‘new thing’ that we do indeed represent to the world and that constitutes our Occidental revelation of a properly human spiritual ideal, true to the highest potentiality of our species.”[6]

He goes on to trace the history of cultures, to show that archaic civilizations operated according to a belief in a great cosmic law which left no room for the individual, and where one’s birth determined who one is, what one is to be, and what one can think. Indeed, strikingly Campbell points out that the “Sanskrit verb ‘to be’ is sati…and refers to the character of the devout Hindu wife immolating herself on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre.”

But the west (what he calls the “occident”) is different from the orient, and it is because of the myths it told. The God who judged an entire world for their sins and sent a flood to destroy them as a consequence implies that humans are not just cogs in a predestined universal machine. Especially in the Old Testament, as we see in Job,

“the focus of concern is the individual, who is born but once, lives but once, and is distinct in his willing, his thinking, and his doing from every other; in the whole great Orient of India, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan the living entity is [rather] understood to be an immaterial transmigrant that puts on bodies and puts them off. You are not your body. You are not your ego. You are to think of these as delusory.”[7]

So what does this have to do with atheism in the west and, particularly, Dillahunty’s argument that from self interest he can establish a moral system that isn’t contingent on religion? Well, rationality is a recent invention, and Peterson thinks our concepts are abstractions from the myths we’ve told for millenia. This is why, for instance, the west is individualistic, democratic, tending to understanding justice in terms of liberty, whereas the east is susceptible to collectivism, communism, tending to understand justice in terms of social expectations. Our very sense that self interest is a viable candidate for moral belief in the first place is an outgrowth of the Christian myth.

This leads us back to the previous section: as Peterson said in the discussion, it is difficult to draw a bright line between what is real and what is useful. When you strip subjectivity from the world at the beginning of the analysis of the human condition or the world, Peterson thinks it creates two possible pathologies: totalitarianism and nihilism; neither of which fundamentally value life because they’ve separated vitality from mechanism, breath from logic.

The strange thing about Dillahunty’s reflections is that he’s actually much closer to Peterson than it appears in Pangburn’s video. As I have written, Peterson thinks religion has evolved by Darwinian mechanisms, religious myths provide for us the grammar of stories, and, because they rely on competence hierarchies, these stories set the background evolutionary setting to which we’ve adapted as a species, and the conceptual grounds from which our concepts of the individual derived. There is nothing supernaturalist about this position and, in fact, it’s a denial of special revelation, miracles, and divine inspiration altogether, at least, if these concepts are employed at all, they’re stripped of their traditional content. I would like to see Dillahunty and Peterson discuss these issues more fully, and I think for this to happen we have to get beyond, as I’ve said, the full stop question as to the existence of God. With or without God, how does religion affect our modern landscape? With or without God, what does the language of myth provide that, say, pure-hard logic can’t (if anything at all)? I’m hopeful the conversation might turn more interesting on these points, given that it appears both Dillahunty and Peterson had a good faith dialogue last time. Next time we might be in for something special.

 


 

[1] See Peterson’s discussion on this difference in “04 – Religion, Myth, Science, Truth.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] See much more in “Why Tell the Truth: On the Curious Notions of Jordan B. Peterson.”

[4] See much more in the article above. The logic of “mythical substrate” is basically that our ideas and rationalities derive from our behaviors which are abstracted into myths which are further abstracted into concepts. The loss of the mythical substrate is essentially the loss of the behaviors that give rise to it.

[5] See Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism for a much fuller picture of what the claim that the west was founded on both Jerusalem and Athens (i.e., Christianity) means. Note that this is not a normative judgment, entailing that now all our values must revert back to some Christian theology to be grounded. It’s simply a description of history, and the acceptance of value derived from Christian thought doesn’t entail the acceptance of Christianity to be intelligible today.

[6] Joseph Campbell, Myths To Live By, 61.

[7] Ibid., 69.

 

The Congressional Freethought Caucus

Something truly momentous  happened this week. On April 30, California representatives Jared Huffman and Jerry McNerney along with Maryland’s Jamie Raskin and Michigan’s Dan Kildee officially announced the creation of a Congressional Freethought Caucus. Spearheaded by the American Humanist Association and the Center for Freethought Equality, the Congressional Freethought Caucus will “promote public policy formed on the basis of reason, science, and moral values; protect the secular character of our government by adhering to the strict Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state; oppose discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, seekers, and nonreligious persons; champion the value of freedom of thought and conscience worldwide; and provide a forum for members of Congress to discuss their moral frameworks, ethical values, and personal religious journeys.” This couldn’t have come at a better time. With around a quarter of Americans now identifying as religiously unaffiliated and 7% openly identifying as atheist, secular and humanistic perspectives will now get a larger voice in Congress.

Congressman Jared Huffman, who recently came out as a secular humanist, noted his excitement about the caucus and hopes it will “spark an open dialogue about science and reason-based policy solutions, and the importance of defending the secular character of our government.” Congressman Jamie Raskin, another open humanist, highlighted the “historic” nature of this event and its ties to the founders:

Two-and-a-half centuries after the Founders of our country separated church and state and guaranteed the individual freedoms of thought, conscience, speech and worship, it is a high honor to be a co-founder and member of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, which is organizing to defend these principles and values against continuing attack. We face a constant undertow in Congress of dangerous efforts to stifle science and promote official religious dogma and orthodoxy. Our job is to remind Congress of the kind of Enlightenment Republic that Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Tom Paine, Ben Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were fighting for and to seek a democracy that protects both the rights of individual conscience and worship and the central role of reason, science and morality in the making of public policy.

Representative Jerry McNerney, who is also a scientist and mathematician, reiterated the Caucus’s philosophy and goals. “As co-founder of the Freethought Caucus, I believe strongly in the separation of church and state, and as a scientist, I understand clearly the need to bring rational decision-making to Congress for the good of our nation,” said Rep. McNerney. Huffman and Raskin will serve as the co-chairs for the caucus.

This step also pushes non-theist and humanistic perspectives more to the forefront of our politics. As Ron Millar of the Center for Freethought Equality put it, “this caucus will help end discrimination against nontheist candidates and elected officials, allow candidates and elected officials to be authentic about their religious beliefs, and encourage atheist, agnostic, and humanists to run for political office.” With the ever-growing creep of theocracy into our federal government after the election of Donald Trump, the Freethought Caucus is exactly the kind of move we should take as a nation. Huffman reiterated this in his statements on Monday: “There currently is no forum focused on these important issues, and with this Administration and certain members of Congress constantly working to erode the separation of church and state, this new caucus is both important and timely.”

Secular leaders all across the country also celebrated this formation. “We are delighted at the formation of a freethought caucus in Congress,” Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement, “Finally, the significant portion of Americans who are not religious will have representation in Congress.” Harvard cognitive psychologist and FFRF honorary President Steven Pinker also praised the move, calling it a “historic achievement” on Twitter. Roy Speckhardt, the executive director of the American Humanist Association, agrees. “The very existence of this Congressional caucus for freethinkers and humanists is a marker of how far the movement for secular and nontheist equality has come. This significant step is also a new beginning for our country as both religious and non-religious leaders work to better the nation,” he said in a press release.

As for myself, I’m so excited about this event. The Freethought Caucus can become such an effective advocacy forum for secular and humanistic perspectives. I also appreciate their willingness to represent others who may not be as secular as them. Their dedication to the separation of church and state, as well as freedom of conscience, speaks to how they want to build bridges with other demographic groups while fighting for reason and science-based public policy. I think most people, non-religious and religious, can get behind that. Nearly 130 years since the founding of the nation’s first freethought organizations, the National Liberal League and the American Secular Union, and less than a century removed from the creation of the American Humanist Association, we now have a Caucus who will represent us in Congress. That’s definitely an achievement for the history books.

Website_ EPISODE 5_ LEAVING MORMONISM

“Why would Coca-Cola have a better marketing strategy than God?” ~ Ami

In this episode I am joined by Ami, one of the hosts of the Secular Souppodcast, as she shares her story of growing up in the Mormon church and what eventually prompted her to question Mormonism and religion in general and quietly take leave of that faith tradition.

We talked about how Mormonism views women in the church, the racist beliefs written into Mormon doctrine, the pseudoscientific and magical worldview of Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith, the bizarre cosmology of the religion, family life and civic habits of Mormonism’s members, the secret “sacred temple” initiation rites, and the submarines featured in the Book of Mormon (yes, you read that right), and why Coca-Cola has a better marketing strategy than God.

Relevant links:

Secular Soup podcast: https://www.spreaker.com/show/secular-soup

Recommended reading

Paul Kurtz, The Transcendental Temptation (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013; first published in 1986), chapter 10. [https://tinyurl.com/y7koo435]

Ernest Taves, Trouble Enough: Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1984). [https://tinyurl.com/y9gns7s8]

 

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at https://www.facebook.com/groups/alopdiscussion/

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg and Jeanne Ikerd for being my first two patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license. Audio edited by Callie Wright of The Gaytheist Manifesto podcast and Answer Media LLC.

Website_ EPISODE 4_ MY JOURNEY FROM CHRISTIANITY TO ATHEISM

In this episode, I perform a reading of an autobiographical essay I wrote a just a little over a year ago on my blog, Skeptical Inquests. This essay is entitled, “I Was a Teenage Apologist: My Journey from Christianity to Atheism.” As the title suggests, this essay tells the story of my deconversion; how I went from devout Christian believer and aspiring “defender of the faith” to the godless heathen and skeptic of the supernatural that I am today.

Thanks to Jeanne Ikerd, “Amy with a Why” (of the Secular Soup podcast), Charone Frankel (of the Habeas Humor podcast), and Lydia Finch for contributing audio recordings of themselves reading various quotes that I included in my essay from which I’m reading.

Jeanne reads the selection of flat earth Bible verses, Amy reads the James Randi quote about UFOs, Charone reads a passage from Victor Stenger’s 2011 book “The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning,” and Lydia reads a passage from my favorite poem, James Thomson’s “The City of Dreadful Night.”

Relevant Links

My guest spot on Justin Clark’s podcast Reason Revolution: https://reasonrevolution.org/reason-revolution-episode-33-reviewing-fire-and-fury/

My essay “I Was a Teenage Apologist: My Journey from Christianity to Atheism”: http://trollingwithlogic.com/skeptical-inquests/2017/01/20/i-was-a-teenage-apologist-my-journey-from-christianity-to-atheism/

William Lane Craig vs. Alex Rosenberg, “Is Faith in God Reasonable?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBTPH51-FoU

James Randi’s book “Flim-Flam!”: https://www.amazon.com/Flim-Flam-Psychics-Unicorns-Other-Delusions/dp/0879751983

Victor J. Stenger’s book “The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning”: https://www.amazon.com/Fallacy-Fine-Tuning-Why-Universe-Designed/dp/1616144432

Lawrence Krauss’ lecture “A Universe from Nothing” (Atheist Alliance International 2009): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

The Atheist Experience: http://www.atheist-experience.com/

James Thomson’s 1874 poem “The City of Dreadful Night”: http://emotionalliteracyeducation.com/classic_books_online/ctdnt10.htm

Carl Sagan, “Does Truth Matter? Science, Pseudoscience, and Civilization,” Skeptical Inquirer 20, no. 2 (March/April 1996): https://www.csicop.org/si/show/does_truth_matter_science_pseudoscience_and_civilization

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg and Jeanne Ikerd for being my first two patrons!

Follow the official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/leapofdoubtpodcast/

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheNatheist

 

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license.

What is Atheism by Tylor Lovins

With the continued development of secularism, the term “atheist” is becoming more common. More and more people are talking about “atheism,” but what is it, exactly? A tension exists between the method this kind of question brings to bear in its search for an answer, and the reality—that there are people who are atheists—it attempts to explore.

The method assumes atheism is something like a religion. It is interesting the extent to which this method pervades even the secular community, yielding a conclusion uncontested by nearly anyone: atheism is lack of belief in God or gods. We are told atheism is about belief, just like a religion.

Atheism, empirically speaking, signifies the status that a certain belief holds in the lives of certain people. This, so far, is rather banal. Although many confusions follow this method, such as when theists ask atheists for reasons for their atheism, it is perhaps conceivable that atheism is an option, like a commodity, in the marketplace of ideas. This assumption has yet to be supported, yet it is seemingly believed by all. Atheists argue for atheism like Christians argue for Christianity. Is this a case of mistaken identity? Is atheism something like Christianity?

Let us explore this question, not from the assumption that atheism is a belief that atheists have, but that atheism exists because there are atheists. Let us not assume an equivocation of function between atheism and religion and simply pose the question: why are there atheists?

It is no doubt true that there are some atheists who were once theists. Disenchanted of belief in God or gods by experiences of tragedy, power struggles in religious institutions, perceptions of disparities between scientific and religious claims, and the like, some atheists are reactions to religious institutions and beliefs. This seems where the concept of atheism originated: as the status of a person who refused the beliefs of larger society. Atheism, in this sense, is disbelief. This is a refusal to believe either based on reason, intuition, or emotion. There are many in the ranks of the atheists who would identify with this kind of atheism. This is atheism as anti-theism. These atheists would give reasons for unbelief, and atheism, here, might be accounted as something like a one-eyed religion, in that it develops a totalizing system of beliefs about God or gods, nature, and humankind, without the rituals and community associated with these ideas in religion.

Another kind of atheism has emerged in the modern world. One where religion wasn’t received as a candidate for belief in the first place. In this sense, atheists aren’t those who refuse religious beliefs and institutions, but those who never considered them as meaningful options. It’s not that atheists have acquired disbelief, it’s more accurate to say that the concept of God or gods holds no meaning for atheists. It bears no weight on their day-to-day lives. The world is thought about and lived in without God or gods. This kind of atheism resembles religion in no conceivable way. Atheism, here, isn’t a status of belief, because it doesn’t occur to the secular atheist to refuse God or gods: what would it mean to refuse? There are no questions, here, of the existence of God or gods for it is unclear what such “existence” would entail. A product of a world handed down by science and secularism, atheism in this sense indicates the meaninglessness of religious belief.

As briefly outlined above, there are generally two reasons why there are atheists. There are atheists because of disenchantment, and there are atheists because of secularism. The common definition and understanding of atheism presupposes the first kind of atheist, the anti-theist, as the torchbearer for atheism. This is an oversight. A new kind of atheism has emerged as a result of secularism, one where religious traditions do not make sense in the first place. The secular atheist lives to promote science, humanism, secularism, among others; that is to say, lives to promote and develop positive options for living in a world where religion doesn’t make sense. Anti-theists, on the other hand, while they may promote positive options, also focus on diminishing the status of religious beliefs: actively promote refusal of religion.

As a result of secular atheist influence, atheism may in the future be understood not for its nonreligious point of view but for its secular humanist viewpoint. Whether one population of atheists will give way to the other eventually, it appears that secular atheists are here to stay, and with them, the nature of atheism itself has changed: no longer a mere refusal of what came before, but an openness to what is to come.

 


 

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

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