Saturday, July 14, 2007

I'm proud of myself :)

I went to Bernhiem Forest today to enjoy some of the nice weather and get some ideas for the 'Dragonflies and Damselflies' theme for the exhibit I'm putting together.
While I was there I meet up with a couple friends who are also in the Naturalist-In-Training program and we went on an impromptu hike and were going around identifying trees and that sort of thing. When we were done we hung around for a while and just chatted at the trail head and one of them asked me what the symbol on my necklace was. It was my American Atheist necklace and for half a moment I wondered what to say, but then decided to just be straight forward about it. I told them that it is the symbol for American Atheists and then explained the iconography of the symbol (see: I was a bit worried for a moment how they would react--as I didn't really feel like fielding questions about why I don't believe in god at the moment. But as it turned out we pretty much just went on to the next topic after I told them. I had a long and good conversation about belief and experience with one guy who turned out to be a relatively open-minded and enlightened Christian. So all-in-all it was a good experience.

I'm just proud to say that I'm finally getting to be bolder about telling people about my symbol for Atheism when they ask me. This was a big step, as I normally sidestepped the question when it came right down to it. I'm getting braver.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A subtle difficulty with being an atheist

I've had an epiphany about something. I just got my copy of God is not Great in the mail yesterday and started reading it that night. And I've noticed that in all the latest books on atheism (The End of Faith, The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, Breaking the Spell) the authors come to their topics with their own styles, their own attitudes, and their own vast diversity of knowledge and experience. Indeed, I can't read any of Dawkin's or Harris's, or Hitchen's or Dennett's books without being enriched by a lot of knowledge and wonder that go beyond merely arguing that god doesn't exist. I'm already convinced of that and I don't need to constantly reinforce it like I had to do with my faith when I was a Christian. But, to get to the point, while I was reading God is not Great last night I realized a difficulty I'd always had in being an atheist even though I never realized it.

A lack of atheist role models.

It seems perfectly obvious now. I grew up with a notion of how atheists are. Atheists are supposed to be angry at God, rebellious, selfish sinners--at least this is the image I grew up with. And I knew no atheists personally, at least no one who admitted to it. No wonder that for a long time after I realized that I didn't believe in god, I'd had trouble with calling myself an Atheist. Now I've finally been exposed to so many different and rich images of what it means to be an Atheist. It is perfectly right and consistent for an Atheist to be ethical and caring and smart. Even tolerant and tactful and diplomatic. And, of course, smart and rational. I've finally recognized this void in my former life--thanks to all of my role models out there. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Declaration of Independence

Happy Forth of July! I was inspired this morning to go online and find the Declaration of Independence. I've lived and been educated in this country for a whole 27 years now, and just realized that I don't think I've ever actually read this foundational document. I've just heard the main two quotes from it.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Now I hear this was a new thing: A government "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed", not from the authority of a god. Even if it contains an appeal to "Nature and Nature's God" the God of the Deists, of course, it does not claim that it's authority comes from him. But that makes sense, given that all the arguments in the document are based on reason, not on faith or some claim to divine revelation. Quite the departure from the usual European ways at the time. Amazing.

And there is not even the slightest mention of Jesus Christ, not even in passing. I think it bears saying that this concept of the governing power coming from the the governed is in contrast, if not complete contradiction, to what is said in the Bible regarding the "governing authorities". As to the people who say the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document because it has the three letter word G-o-d in it--I think they do not know what they are talking about. The founders of America were doing nothing if not rebelling against the governing authorities!
Romans 13:1-7 NIV

1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Ok, now for the conclusion of the Declaration:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Now that hits home, when you think that when these men signed the Declaration, they really were risking their lives and liberty if they would have been captured, or failed in their endeavor.

Well, this should be required reading for all Americans--and this is the perfect day to read it on.

The Declaration of Independence

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Faith is a word
Seldom understood but often heard
Is it to hold fantastic beliefs dear
In an attempt to stave off fear
Of the dark?
Is it the mark
Of an non-rational mind
With hopes of a supernatural power
In which to take refuge as in a strong tower?
Or is it a compulsion
To bring strong towers to the level of the ocean
To bring judgment on those who show distaste
For the dogmas of your own dictatorial Faith?

As for me, I’ve no use for Faith
I’d rather be guided by Reason.
Better to keep an open mind,
And embrace superior ideas in their season.
The blindness of Faith leads to intolerance, and bigotry
To both theological divisions, and the most terrible tragedies of history.
Give me science and reason and the freedom of my mind
And we will leave the dark superstitions of the past far behind!