The threat of hell is pure extortion

The funniest thing you can threaten an atheist with is hell.

“If you don’t accept my imaginary friend, he’s going to put you in an imaginary place of eternal suffering!”

Ooh. I’m. Scared.

Extortion 2

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between “God The Father” and “The Godfather”

Now, before anything else, let me be clear: if you belong to one of those Christian sects that believes in annihilationism, that hell is not a literal place of torment but a state of non-existence, this post is not directed at you. This is for those sadistic torture-porn lovers (mostly Christian and Muslim) who think God is planning to set the majority of people who have ever lived on fire for all eternity, and that those people deserve it.

Now, there is a word for someone who threatens to harm you but promises to withhold that harm in exchange for your loyalty and devotion. That word is extortionist. There is no other word for it. Well, there is. It’s also called a shakedown artist. But extortionist is a perfectly fine word too.

In my experience, Christians try to wiggle out of the inescapable conclusion that the threat of hell is extortion through a series of implausible arguments. I’m going to try to avoid a strawman argument here, but let me assure you that I personally have been the recipient of each of these lies lines.

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Atheists don’t worship Satan, and neither do most Satanists!

In Internet slang, a troll is “ a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.”

In reality, I find the definition to be a little bit more broad than that. I would say a “troll” is someone who sows discord by upsetting people by advocating for inflammatory positions with the deliberate intent of provoking an emotional response, even though the the troll does not actually believe in the position for which he’s advocating.

FSMAtheists on and off the Internet employ the tactic of trolling with gleeful regularity. Late last month, atheists in the Netherlands  succeeded in convincing the government to officially recognize the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Followers of that religion are known as “Pastafarians.”

I neither know nor care who first coined the concept of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s basically a God-parody. The idea is, expecting atheists to disprove God is like expecting Christians to disprove the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Or disprove the claim that there’s a teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between Earth and Mars.

It’s silliness. No one actually believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or in Russell’s Teapot. It’s not because anyone has disproved either of them. It’s because the claim is inherently ridiculous. Some atheists feel the same about the God hypothesis. We’re expected to believe that the universe, with all its complexity, was created by an omnipotent, omniscient being who would, of necessity, be more complicated than the universe, be invisible, be timeless, and be deeply, deeply concerned about our sexual activity. And the burden is on us to disprove such a being?

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Why atheists care if you pray (spoiler alert: we don’t)

Part of an occasional series addressing popular misconceptions about atheism. For more in the series, click here.

You may have seen this meme when it originally circulated a year or two ago. It popped up on my Facebook feed, and I remember leaving a simple comment: We don’t.

Dear AtheistI can’t speak for all atheists. No one can. But I can speak for myself, so here goes: I don’t care who prays or where. I don’t care if you pray first thing when you wake up, last thing before you go to sleep, before each meal, after each meal, three times a day while facing Mecca, nine times a day while counting beads, twice a day while brushing your teeth, or 20 times a day while clipping your fingernails and toenails. I do not care if you pray at home, in your car, at your job, at school, on line at the post office, in a park, behind your desk, in court, on the street or at a sports stadium.

I care about your attempt to get our government to acknowledge, support and promote your God by imposing prayer on me and my children.

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It takes no faith to be an atheist

Part of an occasional series addressing popular misconceptions about atheism. You can access this and future articles by clicking on the “Atheists wish Christians knew” tag above this post’s headline.

Atheism is an absence of faith. It is not “faith” itself.

Spend any time on Twitter or on Quora, and you’re sure to find examples of believers who try to equate atheism with religion in one regard: both, they say, require faith.

FaithThis is not true. Atheism does not require faith. Similarly, having nothing to drink does not require a glass and being bald does not require a hairbrush.

What’s happening here is, everyone believes something. But “faith” and “believing,” in the English language, have distinct definitions. And when someone says “atheism requires faith,” they’re really confusing those definitions.

In common usage, believing means “accepting something as true or valid.” Faith, on the other hand, means “accepting something as true with or without conclusive proof of its veracity.”

These are my definitions, so if you want to quibble over them to iron them out, be my guest.

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You are more moral than God

Atheists are often asked, or answer without being asked, what they wished Christians and other theists knew about them. People have a lot of misconceptions about atheists for a number of reasons, most having to do with failing to understand what atheism is and is not. And it’s not just theists who have this misconception. Self-described agnostics are known to make the same mistakes, and even many atheists fail to distinguish between atheism itself and the accouterments that often (but not always) accompany it. But usually, it’s believers making these presumptions.

This post is the first in an occasional series addressing these popular misconceptions. You can access it and future articles by clicking on the “Atheists wish Christians knew” tag above this post’s headline.

I wish believers knew that atheists have a moral compass, and it’s not that different from theirs.

ClarkeBelievers tend to think that moral values are “objective,” and that they cannot be objective unless there is a God to declare them. For example, William Lane Craig says, “… if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured, but … in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding.”

He goes on: “… if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Thus, we cannot truly be good without God.”

Timid atheists are too quick to concede the existence of objective moral values because it allows dishonest analysts to argue that we do not believe in right and wrong. In reality, moral values are not objective. They are values. Values are judgments by definition, and therefore are not objective. But that doesn’t mean they are baseless!

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Shellfish. He chose shellfish.

shellfishAbout a year and a half ago, I was fiddling on the meme-generator site when I decided to put this image together. It was an instant hit. To this day, I see it come across my newsfeed on various atheist Facebook pages. It tickles me when that happens.

It’s the closest thing I have to a claim to fame as an atheist. But there has been some pushback, usually from Christians who try (and fail) to point out the logical flaws in the statement.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to clear up a couple of things.

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Speaking in Tongues: More than Gibberish, Less than Language

Once again, this article was originally posted on the Godless Mom blog. I’ve made some minor changes. Happy reading. 

The headquarters of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) was about a two-minute drive from the office where I worked in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The foundation had, and still has, a longstanding challenge: a $1 million award to anyone who could demonstrate, under scientifically verifiable conditions, the existence of the supernatural.

At the time, I was a Bible-believing Christian who practiced speaking in tongues, the God-given ability to bring forth prayer and praise to God in a language I had never learned. How easy would it have been, I thought, to drive over to Randi’s office, speak in tongues in the presence of a linguist, have the linguist identify the language, and collect my check.

I never tried. I never even thought of trying. And there was a reason for it: deep down, in a reserved section of my heart that I never wanted to admit existed, I knew that I faked speaking in tongues. I faked it from the first time I did it, under the caring guidance of my Bible-believing roommate in the Bronx.

Unless they’ve done it, most atheists don’t understand speaking in tongues. They dismiss it as “bull” and “gibberish.” It’s not. It’s more than that. No, it’s not what believers claim it is. It’s not an earthly or extinct language. It’s not the language angels speak to each other in heaven. But it’s not “gibberish” either, and to understand that, you need to understand what gibberish is.

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Seeing the Dark

Originally published on

I was born into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it never occurred to me to be anything else. As a child, I never considered “other religions,” and never fully realized that people held different views about God, Jesus, right and wrong. By the time I first heard the claim that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were a cult, I was no longer an active “member.”

I already need to clarify. In the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you’re not really considered to be a member until you are baptized. For those born into it, this typically happens at a young age. The age is not fixed, but 12 or 13 is common. The child needs to be old enough to make a conscious and responsible decision to accept the faith.

I was never baptized. When I was 12 years old, my parents separated and later divorced. Divorce is forbidden in the Watchtower Society, so there was too much cognitive dissonance for my parents to continue taking me to the Jehovah’s Witness churches (known as Kingdom Halls).watchtower-magazine

Thus, I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses without ever having made a conscious, responsible decision to either join or leave. I survived my experience as a Jehovah’s Witness without ever being truly captive to the organization, by its own standards.

This is not to say I was not a Jehovah’s Witness. I was, in a very real but childlike sense. I believed it was the truth. I shared my faith with my friends (in a matter-of-fact, often arrogant and condescending way). When my friends asked why I never said the Pledge of Allegiance in class, my answer was that I was a Christian. When they said they were Christians, too, my response was that they were false Christians, while I was a true Christian. It never occurred to me, in my innocence, that I was deeply insulting them. It was just the way things were.

I didn’t celebrate my birthday and I didn’t miss it. I received Christmas gifts from family members who defied my parents, but we never gave any. I never recited the Pledge of Allegiance (once I knew it was “wrong”). I was one of them. Sort of. I never knocked on doors because that was an activity for the baptized, and I never made it that far.

I never went back.

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