Thursday, July 31, 2008

Recover from religion! Weekend workshop offered


It's not the end of the world! Join us at a recovery retreat.


August 15-17, 2008, with Dr. Marlene Winell

Do you feel alone in your struggle for healing? Come to a supportive and powerful weekend with others who can understand you -- an oasis from dogmatic teachings and judgmental groups. We’ll rant and rave, tell our stories, discuss the issues, visualize, role-play, dance and draw – whatever it takes to think for ourselves and reclaim our lives. A joyful, empowered life is your birthright and you can start now.

WHEN: FRIDAY, Aug. 15, 7PM - SUNDAY, Aug. 17, 3PM.

WHERE: A beautiful house in Berkeley, California,
with hot tub and other amenities.

COST: $320 for the workshop, $125 for room and board. Financial need considered & options available.

TO REGISTER: Call 510-292-0509 or send an email to Register soon as group size is limited.

Dr. Marlene Winell is a psychologist & author of "Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists & Others Leaving their Religion." She has a practice in Berkeley & also counsels individuals by phone. For more info, mailing list, comments about retreats, & Youtube link, visit: Or call Dr. Winell for a complimentary discussion about your interest.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nice People

One way or another, I often have encounters of the ordinary kind with religious people. Some are the parents of my private cello students, for instance. Almost without exception, they strike me as very nice people.

My next-door neighbor is a Mormon. He sometimes mows our front lawn, unprompted, simply because it's a nice thing to do.

Maybe it's the nice people who are attracted to religion in the first place, or find it easy to stay in a religious community if they were born to one. They're not rebellious by nature; they're comfortable going along with the crowd. Or maybe it's that when you're part of a religious community, the rough edges of your personality get sanded down.

I'd love to be part of an atheist community, but I'm not sure how one could ever take root and grow. The Unitarian/Universalists are as close to an atheist church as you can get. I've tried Unitarianism a couple of times, but it didn't stick. Maybe it was just me. But in recent years, even the Unitarians seem to talk about God a lot. They're just more vague about it.

Here's the scary thing, though: The fellow down in Tennessee who shot up a Unitarian church this week was described by his neighbors as "a really nice person." That may have just been happy talk, but he may really have seemed nice to them. He reserved his hatred for the liberals.

If we did have an atheist community center here in town, who would protect us from the nice people? Read more!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Seeker After Wisdom (ATHEIST TALES)

A young man was puzzled and disturbed by the world he lived in. So much sorrow, so much confusion! One day he heard about a wise man who lived in a house at the foot of a mountain. The wise man, it was said, could explain the meaning of life and reveal the path to ultimate bliss.

The young man eagerly sought out the sage and begged him to explain the meaning of life and reveal the path to ultimate bliss. "These secrets are revealed only to those who are worthy of them," the wise man explained.

"I feel worthy," the young man said. "As worthy as anyone, I guess."

"That is but illusion. You must prove your worthiness."

"How may I do that?"

"By becoming my servant," the wise man explained. "Whatever I desire that you should do, you must carry out my orders promptly and unquestioningly. If you can do this without fail for seven years, at the end of seven years I will explain to you the meaning of life and reveal the path to ultimate bliss."

Seven years are a long time in the life of a young man, but on balance the bargain seemed a good one. "What must I do?" the young man asked.

"Here is an ax," the sage said, smiling. "The wood pile is depleted. Go into the forest and chop some wood. When you are finished with that, I will require you to sweep the floors of my house."

And so it went. For more than three years the young man carried out the sage's orders. Occasionally he would approach the sage and timidly inquire whether the sage might be willing to share a crumb of wisdom, but always the sage brushed off the request. "You are not ready," he would reply. "You have not yet shown enough loyalty or perseverance. Here is a bucket. Go down to the well, fill the bucket, and pour the water in the cistern in the kitchen. See that you fill it up, for it's a hot day, and I'm thirsty."

The fame of the sage was widespread, and travelers sometimes arrived, seeking him out. They would usually encounter the young man first, since the young man would be outdoors working in the garden. "Are you the wise man?" they would ask.

"Oh, no," he would reply. "I only chop wood and carry water. Someday I hope to become wise."

So might matters have continued for four more years, if not longer, but as time went on the people of the nearby village became unhappy with the sage. At a banquet he was observed to become quite drunk and surreptitiously urinate in the rice bowl of the mayor. The tithe he demanded of the commerce in the market was never enough to suit him; his house was filled with fabulous statues and tapestries, and still he craved more. Eventually it was discovered that he had been pleasuring himself with several of the young women of the village, who were now pregnant.

The villagers descended on the wise man's house, seized all the fine works of art, and then burned the house to the ground. The sage himself they stripped naked and whipped until he ran away.

The young man observed all of this from a hiding place at the bottom of the garden. When the villagers had gone home, he shook his head sadly and went back to tending the garden. When he needed water, he drew it from the well. When the wood pile was depleted, he chopped wood with the ax.

Travelers still arrived, as before, from distant lands. They had heard tales of the sage who lived in the district, but had not heard of what happened to him. They would see the young man humbly tending the garden before the burnt-out ruin of the house and ask, "Are you the wise man who can explain the meaning of life and reveal the path to ultimate bliss?"

"Oh, no," the young man would reply. "I only chop wood and carry water. Someday I hope to become wise." Read more!


I now know why I call myself an atheist, and not an agnostic. The reason being that the agnostic point of view is that "I don't know if there is a God or not." Since the attributes ascribed to "God" are consciousness--not just ordinary consciousness, but all-knowing, powerful, and ever-lasting, I can with confidence say that I'm an atheist because in my belief a necessary requirement of consciousness is life, and when people say, Oh, yes, what we mean by God is the origin of the universe, well, bottom line, the Higgs boson particle, "the God particle," does not have consciousness.

It's a fascinating question, and the many interpretations, in my view, come out of the mystery of life and not a "deus ex machinus" solution. Read more!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

JOB INTERVIEW (Atheist Tales)


The young man had no idea that the CEO himself would interview him. He waited in an outer office for almost an hour, then got ushered into a second office, where he waited for another twenty minutes, then found himself in a third office, where a secretary said to him, “It won’t be much longer.”

The young man sat on a leather sofa and glanced at one of a pile of in-house magazines full of zest and zeal. Many good things were happening in the company. The company was doing well in the world. The young man uttered a secret wish that he would land this job and that the CEO would forgive him his nervousness.

“You can go in now,” the secretary said.

The young man entered the CEO’s inner sanctum with great diffidence. The CEO watched him enter, watched his every move, as it were, with a stony stillness that caused the young man to break out in a sweat. As the CEO did not gesture to the single available chair, the young man remained standing.

“You want to work for us?” the CEO said in a voice that seemed amplified. No doubt it was the acoustics of the room—the young man worried how his own voice was going to sound.

“I do,” he said; and noticed that his voice sounded smaller than usual. What odd acoustics!

“Are you religious?” the CEO said.

“Yes!” the young man replied instantly. “Of course.”

“So you know that God expects loyalty and obedience?”

“I do.”

“And that I am the God here.”

The young man hesitated for a split second. “Yes,” he replied.

“You know that you can’t possibly know what’s best for this company. You know that?”

“Of course! How could I?”

“Or what’s right or wrong. Here, what is right is what I say is right and what is wrong is what I say is wrong. You understand that?”

Again the young man hesitated. “Of course,” he replied.

“Because I’ve been here forty years and you haven’t been here even five minutes.”

“Of course.”

“I founded this company, just like God made the universe.”


“So I require your blind obedience. You can see why, can’t know? A company can’t function with employees thinking for themselves. The tail mustn’t wag the dog. You see that?”

“I do.”

“Good!” He stared at the young man intently. “Now, some of your tasks may seem like odious ones. I understand how odious they are going to seem. Like trying to put every one of our competitors out of business. There are some fine men and women in those other firms. But we need to crush them. You understand that?”

“Yes,” the young man said haltingly.

“Crush them like bugs!” the CEO exclaimed, pounding his fist on the desk. The sound struck the young man full in the chest, like an amusement park effect. “Some of them are wonderful people,” the CEO continued. “Still, they must be crushed! You understand that?”

“Yes,” the young man said in a voice so small that he wondered if he’d been heard.

“And of course our own people can’t trusted. You can’t be trusted. You know why?”

The young man shook his head. “No,” he said after a long moment.

“Because you’re human! Human beings are weak and full of sin. Prideful. Self-interested. Devious. Full of a darkness that is so dark that the darkness of the universe is like a summer day by comparison. Therefore you must be watched and monitored. That’s why you’ll wear the Loving Eye.”

“The what?”

“The Loving Eye. It’s a small implant that allows me to monitor your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions. So that I can always watch you.”

The young man felt a chill run down his spine. “Everyone wears that?” he said, trembling a little.

“Everyone! I’m the only one who doesn’t. Because I designed all this.” The CEO waved at the magnificent room and at all the magnificent rooms and buildings beyond.

The young man gulped and nodded.

“And in return I will take care of you forever--”

At this the young man smiled a small, trembling smile.

“Unless I have to fire you--”

The young man blinked.

“Which I can do at any time--”

The young man shifted uneasily.

“Since I am the only one who knows what is good for the company.” The CEO rose. “That’s all for now.”

“Am I hired?” the young man asked after a moment.

The CEO waved the question away as if it were irrelevant.

“I--” the young man began.

“Yes, you’re hired!” the CEO shouted.

The young man couldn’t quite believe his ears. “I … Was my resume that impressive?” he said, trying to make a little joke.

The CEO said nothing and continued staring right through him.

“And to think, I was worried that you wouldn’t take me!” the young man said with a nervous laugh. “I mean, with no direct experience in what your company does--”

The CEO blinked. “We take everyone who applies,” he replied suddenly. “Since we can do with our employees whatever we want, there’s no harm in letting everyone in.” Except for the blankness in his eyes, you might have called his tone conspiratorial. “We fit them with a Loving Eye, tell them what to do, and if they don’t perform or obey we throw them out. Taking everyone in is our surefire hiring method!”

“Then--” He stopped himself.

“Then why the interview?” the CEO said. “To put the fear of God in you! To make it as clear as clear can be that you will be watched, that you must do the company’s business, no matter who gets hurt, that there are no ifs, ands, or buts. The company does not exist for your benefit—you work for it. We do not want to hear one word about what you think you are owed, what you want, what you think is fair, what is good for you. Only the company matters!—and me. I gave this life! Do you understand?”

“I do,” he said—and he did. It was exactly what he wanted out of a job and out of life.

“Go, now,” the CEO said. “Someone will tell you what to do next.”

The young man retraced his steps back to the first office. The secretary got up from her desk and asked him to follow her. The young man followed her down the hall. He found himself smiling brightly. He had a job. That was a good thing! Yes, certain aspects of the job troubled him. He suspected that the Loving Eye would take a little getting used to. He rather wished that it would monitor just his behaviors and not his thoughts, as he wasn’t sure that he could always think along company lines. But no doubt they allowed for a little mental wandering, since no one was perfect. No, all in all, it was a very fair deal. They owned him, but he had a job. And the CEO seemed so nice, so forthright and clear. He certainly didn’t mince his words. He was the God of his company—and that was exactly as it should be. Read more!

Doing Good without Doing God: On ethics minus religion

Judith Lautner

Keeping it Simple

In our personal lives we atheists might take a tip from political and advertising campaigns.

In February 2007 the news and blogs were awash in reports of the latest Gallup poll: Americans were least likely to vote for an atheist for president than for someone from any other minority group. The finding seems consistent with what we know of this country and of the common perceptions of what it means to be an atheist. But the poll was just plain silly.

Consider, for example, Scott Adams' response to the poll. Adams is the creator of the beloved Dilbert who haunts offices worldwide. Adams, an atheist himself, offers his campaign plan should he run for president:

I would handle it by manipulating the media with a sound bite so catchy the pundits would have no choice but to repeat it until it started to sound sensible. I’d hold a press conference and say that ONLY an atheist should be president, in the same way you want a eunuch to guard your harem.

. . . After my eunuch sound bite got everyone’s attention, I would soften the message to “Only an atheist can guarantee religious freedom for all by favoring none.” That argument makes no sense whatsoever, but it would be persuasive nonetheless.

Until we are actually faced with a blood-and-guts person and that person's persuasive capabilities, we really do not know who we would support or oppose for president. However prejudiced we might be we can be persuaded with the right words. The right sound bite.

It could be the best thing that has ever happened to this country to have an atheist for president. It might mean that reason somehow prevails over groundless fears. It might mean that people are judged on how they behave rather than on how they believe. It might mean that all other prejudices fall by the wayside as they are seen for what they are. It might mean that we are forced to make decisions based on what is in front of us rather than on what we believe some mysterious unknown has decreed.

That is, it might be the best thing if the actual person running has a good campaign manager.

A good campaign manager can help the public see the whole person, even if it means distilling that person into a catchy phrase. No doubt that sounds contradictory. But stay with me:
Yes, it is sad that so much of America turns to the quick impression, the fast-and-dirty analysis, the easy read. We can curse and decry the fast-food-fast-decision world we have created and live in, and throw up our hands in defeat, proclaiming that the polls tell it like it is: an irrational America doesn't want a rational president. But words are powerful and the right words can change public perception. George Lakoff is onto something when he says that framing is the key to victory in politics.

Framing doesn't just matter in politics, though. In our personal lives as atheists we can take a cue from the campaign trail and the advertising firms. We can perfect our message. We can hone the sound bite, develop our listening skills, find the words and use them. No, this does not mean reducing our position to a few choice words. But the right words might create the jolt that helps non-atheists to see us as we really are and not as a stereotype defined by others. Let's face it; most of the time atheists are inclined to say too much. We lose our listeners at “Hello”. Keep it simple even if it only addresses one myth about atheism at a time.

Scott Adams' words may be in jest but the concept is real. Richard Dawkins' comment about gods has become atheist wisdom: We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. [from The Root of all Evil?] Yes, it's bumper-sticker philosophy but it gets the conversation started on the right foot.

Judith Lautner is a grandmother, former city planner and present amateur photographer and blogger who has found her way without reliance on a god. She likes to give time and money toward the care of rescued animals and local film festivals as well as several other causes. Find her at her busiest journal: Read more!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

From the shade of Tasso's Oak...

Is a tendency to religiosity genetic?

A note at points to an item in the Huffington Post asking this question. The Huffington Post—self-described as "The Internet Newspaper" which is a fair description, provided saying "newspaper" makes you think think of the London Sun or the New York Post—The Huffington Post, I say, apparently had a slow news minute and filled space with this item on "The Effects Of Serotonin On Spirituality." (Don't bother clicking the link, it's just there for documentation.)

The bulk of the Huffington Post-ing is a quote from a brief item in Psychology Today:
A team of Swedish researchers has found that the presence of a receptor that regulates general serotonin activity in the brain correlates with people's capacity for transcendence, the ability to apprehend phenomena that cannot be explained objectively. Scientists have long suspected that serotonin influences spirituality because drugs known to alter serotonin such as LSD also induce mystical experiences. But now they have proof from brain scans linking the capacity for spirituality with a major biological element.
Well, not so fast, cowboy—proof's a strong word. First let's note that the Psychology Today item is dated Nov/Dec 2003. (Apparently the Huffington staff are a bit behind in their reading.) But from it we can follow up the original paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The AJP, very much to its credit, has all its contents online and searchable, from 1844 to the present. Here's the full text of the original paper.

It was published in 2003 and describes a study of just 15 "normal male subjects, ages 20-45." That's a very small sample to use as a basis for a general conclusion; especially, we should be cautious about concluding anything from it about females, or younger or older or less-normal males. (The authors do point out these limitations, but neither Psychology Today nor Huffington Post mentioned them.)

The subjects were given the Temperament and Character Inventory, one of the many psychological instruments designed to judge personality traits. It is the only one, so far as I can learn, which treats "self-transcendence" as a measurable trait. (The more common "Five-factor model" tries to put numbers to traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.)

Anyway, the researchers used a PET scan to evaluate the relative density of receptors for the serotonin molecule in various parts of their subjects' brains; and then they tried to relate those differences of receptor density to differences in the traits found in the personality test.

The only solid correlation they found was that serotonin receptivity correlated strongly (p<0.001) with high scores on the spiritual acceptance scale, of which they wrote:
The spiritual acceptance scale measures a person’s apprehension of phenomena that cannot be explained by objective demonstration. Subjects with high scores tend to endorse extrasensory perception and ideation, whether named deities or a commonly unifying force. Low scorers, by contrast, tend to favor a reductionistic and empirical worldview.
Given the uncertainties of personality testing in general and the limited scope of this study in particular, you would not want to take it as a basis for any sweeping generalizations. But it is an intriguing hint that your preference for what the Brights call "a naturalistic worldview" might be the product of your brain structure at the molecular level, and basically genetic.

Or—and this is almost as likely—there is the possibility that by persistently holding to a naturalistic world-view, you have altered the seretonin chemistry of your brain!

Dave Cortesi
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Melissa LaFavers

Being a Misfit

Remember the song from the holiday television classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

 "Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. Just because my nose glows, why don't I fit in?"

I can relate because the many ways I am different are almost as obvious as Rudolph's brightly glowing red nose. I'm one of those misfits, which sometimes feels pretty lonely, like a couple weeks ago when I became embroiled in a discussion about dieting on a scrapbooking website message board. Since I don't subscribe to the commonly accepted idea that thinner is always healthier and better and more attractive, my opinion was not popular.

Or the time I had to bite my tongue when one of my paper-crafting buddies ranted for a good half hour on how awful it was that the words "In God We Trust" appeared on the side of a coin instead of on its face. I didn't tell her that, really, those words are religious and shouldn't appear at all on the money of a nation who's Constitution affords freedom of religion; nor did I ask her how she'd feel if the coin were to be stamped with "In Allah We Trust" instead.

In almost every realm of society, I tend to be outside of the box. Not Christian, not totally atheist, not quite full-fledged Neo-Pagan. I'm neither Republican nor Democrat, not a Conservative nor a Liberal, and I don't totally subscribe to the  Libertarian party's agenda either. I tend to be skeptical, and I think for myself, both of which make me different from most of the people I encounter on a daily basis.

Sometimes, it gets a little tiring always swimming upstream, always being the one that doesn't conform, doesn't tow the company line, doesn't actively pursue the path of least resistance, doesn't fit in any box.

My first significant experience being an outsider began when my parents sent me to a Christian school in Tyler, Texas, for four and a half long years. I was the new kid, and I was the only one whose family wasn't wealthy. The other fathers were doctors, dentists, lawyers, radio station owners and businessmen, while mine was a machinist. I was "poor," only able to attend private school because of charity, and the rich schoolmates never let me forget it.

Rejected by them because of things I couldn't possibly control, I soon decided that I didn't even want to be accepted by people who had such shallow values, who justified being cruel to me because of my family's financial circumstances. I learned to stand alone, and that lesson, while painful, laid important groundwork for my development as a strong woman who is willing to endure the discomfort of being an outcast in order to live an authentic life of her own design, irrespective of what other people think.

Humans seem to be hardwired with a desire to belong, perhaps because at one time in our evolutionary history being part of a group helped to secure survival. It certainly is easier to be part of the crowd, even if survival no longer depends upon it. Many times when I've been faced with the exhausting frustration of trying to explain my point of view to yet another persistent fundamentalist Christian or a weight loss fanatic, I've thought, "Wouldn't it be easier to at least pretend to agree?"

Easier maybe, but throughout history, we see those people who choose not to take the easy path making the biggest differences. Think of the people who really accomplish great things. They are not the kind of folks who readily fit in. They are the misfits.

The story of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, teaches a valuable lesson, as most good stories do. As rejected and ridiculed as Rudolph was--even Santa disparaged the glowing red nose--he was the one who eventually saved the day. Because of the very thing that made him an outcast in the first place, Rudolph was the only one who could do what had to be done.

And that story is just one example. Many stories, fictional and real, illustrate that being a misfit has definite advantages.

Melissa LaFavers is a writer, amateur photographer, and student of creativity who is currently telling her life story through the art of scrapbooking and contemplating which writing project to tackle next. Visit her blog, The Art of Practice, at

Read more!

Saturday, July 19, 2008



People on the home front were busy with their own lives and took no notice. Occasionally a book or documentary appeared warning that the military had become an arm of the evangelical movement, that generals talked as much about end time and the rapture as they did about military objectives, and that unchurched soldiers were given the most dangerous assignments or sent home for their own protection. But none of those books or documentaries caused the kind of stir that a celebrity changing her hemline routinely caused.

Nobody noticed that a new military objective had risen to the top of pentagon plans: how to foment a war with the infidels so that this earth could be destroyed and heaven gained. Or rather, only a relatively few noticed: those charismatic millions who held to that agenda and their ever-growing minions in the military. They noticed; and smiled; and slapped each other on the back; and prayed; and felt that adrenaline rush, verging on orgasm, of a highly anticipated and fast-approaching Armageddon.

One day a general from headquarters arrived to speak to a front line company that had recently taken many casualties. He came to give a pep talk and most of the gathered soldiers appeared thrilled by his foot stomping, flag waving, God glorifying oratory. They cheered when he complimented them on the ass-kicking they had delivered to the infidels, they rose to their feet every time he intoned the word “Crusade,” they broke out in wild applause when he named their enemies: the faggots, the atheists, and everyone not a Christian—or not enough of a Christian.

Not being enough of a Christian concerned him a great deal. “All of you are Christians!” he exclaimed, ignoring those who were not. “But how many of you are true Crusaders? How many of you are pledged to fight the infidel no matter what the America-haters at home are saying? No matter what a new President might order? How many of you are pledged to the destruction of our enemies?”

This brought the house—that is, the tent—down. When the cheering and applause had subsided a hand appeared from among the gathered soldiers. The general stared at the hand for a long time. Then he said, “Yes, son?”

A young soldier jumped crisply to his feet. “Sir, did you know that the Nobel-prize winning author Sinclair Lewis once said, ‘When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the American flag and carrying a cross?”

A round of boos and catcalls descended on the soldier. The general did nothing to quiet the crowd. After the final wave of boos and catcalls had passed, the general said, “What are you, an atheist?”

“I am, sir,” the young soldier replied. “And since I don’t believe in what you’re selling, sir, I wonder if I might be sent home?”

“You can go home in a body bag!” someone cried. This brought an immense round of cheering.

The company commander, a captain of about thirty years of age standing beside the general, pointed a finger at the atheist. “I will see you directly after this is over!” he said. “You go right back to your tent!”

“Yes, sir!” the atheist replied.

“And sit the hell down!”

“Yes, sir!”

The atheist took his seat.

You would have been hard-pressed to put your finger on it, but there was something different about the rest of the general’s speech. It was still impassioned and employed every motivator at his disposal—flag, country, god, heroism, staying the course, routing the enemy, honoring the company, honoring the battalion, honoring the service, honoring every small town in America, honoring every parent and child and dead soldier and … but still it was different; and less persuasive.

Finally the general was done. The company commander called the troop to attention, the general strode out and ducked into his helicopter, the company commander and the other officers left directly, and the sergeant major dismissed the troop—but not before reminding the atheist as to what was happening next.

“Get your ass back to the barracks!’ he said, pointing a bony finger in the atheist’s direction. “You will be visited!”

The atheist popped to his feet. “Yes, sergeant major!”

The atheist returned to his tent, which housed a squad of thirteen men. No one spoke to him or looked at him. He had been friendly enough with these men and had no real enemies among them. They seemed to be paying him something like silent respect by not harassing him or taking overt pleasure in what was about to happen. They went about their business, one man shining his belt buckle, another man shining his shoes, a third man writing a letter home, doing the things that soldiers have done for thousands of years.

After a long hour the company commander glided silently into the tent. The first soldier to see him cried, “Attention!”

The men dropped what they were doing and sprang to attention. The captain proceeded to face the atheist, who knew, as all soldiers did, not to look him in the eye but rather to pick a spot over his shoulder and fix his stare there.

“We have a special assignment for you,” the captain said in that mock conspiratorial tone that always spelled trouble. “I’m going to send you up to the killing zone tomorrow to have a look around and give us an atheist’s perspective on what’s going on there. You’ll just get out of your vehicle, take a stroll around, maybe make a few notes, and come on back. You’ll go off at 1400 hours tomorrow.”

“By myself, sir?”

“By yourself, son. No need to risk the lives of real soldiers.”

“Yes, sir!” the atheist replied, saluting.

This unqualified acceptance of a suicidal order caused the company commander to pause for a moment. He stared at the atheist.

“You expecting a walk in the park, soldier?” the captain said.

“I’m expecting to die,” the atheist said. “Sir!”

The captain nodded. “And you will. And that will be the end of you.”

“Yes, sir!”

“And your parents will cry. You have parents, soldier?”

“Yes, sir!”

The captain nodded. “And your parents will cry. Are they atheists, too?”

“Yes, sir!”

“And what will they be left with? Without the comfort of religion?”

“Pain, sir!”

The captain stared at the soldier. He glanced around at the other soldiers, all of whom were still standing at attention. It occurred to him that he had not put them at ease. They were standing at the kind of attention you rarely see. The captain blinked. A full minute passed.

When he finally spoke, he said, “Cancel that last order. Here’s what you’re going to do. I want you take a pair of tweezers and a paper cup and collect every pubic hair from the latrine. Is that clear, soldier?”

“Yes, sir!”

The captain stared at the atheist a last time, shook his head, turned on his heels, and left the tent.

The atheist did as he was told. The next day he and three Christians were killed when the vehicle they were driving came under a mortar attack. In the enemy camp they celebrated the death of four infidels. At headquarters they mourned the death of four heroes and vowed vengeance on their killers. The general, who made a public display of anger and horror, was privately quite happy: not because an atheist had died but because Armageddon had been nudged one millimeter closer. Read more!

Sunday, July 13, 2008



A stranger, arriving in town for a few days to do some business, was surprised to see an old man on a downtown corner giving away water. The old man had a set-up just like any hawker’s, except that beside his table he had a large bucket with a ladle hooked over its edge and a sign in front of the table that read, “This water guaranteed to cure everything.”

The curious stranger, approaching the water-giver, had to wait his turn as passers-by stopped for a cup. When the last passer-by had left, the stranger asked the old man, “This is some special water?”

The old man shrugged as he poured the stranger a cup of water. “Yes and no. It is just ordinary water out of the tap. But it is also extraordinary water, able to cure any ailment known to man.” He waited for the stranger to try a taste of the water but the stranger held his cup without drinking.

“How can it be both?” the stranger wondered aloud. “Both ordinary and extraordinary? Either it’s just water—or it isn’t.”

“Not at all,” the old man replied, pouring a cup for a young woman who looked extremely hot and harried. “Isn’t a sunset both ordinary and extraordinary?”

The stranger waved that analogy away with some undisguised irritation. “That’s just a play on words. With sunsets, all that means is that an everyday event can also be beautiful and even awesome. Here you seem to mean two completely different and contradictory things, that this is ordinary water that couldn’t possibly cure anything and that at the same time it is extraordinary water that can, what, cure cancers and brain tumors?”

The old man nodded. “Absolutely. And gout. And fatigue. Everything.”

The stranger shook his head. “So, they seem like two different things, don’t they? The ordinariness and extraordinariness of a sunset and the ordinariness and extraordinariness of this water?”

The old man shrugged. “By the way,” he said suddenly, “you can also walk on this water! Isn’t that amazing?”

Shock registered on the stranger’s face, replaced after a moment by a small smile of glee. Now that, he thought, would be child’s play to verify. Whether or not the water could reduce a brain tumor was a claim that would take some investigating. But that you could walk on this water? That ought to be easy to prove or disprove!

“I would like to see that,” the stranger exclaimed. “Very much so! Can I see that?”

The old man shook his head sadly. “Ah, but that only happens on Tuesdays. Today is Wednesday. You missed it.”

“So, yesterday--?”

“Yes, indeed! You should have seen all the people walking on water. It was amazing. It would have made your heart swell.”

The stranger, who prided himself on having feathers that were not so easy to ruffle, nevertheless found himself growing agitated. He could feel his left hand tremble as the old man served several passers-by who had descended on the table.

When the old man finished serving, the stranger asked, more loudly than he had intended, “Was—did someone record it? Many people must have been moved to record such a sight?”

“Oh, no doubt!” the old man agreed. “But of course I had no need to see the recordings. I saw the real thing.”

“Yes, yes, of course--” The stranger pulled at his hair. “So, if I came back next Tuesday--”

“Are you in town that long?” the old man wondered, smiling a small, knowing smile that disturbed the stranger even more than the water business. “I’m surprised that there’s enough business in this place to keep you a full week.”

The stranger said nothing. How had the old man known that he was a stranger in town and here on business? And that he had only planned on staying a few days? He tried to make his face a blank, so as not to reveal anything else about himself, but suddenly doubted that he was doing a very good job of it. Was his face such an open book? He’d never thought so before, but now he wasn’t sure.

The old man poured himself a full cup of water and accompanied his drinking with small sighs of satisfaction. “It’s especially good for blindness,” he murmured after a moment. “The blind see again between five and ten minutes after drinking just one cup of this water.”

That was too much. “You’re shameless!” the stranger exploded. “Really! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Making these outrageous claims? That your water cures everything—even though it’s just tap water! How do you sleep at night?”

The old man calmly waved the charge away. “I think you missed the small print,” he said. He pointed to the sign in front of the table. “Did you read the bottom?”

The stranger, his face flushed and his heart pounding, looked where the old man pointed. Indeed, right there at the bottom, under the claim “This water guaranteed to cure everything,” in small print that was however not so small as to be completely overlooked, he read the following caveat: “If you believe.”

“If you believe what?” the stranger exclaimed.

“Why, in the power of the water to cure, of course,” the old man said mildly. He shook his head. “I would say that you don’t have such a belief and so for you the water wouldn’t do much of anything. Not even quench your thirst, I bet.”

The stranger could find no words to communicate his outrage. People from all directions descended on the stand and claimed their cup of water. One elderly woman gave a spontaneous testimonial to no one in particular: “This water saved my life! I had a tumor that no doctor could cure and it completely vanished after just two cups of this water!” People crowding the stand make approving and wondering noises. The stranger could take no more. He turned on his heels and fled.

The old man noticed him leaving. “And don’t forget to come back on Tuesday!” he called after him. “Everybody will be walking on water—you, too, if you’ll let yourself believe!”

So frustrated was the stranger that he felt like pulling out his hair or poking out his eye. He cut his business trip short by a full day, costing himself some business, and got back on the road as quickly as he could. When he was far out of town he stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. The pretty little restaurant sat nestled among some trees beside a burbling brook. He ordered a glass of decent wine and read the menu as he sipped his wine. Slowly his good spirits returned.

The pretty waitress came back to take his order. Now in fine spirits, he said idly, “That creek there,” he said, a smile in his voice. “Anybody able to walk on it without falling in?”

The girl’s eyes opened wide. “You know about that?” she said. “People swear there’s an odd boy with one arm shorter than the other who can walk on that water—but he only does it when nobody’s around. He has this sixth sense about when people are around, so he is never spotted.”

The stranger looked at her in horror. “And you believe that? But just think about it!” he exclaimed. “What you are saying is that no one has ever seen him walking on water!”

“No, no, they have!” she replied defensively.

“But you just said--”

Cold as stone, she raised her pen and pad. “Are you ready to order?” she said. “By the way, we’re out of meatloaf.”

“Please,” the stranger implored her. “Just answer me this. Why would you believe something so preposterous?”

The girl looked at him with a most imperious look. “I mean,” she said, “when you’re not watching, anything could happen. How do you know what’s happening when you’re not looking?”

The stranger slumped back in his chair. After a long moment he raised himself up and said, “I’ll think I’ll have the meatloaf.”

“I told you, we’re out of meatloaf,” the waitress replied severely.

“Right. But I figured that around here you could be out of meatloaf and also have some meatloaf,” he said, laughing hollowly.

“That ridiculous,” the girl replied. “I’ll come back when you’re really ready to order.” She turned away and gave the stranger her sturdy uniformed back. Read more!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Quote of the Day

Dennis McKinsey:

"If God kills, lies, cheats, discriminates, and otherwise behaves in a manner that puts the Mafia to shame, that's okay, he's God. He can do whatever he wants. Anyone who adheres to this philosophy has had his sense of morality, decency, justice and humaneness warped beyond recognition by the very book that is supposedly preaching the opposite."


for information on Eric Maisel's books and services:

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Making the world a better place one message at a time. Read more!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Quote of the Day

Emma Goldman:

"The philosophy of Atheism represents a concept of life without any metaphysical Beyond or Divine Regulator. It is the concept of an actual, real world with its liberating, expanding and beautifying possibilities, as against an unreal world, which, with its spirits, oracles, and mean contentment has kept humanity in helpless degradation."

for information on Eric Maisel's books and services:

for information on The Atheist's Way:

to listen to The Joy of Living Creatively:

to listen to Your Purpose-Centered Life

to subscribe to Eric Maisel's weekly electronic newsletter:

to read the Eric Maisel Creativity Central blog:

To read The Atheist's Way blog:

Making the world a better place one message at a time. Read more!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Some Early Endorsements of The Atheist's Way

"I find Eric Maisel's writings more witty than Hitchens, more polished and articulate than Harris, and more informative and entertaining than Dawkins. A 5-star read from cover to cover! My only complaint is that Maisel is going to leave the rest of us atheist authors in the dust."

-- David Mills, Atheist Universe


"Eric Maisel has given us a lovely, thoughtful book about belief outside of the narrow confines of organized religion. The Atheist's Way offers an uplifting positive answer for anyone interested in how to live life without gods, superstitions or fairytales. For atheists it is a must read; believers should read it as well, so that we can get beyond the divisiveness of belief versus non-belief."

-- Nica Lalli, Nothing: Something to Believe In


"With this book, Eric Maisel does what none of the New Atheists have succeeded at doing: elaborating what atheists do believe. Maisel invites religious believers to live life as an atheist would, opening their eyes to worlds a religious outlook cannot see. For people who can't even imagine a Godless outlook, I would gladly hand them this book and say, 'Read this and you'll know what goes through my mind every day.' This is a guidebook for brand-new atheists and for anyone wanting to learn how an atheist thinks."

-- Hemant Mehta, I Sold My Soul on eBay


In The Atheist's Way, Eric Maisel takes a giant leap beyond where the New Atheist authors have gone before. Instead of simply criticizing religion or demolishing arguments for the existence of God, Maisel covers new territory and provides a foundation for making meaning and living purposefully without supernatural intervention. A book to be relished by atheists, skeptics, humanists, freethinkers, and unbelievers everywhere.

Donna Druchunas, writerdd on

for information on Eric Maisel's books and services:

for information on The Atheist's Way:

to listen to The Joy of Living Creatively:

to listen to Your Purpose-Centered Life

to subscribe to Eric Maisel's weekly electronic newsletter:

to read the Eric Maisel Creativity Central blog:

To read The Atheist's Way blog:

It's a talkathon – but it's not just talk. Read more!

The Atheist's Way cover

Read more!

Welcome to The Atheist's Way

Welcome! The Atheist's Way appears January, 2009.

Eric Maisel Read more!