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Category Archives: Atheism

Hiring of Accused Atheist Leader Is Reminder That #MeToo Is Still Needed in Organized Atheism – Rewire.News

Posted: October 20, 2019 at 10:10 pm

Its no revelation that the wages of whiteness are real, and that being a straight, white, well-connected male is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to job mobility and privilege. Its also no revelation that white men can lie, cheat, steal, commit serial sexual harassment, and abuse with impunity and still land on their feet. This American-as-apple-pie regime didnt begin or end with Donald Trump, nor with all the predator corporate executives, middle managers, and rank-and-file employees who werent brought down by #MeToo.

The global resonance of the #MeToo movement has obscured the degree to which it remains business as usual for scores of sexual harassment and abuse victims who rarely get second, third or fourth chances to rebound after the devastation of being victimized in the workplace. This pattern of victim silencing and ofrehabbing alleged perps has been on insidious display recently as some prominent male leaders and execs have been able to creep back to respectability with new positions and roles in their respective industries, including, to take just a few examples, John Lasseter (formerly of Pixar), James Rosen (formerly of Fox), and Marcelo Gomes (formerly of the American Ballet Theater).

The recent decision by Atheist Alliance International (AAI) to hirethe former leader of American Atheists, David Silverman, to its executive director position is yet another indication that this business-as-usual rehab strategy also applies to movement atheism, which can be just as corrupt, cronyistic, and swaggeringly hostile to women as corporate America. Last year, Silverman was fired from American Atheists after allegations of sexual misconduct and financial impropriety were made against him. The claims leveled against Silverman by two female accusers were extensively detailed byBuzzFeeds Peter Aldhous, whose 2018 article notes that one of the women was reluctant to use her full name because of concerns about hostility experienced by other women who have made allegations of sexual misconduct against prominent atheists.

As I wrote in a September 2018 piece for RD, Silverman was one of several male atheist leaders whod been accused of sexual misconduct. According to The Friendly Atheist blog, AAI reached out to Silverman via a friendship with a board member, then created a paid executive director position expressly for him. Must be nice. While women of color in all sectors are routinely shut out of entry level, middle, and executive management positions, white males get carte blanche, have positions of authority created for and handed to them; then receive multiple breaks and opportunities for redemption when they screw up.

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These disparities have driven women of color out of organized atheism, spurring the creation of secular humanist feminist of color initiatives like this months Women of Color Beyond Belief conference. The event was a collaboration between the Black Non-Believers organization, headed by Black atheist activist Mandisa Thomas, and the Black Skeptics Los Angeles organization, which I founded. Focusing on racial and gender justice, the conference was the first national gathering by, for, and about secular women of color. It was intended as a safe space and platform for progressive sociopolitical issuessuch as the intersection of sexual violence, domestic abuse, reproductive rights, and the criminalization of Black and brown bodiesthat are frequently marginalized in mainstream atheism and humanism.

At the conference, many women of color presenters spoke of being in the crosshairs of misogynistic, heteronormative religious traditions and racist, sexist atheist and humanist institutions. Far from being a refuge from religious tyranny, mainstream atheism is just another microcosm of American gender and racial hierarchies.

Defining ourselves, for ourselves, as Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde once said, were not content to sit back and let atheism be hijacked by gatekeeping patriarchs. But AAIs appointment of Silverman foregrounds how the cult of charismatic white male atheist leadership makes mainstream atheism an untenable space for women of color, queer folks, and progressive white women pushing back against the ritual silencing of sexual abuse survivors and business-as-usual cosigning.

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Hiring of Accused Atheist Leader Is Reminder That #MeToo Is Still Needed in Organized Atheism - Rewire.News

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A lot of people were Googling ‘Ron Reagan’ after his atheism ad aired – WTHR

Posted: at 10:10 pm

President Ronald Reagan's son had a lot of people talking during Tuesday night's Democratic debate.

He wasn't among the 12 candidates on the stage in Ohio, but his appearance in a commercial promoting atheism clearly caught folks off guard.

In the commercial, Reagan promotes the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a non-profit organization advocating for atheists and the separation of church and state.

"Hi, I'm Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I'm alarmed by the intrusion of religion into our secular government," Reagan says to begin in the ad.

The ad itself isn't new, as the foundation's press release notes its been around since at least 2014, but how Reagan ends the ad is certainly attention grabbing.

"Please support the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell."

With the spot airing in a national slot, Ron Reagan quickly became the top trending search on Google, according to Google Trends.

According to the FFRF, ABC refused to air the ad during the Sept. 12 Democratic debate and other networks have turned them down, including CBS and NBC, since 2014.

CNN plans to air the ad twice during the Oct. 15 CNN/New York Times debate and it was scheduled to air again several times on Wednesday evening.

The ad received lots of reactions on social media with some people feeling blindsided, including Omarosa, who appeared on "The Apprentice" with President Donald Trump then joined his administration.

Some conservatives shared the ad to criticize Democrats.

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Franklin Graham: Atheist Ron Reagan Better Be Afraid of Burning in Hell – Friendly Atheist – Patheos

Posted: at 10:10 pm

Evangelist Franklin Graham is very disturbed by the Freedom From Religion Foundations ad featuring Ron Reagan, seen during the recent Democratic presidential debate. Thats the one in which the son of the former president said hes a lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.

In a Facebook post this morning, Graham lamented at the idea of President Reagans son saying such a horrible thing:

I was saddened to see the news that President Ronald Reagans son, Ron, Jr., is a self-proclaimed atheist, and proud of it. His father was certainly quite different President Reagan had a deep faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. Ron, Jr., was in a television advertisement to raise money for the Freedom From Religion Foundation that aired during the Democratic debate this week and got a lot of attention. He boasted in the ad that he was a lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell. Wow. It is, of course, his choice to believe or not to believe in God and His plan of salvation through Christ. But whether an individual believes in God, heaven, or hell doesnt change the reality. The Bible tells us that hell is a place of torment, fire, and separation from God and hell awaits those who do not repent of their sin and put their faith and trust in Christ. Lets pray that Ron will know the saving love of Jesus Christ and turn to Him before it is too late.

Its odd, but not surprising, that Graham is more disturbed by the idea of a proud atheist than he is by anything Donald Trump has done in the past several days (much less years). So dont get thrown off by his supposed concern. This is the same person who thinks transgender people using the proper bathroom is some national crisis. His sense of moral decency needs serious realignment.

Ron Reagans atheism is also not new. He mentioned it in a New York Times interview in 2004. He alluded to it during his mothers funeral. Even the ad that aired during the debate was filmed six years ago. As usual, Graham is just late to the party.

What Graham is saying in his post is far more offensive than anything Reagan said in that ad. Graham makes it clear that an eternity of torture awaits Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Satanists, and atheists anyone who doesnt subscribe to his personal brand of bullshit. The only hope everyone else has is accepting Christian mythology by the time theyre on their deathbeds.

Graham wants to threaten you with hellfire. Reagan just warned people about the intrusions of religion into our secular government and said, colorfully, that hes an atheist.

Only one of those guys deserves condemnation.

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Podcast Ep. 292: The Unabashed Atheist Who’s Not Afraid of Hell – Friendly Atheist – Patheos

Posted: at 10:09 pm

In our latest podcast, Jessica and I discussed the past week in politics and atheism.

We talked about:

Hemant has a new YouTube channel! Have you subscribed? You should.

Why is Attorney General Bill Barr using his platform to promote Christianity? (0:29)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation got a lot of mileage out of its controversial Ron Reagan ad during the Democratic debate. (7:22)

The Pew Research Center says Christianity is in rapid decline. (15:30)

Theres another Hobby Lobby-linked scandal at the Museum of the Bible. (21:25)

A church exploited the death of an atheist mothers baby. (26:20)

A Florida Democrat (!) wants to force public schools to offer Bible classes again. (37:48)

The Catholic Church is selling smart rosaries. For cold hard cash. (45:32)

A Dutch family has been hidden in the basement for years, apparently waiting for the end of the world. (48:52)

Former congresswoman Michele Bachmann says climate change isnt a problem since God said we wouldnt be flooded again. (54:12)

Wed love to hear your thoughts on the podcast. If you have any suggestions for people we should chat with, please leave them in the comments, too.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Google Play, stream all the episodes on SoundCloud or Stitcher, or just listen to the whole thing below. Our RSS feed is here. And if you like what youre hearing, please consider supporting this site on Patreon and leaving us a positive rating!

(Screenshot via YouTube)

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Podcast Ep. 292: The Unabashed Atheist Who's Not Afraid of Hell - Friendly Atheist - Patheos

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One Cure for Malnutrition of the Soul – The New York Times

Posted: at 10:09 pm

One sibling in my family was nearly destroyed by religion. The clergy in our diocese committed a monstrous crime, the scourge of sexual abuse known to many Catholic communities. Another sibling was made whole by religion, after losing a son to murder and finding that no one but God could salve her wounds. There are no clean lines in our clan.

On the trail, I repeatedly heard the term deep walking. My fellow pilgrims were an odd assortment of spiritual stragglers of a certain age. But there were also many young people. And for the young, as I heard it described, a pilgrimage is a way to do religion.

At a Benedictine monastery in a tiny village in northern France, it was strangely moving to eat dinner in utter silence among a handful of men whove shed all material comforts to engage in rigorous daily aerobics of the soul. I missed Wi-Fi, Twitter, emails and endless digital updates, until I didnt.

At a stopover in Laon, a city of shimmering stone 300 feet above the plains of Picardy in France, I tried to fathom the power of miracles. About 80 percent of Americans believe in them. As a pilgrim, I had to dampen down my doubts, to try to see things in another dimension. Miracles are not contrary to nature, as St. Augustine wrote, but only contrary to what we know about nature.

I was less moved by one of the high shrines of atheism, in Langres, the hometown of the Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot. The town is just one step short of being Diderot Disneyland, which only the French could pull off. But after deep immersion in his beautiful, busy mind, I still felt a bit empty. Religion is story, a narrative about a force much greater than us, enigmatic by nature. Atheism has trouble telling a story.

In the Swiss Alps, a permanent prayer started to honor Maurice, said to be the first black saint, has been recited day after day, year after year, century after century by a rotating band of monks known as the Sleepless Ones. The martyred Maurice, who was from North Africa, is revered. His modern comeback has much to do with the vibrancy and growth of Christianity in Africa at a time when Christianity in Europe is dying off. If present trends hold, within 20 years Africa will have more Catholics than the Continent.

At Great St. Bernard Pass, the high point of the Via Francigena, at 8,114 feet, I was fascinated by a priest of 40 years who still struggled with his faith. Doubts are allowed by God, said this man who introduced himself as Father John of Flavigny, a onetime medical student. Its a bit like training for sports. If you only ride a bicycle with the wind at your back, thats not going to help you. You need to ride your bike against the wind.

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Nick Cave says hes repelled by woke cultures self-righteous belief and lack of humility – NME Live

Posted: at 10:09 pm

"I am left feeling bored and cornered by the hubris of their own sureness."

Nick Cave has posted his latest edition of The Red Hand Files, in which he writes about his distaste for a number of ideologies including woke culture, atheism and organised religion.

On the service, where Cave answers questions from fans, he was asked about his political views, how woke he thinks he is, and his reasons for writing.

Living in a state of enquiry, neutrality and uncertainty, beyond dogma and grand conviction, is good for the business of songwriting, and for my life in general, he said. This is the reason I tend to become uncomfortable around all ideologies that brand themselves as the truth or the way.

This not only includes most religions, but also atheism, radical bi-partisan politics or any system of thought, including woke culture, that finds its energy in self-righteous belief and the suppression of contrary systems of thought.

Expanding on his criticism of woke culture, Cave said: Regardless of the virtuous intentions of many woke issues, it is its lack of humility and the paternalistic and doctrinal sureness of its claims that repel me.

Nick Cave

Antifa and the Far Right, for example, with their routine street fights, role-playing and dress-ups are participants in a weirdly erotic, violent and mutually self-sustaining marriage, propped up entirely by the blind, inflexible convictions of each others belief systems. It is good for nothing, except inflaming their own self-righteousness. The New Atheists and their devout opponents are engaged in the same dynamic.

Cave also said: This is not to suggest we should not have our convictions or, indeed, that we should not be angry with the state of the world, or that we should not fight in order to correct the injustices committed against it. Conviction and anger can be the most powerful expressions of universal love.

Cave discussed similar issues when asked about Morrisseys recent declarations of far-right support on The Red Hand Files.

While stating that he didnt agree with Morrisseys views, Cave emphasised that he felt it would be dangerous if the former Smiths man wasnt allowed to voice his opinions.

The musician, who released his acclaimed new album Ghosteen earlier this month, has also used the website to offer moving advice on body positivity to a 16 year-old fan, reveal that a third Grinderman album is planned, and to discuss being dumped by PJ Harvey.

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HARROD: Professor Claims Islam Is Not The Root Of Islamic Terrorism – The Daily Wire

Posted: at 10:09 pm

If you want to identify people who are okay with suicide bombing, I can give you a list, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Michigan State University Professor Mohammad Hassan Khalil told me at a September Georgetown University lecture. Khalil theorized before an audience of some thirty people at the Saudi-founded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) that Islams atheistic critics exaggerate the religions role in inciting violence.

While ACMCU Professor Jonathan Brown moderated, Khalils responses ironically reinforced the critique of Islam he sought to refute. For the record, Qaradawis primetime show on Qatars Al Jazeera network drew an estimated 60 million viewers. Even had he been the lone cleric promoting suicide bombing which he was not the size of his viewership reveals the scope of the problem.

At the Georgetown event, Khalil presented his previously recorded discussion of his new book, Jihad, Radicalism, and the New Atheism, in which he disputes claims of many New Atheists, particularly Sam Harris, that Muslim terrorism can be best explained by Islamic scriptures. Harris further labels benign interpretations of Islam as interpretive acrobatics.

Khalil explained his focus on the so-called New Atheists, saying that [m]any of [his] own colleagues and students have been and continue to be more profoundly impacted by the writings of New Atheists than, say, polemical works by far-right religiously-affiliated critics of Islam. Correspondingly, he cited Harriss statement to fellow atheist Bill Maher that we have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas.

Although critics such as the ex-Muslim atheists behind the Awesome Without Allah campaign would affirm Harriss observations, Khalil accused Harris of cherry-picking. Reiterating his previous analysis of Islamic canons to argue that jihadists like Osama bin Laden use interpretative acrobatics to justify attacks on civilians,Khalil asserted that Harriss interpretation of Islam is so obdurate and so extreme that it cannot even be ascribed to the man behind 9/11.

Khalil claimed such jihadists are on the fringes of the jihad tradition in Islam, despite ample precedent of jihadists applying distinctly Islamic doctrines to fight non-Muslims. The attempts of al Qaeda and ISIS to justify terrorism on Islamic grounds typically require the abandonment of both strict literalism and the historically prevailing interpretations of Islamic thought, Khalil said. Before the early 1980s, there was no such thing as a Muslim suicide bomber, Khalil added.

He next criticized the portrayal of a failed suicide bomber in Harriss book The End of Faith. Instead of accepting Harris description of terrorists motives as religiously informed, Khalil cited common, debunked tropes of socioeconomic disadvantage driving men to violent jihad. Khalil concluded, erroneously, that in blaming Islams foundational texts for contemporary terrorism, while downplaying other factors, arguments of the New Atheists are just as facile as those of the apologists they criticize.

This continues a common trend of denying the Islamist roots of jihadi attacks, even as survey data show that a deeply disturbing minority of Muslim believers support terrorism. As Israeli analyst Shmuel Bar wrote in 2004, in leading Islamic clerical circles, radical ideology does not represent a marginal and extremist perversion of Islam, but rather a[n] increasingly mainstream interpretation.

During the audience question and answer session at Georgetown, moderator Jonathan Brown failed to assuage concerns about the religious nature of jihad, even as he assailed New Atheists as the most intense representatives of this sort of white, patriarchal West is best idea. He referenced his 2007 Yemen trip, during which he saw cigarette lighters for sale with themes of Bin Laden and Hassan Nasrallah, the terrorist Hezbollah leader. Brown strained believability to dismiss these images as indicating not support for terrorism, but for individuals who really stuck it to the man of Western imperialism as if mass atrocities were mere protest.

Khalil stated that he is obsessed with 9/11 in a dark way. Yet his obsession hardly obviates valid concerns about radical Islamic jihad. In dismissing historically accurate criticisms of radical Islam and Islamism, Muslims like Khalil undermine their credibility and, by hosting such apologists, ACMCU reaffirms its place as Americas leading center of Islamist propaganda.

Andrew E. Harrod is a Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher, and writer who holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter at @AEHarrod.

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A Neglected Modern Masterpiece and Its Perverse Hero – The New Yorker

Posted: at 10:09 pm

Imagine a novel about an ambitious, slightly coarse, provincial young man, determined to make his name in the capital city. He is tall and strong, with uncanny blue eyessea-cold, merman eyes. He talks too loudly. One of the capitals most polished journalists dismisses him as a swaggering farmboy. Even the rich heiress who almost marries him agrees with him that he is like a mountain troll from a fairy tale; her sister, on first meeting him, noticed his slightly provincial shoes. But he has brilliance and will, and others welcome this young engineer with a head full of projects as the prototype of the active man of the twentieth century, a figure from a different, luckier tale, an Aladdin (as one of his friends crowns him) who will surely prosper and triumph. The novel describes this journey.

Now imagine that the novel systematically subverts the swelling arc of the bildungsromanthat, on the cusp of each achievement, some ghostly hand pulls our hero back from victory. He is about to leave his mark in the capital city, but eventually withdraws. He is about to marry the rich heiress, but calls off the engagement. He returns to the country and starts a family with a modest country girl, but he isnt happy there, either: He was like a clock whose insides had been carefully removed, piece by piece. In fact, our Aladdin seems destined to follow the serial emaciations of Hans in Luck, one of the Grimms fairy tales, in which Hans, having been paid in gold by his master, is persuaded to exchange his gold for a horse, then his horse for a cow, then his cow for a pig, and so on, until finally he loses everything, and returns home happy and unencumbered. His luck is his reduction.

The hero of this novel comes to the conclusion that all worldly treasures lost their worth as he got closer to them. He spends his final years living in virtual isolation in a remote rural area in the north of the country. After his untimely death, a notebook of his is found, which contains these beautiful words of fatalism and rebellion:

When we are young, we make immoderate demands on those powers that steer existence. We want them to reveal themselves to us. The mysterious veil under which we have to live offends us; we demand to be able to control and correct the great world-machinery. When we get a little older, in our impatience we cast our eye over mankind and its history to try to find, at last, a coherence in laws, in progressive development; in short, we seek a meaning to life, an aim for our struggles and suffering. But one day, we are stopped by a voice from the depths of our beings, a ghostly voice that asks Who are you? From then on we hear no other question. From that moment, our own true self becomes the great Sphinx, whose riddle we try to solve.

This shattering, sometimes unbearably powerful novel, completed in 1904, was written by Henrik Pontoppidan, who won the Nobel Prize in 1917. It is considered one of the greatest Danish novels; the filmmaker Bille August turned the story into a nearly three-hour movie called, in English, A Fortunate Man (2019). The novel was praised by Thomas Mann and Ernst Bloch, and is effectively at the center of Georg Lukcss classic study The Theory of the Novel (1920). In Danish, it is called Lykke-Per; in German, it was given the title of the Grimm brothers fairy tale Hans im Glck. And in English? In English, it didnt exist, having gone untranslated for more than a century, until the scholar Naomi Lebowitz administered the translators equivalent of a magic kiss and roused it from shameful oblivion. Published nine years ago in academic format, Lucky Per has finally appeared in Everymans Library, in Lebowitzs fluent and lucid version, with an excellent introduction by the novelist and critic Garth Risk Hallberg. Our luck has caught up with everyone elses.

Have I spoiled the plot by revealing the ending? The critic only gives away in silver what the great novel eventually releases as gold. Besides, its almost impossible to discuss Lucky Per without discussing the shape of its plot, because the radical oddity of the book is so bound up with the heros final renunciations. At first sight, Lucky Per looks like a stolid work of realism. It is almost six hundred pages long. Through its ample halls moves a large cast of characters, from several layers of Danish societymiddle-class clergymen, rich merchants, lawyers and politicians, writers and intellectuals. There is much conversation about the coming century: the fate of the nation, the future of technology.

But one reason its generally unwise to talk about a single style called realism is that prose narrative is so often lured away from conventional verisimilitude by rival genres, notably allegory and fairy tale. The books opening chapter is at once familiarly realistic and heavy with the ironic fatalism of the folktale. In a small market town in East Jutland, Per Sidenius is one of eleven children growing up in an austerely religious family. His father is a pastor with an ascetic hatred of the body. His mother is bedridden. While his brothers and sisters mutter their prayers in a sort of underworld blindness to the light and full of a dread of life and its glory, Per is a singular, rebellious life force. He sneaks out of the house to go sledding, he flirts with a local girl. When a parishioner complains to the pastor that Per has been stealing apples from his garden, the wayward son is severely admonished at family dinner, warned that he could end up like Cain, the first murderer, whom God cursed thus: You will be a wandering fugitive in all the earth. His siblings weep in dismay, but Per silently scoffs. At the age of sixteen, he escapes this prison, and goes to Copenhagen to study engineering at the Polytechnic Institute. The coming-of-age novel, Pers sentimental education, will now begin in earnest, as the dark, religious family grotto recedes into the distance of legend.

Alas, the past cannot be escaped so easily. Fable and allegory curl themselves like creepers around our heros feet. Per has, in effect, been exiled from Eden, for the Adamic sin of stealing apples. But his home wasnt Edenic, and besides, he doesnt share his fathers Christian faith. If he hasnt committed a sin, how can he be cursed? All the secular energy of this noveland it has a magnificent, liberating secular powerpushes against the reality of the pastors Old Testament damnation. Yet Per is cursed: hes destined to wander, destined to quest, and destined to fail. With a steady, returning beat, closer to allegorical verse than to realist fiction, the novel reminds us of its guiding theme: the homelessness of its hero, condemned to spend his life in the lonely quest for a metaphysical safe harbor. So is Pers curse a religious curse or a fairy-tale curse? And what is the difference between the two?

Pers odd life path might simply be the result of being born into the Sidenius family. The Sideniuses, we learn at the novels opening, trace their lineage, through generations of ministers, all the way back to the Reformation. Its a family tree of unimpeachable piety and dreary episcopal conformity, with one exception. An ancestor, also a pastor, known as Mad Sidenius, somehow went off the rails. He drank brandy with the peasants, and assaulted the parish clerk. In a novel haunted by insanity and suicide, the memory of this family outcast is important. The potentially blasphemous question rears its head again: if its a curse to be a Sidenius, is Per cursed by generations of unerring piety, or by that ancestral aberrant flash of madness?

Henrik Pontoppidans life began much like his fictional heros. He was born in 1857, the son of a Jutland pastor, into a family that had produced countless clergymen. Unlike Per, Pontoppidan seems to have remained on friendly terms with his family, despite drifting away from his inherited Christianity. In his memoir, published in 1940, three years before his death, he declared himself to be an out-and-out rationalist, dismayed by the tenacity of religious superstition. Like Per, he left the provinces to study engineering at the Polytechnic Institute in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen of the eighteen-seventies and eighties has been described (by the critic Morten Hi Jensen) as the first real battleground of European Modernism. A parochially Protestant culture was beginning to do intellectual trade with the rest of Europe: French realism and naturalism, Darwinism and radical atheism were the imported goods. The two most talented conduits of these new freedoms were the novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen and the critic Georg Brandes, both of whom make appearances in fictionalized form in Lucky Per. Jacobsen translated Darwins major work into Danish, and wrote what is surely one of the most fanatically and superbly atheistic novels in existence, Niels Lyhne (1880). A lyrical aesthete and a Flaubertian prose polisher, he is pictured, in Lucky Per, as the sickly poet Enevoldsen, fussing with his lorgnette at a Copenhagen caf while worrying about where to put a comma. Jacobsen was championed by Brandes, whose lectures at the University of Copenhagen in 1871 were an inspiration for a generation of Scandinavian writers. (Brandes and Pontoppidan corresponded for decades.) Brandes had read Mill, Hegel, Feuerbach, Strauss. A fervent atheist, he introduced Danish readers to Nietzsche and, late in life, wrote a book entitled Jesus: A Myth (1925). He was an advocate of European naturalism, and of fiction that attended to the social and political moment. It was time, he argued, to open Denmark up to the outsidea movement that became known as the Modern Breakthrough. In Lucky Per, Brandes appears throughout the novel, more invoked than encountered, as the dominating Dr. Nathan, sometimes nicknamed Dr. Satan. Brandes was Jewish, and Pontoppidan, remarkably alert to European anti-Semitism throughout the novel, writes that Per had kept his distance from Dr. Nathan because of this: He simply didnt like that foreign race, nor did he have any leaning toward literary men.

But Pers life will soon be changed by another Jewish character, and one who shares the bulk of the novel with him: the fierce, brilliant, troubled Jakobe Salomon. Per meets Jakobe through her brother, Ivan, who decides, early in the novel, that Per has the potential of a Caesar on whose brow God has written I come, I see, I conquer! Pers imperial impulses are manifest in his vast utopian engineering project, which envisages a system of canals on the Dutch model that will connect Denmarks rivers, lakes, and fjords with one another, and put the cultivated heaths and the flourishing new towns into contact with the sea on both sides. His dream is a physical enactment of Brandess Modern Breakthrough. He also shares Brandess atheism. There was no hell, Per reflects, other than what mankind, afraid of loves joy and the bodys force, created in its monstrous imagination. The Anglophone reader is sometimes reminded of Thomas Hardy or D.H. Lawrence. Per exults in the healthy secularism of the body: The embrace of man and woman was the heaven in which there is oblivion for all sorrows, forgiveness for all sins, where souls meet in guiltless nakedness like Adam and Eve in the garden of paradise.

With the ruthlessness of the provincial hero, Per decides that marriage to an heiress of the vast Salomon merchant fortune will speed him on his way. At first, though, he stirs in Jakobe a deep-seated hatred of Christian culture, and she treats him with an insulting haughtiness. Bookish, sensitive, twenty-three, and already considered a bit of an old maid by her family, Jakobe had been a sickly child, and the target of anti-Semitic bullying. Per triggers in her a memory, at once sharp and hallucinatory, narrated with dreamlike indulgence by Pontoppidan, and one of the novels most potent scenes. Four years earlier, Jakobe had been in a Berlin railway station. Her eye was caught by a group of pitiable, ragged people surrounded by a circle of curious, gaping onlookers. When she asked a station official how to get to the waiting room, he replied that with her nose she should find it easy to smell her way there. On the floor of the waiting room were hundreds more desperate, emaciated paupers. Suddenly, she realized that they were Russian Jews, on their way to America via Germany. She had heard of the pogroms, and was astounded that this infamy crying out to heaven could happen right before Europes eyes with no authoritative voice raised against it! Pers Nordic frame and blue eyes make her think of two police officers she glimpsed in Berlin, who seemed the embodiments of the brutal self-righteousness of the Christian society she lives in.

With great ironic power, Pontoppidan convinces us that Jakobe and Per must inevitably hate each other, and then, soon enough, that these two damaged creatures could have found comfort only in each other. Their relationship is passionately erotic and ardently intellectual; Jakobe, again like some heroine out of D.H. Lawrence, is helplessly attracted to Per, despite the blaring correctives from her conscience. The couple have in common their committed atheism, their hatred of the established church, and a sense of being chosenby theology, by race, by similarly heroic notions of destiny.

Garth Risk Hallberg, in his introduction, says that Jakobe Salomon is as intelligent as anyone out of James, as bold as anyone out of Austen, as perverse as anyone out of Dostoyevsky, and adds that, with all due respect, the frankness and amplitude of Pontoppidans depiction of the Salomon household leaves George Eliots Daniel Deronda in the dust. I like it when writers are made to run races with one another, precisely because were supposed to be above such competitions, and I also think that Hallberg is right. Jakobe is utterly alive and complex, and burns at the living center of the book. Pontoppidan endows her with an extraordinary intellectual restlessness, and allows her some of the most movingly lucid secular proclamations I have ever encountered in fiction.

One of these statements, a long letter that she writes to Per, becomes an eloquent, scalding testament to her atheism and her faith in the known limits of our worldly existence. She excoriates Christianitys exaggerated anxiety about death and, following Nietzsche, complains about the link between the fear of death and slave morality:

Never will I forget the impression that some plaster casts of bodies excavated in Pompeii made on me. There were, among others, a master and his slave, both evidently caught by surprise in the rain of ash.... But what a difference in the facial expressions! On the slaves face, you could read the most confusing puzzlement. He was overturned on his back, his eyebrows were raised up to his hairline, the thick mouth open, and you could virtually hear him screaming like a stuck pig. The other, by contrast, had preserved his mastered dignity unto death. His almost-closed eyes, the fine mouth pressed shut, were marked by the proudest and most beautiful resignation in relation to the inevitable.

My primary complaint against Christianitys hope of eternal life is that it robs this life of its deep seriousness and, with that, its beauty. When we imagine our existence here on earth as only a dress rehearsal for the real performance, what remains of lifes festiveness?

The powerful secular argument of the novel resides in the freedom and intensity of Per and Jakobes brief relationship. Theres a marvellous scene in the Austrian Alps, where Per has travelled after the couples engagement, and where Jakobe has arrived without notice. The time they spend together in the Alps constitutes their true marriage, a new birth and baptism. One day, out walking, they come across a crude wooden cross, a simple hillside shrine with a rough painting of Jesus. Per tells Jakobe a fable that he heard as a child, about a farm boy who wants to become a great shot, a magic marksman. But in order to achieve this the boy must go out at night, find an image of Christ, and shoot a bullet through it. Every time the lad tries to do it, his confidence wavers, his hand shakes, and he fails the test. He remains a common Sunday hunter for the rest of his life.

Per turns back to the hillside shrine. Look at that pale man hanging there! he says. Why dont we have the courage to spit from disgust right in his face. Per takes out his revolver and fires at the image of Jesus, while yelling, Now I shoot in the new century! As the cross splinters, a second, hollow boom sounds through the valley, like infernal thunder. Per blanches, and then laughs, remembering the signposts he had seen earlier: Take notice of the echo!

Heavy, God-infested, magnificently metaphysical, unafraid to court ridicule, and playing for the highest possible stakesthey dont write like that anymore. They didnt write much like that in 1904, though Knut Hamsun, in 1890, and Jens Peter Jacobsen, in 1880, and above all Dostoyevsky, the great progenitor, had all sounded something like this, not so long before. Given the novels astonishingly raw atheism, how are we to read the religious renunciation of its ending? At the novels close, Jakobe and Per appear to be living alone, and each is now committed to a life of religious seriousness, though neither is a religious believer: Per in the remote north, living in monkish retreat, and Jakobe in Copenhagen, where she has founded a charity school for poor children.

Throughout, Per is hard to comprehend in his cloudy questing. At one momentaround the time of his mothers deathhe is pulled back toward his inherited faith, repenting his lust for worldly success and begging forgiveness from God. But fifty or so pages later his recoil from Christian self-sacrifice is palpable once again; he is repelled, for instance, by Thomas Kempiss lament, in Imitation of Christ, that truly, it is an affliction to live in the world. Per reflects that he is at home neither among ascetic Christiansthe piety of the Sideniusesnor among the children of the world: the luxury of the Salomons. And yet, troubled by this very homelessness, he feels that one must choose: on one side, renunciation; on the other, the world. Which is it to be? For it is necessary to take a stand, to swear fidelity... to the cross or champagne.

In the end, Per surrenders to the religious impulses of a faith he seems to stand outside of. We have been here before, in this world of a deformed and contradictory atheism. Raging heroes in Dostoyevsky, Jacobsen, and Hamsun enjoy denouncing a God they dont believe in. But Per Sidenius is stranger still, because he seems to want to imitate a Christ he doesnt believe in. Thomas Mann praised Pontoppidan as a kind of gentle prophet, for having judged the times and, like the true poet which he is, pointed toward a purer humanity. In a suggestive afterword, the novels translator, Naomi Lebowitz, notes how Per restlessly evicts himself from all those places which could offer him refuge. Subtler than Mann, she also sees Pers journey as the discovery of, finally, an authentic and transparent sense of self... the need to be himself, by himself.

The novel encourages such readings. Pers notebook, written in his final years, contains the following entry: Honor to my youths expansive dreams! And I am still a world conqueror. Every mans soul is an independent universe, his death the extinction of the universe in miniature. In this reading, Lucky Per, though rather Scandinavian in its religious intensity, is a still familiar version of the bildungsroman, in which our hero ventures out into the world, tastes success, tastes the ashes of success, and retreats to ponder, on his own authentic terms, the riddle of the self that has always preoccupied him. Fredric Jameson has suggested that we should see this as a happy ending, albeit an ironic one, in which Per has managed to get beyond success or failure.

Yet how can we accept the ironic wisdom of this ending without smothering the vital force of the novels earlier secularism? Where have the magic marksmen, willing not only to spit at Christ but to shoot at Christ, gone? Where has Jakobes proud Roman master scuttled away to? You dont have to be a fully paid-up Nietzschean to feel that if you no longer believe in the Christian God you should no longer believe in that Christian Gods slave morality. If you have rejected the content of the faith, why mimic its more self-punishing practices? Pers imagined choice between cross or champagne is not only a false choice but a mutilated one, posed by a reduced version of Christianity. In fact, Lucky Per emerges as a savage critique of the persistence, in Danish culture, of a certain Kierkegaardian masochism, in which all choices are made religious rather than secular, purifyingly negative rather than complicatedly affirmative. Kierkegaard said that one had to be a kind of lunatic in order to be a true Christian. Is there a difference between this form of religious madness and actual madness? Lucky Per inserts its secular, novelistic lever into just this question.

What if Pers final renunciation is a narrative false flag? Instead of looking at Per, we should perhaps look toward Jakobe, whose own renunciation takes her into the world, not away from it, and who seems to manage this turn without compromising her defiant secularism. She is the novels true hero. How do you get back to Eden? Back to the place you inhabited before the original religious curse? Back to a home before religion made it a home you could be exiled from? If you are a wandering, homeless Christian, scarred by original sin, the answer might be: in the arms of a wandering Jewbut one whose own itinerancy is unseduced by the lure of religion, whose own secularism is not tempted by the simplicity of religious masochism. In the strange switchback of their lives, Per and Jakobe each redefined the meaning of luck. The shame was that they could not share it. Lucky Jakobe, unlucky Per.

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A Neglected Modern Masterpiece and Its Perverse Hero - The New Yorker

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Everyone’s suspicious of atheists even other atheists – SBS

Posted: August 22, 2017 at 11:43 pm

In the U.S. and plenty of other places around the world, atheism is on the rise. In just under half of the worlds countries, according to Pew Research Center, the second-largest religious group is people who claim no religion at all. In the United States, while recent research has shown an uptick in the number of people who identify as atheist, definitive numbers are hard to come by; one survey last year put it around 10 percent, whilea more recent study argued that it was as high as 26 percent.

Whatever the true number is, though, there remains a disconnect between atheisms popularity and its reputation: According to a new study published last week in Nature, people all over the world connect immorality with atheism. In fact, the moral prejudice against atheists is so strong that it holds even in countries like the Netherlands, where most people arent religious. Even atheists themselves, according to the study, are inclined to see nonbelievers as more wicked than the faithful.

According to a new study published last week in Nature, people all over the world connect immorality with atheism.

Entrenched moral suspicion of atheists suggests that religions powerful influence on moral judgements persists, even among non-believers in secular societies, the authors wrote.

The study, led by University of Kentucky psychology professor Will Gervais, surveyed more than 3,000 people in 13 countries, including nations with Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and non-religious majorities: Australia, China, Czech Republic, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Participants read a description of a man who tortured animals as a child and became even more sadistically violent as he grew up, eventually murdering five homeless people and hiding their dismembered bodies in his basement. The survey then asked some participants if they thought the man was more likely a teacher or religious teacher. Other participants were asked if they though the man was more likely a teacher or an atheist teacher. This setup meant that no one was directly asked if they thought the man was or was not an atheist, but researchers could draw conclusions by comparing how many participants said the man would be an atheist teacher versus how many said he would be a religious teacher.

Entrenched moral suspicion of atheists suggests that religions powerful influence on moral judgements persists, even among non-believers in secular societies, the authors wrote.

As they had hypothesised, the researchers found a universal suspicion of atheist morality across all 13 countries. People overall are roughly twice as likely to view extreme immorality as representative of atheists, relative to believers, they wrote. Consistent with predictions, extreme intuitive moral distrust of atheists is both globally evident and variable in its magnitude across countries.

The association was somewhat stronger in more religious countries, but even in very secular countries in the study Australia, China, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom people were more likely to associate serial killing with atheism, although the gap was narrower. The survey also asked participants to describe their religious beliefs, which allowed the research team to determine that even atheists connected immoral acts to atheism more often than to religious belief.

The authors concluded that people around the world see religion as a necessary restraint on depraved and dangerous behavior. In other words, despite the fact that we live in an increasingly secular world, people still fear those who arent God-fearing.

That finding didnt surprise Joseph Baker, author of American Secularism and a professor in the East Tennessee State University sociology department. An anti-atheist bias is really common and really well established, he said. In the United States, atheists used to be the most disliked among a number of unpopular groups, but are now tied at the top with Muslims, he said; what this new study adds is good data showing that the feeling is international.

Louise Antony, a philosophy professor at UMass Amherst who has written about atheism and morality, also found the study results unsurprising. I could predict it just from what I know about the stereotypes that people hold of atheists, she said.

It wouldnt be surprising that atheists who grow up in cultures disparaging atheists have the same associations.

But Antony also cautioned against drawing too much significance from experiments that may reveal only implicit bias, but not accurately portray peoples more holistic feelings about atheists. For example, Antony said, she has a terrible fear of spiders, the result of some deep-seated association that she wishes she didnt have, since she knows that spiders are almost entirely harmless and kill pests like mosquitoes. Likewise, people even avowed atheists may be handicapped by an implicit connection between atheism and immorality, despite a genuine belief that they themselves are as moral as believers.

The study might also be picking up on a fairly superficial response, Antony said: It wouldnt be surprising that atheists who grow up in cultures disparaging atheists have the same associations.

But even superficial biases can have very real effects, she added. Thats especially true in moments of hot cognition, when people dont have time to stop and reason out their beliefs before taking action, Baker noted.

This latest study is more evidence that atheists are still mistrusted in contemporary society, he said. It means that people who are secular still have a long way to go in terms of getting equal footing in civil discourse. Theres still a lot of prejudice they have to overcome.

This article originally appeared on Science of Us: Article 2017. All Rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content.

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Why We Should Be Compassionate Toward Atheists – National Catholic Register (blog)

Posted: August 20, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Blogs | Aug. 18, 2017

Atheism is gaining converts every day, and we have a rather daunting job of evangelizing those who would rather God did not exist.

Dr. Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy at New York University, wrote in his 1997 book, The Last Word:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-formed people I know are religious believers. It isnt just that I dont believe in God and, naturally, hope that Im right in my belief. Its that I hope there is no God! I dont want there to be a God; I dont want the universe to be like that.

Whether or not Dr. Nagel intended to speak for anyone other than himself, I suspect his sentiments are shared by many atheists who not only dont believe there is a God, but dont want there to be a God.

From the standpoint of Christianity, this prompts this question: Why would anyone not want a loving God to exist? This is a question that all apologistsindeed, all Christians who seek to evangelize atheistsmust ask and attempt to answer. Because if we dont know the answer to that question, we can have all the other answers to all the other questions, and it wont matter. For instance, we can talk about the inexplicable characteristics of the Shroud of Turin, the tilma of Guadalupe, the sun dancing at Fatima, the incorruptibles, and the Eucharistic miracle in Lanciano, but we may not have addressed the real issue for those who wish atheism to be true.

There may be lots of reasons for atheisms recent prevalence, but it is clear that the rise in atheism has taken place alongside the fall of the family. Is there a connection between the two? In his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, psychologist Dr. Paul Vitz answers in the affirmative.

Specifically, Vitz argues that a father often exerts a powerful influence on his childs concept of God. (Since his original book was published in 1999, other studies have provided support for this point.) Dr. Vitz takes a biographical tour of modern atheists and discovers a relatively consistent thread: Looking back at our thirteen major historical rejecters of a personal God, we find a weak, dead, or abusive father in every case. Of course, it is not true, nor is Vitz making the case, that every atheist had a bad fatheror that the mere absence of a father must propel one to atheism. It would also be a fallacy to claim that each atheists fundamental reason for embracing atheism is his paternal relationship. But to Vitzs point (and consistent with the findings of other studies), it is legitimate to argue that some persons may be predisposed to atheism because of their family circumstances.

In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI makes an interesting point along the same lines, alluding to the connection between fatherhood and faith. Pointing out that the Our Father is a great prayer of consolation, insofar as it recognizes and professes God as our Father with Whom we have a personal relationship, Pope Benedict XVI notes that consolation is not experienced by everyone:

It is true, of course, that contemporary men and women have difficulty experiencing the great consolation of the word father immediately, since the experience of the father is in many cases either completely absent or is obscured by inadequate examples of fatherhood.

As Pope Benedict suggests, the idea of God as a father can be a painful reminder that their own father did not, could not, or would not love them. Thus, the idea of spending fifteen minutes, much less eternity, with a father is remarkably unpleasant.

Where does that leave those who are sincerely and charitably trying to convey Gods love to those who are so desperate to disbelieve? Perhaps it starts by recognizing that they are hurt, and what we should do is act with compassion instead of trying to win a debate with them. If you convince someone that their best hope is to spend eternity with a Being they equate with someone who has been abusive to them, you have done them no favors. You may do well to first explain to them who God is, and what Gods love means to you. Along with true knowledge, love and mercy are the essential qualities of a Catholic apologist.

Try to explain Gods love to them, and ask the Holy Spirit for the right words. Sad though it may be, its entirely possible that no one has ever triednever talked about Gods love to them. Its entirely possible that no one has ever told them that God wants them to be happy.

Patience is also critical. Some might seem obstinate in their refusal to believe, or in their inability to admit the possibility that they might be wrong. Respond with patience, and remember that though the argument at hand might be Saint Thomas Aquinas five proofs for Gods existence or the Shroud of Turin, for instance, that may not be what they are actually arguing about. They might be really arguing about their parents, the past, and their pain. Thus, for them, the Shroud of Turin serves as a spiritual Rorschach test in which they dont see Gods pain, but their own. Explain to them that no one wants to ease their pain more than God. It sometimes helps to explain to them how God has eased your own. Dont forget that comforting the afflicted is a spiritual work of mercy not just for other Christians, and it very often must precede instructing the ignorant.

Atheism is gaining converts every day, and we have a rather daunting job of evangelizing those who would rather God did not exist. Many people have had difficult and painful family experiences, and they deserved better. We need to help people understand that God is better. Scripture does not assure us that our own parents will love us; quite the contrary, God warns us that some parents will not love their own children. Thats terribly sad, but its connected with an overwhelming promise that we need to remind people again and again and again: God will never stop loving you. This message is made many times in Scripture, but perhaps most explicitly in passage that must be in our hearts and on our lips going forward in our discussions. It is Isaiah 49:15, and it reads: Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.

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