Saturday, September 12, 2009

Believe It or Not

Bizarro is brought to you today by Invisible Superheroes.

Let's talk for a moment about how scary the word "atheist" has become in current-day America. Many people equate the designation "atheist" with epithets like "nazi," "pedophile," "criminal," and "insurance company CEO." As the funky DJ might say, "Let's break it down, now."

Theist: one who believes in god(s).
Polytheist: one who believes in more than one god.
Monotheist: one who believes in only one god.
Atheist: one who does not believe god(s) exist.
Polyunsaturatedtheist: one who believes that god speaks to us through nutrition labels.

Those who fear atheists and atheism are most often living under the assumption that belief in god is what keeps us from running wild in the streets, looting, murdering, raping, and spitting on the sidewalk. This is a common misconception that is easily debunked by leaving one's own bubble and having a peek at history, anthropology, and cultures other than one's own. Shockingly few American fundamentalist Christians realize that if they had been born and raised in India, they'd be just as convinced of the existence of blue elephants and multi-armed banjo players, as they are of a water-walking Jew.

A large percentage of your really heinous crimes have been committed by people who were under the assumption they could hear their god's voice and were following his orders: Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVey, Osama Bin Laden and all Al Qaeda members including those who took down the World Trade Center, everyone behind the Christian Crusades of the Middle Ages, all KKK members, George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, that guy outside my building with his car stereo cranked up to 140 decibels, the list goes on and on.

Alternately, many law-abiding people who have contributed positively to society have been self-proclaimed atheists: Ron Reagan, David Suzuki, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Dave Barry, George Orwell, Ayn Rand, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, Woody Allen, George Carlin, Ricky Gervais, Katharine Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, Eddie Izzard, Patton Oswalt, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Carl Reiner, Gene Wilder, Bruce Lee, Bob Geldof, Albert Camus, Noam Chomsky, Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynman, Sigmund Freud, Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein and countless others.

Whether you like or dislike the people on this second list, the point is that they are (were) not running rampant in the streets for lack of an invisible superhero in the sky telling them the difference between right and wrong or threatening to smite them if they misbehaved.

Of course, not all of your friends, family and neighbors who do believe in a god are using their faith as a weapon, either. The common sense truth is that people don't need supernatural reasons to be good or bad, just as Sarah Palin does not need to hold a political office to publicly display the thickness of her skull. We all have plenty of reasons of our own for what we do.

Because the "A-word" has become synonymous with evil, as erroneous as that is, many atheists prefer to be called "nontheist." I'm not one to give in to language games to try to change people's attitudes, however. Polite terms for Americans of African descent have gone from "colored" to "black" to "African American" in my lifetime alone, and it hasn't stopped racists from declaring President Obama was born in Kenya.

So call me what you will, but don't expect to see me bombing, stealing, raping, discriminating, or denying people basic rights for lack of, or in the name of, invisible superheroes. And don't bother trying to talk "sense" into me with threats of a pyromaniacal dude in tights carrying a pitchfork. Halloween isn't for several more weeks yet.


Unknown said...

Don't militant Muslims show disdain towards atheists as much as militant Christians?

Also, this is off topic, and the video is old, but the message remains true:

Diane said...

Very good blog; I saw that cartoon in the Denver Post the other day and appreciated it. I'm always amazed when someone who's intelligent is religious -- the two just don't seem to go together.

Jeremy Nguyen said...

Think about how different (and maybe more accurate) it might be if they all said "don't" instead of "can't".

Another clever one! love it

Randy said...

Amen, Dan! Er...I mean Right On, Dan! My thoughts exactly...

Raydancer said...

The main trouble I have in understanding atheists is how they can get such a holier-than-thou attitude without a basis for holiness. In nicer words, do you have to be so condescending about it?

tanya said...

how do you come up with this stuff! awesome!

you know what would be a good prize to your contests is drawing that person in one of your cartoons... but i suppose a percentage of people wouldn't want to be in this one haha.

Dean said...

I concur! Thanks Dan, I really liked this post.

Dimension Skipper said...

I really liked this strip. I wondered if you considered as dialogue the following lines...

"I can't believe it's not butter!"

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing."

I guess there probably would have been trademark infringement issues and/or written permission from the associated companies would have been required... Am I right? Just wondering.

Perhaps they're not any funnier than what you used. I don't know. They just seem like they'd be instantly recognizable by many readers (only with a slight twist), but appropriate in the cafe setting. Though honestly I'm not sure if any such recognizability factor would help or hinder the gag.

Shoshanah Marohn said...

Very well said! - an atheist

Unknown said...


L. Erskine said...

I agree completely.

I am open about being an atheist.

Just last night a had a friend who doesn't consider himself a theist say that he wished people would just stop talking about it. I told him that while I generally agree that faith related beliefs aren't really something that should be a hot topic one can not deny the fact that atheists do not have the same rights that theists do and because of that it's something that NEEDS to be talked about.

The stigma on the word "atheist" has been created by people who feel threatened by the idea... unlike all of the large faith systems who have earned their own negative reputations... atheism has had it's negative reputations forced on it.

Thanks for saying something.

Unknown said...

this was not only true, but informative and sensible. while i think the belief in a god helps some people, i also believe that it is a personal belief if you do or not. and i also firmly believe in everyone (government included) minding their own business about personal stuff like that.

by the way, you forgot agnostic: someone who believes that a god probably exists, but doesn't follow the guidelines of any particular religion.

Tegin said...

this is the greatest post I've ever read here. I have no words...incredible!

CrazyVeganMom said...

Ok, I don't believe Freud was an atheist, I think he was a penistheist as he seemed to worship the penis.

James said...

Some names you missed on your list: Stephen Pinker, James Randi, Christopher Eccleston, Penn & Teller.

Jodie said...

Believe it or not, I had a UU (Unitarian Universalist) minister that was an aetheist when I joined my church in the 90s. I thought that was a little odd but UU's are a very tolerant group. We usually have a wide variety of believers in almost everything in the "pews". We don't actually have pews... we sit in chairs here in Texas. It's the most liberal place that I've found in my town to hang out and talk intelligently to folks since I'm not in NYC or some placed a bit more civilized. Hey I'm a native Texan so I can talk bad about it if I want to... Great cartoon and post.

Ray Avito said...

I'm very happy I wasn't raised as a churchgoer so I could decide as an adult that as fascinating as religion can be, it's still just a bunch of stories.

Re previous outlink: "Cat-women of the Moon" DVD is sitting here waiting to crack me up.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting, just how much 'atheists' obssess about a Being they do not believe in. Freud, Sartre, Nietze--spend a lot of time on what they think does not exist. Have you read Albert Camus' diaries? Several entries are spent on the Being 'that does not exist'. And for that matter, some atheists are also murderers or mass murderers...Jeffrey Dahmer, Paul Bernardo, Harris and Klebold...Pol Pot, Stalin...

Atheists and Theists alike are both human and subject to the best and worst in humanity. People use all sorts of '-isms' to justify heinous acts. It is just as silly to say believers are more susceptible to evil. Believers have also made a lot of scientific advancements and Atheism is not a pre-requisite for knowledge. (though I do have respect for those who review and seriously think over the dogmas s/he was born into.) It also takes some humility to say there are things greater than oneself in this Universe.

Though I will say that in American debates between believers and non, the former are often an embarrassment and his/her clinging to dogma instead of the persuit of truth smacks of a kind of atheism. At the end, both camps should ideally be looking for truth, whatever that is, whether s/he likes the results--or not.

There is backlash against dogma, and then there is the sincere persuit of truth for its own sake. All sincere persuits have their own perils--our choices--free-will (or is there such a thing?) are 'the stones that cannot be lifted'.

As for the soul in conflict with her/himself, Faulkner thought that alone was worth writing about... Was he an atheist?

beforewisdom said...


Anonymous said...

Normally, I wouldn't comment about a comic because I realize it is just a quick, humorous take on a subject and not to read too much into it. The only thing about this one is that the comic actually reinforces some of the stereotypes about atheists that are contrary to the way you describe us in your blog text.

In the comic, the atheists are people who just "can't believe" even though the evidence is right in front of them (prices, quality of food) - this fits the typical mindset that the existence of God/gods is/are certain and the atheists just refuse to accept it. In reality, most atheists I know (myself included) would believe IF there was evidence that supported it. As it is, we feel there is not enough evidence to support the belief, so why believe.

(Note to those who want to "convert" us: our unbelief isn't based on us not "hearing the good news", as most of us know our bible/koran/torah/whatever as good or better than the typical "follower".)

Bina said...

You're the first person I've read who's openly admitted that the birthers, "YOU LIE" and Pastor Steve Anderson and his ilk are motivated by racism against President Obama. Bravo.

Chriss Pagani said...

I'll avoid any obvious references to how many times you've bombed in newspapers and just say 'amen, bro.'

L. Erskine said...

@Lori - agnostic doesn't mean "believes god probably exists". It means "They don't know" (literally "Without Knowledge").

If someone is sitting on the fence because god seems improbable, it seems to me that the only reason they're sitting there willingly collecting splinters is because they're afraid to commit to what they already have decided.

Michael Tallon said...

It's funny, I just watched Penn & Teller's Bullshit! episode on the Bible yesterday, and now this post! The sad, unfortunate truth is that as long as most humans are stupid and prone to haphazardly dedicate themselves to the loudest voice in any argument, this is what we'll be dealing with. I don't see it changing anytime soon ("soon" in this context being to a thousand years).

Anonymous said...

How very sad that you feel that you have to put other people down for their beliefs to make yourself feel better.

doug nicodemus said...

thatisa hahahaha

keep up the good work

Nowax said...

Right on, Dan!

(Although I don't agree with your inclusion of Ayn Rand on your list of people who have been positive influences on society. I think Rand's philosophy helped fuel the rise of neo-conservatism and unbridled greed in this country. Hardly "positive".)

Nowax said...

"Lori said... the way, you forgot agnostic: someone who believes that a god probably exists, but doesn't follow the guidelines of any particular religion."


Sorry Lori, but you're wrong about this definition. My dictionary defines an agnostic as:

"a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God."

They don't believe, but they don't say that it's NOT possible. I sort of am on this path. I WISH there was a heaven (and a hell -- especially when I think of Dick Cheney) but really, deep down, I don't believe there's anything but decay after we die. Wishing and believing are two separate things.

Anonymous said...

Raydancer asks why atheists "have to be so condescending about it?"

Obviously he or she has never lived in the Bible Belt. The condescension there is suffocating and so mindless as to be physically dangerous to nonbelievers.

monsterzero said...

god bless you, dan!

John23 said...

I agree with Lori, your own personal beliefs should be just that...personal. This is the spiritual precept of AA, which I am a member of. Plus, spiritual matters, however you precieve them, invite a life long journey of discovery...this has been my experience.

Prospero said...

Oh, how I loves me some rational thought. Thanks, Dan.

Anonymous said...

Mostly, I'm just sick of hearing about it. I love sharing ideas, and even a light-hearted debate, but I'm walking away when it turns into an attempt to shove your view down my throat.

I'm sick of being told I'm stupid or closed-minded because I'm Christian. I'm sick of hearing about the evils of pagans and wiccans, or the horrors of being athiest. I'm sick of jews being murderers. I'm sick of hearing all the generalizations and scare-tactics being used to force people from their religions (or lack thereof) or to at least scare them into silence.

I like to share ideas, and hear what I've not yet heard about others' beliefs, so I don't hide from the topic in conversation. Once, I remember being in conversation with an athiest friend when he did the one thing that will make me drop the topic: he assumed. He asked me what I felt when I prayed, and didn't wait for me to answer. He started laughing and said that it was okay, that he knew I felt nothing and it was okay to say it. I never told him that I do feel something, and that honestly it's that feeling (more than any word in the Bible, or any sermon I've ever heard) that keeps me believing.

That really defines what I hear from athiests about Christianity. It's not a one-way road to blame. Christians are labelled evil by athiests in much the same way. The problem isn't finding people who are religious who have intellegence. It's just a matter of listening. I'm sick of being written off as a fool the moment you find out I believe.

Jen said...

Dan, it's times like these that remind me why I follow this blog. I agree that a person's belief regarding greater beings and any other uncertain area of our existence is a personal thing, and that it shouldn't affect our social impression. I don't hold anything against people for their religious views, unless they're trying to press it on others, or seem like the best. (much like the second God-man comic you linked)

Micgar said...

Wow! Love this post Dan! I think you point out the truths that people who want to preach the opposite don't want anyone to hear!
When you mentioned Ron Reagan-I had to do a double take, then realized of course, it is his son!
Why do religious people always think-when atheists are talking about being an atheist that we are being "meanspirited" or harsh to them? When I hear that some person is threatened with physical violence because they don't believe-or that their opinions are not valued whatsoever, isn't that bad? This has been happening for as long as forever and many of those who are religious have not spoken up about that. And to think that this type of thing happens in America. Sad.

Zoe Doe said...

Bravo! I'm an atheist, but I admit I'm not terribly open about it in certain circles. I grew up in Texas, and when I was 12 years old I admitted to some classmates that I didn't really believe in God. I was then screamed at and called a Satanist. I've since kept quiet on the issue -- most of the time, anyway. A few years ago I began going to atheist meetup groups, and honestly I've found more compassion in those people than I've found in many (er, most) Christians I've known. For years I called myself "agnostic" just to reduce the sting, but I'm done dancing around it. I don't flaunt it, but I don't try to hide it either. Good thing I now live among the heathens.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I laughed at this comic.

Anonymous said...

Ah Bigotry, how sweet it is. Now it's hate Aethiest's Day. Funny thing, but I have always equated Aethiests along with Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Jehova's Witnesses, and Fundamentalist Christian Cults, as about the epitome of bigotry. But I must be a bigot to think that if I don't think eexactly as they do, I'll fry in heck for Internitty. Oops, Aethiests don't believe in heck. Hell, they don't even believe that the most despicable wacko groups will even end up there.

Chriss Pagani said...

@Anonymous Christian .... Well, for the record, I do NOT automatically think you are a fool because you believe, nor do I automatically think you are evil. I think Dan will agree with me on this.

I think it is very difficult for a person to NOT believe in something: It fulfills a need for a sense of meaning and purpose in a way that nothing else can - which of course does not make it real in some objective sense but it does mean that it's pretty natural to cling to something. Live and let live! Judge not! I say. :)

On the other hand, it's a problem if you want to impose the elements of your beliefs on others. It is a problem if you use the tenets of your sectarian religious faith to make secular decisions: Voting for President, for example, based on who in your estimation is "the best Christian" or being against science expenditures because something about science is "anti-God" to you ...this is where it is a problem and faith begins to approach the level of evil. Moving on, it then graduates to true evil when you take the next step and start believing that we should "kill all the _____" because they are "against God"/"God hates them"/ "the Bible tells us to" etc.

If that isn't you, then we really don't have a problem. :)

L. Erskine said...

@Pagani - Well stated. I have many friends who are theists (of all varieties and flavors) and I have absolutely no issue with that. They are good people who get something from their faith. They don't force it on other people. We can even share our ideas and discuss them. I may not believe in the super natural but I still find people's beliefs interesting.

I think there is an instant assumption on the part of theists that a person who doesn't believe is judging them. They seem to miss the fact that they themselves are actively judging those who don't believe.

I get tired of hearing, "Why do atheists have to talk about being atheists?" when theists talk about being theists all the time. They don't seem to realize that theists have been having their say for thousands of years and that their say is forced on EVERYONE via the laws our governments enforce.

To me, questioning an atheist speaking out for their rights is no different than the racists complaining about the the color of the month speaking out... it's no different than straights (mostly religious) complaining about gay people speaking up for themselves.

The lack of equality is not yet recognized... not even by many atheists. It's not about trying to remove religion from people's lives who want it... it's about removing it from people's lives who don't want it. That should be an option and right now it's barely just.

An open atheist, right now, could not succeed in politics. There are several states whose constitutions still have the "test of faith" in it. Sure, if it came up, they couldn't actually do the test but it shows that in the not so distant past being a theist was mandatory to even be in a position of power in this country.

I can go on and on about this. My son is tormented on a regular basis because he admitted to being atheist (his choice) at school. So now he's "evil" and "stupid" and "a bad person". He knows it's not true but I can't help but think that being constantly shown how stupid and ignorant theists can be is going to teach him to be accepting of them (and he's far less tolerant about theism than I am). I would talk to the parents but it would do no good... as the children learned it from their parents.

Rob said...

Isn't a steadfast belief in nothing actually a belief in something?


L. Erskine said...

@Rob - Atheists believe in lots of things... they don't just believe in things that require faith.

Anonymous said...

@Leigh: Believing in people's character requires an amount of faith. I often find myself having faith that the people who constructed the building in which I am did the job properly, or that the bridge over which I drive isn't about to crumble. Sometimes an amount of faith is needed to live happily, or at least to keep from being drowned in fear.

I'd say athiests use faith often. Just not faith in god(s).

L. Erskine said...

@Anony - Sure but faith in the capability of a licensed contractor following established building codes is still based on facts that can be supported with a little bit of time dedicated to getting the answers.

Some people are more trusting than others. I'm not particularly trusting so it takes me a long time to establish friendships. Basically, I need to see consistent behaviors that involve integrity and intelligence before I trust. I have some really amazing people in my life who I do place faith in but that faith is backed up by knowledge.

La Framéricaine said...

Jesus H. Christ! Jesus, Joseph, & Mary! I'm glad I don't have any friends, religious or otherwise, so that I can avoid any non- vs -theist discussions on the topic of spirituality and private moments of transcendence.

And as for Hell, "L'enfer, c'est les autres. to quote Sartre.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous: "I often find myself having faith that the people who constructed the building in which I am did the job properly, or that the bridge over which I drive isn't about to crumble."

I agree that there is a certain amount of trust necessary to function in the world. However, this trust is usually subject to verification. See a few bridges fail, and I might try to get some additional information about the bridges I want to cross before trusting them.

In short, perhaps there is a useful distinction to be made between the concepts of "faith" and "trust" in this context.

Douchemaster Numbnuts said...

Ayn Rand wasn't an atheist; she just thought God was Ayn Rand.

Unknown said...

here is what atheism has done for the world:
Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Twentieth Century Hemoclysm: deaths from socialists/communists governments and/or leaders

Russian Civil War (1917-22): 9 000 000

Soviet Union, Stalin's regime (1924-53): 20 000 000

Second World War (1937-45): 55 000 000

Hitler:(a socialist/athiest)) 20,946,000 Stalin: 13,053,000 Chinese Communist: 250,000

Chinese Civil War (1945-49): 2 500 000

People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong's regime (1949-1975): 40 000 000

Tibet (1950 et seq.): 600 000

1950 massacre in Seoul by North Koreans: 128,936

Communist regime of North Korea committed 1,663,000 democides between 1948 and 1987

Cambodia, Khmer Rouge (1975-1978): 1 650 000

Mozambique (1975-1992): 1 000 000

Yugoslavia, Tito's Regime (1944-80): 200 000

Romania (1948-89): 150 000

Burma/ Myanmar (1948 et seq.): 130 000

Vietnam, post-war Communist regime (1975 et seq.): 430 000

East Germany (1949-89): 100 000

Mongolia (1926-1991): 35 000

Bulgaria (1948-89): 30 000

Hungary (1948-89)
Communist Regime
Rummel: 27,000 democides, 1948-87

Poland (1948-89)
Communist Regime
Rummel: 22,000 democides, 1948-87

North Vietnam (1954-75): 50 000

Peru (1980-2000): 50 000

Albania (1945-91)
Communist Regime

Czechoslovakia (1948-89)
TOTAL: 11,560 ± 500

Cuba (1959 et seq.
TOTAL: 73,000

Russian Revolution (1917)
Eckhardt: 1,000 civ. + 1,000 mil. = 2,000

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-first Century (1993)
"Lives deliberately extinguished by politically motivated carnage":
167,000,000 to 175,000,000
War Dead: 87,500,000
Military war dead:
Civilian war dead:
Not-war Dead: 80,000,000
Communist oppression:

David Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia (2001)
Christian martyrs only: 45.5M

Stephane Courtois, The Black Book of Communism
Victims of Communism only: 85-100M

Rudolph J. Rummel, Death By Government
"Democides" - Government inflicted deaths (1900-87)
Communist Oppression: 110,286,000
Democratic democides: 2,028,000

Non-Democidal Famine (often including famines associated with war and communist mismanagement):
China (1900-87): 49,275,000
Russia: (1921-47): 5,833,000


L. Erskine said...


If you want to get into numbers, just dig a little and you will find lists of approximate counts of people who have died because of religion... specifically BECAUSE of religion. It's way bigger than the communist regimes of the past 100 years.

Bringing in the people who will do anything for power is really off subject. No one said that sociopaths have to believe in god.

Until atheists start up a suicide bombing group and start yanking their kids out of school to avoid them being exposed to the real world of politics... I'm not going to worry too much.

Anonymous said...

Well Leigh, there are atheist suicide bombers in occupied Palestine/Israel. Just a point of clarification.

As I mentioned, Atheists are human and subject to actions similar to theists. To point blame of world problems at belief groups isn't very bright. Which was Piraro's point all along.

The search for truth is an often elusive. The problem may reside when someone thinks s/he has finally attained 'it' and stopped there. Truth does not seem to be static, like our comprehension--the way is ever-changing as we change. How many times have we read something profound and come back to the text years later and saw something different in it? The biblical Abraham started off as a polytheist on the road for his search. What if he died before he reached his monotheistic conclusion? The result may be incidental, perhaps it is the seach that truly matters.

Candeseamo The Great said...

Right on, man! Right on! You, good sir, deserve a high five of awesomeness.

marine_explorer said...

"You have to believe you'll be rewarded later, atheists don't fall for that."

We might just as easily say most sane people don't get involved in terrorism. It would be a bit of a "red herring" to blame religious fundamentalism for terrorism, without understanding the greater context of the problem, particularly in many Islamic states. As much as I personally dislike fundamentalists, I won't assume they all intend to murder me for being "the infidel", lol.

Anonymous said...

Funny how Atheists (on a general level) think that faith is beneath them; that people of faith are less intelligent. (Look at Diane's comment.) However, atheists have more faith than anyone else. It takes faith to see order in nature and deny the existence of an intelligent designer. Atheists are religious. They simply believe wholeheartedly the lie spoken to Even in the Garden: You will become as God. Atheists believe in themselves and believe in no other God, but themselves.

Anonymous said...

Raydancer,... some measure holiness by the amount of snakes you can handle, poison you can drink, Jews or non-religious you can kill.

Anonymous said...

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." -Romans 1:18-21