Update on Des Moines bus ad controversy

Larry Carter Center wrote a comment alerting me to the fact that Des Moines eventually reinstated the atheist bus signs it took off.

An an Associated Press article posted on Belief.Net, the bus company, DART, claims the reason was because the word "God" was never allowed on a bus sign before. In light of the controversy, they decided to allow the signs back on and to allow God on bus ads.

DART did not mention this alleged ban on "God" when they pulled the signs, as I reported on earlier. From what Larry Carter Center says in his comment, after an initial negative reaction by some riders, public opinion appeared to be for free speech and against pulling the ads. And suddenly, DART found irreligion and put the bus signs back up. Although it would have been better if the ads were not taken down to begin with, the controversy may have given the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers more publicity that they ever imagined for their group, as well as for atheism.

Child “witches” made to suffer

Exodus 22:18 tells believers that they cannot "suffer a witch to live" (KJV). From medieval Europe to the Salem witch trials and beyond, there have been witch hunts. The most recent front is in Nigeria and other countries in Africa, where children are being abandoned, tortured, mutilated, and sometimes killed because they are believed to be witches.

This isn’t news, unfortunately: it’s been occurring for years now, but the situation appears to be worsening. Not only are adults called out as witches, but more and more children are being called witches and being punished by their parents, who believe witches can bring about bad fortune: "divorce, disease, accidents or job losses ", according to the Guardian . And what is even more deplorable in my opinion is that according to the BBC , even in 2009 the Pope is still campaigning against witchcraft instead of clearly coming out against these witch hunts.

The crusade against witches in Nigeria and other parts of Africa is being led by people who call themselves Christians, from the pastors who are scaring people out of their minds with stories of witches, and charging handsome fees to perform exorcisms, to the parents and community who are shunning, torturing, or killing the witches when they can’t afford an exorcism.

People who do not buy into the witch nonsense are accused of aiding and abetting witches. According to Sam Ikpe-Itauma from the Esit Eket area of Nigeria:

For every maybe five children we see on the streets, we believe one has been killed, although it could be more as neighbours turn a blind eye when a witch child disappears.

Some people will argue that witches and witchcraft have existed in Africa for ages. Yes, but the open and merciless pursuit of witches in the name of Christianity is a much more recent phenomenon. According to the Guardian:

Although old tribal beliefs in witch doctors are not so deeply buried in people’s memories, and although there had been indigenous Christians in Nigeria since the 19th century, it is American and Scottish Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries of the past 50 years who have shaped these fanatical beliefs. Evil spirits, satanic possessions and miracles can be found aplenty in the Bible, references to killing witches turn up in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Galatians, and literal interpretation of scriptures is a popular crowd-pleaser.

Pastors openly admit that they are fighting against witchcraft.

Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket. ‘We base our faith on the Bible, we are led by the holy spirit and we have a programme of exposing false religion and sorcery.’

Although he denies charging for exorcisms, reports of pastors doing so are widespread.

The problem is not limited to Nigeria, but is occurring in a number of African countries, including Angola. Here is what Pope Benedict XVI had to say in March of this year

In today’s Angola, Catholics should offer the message of Christ to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they feel threatened, disoriented, even reaching the point of condemning street children and even the most elderly because – they say – they are sorcerers

At first view, this seems positive: Benedict seems to be speaking out against people who are going after kids and others because they are believed to be witches. Benedict did also say that Catholics should "live peacefully" with animists, according to the Huffington Post (a liberal political commentary site). So what’s the problem?

What’s missing is Benedict speaking for the Catholic Church condemning pastors who, in the name of Christianity, are attacking witches. No admonishment to the local church leaders who are spreading the fear of sorcery, who are tearing families and communities apart, making money off exorcisms, and exploiting the fears that they, as alleged men of God, are helping to create.

Speaking out against "sorcery" while asking for "peace" does not do this; it sends a mixed signal. Instead of clearly telling people to stop attacking witches, his solution to the problem was urging people to convert to Christianity! It’s not enough to say that people should just get along. There should be a call to hold the people responsible for these crimes accountable and to get the word out that such violence is not condoned. In my opinion, until he and other leaders launch a clear public campaign against what pastors are doing to alleged witches in Africa, they are complicit in what is happening.

Please read the articles from the Guardian and the BBC if you want to find out more. The Guardian site also has heartbreaking footage of some of the mutilated children and parents who are telling people to take their children away because they are witches (but often not being able to explain why they know they’re witches, or how to make them not witches). What is happening to these kids is too sad for me to even describe here; hundreds of them huddling up after their parents scald them, burn them, or chase them away from their homes.

Genuflects on the beach: Fight over prayer station on Cape Cod

According to several sources, a prayer station was recently set up on a public beach on Cape Cod. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is asking that the permit for the prayer station, which was approved 4-0 in a town hall meeting on August 3, not be renewed in the future.

The prayer station was located at Old Silver Beach, a public beach in Falmouth, Massachussetts. The prayer station’s permit ended this past Friday, but a resident is applying to have the prayer station return.

Rebecca Kratz, FFRF staff attorney, said:

This definitely seems like it was crossing the line of separation of church and state and it seems like an endorsement of religion.

The above video gives some quotes from people on both sides of the issue. One woman sums up my feelings:

“I think it is a little out of place to be honest with you. If people want to pray they will go to church or wherever they go to pray,” said Brockton resident Darcy Britton.

While another one does bring up a valid point:

“It does surprise me. This is a place of free speech and free religion, you’d think it could take place out in open air,” said East Longmeadow resident Olga Demoracski. “I don’t understand why some people would have a problem with it.”

The problem, in my opinion, is that this is an event approved by the city as a public event. While people generally have the right to freedom of speech, the fact that this was a government-approved event on public land does tend to give the impression that the town approved of the church (United Life Church) that applied for it. This is different from someone speaking on their own in the public square or a protest, it’s government-sanctioned speech. If Satanists applied to have a booth at the beach, would it have been approved? I doubt it.

Do people really need a prayer station at a public beach of all places?!? Maybe they should also come up with a new drink called "Genuflects on the beach". But seriously, religious fervor is getting way out of hand here in the U.S. when people want to set up prayer stations on beaches.

Thanks to the following sources: FFRF ‘s "In The News" email, Cape Cod Times , and My Fox Boston

I attended a talk about baby dinosaurs on the ark (& more fun facts!)

Harrub talk adsSource of images: http://www.colliervillechurchofchrist.com/Special_Events.html

This weekend, my wife and I made a trip to see a seminar entitled “Truth About Human Origins” given at the Church of Christ in Collierville, TN. Given the titles of some of the talks ( “Atheism’s Attack on America”, “ Scientific Accuracy of the Bible “, etc.) we pretty much knew what we were getting into. My wife is still a believer (but not a fundamentalist), and I’d never been to a talk like this before, so we both thought it’d be interesting to see what the speaker would say.

The speaker, Dr. Brad Harrub , has an “earned” PhD in Anatomy and Neurobiology, so I figured he would try to harmonize the Bible with carefully selected scientific facts, or try to disprove scientific claims that don’t agree with the Bible. I was right on both fronts. We were only able to attend two back-to-back sessions: “Is Genesis a Myth?” and “The Dinosaur Dilemma”, but I think it was enough to get a good idea of Dr. Harrub’s arguments, which even my wife as a believer strongly objected to!

After a prayer (during which I bowed my head, kept my eyes open and kept quiet), the talks began: back-to-back talks with a 10-minute break in-between, followed by 10-15 minutes of Q & A. I didn’t take notes, but here were a few highlights of the talks. Please note that I am summarizing the information he presented, not advocating it!

Is Genesis a Myth?

* There are three options: the universe always existed, the universe created itself, or something else created the universe.
* We know the universe is expanding, so this proves that it didn’t always exist.
* The Big Bang is unsatisfactory: where did the matter for it come from? Something had to create that matter.
* God is eternal, outside of the universe: he’s the only one who could create without having to be created.
* Creation happened in 6 literal days (comparison with other verses to prove “day” is not a metaphor for millions of years, etc.).
* Evolutionists want us to believe humans started out stupid — but Genesis says Adam was smart enough for God to ask him to name all the animals
* There are no gaps in the lineage in the Bible, it says who was born when up until Jesus, so we can calculate the age of the Earth.
* Archeological evidence supports historical claims in Genesis and the Bible.

The Dinosaur Dilemma

* Dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, and were created on the same day (5th day).
* The Bible mentions dinosaurs (but not by name since the word “dinosaur” wasn’t invented until the 1800s) after the flood.
* Dinosaur-like creatures mentioned after the Flood (in Job), so they must have been on Noah’s Ark.
* The way dinosaurs could have fit on Noah’s Ark was as unhatched eggs or small children. No, I am not kidding. (I would say this is the part where he seemed the proudest of what he was saying, like he was single-handedly defeating the infeasibility of the Ark and any objections skeptics would raise.)
* There’s proof for a worldwide flood since every continent has fossils from so-called “localized” floods, and fossils can be found at the top of the highest mountains in the world.
* Carbon-dating of fossils is not proven and is unreliable. Scientists have dated dinosaur bones to as recent as 9000 years ago (much closer to truth than the millions of years normally claimed by evolutionists
* Dinosaur artwork, in the form of carvings and figurines, can allegedly be found in a number of ancient artifacts from around the world, showing that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.
* A mammal fossil was found eaten inside the stomach of a dinosaur fossil, which should be chronologically impossible if science is right about evolution.
* What was thought to be a prehistoric ancestor to fish was found to still exist today, proving scientists can’t date bones correctly.
* Important to tell kids early the truth about dinosaurs, creation, and the Bible, before books, TV, and school tell them lies.

I believe those were all the main points he made. Dr. Harrub had a very convincing, authoritative way of speaking and presenting his information. Although I found some of his ideas laughably funny (baby dinosaurs on the Ark!), I can see why people would want him to speak, and why people would be duped into his pseudo-science if they have been taught to believe that they should have faith in what the Bible says. The Bible says it, this guy with a PhD says it, so it must be true!

For most people, some of the claims should be obviously false at face value. Others would take a little more to debunk, and I don’t know if I’ll have time to research every one. Here are two that I did look up since I hadn’t heard about them before: the dinosaur figurines and Ica stones depicting humans and dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Figurines in Mexico: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CH/CH710_2.html
Ica stones in South America: http://skepticwiki.org/index.php/Ica_stones

To my dismay, there were only two people who were clearly atheists or freethinkers who were asking questions in the Q and A afterwards. They were allowed to ask several questions each, which I thought was very fair of the speaker and congregation to allow. It’s interesting that at least some creationists, as one questioner pointed out, have changed their ways in the past few decades from denying dinosaurs existed, to saying of course they existed, it’s in the Bible! Scientists just have the dates wrong about when dinosaurs lived, according to Dr. Harrub. So now that we know baby dinosaurs were actually on the Ark, it’s okay for kids to be exposed to the “sugar candy” (his expression) of dinosaurs, which evolutionists try to give kids to lure into believing in evolution.

There were 3 or 4 other people who spoke, all supporting the Bible and the points Dr. Harrub had made. I wondered how many people were in the audience who were atheists or skeptics/skeptical but didn’t want to speak up. I know my wife afterwards said that she wanted to ask questions and make a point, but that she was too nervous to do so and didn’t know if he questions would sound stupid. Believe me, they were intelligent questions, and even if she tried they couldn’t have been any stupider than the nearly 2 hours of crap we had just heard!

I have to say I am frustrated that this man apparently goes around the country presenting himself as a scientist and appearing to present “proof” of his claims, when he is clearly trying to promote the Bible more than he is trying to promote science. Worst of all, Dr. Harrub said a number of times how important it was for parents to teach their children about the Bible and to tell them not to believe what science says about evolution. There were a number of small kids (pre-teens) in the audience, so I felt very sad that they were being exposed to / brainwashed by this information. He also told people to be ready to answer questions from teenagers when they come back from science classes they may have to take at college which might confuse them or raise doubts about their beliefs.

The message was pretty clear: scientists and atheists are lying to you and your children. Don’t listen to what they say; just believe what the Bible says. I’ll talk more about my wife and my reactions to the talk in a future post.

EDIT: Here is a link to audio from a previous seminar given by Dr. Harrub, so you can get an idea of what his talks are like.

Lady wearing Burqa bikini kicked out of pool

Une femme habillée en "burqini".
Source: Agence France Presse / ANOEK DE GROOT

An update on the Burqa controversy brewing in France.

American Freethought reports that a woman was thrown out of a swimming pool in France because of the swimsuit she was wearing. She was wearing a full-bodied "burqini", which is swimwear meant to comply with Islam’s rules on women dressing in public. Here is a link to a French article about the incident.

As you may recall, French president Nicolas Sarkozy created controversy when he said that burqas "are not welcome" in France. The pool claims that they did not eject the woman from the pool because it was a form of burqa, but because of sanitation rules. The woman, identified only as Carole, calls it a case of "segregation", according to the Le Monde article.

Here’s a quote from the mayor of Emerainville, the town where the incident occurred. (Translation mine)

All this has nothing to do with Islam, because pool regulations don’t allow people to swim while dressed for reasons of public health, as is [also] the case for boxer shorts.

There are three questions I have about the issue:

Was she wearing this outfit before coming to the pool? If so, then there is a possible argument for this since there may be germs from outside that would be brought into the pool, just like if one was wearing underwear, socks, etc. that one had on before. If she put it on at the pool, I think they have a harder time trying to defend kicking her out.

What material is the burqini made of? According to Wikipedia’s entry on the burqini , it is generally made of the same material as wetsuits are. If this is the case, then there is less of an argument about refusing her since even though the shape of the swimsuit is different, it’s the same material as many swimsuits worn in pools.

Is it her choice to wear the burqini, or does she do it because her husband or mosque tells her she has to? If it’s truly her choice, I have less of a problem with it. The article has a comment by a representative in the French parliament saying she thinks it’s surprising that someone would call the press immediately after leaving a pool, implying that the incident may have been planned. If it was a planned way of protesting and the woman was okay with it, then I have no problem with that.

If the burqini is the same material, shows her face, she’s choosing herself to wear it, and she isn’t causing a health problem, I think it would be difficult to justify prohibiting them from the pool. As much as I dislike the sexist, anti-feminist ways of promoted by the Quran and many who follow Islam. There are also full-body swimsuits worn by non-Muslims, so unless you ban those I don’t see how you can ban the burini unfortunately.

Furniture has surpassed Christianity as world religion (IKEA overtakes INRI)

My parody of an INRI cross I found on fotosearch.com

Well, it’s official — furniture has surpassed Christianity as the most important religion in the world. Specifically, according to a number of sources (Business Week , mental_floss , Wikipedia etc.), there are more IKEA catalogues printed every year than there are bibles. So I guess IKEA is in and INRI (the initials seen on many crucifixes) is out.

This apparently isn’t exactly news, as it’s been the case since at least 2006, but I hadn’t heard about it until now. (Thanks to Twitter users amiable84 and mental_floss for pointing this out.) The Bible still holds the all-time record apparently, and it would take IKEA some time to catch up considering the Bible’s over 500 year head start .

Based on the Business Week article, IKEA seems to have been the one to have publicized their achievement originally, but I can’t find this information on their site now. Maybe they remembered what happened what happened to John Lennon when he said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus was.

I have mixed feelings on this. While I’m glad that the Bible is no longer the most printed book in the world, couldn’t something else besides a catalogue have surpassed it? We’ve gone from worshiping God to worshiping furniture. I guess it’s a step up, since furniture actually exists.

I might have preferred something else overtake the Bible in number of copies printed: a science book, a freethought book, a work promoting peace, or pretty much any (other) work of fiction besides the Bible (since the Bible is, of course, largely fictional). Maybe in another 500 years?

Oops! Atheist bus ads allegedly run by accident, then withdrawn

This sign was never supposed to have been on a bus. Or was it??
Image source: http://www.kcci.com/news/20298174/

As many people in the atheist/freethought world have probably heard, one of the new battlefronts in a number of cities has been public bus signs. In Des Moines, DART (Des Moins Area Regional Transit) approved the sign pictured above, and they went on buses.

Suddenly, after numerous complaints came in, DART realized the ads had allegedly been put there by mistake. According to DART’s Kirstin Baer-Harding:

Drivers said people weren’t getting on buses or getting off the buses because of it. So with all the calls, it wasn’t something we wanted. […] The ads mistakenly got put on buses.

Supposedly, even though the Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers group had been told it was approved, the ads were turned down at the last minute (even though the group placing the ad wasn’t informed of this), and because of a new hybrid bus and a crash, it still slipped through anyway. And coincidentally, since people were refusing to get on the bus (which I assume would cost DART revenue), the ads had to come off.

It would be one thing if they just didn’t realize there’d be a backlash and changed their mind. But to claim the ads were put there accidentally? Sounds fishy to me, ads accidentally appearing on buses. But then again, I’m a skeptical person by nature.

Thanks to richarddawkins.net for the link to the article.

Share and share alike

More behind-the-scenes stuff: I’ve added the ability to share posts (Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.). You’ll find the links for this below each post.

I’m working on a "Save as PDF/Print this post" option for individual posts. If you’re like me, I like saving stories I find locally to my hard drive. If and when my hosting service fixes an issue they created (which has slowed down several things), I should hopefully be able to add this.

As usual, when giving a site update, I also like to include a little something extra. Here’s a YouTube of Susan Werner performing one of my favorite freethought songs, "(Why Is Your) Heaven So Small".

Court rules Texas man can sacrifice goats

http://www.spscriptorium.com/Season5/AfghanGoat.jpg
Image source: http://www.southparkstudios.com/fans/characters/166

From The Freethinker comes the story of a man who battled in court for the right to practice his religion. Normally, I am for freedom of religion (as well as freedom "from" religion , of course), but there are stories that come up sometimes bring questions as to how free should people be in religious practices.

There have been numerous stories of children suffering or dying because their parents did not think God wanted their child in the hospital (here’s one tragic case recently that American Freethought reported on; a number of others can be found on whatstheharm.net ). Cases like these are all too common, and have been fairly widely reported on. Although I haven’t come across a poll confirming this, my general feeling is that most Americans would think it’s wrong to withhold critical care from children on religious grounds, even if some states have not caught up with the times.

But here’s another, stranger issue. There’s this case from Texas of a man suing for the right to sacrifice goats. According to the British magazine The Freethinker

In May 2006, [José] Merced and ten church members were preparing for religious ceremony that included an animal sacrifice when Euless police raided his home […] Subsequently, the city declined to issue a permit for Merced to conduct future ceremonies, citing rules against cruelty to animals, keeping livestock and disposing of animal waste.

In 2007, officials offered Merced a compromise: He could sacrifice chickens, which the city ordinance allows, but not goats, as he wanted.

Initially, a district court sided with the city in its refusal to allow the goat sacrifices. But a circuit court has just overturned the decision, which means Merced may be able to sacrifice goats again despite human health issues and animal cruelty laws, just because his religion (called Santería ) says he should sacrifice the goats.

Believe it or not, The U.S. Supreme Court has apparently already ruled on a similar case having to do with the Santería, finding that laws specifically targeting Santería animal sacrifices were unconstitutional. The difference here is that there appears to have been no law specifically passed to stop Merced or other followers from sacrificing goats; such sacrifices are just against laws already on the books.

As I said, I generally believe that people should be able to practice whatever religion they want. But what if the religion clearly negatively impacts the welfare of other humans and/or animals? If someone says their religion tells them to sacrifice goats, should they be allowed to do so even if it’s against the law? Who decides what animals should be sacrificed? I don’t see why religiously sacrificing a chicken is any better than sacrificing a goat in terms of animal cruelty, for example.

But then, if you disallow some religious practices, where do you stop? Should parents have the right to decide whether or not to vaccinate their kids if they think it’s against their religion? Can kids decide not to attend science class if they find it conflicts with their religion? Some issues would be more clear-cut than others, in my opinion.

I’m not sure what the line should be, but making an exception to laws for religious purposes seems like dangerous territory to me. I feel in general that laws should apply to everyone equally.

I Am … (partially) out as an atheist

Imagine (Original Soundtrack)

I finally had "the talk" with my wife. It was very difficult to do, but it turned out a lot better than I had expected.

I had been considering coming out to her for the past month or so. I’m becoming more and more active in the atheist/freethought community. It just didn’t feel right for something that is such a big part of who I am to remain a secret from my wife. I’m posting this in hopes that the experience might help others who aren’t "out" yet to their wife/husband/significant other. I’m glad to say that coming out to your loved one doesn’t have to be a bad experience.

[UPDATE : This post is a play-by-play, which I’m hoping will be interesting and useful. A more concise version of my story can also be found here on Atheist Nexus.]

My decision to come out was helped along by a discussion from a less successful experience by a fellow Atheist Nexus member. His wife flat-out told him that she wouldn’t have married him if she had known he didn’t believe in God. I felt very sorry for him, especially since I’ve been fearing a similar reaction from my wife (who considers herself a Christian) if and when she found out I didn’t believe in God. So although I’d like to say I bravely announced my atheism, it was much less courage and more of a desire to deal with something that’s been worrying me for quite a while and a decision to be more open with my wife about my non-belief.

I was very nervous the night I had decided to come out to her. She could tell I was nervous, which made it a little easier to bring up the subject. If she can tell something’s bothering me, she’ll keep asking me what’s wrong until I tell her. So when there was a good moment that I knew we could talk for as long as we wanted, I told her there was something very important to me that I’d like to tell her about.We sat down, I took a deep breath, and just started talking. I had a general idea of what I wanted to say, but no specific speech written out.

She saw me reading the Bible a few weeks ago on my computer, which surprised her. So I started with this incident, saying that over a number of years, I have read a lot about the Bible, read a lot of the passages, and reminded her that for a while I had considered going to seminary to become a pastor. I told her that the more I had read, the more I started to have questions about some of the things the Bible said. I said that I had come to the conclusion that there were some things in the Bible that I just couldn’t believe — things that either didn’t make sense, or that contradicted other things, or that didn’t seem like they could happen. I told her that a lot of what I’ve been doing online lately has been related to this.

After this introduction to the topic, it was mostly she who led the conversation, with her asking questions and me answering. She asked me what sort of things I didn’t think were true. I asked if she remembered our nephew’s baptism, when we talked about whether or not to get him a Noah’s Ark book (she did). I didn’t tell her I was an atheist at the time, but had told her that the Bible doesn’t teach child baptism and that I felt children should be old enough to make up their minds before being baptized (a position she disagreed with, but understood). I said that I felt the Noah’s Ark passage in the Bible, like others, basically says that all people are evil by nature, and that God can kill them because of this.

I said I don’t believe humans are bad by nature, and that I didn’t like that this is what the Bible teaches. I then moved on to another example, and said I didn’t like what the Bible says happened in Egypt, where God kills all the firstborn male Egyptians just because the Pharaoh wouldn’t free the Israelites, even though the Bible says God was the one who made the Pharaoh act that way. I didn’t want to say too much to make it seem like I was just trying to rip apart the Bible, but I wanted to bring up a few specific instances that I thought she would be familiar with, and that I could make a clear argument about why I didn’t agree with them.

She didn’t dispute any of this, but said that there are parts of the Bible she doesn’t understand and like as much as other parts, but that she liked the New Testament better and that she thought it had a good message in it. I said I agreed that the Bible does have some very good messages in it, but that they are often surrounded by messages that are not so good that people don’t quote or talk about much. I brought up the massacre of the innocents sermon that I had blogged about earlier as an example of something bad that happened in the New Testament. I said I couldn’t understand why a loving God would let all those children be killed. She said that she didn’t know what to say, but that maybe that was the best thing that could have happened, that maybe that prevented something worse from happening. So I said that if God were able to do anything he wanted, I believe that he could have found a way around it.

Interestingly enough, she brought up at this point the fact that there was a lot of evidence for the stuff that happened in the New Testament, which I wasn’t expecting. I said that unfortunately, it isn’t always true that the Bible’s claims can be verified outside the Bible. Confirmation for some of the events in the New Testament comes over a hundred years later, and no independent evidence of a large amount of things in the New Testament has ever been found, such as for the massacre of the innocents.

At this point, she shifted gears. I don’t know if it’s because she realized that I had done a lot of looking into the Bible, or if my answers were satisfying her, or if they weren’t satisfying but she didn’t know how to respond. But then she asked me what I do believe if I don’t believe everything in the Bible. This was the question that I was the most afraid of. I told her that I used to be a very strong believer, much stronger than other people in my family. I gave the example of thinking songs shouldn’t be played because they were "lustful" (the Beatles’ "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)" was one song in particular), I told her I was confirmed, and then eventually I started to have little questions about my faith. Instead of finding answers, from looking at the Bible, looking online, listening to sermons, asking people, I just kept having more questions. Eventually, I realized there were some things I would never find answers to.

She asked me if I believed in the Bible at all, and I said that there are too many things in it that I don’t agree with, that I can’t say I believe in the Bible anymore. She then asked what I thought happens to people when they die. I think the atheist answer to this is very unsatisfying; I would like to believe something happens to us after death, but I know now that this isn’t so. This sounded depressing, so I thought for a few moments and said that I believe that we are all part of the circle of life, and that when we die our remains go back into nature, and life continues from there. This is not a main aspect of my belief system, but I do believe this occurs and I felt was a more satisfying answer than just "we cease to exist".

She asked if I believed in heaven. I told her that while I think it would be nice to think that heaven exists, I more have a problem with the fact that Christianity teaches that there’s a hell — that even though Jesus was said to die for our sins that there are still people who go to hell. I think that if there was a God and if he loved us, he would send us all to heaven. So at this point, I asked her one of the few questions I asked all night. I asked if she thought that people who don’t believe in Jesus go to hell.

My wife obviously had thought about the issue before, and said that she didn’t know what happens to people who don’t believe. She said that some people think that if you don’t believe in Christianity, then you go to hell, but other people think that if you’re a good person, that you’ll be saved even if you don’t believe in God. She brought up the issue of what happened to people who never heard of Jesus before, which I was glad to hear that she had heard of and considered before. She mentioned that Catholics believe in purgatory, so just because you don’t go to heaven doesn’t mean you go to hell. She said she wasn’t sure what happens, and that there were other things that she wasn’t sure about, but that she still has faith in God.

This was the only thing that frustrated me during the conversation. She used the word "faith" a couple of times basically when there was something that she couldn’t explain. I realized that she doesn’t know that having faith in something isn’t really an answer, since I’m sure she’s heard this thousands of times in her life. I felt she thought this was a perfectly acceptable answer, so I though it would be counterproductive to try to tackle the issue of faith then. So I told her that I respect her beliefs and that I’m not trying to say that she’s wrong, but just that based on the Bible, on what I’ve read, and what I’ve thought about for a long time, I don’t have faith anymore. I did not say I’m an "atheist", because of the baggage attached to this term. But she knows now that I don’t believe in God.

She had said a few times recently that I "don’t like church", so I asked her why she said this. She said that she could tell from some comments I made. I asked her what these were (since I had tried very hard not to make any such comments!), and she brought up the Noah’s Ark incident that I had mentioned earlier, and the fact that I made comments about the Catholic Church after the tragic child rape / excommunication case that was in the news (where they excommunicated a mother and her daughter’s doctors for giving the girl an abortion after she had been raped by her stepfather. They did not excommunicate the father, however.) I also apparently mentioned at some point about religious displays on public property being against the constitution, which I might have thought was a safe topic to bring up since there are many believers who also think religion should be kept out of government.

I told her I wasn’t "against" churches, but that I just didn’t believe in some of the things they taught. She mentioned that churches do good things, and I said that while I know that churches and people who go to church do a lot of good things, you can do these same things without going to church — you don’t need to believe in the Bible to be a good person. She didn’t argue with this. I then asked her if she remembered the fact that I brought up the fact that the town we used to live in had an intersection of "Church and State", and I had told her it was my favorite intersection. She said yes and she said she thought that was another clue. So I guess she had suspected for quite a while, but just didn’t know exactly where on the spectrum I was.

The only time religion really came up between us, except for the Noah’s Ark occasion, was a few months after we met. I had told her that I was brought up a Lutheran, that I had considered becoming a pastor. I had read a whole lot about religion, and I wasn’t sure what I believed, but I was pretty sure what I didn’t believe. She had never asked me to elaborate on this. She’s a Christian, and even did some missionary work when she was younger, but in the years I’ve known her, I don’t think she’s ever brought up God just out of the blue — both before the Noah’s Ark thing and afterwards, and even when she’s with other believers. I hoped that this was a good sign, and since things turned out well, I think it was.

She had revealed a secret to me early on in our relationship, and I told her that I had a secret too that I would tell her someday. I told her this was the secret. She said "That was it?! I thought it was something more serious than that!" I laughed and I told her it was kind of funny then, because I thought she would think it was a big deal. She said she may not agree with me, but she respects it. She then asked if I mind if she goes to church.

This was another thing that the Atheist Nexus thread I mentioned earlier helped with. One of the commenters mentioned Unitarian Universalism as a possibility for atheists with companions who still want to go to church, and it’s something I had looked at from time to time. I had a friend who had said he had gone to a UU church. I didn’t tell him much about much beliefs (or lack thereof) on Christianity since I was afraid he would tell others, but I did tell him that I wasn’t a typical Christian. He had liked it overall, so I looked into UU again after reading the post on Atheist Nexus.

When my wife brought up church, I told her that I would be willing to consider going to a UU church. I don’t believe in going to church — since I don’t believe in God, I don’t see the need of going to church. But I know church is something that is very important to my wife, so I told her I would be willing to try it. She said she had heard of UU, and I explained a little more of what I understood about it. I said that I liked the fact that they welcome people who have all sorts of beliefs there, but that they were generally based on a Judeo-Christian model and that a lot of people who come from different denominations go to UU to find a common ground.

I found a couple of UU churches online the next day, sent the links to her and we separately looked at them. We both looked at other ones as well, and we both decided on the same one, which I thought was a very good sign. We went to the first service this weekend, and overall I was pleased with how it went. The service started with a welcome to newcomers, which was very warm and funny; a thoughtful and at times funny sermon that my wife and I said we both enjoyed; and included several Christian hymns that we both recognized, with some altered lyrics. My wife said this  after the service, and it was funny because even the pastor pointed it out that for the one hymn, he would understand if some people accidentally did the old lyrics since he liked those, too.

Although there were a couple of things on the website I find mildly objectionable, and I don’t feel comfortable with the mentions of God, even if I understand it’s not meant in the same way that it would be in a Baptist church for example, there was nothing in the service that I found objectionable (no "massacre of the innocents" moment, for example). The pastor mentioned non-belief and embracing doubt several times in his sermon, even though from references in church and on the site, it seems clear he believes in some sort of higher power personally. I very highly disagreed with this, but thought the repeated nods to doubt and non-belief in a God were good and inclusive, and I was glad in a way that God was mentioned since I thought this would be more welcoming to my wife. I was worried after the service because of what I would deem, with no offense meant to any UU followers, to be a "watered down" version of God, as compared to the one mentioned in Christianiaty. But my wife said she really liked the service and would like to go again.

Not only that, but she thanked me for going to church with her. I didn’t think she would thank me for asking her to go to a different church that she grew up in and did missionary work in. I think she very much likes the fact that I’m willing to go to church, and since she doesn’t bring up God herself very often she might be interested in more than just the God speak found in many services (she’s mentioned before that she really likes church music, so familiar hymns probably helped).

In turn, I thanked her for being willing to try out a different church that’s more inclusive of people. She mentioned some of the elements of the service that were like other churches she had been at, so I thought it was good that we were both trying to find common ground. She said that the sermon and other parts of the service seemed like it would be more my kind of thing than other churches we’ve gone to probably were, and I said I agreed. Hopefully we will both get something out of it.

I wouldn’t say I’m a UU, I don’t believe in a god of any kind, and I don’t think all atheists would be comfortable about this solution, but I think it will work for us for now. I would like to imagine a day where no one feels the need to talk about god, heaven, or hell, but that day is far off. For now, I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders and that I don’t have to keep my stance on religion secret from my wife, and she gets to go to church. Since we disagree, I won’t go out of my way to bring up various things I disagree with, but if she asks I feel like I can talk with her openly about it.

My coworkers and other family are another story. My grandmother just retired as church secretary after decades of service, and my future sister-in-law is becoming a pastor in about year, to give you an idea of some of the believers in my and my wife’s family. My mother seems to be becoming more religious and not less. Plus, I’m in a profession that does not lend itself to religious discussion in theory, although it comes up surprisingly often. Two of my coworkers have discussed religion with me — one very religious and one not very religious at all — and I’ve tried to be as vague as possible on my own views to avoid any problems down the road.

So for family and professional reasons, I’m not coming out to the whole world just yet, although someday I hope to do so. Hopefully this post will help someone who also hasn’t told their significant other yet about their atheism: it doesn’t have to be a bad experience.

I will continue posting and seeking out atheist news under my assumed name for now. I am out to the most important person for me now, which was a very huge step.