Monday, May 30, 2011

Atheist Crowdsource

I'm looking for writing
That's cool, or exciting,
Or just has a nice turn of phrase
That's calm, or frenetic,
Or even poetic
There's so many wonderful ways
Your favorites, selected,
Compiled and collected
For use, any way you see fit
So it's time to get cooking--
Keep writing! Keep looking!
Go find all the best, and submit!

The background: Cuttlefish University does not have an atheist student organization. There are half a dozen Christian orgs, two Jewish orgs, and some sort of multi-faith thingie (no Muslim orgs, which my Muslim students have certainly noticed). I don't feel it is my place to start a student organization, when I am not a student, but it certainly would be my place to offer to meet with any of the believers' organizations as a "meet an atheist" day sort of thing.

Which brings me to the present, and to this post. I can certainly represent myself. But atheists have no central authority, no binding principles; we are privatively defined by our lack of belief in a god or gods. Someone could give the Catholic party line, but no one person can give the atheist perspective. I'm more than happy to share my own beliefs, but to really show these groups the breadth of atheist belief (because, of course, we do believe in stuff... just not in gods), I would like to be able to share other people's beliefs as well.

In that context--an atheist, invited to address a group of believers--what would you propose should be read? I would like to develop a database of relatively short pieces (there are some wonderful books out there, but they are clearly too long a form for the current situation) that anyone could have access to, to augment their own experience in representing atheists while addressing religious groups.

So I ask--what essays have moved you? What stories would you want to share? Don't limit this to well-known writers (but don't neglect them!); don't limit this to positive stories (or to negative!); don't limit this to whitewashed or bowdlerized stories, if the unvarnished truth is what moved you; the whole point is to have a collection of real atheist voices, that anyone could draw upon to demonstrate "what atheists believe" or "who atheists are". Be specific--not just "X is always worth reading", but rather "this particular essay by X is perfect."

I did a quick search before posting this--there are a few sites that seem somewhat related to my question, but frankly, none that fit what I am looking for. Certainly, I might have missed the perfect source--if so, please correct me! But if I am right, this could be a very useful resource. It will be available for anyone to pick and choose from, for their own "get to know an atheist" talks.

Please pass this on to others--nominate links in the comments. I will contact the authors for their permission, and will maintain the list to the best of my abilities. (I have no real ego, so if there is someone better qualified or better able to do so, let me know.)

And, for the record, anyone can use any of my verses in such a situation--consider this my explicit consent. I'll likely look through and put just one or two verses into this collection, though.


eddie said...

I'd like to post some of the work of Alan Sokal and collaborators, but much of them are stuck in dead-tree-land. Or in multi-megabyte files. The link I give is to John Taylor's analysis of various critiques of postmdernism.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I found it!

Zeus Rants, by Lucian (circa 150 CE).

A one-act satire, in which a debate in the agora between an Epicurean and a Stoic is not going well for the Stoic, throwing the assembled Olympians into a panic about their continued existence.

We too have our ancient texts, and they are hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man, I haven't read "Zeus Rants" in years. Check this out:

Timocles: Very well. Tell me then, you scoundrel, don't you think the gods exercise any providence?

Damis: Not in the least.

Timocles: What's that you say? Then is all that we see about us uncared for by any providence?

Damis: Yes.

Timocles: And the administration of the universe is not directed by any god?

Damis: No.

Timocles: And everything drifts at random?

Damis: Yes.

Timocles: Men do you hear that and put up with it? Aren't you going to stone the villain?

Bwah-hah-hah-hah! It's funny because it's true.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for dominating your comments, but I haven't read this in years, and I'm laughing 'til tears stream down my face:

Timocles: See whether I frame this syllogism logically, and whether you can capsize it in any way. If there are altars, there are also gods; but there are altars, ergo there are also gods. What have you to say to that?

Damis: After I have laughed to my heart's content, I'll tell you!

Please read this and share it with the students at Cuttlefish U.!

Anonymous said...

Okay, this isn't a written essay, but this is the 21st century, and I think this video is a great way to get Theists to think critically without challenging them directly:

This 2006 SBC (Aus) news report is about a schism in the John Frum Movement (the most well-known and longest-lasting WWII cargo cult).

The theological question: Is John Frum a literal US Navy officer who promises to return with cargo if the Tannaese keep kastom, or is John Frum best understood as a timeless spiritual being who underlies kastom, and whose worship is consistent with growing knowledge of the world outside Vanuatu?

I think this sort of thing will reach out to nominally religious people who have already begun to think critically about their beliefs.

Melissa said...

I'm always pleased by what Julia Sweeney has to say. My Mother watched "Letting Go of God" and couldn't stop talking about it. She still quotes it. Mom struggled with her belief/disbelief alone. Sweeney gave her the courage to open up about it.

Matt Dillahunty (sp?) from "The Atheist Experience" has some wondeful moments. He's just a regular guy, but he's making waves in the atheist community. I know he's given me some great material and argument sources when I'm dealing with more vocal believers.

gloriamundi said...

My dear Cephalopod, what a spiffing idea. Just a brief(-ish) thought or two:

It can be troubling when devout religious believers point out they alone have the comfort of thinking they are going to an afterlife. This can leave a budding atheist somewhat troubled. If so, they should harken unto the deeply wise Irvin Yalom, in "Staring At The Sun":

"Let's not conclude that death is too painful to bear, that the thought will destroy us, that transiency must be denied lest the truth render life meaningless. Such denial always exacts a price - narrowing our inner life, blurring our vision, blunting our rationality. Ultimately, self-deception catches up with us."


"It is my hope that by grasping, really grasping, our human condition - our finiteness, our brief time in the light - we will come not only to savour the preciousness of each moment and the pleasure of sheer being but to increase out compassion for ourselves and for all other human beings."

(from Staring At The Sun," final two pages.)

May your ink be ever brown - well, sepia, I guess.

Thinker said...

To show what the atheist/skeptic perspective to religion is, I personally like Richard Dawkins' "Letter to my ten year old daughter".

Writing in simple, clear language, he encourages his daughter to seek evidence and to not accept tradition, authority or revelation when judging the truth of a claim.

One caveat: since the language is meant for a ten year old, I believe that when presenting this to college students, its context should be made clear, so that it comes across as engaging their minds, rather than as speaking down to them*.

Quoting a couple of rock/pop texts to show the difference in mindset may also be appropriate. For example, some lines from "The Last Resort" by The Eagles can illustrate the thought that people have invented religions solely for their own purposes:

"Who will provide the grand design,
what is yours and what is mine?
'Cause there is no more new frontier,
we have got to make it here.

We satisfy our endless needs
and justify our bloody deeds
in the name of Destiny
and in the name of God."

*Far be it from me to insinuate that a religious college student is intellectually on par with an unspoiled ten year old...

yokohamamama said...

Been reading for a while-- your verse is delightful, sir:-))

The article I read that finally hit home, that let me let it go was Dale McGowan's "Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion" (at Since I had young kids, it was the most eye-opening thing I'd ever read (aside from Joseph Campbell's Masks of God--but that's four volumes long;-))

paw said...

More Dawkins (on page 2):

I once asked a distinguished astronomer, a fellow of my college, to explain the big bang theory to me. He did so to the best of his (and my) ability, and I then asked what it was about the fundamental laws of physics that made the spontaneous origin of space and time possible. "Ah," he smiled, "now we move beyond the realm of science. This is where I have to hand you over to our good friend, the chaplain." But why the chaplain? Why not the gardener or the chef? Of course chaplains, unlike chefs and gardeners, claim to have some insight into ultimate questions. But what reason have we ever been given for taking their claims seriously?

Theophylact said...

Julian Barnes's Nothing to Be Frightened Of. More an atheist's meditation on death than an argument for atheism per se, but brilliant (and very funny).

Die Anyway said...

It's not a concise statement or quick, ascerbic quote but if you are putting together a reading list, I highly recommend "The Seashell on the Mountaintop" by A. Cutler. < >
It's a short book so it's not like reading Dawkins' TGSOE. It reminded me in a way of Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, although much shorter than that too. You see how the evidence was plainly before us and how a few people began to make the connections and grasp the meaning. It's really a great book about how science really started and how the ancient age of the Earth was finally realized (by all but the most inveterate YEC).

SC said...

It's just like getting a link from Pharyngula:

Prepare to be inundated. :D