"How to Talk to an Atheist" Coming to an In-Box Near You!

At least, it is if you requested a copy. If you did, and it’s not there, email me at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com so I can rectify the situation. My powers of organization, they sucketh mightily, so I may have missed a few folks.

If you didn’t request a copy and regret not getting a chance to join the demolition, let me know. The more Wise Readers, the merrier.

With all that said and done, I’m going to Discworld. Catch you later.

Progress Report: We’ve Crossed the Line


Woozle was right.

We’re not done yet. There’s some cleaning up to do – atheist bios to add, a bibliography and list of resources to complete – but for the most part, this is the finished first draft. It never would have happened without your help, input and encouragement.

Copies will be going out in a few days to those of you who requested one (it’s not too late – if you’ve decided you want an advanced peek, email me at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to tear the damned thing apart. Help me improve the arguments, clean up the messy bits, cut the repetition, and kick this into shape. The goal is to make this catch a publisher’s eye, so that we’ll have one more tome on the shelves to swell out our paltry little atheism section. Either that, or bookstores will stick it smack in the middle of Christianity, which will be just as satisfying.

Nothing really outstanding emerged from tonight’s writing – it was a matter of filling in the holes – but I’ll give you this bit from the beginning, where I’m showing folks we can get along before I start smacking them with the common mistakes Christians make in conversation with us:


Atheists and Christians have already started talking. Not just that, they’ve started doing. In the past, we worked together on projects like abolishing slavery, advocating civil rights, and earning women the right to vote. We’re working together today on all sorts of issues. There are plenty of areas where religious belief doesn’t matter so much as shared ideals.

I want to highlight a few of the efforts and organizations out there that specifically and explicitally foster cooperation between believers and non-believers alike. We’re not only united around shared ideals, we’re united around the idea that we each bring unique strengths to our efforts to enrich and improve the world.

Many of us are also united in our desire to protect religious freedom. The following examples should give you an idea of what we can accomplish when we come together.

I go on to cite Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Talk to Action, the National Center for Science Education, a foodbank project between freethinkers and a Christian group, and a talk given by the Friendly Atheist at the Interfaith Youth Core Conference. It’s a pretty good range of examples, I think.

Thank you all again for making this book not only a possibility, but a very likely success. You guys are teh awesome.

Best of luck to the rest of you who are in the final stretch of NaNoMadNess today. Once again, I find myself wishing we had a real cantina so I could be there with the drinkage for you after you’ve crossed the finish line.

You can do this. I don’t have faith in gods, but I have faith in you.

Progress Report: All-out Dash to the Finish


Remind me to tell you later what happened when my supervisor found out the subject of the book I’m writing. Too tired to discuss it now.

I’ve been all over this book, from beginning to end, adding a bit here and a chunk there. Here’s one inspired by you lot, which I hope will meet your approval:


This is one of those canards that American Christians trot out when they want to justify denying atheists their freedom of conscience. They think it denies atheists any rights at all. There’s a reason why this is such an uphill battle.

Since so many Americans don’t even know what’s in the Bill of Rights, let’s have a look at the First Amendment together. It’s important to know what it says, because it protects some of our most cherished freedoms:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Whole books have been written on exactly what freedoms these little sentences cover. We’ll just take on the ones pertaining to our discussion here.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” This means that our government can’t declare one single religion as official, or favor one religion over another. If the majority of Congress voted to make, say, Hinduism the official religion of the United States, that law would be struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The same thing would happen if Congress attempted to pass a law establishing any one sect of Christianity, or even a generic interpretation of Christianity, as America’s religion. And, for the purposes of the courts, I’m pretty sure atheism would be treated as a “religion.” Our Founders wrote the Establishment Clause this way because they didn’t think belief – or lack of it – is something that can be legislated. Our government must remain officially agnostic and wholly secular in order to protect the next bit of the Bill of Rights.

“…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” You are free to be a practicing Christian. With a few extremely narrow exceptions, the government cannot outlaw your church attendance, your worship services, or your beliefs. When religious beliefs conflict with the law, the government has to be careful about prohibiting your religious practices. If you, for instance, decided to follow the Old Testament’s order to stone unruly children to death, the government can and would step in to protect your children, because society’s interests in keeping those children safe, healthy and alive override your belief that disobedient children must die. But the government can’t willy-nilly proclaim that your religion as a whole is illegal, and you have no right to practice it.

On the flip side, and emerging naturally from that, the government also can’t compel you to go to church. It can’t force you to worship. That’s where atheists come in: we may not be a religion by definition, but we can’t be forced by the government to believe in any religion, either. In that sense, yes, the Constitution does indeed provide for our freedom from religion. But that’s not all.

“…or abridging the freedom of speech…” This covers all speech. My speech, and yours. I can talk about atheism. You can talk about Christianity. It has nothing to do with religion: speech is protected whether it’s religious, debunking religion, political, artistic, or just plain boring.

“…or of the press…” You can publish a Christian newspaper, and I can publish an atheist newspaper, and both are equally protected. Freedom of the press, of course, has extended beyond the printing press, but you get the idea.

“…or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is certainly not limited only to religious people. Atheists are just as free to assemble and petition as any believer.

What all of this taken together adds up to is a freedom not spelled out by name, but one that the courts have recognized as the logical conclusion from the freedoms enumerated and what our Founders said about freedom: we have freedom of association. While there are some limits on that right, as there are with any right, there is no exclusion for the non-religious. Atheists are just as free to associate with one another and exercise their rights as are debate clubs, hobbyists, political activists, and church groups.

The Constitution also prohibits a religious test for office. Here’s Article Six:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

No religious test means that Congress can’t establish the requirement that someone have a religion in order to serve their country in office. All an atheist has to do is affirm his or her commitment to support the Constitution.

All of this adds up to a clear intent by our Founders to establish freedom of conscience. Nothing supports the notion that citizens of this country are forced to have faith. And that’s a good thing indeed, because I doubt many of you would like the result if government had the power to choose your faith for you.

Long. Yeah. But it’s one of those hard-to-explain-in-a-soundbite subjects.

I also attacked belief in chairs. Steve, Howard and Woozle will be pleased.

Fellow NaNo sufferers: we have all day. We’re going to make it across the finish line. Even though we may feel like we’re going to die of a heart-attack two feet away from the tapes…

Going to bed for a few hours now. argharghargh.

Progress Report: Oops


I was supposed to be much further along tonight, but I made the mistake of deciding to go back and bung in the list of famous atheists, with little thumbnail bios. Sounds simple, right?


Not when you have to sort through some rather extensive lists, which you whittle down by well-known names, further contemplating whether that name is well-known because Christians already know and despise that atheist, and then trying to phrase the bio so that you’re not plagiarizing Wikipedia… I should’ve given it a miss and waited to add it in the revision stage.

Heh heh heh whoops.

And I’m not even close to done with it. Ah, well.

I spent the last bit of the night revising Rule #9. I didn’t hit on the Constitutional question – I might do that elsewhere in the book, but it really doesn’t belong here – but I did find your suggestions useful, and I hope this works:

9. Absolutely under any circumstances never ever bring up that old “atheism is a religion too” chestnut. Atheism is a philosophical stance, a way of thinking about the world that is profoundly irreligious, or simply a lack of belief in anything supernatural. In the immortal words of my friend Howard, “Atheism is a religion the way bald is a hair color.” Atheism is different from religion in many ways, but perhaps the most important is this: if empirical proof of God were presented to us and verified by science, we’d become immediate theists, just as you would become a “unicornist” if unicorns were discovered living in some remote forest. You may find it impossible to comprehend a life without religion and thus think of atheism as a religion, but your thinking it doesn’t make it so, no more than if I were to call your Christianity a form of atheism because I can’t comprehend a life with religion. Besides, people who say things like “atheism is a religion, too” are just trying to discredit atheists, and showing that they have no good argument in the process. You don’t want to look ridiculous, so don’t make that mistake.

I can already think of a few minor changes to words that would make that clearer, but damn it, I’m tired.

As for the famous atheists, I have a lot of names, including of all people Allan Pinkerton of Pinkerton Agency fame. Whod’a thunkit? I’m thinking of sticking Ron Reagan in there just to twist a few conservative noses. The fact that the son of their hero is a ballet dancer and a liberal has got to kill them – the fact that he’s an atheist, too, is just the insult to injury.

Yes, I’m an evil atheist. Why do you ask?

I’m also a very tired atheist. And I have got nearly 7,000 words to go. Argh.

If anyone has a good argument as to why theology isn’t philosophy, and knows of groups where atheists and Christians are working together in harmony to stop fuckwits from destroying the world, now is the time to say so. I could surely use your help.

Progress Report: Nearly There


Yepper. Less than 8,000 to go, and only 1/2 day of work standing between me and a completed book.

I could probably even sneak out for Thanksgiving, but not if I want those last 8,000 words to be more than useless babble. The bits that are left require research. So home I stay, and fajitas I eat. Mmmm, fajitas.

For my fellow NaNo sufferers, who may be staring down the barrel of a seemingly-impossible deficit right now, I think that the encouragement from the Life After Faith appendix is appropriate:

Caucasian mountaineers had a proverb: “Heroism is endurance for one moment more.” What you’re going through may seem like it’s unendurable, but if you keep your focus on getting through for just one more minute, you’ll get through. It’s how people end up becoming heroes, and it’s how people end up with a reputation for being courageous. They’re not doing anything particularly remarkable. They’re just getting through for one moment more.

Survive enough of those moments, and you’ll find you’ve made it through. Even the worst times end. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that if I endure the bad times long enough, something good is waiting for me. Something changes. And it was worth holding on for.

Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust and went on to become an eloquent advocate for human rights, knew more about despair than most of us ever will. “We have to go into the despair and go beyond it,” he said, “by working and doing for somebody else, by using it for something else.” If you’re feeling despair, probably the last thing you feel like doing is embracing it, but simply fighting it is exhausting. I’ve followed Elie’s advice, and found that by embracing my moments of despair in order to channel them into something else, using them as the driving force to help other people, has taken away their power to hurt me. When pain or despair are used to do something positive, when they become useful, they’re much easier to handle. They become almost welcome, and then one day, without my really noticing, they’re gone.

The Japanese have a wonderful proverb: “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” It goes perfectly with Confucius’s wise words: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall.” It’s hard, when we’re knocked flat by the agony of losing most of the things and the people who defined our lives up until now, to believe that we can ever rise again. But we can. If you look, there will even be a hand extended to help you back up just when you least expected one.

Finally, I’d like to share some excellent advice from St. Francis of Assisi. “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Look. Just because I’m an atheist doesn’t mean I can’t quote a religious man who made a great deal of sense. And he’s right: by not trying to do it all at once, by taking things step-by-step, you’ll find yourself doing things you never thought possible.

Three days, my darlings. It can be done. And if you have to cheat, get drunk, and go on a 10,000 word stream-of-consciousness ramble that’s only remotely related to the book, well, so be it. Quantity over quality this time round. Don’t worry if it doesn’t really fit.

That’s what revision’s for.

Progress Report: Yep. A Train


Definitely a train. That’s got to be what that light at the end of the tunnel was, because I feel like I’ve been hit by one.

I did a desultory bit of work tonight revising The Rules for the purposes of this book. I’m stuck on #9. My brain resembles tapioca far too much to coherently rewrite that one, so I’m punting it to you lot. Some of you weren’t around when The Rules were first created, so here’s your chance to weigh in.

Here’s the original #9:

9. Absolutely under any circumstances never ever bring up that old “atheism is a religion too” chestnut. That’s one of the dumbest things you could possibly say. Absence of belief is not a religion. We don’t have “faith” in the non-existence of God. That’s just one of those whiny, snivelly things religious people do to try to win arguments, and all it does is make you look like a total fuckwit. If you’re here to earn any respect at all, do not shoot yourself in both legs by that snooty “atheism is religion” crap. And if you even begin to start with the “but you’re really agnostics” bullshit, I shall give you such a smack.

One of the original commenters pointed out that this rule might fly straight over the heads of those who can’t imagine life without belief. So how do we manage to make this comprehensible?

I am taking my sorry self to bed. At least tomorrow is the last day I have to drag myself from it before late afternoon, so you’re likely to see a much more cheerful Dana come Thanksgiving. No worries, eh?

Sympathies to my fellow sufferers. I imagine we’re all feeling rather wretched just about now, but remember, my darlings: ’tis almost done, and we will have that wonderful warm glow of success very soon.