Women in Secularism 4, Safe Spaces September 29, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
Tags: censorship, CFI, Maryam Namazie, Questions, religion, safe spaces, stupidity, Women in Secularism
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There were a lot of great talks at WIS4, and again, I’m not going to rehash the details of any of them, because it’s already been done. For that, remember to go here:
But there was one panel that I want to discuss at some further length, and that was the one on safe spaces. The panelists were Maryam Namazie, Melanie Brewster, Sarah Haider, and Diane Burkholder, moderated by Ashley Miller. Much of the discussion revolved around an incident involving Maryam, where a university talk she was giving was interrupted by a group of noisy male Muslim hecklers who wanted her silenced. The panel discussion at WIS4 focused around university safe spaces in particular.
Here’s some video of the incident:
The Muslim hecklers complained that she should not be able to speak about how Islam harms women, because the university was a “safe space” for them. Surprisingly, the administration and several left-leaning student groups that you would think would support freedom of speech sided with the Muslims.
I learned several things about Maryam from the panel discussion. First, she is very passionate and devoted to the cause of freeing Muslim women from religious oppression, which I admire. But I also realized that she is probably a very challenging person to work with. Almost every response she gave to the other panelists was “I disagree completely” and she would then make a passionate argument about the question she wanted to answer. She constantly reiterated that a university is a place to challenge ideas, not protect them, even when that wasn’t the question she had been asked.
But what most frustrated me about the discussion was that people seemed to be talking past each other on different aspects of the issue, without first defining terms so they could make sure they were actually talking about the same things. So I’d like to spend a little time on definitions, so that if I’m involved in a discussion about these issues in the future, I can refer people back to this post for clarification.
So, considering university “safe spaces” I think the first thing that needs to be discussed is “What do we mean by safe?”
The most obvious part of “safe” is that people at a university should be entitled to personal safety. Although it’s not happening in practice as much as it should, the ideal is that students should be safe from physical harm on campus.
The next level of safety would be freedom from personal harassment. Bullying, stalking, threats, sexual harassment, both in person and online, all are things that should be against university rules. Again, I think this should be obvious.
But now we get to the real question about safe spaces. What about safety from upsetting ideas, the kind of safety that the Muslims were demanding at Maryam’s talk? I think for that discussion we need to include a discussion of what we mean by “space”.
Missing from Maryam’s impassioned statements was the fact that a university is not a single “space”, it’s a lot of different spaces. I think the university “spaces” to be considered would include at least:
- Private student spaces, like dorm lounges, cafeterias and quiet study spaces
- Campus organization members only meetings
- Open outdoor spaces
- Talks from speakers sponsored by campus organizations
- Talks from speakers sponsored by the administration
- Publications, such as the student newspaper
I think it’s quite reasonable that a university could have different regulations about what’s OK in each different sort of “space”. While it might be acceptable for Brother Jed to shout his nonsense out on the quadrangle, the university would be justified from excluding him from a study lounge. And to complicate this further, I think it’s reasonable to expect that a university supported by government funding would have different standards than a private university. I would not expect Liberty or Brigham Young Universities to support the same freedom of dissent that a state school should support. And Maryam’s encounter was at a British University, which is not under the same freedom of speech expectations that US school would have.
So when we discuss the idea of a “safe space” I don’t think it’s clear that universities are, or are not, “safe spaces”. At a good university there should be times and places where students are exposed to ideas that they may disagree with or find upsetting. There should be times and places where students can retreat from such challenges. And the administration should be responsible for setting the standards for what’s allowed in which sort of space, which is no easy task. (And at private religious universities, the students and their parents may be paying for complete censorship of challenging ideas!)
And I guess my last frustration with the panel discussion was the narrow focus on academia. While the standards for free speech on campus are important for college students and professors, and college is an important time in the intellectual development of those who can attend, it’s a small fraction of the scope of the total free speech discussion that needs to be held.
Women in Secularism 4 – summaries September 26, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events.
Tags: atheism, CFI, conferences, religion, Women in Secularism
I’ve just spent a great weekend at Women in Secularism 4, sponsored by CFI. I took many notes, but I’m not going to try to outline all the points of all the talks there, because it’s already been done!
Paul Fidalgo of The Morning Heresy, liveblogged each speech and panel discussion. So for good summaries please go here:
In the coming days I’ll probably put together my thoughts on a few of the themes that were discussed.
Religion of peace? September 25, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
Tags: atheism, Bonya Ahmed, bravery, cartoon, Islam, Nahed Hattar, religion, WIS4
I spent a good part of this morning at WIS4 listening to a talk from Bonya Ahmed, a survivor of a vicious machete attack by Al-Qaeda Islamist fundamentalists in Bangladesh.
She is an amazing human being. Her husband, Dr. Avijit Roy, was killed and she barely survived. Many people would have just given up and gone into hiding after that, but she has carried on the work, and speaks out strongly and articulately. I’ll be posting my comments on the WIS4 talks at a later time, but I just want to say that she is an inspiration for me, her bravery gives me hope for what people can accomplish.
Then I got home and found this headline.
Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was murdered this morning for sharing a cartoon on Facebook, a cartoon that mocked the beliefs of ISIS terrorists. Not even for drawing it, just for sharing it. And he was killed while heading to court to answer for charges of “offending Islam,” also from posting the cartoon. Since I have the privilege of living in a country where we have no laws against offending religion (yet), the very least I can do is share the English version of the cartoon:
Their god is apparently so weak that their beliefs can’t stand up to a little mockery. Their religion is so fragile that its followers kill people just for the suggestion that it doesn’t have to be taken seriously.
Religion of peace my ass.
“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Sell the product September 14, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
Tags: books, christianity, Evangelists, missionaries, Mormons, religion, self-help, stupidity
Continuing the series on the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries:
Chapter 13, Proselyting Care
(I still continue to find it very weird that this book says “proselyting” instead of “proselytizing” as most people do.)
So, we’ve been through chapters of advice on manners and laundry and packing and cooking, and all kinds of things that missionaries need to do, but we have finally come to the loooong chapter about the primary activity that the missionaries are supposed to do: sell the product.
Now, if you remember, right at the start the guidebook said it was not going address details of theology. So this chapter is about motivation and salesmanship. And as usual, there’s a mix of actual practical advice (like learn from people that have already been doing this, or be patient, or tolerant of a less motivated companion,) but also some really over-the-top instructions.
So what helpful advice does our guidebook have? It starts out this way:
“If you want to have a successful mission you must start out successfully. The magic formula is successful W O R K. Just as it is true that no one has yet devised a method for getting wheat out of straw except by threshing it, so it is true that no one has yet devised a method for baptizing people into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without meeting with them and converting them. Such a supreme accomplishment is impossible for a missionary who is easygoing or lazy, sitting in his room all or part of the day, or indulging in too much social activity. The Lord has never said his work would be easy; he has promised that if you work, you’ll be happy doing what you came to do, while if you don’t, you’ll be nothing but miserable.” (pg 113)
So, right off the focus is work ethic, work makes you happy, don’t goof off. Relaxing too much will make you unhappy. What else does our author have to say about this work?
“Are you a cheerful happy friendly person who can smile and keep a song in your heart even though slapped down periodically by discouragement? … Remember a cheerful person is not one who has no problem; rather he is one who has made a habit not to wear his problems on his face nor reveal them in his tone of voice.” (pg 114)
“Can you jump in with both feet and forget yourself, your clothes, dates, friends at home, and personal pleasures, devoting yourself to your one purpose of fulfilling and honorable forceful mission?” (pg 114)
“HINT: If you don’t get going and do your job well, the whole district suffers.” (pg 115)
“Can you work as though the success of the whole mission depended on you but pray and have faith as though it all depended on the Lord?” (pg 115)
“Missionary work is a team effort from the mission president down to the greenest missionary. Success within the team rests solidly on respect for authority. … Obey their rules. Keep them whether you think they are important or not — even little ones.” (pg 115)
This is sounding more and more like a creepy cult. Don’t show how you feel, smile all the time, forget your own life, obey authority, and everybody else is depending on your doing this. Yeesh.
And you know how impossibly upbeat and smiley Mormon missionaries always are?
“Hallmarks of success as listed in the handbook of the Central Atlantic States Mission are:
- Be affirmative in your thinking and speech. Avoid negative words and phrases: “if,” “I hope,” “I’ll try,” and “I’ll do my best.” Say instead “I’ll do it.”
- Look people in the eye.
- Be enthusiastic.”
What about relaxation?
“…in order to be happy and productive in one’s work he must not do it all the time. Because this is true, missionaries are given time off each week to enjoy a change of pace. … This does not mean, however, that you should ever pass up an opportunity to present the gospel message. …. Every time you need toothpaste, purchase it at a different store and then, even though it is your diversion day, ask the Golden Questions.” (pg 116)
So a missionary needs to relax, but at the same time he’s never supposed to totally relax.
Some other great bits:
“Just because you have been ordained to teach the gospel doesn’t qualify you to tell people how to solve all their daily problems. In the mission field as at home humility is always the supreme Christian virtue” (pg 114)
So knock on people’s doors, tell them their religion is completely wrong, tell them that they have to stop believing what they believe and start believing what you believe, but be humble!
“As Henry Ford preached all his life, ‘Whether a man says he can or he can’t, that man is right.’ “(pg 117)
Right. Which is why you meet so many people who can fly.
“If you take your clothes to a laundromat, memorize and review scriptures while your clothes are washing.” (pg 118)
“You can waste time reading cheap books, going to shows, getting together too often with other elders to eat or visit, going sightseeing every few days, socializing regularly at certain members’ homes, staying in your apartment for hours at a time performing accumulated trivial tasks, or shopping around every spare moment looking at cameras, tape recorders, radios, etc. But again, what have you gained?” (pg 120)
Living your real life, that’s what you’ve gained, instead of wasting it trying to sell dogma.
“It has been said that even the most miserable-looking crow has a hunch he’ll look like a peacock and sing like a nightingale some day.” (pg 121)
“Discouragement is Satan’s most useful tool. He uses it to pry inside your consciousness. Once inside and in control, he can use you in whatever way pleases him.” (pg 120)
Satan? This is the first mention I’ve heard of Satan in this book; I wasn’t aware that Mormons made a big deal out of the Satan thing.
“Have you ever stopped to think that even Christ didn’t convert everyone?” (pg 121)
Because apparently there are some things that are just too difficult for an omnipotent god.
“The Lord knows which people are ready to accept the gospel, because it is up to you to find them.” (pg 122)
Because even though you pray to god and ask him to tell you things, he’s not going to tell you anything that’s actually useful.
But, to be fair, there was one part in this chapter that I really did like, an example about quarry workers:
“When someone asked the first worker what he was doing he answered, “I’m cutting stone.” The second worker when asked the same question said, “I’m carving a lintel.” The third quarry worker replied, “I’m building a cathedral.” (pg 117)
That’s a good example about perspective, which I might apply to help with motivation in tasks that are a small part of a worthwhile endeavor. Unlike preaching.
“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Roommates August 27, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
Tags: books, christianity, habits, list, missionaries, Mormons, religion, roommates, stupidity
Continuing with the chapter-by-chapter dissection of the 1968 guide for prospective Mormon Missionaries.
Chapter 12, Companion Care
The chapter begins:
Sooner or later every missionary will find that his mission life is a mixture of good days and bad, success and disappointment, give and take. (page 101)
Let’s fix that:
Sooner or later every
missionaryperson will find that his missionlife is a mixture of good days and bad, success and disappointment, give and take.
This chapter is about getting along with assigned companions, and in general has a lot of good advice about getting along with people.
I’ve been looking at the stress level for these youngsters, who are thrown into a strange place, cut off from family and friends, and expected to sell religion door-to-door, not to mention the expectation of perfect clothes and grooming, clean quarters, and impeccable table manners. Now add the additional stress of being assigned to spend 24 hours a day with a stranger. This is worse than college roommates, because you can spend most of your time away from your college roommate if you need to. These companions are expected to spend every minute of every day together, except for using the bathroom. Like this:
“If, without warning, he jumps off his bike and runs into a store, you have no choice but to follow him.” (pg 102)
Not just wait outside the store for him, follow him. At this rate, they might as well be handcuffed together. Is there any mention that the people in charge are making any effort to team up people who might be compatible? Nope. How about a provision for requesting a change of companion if two completely incompatible people have been assigned together? Nope, not mentioned either. But she does talk for several paragraphs about ways that companions might clash. An example:
“You may be a “gourmet” while your companion takes constant delight in smothering his meat with jam.”(pg 102)
But the author does make some good points about the value of learning to get along with people. The skills they learn in getting along with their randomly assigned companion will probably serve them well in getting along with future spouses, employers, and coworkers. So among all the pointless things these kids are expected to do during this two-year hazing, this actually has a use in their later lives.
She helpfully points out is that it’s a good idea to avoid being annoying, and to be aware of things that others find annoying. And she provides a helpful and lengthy list, which is so wonderful that I’m going to include the whole thing here.
“Fifty personal habits which have proved to be annoying are:
- Leaving hair in the washbasin.
- Squeezing a tube of toothpaste the wrong way or leaving the cap off.
- Not cleaning out the bathtub.
- Not putting away personal toilet articles.
- Using companion’s towel, washcloth and even toothbrush.
- Staying in the bathroom for long periods of time; using all the hot water.
- Leaving washcloth in the tub.
- Not knowing when it is time to take a bath.
- Kicking off shoes and leaving them in the middle of the floor.
- Acting undignified; slouching on couch, crossing legs so that hairy legs show.
- Yawning without covering your mouth.
- Not making your bed.
- Dropping clothes on the floor.
- Picking teeth with fingers.
- Being bossy and telling the other how to cook.
- Eating like a horse.
- Placing elbows on table while eating.
- Slurping soup.
- Not accepting responsibility for cooking meals according to schedule.
- Not washing the dishes right after a meal but waiting until everything is dirty and then doing them; failing to wash dishes really clean.
- Dressing in poor taste.
- Indulging in such bothering mannerisms as sniffing or clearing throat.
- Using poor English such as “ain’t,” “he done,” “we wuz,” etc.
- Being slouchy and lazy.
- Borrowing clothes or money; “what’s yours is mine” attitude.
- Not obeying mission rules (i.e. leaving city without permission).
- Wasting time by making unnecessary trips to shopping centers, banks, etc.
- Being stingy with money.
- Being wasteful with money. (Leaving lights, heat and water on, leaving iron on and refrigerator door open; using too much toilet paper, etc.)
- Tapping foot on floor or pencil on a book.
- Being selfish; having a “what’s in it for me” attitude.
- Saying one’s home town is better than companion’s.
- Being bullheaded and set in ways.
- Kidding when companion doesn’t know how to take it.
- Being opinionated – “a know it all” who can’t listen.
- Having a habit of being late for everything.
- Being selfish and ungrateful; not doing anything for anyone, or if companion does something for you, doing it over.
- Humming in a subdued tone.
- Being noisy if you get up earlier or stay up later than your companion.
- Interrupting others; monopolizing conversations.
- Belittling member’s superstitions even if done jokingly; imitating member’s mannerisms or voice peculiarities.
- Being overly sensitive.
- Acting spoiled.
- Complaining about everything.
- Correcting a companion in front of others.
- Criticizing, insulting, or finding fault with a companion.
- Taking an hour to polish shoes while companion sits and waits.
- Carrying a chip on your shoulder.
- Having the “I” disease: “I” made this baptism, “I” got this contact, instead of “we.” (pp 103-4)
I find it interesting that all these are thrown in together in no particular order, and that major rule breaking is not given any more emphasis than subdued humming. And things you can’t help, like snoring, are lumped in with easily corrected irritants like soup slurping and leaving hair in the sink.
A lot of this chapter sounds like it could have been written by a professional counselor, and has some really good advice. (Surprise!) Like this section:
“…you must first learn to accept the fact that conflict is normal. Then you must learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. You must be able to recognize the difference between frankness and rudeness. You must be able to explain something without sounding superior. You must give more than you take. You must try to forget little differences of opinion quickly once they are resolved.” (pg 107)
But not all of the chapter comes up to this standard. Remember in the chapter on table manners, where there was advice to lie to your hostess? And to avoid telling them directly when you aren’t allowed to eat something, or don’t like their food? Well this chapter has a heavy dose of advice about how to use passive-aggressive manipulation on your companion.
“If you can’t teach through example, perhaps you can through suggestion: “Shall we cook a big dinner tonight?” “Shall we make our beds before we eat breakfast?” “Shall we adjust the schedule so that we can get our hair cut today?” Or perhaps you can teach through exaggeration. If your companion leaves one light on, accentuate the problem by turning all the lights on. Or sometimes you can embarrass a companion into doing what’s right. Make his bed for him when he doesn’t do it himself. Pick up after him and hang his clothes up when he forgets to do so.” (pg 110)
I know if I had a roommate who was obsessed with always having the beds made, and they started making my bed for me, you know what I’d do? I’d let them! It’s obvious that they care more about it than I do, and if that’s the way they want to spend their time, them good for them.
And of course there’s a hefty emphasis on the overwhelming niceness that seems to pervade Mormonism.
“But remember, there are not likely to be so many problems if you reduce friction by consistently oiling the machinery with a mixture of the five C’s: Cheerfulness, Compliments, Courtesy, Consideration and Compromise.” (pg 111)
And, of course, the religious answer to any problem is to focus on the religion harder, because they aren’t allowed to consider that religion is the root cause of any of their problems.
“Every morning before you leave your living quarters to begin the day’s work take hold of your companion’s hand and tell him that you love him and that you are both doing the work which is right, and that the gospel is true. Pray together every morning and every evening for a mutual understanding; then shake hands afterwards. Remember, the more diligently you proselyte the less time you’ll have for pettiness, because little things have a way of adding up when you are not doing the job and when you don’t have the missionary spirit.” (pg 112)
(You know, when things are actually true, it’s not necessary to constantly remind each other of this. I spent plenty of time around scientists in college, and I never had any of them feel the need to reassure me that gravity was true, or that electrons exist. I never had a music class where we worried about proving the existence of music. I didn’t have to get together every morning with my classmates to reassure each other about the fact that computers were real.)
So, to sum up, if missionaries are not getting along with their completely aggravating roommates that they must live with 24 hours a day, the solution includes being passive-aggressive about chores, working themselves to exhaustion, and obsessing about religion. Yeah, that’ll work.
“So You’re Going on a Mission” Squeaky Clean! August 23, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
Tags: christianity, grooming, laundry, missionaries, Mormons, religion, stupidity
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Continuing on with the chapter-by chapter review of the 1968 handbook for prospective Mormon Missionaries:
Chapter 10, Grooming Care
This chapter is really short compared to the chapter on table manners. Most of it is just the usual nagging-mother litany of take a bath, comb your hair, brush your teeth, use deodorant, put on a clean shirt, shine your shoes, get that dirt out from under your nails, smile, and for goodness sake don’t slouch. Nothing that these kids’ moms haven’t been telling them for years.
But there are a couple of gems here:
“Once upon a time a lady opened her door, looked a Mormon missionary up and down, and then commented: “My but your shoes are shiny. Why don’t you come in?” (pg 90)
And then there’s this puzzling metaphor:
“Carry a clean handkerchief, but don’t use it for nose-blowing. An elder who pulls out a dirty handkerchief to wipe the perspiration off his head and neck slides down his totem pole with a bang.”(pg 91)
I don’t know what that means either.
But the other part to having that squeaky-clean Mormon image is making sure those blindingly white shirts stay that way. So let’s go on to:
Chapter 11, Clothes Care
Most of this chapter is a laundry list of laundry tips. Also included is other advice on clothing care, like three paragraphs about deciding whether or not to darn your socks.
There’s lots of tips for stain removal, including a suggestion to use Goddards Dry Clean on food stains. I hadn’t heard of that! So it looked it up. It was removed from the market a few years ago because the ingredients were hazardous. Or how about this tip:
“Shoe Polish Take off with rubbing alcohol or carbon tetrachloride. (pg 97)”
Wait what? I’ve never seen carbon tetrachloride for sale as a stain remover. I’ve never seen it for sale at all! So I looked it up. Turns out that it’s a nasty chemical indeed; exposure can cause many physical problems including nerve damage and acute liver failure. It’s use as a drycleaning solvent was discontinued in the 1950’s and it was banned in consumer products completely in 1970. So her information was already way out of date when this book was published, and she was recommending a hazardous chemical as a household laundry product.
“Many missionaries save themselves a considerable amount of money by taking advantage of self-service dry cleaning.” (pg 97)
Is that still even a thing? Again, I’ve never heard of this. Back to some research. Apparently coin-operated drycleaning machines were introduced in 1960, and still exist. Perchloroethylene is the main solvent used in drycleaning, and has been since 1948. But it’s use is beginning to be phased out now – turns out it’s a central nervous system depressant and probably a carcinogen! It’s better to leave the drycleaning to the professionals.
Most of the rest is pretty ordinary stuff, like how to wash and block a sweater, or how to iron if you don’t have an ironing board. Pretty boring, so that’s enough of this chapter. Next time – how to get along with your assigned companions!
“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Which fork? August 21, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
Tags: books, food, manners, missionaries, Mormons, stupidity
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Continuing on with the chapter-by-chapter dissection of the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries.
Chapter 9, Table Manners Care
So let’s review what we’ve learned about the lives of missionaries so far: They are sent to a random location somewhere in the world, they aren’t allowed to contact their family and friends for emotional support, and they are expected to sell a product that no-one needs door-to-door for ten hours a day, six days a week. Then they are expected to cook for themselves, keep their quarters sparkling clean, spend all day every day with the stranger that they have been assigned as a companion, and during their free time they are expected to study, fast and pray. If they are stressed and frustrated, that means that they aren’t believing hard enough, and they need to study, fast and pray more. (more…)
Nonbeliever LGBT survey August 17, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
Tags: atheism, Friendly Atheist, LGBT, survey
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As part of a long-term research project, Friendly Atheist has created a survey about the attitudes of the non-religious on LGBT issues.
If you are non-religious and would like to help them with their research, you can link directly to the survey here:
(Hemant asked people to spread the link on their social media, and this is the only social media I use. )
“So You’re Going on a Mission!” What’s cooking? August 16, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
Tags: books, christianity, cooking, food, Jello, Lileks, missionaries, Mormons, religion
Continuing with a chapter-by-chapter dissection of the 1968 guide for prospective Mormon missionaries. Still talking about Chapter 8, Food Care.
Before I begin discussing the book, I’d like to refer everybody to the wonderful website of James Lileks, and especially his Institute of Official Cheer, which is the source for all the wonderful photos of 1950’s and 60’s “food” I have included below.
Last time we took a look at all the wonderful advice, and lack of it, for safe cooking for the new missionary. This post, let’s see what it is that they are actually supposed to be eating.
Answers to “A Question for Atheists” August 14, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: christianity, Cognitive Biases, critical thinking, evidence, pass-phrase, Questions, religion
Godless Cranium linked to a post at flyinguineapig, with two longish questions for atheists. Flyinguineapig appears to be a strongly christian blogger, but these questions aren’t really the typical “gotcha” questions that I would expect to see on a blog of that sort, so I’ll go ahead and tackle them. Rather than try to answer in the comments at either of those blogs, I’ll post my answers here, and link back to them. Also, I prefer to write my own answers before I read through everybody else’s answers.
My first question is more general. I see this among atheists and my agnostic friends. People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence because of the lack of some kind of proof. It occurred to me that I have no idea what kind of proof you’re looking for. Furthermore, it seems to me that, in many cases, not just in the case of spirituality, what constitutes proof is at least somewhat subjective. I would love to get a few different perspectives, so my question is, what would prove to you that God exists?
Let me start with this part of the question: “People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence…” Most atheists I know don’t actually do this, so the question is starting out with rather of a strawman assumption.
The difficult part of this assumption is – how do you define a god? It’s a really nebulous term. I know what the christians mean when they talk about their god, but the question here is “any deity”. What characteristics would a being need to have in order for us to consider it a god? Let’s look at a few examples: (more…)