About Atheist Survival Guide

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ABOUT ATHEIST SURVIVAL GUIDE:

The Atheist Survival Guide is a project started in the beginning of 2014 as a Facebook group and page, YouTube videos, a blog, and a wiki. The idea was to compile the experiences and data gathered from all the activity on the various Atheist Survival Guide destinations and determine what presents the most concern for the non-religious and more specifically, atheists: the most hated and feared of the non-religious group. The completion date is fast approaching and yet still uncertain. In the meantime, lots of very interesting discussion has indeed helped to mold Atheist Survival Guide into something we hope will be useful for anyone who is living without theism, including agnostics, secularists, humanists, and the other “non-religious.” It will also serve as a very handy guide for theists wanting to know the mindset of an atheist.

Survival is something we all deal with every day of our lives at various levels. We don’t think about it much as we are very adept at surviving. But when others threaten our right to survive the way we choose, this ups the ante and causes us to spend our time and resources responding to threats to our mode of survival. The Atheist Survival Guide is intended to help us to survive in a world where many of the people around us are walking with the aid of intellectual crutches that they use to beat on those of us who choose to walk on our own. While it is never healthy to assume people who think differently are enemies, some fundamentalists choose to be our enemies and take an active role in planning and carrying out character assaults on anyone who thinks differently. At the top of their list of targets are atheists. While there are many God-fearing Christians, Jews, and Muslims who are sympathetic to our secular cause, religious fundamentalists have taken it upon themselves to falsely represent ALL theists in an effort to imply global acceptance to marginalize atheists. As a result, we are thrust on the defensive in a war waged against reason and many good people who simply don’t believe. The Atheist Survival Guide aims to inform those who are interested in the art of self-preservation in this world of dangerous beliefs.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR (in his own words):

This bio covers how I realized I was an atheist. I think it is important for the reader to know where I’m coming from in terms of how I came to be who I am. It concerns my position regarding religion and more specifically, Christianity. Religious parents often indoctrinate their young children into all the same religious beliefs they have. Although humans do have a propensity for superstition, none of us become theistic without going through quite a bit of intensive training. For some people, the training started at about the same time they learned to speak. For others the training came willingly out of curiosity or by accepting the invitation of a friend or family member. Whatever the case may be, those who eventually came to the realization that no amount of indoctrination could ever lead to them to believe, undoubtedly found themselves making the hard decision of whether or not to call themselves “atheists.” Regardless of the label, to reject theism is to be an atheist. And at some point the realization comes. But being as we are all born without theistic beliefs, maybe it’s not such a big deal to be an atheist. Maybe it is the most reasonable way tp be. I tend to agree.

I never considered whether or not I was an atheist until I turned 33. That was when I thought to myself, “I am now the same age Jesus was when he died… that is… if he ever existed.” This made me do some research on Jesus and the crucifixion. This research ultimately led me to question what my religion was. I certainly did not interpret Christian mythology as truth.  As I started searching my past and what led me to where I was, all the ideas I had when I was a child and the times throughout my life I struggled to believe came back to me. I realized that at some level, I wanted to believe. It seemed that my life would be a lot less complicated if only I could attribute all of life’s mysteries and the mysteries of the universe to a prepackaged ideology. But I never could. Somewhere around my 33rd birthday, I realized I was a non-believer and that I always had been.

But then I faced a new struggle. What was I if I wasn’t a believer. I looked up agnostic and I realized that this term was mostly reserved in popular usage for people of faith who have reservations. I looked up atheist and I realized this was what I was. I did not believe in deities. But I was afraid of what calling myself an atheist would lead to. What would people think? How do I just let go of the idea of a god? My own perception of atheists was that they were a small group of anti-religious zealots who didn’t only reject the idea of God, but were also very angry at the entire religious establishment. Atheists were using lawyers to change “Christmas” to “Holiday” and to remove crosses from hills and nativity scenes from City Hall. My first actual encounter with anything to do with atheists was in the mid 90’s at Honolulu Hale, which is the City Hall of Honolulu, Hawai’i. It was during the holiday season and I went to see the Christmas tree display. Among all the beautifully decorated Christmas trees was a white flocked tree with white bulbs hanging upside-down by a noose at the trunk, suspended from five tall thin clear acrylic poles arranged like the frame of a tee pee. At the base was a black sheet of glass with an etched pentagram the size of the entire base with the tip (top) of the tree suspended upside-down inches above it, right in the center. It was actually quite beautiful. But it was clearly a protest. It was a lynched tree! On the plaque near the tree was the name “American Atheists of Hawai’i.” I remember thinking that while they were within their rights to make such a protest and

that it actually blended well with everything else I had seen, it was a bit extreme. But it was also a very brave gesture and was the most artistic display in the Hale. Searching further back, I also recalled when the City of San Jose changed the name of “Christmas in the Park” to “Holiday in the Park. ” this was back in the late 80’s in Silicon Valley. It had always been called Christmas in the Park and my first gut reaction to the change was that it would change the feel of Christmas. But it didn’t. And when I realized that this small semantic revision made the event more inclusive to Jews and and others who also celebrate at this time of year, I thought it was a very considerate change. It was a nice gesture to include all people. I moved on feeling this made the celebration even more special to some and I accepted it despite my own reservations at the time.

What helped me to accept I was an atheist was not simply the realization at age 33 that I didn’t believe in any gods, it was the freedom of thought I was afforded since a very early age. Being as I was born with no beliefs and therefore no preconceptions of the world to cloud my thinking and my mother allowed me to find answers for myself, I was left to my own devices – that is to say my own wonder and curiosity – to seek out explanations for the mysteries of the world. This was despite being born in one of the most religious areas of the United States in the deep south, also known as “the Bible belt.”

I was born in Alabama in October of the mid-60’s. My parents were on a road trip from their hometown in northern California to find my father’s natural mother who lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My mother, being born and raised in the San Francisco area, was very liberal and from a non-religious family. Her mother was born in Antigua, British West Indies, to a family of doctors and land-owners and was raised very progressive and non-religious. She believed in God but you’d have to pry that fact out of her. My mother’s father was a decorated Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy and veteran of several campaigns including the Pacific front in WWII and the Korean war. After WWII, he met my grandmother at a ball while commissioned in Antigua and brought her to America where they were married. They were both in their mid-40’s and not planning to have any children. But my mother, being as stubborn as she is, made it into the world despite their plans to the contrary. As for my grandfather’s beliefs, he claimed he saw too much horror in his life to believe for a moment that there could be a God. He was an atheist, although he never once uttered the word in my presence. I can still recall him cussing and throwing things at the TV whenever Ronald Reagan came on. He was very conservative in many ways but also a very independent thinker. He did not claim any affiliation to any political party, religion, or ideology.

My mother was not only non-religious, she saw religious people as having an agenda.  While in Alabama, for example, the Ku Klux Klan lit a cross on fire in the town where she was staying and she learned that the mayor and police and others were all clansmen and devout Christians. She told me that in the Deep South, everyone was either an evangelical Christian or marked for abuse. She saw how prejudiced and religious her new husband’s family was and she despised them. The only reason she stayed in Alabama as long as she did was because her husband (my father) got into trouble in Baton Rouge and was incarcerated. The authorities caught up with him in Alabama on his way back. My mother was raised very strict and proper and could not fathom the idea that she had essentially married and was impregnated by a criminal she didn’t know. It had occurred to her later that she had rushed into it so she could have her freedom and be on her own away from her very strict mother. She quickly realized that there’s nothing “free” about finding yourself alone and weeks away from giving birth in the deep south. She got a job working the register at the local market, gave birth to me, saved up and moved back to California.

By the time I was 6, my father had moved back to the place where he and my mother met and where I then lived, on the northern edge of San Francisco, California. About a year after he moved back, he was gunned down in cold blood in a local topless bar owned by a friend of his. It was early evening and he told my grandmother, his adopted mother who raised him since birth and whom he was staying with at the time, that he was going out briefly for a pack of cigarettes. He never came back. My father had quite a reputation with the local police since his teen years. He was somewhat of an incarnation of the characters played by James Dean and Marlon Brando. He loved to get into fights. And he had the same charming good looks and likable demeanor as the movie stars who glamorized his dead-end lifestyle. He was the real deal – bad news. In his bedroom, which I discovered years later sealed off in my grandmother’s house, I found a “trophy case” filled with newspaper articles describing all the crimes he had committed and fights he had been in since his teen years. The articles that did not mention him, I assumed were the things he got away with. He had a collection of photos of himself in his leather jacket with up-turned collar and slicked back hair, smoking cigarettes, playing pool, and looking like the stereotypical 1950’s gang member with his white convertible circa 1950’s Ford Galaxy 500. In his later years, he was very well-dressed and very well-mannered, despite his tendency for criminal activity. In the end, someone finally bettered him with a .22 caliber bullet to the heart at the young age of 28. The autopsy report said his last meal was peas and carrots, he was in overall very good health, and he lived about 15 minutes after he was shot – an eternity for a person who knows he is dying. Too much information for a teenage boy who missed having a father.

I didn’t care about his lifestyle and I had no interest in mimicking it. He was my father and everyone said I looked like him and I just wanted to know who he really was. He was a confused kid adopted by the wife of his biological father. She couldn’t have children of her own and was all too happy to adopt the fruits of her husband’s affair in Texas. They eventually split up and he bounced back and forth between his mother who had transplanted to the San Francisco area and his father’s family he left behind in Baton Rouge Louisiana and his adopted mother’s family in Texarkana (on the border of Texas and Arkansas). His adopted mother – my very loving and overly generous grandmother – could not find any fault with my father. She worshiped him. She was a seamstress and she dressed him up in custom-made suits and outfits and took countless photographs of him. My mother eventually revealed to me that my father told her that he never felt “real love” from his adopted mother because she never disciplined him. He wanted her to show him that kind of authoritative love a “real” mother would give him and so he would get in trouble when he was very young, on purpose, to force his mother to show him that kind of love. He would tell her he did it and she would say “of course you didn’t mean to” and she never ever stopped defending his every crime. It was never his fault as far as she was concerned. It was his father’s fault for leaving them to their own devices. His criminal behavior only escalated as he got older.

Back when I learned he was shot, at the age of 6, I watched and waited for it to broadcast on the news on our old black and white TV that I’d occasionally reshape the tinfoil on the antennas to get a good picture on or give a good whack to whenever the picture became a thin horizontal line in the middle of the screen. I was normally not allowed to watch the news as my mother was very adamant about hiding the Vietnam war from my little brother and me. I never saw the news report that would confirm my father’s death. But in the newspaper photo, there was a gal on one knee with a black coat draped over her, visibly sobbing over my dying father’s body as he lay motionless on his back. I could not make out much of my father other than the bottoms of his heels as the photo was taken so low to the ground and seemed to be focusing more on the topless waitress than on him. None of it seemed real and in my young mind I recall thinking for years after that that he must still be alive. Maybe they identified the dead person wrong. Maybe he faked his death so he could start a new life somewhere else. Later when the Elvis and Bruce Lee stories and sightings came out, I remember saying “yeah, see, they did the same thing my dad did.” I didn’t want to believe he was dead. But he was. And like Elvis and Bruce Lee, I had my own sightings of my father. I saw a man who looked like my father in the distance at the park near my house once and in a black pea coat in the fog at the pier in San Francisco. They were a spitting image of the black and white photo of him my grandmother gave to me. It was the only photo I had for years until I discovered his room. I later found out the picture was taken at a correctional facility. When I came to grips with the fact he was dead, I wanted to believe he was in heaven watching me, and in vein I talked to him, knowing that the only reason I even entertained the idea of heaven was so my father could somehow be reached or could look on and be proud of the progress I was making in my life. But I could never take the idea of heaven or afterlife seriously no matter how hard I tried. There was no heaven and my father was gone.

The next summer after my father died, in the early 70’s, my grandmother from the West Indies who recently “talked to an angel” on her way back from town one day loaded up on her her “nerve pills”, was now a devout Christian and stopped at my house again to her daughter – my mother – one more time if she could bring me to church. My grandmother thought I needed Jesus to help me through the loss of my father. As standard protocol, I was sent to my room whenever the door knocked out of my mother’s concern over “protecting” me from my father’s impromptu visits. Although my father was dead now, my mother still waved me into my room out of habit whenever there was a knock at the door. I would stick my head out of the doorway of my room and listen as my mother spoke in a low voice. I could hear my mother telling my grandmother that she would allow me to go to church this time under two conditions: 1) I was allowed to stop going anytime I wanted – the church could not make me feel obligated, and 2) I was to be allowed to question anything. I was 7 at the time and I had never been in a church other than with my other grandmother, the evangelical from the Bible belt, who took me from time to time to the big Catholic church on the hill up the steps to show me the beautiful architecture and stained glass. She would whisper “I am not a Catholic but this is the house of God and I worship here sometimes.”

Going to church with an old person on Sunday morning was not my usual activity. The way I usually spent my time at that age was to:

  • chase alley cats.
  • rummage through the park and alleys and garbage cans of the local businesses looking for bottles to return for money to buy candy and soda.
  • look for mushrooms situated in a circle at the park or on lawns trying to find the illusive brownies that this configuration of fungus confirmed.
  • swing from the branches of the willow trees like Tarzan.
  • Light spider webs on fire and watch them go up like flash paper.
  • Smash strings of cap gun ammo one dot at a time with a rock to make an explosion and smell the sulfur.
  • play tricks on the winos by taking their stashed bottles of white wine to my mom who would put colored food dye in the bottle so I could return it to their hiding place and freak them out.
  • catch tadpoles and tree frogs and toads (mostly toads) in the water-filled gullies on either side of the railroad tacks and put the tadpoles in jars on my dresser and watch them change to fully formed frogs. Sometimes I would catch two toads stuck together and I could not pry them apart.
  • catch little shiny blue and green dragonflies near the railroad tracks close to my school fence, sometimes stuck together like the toads.
  • pick cherries, plums, figs, lemons, tangerines, oranges, apples, and peaches from the various yards of my neighbors and bring them to my mom in my outstretched t-shirt.
  • brave the thorns of the raspberry bushes while staining my face, hands, and shirt in exchange for a quick natural sugar fix.
  • suck the sweet nectar from the red flowers on the wall in the alley.
  • suck the sour nectar from the stems of the yellow flowers in the nearby field.
  • use the discarded Mickey’s Big Mouth beer bottles to catch bees on the clover patches (didn’t the bee and clover on the label mean it was a bee-catching jar?).

I built forts and I clipped playing cards to my bike with clothes pins to make that motor sound with the spokes and made ramps and jumped them with my bike. And every time I passed a pay phone, newspaper stand, cigarette machine, or gumball machine, I would check for change. Sometimes I’d find some. Eventually, I figured out in a dream to use socks to plug the coin returns on the way to school and I would do my rounds pulling out the socks and collecting the change that the socks intercepted on my way home from school. And those pop bottle dispensers; if you pulled on all the bottles, sometimes one would come out. My favorite was Dr. Pepper. Not far up the alley, there was a place where everyone was black. I was told to keep away from that area but I went anyway and I met kids who were doing amazing jump-rope tricks, dance moves, rhymes, and basketball tricks. Whenever I was a guest at my friends’ houses in the black neighborhood, I was always offered lemonade or iced tea, but I wasn’t allowed to sit on the plastic covered furniture even though the plastic was there to protect it so we COULD sit on it. I never understood that. Although, I admit, I was a fairly dirty kid. Sometimes my mom would scream when she did the laundry and found something dead (or alive) in my pants pocket.

My life was that of a small animal, not much different than the alley cats, toads, and other critters, although adjusting very well to my surroundings and having quite an advantage given my very capable eyes, ears, and nose and eager little dexterous hands. And yes, my big hominid brain. I never knew of any kind of a creator concept and so life intrigued me. Why was the frog made like it was? Why was the dragonfly made like it was? How did they get here? If you watched closely, you could see the dragonfly cleaning his hands. I only cleaned my hands when I was told to. “Dragonflies were very well-behaved and very clean,” I thought. And the tadpoles, they changed from slimy little black fish into big green rough bumpy toads. I wondered if maybe everything else didn’t also start out as a fish. “Maybe when I was in my mom’s tummy, I was a fish too,” I thought. I made no distinction between myself and all other living things other than my ability to make all of their lives very difficult.

I was 5 when I started kindergarten. My mother needed a babysitter and so she taught me how to read using Dr. Seuss, The Big Green Book, Where the Wild Things Are, and Aesop’s Fables. She worked a very short stint at the school and somehow sneaked me in a year early. By 7, I was in 2nd grade. I was considered a “gifted” kid and so I was first offered music lessons and when I got frustrated from not being able to blow a trumpet properly (I really wanted to play the trumpet), I opted to visit the school library every day to spend what seemed like forever reading any book I wanted to. But I had a problem with my attention span and so I never read anything all the way through. I just marveled at the big reference books with big colorful pictures of planets, dinosaurs, geology, cavemen, sea life, and anything where I could just flip to a page, soak in the pictures, and read the captions and more in-depth explanations of the things that were most intriguing. It was in this library that I finally found confirmation of what I knew all along: “WE CAME FROM FISH!”

At the Sonoma County flea market, where we would stop on the way to Lake Berryessa so my mom could buy incense and bootleg 8-Tracks of Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Pink Floyd, Al Green, or whatever she was into at that time, I bought a huge heavy hardbound college zoology book filled with beautiful illustrations for 25 cents and spent every night on the floor in front of the TV looking through it in amazement and awe, soaking in the pages (while also not missing Star Trek or the Twilight Zone) and peering into the insides of every imaginable living thing. After a while, I started to see commonalities. Everything was made of cells. All the more complex organisms had ways to breath and eat and move around. It seemed all living things were part of one big family. Whenever we went to the beach or when I went fishing at the pier, I was all too eager to cut things open and look inside of them to see for myself what the books were showing me. I dissected frogs, lizards, fish, worms, muscles, sea urchins, starfish, and even my bait when I used anchovies or shrimp (I lived across the street from a dock on the San Francisco bay). I always felt extremely guilty after I had done this, but my eagerness to understand and experience everything was far too overpowering to allow for me to pause out of concern for these poor little specimens although for whatever reason, I drew the line at furry things. I would never dissect a mouse or a bat or a cat. If I happened upon a dead rotten cat, I would try and see whatever I could of its insides, using sticks to peel back the leathery skin and fur. I noticed the bones of cats were the same general configuration as the human bones I had seen in books. Cats and humans both have two eyes, two ears, a nose with two nostrils  a mouth, a brain, arms and legs, hands and feet, ribs, hip bones, teeth, a tongue, skin, hair, fingers and toes and all the signs to convince me that these two animals – that is to say both cats and humans – are somehow related. I had a very well thought-out view of the world before I attended church services for the first time. Although everything I knew was still subject to the next discovery, what I did know up to the point made perfect sense.

Unbeknownst to my grandmother and the rest of the congregation, I was not going to be an easy sell on Genesis.

So here I am in this church and the pastor is literally going through the Bible from the very first page on my very first day as if they all decided beforehand that this small child was surely worthy of changing their schedule so that he may be taught the bible from the very beginning. They truly were very wonderful people with only good intentions. The church was on the side of a steep hill just around the corner from where I lived. It was a small Victorian house converted into a church and run by the Salvation Army. The pastor and the other church officials were dressed like they were in the military with black uniforms and hats with red stripes down the sides. The pastor was a WWII veteran and wore official-looking emblems and shiny things on his collar and golden ropes on his shoulders. He was a very dear old man and the people were all very dear people. They were seniors and I was the only child in service. Every Sunday before we went in, my very British grandmother from the West Indies who had recently “walked with an angel” and converted to Christianity from being non-religious told me in her British accent that I must be quiet and raise my hand if I have a question and not kick my feet or pick my nose or wipe my nose on my sleeve or hum or whistle or chew gum. If I had gum, she would take it right from my mouth and place it in an empty gum wrapper she had in her purse and wad it up. If my face was dirty, she would lick her handkerchief and wipe my face with it, rubbing so hard as to push my head back and leave an “Indian burn” on my face. It was the typical speech and procedure I went through whenever I was going to be in the company of “proper people.” And I was reminded again that I must sing “yes, Jesus loves me” louder this time. Last time no one else could hear me.

When the sermon started, I was very fascinated by the story. Right away God is creating everything. And yet, all the big reference books I looked through with great fascination nearly every single day never once mentioned this little detail. I had heard of “God” before being as I had picked up the phrase “God, dang it” from my friends and when I was around my grandmothers, they would say “don’t say God’s name in vein.” I always found this confusing because his name was “God” and yet he WAS God (a god). And when my grandmothers told me not to say “God,” they were saying it. Also, my grandmother from the deep south took me to “God’s house” on the hill and up the steps on more than one occasion. So apparently, this was all the same God. And according to this book which was said to be the WORD of this God, God created everything in the universe in 6 days. Okay, fine. But then he created a person. This is where I could no longer sit still. God didn’t create a fish that evolved into a person. He just flat out created a person out of dust, skipping the entire evolutionary process. This was very problematic for me being as I had concluded all on my own from watching tadpoles, and even confirmed my suspicions reading zoology books and the big picture books in the library, that humans evolved from fish! And so I raised my hand. And my hand-raising continued after nearly every few paragraphs. It seemed that every time I raised my hand, I was told by the pastor, and by confirming nods and big smiles from the other parishioners, that it will all make sense if I would just let him continue. So I let the pastor continue. I knew he was skipping lots of parts because he spent a great deal of time nervously flipping back and forth through the big black book in front of him. He was becoming increasingly more agitated by my incessant hand-raising and questioning and I suspected this was because he knew deep down inside that the things he was reading could not possibly be true. The kid had a point.

I went to this little church on the side of the hill all spring and part of summer and the stories I was told were simply brutal and confusing and contradicted reality. I had already read Dr. Seuss and Aesop’s Fables and these stories, while never once purported to be true, were more believable. I found it far more likely that a guy named Sam ate green eggs and ham than for a man to be swallowed by a fish for three days and survive. And it was entirely possible that a boy cried wolf and was eventually eaten by one. But I’d been out fishing. I’d seen fish mouths and gills and even their guts… including what they ate! “No one can survive in there,” I thought. And making a woman out of a rib? A talking snake? Really? But at the end of the day, the only thing more disturbing than the content of these stories was the thought that all of these elderly people in the church believed that the stories were true! Eventually the pastor pulled me aside after a particularly frustrating argument with me and told me that it was okay that I didn’t believe a lot of these stories because he didn’t either. He said they were stories that taught lessons. This made much more sense to me. And while I was very relieved for him, I was still worried about all the others. It was at this point I decided to allow them all to get back to church as usual without me. They convinced me to stay and I agreed to come on the days they offered food to the needy. The needy were mostly Vietnam vets and drug addicts (and Vietnam vets who were drug addicts). I was tasked with handing out white paperback bibles entitled “Good News for Modern Man” to the people in line and to say “God bless you.” And as I did, I quite impulsively whispered to some of them “it’s not true.”

One of the things that I did like was the good nature of the people who were helping others and how they were apparently doing this because Jesus wanted them to. Jesus was indeed a good person. He wanted to feed poor people and heal sick people. And he died for ME. Well, he died for everyone, but that included me too. Jesus was a person who made huge sacrifices of himself – the ultimate sacrifice in the end – for others. I had heard of Jesus before I went to the church. I even knew what Jesus looked like because after my grandmother walked with the angel, my other grandmother – the evangelical from the south – bought her a lithograph of a painting of Jesus mounted in an intricately designed white plastic frame. I came to the conclusion by his face alone that Jesus was probably a very nice person. He even kinda resembled the nicer hippy friends of my mom with the beard and long hair. Especially Charlie. Charlie even had a leather pouch that was painted in pink fingernail polish the words “peace, love, dope.” Peace and love were what Jesus wanted. But the dope part was something new. My mom said it meant “dumb person” and this made no sense to me. It didn’t fit with the rest. I later figured out that dope was the stuff INSIDE the pouch. Despite having the picture proudly displayed on the wall in her living room, my grandmother dared not preach to me in fear of my mother’s reprisal and so her description of Jesus up to that point pretty much only confirmed the picture. Also, Jesus was the same person who was born on Christmas. I knew about the wise men and the star and the manger. But until I went to church, I never gave much thought to the virgin birth or the resurrection. Also, I never heard about walking on water or turning water into wine or any of the other magic tricks Jesus did, apparently in an effort to impress his friends. But I liked Jesus and so when they asked if I would let Jesus into my heart, I was willing but also a bit confused. My heart was what pumped blood to my body and brain according to the zoology book. I knew that the heart also meant love. On Valentine’s Day, I gave hearts to the girls I had a crush on (although my mom made me give a card to everyone, including the boys). So maybe they meant they wanted me to let Jesus love me? Or maybe they meant to make my heart – that is to say my love – the same as Jesus’? I saw no harm in “letting Jesus into my heart” and so I agreed and they prayed over me and some people were even in tears. I didn’t realize it then, but what they all believed they had done was to save me from the fires of hell. Possibly for the first time ever in the history of that tiny converted hillside church of old retired military men and their wives, and widows, they had saved a small boy. Or perhaps they were tears of relief being as they would finally get their church back from that stubborn child who wouldn’t stop raising his hand and questioning every single verse in the book. It was more than likely a combination of the two.

I was also given a copy of that thick white paperback bible called “Good News for Modern Man” and several years after I had left that church, I read it. It was not the book with the creation stories they told me. It was only the New Testament. Much of it was very difficult to understand, but what I did get out of it was that Jesus was a very remarkable person. I took all the magic parts as being made up in an effort to make the story more interesting and memorable. As a child, my friends and I also did this a lot with the stories we told each other. Storytelling was not a new concept for me. Imagine how boring it would be to simply share with my friends “I went fishing at the pier and caught a few fish and went home” when I could tell a much more interesting story which included seeing a ghost ship in the fog and a giant shark that came to the surface right by me and ate my bait and cut my line. I found it was rather simple to convince my friends of these things after a little persistence and creative thinking. The more details I could come up with, the more likely they would believe me. I even had friends return later, having confirmed my stories by seeing the same thing themselves! So in my little world, it wasn’t that the people writing the bible were lying, they were just doing what people do to make stories more interesting and to make people believe it. And like my friends who believed my stories and then even claimed to have seen the same “ghost ship” themselves, many people who read the Bible apparently see and hear the made up  parts of those stories as well.

Without realizing it, I often gauged my own actions throughout my life by asking myself “what would Jesus do?” Jesus would not fight. Jesus would share his food with poor people. Jesus would not be jealous or envious. Jesus would not focus on money. Jesus would forgive. Jesus would try and make peace. Jesus would cure sick people. Jesus would teach people to be good. Jesus would not treat people poorly. Jesus would not steal things. And the list goes on. I came to a very interesting conclusion about all of this when I met people who were “real” believers who believed in God and all the magic parts but did NOT act as though they were concerned at all about what Jesus would do. They fought, they lied, they stole, and they held grudges. After seeing this pattern, I realized that it was not my knowledge of Jesus that made me a good person, it was being a good person that made me relate very well with the Jesus persona. Clearly these Christians I met throughout my life who had such poor behavior were not benefiting from being immersed into this religion. It must be that people simply are who they are and each person will take away from their religion those things that resonate with them personally. People who are very hateful will use their religion to justify their hate by interpreting certain parts of the religion to fit their own views. Good people will do good by the religion. The religion does not fix people. It gives people a world view and then it’s up to the individual to police themselves according to this view. This works best, of course, if everyone has the same exact interpretation of the same exact religion because people can then police each other all using the same set of rules. The problem is that people do not have the same interpretations of the same religions. They do not all abide by the same rules. It became clear to me that secular law works much better. I lived my life not really concerning myself at all with religion until my 33rd birthday when I revisited my views and gave it some deep thought and realized I was an atheist.

PREFACE:

Unlike religious fundamentalists who organize themselves using community churches and thrust themselves on society at large by infiltrating politics, atheists are not positioned politically and are only just now beginning efforts to establish  atheist “sanctuaries” as of this writing. As a consequence, it is extremely difficult for atheists to affect change at the same level of success that theists do. Atheists are, for the most part, a very splintered group of individualists who gather and meet mostly online and in smaller groups in person very infrequently. Also. atheists are shunned by the media except in rare cases when they are called out specifically by theists who only want to blame atheists for “threatening religious liberties” or “waging war against Christmas.” On the flip side, being a vocal atheist can be very risky business. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In my personal experiences with thousands of atheists over the past 10 years, I see great potential for atheists to organize and to affect real change. There is much work to be done to get atheists to the point of working more closely together and to find common interests that can be used to foster the level of cohesion and cooperation needed to effectively organize. In this book, I will share with you what I have learned from in the trenches and from some of the most capable survivors and activists; People who know from first-hand experience how to disable theists and their efforts to force their way into the public sphere. And I will share some of my own ideas as a veteran community activist to help atheists to begin to establish community leadership and have a louder voice (without yelling). To ensure that you get the best possible training, I have also asked some of my mentors to join me and present their secrets in their own words in this guide.

Surviving means Thriving

We were all born specifically equipped for survival. In fact, every living thing is born to survive. Survival is the driving force of all life. For atheists, survival takes on a very special meaning when you consider that there is no afterlife to look forward to – no safety net to help us make up for failures in the real life. For atheists, this is it. Life is a live performance and when the show is over the curtains close and there are no re-takes. In the context of this survival guide, survival doesn’t mean to simply play a passive stand-in role. Survival means to become the star of your own show. Atheists must learn to play the role of hero in their productions so as to preserve the stage for generations to come. We must thrive while filming live. It can be very difficult for atheists to thrive in societies where laws are corrupted and freedoms curtailed. We are plagued with a popularized theist world view that places non-believers at the bottom of the moral heap. There are those who will typecast atheists as villains every chance they get. In America, atheists are the least trusted group of people as revealed by ongoing surveys of theists – less trusted than theists trust Muslims and ex-cons. All over the world, atheists are stripped of their rights, stripped of their opportunities, stripped of their voices, and in worse cases, stripped of their lives. Yes, in full-blown theocracies where divine authority is the law of the land, atheists are murdered so as to prevent them from taking the stage at all. How do we end this? Can we end this?

These problems for atheists are not new. Theism has had a very long and oppressive stranglehold on the western world for well over 1500 years. Not only did individuals suffer under the theocracies that ruled over their very thought, the entire human race suffered from the delaying of scientific discovery. Only by breaking loose from the chains of intellectual restraint imposed by theistic dogma were we finally free to make great discoveries without the risk of being imprisoned, tortured, or even killed. And only over the past few hundred years has this been possible as we began to leave behind religious stagnation in favor of paving the way to an era of prosperity. We did this by applying our understanding of the natural world to our most pressing challenges. The recent technology boom of the past 100 years was led by the most successful secular experiment in history (America) and is testimony to the positive effects of finding real solutions to real problems in the real world. But that success is facing a serious decline as theism creeps back into society in the form of science denial, political infiltration, and the marginalization of fellow human beings. Even after having experienced lower birth mortality, longer lives, less suffering, safer and more abundant foods, and the extraordinary benefits of medicine and technology, many theists still want to deny the very scientific process that made all this possible and claim the world is worse off than it has ever been. Why? Because their dogma is threatened by truth. And because the world must get worse in order for their prophecies to be fulfilled. So they imagine that science is a conspiracy and that because modern technology enables us to see what’s happening around the world, fundamentalists use this view of what has always been happening to pretend it’s only now happening.

Humans – not gods – have always been ultimately responsible for finding ways to improve the human condition. As it turns out, prayer does not cure illness and the moon is not a night light. At the end of the day, the things no god has ever done for the human race, humans have done for themselves using the faculties we were born with: sensory that evolved without the need for any gods. Being armed with facts while also being brave enough to face harsh reality is a very potent recipe. Theists have always known this. Since the dawn of monotheism, theists have gone to great lengths to prevent others not only from discovering the truth behind the great mysteries of nature, but from using these prohibited truths to accomplish the kinds of things they themselves begged their God for and got no response. We have learned on our own far more than the God of monotheism ever told anyone.  The uncomfortable truth for theists is that their God failed to instruct humans on how to solve any of the mysteries of nature. Quite curiously, their God didn’t teach us about germs but was quite eager to teach us what to do when we rape our neighbor’s daughter. Their God did not explain atoms but was very specific on matters concerning how much to sell our slaves for. Their God did not divulge the secrets of building peaceful communities but was all too quick to advise us on not having sex with goats. Instead of saying that a father’s sins are visited upon his children and their children and so on, why couldn’t this God just explain syphilis and penicillin and get it over with? When you treat people like idiots, expect them to behave like idiots. But alas, this God is evidently just as ignorant as the people who allegedly documented its painfully obvious bronze age human origins.

Quite interestingly, God has spoken to no one and the bible has had no new divine instructions ever since people have become harder to fool. For over 2000 years the physical manifestation of a God who allegedly regularly meddled in man’s affairs to the tune of leading Jews into wars, wiping out the entire human race, and retrieving its horribly tortured human existence back into itself by way of unaided human flight is conspicuously absent today. Where did it go? Why was this God so adamant about personally inspiring scripture as permanent record only to have it become instantly (in God years) obsolete?  Why couldn’t this God at least explain male nipples? Imagine all the confusion and worry this one little bit of info would have prevented.  But the reason why is clear: man invented God and so God cannot possibly know more than man knows. God was there to justify atrocious human behavior but not there to help us from falling victim to a simple curable infection. God commanded man to do horrible things while simultaneously condemning him for simple human error. God was telling man what to do with his genitals. But God was not telling us anything we didn’t already know.

Given the absence of any divine insights on nature other than it all magically appearing at once, you would think theists would be thankful for science and would praise it as another one of “God’s great inventions.” However as you will learn in this book, religious dogma and science are like oil and water. In fact, one of the survival challenges atheists face is the preservation of science education. Believe it or not, modern day theists in several parts of the globe are deliberately disadvantaging their own children by shielding them from the accumulated wisdom of science in exchange for retarding them with the intellectual fare of creation mythology. As a consequence, many adult theists today are limited to biblical concepts and vocabulary and a skill set which includes historical revisionism, science denial, fear of society, begging their God for wealth, and breeding like rabbits.

Theists are acutely aware of the fact that as we solve more mysteries as our library of scientific knowledge grows, the embarrassing uninformed observations found in theistic mythology shrinks. This is why they shun public education in favor of parochial schooling or home schooling. They know that if people keep getting smarter, eventually all but the most apparent verses of their holy books will be cast into the rotting heap of ancient superstition. They need their religion to be true as they have been groomed since a very early age and this grooming has made their religion a part of themselves. Their very identity is inseparably intertwined with their religious beliefs.  They will go to extremes to defend these tainted identities. If theists succeed, they will thrust us into a new dark age before society has a chance to move beyond their superstitions. This is how their holy books teach them to prove they are right. According to their myths, they must destroy education, destroy the economy, overthrow governments, and begin a final devastating war on all humanity in order to mark the beginning of their eternal afterlife – the most important feature of their creed. It is almost as though the writers of the religious texts wanted to include a self-destruct mechanism in the event their works become obsolete – a self-fulfilling prophecy that is realized by killing everyone and everything in a final war. Not surprising coming from Yahweh, the war god. All three of the major monotheistic religions are doomsday cults. Think about it. If you thought the world was going to end soon because the “signs” of the end are everywhere (which has always been the case) and you believe that the world must end in order for your religion to make sense and for you to live forever in celestial bliss, would you care about what happens to life on this planet? Of course you wouldn’t. You might love life and the beauty of this God-created world as much as the next guy. This is only human. But you would also be convinced that your God could easily create a new and improved world for its chosen people after blowing everything up. And in fact, this is exactly what their holy books tell them will happen and MUST happen. Jesus does not come back to show his love. He comes back to oversee the final wars.

Fight the Good Fight

Given the sobering reality of the ultimate goal of monotheism, it is the moral obligation of every atheist (and reasonable theist) to be prepared to defend our planet from the doomsday mindset that threatens our very existence. Not to put the pressure on or anything, but quite literally, YOU are the one who must save the world from destruction. And you can only do this by ensuring your own survival first so you may be prepared to help others to survive as well.

Survival Tip #1: The best way to survive the onslaught of dangerous beliefs is to be armed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Question everything.

By learning the survival techniques taught in this book, you will become more capable of doing your part to begin the process of saving the world. Survival in the context of this book is not limited to saving atheists, it extends to all life on this planet. This includes saving the very theists we are saving it all from.