Jack Huberman

Ammunition for Atheists

The following is an excerpt from Jack Huberman's new book, The Quotable Atheist: Ammunition for Nonbelievers, Political Junkies, Gadflies, and Those Generally Hell-Bound (Nation Books, 2007).

The world (not just America) is deeply divided.The main fault line is where the tectonic plates of religion and of reason/secularism/ modernity/science/Enlightenment meet and grind against each other,making an absolutely unbearable noise. It's sort of like ... forget it, I can't describe it.

My aim in compiling The Quotable Atheist was to heal our broken planet, essentially by eliminating the religious part. Not with nuclear weapons or lesser acts of mass murder, no -- that's the religious style, nowadays, in certain quarters -- but through argument, persuasion, and most of all (since I know perfectly well that argument is utterly useless against dumb, blind faith, and just wanted to pay it lip service), the steady application of powerfully abrasive ridicule which will slowly but surely erode away the offending continent. I'm serious. Do I really believe this book will convert believers and turn them from the path of self-righteousness to the path of righteousness? Yes. A few. Three, I estimate. Two for sure. But the point is this:

For years, millions of fine, upstanding American atheists and agnostics have watched and stewed as the religious right expanded its influence throughout public life, and as America closed its mind and opened its heart to angels, aliens, ghosts, psychics, Jesus, astrology, Kabbalah, Genesis, Revelation. ... As Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith, "Unreason is now ascendant in the United States -- in our schools, in our courts, and in each branch of the federal government. Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution; 68 percent believe in Satan. Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the head and belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world."

Meanwhile, religion continues to be granted far too much respect and too little critical examination in our culture and mainstream media.We need to change the cultural climate so as to make supernatural, occult, and faith-based claptrap feel unwelcome and to make adults ashamed of the blithe surrender of their otherwise sound minds to idiocy.We need climate change. Bullshit levels are rising globally, threatening to submerge intellectually low-lying areas. Much of the United States is already inundated.Temperatures are rising; IQs are dropping. Four of the five stupidest years on record have occurred since 2000.

I would of course have preferred a declaration by the president of the United States -- purportedly God's messenger on earth -- stating that neither God nor WMDs ever existed and that most religious beliefs are untrue and harmful, and urging citizens to bring their minds back up at least to an eighteenth-century stage of development. (I have proposed this plan in a letter to George W. Bush, but haven't heard back yet. They must be hashing out the details.) Failing that, it is up to atheist/secularist groups and individuals to do what we can to stop global worming (people groveling like worms before nonexistent deities). That's where this book comes in.

As a number of these collected quotes say (far more wittily): Religion in general is based on falsehoods -- comforting beliefs in a heavenly parent or big brother; hopes of surviving death -- and on utility or expedience: socially cohesive tribal myths; politically useful codes of law and behavior; divine ordination of rulers (including certain presidents); attempts to explain, influence, or placate nature and the elements; the wish to raise ourselves above (i.e., deny our place among) the animals. Religion may help people feel their lives have a loftier purpose than the mere satisfaction of material wants and sensual desires, but it does it with smoke and mirrors, at the cost of our respect for truth and of our integrity and dignity.

The following quotes are selected from The Quotable Atheist.

Richard Dawkins: Kenyan-born British zoologist and evolutionary theorist.

"Could we get some otherwise normal humans and somehow persuade them that they are not going to die as a consequence of flying a plane smack into a skyscraper? ... The afterlifeobsessed suicidal brain really is a weapon of immense power and danger. It is comparable to a smart missile. ...Yet ... it is very very cheap. ...To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used." - 2001

"[A letter to a U.K. newspaper] says 'science provides an explanation of the mechanism of the [December 2004 Asian] tsunami but it cannot say why this occurred any more than religion can.' There, in one sentence, we have the religious mind displayed before us in all its absurdity. In what sense of the word 'why', does plate tectonics not provide the answer? Not only does science know why the tsunami happened, it can give precious hours of warning. If a small fraction of the tax breaks handed out to churches, mosques and synagogues had been diverted into an early warning system, tens of thousands of people, now dead, would have been moved to safety. Let's get up off our knees, stop cringing before bogeymen and virtual fathers, face reality, and help science to do something constructive about human suffering."

Phyllis Diller: (1917– ), American comedian.

"Religion is such a medieval idea. Don't get me started. ... Aahh, it’s all about money..."

Phil Donahue: (1935-) American talk-show host.

From Donahue's 1985 book The Human Animal:

"Science may have come a long way, but as far as religion is concerned, we are first cousins to the !Kung tribesmen of the Kalahari Desert. Except for the garments, their deep religious trances might just as well be happening at a revival meeting or in the congregation of a fundamentalist TV preacher. ... As we move further from the life of ignorance and superstition in which religion has its roots, we seem to need it more and more. ... Why has religion become a force just when we'd have thought it would be losing ground to secularism?"

Frederick Douglass: (1818-1895), African-American abolitionist leader.

"I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."

"The church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. ... For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! Welcome atheism! Welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by these Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done!"

"We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand."

Jerry Falwell: (1933- ), American evangelical pastor, televangelist, and leading excrescence.

"Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions."

Thomas Jefferson: (1743-1826), third U.S. president.

"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies."

"Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man. ... perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind ... a mere contrivance [for the clergy] to filch wealth and power to themselves."

"In every country and in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty, he is always in allegiance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own. ... History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. ... Political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves [of public ignorance] for their own purpose."

Michael Moore: (1954- ), American documentary filmmaker and author.

"There's a gullible side to the American people. They can be easily misled. Religion is the best device used to mislead them."

Katha Pollitt: (1949- ), American poet and columnist for The Nation.

"For me, religion is serious business -- a farrago of authoritarian nonsense, misogyny and humble pie, the eternal enemy of human happiness and freedom."