Difference between revisions of "FAQ for the Newly Deconverted"

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
m (References->Footnotes)
(Okay, what is it that I'm supposed to believe now?: -added section on different philosphies)
Line 15: Line 15:
Admittedly, you've already been bait-and-switched here, because this isn't really a document about atheism. This is not a bad thing. Essentially, knee-jerk atheism is no better than unexamined religious faith, as it is as often as not a purely emotional response to an adverse religious experience. This document is trying to put you on a somewhat better footing, a rationalist one in which you feel comfortable asking the questions that everyone always told you that you weren't supposed to ask. You've heard the phrase "curiosity killed the cat"? That's a very stupid aphorism. Curiosity is a great thing, and it's part and parcel of practically every great discovery in the history of humanity. Be curious. Do outside research, then research the research. Don't ignore inconvenient data. Strive to find the truth about everything.  
Admittedly, you've already been bait-and-switched here, because this isn't really a document about atheism. This is not a bad thing. Essentially, knee-jerk atheism is no better than unexamined religious faith, as it is as often as not a purely emotional response to an adverse religious experience. This document is trying to put you on a somewhat better footing, a rationalist one in which you feel comfortable asking the questions that everyone always told you that you weren't supposed to ask. You've heard the phrase "curiosity killed the cat"? That's a very stupid aphorism. Curiosity is a great thing, and it's part and parcel of practically every great discovery in the history of humanity. Be curious. Do outside research, then research the research. Don't ignore inconvenient data. Strive to find the truth about everything.  
It should be noted that there is not just "atheism." There are various secular (ie: no god) philosophies around. The most common are [[Humanism]] and [[Naturalism]], but there are lots of others. Most of them are pretty similar however.
And remember: at the end of the day, don't take our word for it; do your research. We don't want you to just listen to us; you'd be missing the point of what we're saying if you do.
And remember: at the end of the day, don't take our word for it; do your research. We don't want you to just listen to us; you'd be missing the point of what we're saying if you do.

Revision as of 09:14, 17 October 2008

Information icon.svg Cover Story
This article is, among others, randomly included on the Main Page.
Please keep this in mind and be sure that your edits are of the quality that this implies.
Its front-page abstract can be found here and its editnotice here.

Well, if you found this web page, you very well might have recently lost faith in your God. Our mission in this document is to help you find your way out of the darkness into a world where decisions are made on the data provided by reality. To a place not run by a dogmatic scripture. This is a place where your accountability is not to yourself or some god but to your fellow human beings. You have entered the world of atheism and rationality; we'll tell you what's important to us, where we get our morality from, and how we hang in there in the face of peer pressure to return to the church.

This document is ©2007-2008 the Editors of Rationalwiki.com, and may be freely distributed under terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. We encourage this as long as this copyright and attribution notice is left intact; the most current version can always be found at:


DISCLAIMER: this document does not represent the views of every editor of RationalWiki, just the ones who contributed to it.

Okay, what is it that I'm supposed to believe now?

The truth is that you're pretty much free to believe whatever you want. But there's a direction or two we'd like to nudge you in.

The originator of this FAQ is what's sometimes known as a "weak atheist", someone who does not actively deny the existence of a god but lives as if there is none, but others from RationalWiki take different opinions -- some are neopagans, some are Christians, many are atheist or agnostic. What we all have in common is that we're rationalists, i.e. that we believe that belief systems should reflect what can be observed and proven, not what someone or something tells you to accept as true without proof. That means everything -- everything -- is fair game for scrutiny, including this fundamental tenet of rationalism itself.

Admittedly, you've already been bait-and-switched here, because this isn't really a document about atheism. This is not a bad thing. Essentially, knee-jerk atheism is no better than unexamined religious faith, as it is as often as not a purely emotional response to an adverse religious experience. This document is trying to put you on a somewhat better footing, a rationalist one in which you feel comfortable asking the questions that everyone always told you that you weren't supposed to ask. You've heard the phrase "curiosity killed the cat"? That's a very stupid aphorism. Curiosity is a great thing, and it's part and parcel of practically every great discovery in the history of humanity. Be curious. Do outside research, then research the research. Don't ignore inconvenient data. Strive to find the truth about everything.

It should be noted that there is not just "atheism." There are various secular (ie: no god) philosophies around. The most common are Humanism and Naturalism, but there are lots of others. Most of them are pretty similar however.

And remember: at the end of the day, don't take our word for it; do your research. We don't want you to just listen to us; you'd be missing the point of what we're saying if you do.

What about all these people who have spent time in college and seminaries learning what they teach? Shouldn't they know what they're talking about better than I would?

In theory, yes. But far too many people of all persuasions tend to forget that they don't know as much as they think they do, and rather than pointing information seekers to other sources that can answer the questions better than they can, use their status to imply legitimacy of their opinions whether they know or not, either to quash dissent or stave off embarrassment. If something you've been told does not make sense to you, but the person telling you is insisting that you rely on what they're saying, it's your responsibility to educate yourself on the subject -- to examine the company behind a stock, to understand the laws of thermodynamics and mass/energy conservation, to understand a new invention, to understand the cultural context and authorship of a Bible verse. It's called due diligence in business, and it's your best protection against scams and liars, including those who hide behind a PhD.

What about morality? I've always heard that to be a moral person, one needs a higher power.

Think about this for a moment: if someone says that all that is preventing them from stealing, lying, raping, and killing to reach whatever ends they want is the dictates of God (or their fear of Hell), can that person really be trusted?

Biologists have proposed a mechanism called group selection whereby the individual prospers because of developments that benefit a whole group of individuals. Social behavior comes directly from that; even in situations where a single individual may be unfit to reproduce, that individual can still be motivated to sacrifice its interests in order to protect and perpetuate the greater community. In extreme cases, we see this developed into a very strict social hierarchy among some insects, particularly hymenopterans (especially ants and bees) and termites.

While humans (despite the efforts of many a repressive regime over the centuries) do not live in quite that strict a hive mode, humanity (and its ancestors, and many other species besides) has long found it advantageous to live in communities governed by an ethic of reciprocity, best summed up in the many formulations of the Golden Rule. Despite what the works of Ayn Rand might tell you, selfishness is often counterproductive, and altruism often helps society run better, allowing the weak and sick, who might never get to contribute to a less social society, to help improve the lot of society at large. Many religions and nationalisms work against this, dividing society into in-groups and out-groups, and frowning on helping those who are not part of the group. While a certain amount of competition is necessary in business and scientific research to foster new ideas and provide an incentive for product improvement, it is not always a useful thing in society, and is sometimes outright deadly (see: War).

The types of people who believe that it is our duty to help to make society better generally fall under the label humanist. If they are non-religious, they're secular humanists (that infamous nasty word preachers love to spit out as if it's a term of abuse). Nobody's perfect, and everybody has prejudices, but it does seem as if most people, absent a reason to hate The Other, are humanists at heart.

The Wiccan faith has actually given the world the Wiccan Rede, a marvelously pithy summation of humanist ethics:

An it harm none, do as thou wilt.

Behind that short, archaically phrased sentence lies both great freedom and great responsibility, with nary a divine dictate in sight. Learn it, love it, live it.

What's the meaning of life, without gods or an afterlife?

Perhaps the question lying at the very basis of philosophy, the meaning of life has been pondered over for thousands of years. So now we'll give you the answer in two short paragraphs. Kidding!

Rationalism tells us that, in all probability, what awaits us after death is pretty much what we experienced before birth, a total lack of awareness. That's a pretty scary thought, but it helps focus the mind on what we want to achieve in the now.

Existentialists believe that life has the meaning you bring to it. One of the great liberties of being an atheist is being able to decide what it is that is important for you to get out of life, rather than have it thrust upon you by the weight of history. Some people see success as being the best person they can be within the bounds society sets out for them, while others will choose to find success outside those bounds.

Other philosophies find an inherent meaning in a life that is filled with good works. Of course, what exactly constitutes a "good work" differs with each philosophy, but most agree fundamentally that living a good life is doing the best you can with what you have. Some things are seen as inherently more meaningful than others, and what is meaningful is not left up to personal discretion but typically that which will make the world a better place in the present and for future generations.

If living on in some semblance after death is important to you, you have some practical options. Children are the most direct way of ensuring some continuance of both your physical attributes and your thought processes. Just make sure that the little brats behave themselves! Achieving a novel feat or creating some new invention or idea is a great way to ensure something of yourself survives after death and benefits the future. Of course, performing acts of great evil will likely result in your being remembered in future generations, but acts of evil generally conflict with the principles of fulfilling one's responsibilities as a person and making the world a better place.

If you can, in old age, look back on your life and identify but a few regrets, then you've probably lived life the best you can.

Can free will exist without gods?

Er, pass. Free will is something of a mental abstraction. It would seem like a hard problem to devise a test for free will from the inside, since it is impossible to tell free will from post-facto rationalisation. As people who work with computers will tell you, as a state machine becomes large it becomes exponentially harder to predict what state the machine is in now, and what state it will be in at some time t in the future with a known set of inputs. It is entirely possible that the human mind is simply a very large state machine. That is, the illusion of free will and the unpredictability of humans singly is simply generated by a great many inputs from various external stimuli and the internal chemical balance of bodies.

Since it seems likely that we will never be able to prove or disprove that free will exists, does its existence or otherwise have any bearing on your life? It would seem like a harmless assumption to believe that we have free will and to try and choose the best possible action in any given situation. Of course, you then have the problem of knowing what the definition of 'best' is, but that's another discussion.

Others would rephrase the question and ask: "How could free will exist in the presence of an all-knowing God?"

What about science? You rationalists hold it up as the be-all, end-all of human knowledge, but how can that be when it's always changing?

A lot of people misunderstand the idea of scientific change, as if what we learn tomorrow will outright contradict what we think we know today. The media is to blame for a great deal of this, especially given their habit of hyping half-baked results and attention-seeking reports from groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who often use shock tactics to get across a message that may be overstated or simply wrong. (Even Al Gore, who won a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award for his attempts to raise awareness of global warming, was once a victim of scientific charlatans, supporting psychic research and the like during his term as Senator from Tennessee. He's gotten better.)

In reality, scientific change is better described in an old saying most famously stated by Isaac Newton: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Any truly earth-shaking scientific discovery (as well as all of the more mundane ones) is what it is because it not only explains something unexpected, but also explains why the previous theory explained everything but the new something. Thus it was that Einstein's theory of relativity supplanted Newton's classical mechanics in physics -- Einstein's relativity explained why Newtonian mechanics broke down when trying to observe objects traveling near the speed of light, and in turn quantum mechanics explained why Einstein's physics did not apply in the obvious manner on very small scales.

Science is also self-correcting -- take the case of Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, formerly of the University of Utah, who claimed they could fuse hydrogen in a palladium electrode at very low temperatures. This was the infamous "cold fusion" debacle -- though a core of true believers hung around the idea for years after, it was refuted almost immediately by physicists and chemists who realized that Pons and Fleischmann were claiming the impossible. To this day, reputable scientists still look into low-temperature fusion devices as a possible solution to future energy crises, but they have long since abandoned Pons and Fleischmann's electrochemical approach, preferring to focus on what's known as "locally hot" fusion, where the fusion reactions take place at a high temperature on a very small scale, only negligibly raising the ambient temperature in the experiment.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", saith the skeptic, and scientists seek to oblige. If the evidence is there, papers are published, perhaps a Nobel Prize is issued. If the evidence is not there, the claim is trashed, left only to crackpots and historians to fight over.

What about, you know, sex?

It should go without saying that we, the FAQ writers, generally feel that what (and who) you do in your bed[1] is your business. The important thing is informed consent, and since that's quite a bit more general than the simple question of, you know, sex, we'll talk about that first, then get back to the good stuff.

What is informed consent?

Well, you've heard preachers and politicians complaining that if you allow gay sex, then you'll allow incest, and polygamy, and man-on-dog, yada yada. This is an example of a slippery slope argument (about which we'll discuss later), and is invalid for one simple reason: sex is a very private and personal thing to most people, and a key point in nontheistic morality is this informed consent thing. It relates to the matter of due diligence discussed above, and it is essentially this:

In order to take an action, the actor(s) are responsible for making sure that both themselves and others involved know why they're there, approve of their involvement, and understand what effect the action will have on themselves and anyone else involved.

In the simplest sense, this is a matter of harm reduction -- you don't want to be intruding on others with activities they want no part of, nor do you want others injured or otherwise damaged because you were unable or unwilling to let them be outside of the situation. But that isn't quite the whole story.

If you've ever done or witnessed any evangelism efforts, you probably noticed that many people don't really like being approached cold by a stranger attempting to change their most fundamental mindsets. Whether distributing tracts or selling a product, most evangelists tend to ignore that people have their own sense of personal space, and do not particularly appreciate people encroaching on that space by strangers. Such approaches are perceived as intrusive, not because of unwillingness to hear a message or demonic influence, but because they're confrontational and set off people's fear mechanisms -- "What is this person doing? What do they want from me?" They are being subjected to a sales pitch they have no interest in and have not consented to receiving. IF the cause is clear and the person is interested, they may change their mind and stop, but the fundamental reason any evangelization effort is difficult is because it violates informed consent.

So, fundamentally, in almost any activity involving several people, it's necessary for all involved to be fully informed about what they're doing and why they're doing it. If that isn't the case, very often someone will quickly and painfully learn the cost of their ignorance, whether it be losing money to a scam or losing quality of life to an STD or an unplanned pregnancy. (Or, in extreme cases, a Darwin award.) The lesson: when someone is trying to tell you something important, listen, and when someone seems to be failing to tell you something important, research and verify.

So yeah, about sex.

That's pretty simple. Educate yourself thoroughly on both biology and technique (you'll find some good sources in the bibliography below, and here), don't spread STDs, don't try to tie down a player, don't try to play someone looking for commitment, don't use power to manipulate others for your own gratification, stay away from anyone and anything that can't or won't give informed consent, always listen and communicate, always be honest with your partners, and always have a safe word. (More will be covered in the aforementioned books; meantime, assume no means no until told otherwise.)

That said, enjoy yourself in whatever way you're drawn to, be honest with your partner(s) about your intentions, and don't apologize for it. Just try not to leave broken hearts (this takes practice, sadly) or any burning genitals in your wake (this one is easy: play safe! Rationality does not stop at the bedroom door).

Gambling? Drinking? Drugs?

Now that's an interesting question. Essentially, the answer is to a) know your limits and b) stop when the disposable cash and/or fun runs out, whichever comes first.

It's certainly true that addictive behaviors ruin lives, and trying to suppress them is a big cause of people falling into the faith trap to begin with. The answer, as always, is education. One of your authors had a teacher in high school who didn't gamble because she always went gaga over radio call-in contests, and was afraid that if it involved actual money, she'd be dragged into a vicious cycle. Some may laugh at that, but it's a perfectly sensible opinion.

When it comes right down to it, though, there's a big difference between enjoyment and addiction -- a person at a wine or beer tasting is not likely to be someone who hides in the basement drinking Smirnoff 100 straight from the bottle, a college professor indulging in the occasional joint is a far cry from an ODing gutter punk with a syringe in her arm and a panicking buddy trying to decide whether to call an EMT, and Ken Uston organizing a card-counting team at a casino would have had almost nothing in common with a hard-luck case buying scratch tickets at a convenience store. But neither is there a sharp line between the two -- addictive vices must always be approached with knowledge and self-awareness, and a realization that harm reduction must never take a backseat to pleasure. If you can't handle it, don't get involved.

One must also take into account local laws, and the risk of consequences, for engaging in actions that are prohibited. Females committing adultery in certain countries may be stoned. Drug trafficking in Singapore may be punishable by death. Being a Christian in Afghanistan, while maybe not technically illegal, risks torture and death by organized groups such as the Taliban. Of course, there is a basis for knowingly going against laws and customs because you feel it is a moral duty; this is called civil disobedience. However, some acts are plainly irrational, such as smoking weed in front of a police officer if you don't expect or want to be arrested (this is an extreme example).

A smart rationalist does not condemn indulgence, but irresponsibility. Go with that understanding.

What about the Bible?

Ah. The source of all good things according to Judaism and Christianity, yet a source of endless vexation to nonbelievers. But not for the reason you'd think -- while many preachers would have you think the Bible's truths are self-evident and all-sufficient, most non-believers believe it's anything but.

Bible studies very often dance around or outright avoid the context of the creation of the Bible. The fact is that the Bible, as important as it is to Western literature and thought, was begun in an area that was almost a backwater -- Bronze Age Judah, whose single most significant factor in its time was the fact that it happened to be located near major trade routes between Assyria and Egypt. (For proper perspective, the original territory of Judah began somewhere a little north of modern Jerusalem and extended along the Dead Sea into the northern reaches of the Negev Desert; while modern Israel extends all the way to the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, ancient Judah had another Hebrew-speaking nation, Edom, occupying that area to the south. In other words, a country that, on a good day, covered less than a third of modern Israel and the West Bank.) Judah was a tiny, mostly-agrarian, temple-state based in Jerusalem that for much of its existence was overshadowed by the nominally coreligious but far more cosmopolitan state of Israel to the north, and it didn't manage to come into its own until Israel was crushed by Assyria after making a number of hostile (and rather dubious) political alliances. (The question of whether there was ever a united kingdom of Israel containing all twelve tribes of Israelites is, at best, murky. It's clear that both kingdoms shared much common tradition, but there is little evidence of much activity at Jerusalem at the time of the early Davidian dynasty.)

Seeing an opportunity for development, the priestly caste of Judah combined the related but divergent religious stories of Israel and Judah into a common tradition, and any previously believed gods into the single personage of YHWH, the God now worshipped by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions, ruthlessly suppressing other traditional Semitic faith elements in favor of those that promoted Judahite -- Jewish -- identity. From the original documents of the faith -- believed to have developed into the modern Book of Deuteronomy -- came an immense anthology of literature relating the history and faith of the Jewish people and their struggles to retain an identity of their own in the face of cultural encroachments of regional powers. Middle East researchers have found a great many elements common to many other Semitic peoples in the area -- many of the details of Noah's Flood date back to the Sumerian (i.e pre-Semitic) Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, and the book of Job is known to be an elaboration on an ancient pan-Semitic folktale. This is the Jewish Bible.

As for the New Testament, its history covers a scant 70 years, from the birth of Jesus (itself a somewhat wobbly date, generally believed to have been somewhere between 6 and 4 BC based on current calendar understanding) to the ministry of Paul of Tarsus, who is the only Biblical writer outside some of the prophets whose name we know, and who wrote only about half of the material attributed to him in the New Testament. The Gospels -- the most significant biographical material of Jesus known -- were written second and third-hand from sources, now lost, of unknown provenance, and were picked out of a much greater number of books by a Catholic bishop named Eusebius some time around the year 300AD based on unknown criteria. At least one Gospel of unquestioned early provenance, the Gospel of Thomas, was lost entirely until the 20th century and never made it into any known New Testament canon. And the Book of Revelation, so beloved of modern evangelicals, had its canonicity questioned by theologians even as late as Martin Luther.

How much of this story is actually true is anyone's guess, though a great amount of archaeology has been devoted to investigating and/or proving it. What we do know is that the idea of Biblical inerrancy simply isn't possible or sensible -- even the parts of it that can be verified by historical evidence often contain anachronisms or obvious literary license, and that a great many parts of the Bible simply do not translate into anything comprehensible to modern ears or thinking. Despite what your preachers tell you, contradictions abound in the Bible; many are inconsequential in nature (the infamous "molten sea" of Solomon's Temple, built with an impossible pi=3 ratio, is really only an issue for strict inerrantists who assert the Bible's "absolute" scientific truth), but many more -- such as the wildly inconsistent genealogies of Jesus or the poorly-reconciled double creation story at the beginning of Genesis -- would be fatal in a peer-reviewed historic paper.

There is quite a lot of material written on the subject of Biblical history, and the few sources mentioned below in the bibliography don't even scratch the surface of what has been written on the subject. One thing's for sure -- it's highly unlikely you'll get answers in your old church. Read. Read a lot. It's good for you.

What about other Scriptures? The Qur'an? The Book of Mormon? The Vedas?

These books have their own histories, some as colorful as the Bible itself. In Western cultures, histories of some of these books may be hard to come by, but with a fair amount of diligence and a critical eye, quality literature exists on the histories of all of these books as it does for the Bible. You might even be able to use that information to improve this FAQ.

But what do I do with my tithe money?

Keep what you need, and give something to a worthy charity (remember, do your research) so someone else can have a good day once in a while. Think of it as a humanist mitzvah.

(For those who come from religions or parts of the world not familiar with the concept, a "tithe" is a tenth part of your money which some religions ask their followers to donate to the church.)

But I miss the social setting at church...

The Unitarian-Universalist Association accepts practically everybody, including the faithless. If you feel that a church community offers you the best framework for you to be yourself, they or some group like them is probably your best bet.

You may also want to look for a Cultural Ethical Society in your area. This is an international movement that considers the study of ethics and moral behavior very important but not derived from belief in a deity.

Otherwise, there's nothing wrong with Sunday brunch with friends. Just make sure you tip well -- church crowds are, according to many waitstaff, notoriously cheap. (Try to make sure you go somewhere with the opportunity for waffles. You're always better off with the waffle option available.)

You haven't mentioned evolution.

True, we haven't. Fortunately, the TalkOrigins.org FAQ archive can answer virtually all your questions and then some far better than we can in this document.

Or abortion, or euthanasia.

That's because as a general rule, rationalists and humanists consider both to be a matter of a person's right to determine what happens to their bodies, and highly personal matters at that. That's truly what pro-choice means -- you may not necessarily support it for your own self, but it's important that the option still be there, no matter how distasteful it may be.

Really only a very few people deserve to be smeared with the label "pro-death", and most of them tend to be perceived as crazy or outright evil. Rationalists and humanists value life as much as any other person; they simply don't see the point of sacrificing an actual life for a potential one, or to keep a body alive when the person who once inhabited it no longer exists.

What about politics? How should I vote?

Follow the issues and vote your conscience, of course. We're presuming that no one is following you into the voting booth, and what button you push or chad you punch is no one's business but yours unless you care to share. In any case, we can't recommend any particular party, platform, or candidate, and we wouldn't even if we could. To accept someone else's commands to vote a specific way, or even to cast a vote in ignorance, is to throw away your vote. Don't do that.

Okay, anything else I need to know?

The most important thing: no matter what anyone tells you, you're your own person. You may not be accountable to God, but you still have to answer to yourself and your society; that said, however, you're also in command of who you are, what you do, who you associate with. Explore, travel if you can, always learn, and never be afraid to laugh at your mistakes and madnesses. Be flexible about everything but inflexibility; tolerate anything but intolerance. Get a library card. Watch a horror movie. Buy some porn. Do volunteer work -- soup kitchen, community television, Habitat for Humanities, the Peace Corps. Befriend someone your family just wouldn't get.

"To thine own self be true."[2]

And remember what we said about the waffles.

Bibliography and other reading

On skepticism

  • Gardner, Martin. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, New York, Dover Publications, 1957, ISBN 0486203948. Considered one of the first and most influential works on skeptical thinking in the Anglophone literature, Fads and Fallacies surveys much of the pseudoscience of the mid-20th century, some of which still appears in modern times, all of which is valuable for learning how to spot fraud and delusion.
  • Sagan, Carl, The Demon-Haunted World. The last great work of the astronomer-turned-scientist-to-the-people, this book summarizes the most important parts of Sagan's career as a skeptical writer, from his early splash as a challenger to the wild-eyed speculations of Immanuel Velikovsky to his late career as an examiner of all things woo.
  • Shermer, Michael, Why People Believe Weird Things, New York, WH Freeman and Co, 1997. An in-depth exploration of subjects such as creationism and Holocaust denial, including the thought processes and motivations that believers follow.
  • Von Däniken, Erich, Chariots of the Gods?. What is this doing here? It's an example of what to look for in bad science writing. Chariots is a classic of the crank genre, an example of how a little knowledge and an agenda can lead someone to write complete garbage that people still take seriously. Don't miss the constant arguments from incredulity and von Däniken's nagging undercurrent of racism, not to mention his propensity for making up "facts" and jumping to conclusions based on visual artifacts and textual quirks, or his "interview" with German-American rocket scientist Werner von Braun (an example of how cranks often use chance encounters with famous experts to claim endorsements).

On faith

  • Henderson, Bobby, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, New York: Villard/Random House, 2006, ISBN 0812976568. Written to mock Intelligent Design theory, the GotFSM is a velvet fist of a satire, mocking the hyperseriousness and intellectual bankruptcy of fundamentalist faith. While not particularly original (the Invisible Pink Unicorn, may her hooves never be shod, and the Reformed Church of the Star Goat preceded the Flying Spaghetti Monster, though perhaps not with quite the same level of detail), the GotFSM should be required reading for anyone questioning the limits placed on them by their faith.
  • Shermer, Michael. How We Believe, 2ed. New York: WH Freeman and Co, 2000. A must-read on the psychology of faith by a former believer who is now a leader in the rationalist movement.

On the Bible

  • Finkelstein, Israel and Neil A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, New York: Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0684869136. A somewhat radical but well-defended reinterpretation of Old Testament archaeology by two Israeli archaeologists.
  • Mack, Burton, Who Wrote the New Testament?, New York, HarperCollins, 1995, ISBN 0060655186. An extensive survey of the documentary evidence behind the creation and collation of the New Testament by one of the leading authorities on its sources.

On sex

  • Cox, Tracey, Hot Sex, New York/Sydney, Bantam Books, 1998, ISBN 055338032X. Australian sexologist Cox discusses the basics of sex and relationships, bringing equal attention to the ecstasy and agony without judgementalism.
  • Editors of Nerve.com, Sex Advice From..., San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 2006, ISBN 0811850021. Nerve.com's column of interviews with ordinary people in various walks of life about their sex lives. Very good for understanding that either everyone's a freak, or no one is.
  • Joannides, Paul, The Guide to Getting It On. Equal parts titillation and information, this phone book-sized tome presents virtually everything you'd ever want to know about sex in as frank and approachable manner as possible -- and we do mean everything. Health, technique, anatomy, normalcy, masturbation, heterosexual, homosexual, group sex, BDSM, it's all covered. Along with a good book on the body, this might even be a good thing to give a teenager entering high school as an antidote to inept abstinence-only sex education.

On brunch

  • Jamison, Cheryl A. and Bill, A Real American Breakfast, New York, Wm. Morrow, 2002, ISBN 0060188243. Even if you're not American, there are some truly awesome recipes in this book. (If you do live outside the US, you'll also want the rec.food.cooking FAQ from the Usenet newsgroup -- there's a lot of gotchas with even the simplest foreign recipes, and the rfc FAQ will alert you to many of the biggest ones.)

More about freethought



  1. Or on your kitchen table, in your car, on the living room floor... etc.
  2. William Shakespeare, Hamlet