Thursday, April 26, 2012

Maybe one day they'll come around

Wow! I scarce can take it in. This week in Barbados, atheism was actually featured TWICE in the Nation newspaper. All this coming on the heels of a public forum on the relationship between society and the church last week on the island. Yes, the writings contained the usual mischaracterisations of atheists and fallacious reasoning, but at least they recognise now that we exist. In fact they now say we are many. How many? A whopping 30,000!! You can read about it here.

That's more than the number of people that turned up at the National Mall in Washington for the Reason Rally a few weeks ago. The notion that the number of non believers on our tiny God fearing island of population less than 300,000 rivals those that came from all corners of US and the globe for that momentous event is just a tad too much for me to accept. I suppose it's Christian hyperbole. When you see figures like that you can well understand how you could come up with the story that Jesus fed '5000'  with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.

It seems to me, that publishing this kind of figure is a scare tactic designed to shock the Christian reader. Making the faithful feel they need to get up and do something to stop the surge that could wipe their churches off the map if given half the chance. It plays into the old, " We are being persecuted!" mindset. We all know that if we go asking to have our voices heard in issues relating to public policy and social development, we will be told that our numbers are far too small and insignificant for us to expect to have a say in a country where the overwhelming majority is Christian. It's amazing how Christians can play both sides of the numbers game.

The second article of the week, a letter to the editor, was entitled "The atheists will come around' The letter reads like the author is just talking to the nation's Christians about us, referring to us purely in third person. When I read it, I felt like a guilty eavesdropper listening in on a church council meeting. So, I guess we are still not exactly sitting with them at their table. We are not even in their inner sanctum, but at least we have entered their building.

Predictably, the author of the Letter to the Editor  used the bible to show that our rejection of their doctrine is just as Christ prophesied and assured Christians that we would eventually receive the Lord's revelation and come around  to Christianity. Well, as far as they, the Christians are concerned, I also hope that one day, maybe they'll come around.

Maybe one day they'll come around

Maybe one day they'll come around and recognise that the same arguments they use to justify belief in their god can be used to argue for the existence of  Thor, Zeus, Poseidon or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Maybe one day they'll  come around to embracing the fact that praying for us is not going to make us come around.

Maybe one day they'll come around and recognise that we are not atheists because we are angry at God but because we have not seen evidence that he is there.

Maybe one day they'll come around to comprehending that being atheists doesn't mean we believe in nothing.

Maybe one day they'll come around and recognise that reduction in religiosity in Barbados represents progressiveness and not the destruction of society.

Maybe one day they'll come around and see that you don't need to believe in a supernatural being in order to be a moral person.

Maybe one day they'll come around and recognise that religiously reasoning is an oxymoron.

Maybe one day they'll come around and accept that atheism is not just a passing fad.

Maybe one day they'll come around and see that a child that has enough confidence and independence to seek truth out for themselves rather than accept blindly what parents, priests or teachers tell them is one that should be admired not despised.

Maybe one day they'll come around and realise that quoting bible verses to us atheists is not going to make us come around.

Maybe one day they'll come around to realising that writing articles in the newspaper saying that one day we'll come around is not gong to make us come around.

Maybe one day they'll come around to see that threatening us with hell is not going to make us come around.

Maybe one day they'll come around to realising that blocking or removing our comments from online forums or discussions is not going to make us go away.

Maybe one day they'll come around and see that asking us "What if you're wrong?" is not going to make us come around.

Maybe one day they'll come around and start to see that just because we've lost our faith doesn't mean we're lost.

Maybe one day they'll come around to the revelation that living a life based on logic and evidence beats one based on faith and dogma.

Maybe one day they'll come around and realise that coming around our house on Saturday morning to tell us we need saving is not going to make us come around.

Maybe one day they'll come around and see that atheists can be happy too.

Maybe one day they'll come around and realise that many of us atheists were once christians and we are atheists because we read the same bible that they are now trying to save us with.

Maybe one day they'll come around and realise that we atheists are not going to keep quiet anymore when they try to push their beliefs on us.

Maybe one day they'll come around to understanding how difficult it is not to mock a belief that includes talking snakes, magic fruit trees and floating zoos.

Maybe one day they'll come around and see that we are not rejecting God just because we want an excuse to sin and not be accountable.

Maybe one day they'll come around to accept that we really don't believe in God and are not denying his existence against our will.

Maybe one day they'll come around to the revelation that the opposing team is praying for a win too.

Maybe one day they'll come around to accepting the fact that they ARE such things as coincidences

Maybe one day they'll come around to understanding that something CAN come from nothing.

Maybe one day they'll come around and see  that the universe is only evidence for the universe not for a creator.

Maybe one day they'll come around to the realisation that sin could only have entered the world if God allowed it in.

Maybe one day they'll come around and see that the burden of proof lies with them.

Maybe one day they'll come around to seeing the irony in calling us closed minded while declaring that nothing we say could possibly change their belief that God is real.

Maybe one day they'll come around to seeing that it's contradictory to say that it is blindingly obvious that god exists and then say that belief in him is a choice. I don't choose to believe that the earth is not flat or that the sky is blue.

Maybe one day they'll come around to seeing that atheism is the end  result of applying critical thinking to religious beliefs and not a dogmatic position that we take before we start investigating.

Maybe one day they'll come around to recognising that telling us that we can't see air is not proof for God.

Maybe one day they'll come around and understand that you can't use the bible to prove the bible.

Maybe one day they'll come around to realising that there is a difference between faith that the chair you are sitting in will not break apart and the faith that there is an invisible being in the sky who answers your prayers, protects you from danger and cares who you have sex with and how.

Maybe one day they'll come around and see that there is something wrong with the priorities of  a god that ignores the cries of millions of starving children but goes out of his way to make sure that when you go into the department store you find a pair of shoes that exactly matches the colour of your handbag.

Maybe one day they'll come around to realising they too are atheists to every god except for the one they believe in.

Maybe one day they'll come around to the realisation that praying to a God for something is pointless if he is going to always do things according to HIS will.

Maybe one day they'll come around to realising that one million Frenchmen CAN be wrong.

Maybe one day they'll come around to the realisation that typing their statements in ALL CAPS does nothing to strengthen their arguments.

Maybe one day they'll come around to seeing that to start a discussion by arguing through reason that God must exist and then finishing by saying that God's ways are beyond reason is to saw off the branch of the tree they are sitting on.

Maybe one day they'll come around to realising that there is a difference between believing and knowing.

Maybe one day they'll come around to understanding that atheism is not a religion

Maybe one day they'll come around to viewing us as equals in spite of the fact that we don't believe in what they believe in.

Maybe one day they'll come around to realising that to work hard to provide our young people with a good education and then expect them to ignore the knowledge gained through that education is defeating the purpose.

Maybe one day they'll come around to realising that being an atheist doesn't mean you want to shut down every church in the country.

Maybe one day they'll come around to realising that we hope that they come around just as much as they hope that we come around.

As you know by now, I have no problem with christians coming around me to chat so long as they are not coming to try to convert. If they still want to hold on to hope, I will confess  that I  could definitely come around one day if Jesus himself would come around.

Monday, April 16, 2012

When the cross came crashing down: The impact of bringing logic to Easter

I am not sure whether it counts as a miracle, but the passage of Easter  last week managed to resurrect some memories within me which had been dead from my consciousness for many a year. What shocked me as I reflected during the week, formerly known to me as "Holy Week,"  was how Easter had fallen from being one of those pinnacle days to a point where I scarcely remembered that it was coming. There was a time when Easter had a meaning to me that was about as large as life itself. I was never a fundamentalist, nor was I ever one who felt that I had to be sitting in a pew every Sunday morning but Easter was a day that I always made a point of finding myself inside a place of worship.

I think it all went back to one experience I had on the evening of Maundy Thursday, (the day before Good Friday) about 20 years ago in Barbados . That evening I came down with a severe case of gastro-enteritis and ended up having to spend the night in the hospital. While I lay in the bed writhing in pain on  Friday morning  I remembered Jesus. I was able to reassure myself by thinking that my present anguish was nothing compared to what my saviour had to bear more than 2000 years before. I think that helped me to get through it. I even managed to convince myself that  Jesus was bringing me through this agony on the anniversary of his death, in order that I may understand his own pain. After a while, I almost felt honoured to be chosen to carry Christ's cross with him that morning. It's crazy to recollect this way of thinking now, but it is amazing what mental gymnastics your mind can do in situations of immense pain, especially when you have the love of Jesus in your heart.

However, I  think I was  being quite rational when I smiled with relief  realising I was missing Good Friday morning service. As many people in the Anglican church will tell you, Good Friday is by far the most boring service in the liturgical  year. It's long, very long, the prayers themselves are everlasting.  The music is deliberately set to be dead and dreary. There's no communion to give you a little nourishment to help you endure to the end. No procession to break the monotony and give your legs a stretch. To add to the dirge, everyone comes dressed in their most drab black outfits. There was just no take away from Good Friday that could  help you get through what was an equally dour rest of the day. They call it Good Friday, but the only thing good about it, is knowing that when you walk out at the end, it will be another full year before it comes back. Recognising that the Lord had delivered me from Good Friday mass was enough evidence to convince me then that he was worthy of my praise.

Thankfully, by early afternoon I was fine to go home and on Sunday I was fighting fit again and ready for Easter morning church. I was in no way  prepared for what greeted me. Apparently, it had been announced during service on Good Friday  that I was sick and had to go to hospital. I arrived to people treating me as though I myself was the one who emerged from the empty tomb. All sorts of people in the congregation, some I barely knew, came up giving me huge hugs telling me how much  they were praying for me and how amazing it was that God had delivered me that Easter morn. I was a bit taken aback. Yes, I had to spent a night in a hospital but it wasn't as though I had a life threatening condition. Still, it was an uplifting feeling to know that if I ever did have a real emergency that there was a community there to support me. I also had to remember that compared to two days earlier, I was in remarkably good shape. I had bounced back from a challenging experience and there was a lot I had to be thankful for.

After that year, Easter grew in significance to me. I even found a greater appreciation for Good Friday. I came to love Palm Sunday too. Palm Sunday was the day of the big procession on the  Sunday before Easter. We would walk from the surrounding villages carrying palms in hand to symbolise Jesus's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It was great from a personal perspective becomes many years I led the procession playing clarinet or saxophone and that provided me with a sense of worth. I began to see Holy Week as telling a story not so much about Jesus himself, but about the human experience. You have the Palm Sundays where everything seems to be going well, experience a setback on a Good Friday, but you overcome and celebrate your Easters at the end. That's the story of life. When you are up you have to remember that obstacles can come and you can trip or fall, but you can also take hope from the fact that however low you go you always have the hope of finding a way back up. So that's what the Easter story meant to me, the power of the 'comeback.'

So, it didn't matter to me whether Jesus actually rose from the dead bodily or not. It wasn't important. To argue over these things was to miss the point. " No Cross, No Crown" was the common phrase we would say and I firmly bought in to that. You had to experience the weight of the cross if you ever wanted to wear the crown of glory. Little did I know then, that the cross was soon going to buckle  under its own weight and that the entire structure would come crashing down.

What if Jesus didn't bother?

The first sign that the cross's centre of gravity was shifting came one Christmas. It was one of those plays that we used to put on every year. As usual, I had my designated role of music leader, which inevitably meant standing at the ready to fill in with instrumental interludes as scripted, or in emergency if somebody forgot a line or didn't arrive on stage on time.  In this year in question, the drama playing out on stage featured a typical family scene; children running around playing while putting up decorations on a tree, Daddy stumbling home slightly intoxicated after being out with 'the boys' somewhere and Mummy frantically trying to get the house prepared for the big day, sweeping vigorously and shooing everybody out of her way. At one point Mum says, " Man, I am so tired of all this Christmas work, I want to sleep, I don't think I'll bother to go to church for midnight mass." There was a dramatic pause of shock and horror and then the narrator's voice broke through, " Can't be bothered? You can't be bothered? Just imagine if Jesus couldn't be bothered to die on the cross!"

That line hit me with a jolt. "Yes, what would have happened if  Jesus didn't bother to die on the cross?" It occurred to me at that moment that it would pretty much be nothing. Not a single thing in the world that we can observe would be different without a Jesus crucifixion. That's one of the main reasons why we can't determine whether the event even happened. I mean, what changed when Jesus died or came back in his new body? The laws of physics were not altered to make natural disasters less likely. The human body continued to be susceptible to the same diseases as it was before the divine bleeding. Men and women continued to be just as prone to do evil as they ever were. No technological breakthroughs or game changing inventions came after the veil was torn in two. No social  norms shifted after Jesus was caught in the cross nails. Slaves were still slaves, women were still second class citizens. So what if Jesus didn't bother?

I had no more time to reflect on  this because it was  time to get back to playing, but I kept that thought in my mind for future reference. Something seemed a bit wrong with the cross now. It looked like it was leaning, the lines didn't seem straight but perhaps it was because I wasn't looking at things from the right angle.I would have to scrutinise it more closely later to see if anything was really askew with the doctrine.

Physical pain for spiritual gain

I pondered on this some more in coming weeks. If there was no physical impact that death on the cross made, what really had this all been for?  I recognised that if I put my thoughts beyond  the physical dimension, the cross could be seen to have achieved many things. Salvation from hell, eternal life in heaven, forgiveness of sin. These things were all well and good but we have  no way of testing  whether we actually  have any of these. Furthermore, if we do have them, we have no way of knowing whether we wouldn't have had them if Jesus didn't do his death and resurrection thing. Everything that the cross is said to have done for us is conveniently outside the realm of testability. Things were not looking good for the Jesus character now and  his cross was beginning to look more and more shaky.

Apart from the unfalsifiability problem, it didn't seem logical that an action in the physical realm would be needed in order to achieve something in the spiritual world. It would stand to reason that a physical sacrifice would lead to physical redemption, a spiritual sacrifice would lead to spiritual redemption. That would be logical wouldn't it? If I want to get an apple tree, why would I plant cherry seeds? The cross was definitely in  trouble now that I was analysing the material it consisted of in such great detail. It didn't take me long to realise that the cross was not only old and rugged as the song says, but brittle and breaking up along the edges. It  seemed it would have little chance of standing up in the face of unrelenting  logic.

I became by this time concerned about why a human sacrifice of any kind was necessary. As I said before, I knew that the resurrection itself may not have taken place as explained in the bible, but by now my issue was with whether the storyline itself made sense. It's like going to watch a movie at the cinema. You know it's fiction, but that doesn't stop you from going over the plot in your head as you leave the theatre to see if all the threads of the story hang together. If they don't, you have to conclude it was a second rate film and you certainly won't be going out of your way to recommend it to your friends.

Looking at it, the only context in which this sacrifice of Jesus could make any sense was in the Old Testament way of looking at things. In that world, shedding of innocent blood atoned for the sins of the community. In order for the story  to  hold together we would have to mentally transport ourselves back into the days we read of  in the Torah, where humans walked side by side with a temperamental  Yahweh who had a serious  burnt offering addiction. Ok, maybe that could work, I thought. No, even if I made that concession, the tale of the cross wasn't hanging together.

The problem with going on Old Testament thinking is that it went counter to the idea of the new covenant that Jesus himself is supposed to have brought. How often have we heard Christians tell us that we should ignore all of the strange rituals and practices recorded in the Old Testament because Jesus brought a new covenant? But this new covenant only makes sense if viewed from the perspective of the outdated old covenant. Now the two lines of the cross  were clearly tugging against each other, this could only lead to more disequilibrium, I thought. I was right.

If Jesus didn't die on the cross we would have to become vegetarians.

Once I put myself into Old Testament mindset, I realised the true horror of  what we would need to do if we were to ever find out that Jesus Christ didn't die on the cross. We would have to get the knives out quick and start slaughtering like crazy. Without Christ's blood that has a 'sin compensation equivalent' of infinity we would have to kill  animals from here to eternity in order to make up for what would be now more than two millennia of deficit Whether there would be a single animal left for us to eat would be doubtful. So, maybe that's the answer to the question in the Christmas play.  If Jesus didn't die on the cross, we would have to become vegetarians.  How I would love to wear that on a T- shirt and explain it to bewildered passers by.

I know this sounds like absurdity but it is what happens when you carry a ridiculous doctrine to it's logical conclusion. It is one of the most bizarre things that human beings have come up with, the idea that gods need to smell blood to be happy. I have too much respect for gods, even imaginary ones, to think that they would come up with a system like that. If you are going to insist that a physical sacrifice is needed why go to the extent of a gory death. Jesus could have just stumped his toe on a rock, and declared that through this all mankind is saved. This would be no less logical a connection to salvation than what we have from the stories in the gospels. If Jesus's blood has infinite saving power, a watch glass sample from the graze of a foot, should do the job just as well.  No need for the several pints oozing out on the cross from every conceivable orifice. The more I thought about this thing the less sense it made. The cross looked like it was really ready to topple now. How much longer could it hold up?

Sacrificing himself to himself in order to save mankind from himself

Around this time I had taken to the internet to see whether others out there found what I was beginning to see in Christianity equally illogical. This turned out to be another big blow to the cross. I came across the description of Christianity that I have now heard or seen written countless times."God sacrificed himself on to himself in order to save mankind from himself."

When I first read this I laughed. Surely this was a caricature. You can't sum up the Christian doctrine like that. But, when I deconstructed it, I found the description to be bang on. Jesus, we are taught, is God. God made the rules for salvation and created the very hell he is supposedly saving us from. The cracks in the cross were very visible now, I could see a break coming, the final crash was not far off.

By now it was becoming very hard for me to feel any pride about the cross as I saw it in its weakened state, deteriorating before my eyes. It was obvious to me now that the entire Easter story was about  God contriving a situation where he could appear to be the hero. This was not a 'comeback story.' This was the story of a man deliberately mutilating himself, then healing the wounds and making himself well again. Where  is the power in that story?  Where is the sacrifice? What had we been saved from? I was just left with a hollow feeling. I had long dismissed the story as not being literal, but where was the value in it? What was the metaphor? What was the moral within the pages of this allegory that I could take away?

Moral foundation giving way

Morals, morals, morals. That was the last thing that could perhaps save my cross. The logical threads had come apart  in  many places but surely there was a good message in the story overall, wasn't there? But I knew even as I asked this question out loud that there was no real message of love here. The God in this Christianity story was looking more and more like a snake-oil salesman. I was definitely seeing a crooked cross. The more I thought about this story the more I realised that this doctrine is not about us at all, it was all about Him. Everything is set up to make Jesus look like 'the man'. It starts with the horror of the crucifixion. We have already established it was not necessary to the plot, but it's the major part of the story. Why is it there? It's all about reeling us in emotionally. It's about gaining our sympathy not our salvation. It's a sentiment that's played on unashamedly  by movie makers like Mel Gibson who make sure they let us witness every strike of the whip on his back, every drop of blood from his sweaty brow as he struggles to carry  his cross. That's right, we are supposed to feel sorry for Jesus. But it doesn't end there, we are supposed to feel guilty too. It's our fault. We are the ones that should be going through this brutalisation. Look at what we made Jesus go through all because we are wicked, worthless people, an abomination in the eyes of God just for being  human.

Then Jesus returns two days later, raises himself, and conquers death, and we are supposed to say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to the end of our days and then for eternity after that.  Jesus conquering death?  He is God, all he was doing on that resurrection day was turning back on his super powers. Returning to God 'business as usual.' He could easily have stopped the slaughter. What does he want after all this? He wants our worship. That just didn't make sense to me, that's not what a real hero does. The moral thing to do is not to demand gratitude, just accept it if it is offered, graciously. The satisfaction of knowing that the people you helped have benefited personally or collectively should be reward in itself. Who can forget Captain Sully the pilot on the Hudson river saving those passengers. Some came back to thank him, but he was almost embarrassed about it. After that thanking, people moved on to make the most of their second chance in life without harping back too much on that day. Sully saved them from a danger we could all recognise. Still, there are no Sully churches by the river, no Sully pilgrimages being embarked on, no Sully prayers being offered up.

Jesus, on the other hand, isn't that forgiving about being left out of the "Vote of Thanks." Recognising him is more important than anything that we can do for ourselves or our fellow human beings. He will not let us move on from focusing on this cross and what HE did.

The inevitable crash

Bang!! That was it, with the moral foundation now giving way under the cross, there was nothing left to keep it standing. It came crashing down and their was simply nothing I could do. I would be lying if I said I wasn't sad to see it go. I had hung on to that Old Rugged Cross for a long time.

I have to say that losing the cross in no way means that I think everything to do with Christianity, Christians or the church is evil or immoral. I recognise that for many Christians the doctrinal things don't matter much. It has often been said that many believers treat religious doctrine and creeds as they treat computer software licenses. They just scroll down to the bottom of the page and click, " I Agree."

Most Christians are in church to have fellowship, find ways to help others in their communities and try to follow the teachings of Jesus. I have recognised on numerous occasions  the contributions of churches in the arts, music, poetry and architecture. At Christmas I wrote here about how much I enjoyed embracing the myth of Christ's birth. It really and truly is just the cross that I can no longer support.

So, this year at Easter as I reflected on the once lofty cross now shattered on the ground it was hard to feel the joy that used to come with that day. Easter is no longer that great 'comeback story.' It's not to say that I am miserable  now as a result. I just go to other places for inspirational 'comeback stories.' Preferably drawing on accounts in the non fictional section.

Since my cross has fallen, I have had lots of offers from Christians to help me put it back up again. Shattered it may be, but they assure me I can still put it back together from memory. With the right people supporting me, my cross can stand up proudly once more. They might be right. I could probably reconstruct my cross if I wanted to. However, I am afraid it will topple again once the winds of logic hit it and I just don't want to waste my time or theirs.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mixing up the steps: Why theists continue to trip themselves up

'Dancing with the Stars'

It rained on the parade, but from all reports the Reason Rally in Washington DC last Saturday was a roaring success. It must have been a unique experience to be among so much rationality in one place. I have managed to catch a few clips of the presentations on youtube and it has been amazing to hear speaker after speaker stating emphatically that "the world is 14 billion years old not 6000." It was refreshing to hear such statements greeted with rousing applause from the secular masses. At the same time it was amusing to hear the statement of a simple scientific fact stirring such emotion. It's like hearing screams of delight when a physicist says that the acceleration due to gravity here on earth is 9.8 metres per second squared.

Immediately, it occurred to me what is the big difference between the many Christian mass worship events I have seen and a rally like the one last week. A religious speaker would never start off a sermon with a scientific fact. A leader in faith would start by appealing to the human desire for meaning, purpose and moral guidance and then include in some way these considerations in determining what the facts are. There is quite a contrast there.

 The secular thinker approaches life by taking two distinctly separate steps.

Step One: Investigate the world to try to determine what the facts of the reality you live in are.

Step Two:  Seek to find meaning within the reality you discovered in step one.

So for the atheist, facts come first. It's a simple two step rhythm. Fact then meaning, that's the way we groove it. This is important to remember because things are not as clear when it comes to theists.They consistently mix up these two steps. Trying to find meaning without having a clue about facts then attempting to get facts to fit the motif set up by the meaning.

If you are ever on the dance floor trying to put down some moves with a theist, you'll see what I mean. You try to set up the basis for the dance by telling them that they need to start with the right fact first. But, they will shake their head at you. They will tell you that you're too boring, too mechanical, dancing is an art not a science, it's just about feeling it. So, when you start with a fact like, the earth is 14 billion years old, or that we have reached our present state as a species through gradual evolution, they will stare at you blankly. So what? What does that mean?  Why is that important? How does that make me a better person? How does that give life value? 

This is a huge misstep on their part but they don't recognise it. They are surprised when we stare back at them just as quizzically. Meaning? Value? Purpose? We are talking about scientific facts, the first obligatory step in learning about the world around us. To try to find purpose within these brute facts is to pull us entirely in a different direction and that is where they start to stumble in their arguments even more. It may surprise you, but if we as atheists don't keep the balance in our arguments when something like this happens, we can end up flat on our faces alongside them.

Yes, before you can say 'Baila!' they are doing the slide into an argument from meaning, making you feel embarrassed for trying to fact things up. They talk about how believing in evolution and big bang, means that everything is just an accident and there is no reason to value anything in life. You are just a biological machine, molecules in motion, a chemical reaction just fizzing away into oblivion. There is just no point to anything if  you just follow science. In fact they tell you it is a mystery to them why you even bother doing anything. Why bother even learning to dance? In fact, why not just go and kill yourself?

It's at this point in the dance  that there is that awkward pause in the routine. You realise that things are already going awry with the simple 'two-step' that you had set out to do, but the music is playing and other people around are watching you. So, you have no choice but to think on your feet. You can do one of two things. You can pull your partner firmly by the hand and lead them back in to 'step one.' Tell them to stop tap dancing around the issue and stick to 'fact'.in step one whether they like it or not. This can be a risky move though. If you are dancing with a stubborn partner and they don't trust your ability to lead, this could spell trouble. They will just resist and make you look like the one who doesn't know the moves. They will insist that you need to follow them and that your resistance just confirms that you really have no idea of  'meaning.' Atheists in such situations can become frustrated and accuse their theist partner of not giving a 'fact.' Major tension can ensue and in a worse case scenario,  the tug of war can send you both crashing down to the floor in a millisecond. Once that happens, it will be very difficult to get back on your feet and neither of you will have any credibility in the eyes of the guests for the rest of the night, no matter  how much each of you tries to throw the blame on the other partner.

Another option is to go with the flow, smile and pretend that the stumbling and sliding is all part of the choreography. If your partner wants 'meaning' do 'meaning.' So instead of doing what you would prefer to be doing, which is giving the evidence to establish the 'fact' in step one you do a bit of a shuffle and spin around seamlessly into 'meaning.'

You take this opening to reveal that there is indeed meaning in the atheist position. A finite life means that every day is worth more. No ultimate judgement means we have to ensure we have as much fairness and equity as we can  in this world. The freedom from religion gives us the ability to live fulfilled lives which we can enjoy according to the things which we individually find fulfilling, rather than dancing to the beat of somebody else's drum.We can live our lives in a way that clearly benefits ourselves and others, rather than waiting for a cue from some unknowable capricious cosmic being who works in mysterious ways. How much meaning is there in a life where followers are required to bow down and worship a God every day in order to escape punishment? How much meaning is there in a  life after death where you sit around singing praises to God everyday and playing the occasional harp solo?

You smile smugly after you make these comments. There you have it. You're back in the groove, your atheistic meaning in life can match every theistic move they make. That's great, until your partner starts without warning to bring in this twist. The theist will look at you and say, " Oh, you don't want to believe in God, because you don't like the impositions he puts on you. He can't be real just because you can't understand him or don't find meaning in what he wants you to do. But who are you? You can't make God who you want him to be! God is real! Facts are facts! The truth is the truth whether you like it or not!" Wow, you suddenly realise what has happened here. Once again, it's trouble in the dance hall. Your partner has somehow stumbled from meaning back into facts again. This is what you were begging for earlier but now the timing is off, you're both way behind the beat.

Now things are really confused, you have no idea when and where things will move after this. It's 'fact' and 'meaning' meshed into an incomprehensible concoction of hand waving, head bobbing and foot stomping in all directions. It's obvious to all and sundry now that neither of you knows what is going on and you are both tripping. So, what do you do now? You have realised that you are not likely to look very good if you follow the theist lead in this dance. If you go back to speaking about the scientific factual bass of your position, they will pull you back into talking about the lack of 'meaning'  in that step. You go into 'meaning' and they will tell you that you are really an atheist out of emotion, wanting to believe something even though it has meaning only for you. They will imply that you don't really care about objective facts, which of course can only be discovered when revealed by their God. You will get very dizzy from the constant spinning and it's not likely to end well. In many cases like this, I have known atheists to just walk away. Hold up their hands, say they have had enough, gracefully walk off the dance floor and let someone else cut in. This may appear to be the honourable thing to do, but it often backfires. Your partner as well as others on the floor, will heckle you, do the 'chicken dance' in front of your face. They will tell you that you have the fancy talk but you can't handle it when the heat is on. They will take your withdrawal as an admission that theists are simply better on the dance floor than you.

Take control of your partner

You can take a more aggressive route and stick to the dance routine as you know it should be done and do some advanced 'fact' steps that you know your partner will never be able to follow. You can deliberately then show others around how poor the theist's dancing skills are and how out of step with reality they are. In all likelihood the theist will be the one to  leave you this time, letting you do your own thing in front of your friends. You may think that this is a good way out and that it is better to have your partner being the 'chicken'  than you. If you think that way, you'll  be wrong. Onlookers on the dance floor don't treat atheists and theists equally. You are likely to find a cool glass of beer splashing down on your perspiring face within seconds. Abuse being hurled at you from all directions. Your friends will call you out for embarrassing your partner who clearly was not at your skill level. They will say  that you never really wanted to have a fair dance in the first place. It was all about you, just trying to show off with your arrogant self. Just because you went to some prestigious dance academy you wanted to make a young amateur look stupid. You are a coward, who would never be up to dancing with an equal.

I won't tell you a lie. It's not easy being an atheist dancer. But if you keep a smile on your face and generally respect others around you, some of your dance moves will be copied by the crowd around you. They may not catch on right away, but you might encourage them to practice on their own at home. Before you know it, they could be dancing like you too, doing the 'fact' step first. You have to reassure them that 'fact' first doesn't mean that facts are all that matters. It's just that you have to let the meaning fit around the facts rather than the other way around. Indeed,'meaning' in step two may be more important than the 'facts' in step one.  There is certainly more style and flair associated with step two. It's meaning that gives us much of our desire to do something. For many scientists it is the drive to find out what the facts are that actually gives life the meaning. But that is not the case for everybody and we need to recognise that. For some, the meaning that comes from believing in a God will not be matched if they go the atheist route. Nonetheless, there are times when meaning comes along to surprise us. I don't think I have met any atheist who has told me that their move to atheism came as a result of looking for meaning. Most were quite happy with the meanings that they already had in theism, but they just wanted to investigate more and find truth, atheism just happened to be the result. They found eventually much joy and meaning in being godless but that all came later, well after the fact. I don't think any of us would have been able to see that joy from the other side of the theistic fence.

It is true that we are "Good Without God" and we should keep letting people know that, but let's not lead the theists into confusing the steps. We don't believe in God because of what the facts tell us, the evidence that is glaringly absent, not because we can live better lives without him. If living a life without God was miserable and depressing, we would still be atheists because for us, facts come first.

Let's hear it for the facts!

So, let's keep cheering for the facts as we did last Saturday and encourage our theist friends to do likewise, because it takes two to tango. We want them to follow or lead not because they will feel better for it, but  because we all have a basic obligation to understand as much as we can about our world in order to make the best decisions. Both on our own behalf and on behalf of others in it. It's similar to how a driver must seek to understand all the traffic laws in a country if he nor she is to avoid putting other road users at risk. Learning how to interpret traffic signs and signals is not the most exciting activity in the world but lives could very well depend on us getting these basic facts right.

So, let's keep the rallies going and inviting the theists to come dance with us on our stage, but let us never allow them to sidestep the critical issues. We must constantly remind them that when they are dancing with us they must pay close attention to our footwork, which requires that they always, yes always, lead with the facts.