Salt Lake Tribune Interviews David Silverman

david silevreman in utahOh the jokes I remember from living in Utah, geographically gorgeous, culturally not so pleasant.

You know why Christ wasn’t born at BYU? They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.

Ok then.

You know how you can tell which sheep belong to the Bishop? They have Pink Bows.


You know why Mormons have their own planets? No one else would play with them.

You know why Mormons have their own section in heaven? They think they’re the only ones who made t?


How many Mormons does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One man and three wives.


You know why Mormons are so overweight? They think eating ice cream is sex.


You know why Mormons speak in tongues? They don’t. No one understands them.


You know why teenage sex isn’t a problem in Utah? They just get married.

Last but not least.

You know why it always rains during Mormon Conference? God’s crying.

I’ll be here all week. Buy your drinks early.

I wouldn’t make such fun of them if I hadn’t been told I was satan so many times…If I hadn’t had so many friends that had been ostracized and hurt by them.  On a more elevated plane.

Interesting stuff come out in this interview. David Silverman was an inventor with some 74 patents, knew he was a nonbeliever at 6,  his father came out at 30, and there is almost no difference between an agnostic and an atheist.

What do you think of Mormonism?

Mormonism demonstrates the power of indoctrination. Unlike older religions, we know much about how Mormonism was created. … Mormonism has been proven wrong beyond reasonable doubt, yet it persists, due to the power of indoctrination. From this we can learn how strong childhood indoctrination (let’s just call it brainwashing) must be, and can only imagine the power of such indoctrination for the older religions, where such data as criminal records and plagiarized texts cannot be obtained.

Why did you stage a march around Temple Square during LDS conference?

We tried to get billboards, but were unable to find a single Salt Lake City-based company that would take our billboards. Then we tried to put them in a mall, any mall. They were not offensive, but happy, friendly, saying, “Hey, we’re atheists. Come party with us.” But no one would take them. It’s not right and it’s not American. People were angry. We decided to take that anger and show the Mormon church that atheists will not be squelched. We wanted our message to be public and vocal, to be an example to other atheists in the Mormon ranks that they have a place to land when they leave the church.

I am so glad I left Utah.

Jim Newman, bright and well

Blood Moon

blood moonFor those who missed seeing the Blood Moon they missed a visceral reaction to seeing the “stars” change. It is no surprise that before enlightenment science these cosmic events were not just otherworldly but spiritual, god(s)ly. First fear, then personalized, and finally evidence of an unhappy sky daddy, a fictive family to which it is  more easy to relate than concepts. Mark Twain famously used a solar eclipse to his time traveler’s favor in his book “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” It is a parody of Romaticism and fear of modernism, attributed to a dream Twain had.

Twain wrote the book as a burlesque of Romantic notions of chivalry after being inspired by a dream in which he was a knight himself, and severely inconvenienced by the weight and cumbersome nature of his armor.

Medieval and Renaissance fairs openly show how many people, religious and secular, would prefer a simple, unexamined life with clear cut morals and truths. Where the eyes do not deceive and the songs of the heart ring true. Where intrigue, courtly manner, and secrecy is more important than honesty and truth. Indeed, claiming honesty only provides more cover.

Richard Carrier in “Not the Impossible Faith” emphasizes the easy ability to make people believe in a miracle from a single mysterious event. Little more evidence was needed. Just one miracle or report of a miracle was enough. The trust of in-group collectivism meant even a dream, supposition, optical illusion, or wish could be held true from the report of a single person. The conversion process was no lengthy consideration of evidence but rather an exuberant and immediate change much like modern revivals.

That such conversion was so easy spat in the face of philosophers and ‘sophist’icated elites who required more. We still find this true today. Most people need only experience something as true for themselves to universalize that it must be true for all without further corroboration and certainly not from publications of peer reviewed research.

It is easy to see why a man like Christ wold be considered a prophetic vision against philosophy, the elite, and science and reason itself. Born poor, preaching to the poor, and providing comfort to the poor, the poor would clamor to make him a sky daddy where the argument of deity or not, here or there, is really quite moot but argued anyway as a means of collecting against other charlatan sects. It empowered them against the more educated, more wealthy, and more powerful. Why question it? Easy to see why the religious today don’t care whether something is true or not if it should be true or if it would be cool if it were true.

Questions of whether god exists demote the conversation fro the religious though it may fuel intellectuals, increasing the divide between those who believe in education and those who don’t. As if the 50% declining in poverty gave a rat’s ass whether there really is a god or not.

Aside from Abrahamics who see the blood moon(s) as a sign of the impending apocalypse or the sign of a wrathful god or simply as god’s work, its color itself speaks of what gives mammals life. The worship of copper, bronze, jade, cinnabar, and ultimately gold which does not tarnish (is eternal and pure) all evidence the conflation of blood with life and death. In battle blood spills as life drains away. The heart becomes the soul rather than the white gushy mess called the brain. None can see nerves “fire” but blood flows freely.

This may seem discouraging but it also shows why we atheists must continue to make relationships, to come out, come out wherever we are, to put faces on thoughts, people behind abstractions, and allow others to see how we are free and able to make the world better without confabulation and phantasms.

Jim Newman, bright and well

Atheists are Not the Christian Right

fundamentalistIt’s popular to claim atheists, particularly those of the Big Atheist tent, are fundamentalists like the Christian Right. Besides the pathetic bastardization of the word fundamental (have you learned the fundamentals of guitar yet?) there is no there there. Just because two groups play soccer doesn’t make them the same or odd bedfellows. World War II made strange bedfellows of all Americans but absolute pacifists. But meeting them on their acrid turf may demarcate soft atheists, isolationists, separatists, and pacifists, with political atheists though that is not their point either. I use Big Atheists for ease of contrast and comparison.

I suppose in this soccer and WWII symmetry they are right. Big Atheists don’t want Islam, as it is practiced now and as it is written, to become the dominant world religion. But we don’t want Christianity to become the dominate religion either. Nor Buddhism even though they seem much more innocuous. Yet this is not simply a situation of an enemy of my enemy is my friend, though some Big Atheists, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali openly prefers Christianity to Islam and Sam Harris openly prefers Buddhism to all Abrahamics seem like that. The Christian Right has also shown they prefer Muslims to Big Atheists at least in choosing which kind they would allow their daughter to marry.

violent religionsThe Christian Right does not recognize the prophet Mohammed or any other prophet besides Jesus, usually not even Moses. Big Atheists say there are no prophets anywhere; it’s not a competition of prophets.

The Christian Right fights Islam because they are seen as dangerous to their faith. Big Atheists fight Islam because they are violent and many terrorists claim they do violence in the name of Islam. When Muslim terrorists claim their violence is due to their adherence to a religion everyone has to acknowledge their self avowed motivation and inspiration. When Christian Right terrorists do bad with avowed biblical inspiration Big Atheists criticize that. When Buddhists attack Muslims we’re usually gobsmacked and have to look deeper as there is little in Buddhism to encourage violence and other issues are most likely the cause–such as the invasion of Muslim immigrants decimating a Buddhist community and insisting on Muslim polity as democratic justice. In this case it is clear that any group that doesn’t breed or invade like flies loses in a unbridled democracy.

When the Christian Right wishes to be violent it is because they see Islam as a religious enemy. When Big Atheists demand violence it is because they cannot condone violence in others. A rape in Cairo is no less plaintiff than a rape in New York. Both need to stop. Big Atheists don’t give a damn who did the rape. The Christian Right will say it is impossible for a man to rape his wife. Most Big Atheists will not agree. Even the Male Rights Activists, rearing their ugly head, argue based on social justice and free speech and not on religious texts and dogmatic canon.

The Christian Right uses sacred text and the Catholic Right uses Vatican canon to support their ideology. Big atheists have no such documents though many adhere to the US constitution, the UN Declaration of human rights, or some sort of humanist manifesto that emphasize justice in this world, minority protection, and tolerance of nonviolent choices. There is no transcendent or transcendental appeal in  Big Atheist law and it can be changed as necessary without evoking a prophet or revelation. The Christian Right conflates law with god(s).

The Christian Right wars, converts, proselytizes, and evangelizes to make everyone one of a kind of their own ilk. Their goal is everyone is to be saved or damned, or at least follow church authority. Big Atheists seek to stop violence, promote minority rights, and demand social justice. Big atheists would tolerate religious people if they did not use their religion to excuse violence. Big Atheists might also be against pseudoscience and other less harmful social aspects but the biggest question is what causes the most violence in the world and to fight violence on all levels. If economics or women’s rights prove to be the cause of violence then Big Atheists attack that in concordance with the debate against religious ideology that allows violence to be inspired.

The Christian Right negates their importance on Earth other than to salvation and conversion of others. They do not judge because they believe justice is done by god(s) in the next world, or this one through capriciousness; they cannot say why one evil person is punished here but another isn’t. Big Atheists judge here because this is the only venue of justice. Avoiding judgement because it is difficult an painful does not excuse the necessity of it. The Christian Right is hypocritical on this as they approve of jails, punishments, ostracism shame, guilt, and other judged decisions.

The Christian Right tries to absolve itself of responsibility of judgement but their inherent exclusivity and reliance on an all powerful phantasm makes their judging all the more harsh while absolving them of complicity and the requirement to formulate laws and justice themselves. In attempting to universalize justice to authoritarian god(s) they lose their freedom and responsibility in an impossible covenant.

The Christian Right cares less about truth, veracity, logic, reason, and science then it does about imaginative, figurative, allegorical, and mythological narrative. If they think a transcendent god(s) can help people do better they are justified regardless of actual existence. A fairy tale is more important than the truth if it inspires towards the correct ideology. Lying your ass off is OK because if it isn’t true it should be.  Big Atheists can be fantastical imagineers but it is not to replace truth, reason, or science. Big Atheists find the Christian Right to be disingenuous because they violate reason, science and its materialism.

Big Atheists see reason and science as the means to success where the Christian Right does not. Again, Big Atheists allow leeway to imagination the Christian Right does not. Big Atheists do see the utility of imagination but they demand greater support for change, especially in so called just wars and violence, than phantasms. The Christian Right cannot change their minds. Big Atheists have to be willing to change their minds.

The Christian Right considers evidence useless unless it supports their ideology. Big Atheists have no choice but to follow the evidence.

The Christian Right believes in sin and that all people are equally evil from the start. Big Atheists use the term evil to show extent of egregiousness in bad behavior but do not see the world as a Manichean war of good and evil where one group identity must defeat another. Big Atheists do see heuristic biases and issues of perspective in play but consider these biased results as mistakes and not inherent sins unapproachable or irresolvable. The Christian Right requires atonement from god(s).

The Christian Right insists on a blind obedience to authority though they may court free will. Big Atheists demand egalitarianism though they court expertise while working against appeal to hominem and confirmation bias, and of course god(s).

The Christian Right relies on a hierarchy for governance based on trust. Big Atheists follow the power of individual participation where authority is to understand, encourage, and enhance personal interests and not supersede them. Both understand the importance of community. However, Big Atheists consider the importance of reason and science as moderating the exclusivity of community. Science in particular demands community far more than religions for its ability to verify and confirm. The Christian Right only allows witnessing to confirmation and doubt is only supported as proof of confirmation ability.

The Christian Right uses community to enhance group power and satisfy personal social communalism. Big Atheists see the value of social community but value a greater role for community in its ability to “crowd source” democracy, republicanism, egalitarianism, and better science and reason.

The Christian Right allows adherence to contrary religions simply because they are religious. It is less important to the Christian Right whether a religion is violent or not so long as it is a religion. It is not violence that is so much in question but whether the religion is attacking them or not. By this they cannot withstand comparisons of violence, social justice, minority protection, and tolerance. Theological unity is the bigger tent trumping all other issues. They fear comparison to Islam because they are fundamentally guilty of complicity to violence based on identity rather than utility, virtue, care, or universal rights and responsibilities.

The Christian Right uses status, exclusion, marginalization, ostracism, shame, and guilt to control members. Big Atheists deny any of these as useful, just, or appropriate; quaint but antiquated means of impulse control. In this sense Big Atheists embrace the virtue of Care where it is more important that all succeed than to choose a few or demand convergence to any particular group other than abstract achievements, based on material evidence, of universal humanity and humaneness. Even then Big Atheists see the value of caring for outsiders, strangers, and the others, maintaining core values of compassion and intolerance of intolerance.


The Christian Right is inherently violent. They praise the literal and allegorical aspects of war against others. Big Atheists are reluctantly violent and many like Nohm Chomsky are fiercely antiwar unless in literal defense. Christian Right hard core pacifists would allow themselves death before defense because there is a better world they think they cannot attend if they are violent. Big Atheist hard core pacifists would allow themselves death because they cannot promote, even  by example of defense, a culture of violence and cannot elevate their life above another’s. These last two are rare examples.

Is that enough to show the ocean between these two groups?

Jim Newman, bright and well

A Stradivarius is Like Religion

smashing a violinWhen I was buying a classical guitar at the Podium in Minneapolis, the salesman was so confident that he said if this more expensive guitar sounded better he’d sell it to me for the same price. The other salesman rolled his eyes, worried no doubt. I chose the less expensive guitar. Then I was told the other guitar cost $3,500 instead of $700. I wished I’d called his bluff. Perhaps it was preference. Perhaps I was being a reverse snob. Perhaps I remembered Jimi Hendrix who burned his guitar, Wendy O Williams who chainsawed her guitar, or the many bluesmen who played Stellas and other crap guitars. Perhaps I remembered the lead guitarist for Koko Taylor who came to my house after a concert and ployed my roommate’s cheap hollow body like it was a rare ES-335.

In a blind test violinists preferred guitars not made by Stradivarius.

When the lights were dimmed and the musicians donned dark glasses, the soloists’ top choice out of a dozen old and new violins tested was by far a new one. So was the second choice, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Of the six old violins tested, five were by made by the famous Stradivari family in the 17th and 18th centuries. The newer violins were about 100 times cheaper, said study co-author Joseph Curtin, a Michigan violin maker. But the Strads and other older Italian violins have long been considered superior, even almost magical.

In a different test of cola drinks they showed people who said they preferred a specific cola drink could not choose their cola from another. This same dissonance was repeated with the Stradivarius.

A few years earlier, the duo tested violins blind in an Indianapolis hotel room, but this one was more controlled and comprehensive, putting the instruments through their paces in a rehearsal room and concert hall just outside Paris. They even played with an orchestra, the results of which will be part of a future study.

Glamour, reputation, and price all make us blind. One musician made his choice mystical as if sound and playability didn’t matter.

Hou, whose four-year loan of the classic Italian violin has expired, explained in an interview that finding the right instrument is so personal: “There are certain things you can’t explain when you fall in love.”

This high cost of love and entry to greatness echoes of religion. People stay with or choose religion because of cost of investment, the reputation of greatness, and their inability to sense, feel, and think clearly through the decision making process. Having the most expensive instrument means little to whether you really can play or that you sound good. Having the most expensive religion means little to whether you are moral or of its value.

Jim Newman, bright and well

Saudi Arabia Declares Atheists Terrorists

king-abdullahIn an attempt to silence political dissent Saudi Arabia rebrands atheists as terrorists and of course anyone who disagrees with wahhabi is an atheist.

Article one of the new provisions defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said: “Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism.

The laws are also meant to stop peaceful protestors and to prevent Saudis from fighting in Syria and gaining weird ideas against monarchy.

Might want to delay that trip to Dubai.

We would never have had this problem if these nomadic tribalists had not been living on top of enough oil to make them the worlds biggest producers back in the 70′s. Further if we had paid any attention at all to the evidence of global warming already present then and changed our energy demands. Further if globalization had meant supportive commerce and not coercion to conservative policy.

Jim Newman, bright and well