Several Research Studies Find That Skeptics Are Brighter Than Religious Believers

by James A. Haught

Several research studies find that skeptics are brighter than religious believers. More than 60 scientific reports were analyzed in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, which said the results “showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity.”

Newsweek (May 18, 2017) summed up the article:

“Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people because they are able to rise above the natural instinct to believe in a god or gods. Having a higher intelligence…allows people to override these instincts and engage in more rational, and therefore enhanced, problem-solving behavior.”

A report titled “Why Atheists are More Intelligent than the Religious” in Psychology Today (April 12, 2010) commented:

“More intelligent individuals are more likely to be atheistic than less intelligent individuals. For example, among the American sample, those who identify themselves as ‘not at all religious’ in early adulthood have a mean childhood I.Q. of 103.09, whereas those who identify themselves as ‘very religious’ in early adulthood have a mean childhood I.Q. of 97.14.”

Similarly, a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that doubters are better-educated than believers are. Chief researcher Conrad Hackett told The New York Times:

“The higher the level of education in a country, the larger the share of people with no religion tends to be. Atheists and agnostics, or people with no religion in particular, have higher education levels than the religiously affiliated do in the United States.”

Frankly, I’m surprised that the I.Q. gap is only six points. I would expect it to be larger, because most of the world’s brightest people—outstanding thinkers, scientists, writers, reformers and others who left their marks on history—have been religious skeptics. Here are some, and their views:

Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Adams:

“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

Albert Einstein wrote in The New York Times:

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.”

Mark Twain wrote in his journal:

“I cannot see how a man of any large degree of humorous perception can ever be religious – unless he purposely shut the eyes of his mind & keep them shut by force.”

Emily Bronte wrote:

“Vain are the thousand creeds that move men’s hearts, unutterably vain, worthless as wither’d weeds.”

Sigmund Freud wrote in a letter:

“Neither in my private life nor in my writings have I ever made a secret of being an out-and-out unbeliever.”

Thomas Paine wrote:

“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

Thomas Edison told The New York Times:

“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul…. No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life—our desire to go on living—our dread of coming to an end.” (Edison also said “Religion is all bunk.”)

Voltaire wrote in a letter:

“Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.”

Clarence Darrow said in a speech:

“I don’t believe in god because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”

President William Howard Taft said in a letter declining the presidency of Yale University:

“I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.”

Luther Burbank told a newspaper:

“As a scientist, I cannot help feeling that all religions are on a tottering foundation…I am an infidel today. I do not believe what has been served to me to believe. I am a doubter, a questioner, a skeptic. When it can be proved to me that there is immortality, that there is resurrection beyond the gates of death, then I will believe. Until then, no.”

Bertrand Russell wrote:

“My own view of religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.”

George Bernard Shaw said:

“At present there is not a single credible established religion in the world.”

Leo Tolstoy wrote, in response to his excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church:

“To regard Christ as God, and to pray to him, are to my mind the greatest possible sacrilege.”

Charles Darwin said:

“The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”

Kurt Vonnegut said:

“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”

Gloria Steinem said:

“By the year 2000, we will, I hope, raise our children to believe in human potential, not God.”

Michel de Montaigne, creator of the essay, wrote:

“Man is certainly stark mad: he cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.”

Baruch Spinoza said:

“Popular religion may be summed up as a respect for ecclesiastics.”

Further, Beethoven shunned religion and scorned the clergy. Abraham Lincoln never joined a church, and once wrote a skeptical treatise which friends burned in a stove to save him from wrecking his political career. And the motto of Margaret Sanger’s birth-control newsletter was: “No gods, no masters.”

Bright minds throughout history have doubted supernatural gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles and the rest of church dogmas. Today’s freethinkers can be proud to share this fine heritage, which sparkles with higher intelligence.

About James A. Haught

Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine.

Now’s the Time to Convert Our Secular Values into Effective Action

by Gary M. Linscott

I doubt you need to be reminded: We are living through extremely troubling times. Threats to the very survival of humankind abound.

Unless quarreling nations can work in harmony to rapidly bring global warming under control, it seems inevitable that catastrophic climate change will occur in our lifetimes. Now a pandemic threatens to kill hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – of our fellow human beings. Authoritarianism, too, is once again raising its ugly head in multiple locations around the world. Hyper-capitalism has exacerbated tensions between the haves and the have-nots. And uncontrolled population growth not only endangers our food supplies and sources of drinking water, but imperils the survival of the planet’s flora and fauna.

Secular progressives place their trust in science and reason to come up with solutions to these formidable challenges. Yet many of our peers prefer to depend upon their beliefs in invisible gods, prayer, karma, positive thinking, or lucky charms to save them. If ever there was a need for the acceptance of a secular ideology and the implementation of progressive policies, these are the times. Yet most political leaders to whom we look for guidance seem ensnared in a tangle of outdated traditional beliefs and behaviors.

We ask ourselves: What can we do?

As secular progressives we need to wake up, read up, stand up, and, where we can, put our money where our heart is. That is, live up to our values and put them into practice.

By “wake up” I mean we need to realize that there are still ways we can change the course of human history for the better. We must overcome what often tends to be our complacency and our sometimes fatalistic conviction that there is nothing we can do that will really matter. People – especially in democracies – do matter. And change can happen from the ground up. So we need to familiarize ourselves with other like-minded folk who are endeavoring to effect secular and progressive change. The Secular Progressive Outreach ( “Charities & Advocacy Groups” page is a good source to discover potential contacts and opportunities to participate in progressive causes.

Then “read up.” Bone up. Many believe they already have all the answers they need, even when they have not expended the effort to properly study the pertinent issues. It’s a manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, the psychological discovery that one’s ignorance often results in over-confidence. I recommend we take the time to read thought-provoking articles and books. Become familiar with secular and progressive authors. It may change your own thinking on crucial points, and even help address the doubts of friends, relatives, and associates. People CAN change their minds. I know. I was an evangelical preacher for 32 years, but eventually “saw the light” of reason. By visiting the Secular Progressive Outreach website and clicking on the “Books and Articles” page, you’ll find a wealth of reading material worth your while.

By “stand up” I mean become an active political participant – at least, to the degree that your circumstances will allow. For some secular progressives, that may mean writing to your elected officials or local newspapers; for others it may mean marching or demonstrating in public. And for everyone, it means making sure to vote and encouraging others to vote.

Putting your money where your heart is” (or where your mouth is) means realizing that small contributions can turn political tides. Of course, we can expect wealthy and corporate donors to fund political campaigns to try and guarantee their own privileges. Besides being willing to contribute to political candidates to thwart them, however, we need to recognize that there are scores of worthy progressive charities and advocacy groups who depend on our financial support as well.

If you’re concerned about social justice, climate change, women’s reproductive rights, nature conservation, healthcare or immigration reform; if you want to oppose the religious zealots  who are determined to impose their views on all of humanity; or if you’re interested in any other secular or progressive issue – there are deserving and trustworthy groups striving to address them –   Donate what you can. Together we can resist the forces allayed against us and make a significant difference.

The Coronavirus and Religion

Many people around the world, rightfully, are focused on the coronavirus (also referred to as COVID-19), its spread and impact.  This past week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic.  WHO defines a pandemic as a disease for which people do not have an immunity and has spread across the globe.

Pandemics don’t occur often, but when they do, the results can be truly catastrophic.  One of the most devastating pandemics occurred during the 14th century and was known at the Black Death.  That pandemic killed an estimated 75-200 million people, which at the time represented 20 percent or more of the world’s population.  Another major pandemic, occurring during World War I, came to be known as the Spanish flu, because it was first reported in Spain.  That pandemic was estimated to have killed at least 50 million people, more than were killed as a direct result of the war.

One of the reasons why those two pandemics were so destructive was that the science of medicine was still in its infancy compared to today.  Even in 1918, at the height of the Spanish flu, there were no laboratory tests to identify the disease and there were no antiviral or antibiotic drugs available to fight it.  Today, because of major advances in science and medicine, we are much better prepared to deal with a pandemic.

But what about religion and its role?  With the world facing a new major health crisis, with the coronavirus continuing to spread at an accelerated rate as of this writing, what does religion have to offer to counter its devastating effects?  Apparently, very little.  In fact, most major religious figures around the world are pointing to science, not faith, to combat the disease.  More and more, leaders of the major religious faiths are telling their members to stay away from their churches, mosques, temples and synagogues and practice social distancing, as medical experts advise. 

The same dependency on science can be said about the crisis we’re facing with climate change.  Again, any solutions to the problem will have to be based on science and reason, not religious superstition and dogma. 

When the world needs to come together and unite to solve these major problems, religion stands more as a division between people than as a unifying force needed to bring them together.  So, with religion having so little to offer during a time of major crisis, why have religion?  Good question!

Problems with Bible classes

by James A. Haught

Here in Appalachia’s Bible Belt, conservatives in the Legislature want to force all West Virginia public high schools to teach Bible classes, as occurs in several other Republican-controlled states.

I wonder how such classes handle Bible topics like these:

First, the Bible decrees that gay males must be killed. Leviticus 20:13 says:

“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

Imagine classroom disputes that could erupt between Bible-believing students and others.  Could classes turn violent?  (Oddly, lesbians aren’t mentioned.)  Now that America allows same-sex marriage, would classes conclude that America violates the Bible?

Next, the Bible decrees that those who work on Sunday must be killed.  Exodus 31:15 decrees: “Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” Exodus 35:2 is almost identical.

Would teachers apply this mandate to police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, hospital aides, paramedics, snowplow drivers, power repair crews, bus drivers, airline crews, radio and television staffs, store clerks and others who must work on Sundays? What about cooks and waitresses serving Sunday food? Come to think of it, ministers and church organists work on the Sabbath, don’t they?

The 22nd chapter of Deuteronomy commands that brides who aren’t virgins must be taken to their fathers’ doorsteps and stoned to death. (But non-virgin grooms aren’t mentioned.)  With millions of unwed American couples living together, will students debate whether the execution decree applies to females among them?

The Bible endorses slavery. Leviticus 25:44 says: “Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.”  Exodus 21:7 gives rules when “a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant.”

Would high school students discuss buying slaves from neighbor nations, and selling daughters into servitude?

In 1 Samuel 15, God commands Hebrew soldiers to attack a neighbor tribe “and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” Numbers 31 does likewise, with this exception: “But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” Would classes apply these decrees to U.S. soldiers today?

Many other Bible sections contain controversial commands that could provoke classroom disputes.  Before the Bible-in-schools plan reaches final passage, I hope sponsors offer a way to prevent turmoil.

James Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. 

Earth Overshoot Day

Humans are consuming more of Earth’s resources than can be replenished in a given year, that is, we are using resources that should be available in the future to support our present mode of living.  Earth Overshoot Day marks the date each year that our demand on the Earth’s resources exceeds what can be regenerated during that same year.  It is calculated by the Global Footprint Network, and in 2019 the date was July 29th, the earliest date ever. While the date for 2020 has not yet been calculated, it is a reasonable bet that the date this year will be even earlier than last, given the ongoing growth in the human population and our failure to reign in the demand for resource consumption.

Continuing to borrow from the future to maintain the present is, of course, not sustainable.  If we continue to outstrip the resources that the Earth is able to generate, future generations will pay a steep price.

The Global Footprint Network has been able to compile data on resource use going back to 1961.  The first year that we overshot Earth’s resources was 1970, when the overshoot date was December 29th, and we have been going downhill ever since.  2018 was the first year that the date slid into July.

The Earth Overshoot Day website does offer a set of solutions for moving the date back, which can be explored on their website at

The Search for Meaning

By James Haught

Jim Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. This article first appeared in Free Inquiry, Fall 2000.

Young seekers of truth go through a phase of wondering whether life has any discernible meaning. Why are we here? Why does the universe exist? Is there a purpose to it all? This is the ultimate question, overarching all others.

The seekers usually plunge into philosophy, and spend years sweating over “being” and “essence” – and quibbling over how the mind obtains knowledge – and how we determine reality – and how language shapes our comprehension. In the end, most of them emerge (as I did) with no better answer than when they began – and a feeling that they wasted a lot of time and effort. Omar Khayyam felt the same way 900 years ago:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and saint, and heard great argument
About it and about, but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went.

However, despite this futility, I think intelligent people can address the meaning-of-life question sensibly, without bogging down in philosophical stewing and hair-splitting. That’s what I’d like to do now: just spell out what’s knowable, as I see it. The following is my personal, amateur view.

First, 90 percent of humanity – the religious believers – needn’t ask the meaning of life. Churches, mosques and temples tell them the answer. Priests and scriptures say a magical, invisible god created the universe, and put people here to be tested – and set behavior rules for us to follow – and created a heaven to reward the rule-followers after they die – and a hell to torture the rule-breakers – etc. This supernatural explanation, or some other mystical version, is accepted by the vast preponderance of the species.

But some of us can’t swallow it, because there’s no evidence. Nobody can prove that people live after death. Nobody can prove that we are tortured or rewarded in an afterlife – or that there are invisible spirits to do the torturing and rewarding.

Therefore, we unsure people are doomed to be seekers, always searching for a meaning to life, but never quite finding one. I’ve been going through it for half a century. Now, I think I can declare that there are two clear answers: (1) Life has no meaning. (2) Life has a thousand meanings.

First, the lack of meaning: As for an ultimate purpose or transcending moral order, all the great thinkers since ancient Greece have failed to find one. The best philosophical minds have dug into this for 25 centuries, without success. There have been endless theories, but no clear answer.

Martin Heidegger concluded that we are doomed to live our whole lives and die without knowing why we’re here. That’s existentialism: All we can really know is that we and the material world exist.

(Actually, I can know only one thing with absolute certainty: that my mind exists, and is receiving impressions. Hypothetically, the images, sounds, feelings, etc., in my consciousness could be illusions – perhaps like artificial inputs to a brain in a laboratory tank – and the entire objective world could be fictitious. But there’s no question whatsoever that my mind is receiving them. Rene Descartes stated this truth as “cogito, ergo sum” – I think, therefore I am. However, although we can’t be totally sure of the validity of the sense impressions reaching our minds, we all presume that external people, places and things actually exist. Their existence seems verified by thousands – millions – of encounters in our activities. We base our whole lives, and our search for knowledge, on this presumption that they are real.)

As we learn scientific facts, we realize that the universe is horribly violent, with stars exploding or disappearing into black holes. Here on Earth, nature can be equally monstrous. Both the cosmos and our biosphere seem utterly indifferent to humanity, caring not a whit whether we live or die. Earthquakes and hurricanes and volcanos, etc., don’t give a damn whether they hit us or miss us. Tigers, tapeworms and bacteria consider us food.

As for morality, I don’t think any exists, independent of people. It’s merely rules that cultures evolve for themselves, in their attempt to make life workable.

Conservatives talk of “natural law” – but there really is none. If Ku Klux Klansmen lynch a black person from a limb, the tree doesn’t care. Nor do the squirrels and birds in the branches. Nor the sun or moon above. Nature doesn’t care. Only people care.

Take human rights. Thomas Jefferson said all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But I think Jefferson was wrong. There’s no evidence that any Creator endowed anyone with any God-given rights. What unalienable rights were enjoyed by African blacks who were sold into slavery – including those on Jefferson’s Monticello plantation?

What God-given rights were assured the 3,000 victims of the historic terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001? – or the 6 million Jews sent to Nazi death camps? – or the 1 million middle-class Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot’s peasant army? – or the 1 million tall Tutsis killed by short Hutus? – or Ulster children killed by Catholic and Protestant bombs? – or Hiroshima residents in 1945 – or around 1 million women burned as witches by the Inquisition? What’s the meaning of life to the millions dying of AIDS? – and the millions who died in the 1918 flu epidemic, and in the Black Plague? – and the 900 who gave cyanide to their children at Jonestown? – or the 90 who burned with their children in the David Koresh compound? What meaning existed for thousands of Hondurans drowned in hurricane floods a couple of years ago? Or those 16 Scottish kindergarten tots who were massacred by a psycho with pistols? Or the 2,000 American women killed by their husbands or lovers every year? Or the 20,000 victims the Aztecs sacrificed annually to the invisible flying serpent? – or the 20,000 the Thugs strangled for the goddess Kali?

Meaningless, senseless, pointless – all these horrors have a grotesque absurdity about them. Words like purpose, rights and morals simply don’t apply.

I think these evils make it obvious, by simple logic, that there is no all-loving, all-merciful, all-compassionate, father god. How could a kindly father watch idly while thousands of children die of leukemia, ignoring the desperate prayers of their families? Why would a kindly creator design nature so that lions slaughter antelopes, and pythons crush pigs, and sharks rip seals apart – and women die of breast cancer? Only a monster would arrange such monstrosities, and do nothing to save the victims. Therefore, common sense proves that the beneficent modern god is a fantasy who doesn’t exist.

In his book Consilience, the great Harvard socio-biologist E.O. Wilson pointed out that there are two fundamental ways of looking at reality: Empiricism, believing only what evidence tells you – and Transcendentalism, believing that a divine or cosmic moral order exists, independent of humanity. If any proof ever upholds the latter, he said, “the discovery would be quite simply the most consequential in human history.” But it never occurred.

So much for meaninglessness. Now for the many meanings:

Obviously, the reality of physics, chemistry, biology, atoms, cells, matter, radiation and all the rest of nature imposes a physical order upon us. We can’t escape the laws of nature that govern animals on an orbiting planet. And the inevitability of death is a force stronger than we are. We can’t prevent it. Therefore, whatever meanings exist must apply to the temporary period while we live.

Clearly, there’s a physical and psychological purpose to life. Our bodies need food, and clothing, and shelter, and health, and affectionate comfort, and security from violence and theft, and so forth. We also need gregarious social reaction with people around us. And we need democratic freedoms, so we can speak honestly without fear of punishment – and justice, so we won’t be treated cruelly. These are the humanist purposes of life: to provide better nutrition, medicine, housing, transportation, education, safety, human rights, and all the other needs of people.

To attain this humanist “good life,” the species has a strong need to raise intelligent, healthy, affectionate, responsible children. Sometimes I think the single biggest purpose in life is raising good kids.

I think we all endorse this biological / psychological meaning of life. We believe in preventing war, curing disease, ending hunger, improving literacy, reducing crime, averting famines, and taking other steps that make life pleasant – until death takes us.

However, aside from this “housekeeping” type of purpose, is there any greater meaning that transcends our human needs?

I don’t think so. At least, I’ve never been able to find any proof of it. We simply must try to make life as good as possible, and avoid horrors, and care about people, and have fun, even though we know that oblivion is coming.

Make hay while the sun shines – because darkness is on its way. Carpe diem – seize the day for now; live fully while you can. Omar Khayyam saw the folly of aggrandizing oneself, because ill fortune or sickness and death soon wipe it out. And praying for heaven after death is even greater folly: “Fools, your reward is neither here nor there.” So Omar’s solution was to take comfort in verses, wine and his lover “beside me singing in the wilderness – and wilderness is paradise enough.” About 1,400 years before him, the great Greek skeptic Epicurus felt the same way.

So there you have it: We who are not orthodox religious believers can’t find any underlying reason for existence. And we know that death looms ahead. So we must make the interval as enjoyable as possible, while we’re here. This view of life’s purpose was summed up a few years ago by the title of a Unitarian seminar: “Dancing over the dark abyss.” And Zorba the Greek taught us: What is life, if not to dance?

A Powerful Argument Against God

Over the past few weeks, a series of crazed gunmen took the lives of more than 30 innocent people in three separate mass killings in the United States.  Among the dead were multiple children.  Of course, children dying, in and of itself, is not a particularly newsworthy event.  Children die every day, from disease, hunger, accidents and, yes, violence.

Tragedy, unfortunately, is a part of nature, which we know and understand in our heart of hearts.  But religion, as framed by Christianity, Islam and Judaism, would have us believe otherwise.  They would have us believe that there is an all-powerful, loving God, that watches over us and, even when we see tragedy, it’s only because we don’t understand God’s plan.  And in the wake of such tragedy, the usual response from the religious community is to offer ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those affected, as if that is somehow compensation for those who are suffering.  If there’s an all-powerful, loving God watching over us, how can it be that bad things continuously happen to good people?

There is nothing more gut-wrenching than a child being taken from their loving parents, parents that nurtured that child from birth, with hopes for its future of a life of happiness and fulfillment.  To tell a parent that they just don’t understand God’s plan, that somehow their dead child is in a better place, is empty consolation.  We’re better off just coming to terms with the fact that in nature, bad things do in fact sometimes happen to good people, but also with the understanding that humans (not God) can take steps to reduce the number of those bad happenings (by reducing violence, disease, hunger and accidents).

The question of God is perhaps best summed up by one of our favorite quotes by the famous Greek philosopher Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Trump Represents A Major Threat to Humanity

On June 30th, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres told a meeting on climate change in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that “the world is facing a grave emergency” from climate change, that “climate disruption is happening now and it is happening to all of us.”  He added that climate change is “outpacing our efforts to address it with each week bringing new climate-related devastation from floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires and superstorms.”  Conditions “will only get worse unless we act now with ambition and urgency,” he stated.  He also noted that “many countries are not even keeping pace with their promises under the Paris Agreement.”

Climate change may be the greatest threat to human existence since the first humans set foot on the plains of Africa about 300,000 years ago.  Climate change is driven by greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere, primarily carbon dioxide and methane.  China, the United States and the European Union account for more than half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.  But the United States, which has the world’s largest economy and produces about 15% of the total, is no longer a party to the Paris Agreement, having been pulled out by President Trump.  Worse, President Trump has declared climate change to be a hoax and has had his administration work to undermine efforts to reduce the greenhouse pollutants that the United States has been pumping into the atmosphere, by appointing climate deniers and fossil fuel industry supporters across his administration.

Since the United States is one of the world’s biggest polluters, by undermining the United States’ climate change remediation efforts, President Trump represents a direct threat to humanity.  To rectify the situation in the short term, other countries will need to provide leadership and use every diplomatic and economic tool available to pressure the United States into taking action to fight climate change.  Most importantly, all efforts must be made to ensure Trump’s defeat in next year’s U.S. presidential election and that he is replaced by someone who understands the climate change threat and will work to fight its effects.

Understanding Systemic Sexism

By Teresa Roberts

There’s something about the concept of systemic sexism that causes confusion. Just the mention of it can trigger anger. Even those with whom developing self-awareness has been a goal are not immune. Individuals become defensive, because they don’t understand that systemic sexism isn’t about them. It’s about the culture they inherited. This misconception can lead men to feel like they’re being attacked.

Can we truly understand the day-to-day grind of thousands upon thousands of subtle messages experienced by those who have been cast in social roles deemed “lesser than” and the many blatantly damaging repercussions of being assigned such a lot in life?

Can anyone fully appreciate generational pain, frustration and lack of opportunity that our grandmothers, mothers and daughters have endured without enduring it themselves? It seems unlikely that a person would be able to fully grasp how it feels unless they’re living it. Just as a white person can’t know what it feels like to be black or a rich person can’t fathom the deep struggles of being desperately poor, even the best of men will not be able to fully appreciate how it feels to be a woman in a patriarchal society.

Because systemic sexism has been woven into our social fabric, it is passed on as a matter of routine to the succeeding generations.

We inherit our culture through the sheer lottery of birth. We are not taught to question what has been passed on to us. Thus, we’re often unaware of the limitations our cultural heritage forces upon us let alone what harm it does to others. We’re essentially blind to many of the problems people face due to the fact that we see the world the way we were taught to see it, a world view not of our choosing. This inherited world view defined what was “normal” and acceptable long ago. If something is considered to be normal and acceptable, it goes largely unnoticed.

Although many things contribute to our cultural conditioning, I contend that across the world, religion has been leading tribes down the wrong path for centuries.

Whenever societies make a step forward, it has been in spite of not because of these culturally sanctioned religions. The three big religions of the world — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — have cast women in a secondary role. For the purposes of power, there are many who resist changing that model. When women suffer in silence, there’s almost no chance that anyone in positions of privilege will take notice of their plight. Maintaining status quo becomes the goal.

The world has only recently become interested in the notion of equality for everyone. In my lifetime, I have been fortunate to witness some movement toward social change.

Anyone, however, who believes that it will only take decades to root out systemic sexism, do not understand how these cultural systems work. They have been around for centuries, supported by our parents, grandparents, teachers, preachers, bosses, holy books and religious practices. They have infiltrated our government and monetary systems. They define our roles and determine our hierarchy of power. So much of what takes place between humans isn’t even a choice. Instead, we are driven by subconscious motives and belief systems that were predetermined long before we were born.

To listen to the hurt and suffering of others, to actually hear what they’re saying, requires an enormous amount of awareness.

Only those affected can tell their stories. Only they know the entire story — all the sordid details, nuances and expectations that come from living the story. It’s hard work to listen. It’s even harder work to understand and then give full credit to what the less privileged have to say. If we want social change to become a reality, however, we need to accept the responsibility to do that hard work. Sometimes, women are going to be angry. You’re going to hear it in their voices. Becoming defensive will be a natural reaction. Listen, instead! Listen without asking those who suffer to express themselves with less anger. Remember that you haven’t experienced the systemic subjugation that generations of women have endured. Listen and believe them.

With every step forward, societies tend to take two steps back.

Sometimes, it begins to feel like the goal is to drag us all the way back to the Dark Ages. In modern American politics, we’re seeing evidence of that desire where women are concerned. The current political movement is triggering fear and anger in many women. Some of these women won hard fought battles in the past. They’re old enough to remember marching for women’s rights back in the sixties and seventies. To feel the forces of the Christian right closing in all about them is terrifying. Let them speak their minds when they choose. Let them rail if need be. Listen and then join their cause.

If we’re ever going to create a secular world that honors women as equal to men, we must rid ourselves of systemic sexism.

Teresa Roberts is an author, world traveler and dedicated myth buster. Her recent book – Have We Been Screwed? Trading Freedom for Fairy Tales – can be purchased on Amazon.

What is God?

This is our first in what we hope will be a long and meaningful string of blog posts.  For this first posting, we thought we would start a discussion on a particularly difficult question – what is God?

Fundamental to a discussion of religion and its pros and cons is the question of defining God or gods.  What we mean by any particular god is always problematic because a god is merely a concept, not something you can see or hear or touch.  Therefore, the existence of such a being cannot be positively either proven or disproven.

Because a god cannot be seen or heard or touched, whether it exists or in what form it exists is open to a broad spectrum of interpretations.  That’s why religion, as a practice, is so problematic.  Religion is the human interpretation of what is perceived to be the makeup and intent of the god or gods being worshiped.  But why worship something that is completely intangible, whose existence depends totally on faith, which ultimately requires the suspension of logic and reason.

The larger question is not whether God or gods exist, but what influence they have, if any, over our daily lives.  To us, the answer is clear, being that except for the forces of nature, we humans are in control of our own destiny and are the only ones that are capable of influencing our lives, whether for good or for bad.

Humanity is currently facing a real threat to its existence in the form of climate change, perhaps within decades.  Climate change is a direct result of human activity, largely from the burning of fossil fuels over the past few centuries.  It is clear to us that there is no god or other supernatural being that will intercede to save us.  Only humanity itself, banding together, can halt and reverse the effects of climate change.  The question of God, then, becomes moot, because humanity must look to itself to save its future and the future of the millions of species with whom we share the planet.