“I’m Not an Atheist But…”

I’ve been pretty fortunate; after 38 years of living in Texas, I’ve only encountered blatant anti-atheist bigotry in person a handful of times.

And while I could do a whole write-up about what happened in those encounters (maybe another day), here’s what I found most interesting: Most of those encounters were with people who were/are atheists themselves.

Now I suppose I should back up a bit and clarify what I mean by that. Each of these individuals identified as “agnostics” and explicitly rejected the atheist label while they made incredibly derogatory and blanket characterizations of “atheists”… Yet they also made it explicitly clear that they themselves did not hold any beliefs in the existence of gods, thereby being literally “without theism” and making them also—by definition—atheists.

Now I realize what I just said raises a controversial issue. American Atheists President David Silverman recently took some heat after saying on CNN that those who use labels for themselves such as “agnostic” or “humanist”–while refusing to identify as “atheists”–are “lying” (though in Silverman’s defense, he later said his words were edited to the point of misrepresentation).

And I can understand why the “forcing” of labels onto those who refuse to adopt them is a legitimate concern: If someone in good faith explicitly refuses to adopt a label which indicates a particular ideological position (or in some cases, a whole slew of ideological positions), it’s poor form to force that upon them and essentially say “No, you do subscribe to that ideology (or set of ideologies), despite the fact that you claim not to.” (I add the “in good faith” modifier to make exceptions for cases where the rejection of a label is blatantly self-serving and disingenuous, e.g. white supremacists who reject that label).

But comedian Aziz Ansari provided a counterpoint recently, when he said, regarding feminism:


And I’m inclined to agree as far as feminism is concerned (though of course, the overwhelming majority of those who reject the feminist label tend to have a pretty skewed definition of what the word means).

But notice that the point Ansari makes regarding feminism also applies to the “atheist” label, and even more so. Because atheism isn’t an ideology at all; there isn’t an associated set of beliefs, principles, doctrines, etc. which comes along with the adoption of the term. To be an atheist simply describes your lack of belief on one specific point—the existence of gods. And provided that someone has made clear their position on that one issue, to describe them as an “atheist” isn’t even really a matter of subjective discussion, but rather a simple statement of fact according to their own stated position.

Really, I’m not even sure “label” is even the right term to use when it comes to the word “atheist”. If you describe someone as being “left-handed” because they write with and predominantly use their left hand for fine motor tasks, are you “labeling” them as a left-hander, or are you simply referring to them as what they are by definition? What of describing someone who holds U.S. citizenship as being an “American”? Or someone who has two legs and walks upright as being “bipedal”?

Provided that someone in their own words professes that they don’t believe in the existence of any gods, how is it any different to call them an atheist?

It’s really not.

Yet as simple as this may seem, even brilliant people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who can be right on virtually every other issue, manage to get it horribly wrong.

Now it’s important to note that this logic doesn’t necessarily apply to other terms which are often used synonymously with “atheism”. Humanism, for example, actually does entail a set of principles and ideological positions, and is far more than simply an objective descriptor of one’s position on one specific issue. So it makes sense that if someone chooses to explicitly reject the “humanist” label/identity (for example, if they disagree with certain humanist principles, even if they agree with the overwhelming majority of the rest), it would be wrong for others to ascribe that label to them against their wishes.

But to call someone an “atheist” who–according to their own words–doesn’t believe in the existence of any gods? It’s simply expressing a tautological truth, like calling a doctor who treats skin diseases for a living a “dermatologist”, and no matter how much they may dislike the use of the word it doesn’t change the fact that they are one.

Sacrificing One’s Soul


“I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.” –The Operative, Serenity 

What if you sacrifice your soul—by condemning yourself to Hell—in order to save other people from going to Hell?

It’s a nearly universal truth—held by the religious and non-religious alike—that to willingly sacrifice your life to save the lives of others is commendable, even possibly the greatest of all moral acts. But I can’t say I’ve ever heard the same logic applied with regard to Hell.

Consider if someone subjects themselves not just to death, but to an eternity of torture in order to save others from meeting that same fate. Isn’t that at least equally commendable as someone sacrificing their life? Perhaps even infinitely more commendable, considering that Hell is infinitely worse than death? (One obvious question is whether a “just” God would even send someone to Hell for doing so, but for purposes of this discussion let’s assume he would).

In my last post I discussed how the absurd premises of Heaven and Hell—as traditionally understood—lead to equally absurd conclusions when taken to their logical conclusions, and essentially lead to the inescapable conclusion that the ends ALWAYS justify the means when it comes to “saving souls”. And infinitely so, meaning that ANY act, no matter how evil, is perfectly justified—even morally obligatory—if it saves just one person from Hell.

Of course, the obvious counterargument would be that God wouldn’t WANT us to lie, kill, steal, etc. in order to “serve him”, even if the goal is to save souls. After all, how can someone specifically violate what is forbidden by God in order to serve God? Well, this is exactly why.

Let’s say God disapproves of you doing so, and punishes you with Hell (perhaps even a special level of Hell). That doesn’t change the inescapable reality one iota that you are still doing an infinitely greater good by disobeying God, providing that doing so results in even one soul being saved. Which means that lying for Jesus, or even The Inquisition, are logically justified and perfectly rational given those initial premises of traditional Christianity.

But just as you’ll never hear a follower of traditional religious systems admit to it, I’ve never heard anyone describe the notion of “sacrificing ones soul” as being commendable, much less on par with the sacrificing of one’s life to save others.

And this isn’t a purely theoretical exercise with no real-world implications. Thankfully, as is the case with almost any religious doctrine whereby virtually nobody takes them as seriously as they should if they truly believe them, virtually nobody takes the infinite nature of Heaven and  Hell to its logical conclusion and operates according to the logic I’ve outlined above, and thankfully so.

But some do.

Consider Christian terrorists and their attacks on (even murders of) abortion providers and those affiliated (or in some cases, simply present at) them. These murderers rationalize their acts to be the morally justifiable saving lives of “children being murdered”, and fully sanctioned by their God. Or, as in one recent case, they can use their belief in “once saved always saved” to ensure they’re still going to Heaven regardless of whether the murders were wrong.

Either way, their fate in Heaven is fully assured.

The same goes for Islamic terrorists, who rather than going to Hell for murdering innocent people, claim they will actually be rewarded in the afterlife for it.

At the top of the page I quoted the movie Serenity because of its incredibly rare example–in fiction or in reality–of someone admitting to committing evil in order to serve a greater good (without that evil somehow “becoming” good). It’s about as clear cut an admission of willingly “sacrificing one’s soul” as you will ever see, as opposed to those who typically try to rationalize and justify the evils they commit, thereby rendering them no longer “evil”.

Unfortunately, in the real world, I have yet to see anyone being so honest about this gaping flaw in their theological beliefs.

Why, When it Comes to Religion, the Ends ALWAYS Justify the Means


One of the great philosophical debates (and the first thing you learn in any Intro to Philosophy class) is about deontological vs. utilitarian morality: Are “right” and “wrong” a result of certain actions being inherently right or wrong (killing and stealing are wrong in principle) or is it determined based on the consequences of those actions (killing and stealing are wrong because of the harm they do to others)? Or, in even more simplified form, when it comes to “right” and “wrong” do the ends justify the means?

Traditionally, these two approaches to morality seem to line up pretty closely with debates surrounding religious vs. secular morality. Either we should obey the commandments because God commands us to, since through his divine authority he has determined what is “right” or “wrong” via cosmic fiat, and going against those divine dictates is, quite simply, wrong (Euthyphro’s Dilemma be damned), or we should follow secular/humanistic ethics, which generally consider right/wrong to be based on the real-world consequences of our actions, meaning in some cases it may be permissible–even morally obligatory–to perform acts which may otherwise be considered “immoral” (a parent stealing medicine to save the life of his child, for example).

Traditionally, this leads to the notion that secular/humanistic/utilitarian ethics means that the ends justify the means, and as long as the final outcome is beneficial the methods you use to get there are ultimately irrelevant (think Watchmen’s Ozymandias).

But it seems to me that in a way, this dichotomy is precisely backwards, and not only do the “ends justify the means” when it comes to traditional religious morality, but they do so to a literally infinite degree, and that’s for one reason: Because the traditional concepts of “Heaven” and “Hell” introduce the element of infinity to the equation, with notions of everlasting infinite torment or everlasting infinite bliss; and when you perform the cost/benefit analysis on anything involving infinity, the answer is always similarly infinite (math nerds like me might point out exceptions like series of infinite sums which converge on finite numbers, but obviously that doesn’t apply in this case).

So what does that mean? It means that any amount of harm you do to anyone—lying, killing, even torture or mass murder—pales in comparison to the harm you can inflict on someone by causing them to go to hell. Infinitely so. Even increasing the odds of someone going to Hell by a miniscule fraction of a percent is still a transgression of infinite harm, since even .00001% of infinity is still infinity.

And the same goes for heaven; no matter how much good you may do in the world, it will be infinitely trivial compared to even one act which increases the odds of someone reaching Heaven.

Even more disturbingly, the flipside is also true: any action, no matter how abhorrent, is perfectly acceptable in the Heaven/Hell equation, and the ends ALWAYS justify the means provided that the end goal is helping others reach heaven or avoid hell since that end goal is literally a positive of infinite value.

Of course thankfully, with the exception of religious extremists, nobody really applies this logic to their day to day lives, or actually considers these implications and takes their beliefs to the logical extreme.

And we all should hope it remains that way.

Follow-up: Sacrificing One’s Soul

Houston’s Perverse Anti-Feeding Ordinance

homelessA talk I gave recently at Houston City Hall regarding Houston’s anti-feeding ordinance:

Hello everyone, my name is Vic Wang and I’m the President of Humanists of Houston. We are a 501c non-profit dedicated to promoting the principles of secular humanism, and are currently the second largest chapter of the American Humanist Association in the country with over 1,800 members. Thank you for having me to speak here today.

On a monthly basis, our organization has been collaborating with the Houston chapter of Atheists Helping the Homeless to raise and distribute much-needed supplies to the city’s homeless population, including supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, soaps, shampoos, clothing, feminine hygiene products, and perhaps most importantly, mosquito spray. After collecting these items from our members each month, we then hand them out directly to the homeless residents of Houston, serving an average of approximately fifty individuals per giveaway.

So you can perhaps understand why this ordinance is of particular interest to organizations such as ours, and I would like to express today a few of the reasons that I personally feel this ordinance should be overturned.

First there are the stated purposes of having the ordinance: The issue of littering. The issue of trespass on private property. And the issue of sanitation. But we already have laws in place regarding each of these concerns, without the need for such a restrictive city ordinance on top of the pre-existing laws. And if sanitation is such a concern, it makes little sense for the ordinance to cover ALL types of food items, including sealed, pre-packaged, unexpired food items as it currently does.

And I realize that the ordinance is not an outright ban on food distribution. But having access to a necessity as important as food is a basic human right–I hope we can all agree on that–and similarly, being able to provide that essential resource to people who need it is also a basic human right. So we as citizens, and as a city, should be doing everything we can to make it easier for anyone to do so, not putting up roadblocks and barriers including the threat of a $2,000 fine for anyone who chooses to exercise that basic human right.

And finally, another aspect of this ordinance that is of particular to concern to organizations such as ours. As much as I love our great state, the unfortunate reality is that local governments in Texas have quite simply had an abysmal track record when it comes to an awareness of religious privilege and the preservation of separation of church and state. Hawkins, TX. Beaumont, TX. Kountze, TX. China, TX. Sour Lake, TX. Kirbyville, TX. Lumberton, TX. These are just a few of the cities and towns in the past few years where government entities have shown undue favoritism for religion over non-religion time and time again, with some of these violations literally happening as we speak. And while it involved a federal and not a city government agency, it was just two short years ago that Houston was in national headlines over the fiasco involving Margaret Doughty’s application for citizenship, when she openly identified as an atheist and was denied.

So while I do not mean to suggest that the Houston ordinance is currently being run in anything but a fair manner, the reality is that a city ordinance which provides the government with the power to dictate which organizations can provide food to the homeless, at what locations, and even at what times on which days (and even–if I understand correctly–having the power to override the originally scheduled times and locations based on supply and demand)–this is a situation with enormous potential for abuse when it comes to the preferential treatment of organizations of a religious nature, and organizations such as ours which are of a purely secular nature.

And it is for these reasons that I ask for the Houston Feeding Ordinance to be lifted. Thank you.

Unitarian “Sermon”: One Humanist Perspective

The “sermon” I gave today at the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston:

Update: Video of my talk is now online here and the church has uploaded audio here.


When Jeff asked me about a month ago for the title of my talk today, I gave him the title “One Humanist Perspective”. I intentionally kept the title generic, for one because I hadn’t started writing it yet, but also because I wanted to touch on a few different things that I’ve picked up over the years, and things I’ve personally found to be useful, while also tying those in to how they relate to humanism and the work we do at Humanists of Houston.

But as for why I specifically titled it “One Humanist Perspective”, I wanted to make it clear that when it comes to Humanism, there are many perspectives and no one definitive humanist position on a given issue. There are no holy scriptures to consult, no divine edicts to reference, not even really any “rules” per-se, and certainly no commandments. We do have the three humanist manifestos, but the authors of that had the same thought, as they specifically chose to title it “A Humanist Manifesto”.

So I tend to think of Humanism as being more about principles to live by and goals to strive for, in the best way that one possibly can with the means they have available. And while I can’t speak for Humanism as a whole, I can give my personal take on a few things that hopefully, some of you might find useful as well.

As a lifelong agnostic atheist who was never raised to be for or against religion, or even really exposed to it all while growing up outside of what you can’t help but pick up on from popular culture, I’ve come to realize just how abnormal an upbringing that is for someone who was born and raised in Texas.

And perhaps I should clarify what I mean when I say I’m both an atheist and agnostic. By agnostic I simply mean that I don’t know if a god exists or not, and it may even be ultimately unknowable one way or the other. As any good skeptic should be, I’m certainly open to the possibility, should compelling evidence ever be discovered. But I’m also an atheist in the sense that I simply don’t have a belief in the existence of any gods—quite literally an absence of theism—and on the whole I find the notion that no gods exist to be far more likely.

Anyway it really wasn’t until I was an adult, and began to learn about religions and really expose myself to them firsthand for the first time, that I came to find out about some of the popular misconceptions of a non-theistic worldview, particularly some of the perceived shortcomings that I never even knew existed, much less how widely held they are.

I remember one time I was visiting a conservative Christian church a few years ago, and the pastor said to the congregation, “You know how you’ve always felt that something wasn’t quite right with this world, and that this world isn’t where you’re supposed to be? Well that’s because it’s God’s way of telling every one of us that we don’t really belong in this world, and heaven is where we all truly belong.” I was pretty baffled by this, since I couldn’t say I had ever felt that way before, but I later came to find out that this was a prevalent theme in modern day evangelical Christianity, and one which I continued to hear repeated at other churches that I visited.

Taylor Muse, lead singer of the band Quiet Company, picked up on this when he chose the name of their 2011 album “We Are All Where Belong”. And on the song “The Black Sheep and the Shepherd”, he wrote: “luckily I held out long enough to see that everybody really makes their own destiny. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s just you and me, exactly where we belong”. From my standpoint, of course, it hadn’t occurred to me that I should feel any other way.

So what about the Humanist view on death, and the afterlife? I’m shocked sometimes to hear people say that if there’s no afterlife, our existence on Earth must somehow be pointless. But I’ve found the opposite to be true. The more I’ve come to the personal conclusion that I don’t believe in an afterlife, the greater the appreciation I’ve found for the life I have now, and the more precious I find every moment to be. And the more I try my best to make a positive contribution to the world while I still can. After all if there’s no afterlife in the supernatural sense, the only afterlife we have comes from the impact that we had on other people’s lives in the limited time we had.

Of course, when it comes to misconceptions about those with no beliefs in Gods, there’s nothing bigger than the idea that you simply can’t have morality unless it comes from a higher power. In one recent poll of Americans, when asked if it’s necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person, a jaw dropping 45% responded “Yes”.

But I never even realized that this was “a thing”, so to speak, until high school when I heard someone make that claim for the first time. But even well before I understood the evolutionary roots of morality, before I learned that even babies, and even some animals, demonstrate an innate sense of right and wrong, and certainly before I had studied anything about philosophy or humanistic ethics, it had simply never occurred to me that believing in God might be a prerequisite to being a moral person.

And yet despite how widely held this misconception is, the reality is that atheists are dramatically underrepresented in the U.S. prison population, according to some measures by a factor of ten-to-one. That the least religious states in the U.S. are also those with the least crime. And that the countries in the world with the lowest levels of traditional religion are also those with the lowest crime, highest levels of happiness, and highest standards of living in the world, as sociologist Phil Zuckerman discusses thoroughly in his book “Society Without God”.

In a way, traditional religious morality says “God exists, so you must behave morally”, whereas humanistic morality says “If God doesn’t exist, we must behave morally”. Because without a divine overseer to enact cosmic judgement, and without the possibility of miracles to help save those in need, that leaves the onus on humans to help each other and try our best to make the world a better place, because if we don’t then nobody else will.

Certainly at the core of Humanism is not simply living a naturalistic worldview based on science and reason, but also one which is built on empathy, compassion, and a sense of reciprocity that influences everything you do. The Golden Rule is prevalent throughout the history of religious and philosophical belief systems, and humanism is certainly no exception, and for good reason, as empathy and reciprocity form the foundation of virtually all moral systems, religious or otherwise.

So what might a humanist perspective on the Golden Rule look like? Well in Western culture the version we’re all most familiar with is from the Bible, where Jesus says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Which differs slightly from the form which preceded the New Testament, particularly in Eastern religions and Greek philosophy which tended to focus on the avoidance of harm, essentially “do not do unto others as you would not want them to do unto you”, also sometimes known as “the silver rule”.

But both versions are not without their limitations. To do the most good in the world calls for far more than simply minimizing the amount of harm you do, whereas the Golden Rule of the New Testament can also be used to justify the imposition of your personal beliefs and desires onto others, even when it may not be what they want for themselves. And it’s certainly unfortunate that countless atrocities have been committed under the aegis of the Golden Rule when taken to its logical conclusion.

That’s what prompted the coining of the term “the Platinum Rule”, which resolves both limitations by saying, “you should do unto others as they would want done to themselves”. But it’s not hard to see where that can be problematic as well, for example if a child doesn’t want to receive a potentially life-saving vaccine, or if someone wants you to treat them in a way that you would consider unethical. And, of course, all three of these versions are essentially at odds with the very notion of a legal justice system, since taken to its logical conclusion we would essentially have no choice but to pardon anyone who is ever accused of any crime. As we can see, it’s simply not possible to follow any one of version of the Golden Rule without breaking it–not out of any moral weakness, but sometimes out of moral necessity.

Which is why Humanism isn’t so much about adhering to any particular set of rules as it is about following a set of principles, and trying to always make the best moral judgments you can in any given situation. And there’s nothing about humanism that says you can’t draw from the moral traditions of any of history’s religions or philosophies, and incorporate the best ideas they have to offer into the principles you choose to live by. That was the thought process behind humanist philosopher AC Grayling’s book, “The Good Book: A Humanist Bible” (again, note the “A”) which is modeled after the Christian Bible but also draws from “the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions”.

Another traditional theological concept I was never taught growing up was the notion of everything happening according to a divine plan, whether through the literal hand of god, or through some kind of cosmic fate. Humanism doesn’t have that. But the lack of such a component also resolves another problem with traditional theistic morality that you don’t hear much about, but is ultimately pretty problematic when you think about it. And that is the notion that since everything is happening according to some divine plan, then even the most horrific suffering must somehow be intended to serve that higher purpose (whether as a test of one’s resolve, to impart some kind of greater life lessons, or some other mysterious purpose). Which, if true, would not only mean it is potentially justified to stand by indifferently while someone is undergoing that suffering, but it could even be considered immoral to intervene since doing so may actually be going against that divine plan.

Now fortunately, nobody in the real world ever takes this dilemma to its logical conclusion in such a way, and virtually everyone, regardless of religious belief, holds at least some sense of desire to help those in need. But that isn’t to say that this issue has no effect on how people think and behave in the real world. For example, studies have shown empirically that when people believe in what has been termed a “just world”–meaning that they believe some kind of supernatural justice exists, whether in the form of a deity pulling the strings, or supernatural concepts such as fate or karma—they are actually, on average, LESS likely to be sympathetic towards those who have experienced hardship or suffering, even when that suffering is the result of factors they had no control over such as natural disasters.

Whether on a conscious level or not, it appears that there’s a natural inclination to rationalize other people’s suffering as potentially all being part of the divine plan, or perhaps part of the punishment that they’re receiving for prior transgressions. But Humanism offers no such “out” which might be used to excuse indifference to the suffering of others.

Some of you have probably seen this image before:

Now I would have probably used the word “nationalism” instead of patriotism, but the message is clear: Why should someone hold a sense of undue preference for something they had no role in choosing? But as many times as I’ve seen this meme, I’ve never seen an equivalent one for other aspects of a person’s self that were equally if not more unchosen. For example, aspects such as race, ethnicity, gender, and even in many parts of the world, religion. And it’s understandable why; while it’s not hard to immediately “get” what this is saying when it pertains to a simple accident of geography, it feels strange to even think about those other things in such a way, considering just how intertwined aspects such as race and gender are with one’s personal sense of “being”, even if they were ultimately no less random or arbitrary.

Now to be clear, this is not to suggest that the unique individual perspectives of those from specific backgrounds are any less valid, simply because they had no choice in the matter. Particularly when it comes to those who have experienced persecution or discrimination firsthand, only they can speak from such a position of lived experience that nobody else truly can.

But take myself, for instance. I happened to be born male, and logically speaking those who were born male should be no more likely to be against feminism and no less likely to fight for feminist ideals simply because of that accident of fate. But unfortunately the reality is quite different. While thankfully the feminist label has become increasingly embraced by both men and women, with many prominent men now joining the ranks of the powerful female voices in the feminist movement, the world of so-called Men’s Rights Activism (and yes, that actually is a real thing) which vehemently opposes feminist ideals, perhaps unsurprisingly consists almost exclusively of young men, particularly young men from highly privileged backgrounds.

And unsurprisingly, the same pattern holds true with pretty much every single other social justice movement, where those from a diverse set of backgrounds are in support of equality for the oppressed groups, and those in opposition consist of an incredibly narrow band of the demographic spectrum, specifically the one in the position of privilege which feels threatened by the specter of equality that the social justice movement represents. Would that be so true if those particular individuals truly accepted the fact that they had absolutely no choice in their own personal demographic makeup, and that they just as easily could have been born as members of those oppressed groups themselves? I don’t know.

But this notion doesn’t just apply to physical characteristics. Ultimately, even the person that you happened to be was decided by chance. The parents you happened to be born from, the body you happen to occupy, and even the brain that you happen to possess, all of these were essentially random accidents just as much as the country you happened to be born in. And while I realize this sounds a lot like an argument on freewill, this holds true even if you believe in the notion of “true” free will or in the transcendental soul, since after all you just as easily could have been born with a different soul.

Now one might ask how this pertains specifically to Humanism, as opposed to any other particular religious tradition, many of which also share similar themes of empathy and selflessness. And my answer to that is, I think it’s a bit more difficult if not impossible to truly recognize the utterly arbitrary and random nature of the life circumstances that you were born into under traditional theological notions of everything being part of a pre-ordained divine plan, or in some other way an inevitability of fate itself.

But recognizing that ultimately even the very concept of “you” being you was largely a roll of the dice, not just in terms of physical characteristics, not even just specific personality traits, but even the totality of what actually makes you “you”, makes one realize that you quite literally could have been anyone else, and that there is really no rational justification to preferentially place your own well-being and desires over anyone else’s, which is really not entirely unlike the flower pointing at another and saying “my pot is better than yours”, except in this case the pot doesn’t represent the country you were born in, but the person you happened to be. That to me represents true empathy, not just putting yourself into another person’s shoes, but actually putting yourself into another person’s self, and the recognition that the feelings and needs of others are no less valuable than your own.

Earlier we heard astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s take on another of the most common misconceptions regarding the humanistic worldview; the notion that without a belief in the divine, one simply can’t have true meaning or purpose in life. And while it wasn’t so much the focus of my talk today, the importance of scientific knowledge and of striving for a deeper understanding of the natural world is also certainly a core component of Humanism, and much like Dr. Tyson, I’ve also found that the more I learn about how the world works, the more enriching the experience of it becomes.

But if I had to pick the one thing that I‘ve found gives me the greatest sense of meaning and purpose in life, I would have to say it’s through advancing the cause of Humanism through communities such as Humanists of Houston. And I’ll share with you here a few of the ways we’ve tried to go about doing that.

One way is by focusing on more “traditional” humanist causes, by hosting guest speakers such as:


Zack Kopplin, a Rice University student and secular activist dedicated to promoting the teaching of real science in public schools, and challenging legislation that is trying to undermine that.


Taylor Muse, the aforementioned lead singer of Quiet Company, who shared with us—for the first time ever before an audience—his journey from Christian songwriter to religious skeptic, and eventually the headliner of the American Atheists’ National Convention in 2013.


Daniel Moran, who ran for Texas State Representative as an open atheist, open bisexual, and open genderqueer, which was unprecedented in the history of Texas politics, if not national politics.


And Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, an open atheist who was born and raised in Iraq, then obtained asylum in the U.S. after receiving death threats and founded the Global Secular Humanist Movement, which is now the largest online humanist community in the world.

But in addition to the guest speakers we host, we’ve also recently turned an eye towards greater community involvement through volunteering and activism.


For example through our monthly collaborations with Atheists Helping the Homeless, where we’ve raised and distributed toiletries and other essential supplies for hundreds of homeless individuals.


We recently held a fundraiser for Camp Quest Texas, a summer camp for children of humanist families, where we raised over $3,000 dollars which turned out to be the most ever raised by a local organization in a single year.


We’ve held a series of demonstrations outside of the Saudi Arabian Consulate, to protest the sentencing of blogger Raif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 public lashes, simply for the crime of advocating secular and progressive views online.


We participated in a demonstration outside the Mexican Consulate, in support of families of the 43 missing students from the 2014 mass kidnapping in Iguala.


We also participated in a series of demonstrations as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, in response to the string of incidents of police misconduct and injustices that have disproportionately affected the black community throughout the country.


And most recently, just as BAUUC did we expressed our support for the ongoing fight for LGBT rights as we had a booth and a float in the Houston Pride Parade for the first time.


Through events and activities such as these, we’ve made a conscious effort to make clear that we’re not just an atheist organization, or even an atheist organization per-se—nor are we an anti-religious organization, but rather one which is focused more on the promoting the humanistic values that we do believe in, rather than the supernatural ones that we don’t.

Thank you.

One of the Most Disgusting Prayers You’ll Ever Hear (Yet Nobody Thinks Twice About)

Since the recent horrific tragedy in Nepal, we’ve already seen countless examples of Christians seizing on the opportunity to promote their ideology, largely through public proclamations of prayers—specifically prayers asking for the (largely-Hindu) survivors to repent and accept Jesus.

These predatory “soul vultures” have been harshly condemned in the atheist media (and to a lesser extent in the mainstream media), and rightfully so. But this brings to mind another type of prayer that’s a little closer to home, and is similarly (in some ways even more) deplorable, yet so common, almost universal, that I doubt most people even give it a second thought:

Think about when there’s a missing persons case and an unidentified body is found. What’s the most common prayer you’ll hear?

“I’m praying it’s not him” (or her).

But think about the implications of that for a second. What they’re essentially saying is, “I knew there was already one person who’s missing, and very likely dead. But now I’m praying that there’s at least one person who IS dead, AND someone else who’s missing, and very likely dead.”

They’re essentially praying for ~1.9 deaths as opposed to 1.0 deaths, just for the possibility that the person who IS dead isn’t the one they’re hoping for.

“But surely what they really mean is they’re praying it’s not him/her AND praying that he/she is still alive”, one might say. Ok, well in that case they’re still praying for one person to be dead over another. Is that really that much better?

“Please God, kill this person I don’t know.”

And I really don’t mean for this to sound insensitive, since the people quoted saying this are usually the severely traumatized loved ones of those who are missing. And I can understand how in such a moment of extreme grief it’s natural that they would pray for any possible outcome other than the discovery that their loved one is dead. So I’m willing to give them a pass.

But what about the people who have no such connection, or any connection to the victims at all? Check out the comments section of any article about a missing persons case where a body is found, and you’ll see random people chiming in with the same prayer. It’s basically the default prayer in such a situation, much like “I’m praying for the family” might be for a typical story involving a family tragedy.

And almost certainly, these people simply mean it as such: as a gesture of support that they probably consider to be a sincere expression of kindness. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are quite literally praying for more death, or at the very least praying for someone to be dead who wouldn’t have been otherwise.