Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis /

Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis /

Atheists and others who don’t adhere to a religion often say they can be good without God. Now, three new studies appear to back them up.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted three experiments that show less religious people perform acts of generosity more from feelings of compassion than do more religious people. The findings were published in the current issue of the online journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Their results challenge traditional thinking about what drives religious people to perform acts of kindness for others.

“The main take-away from the research is that there may be very different reasons why more and less religious people behave generously, when they do,” said Robb Willer, an assistant professor of sociology at Berkeley and a co-author of the studies.

Christian Piatt 05-11-2012
Rodin's thinker, Rafael Ramirez Lee /

Rodin's thinker, Rafael Ramirez Lee /

Amy is incredibly intuitive, and she enjoys a faith that I find sort of mysterious. This extends beyond God to faith in other people too: another quality I tend to lack. When I met her, she was already serving in ministry, while I hadn’t darkened the door of a church in a decade. I got in trouble in church in the first place for doubting and questioning, which seemed to rub up against the more intuitive faith of those in my church at the time.

The message I got was that critical thought and faith simply didn’t mix. But in the more “progressive” mainline churches, I found a space in which such challenging questions were welcome. Small wonder, I guess, that some folks view such denominations and churches as fomenting atheism beneath the cloak of Christianity.

Priest Collar, AISPIX by Image Source /

Priest Collar, AISPIX by Image Source /

The Clergy Project is an online support network for pastors who have lost their faith and found atheism.

The goal of the project is not to pull pastors from the pulpit, but to provide those who have already lost their faith with a safe place to anonymously discuss what comes next. The hope is they will eventually feel strong enough to put their families, friends and careers on the line and announce their atheism.

“When you leave the ministry, you can lose all of that, “ said Dan Barker, a former minister, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a founder of The Clergy Project. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Who am I now?’ . . . . The Clergy Project is a place where their self-respect is restored.”

As millions of Americans bow their heads next Thursday (May 3) for the annual National Day of Prayer, atheists, humanists and other nontheists will mark a day of their own.

The National Day of Reason - or "NDR" in the shorthand of the nontheist community - will also be held May 3, part protest, part celebration and totally godless.

Christian Piatt 04-05-2012
Patrick Greene, via Christian Piatt

Patrick Greene, via Christian Piatt

Patrick Greene, a lifelong atheist known for his public stands against Christianity, recently announced that he has become a Christian.

There are lots of ways to look at this. Some Christians may take this as validation that they were right and atheists were wrong. Some might consider it a point for the good guys. But such attitudes further the divide between people with more in common than not. Aside from that, it misses the most important point.


Jack Palmer 04-04-2012
Alain de Botton. Image via

Alain de Botton. Image via

This is not another book that simply critiques religion. In Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, Alain de Botton, a noted author on a wide range of themes – from architecture to the works of Proust – examines those engaging and helpful aspects of religion (particularly focusing on Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism) that might, as he puts it, “fruitfully be applied to the problems of secular society.”

Anyone who might be offended by a work that from the outset (indeed on its very first page) asserts that “of course no religions are true in any God-given sense”, is encouraged to steer clear of this book by the author himself.

It is a book that seems to swing between revulsion of religion and the “religious colonization” that atheists are charged to reverse and a recognition that all is not well in the secular world, and that these ills may be somewhat righted by looking toward religion – let me clarify – toward those aspects of religious traditions that de Botton believes are relevant to the world today: community, kindness, education and art, for example.

The very first subject to be tackled is that of community – something that Sojourners knows a little something about (check out Nicole Higgins’ recent review of Wanderlust for some insights) – and what strikes me as interesting is that de Botton’s hypothesis on the loss of community mirrors a phrase often spoken by Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis:

Did we lose our sense of community when we began to privatize our faith?

Jack Star/PhotoLink

Jack Star/PhotoLink

Stripped of its supernatural elements, does religion have anything to offer atheists? What can nonbelievers borrow from the organizations, practices and rituals of believers -- without borrowing a belief in God?

According to Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton, a lot.

In his new book, Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion he outlines an array of things he contends religions get right and that atheists can adopt to create a better, richer secular society.

Christian Piatt 03-16-2012

Atheist activism is hardly news these days. Folks are feeling increasingly convicted about taking their disbelief public, and more specifically, pointing out the damage done by religion.

But it seems the most recent publicity campaign by a group called American Atheists has gone a little too far, even for those not in the religious sphere.

Human rights groups howled when the following billboard appeared in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:

Following a public uproar, the billboard promptly was replaced with one for the local symphony.

There are some more obvious concerns this kind of campaign raises, while others are more subtle. The point of the billboard is well taken, at least for me; the Bible has some messed up stories and rules in it. But cherry-picking isolated quotes like this from scripture is something that most in mainline Christianity consider a no-no. It’s called proof-texting, and it’s seen as tantamount to using the Bible as a weapon to further a personal agenda.

After more than a year of planning, atheists in the military will stage a public festival and rock concert celebrating their lack of religious beliefs at North Carolina's Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. military bases.

Dubbed "Rock Beyond Belief," the event is believed to be the first of its kind to highlight "freethought" -- atheism, humanism and skepticism -- on a U.S. military base.

Organizers hope the March 31 event will lead to broader recognition and support of nonbelievers in the armed forces, where they say they receive little support and often discrimination from an overly Christianized military.

Diana Fishlock 03-13-2012
RNS photo courtesy Carl Silverman

Atheist-sponsored billboard erected in on of city's most racially diverse neighborhoods. RNS photo courtesy Carl Silverman.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The billboard is down, but the issue's not gone.

A billboard erected in one of the city's most racially diverse neighborhoods featured an African slave with the biblical quote, "Slaves, obey your masters." It lasted less than a day before someone tore it down.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating the destruction to this billboard put up in one of the city's most racially diverse neighborhoods. RNS photo courtesy Carl Silverman.

Now, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating and is meeting with both the atheists who sponsored it as well as leaders of the NAACP who found it offensive and racially charged.

The atheists behind the sign said they were trying to draw attention to the state House's recent designation of 2012 as "The Year of the Bible" -- an action by lawmakers that the atheists have called offensive.

But there were concerns that erecting such a billboard is playing with fire.





Eboo Patel 03-01-2012

Chris Stedman's "faitheism" doesn't hate God, it loves people.

Woman image via Shutterstock

Now, a growing number of African-American nonbelievers are reaching out to others in their communities to help them confront these challenges. They are calling on atheists of all colors to make the fourth Sunday in February -- Black History Month -- a "Day of Solidarity with Black Nonbelievers."

About 15 groups in as many cities -- Dallas, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles -- have scheduled events for Feb. 26. Some will share a meal, others will make formal presentations and discuss the role of African-American freethinkers in history. But the real goal is to let closeted black atheists know they are not alone.

the Web Editors 02-22-2012

Religion And Politics Don't Mix, Major Religious Groups Tell Presidential Candidates; 25 Percent Of Super PAC Money Coming From Just 5 Rich Donors; POLL: Men, Evangelicals Boost Santorum; Southern Baptist Leaders OK 'Great Commission'; Obama Budget: Grow Prisons and Keep Gitmo; The Failure Of Austerity Politics (OPINION); Atheist Alain de Botton Insists Society Needs Guidance From Religion; Access To Good, Healthy Food Should Be A Basic Human Right; Protesters To GOP Candidates: Don't DREAM Halfway.

the Web Editors 01-23-2012

“You may not agree with religion, but at the end of the day, religions are so subtle, so complicated, so intelligent in many ways that they're not fit to be abandoned to the religious alone; they're for all of us.” — Alain de Botton in his "Atheism 2.0" TED Talk

Watch de Botton's "Atheism 2.0" talk inside the blog ...

Christian Piatt 01-17-2012
Atheist bumper stickers via Wiki Commons

Atheist bumper stickers via Wiki Commons

When I talk about myself in relationship to atheists I often sound like a post-civil-rights white person trying to minimize the gap between myself and another group.

I don’t have anything personally against atheists.

Some of my best friends are atheists.

I even like Ricky Gervais. He’s an atheist, you know.

All of this aside, I have tried in vain over the years to understand atheism. I’ve written about it several times, and whenever I do, I get a bucket of responses from atheists.

the Web Editors 10-28-2011

"Where my feminists at?" on #OccupyWallStreet. Test your global hunger knowledge. Race and OWS. Poverty in your backyard. How to be a "1 Percenter." OWS to march on banks. Romney embraces climate change denial. Magicians say their craft makes them see faith as little more than "hocus-pocus." Catholic University sued by Muslim students. And faith, political leaders find out how far food stamps actually go.

Anne Marie Roderick 10-27-2011

Did Jesus ever withhold love or healing for fear that he would give up too much of himself?

Did Jesus ever worry that the nature of God would change if he ate at certain tables, or touched certain kinds of people?

Of course not.

The Bible tells us that Jesus continually stepped out of the normative comfort zones of his day to extend his message of radical reconciliation.

I realized that my hesitation to embrace all people interested in an interfaith vision was mostly about my own fear, my own lack of faith. There was nothing Christ-like about it.

Jarrod McKenna 01-14-2010
Sam Harris, Richard Dawkin, and Christopher Hitchens have nothing on the greatest evangelist of atheism today, Pat Robertson.
Aaron Taylor 11-20-2009
Last week at the Innovative Evangelism Conference, I got a chance to hear Dinesh D'Souza speak to a standing room only crowd.
Becky Garrison 10-14-2009
In my ongoing quest to find a third way between the extremes espoused by the Religious Right and their secular counterparts, I came across the Frank Schaeffer's latest book