August Berkshire – Minnesota Atheist

April 04, 2011

One of the outstanding leaders of organized atheism in our day is a man named August Berkshire. He is a non-believer of broad sympathies, having served as an officer and/or board member of organizations as diverse as Minnesota Atheists, Atheist Alliance International, Humanists of Minnesota, Freedom from Religion Foundation, and others.

He is also a community activist at the forefront of church-state separation issues. August brings a winning charm and personal openness to numerous speaking engagements throughout the numerous college and high school classrooms in the Minneapolis area every year. He is a prolific author of thought-provoking anti-theological pamphlets and the caretaker of a website,

In this wide-ranging conversation with Robert Price, Berkshire discusses his history as an atheist activist. He explains his approach to talking about atheism to the public and why it works. He talks about what atheist activists can learn from the LGBTQ movement, why we need to come out as atheists, when we should work with religious groups and when we shouldn’t, and much more.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Monday, April 4th, 2011. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry. I’m Robert Price. Point of Inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reasons, science and secular values and public affairs. And at the Grass Roots with us today is August Burke. Sure. He’s been an atheist activist since 1984 and he’s currently president of Minnesota Atheists. He’s a past vice president of Atheist Alliance International. August has also served on the boards of directors of the Humanists of Minnesota, Camp Quest of Minnesota, American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation. August is on the Speakers Bureau for the Secular Student Alliance, and he speaks to a number of colleges and high schools each year. He’s written a number of pamphlets which you can find on his Web site. August Burke. Sure, dot com. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, August Burcher. 

Thanks, Barb. 

Honest. Tell us about the Minnesota atheists, if you will. 

Well, the roots of Minnesota atheists go back to 1984, where we were a chapter of American Atheists. They had a chapter system. And so we were the Twin Cities chapter of American Atheist, the Twin Cities, Big Minneapolis, St. Paul. And I was the co-founder of Back way back in 84. I was 24 years old. And I’m 51 now. I’ve been around for a while. And in 1991, American Atheists disbanded its chapters and we reincorporated independently in the state of Minnesota as Minnesota atheist. 

How would you define a fearsome. 

Well. There’s two kinds of acres. There’s a strong positive of them. And then there’s what’s called weak or negative EQM and the strong part of Ekis makes a positive assertion. The gods do not exist. And the weaker negative one merely says, I have a lack of belief in God due to the lack of evidence, lack of reason. And the compelling reason to believe in God. So it’s a tentative position, sort of like science in that way. 

Now, if we’re given a definition of God that we can actually test like Apollo and it’s flaming chariot. That’s something we can actually, you know, run a test on and say, no, you know, Apollo does not exist and we could all be strong atheist toward Apollo. 

Even most religious people are strong atheists toward Apollo because we can know as sure as we can know anything that, no, the sun is not caused by a guy in a flaming chariot. But if we look at the kind of God most people believe that he’s invisible, undetectable outside of time and space, we can’t examine that. So the best we can say is that there’s no reason to believe that such a god exists or we can’t disprove it. So we would be weak atheists toward that kind of a God. 

Yeah, that especially fascinates me. I wonder about the falsification criterion, the way God is so safely tucked away outside space and time, where in principle then there could be no thought of verification. You don’t even know what’s being claimed as says so is so convenient in some ways. Right, exactly. 

And so all we can do is when a believer says no, no, God is not removed from the world. But he intersected with the world here, here and here. He did this miracle here and that miracle there. Well, then that’s a claim that we can examine and figure, you know, there’s just no evidence that this was caused by the supernatural. 

Yeah, that’s great. And then if you say, well, there’s no evidence, so. Well, you wouldn’t feel that way if you believed that there was a God who could do anything. I know. But that’s the whole point at issue of lying. What do you think of another way of categorizing atheists that the new or militant atheists versus whatever the other kind is like with the whole thing now with Dawkins, Hitchens, Dan Harris? Like, are these guys needlessly confrontational in evangelistic? Is that really a new emphasis? And if so, what do you think of it? 

Well, it’s important to know that the new atheists don’t call weren’t the ones to call themselves new atheists. None of them think that they have different arguments that were used before and there certainly have been strident atheists before. This is something the press has come up with. They’re certainly more popular than they’ve ever been. And I’ve thought about this for a while, weird kind of 80s, I’m sure we have here in Minnesota, the two most well-known atheists are myself and Peezy Myers, and Peezy Myers is known for being one of these so-called strident the new atheists. And he referred to he and I as good cop, bad cop. My style is more laid back and friendly. And I used to know why I thought that, you know, if you’re attacking someone and ridiculing somebody, they’re going to get defensive and they’re not going to listen to you. And we don’t like it when people attack and ridicule us. Listen to someone in a reasoned manner, and we hope that they would listen to us. So I was pleased to be 100 percent against this kind of stridency and ridicule until I met a woman who had recently become an atheist. And she said it was just that kind of ridicule toward religion that shook her out of, I guess, her belief that she someone could be so unafraid of God and the devil that they could actually just lightheartedly ridicule it. That that woke her up. That sort of thing. 

Then it would say breaking the spell so that there can be some rule. I think we have to be really careful. Go after the ideas, not the people in Turkey. Respect each other’s fellow human beings. 

Yeah, that’s right. Otherwise, you’re simply trying to win an argument and that’s just adolescent. There’s no point in it unless you’re trying to improve people’s lives. 

We got a Christian radio show a couple years ago and they said, well, why are you so friendly? The kids are supposed to be angry. 

And I said, well, it’s insufficient reader. I said, it’s really simple. Atheists have won the intellectual war. We haven’t won the emotional war and we haven’t won the political war. But we have won the intellectual war because we have the best ideas. And I’m just here to spread the good news. And I really felt that way when I say atheists get angry. 

It was for one or two reasons usually. Either they knew they were right, but they couldn’t articulate it. And that’s not your opponents fault. If you can’t spell out your arguments well enough or they were just arguing with someone who was a lost cause and they didn’t know when to just give up and walk away. 

Those were the two main causes of Ekis getting angry. I thought, well, going to try to learn my stuff and know when to give up with people whose minds just can’t be changed. 

Yeah, you know, it’s tough to do that because they’re going to say, oh, well, we won. Look at this. But I have found with some people whose books or whatever, I’ve been invited to refute that it is so bizarre and completely wrong headed. It just be a waste of time and forget it. The time does come to walk away. 

Yeah. There are so many people who either agree with us or are on the fence and can be talked into agreeing with us that we don’t have to go after that 10 percent minority whose minds can never be changed. 

Mm hmm. It’s all it all comes down to votes. 

You know, if we can get 51 percent of the people to vote for separation of state, church and freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, that’s all we need. 

Now, this brings up something that really fascinates me about the many things Minnesota atheists do testifying in church state cases. I know you’ve you were recently testifying in the state capital of Minnesota. Can you tell us what the issue was and what happened? 

Yeah, I wanted to back up just a second, talk about the three purposes. And the third purpose of Minnesota is we’ll get into that. Our first purpose is to provide a community for atheists. And this doesn’t mean to turn everyone in the community into an atheist. It just means to say there is an atheist community where there are gay communities and black communities. And if you are an atheist or you’re interested in hanging out with atheists because we’re cool, here’s a community you can come to and we’re the only ones that are going to do that. I mean, we’re Christians could provide an atheist community. Atheists have to do that. So we have gatherings and social events and things like that. So community faith, this is the first thing. Second purpose is educate the public about each of them. Now, this is something that can be done somewhat through the university system. You can take a course and learn about each of them, but there’s not a lot of that out there. And we wanted to be able to educate the public about Sikhism rather than have Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson tell people what atheists are. We should it’s worth telling people what atheists are. So what a couple of debates we get. The word out is through festivals. We did like six gay pride just last year. And speaking at schools, high schools, colleges, even Christian schools, we speak at educating the public. And third is to promote separation of state and church. 

And that includes lobbying at the state capital. And we did recently, a couple weeks ago, lobby to unknown blue war still on the books in Minnesota that you can’t buy a liquor at a liquor store on Sundays, on Thanksgiving, on Christmas Day. And liquor stores had to close early on Christmas Eve. So this is very clearly a law, although it was the liquor industry itself that didn’t want it changed because they didn’t want to be open another day and they wanted to have the state enforce restrictions and everybody, which is a bit of a capitalist. But the roots of the law are clearly, you know, an open war. These these days were hardly picked at random. 

Yet if the argument this was brought up in testimony, if the argument is you don’t want to spread six days of business into seven, then the most logical way to shut down might be on a Tuesday. Not on Sunday, the second business, busiest shopping day of the week. So a bill was proposed, and this often happens during tough tax times when you’re looking to get more revenue for the state instead of seeing people on Sundays driving to the border states in Wisconsin and North Dakota on Sundays to get their liquor or keep them in Minnesota to buy their liquor. So we can tax it. A bill was put forward to allow liquor sales at liquor stores on Sundays, Thanksgiving, and to make Christmas Eve a normal day, but Christmas Day was still banned in this bill. And we testified that, hey, that’s favoritism toward Christianity. And in fact, the bill got amended to make Christmas just like any other day. In fact, it was just liquor sales 365 days a year. And we testified in committee and it passed out of committee. And I don’t know to what extent our testimony affected it, but we we claim it is a victory. 

Yeah, that’s really the boots on the ground approach, you’re actually doing something instead of just talking about it. That’s I really admire that. 

There’s a couple other, I think, interesting examples. One was a couple of years ago the school lunch program where the state subsidizes lunches for poor children. And where do they go to public schools or private schools? This is still a subsidy and we don’t object to that even if the private school kids got to eat. So. But since Jewish schools wanted extra money to pay for kosher meals. And we said, no, no. And he admitted that the only purpose of the extra money was for religious purpose to make it kosher because kosher ingredients cost more. And we went said, no, no, no. If they want kosher meals, they can pay the difference themselves. You know? We have no objection to basic nutrition. But, you know, with freedom of religion comes responsibility to pay for that religion. And this bill was supported by Muslims and Catholics and supported by Muslims. Can they have their Hillal meals that probably cost more Catholics? Didn’t really have a. A stake in it, except that there’s probable support, anything that breaks down separation. 

So any money that can go to private schools for lunches, for anything, they’re hoping down the line, that’s going to go for vouchers for their schools. They responded to three religions supporting this bill. We really only wants to testify against it. 

And we testified against that at separationists church grounds and also on financial grounds. Because I found this the Dartmouth College, which is a private school, they could do what they want, they had done this experiment and set up different kitchens with different utensils. It it cost them over a million dollars to do it. 

All this and I said, are we going to do this to every school? You know, this is an economic black hole. So separatist, a state church for the Democrats, economic black hole for the Republicans. And we weren’t we were the only ones testifying against him and the bill was scuttled. So that was a victory for us. 

Wow. Nice work. Do you think it is? And bless her. No reasons that different religious groups, big ones are falling on real hard times. 

And do you think eventually organized a fearsome will have worked itself out of a job precisely by succeeding? 

Well, that would be great. Was kind of Sam Harris’s point that we shouldn’t even need the word atheist should be the case that so few people, few people believe in God, that we don’t need to create a word that’s against it. We don’t have a unicorn. So, I mean, that’s it. And he you know, he’s right there. That would be a nice place to reach. But we’re not there yet. I have a friend who’s an anthropologist and he said, well, religion is always going to be with us at some level. But we when I look at religion, your religious people are having more offspring than atheists. And yet ageism is increasing. So this must mean, in my way of thinking, that religion is a secondary evolutionary trait. It wasn’t a primary thing. 

Yeah. Meeting is a primary thing. The ability for blood to carry oxygen is a primary characteristic. The fact that it’s read is a secondary call. It doesn’t really matter. It’s a secondary characteristic. So I think religion must be a secondary characteristic to something else that was primary for survival or else we couldn’t educate ourselves out of it so easily. It’s just my thoughts. I mean, I’m not a scientist to the theory or anything, but I’m just amazed that, you know, it isn’t as increasing as much as it has. 

Well, do I know you have done actual studies of news items and surveys and the like about the word atheist? Some because some feel it is such a red flag, that atheist sort of take cover under some other Gnomon culture, like blights our or whatever the heck else. 

But you say that that is, in fact not the case, that there’s not that much evidence that that people are so horrified by the word anymore. I got that right. 

Yeah. I mean, even before 9/11, I was trying to make this case. I spent two years trying to find many uses of the word atheist in the press, and it was usually neutral or positive in the media. So I was trying to make the case even before 9/11, even before the new atheists, that we should be using the word atheist, that we don’t have as much to fear from us as people think. And in fact, the American Humane Association finally agreed, and they should get egoism as the elephant in the room. It can’t be ignored. It’s there. It’s not the only thing. You know, we need humanism, too, but we can’t ignore Ekis. It seems to me, and for your many, many years of service, you use any other word, humanist, freethinker, rationalist, whatever, you’re going to have to start defining it because people don’t know what it means. And so you start defining it and you say it somewhere along the line, you’re going to say, well, I don’t believe in anything supernatural. And they’ll say, oh, you don’t believe in God, is it? Well, yeah, I don’t believe in God. Oh, so you’re an atheist. And it’ll look like you’re trying to hide it. 

And so I’d like to start with the word atheist for two reasons. First, most people have a pretty decent idea of what an atheist is. And second, you are right off the bat. You’ve called yourself the worst thing that they can think to call you. You’ve done it yourself. And so you’ve disarmed them. And if you especially if you do it in a friendly, relaxed way, yeah. I’m an atheist. And if you don’t make that big a deal out of it, it helps them not to feel so threatened by it or. That’s such a big deal. Let’s just get the idea to J. I’m an atheist. OK. Next, what do I talk about? I find that works really well. And another thing, too, is that. Almost any other phrase you use of religious people, my person might use it to religious people. Even the last pope called himself a humanist and a lot of religious people think they’re free thinkers. Oh, I’m not bound by any dogma. I’m a freethinking believer and I’m rational. My beliefs are rational. So they call themselves irrational. There’s only two phrases they won’t use to call. One is eight of them and one is secular humanism. So those two, in particular humanism is a lot longer, is a short and sweet. You don’t have to define it much. So I’d like to start with the word atheist. But even there’s not enough egoism, simply a lack of belief in God. And so we do need an ethical system. And that’s where the humanism comes in. 

Do you think it would be an advantage if all of these atheist rationalists, humanists, Freethought, etc, groups actually united formally, or is it better to have different groups covering different issues and interests? 

Well, of a monolith would be quite powerful, but it’s not going to happen given human nature. And a lot of groups do have slightly different emphasis. So at least, though, we’ve learned to cooperate. You see that in the past, say, five years, much more cooperation between the national atheists, Hubertus Freethought groups than ever before. Because what we’re realizing is that we to treat it sort of as a zero sum game where there’s only a certain amount of atheists out there. 

And if I don’t get them, you’re going to get them. And so I got to get them first. 

And I got a know outcompetes you wouldn’t really probably only one percent of all the people in the country who are atheist humanists, freethinkers actually belong to a national group. And so there’s a huge amount of untapped members out there. So if we cooperate, we can get more attention for ourselves than it is. Kind of like a rising tide lifts all boats. And so we can get more attention for ourselves, get the people out there who don’t belong to any of our groups and people can join multiple groups. So there’s that. So we’ve seen much more cooperation, much more friendliness. Leaders of one group speaking at the conferences of another group, and there’s still a certain friendly rivalry from the competition. And that’s fine. But I think the cooperation has been very good. 

Are you influenced in any way like learning tactics and so forth from some of these other groups that you you deal with, like the lesbian gay can never get on the LGBTQ? What is it? The lesbian, gay, bi sexual, transgender something or that? 

I’m forgetting one of the the digits there. But these movements are the ACLU or whatever. Do you find that as an atheist group you’re learning helpful organizational or tactical lessons from them? 

For decades I’ve been learning from them. Why have they been so successful? Number of reasons. First of all, they came out so that it was harder to have a stereotype against them. If you bury your neighbors, friends and your relatives, you’d have to admit that they were nice people. 

By a margin, meekest by a large or nice people for coming out of the closet was a big thing. Second of all, they didn’t try to convert people into being gay in night. 

I noticed that from the atheist approach. If I’m not trying to come across as converting somebody like saying you’re bad if you don’t believe my way. And I tried not to have that attitude. I try more to have the attitude of, oh, if you want to have a discussion, I’m certainly happy to tell you why I have my point of view and certainly happy to tell you why I think your arguments are not persuasive. But I have to realize, in the end, people come to their own conclusions. And I have adopted a more live and let live attitude, and actually that gets me invited more to Christian schools because I have that attitude, because I can just kind of calmly sit there and present my world view. It counters two things that basically prove for their review, but not get antagonistic, not in any way ridicule them or put them down. And we can have a friendly dialog and. What I’m trying to do is convert them actually not so much into atheists is convert them in to other ways. I wanted to see that they can have doubts about religion and follow those doubts and end up a happy person, because a lot of times they’re told if you don’t have a God, your life is meaningless. You might as well kill yourself. There’s no purpose in life. And I want to show that, yes, there is purpose in life. You can have an enjoyable life. So if you have doubts, don’t be afraid to follow them. That might be where I can convert them. They’re just in the area of being able to ask questions. And secondly, I want to convert them, as you know, believe what you want to believe. But atheists are good people who agree with you on a lot of things of making this world a better place on environmental issues, helping the poor. So you shouldn’t and we’re not trying to outlaw your freedom of religion, your ability to worship, you know who you want and donate to your church. We’re not trying to take away your religious rights. So if there’s an atheist running for political office, don’t be afraid to vote for that atheist because that atheists will protect your rights and will agree with you on a lot of the issues here on Earth. 

You know, I’ve seen you interact with evangelical Christian college students and with the I forget this, the name of this this fine lady that organized the thing, we both talk with her. You would have thought you were a faculty member at that school. I mean, there was so much goodwill and nothing but positivity. Is there anything else you you’d want to tell us about your work in high schools and college classrooms here? 

For about 25 years now, since 1985. I’ve been speaking at public high schools, comparative religion classes where they use outside speakers. So one day they know the Catholic might come in and another day a rabbi and a Muslim, and then one day the ACRS me comes in and when you’re in a public high school, you have to be really careful about not proselytizing to the tax money. Can’t be used for converting people one way or the other. And I really respect that. I don’t want the Catholics coming in or, you know, the Muslims coming in and telling people, believe my way or you’re a bad person or ridiculing the students. And I don’t do that either. And I think people should learn about the tenets of a lot of these religions because it’s out there. Learn what the five pillars of Islam are. For example. So I’m not afraid of ideas as long as they can be thoroughly discussed. So when I go when I say, you know, this is what ethe Houzan is, this is how he’s thinking, I’m always putting it back on myself. I’m not putting it on the students. So I’m saying this is what I think, this is what we think. And you can see why we would have doubts. I never say this is why you should have a doubt. This is why you should change your mind. I always put it back on myself, and that gets them to thinking, well, maybe he’s got a point. I should ask about. Maybe he doesn’t have a point. It’s never like a high pressure sale. It’s all just educational. Informative. Why? We’re coming from where we’re coming from. 

I especially like this approach. And I don’t mean pose. I mean approach of saying, look, I can just speak for myself. But here is what is convincing to me. Here is why I find this hard to accept. To me, that makes so much difference that you’re not trying to sell somebody and convince them. You just leave it to them and say, look, I find this approach. Here’s why change my mind. That’s going to force them to think about it, which is all you’re trying to do. You’re not trying to manipulate them into agreeing with you. And that, it seems to me, really clears the air. I try to do that in debates, too. And. And you do get good responses from if not from the person debating, at least from people in the audience. And that’s what counts. Fascinating. 

I mean, at the end, people have to change their own minds. You can’t reach in with your fingers and rewire the neurons. And she literally changed her mind. They had to change their own minds. The best you can do is appeal to the curiosity to get them intrigued, to follow what you’re saying. 

So that’s what we try to work on. 

Bravo. Yeah. 

Do you think this sounds kind of odd, but the fact that you get along so well with humane religious people, do you think, as some do, that atheists ought to participate in interfaith organizations or activities or is at sending the wrong signal? 

You know, that’s a good question. And I kind of go back and forth on that. I thought I certainly think we should unite for the common goal of separation of state church, and I’m happy to work with any religious group that wants to keep state church separate to the benefits, both of us of. But in other ways. You know, there’s the idea that while we’re giving credence to their religion by by cooperating with them. That’s one extreme. The other extreme is now you’re just showing that your family can get along and you can agree to disagree on one issue and cooperate on another. So for charitable works, for example, should you get together with a religious group and do a charitable work together? Or should you each do your own separate charitable works? And I guess I probably am leaning more toward the cooperation and that I think you can, as long as which working towards something to better humanity, life on Earth. We can all agree that hate life on earth exists and we want it to be a better place. And for the ultimate motive. Well, if you want to be a better place to please your God, I’m not going to agree with that. I want to be a better place to please humans. But I think cooperation is possible and it can usually be good. 

Yeah, I no, there’s a danger, though, in playing into the hands of creationists. If one says, well, human is some or a fearsome is a religion in some sense, then you’re just inviting the absurd thing about how you’re darn right it is. And evolution is the creation myth of this religion. But nothing you’re suggesting opens the door to that. 

Oh. I think what you’re saying is if it goes under the label of interfaith, then you’re setting up what you’re talking about. Oh, well, then eating them as a faith. Yeah. Yeah. That’s Governor. Real worry of that word. Interfaith. But if you’re just getting together with another group without an overarching label or if you a marching label as a secular thing like know people for clean parts or something like that, and you do get together with the Presbyterians and you clean up a park and you wear your wreath, your shirts, and they wear the Presbyterian Church. Glenn Beck would be fine. 

What would you say are some of the biggest issues atheists as a group still have on the agenda in the coming years? A billion things are changing in that there is more friendliness. DaVita’s. What do you think are the agenda items that are emerging? 

Well, the thing we took on ourselves 10 years ago with our family, this track was to make 80s and part of the mainstream to get a seat at the table. 

Instead, to always be the village idiot atheist on the outside, throwing rocks to engage the community, to be part part of the community, to get a seat at the table. And we’re still working on that. But we’re much more successful than we’ve ever been before. Entertains stereotypes, people have a body. It just still confuses me today. Why people would think atheists are just automatically immoral just cause they don’t believe in a God. Just coming out of the closet is where that’s going to help people realize, oh, you’re an atheist. You’re a nice person. Oh, okay. I guess it’s possible to be good without God. And I don’t even know why that stereotype exists. 

Yeah, that shows the surprising degree, I think, to which Christian teaching has hammered away at that. 

And it’s almost surprising that they would like what? What is the the reward for Christian thinking? To say that I mean, you’re already teaching that there’s original sin and everybody’s a center. Isn’t that enough? Do you have to portray members as some group as as so nihilistic? The Fed don’t even want morality. It’s just so strange. And it’s amazing. Some people don’t see that as as bigotry and slander. Maybe they’re beginning to think they are. 

Maybe it’s just part and parcel with, you know, when you’re worldly was based on invisible things. You’ve really got a hammer away that you’re right. And one of the ways that you’re right is ethically. 

Your morals with the right. And you have to come from the invisible being. We can’t allow that. That could come from anywhere else where you might lose your belief in this invisible being. 

Well, maybe that’s why they hammered on it. I think a lot of others just genuinely can’t see how they can come from evolutionary means. They think of evolution as only conflict, survival of the fittest, beat out the other guy selfish. 

And they don’t realize that the competition is an evolutionary strategy that gets rewarded. But so is cooperation, especially among social animals like humans. Cooperation can be rewarded, too. And that’s where we get empathy and helping one another. These can be rewarded. And you don’t need any gods involved. 

Yeah, I have so many ironies. I see. From the standpoint of having studied theology and then seen problems with it, I wish more believers would understand the simple thing that the Thomas Aquinas did. 

That what is right and what is wrong are obvious to anybody, whether they believe in Jehovah, Apollo or nothing, because it’s just what enhances an optimum society that for human beings to get along. He said now God has an interest in your being moral. But that’s another question. It’s a this is the kind of animal we are and that dictates what’s right and wrong. It’s so simple. And one of the biggest theologians ever said it, but common religious people just can’t get that through their head. It’s it’s amazing. 

And it’s got to be because of indoctrination. 

There’s a big. This is just something that came into my mind from having visited out there. There’s a large contingent, I believe, of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, which in some ways because the temperature and so on is the last place you might expect to find them. Has this given you any special insight into two things? The issue of Muslim assimilation into American culture or the lack of it on the one hand and on the other? What what the atheist approach to non Western people might be since their, you know, their background is so different and all permeated with Islam or whatever? 

Well, you’re right. It is sort of ironic. The cold state like Minnesota. Not sure how that ended up happening, but a lot of them are in my neighborhood. Right. Which is a huge Somali Muslim population. And I remember seeing my first bumper sticker that said Praise Allah. And I was actually pleased because I thought, this is what we want. We want praise Allah, praise vision to praise trooper. We want to get it out there. The fact that there are a lot of gods and everyone is believing in their own God because of indoctrination. So comparative religion works to our advantage, I think. So I actually kind of like that bumper sticker that way in that way. The Muslim community has had some difficulties integrating some of things you might have heard about. There were Muslim taxi drivers at the airport, didn’t want to pick up people who had liquor. Maybe they bought it at the duty free shop there because the Muslims are against alcohol and they didn’t want the cab drivers. Muslim cab drivers didn’t want to pick up passengers that were carrying with them. So that was a culture clash there. Another one is in the Target stores to check out people. If they were Muslim, often they didn’t. If someone at the super targets now where they sell groceries, if someone had bought some bacon or some other pork products. The clerk didn’t want to touch it and scan it because they’re not supposed to touch pork. So that became an issue. A couple examples of cultural issues. And at least in the case of Target, they just reassign them to other parts of the store, like stop people where they didn’t have to stock a product that they didn’t want to start to. There’s plenty of other things to stock. 

So that’s how the that was handled. I talked about the type of school, the public charter school that’s backed by Muslims with the charge that they’re illegally promoting Islam at the school. In fact, the school is making some changes to try to address those allegations. So those are three areas of conflict. But I have to say that the vast majority of Muslims that I’ve met, a Somali immigrant, Muslims are white and hardworking, good neighbors. And I’ve had I’ve had a good experience with them. I think they are assimilating and. You know, I think the cultural things, extreme cultural things will fade. 

I wonder if certain things as such as you mention, are even stipulated in the Sharia like a thing with not being able to touch pork. Well, I can see that. Is it unclean? Technically, but you’re not touching the raw meat in a supermarket. It’s all plastic covered in. So. I would just personally be really curious as to what the the Islamic teachers actually say about that. It could be that they’re this is just like a kind of popular extrapolation. But I don’t I treif and find out such a thing. 

Yeah. They might find out ways around it, like you say that if you’re not directly touching your touching plastic. 

I mean, that’s the way I feel about vegetables in general, but never religion back in the. Yup. I wonder if you can tell me anything. Tell us about the pamphlets. You’re a pretty prolific pamphleteer, which I personally has. Empathize with a great deal. 

Well, I’ve written a number of pamphlets. One is eight years them one to one, which is some basic atheist arguments. The seven seas of Athie ism, consistency, clarity, etc.. One of the problem of evil, one particular look at the biblical Ten Commandments and shows that most of them would be unconstitutional. We tried to pass them. And these are all available at my personal Web site. August Burcher dot com. You can read them as essays, but then there’s also a button down to the bottom of the left hand column. This pamphlet template downloads. These are pre formatted so people could just print them out and follow them in half or take them to their printers and run off their own pamphlets. Or if you’re a high school or college group and you want me to send you a batch of free ones. I’d be happy to do that, too. 

Now, what about the many Minnesota Atheists Web site? What if the Minnesota atheist dot org? What good are you so listeners find there? 

Well, of Minnesota ECUs has a weekly wive radio show on Sunday morning. It’s called Atheist Talk. And that’s why here in the Twin Cities and then we turned it into a podcast and then we have a cable TV show, that’s not wise. But it’s pretaped time and shown around the Twin Cities area. And then that turned into a podcast and then our monthly meetings with speakers. We videotape and turn into podcasts or all these podcasts or radio show or TV show of speakers. That meetings are all podcast. And they’re all free. You can get them through our website, Midcity, your thoughts or you can also go to free items. That’s the biggest Putih we have on our Web site. 

Well, you guys again. You can be the atheist Ted Turner here soon. The king of all media, Howard Stern. 

Amazing stuff. Now, I got to ask you one question. It’s not that I’ve saved the best for last or anything, but I give the impression that so much of organized atheist human humanism, especially as they say. All right, here’s what we believe we can take that is read. Let’s go out and get actively involved in changing the world. It seems to me it is very heavily on the left politically. I tend not to be on some issues. And so I’ve always find it fascinating to be an outsider in an atheist or humanist group doesn’t bother me because I bring up those criteria for whether I like or accept people or not. But are there many such outsiders? Do you find that there is room for conservative weirdos and Republicans who like me in organized humanism and Athie ism? 

Well, in Minnesota, atheist, their current secretary is a Republican. So we made some room for him. But you’re right, demographically, most atheists are Democrats, Greens and few libertarians thrown in there for Democrats to that. That is what we are. But the atheists benefit because we focus on what unites us, not what divides us. So we’ve focused on eight years of separation of state church that even conservatives will support that science education. 

I mean, science knows the left or right. The facts are the facts, wherever they are. And we don’t see we don’t endorse political parties. We don’t endorse candidates or any kinds of economic systems. And we don’t say, for instance, how much taxes should be. We just say you shouldn’t use taxes to promote religion. So we are of more limited focus just on a strict structure, science issues. And that’s where we found that to be very uniting. I don’t think anyone’s been politically alienated in that group, in humanist groups where they dupe research into more social issues. You might get more difficulty finding a home for conservatism. Sure. Well, another thing we emphasize, too, actually, is human rights, that gay. Gay people should have the right to marry. In fact, even conservatives would agree with that, that the state should not discriminate against its citizens in offering civil marriage. Religions could do what they want. We don’t care. But the state has to treat all of its citizens equally. So on issues like gay rights, euthanasia, a number of other human rights, there’ll be even conservatives. Most will go along with that. Probably the biggest dividing thing is abortion. There are conservative atheists who are against abortion and. But demographically, the vast majority of atheists are pro-choice. 

I have to say, you once again, you guys have really judiciously defined issues, I think, in a very wise way. And I’m glad that you’ve not fallen into the paralysis that many people do on the issue of supposed sensitivity like in this. Suppose you said, well, there are a few guys like Price out there that are more conservative, so let’s just avoid any issue that might offend these people, that might darken our door one day, because that’s the sure path to totally relevance and being non-committal on everything. And I’m glad you have escaped that. That’s that’s that’s great work. This is very illuminating. And you got a lot to teach. Hockley’s various human is navia groups. I hope you’re the influence of you and your groups continue to spread. Sure. Sure. Great having you on here, August. I’d like to have you back. Go any old dime. 

Well, thanks, Bob. It’s been great chatting with you. And we’ll have to get you out here to Minnesota again. 

Oh, I love it. What a place. Oh, thanks for being on point of inquiry. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to get involved with an online conversation about today’s show. Join the online discussion forum at point of inquiry dot org. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed for us by Emmy Award winner Michael Wayland. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Robert Price. 

Robert M. Price

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1954, Robert Price moved to New Jersey in 1965. At Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary he took an MTS degree in New Testament (1978), then, at Drew University, a PhD in Systematic Theology (1981) and a second PhD in New Testament (1993). He has served as Professor of Religion at Mount Olive College, North Carolina, pastor of First Baptist Church, Montclair, NJ, and Director of the Metro NY Center for Inquiry. He founded and edited the Journal of Higher Criticism and has authored scores of articles on the Bible and religion. His books include Beyond Born AgainThe Widow Traditions in Luke-ActsDeconstructing JesusThe Incredible Shrinking Son of ManThe Da Vinci FraudThe Reason-Driven LifeThe Pre-Nicene New TestamentJesus Is Dead, and The Paperback Apocalypse. Price is a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. He served as Professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies at Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary and Professor of Biblical Criticism for the Center for Inquiry Institute in Amherst, NY. He and his wife Carol and daughters Victoria and Veronica live in Selma, NC.