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Is the word "tolerance" in the bible actually? Anyone?


Is the word "tolerance" in the bible actually?

I don't know...

but it doesn't look good...

Good article!

Well-written... and really scary.

Andrew T.

I know "scariness" isn't a criteria that can easily be separated along state borders or distilled to a neat quantitative scale, but great job putting together this piece.


After reading this compilation of the most recent goings-on, it makes me really despair that anything can ever change.
I'm normally a very optimistic person, but sometimes I feel hopeless that things can change...then I think of other groups that have made progress, and I know it can happen, someday.

Andrew T.

Oddly enough, this piece doesn't depress me. It gives me encouragement how atheists are banding together, making themselves visible, and refusing to submit to injustice and slink into the background...even in the scariest of never before. Every other social justice movement has been at this stage at some point.

Renee Davis-Pelt

Things may eventually change, but it is a very slow process. It seems like kids today are more receptive to people who are "different" from them and a lot more tolerant. I have hope that the kids will make much faster progress, but I'm afraid that if the people currently pushing for a theocracy wind up taking control of our government, then progress will come to a screeching halt. Like it's been said, see "Christian Reconstruction."


I am from the UK so I am curious about something that was mentioned in the article. Some states still have laws that forbid atheists from holding political office. I'm guessing that even more states probably had such laws but some have since been repealed. I have a basic knowledge of US history so I am wondering if the states passed their anti atheist laws before the constitution was drawn up, or at least before it took its current form. The alternative possibility is that the constitution existed but the states in question simply ignored it, but to be honest I find that a little hard to believe.

I sometimes wonder whether this whole Church-State seperation thing is such a good idea. It is brilliant in theory but in practice it just seems to cause trouble. In England we have a government sponsored Church, the Church of England or CofE. Religious freedom from the CofE has been gained for each religious minority, one by one, over about four hundred years. We now have a society that is mostly indifferent to religion, people who take religion seriously are considered to be mentally subnormal and the head of the CofE is a figure of fun. Maybe what you need is a CofUS, The Christians would think that it was totally brilliant when it was first set up but within a decade would find themselves being laughed at. Well maybe.


Just realised that I need to clarify something. The Head of the CofE is acually the Queen. She is mostly regarded by the English people with a certain amount of affection. The figure of fun is the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, the CofE's top Bish.

Greta Christina

Stonyground, in answer to your question: In 1961, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to bar atheists from holding public office, testifying in court, serving on juries, etc. Before then, many states not only had laws like this on the books -- they were regularly enforced. Since then, these laws have not had any legal standing, and as far as I know they have not been enforced -- but in many states, they're still on the books. And in North Carolina, some jackasses actually tried to enforce it. They got shot down -- the 1961 Supreme Court decision was pointed out to them -- but still.


I have to disagree with your characterization of Rhode Island as a "state specifically founded as a place of religious freedom, as a response to religious persecution," Greta. The fact is that the Puritan colonies of New England were founded as places of religious freedom for Puritans, not for anybody else. In fact, people deemed heretics by the Puritans, such as Quakers, were liable to be tortured and banished (which is a major factor in William Penn's founding of the "holy experiment" of what would become Pennsylvania; everybody had it in for the Quakers back in the 17th & 18th centuries). The Establishment Clause is based in no small part on the fact that the thirteen colonies contained adherents of several religious sects, each of which regarded the others as heretics, and none of which trusted the others with worldly power.


Kind of hard to see how you would get reliable data without going door to door and asking, but I am thinking a giant map, with every town and city on it, which shows how nasty the place tends to be, by people's own statements. A system that asked your state and town, then had a poll, would semi-work, but it would only show what people that use the internet think, and... not sure how skewed that would be, never mind the near impossibility of verifying that each vote was actually unique. Still, its would, unlike a lot of other polls, which just try to track trends, be harder to muck with. You would need some clown to keep entering Blah, TX, random age, and checking, "We don't mind them.", or what ever, over and over, to really screw with the result as badly as you would otherwise get with the straight one, which didn't track location. Also, one solution is to not give a "see the results", sort of thing, unless you figured out some general metric to show, but kept the specific data on state, and individual city levels, closed until you finalized the result.

Door to door would work better for the "adult" trend, the net version, better for those under 30, probably, but, like I said, its hard to keep people from messing with the numbers, even if just "grossly", by voting random cities, and claiming they like atheists, or hate them. But, and "poll", run RL is going to skew to the people least likely to reflect future trends (i.e., those already set in their opinions). And, you are never going to get an honest answer from anyone under 18, if the parents have to be there "watching", or they are in a crowd of others, who push them to the "correct" answer.

Closest you could get is track IP, but that wouldn't work either, since you end up with only a single result, from each house, if you end end up with that. :(

All of which doesn't even answer, "What questions?" I don't think its as simple as yes or no, since that ends up landing in the "perception" category. I.e., they might be willing to accept "quiet" ones, but not, "pushy ones". That this is a stupid distinction, doesn't change the fact that the perception that they are pushy, by some, is likely to skew the answer in a way that demands they answer, "I don't like them.", to all atheists, when a wider range of options would show that there is a, "I don't mind them", category they do accept (entirely based on their own biased view of how pushy atheists are being, and nothing else).

Still, would be interesting if a real effort on the matter could be made. As an example of the sort of problem you run into with this stuff though, it is sort of like how it would be nice to see someone do a rational examination of who is "Republican Tea Party", "Libertarian Tea Party", "I am too stupid to even be a Libertarian Tea Party", and the "I am concerned about government spending, because: list of clear abuses, problems, defects in systems, and need to reform them Tea Party".

The last one I would even join. But, as things stand, you can't even *get* most people into the last one, when its the one they would actually prefer, because there are too many people in the other 3 categories. People that either, in order of above, a) don't believe in the existence of the problem being discussed, except that it helps them hide the very problems that need to be fixed, while not fixing them, and chasing nonsense as a distraction, b) those who help come up with the moon beams, magical unicorns, and damned government leprechauns they all babble their concern about, and the first group pretends to pick up nets and go hunt, and c) people that class *everything* as bad, if its government, because they, literally, don't know enough to balance their own check book, so can't understand what the government actually *does* need to do to balance theirs, other than, "spend less money", which btw, they can't manage themselves.

Point being, there are a lot of questions that can only be answered with, "What the hell is really going on?", and instead get, invariably, answered with, "What do you think is going on, without us bothering to make the slightest attempt at clear, precise examples, instead of vague, useless statistics." And, something like the "atheist" question is bound to, if you let them know what the trend in their own town is, in the process of collection, leave some morons with the need to ignore the real results (healthcare and social security anyone?), and/or skew, the result in favor of what they *want to be true* (as in, "our town hates them atheists, even if 90% of the people say they don't").

Still, some attempt is better than letting the village idiot collect nearly useless information, which is what we are *currently* dealing with.

Robert B

I sometimes wonder whether this whole Church-State seperation thing is such a good idea. It is brilliant in theory but in practice it just seems to cause trouble.

Stonyground, that's like saying that sexual harassment laws seem like a good idea, but in practice they just lead to lawsuits. The alternative to "causing trouble" here is for the victims (atheists, in this case, but the principle applies to many minorities) to quietly accept their fate. If we do that, the more privileged groups don't have any trouble at all - everything's fine for them. Which means nothing will ever change for us. In other words, the real trouble is the social injustice that already exists, and the "trouble" caused by invoking separation of church and state is just the process of making everyone else acknowledge the problems.

I don't know much about your country, but I would guess that if you do have fewer problems with this sort of thing than we do, it might be because you have a more secular culture than the US, despite technically being a religious state.

I have to disagree with your characterization of Rhode Island as a "state specifically founded as a place of religious freedom, as a response to religious persecution," Greta. The fact is that the Puritan colonies of New England were founded as places of religious freedom for Puritans, not for anybody else.

Ah, but Rhode Island is the great exception. It was founded by Roger Williams specifically for religious freedom.

Jen Henderson

Recent events in my neighborhood I think merit another addition--perhaps #11? I live in Giles County, VA, where a display of the Ten Commandments in a public school has caused an outcry among this homogenous Christian community and some pretty nasty retribution against those of us who don't "Defend the 10."

As you aptly note, it's not about state lines but about a general fear of and hatred for non-believers. When I "came out" as an atheist to my local bridge club, it was one of the scarier and more tension-filled moments of my adulthood. Thanks for the great post!


Wow... that's all very enlightening and somewhat disturbing. I grew up in an atheist household back in the 1970's and it was always something we were supposed to keep secret. I never really understood why, but perhaps it's starting to sink in...


@Robert B
I agree that it is absolutely right that governments should be completely neutral towards all of its citizens with no favours for religion, race etc. The point that I was making, and I admit that I have to make assumptions about causes, is that it seems to have the opposite effect to the one intended.

I also realise that I contradicted myself when speculating about how quickly the problem might go away. It took us hundreds of years and religious freedom was won in tiny increments.

Six of the best

My hero's are Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. Both renowned gentlemen are atheist's, and so am I. The world came about because of EVOLUTION, and will continue to do so, now and forever more. Religion to me is 'mumbo jumbo'. For any person can be a 'good' person without being religious.


Dear Six of the best,

If you wish to impersonate atheists on atheist websites, I would suggest the following tips:

1. Learn what the greengrocer's apostrophe is. Shun it. Atheism is all about the good grammar. Example: my heroes are atheists who know how to use apostrophes properly.

2. Learn what evolution is. Hint: it did not create the world.

3. Religion is mumbo jumbo and any person can be good without religion. There's no need for scare quotes.

4. (Optional) Picking a screen name that's an allusion to Christian mythology (the number of the beast) is a bit strange.

With these tips, perhaps you will be able to engineer a reverse-Poe.

Stonyground: just to expand on what Greta said, above, one additional complicating factor is that when the US constitution was ratified, the federal government had less influence and the individual states had more autonomy. It was only after the Civil War in the 1860s that the 14th amendment was passed, which guaranteed every citizen the rights given in the national constitution, trumping any lower laws and constitutions.

So the Texas and other constitutions may have been legal when they were ratified, but that changed.


Many thanks to all for filling me in on US history. It is no surprise that there are some who ignore the law if they think that they can get away with it. It happens in the UK to this day.


Six of the best has nothing at all to do with 666 the number of the beast. It is in fact a reference to physical punishment as practiced up until the nineteen eighties in British schools. Six of the best meant six strokes of the cane applied to the buttocks.

All the rest of your observations on SOTB's post were right on the mark.

James M. Martin

I just finished Ibn Warraq's "Why I Am Not a Muslim." The title says it all: Warraq invokes the spirit of Bertrand Russell, whose "Why I Am Not a Christian" became a sensation. I wonder if, truly, there is any difference between one rigidly dogmatic monotheism and another. Both Muslims and Christians use scriptural presentism to bring natural insecurities and desert warlord law to bear on women and homosexuals. Is there really any difference between the Rev. John Hagee (right wing televangelist who blamed Katrina on gays) on the one hand, and any Taliban tribal leader on the other? Not really. Worse, Judeo-Christians and Muslims are on a collision course that is fueled by Booblical prophecy on the one hand and the ravings of a mad Arab on the other. One side believes we must hurry up the Rapture; the other, in agreement, long for the 72 Virgins of Paradise. Both see world annihilation as desirable. Let me off that train!



Thanks for the correction. That's... actually kinda horrifying to learn. I just assumed SOTB had misspelt "beast".

And to add something on-topic, I think a dis-honorary mention should go to those states that have recently tried to stop funding for Planned Parenthood (Indiana and Tennessee, I'm glaring at you), even though Federal law already prevents funds from going to provide abortion services. I find few things quite as scary as the religious right imposing the dictates of their stone age holy book to block my access to reproductive health care.


But, that is the whole point. Its purpose is to block reproductive health care, abortion is simply employed as the "wedge" to end all of it. They, the ones pushing the thing, want women back in separate tents during menstruation, and denied the right to be anything other than baby factories (and some of the women that follow these lunatics have said that they agree with this, and see the whole, "freedom to be anything but a silent house wife", thing as a horrible mistake, which they will take advantage of, to spread word about how horrible a mistake it was).

Imho, we really, badly, need to be able to declare at least some of these damn people clinically insane, but as PZ recently posted, the nutcases say something stupid, the "progressives" retreat from the field, on the grounds that we all need to try to get along, and everyone else gets told to shut up, for how dare we point out that the emperor isn't just nude, but painted himself green, and claims to be a duck. Its so much better to just pat them on the head, and say, "How nice", rather than try to fix the damn problem, by admitting it *is* one, getting them frakking help. Oddly, to me, that would qualify as "progress".


"Danger"? Call the frickin' wahmbulance. Is there any state where one may escape the histrionics of the atheists?


Sure, Eric, just pick any one of the ones where they have been chased out of town, lynched, etc. Moron... And, yes, this shit does happen.


I've been making it a point to work my atheism into as many casual conversations as possible. Have a crucifix in your workplace? I'll consider it a conversation starter. Have pride in your Islamic country of origin? Let's talk about it. I continue to believe that being "out" is the most effective method of supporting my (friends? comrades?) who suffer under oppression.

Margo K.

@James Martin

Judeo-Christians? Say what? Who are Judeo-Christians? How are they different from non-Judeo-Christians?

If you want to refer to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and maybe Mormonism, collectively, I suggest saying "Abrahamic religions".

If you want to talk about Jews and Christians, then say Jews and Christians, or Christians and Jews, not Judeo-Christians.

"Judeo-Christian" implies that Christianity is the natural next phase of Judaism, of which Judaism is the inferior form. It also puts Jews in the same category the people who have been persecuting them for over a thousand years, usually in contexts where Jews are not very relevant ("Abrahamic" on the other hand tends to be used when Jewishness is at least somewhat relevant).

Note: I am an atheist, but I identify as Jewish in the ethnic sense, and I don't like being casually lumped with the people (Christians - Catholics to be specific) who threatened to kill my grandparents and forced them to become refugees. And the way James Martin used the term does not seem very relevant to Jewishness (maybe if he were referring to events in Israel, but since Jews don't believe in the rapture, they aren't trying to speed it up, are they?)


I do love when TrueChristians, like Eric_ROM come on to atheist blogs and proceed to show how their beliefs are simple false. The only thing they can do is spread more lies and make personal attacks. I live close to Annville in Pennsylvania. And no it doesn't suprise me. This *is* the state of the Dover case, donchaknow? :) One bright spot is that Mickey Weinstein of MRFF did come to our state to speak at the Army War College, down in Carlisle. Unfortunately, it was only for military types.

Greta Christina

Re Eric_RoM: It's so entertaining when people accuse atheists of being "histrionic"... without bothering to even try to contradict the accusations they're making. As if calling someone "histrionic" somehow magically makes the things we're saying not true.

Bruce Gorton

Posted by: malta | June 11, 2011 at 06:53 AM

What about stellar evolution?



@ vel,
Without Christianity there would be no civilisation as we know it. Atheist's are just posers.


No civilization without Christianity??? Tell that to China.

To Best of 6, why do christians (and christians posing as atheists) think that atheists believe evolution explains the Big Bang, the origin of life on earth, and pretty much everything else? Are you that clueless? (rhetorical question; no response required).


Tell that to the millions of victims of Mao Tse Tung.

Do as you would be done by !


@ Nel - you are aware that Chinese civilisation existed in one form or another for thousands of years before the Communists turned up, right? India, Japan and the pre-Christian West also had enduring agrarian societies, and that's if we only take a very narrow view of what constitutes "civilisation".

Bruce Gorton

Posted by: nel | July 26, 2011 at 08:23 AM

Your American provincialism is showing. Along with your vast ignorance of history.


'Indigo and Bruce Gorton combo'

I have a degree in History, Brucie baby. You find Christianity distasteful, right ?

Greta Christina

A reminder to everyone: Please keep comments civil. I encourage lively debate in blog comments, but I expect commenters to treat one another with a basic level of courtesy and respect. Personal insults are not acceptable, and I expect snark and sarcasm to be kept to a bare minimum. Thank you.

Robert B

@ nel

Well, as atheists, we do find Christianity distasteful or at least incorrect. But it's more that it seems strange to credit Christianity with "civilization as we know it." With a degree in history, I'm sure you're aware that agriculture, stonemasonry, pottery, poetry, algebra, geometry, philosophy, writing, currency, law, steel, trans-oceanic travel, surgery, democracy, theater, and manned spaceflight were all first invented in non-Christian societies. And meanwhile, several of history's great abuses of civilization have been specifically Christian - the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades (including the Fourth, which essentially did nothing but sack Christian Constantinople) the Thirty Years War. The intercontinental slave trade was run by Christians and its victims were non-Christian.

Of course, Christians and Christian countries have made their own great advances to civilization, and non-Christians have their own record of horrors. My point is, Christians have been no better and no worse than any other group of similar population. The claim that Christianity deserves some kind of special credit for civilization is a notion bankrupt of historical evidence. It would be more accurate to claim the reverse - that without an already large and successful Roman civilization to convert, Christianity would never have been more than a small Jewish splinter sect.

Bruce Gorton

by: nel. | July 27, 2011 at 03:58 AM

Your degree in history evidently didn't cover the existance of India, Japan or pre-Christian civilisations.

In fact it is pretty clear you haven't even read your own Bible, given that the events within it include a fair bit about various civilisations pre-Christianity.

Your claims are transparently laughable.


That last bit of your inaccurate proganda is particularly amusing.

-that without an already large and sucessful Roman civilization to convert ...etc

Just like that heh? Just another small Jewish (splinter) sect, maybe like a JUST converts a civilizaton without anything to recommend it or any merit. Nothing happened out of the ordinary, no resurrection. No Saul to Paul conversion. Ignore the parables which are the work of a great genius, all for nothing, just another little Jewish sect.
Such blase rubbish.
Christ spoke with authority and got himself nailed to a cross to back up his teaching. You sound to me like one of the new breed of atheists with an atitude, maybe a product of the popular cynical cool, no one tells me what I should or shouldn't do.

Take your chance with atheism, you might be right, Robert but If I was you I would cover your arse by at least 'doing as you would be done by.' Now there's a cliche.

Robert B


Setting aside the fact that you're derailing wildly from my point - on a topic you brought up - basically, yes. Christianity is unexceptional. The original writings are obviously politicized, biased, and contradictory. Independent evidence for its supernatural claims is laughably thin or absent. The ethical philosophy of the New Testament ranges from poor to fair - it has some interesting and useful ideas, and it veers into horrifying error more often than Plato but less often than Ayn Rand. All of this is pretty normal for a religion, and indeed Christianity's effect on history and civilization has been roughly similar to that of other major world faiths such as Buddhism and Islam. And if you want me to believe otherwise you need to provide evidence, not vaguely odious personal comments.

Bruce Gorton

Posted by: Robert B | July 28, 2011 at 05:18 AM

I'd say Christianity veers into horrifying error more than objectivism.

Not because the latter is good - but because of examples like this little gem:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5.27

Thus if you think of committing a sin - you may as well go through with it. And you may as well do some more sinning while you are at it because James 2.10

"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."

Which is consistent John 3:4, and Matthew 5:19.

The upshot being:

You are already pretty much damned for thinking naughty thoughts, so its not like murdering your neighbour after boinking his wife and using his donkey as a get-away vehicle is going to get you into any bigger trouble with God. Even after you lied to the cops about it.


I don't remember Buddha suffering an agonizing death because he refused to say he wasn't the Son of God. Nor Mohammed. Christianity is not un-exceptional it is very exceptional. Turn the other cheek is about as original and revolutionary as you could get at the time in that place with that civilization.

Brucy, you are quite a funny guy, quite Monty Pythonesque. Like it. Clearly though your understanding of the gospel is rather naive.
Those were ideals, you know, the bar set high so that when we fail, as fail we must, we can still be pretty good. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Bruce Gorton

Posted by: Well, | July 28, 2011 at 09:24 AM

Turn the other cheek? Revolutionary?

Socrates expressed it better about 400 years earlier.

"One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him"

And similar concepts can be found in the Jewish Book of Lamentations.

As to Jesus' death and resurrection: Osiris adapted to the need for a martyr.

As to my understanding of the Bible - no they are not ideals, they are laws. With sentences.

That is the point to salvation, and the reason the adultress was going to get stoned in the first place.

Robert B

Actually, the Buddha myth uses most of the same archetypes as the Jesus myth. Buddha leaves the world behind, gives up his family and his rank and all his possessions and every other part of his ordinary life. As he meditates, supernatural tempters and antagonists try to beg, bribe, and bully him into giving up, but Buddha overcomes them, and passes into a state of perfect enlightenment, corresponding to the Christian notion of heaven. Then he chooses to give up that perfect, heavenly state in order to come back and teach mankind, even though he knows that mankind is flawed and unlikely to understand. Even the cross is an archetypal element in this kind of story - Buddha sat beneath the limbs of the Bodhi tree, Wotan was hung from Yggdrasil the world-Ash - he was even pierced with a spear. You could even say that Osiris had a "tree" in the form of the Nile, since in unforested Egypt the river, not the tree, symbolizes the cycle of the seasons and thus of life and death. The Greeks had the same basic story in Prometheus, hung from the rocks and tortured eternally for giving mankind the fire of the gods. His symbolic connection to the life-death cycle was not a tree or a river but his own liver, eternally eaten and eternally regrown. I won't say the Jesus myth isn't a powerful story, because it is. But we've heard it before, many times.

And "turn the other cheek" is, frankly, terrible ethics. Refusing to defend yourself against harm invites oppression of every sort, from abusive spouses to dictatorial states to slavery. (I doubt it's a coincidence that Christianity has been invoked to defend and excuse each of these institutions.) It's also hypocritical, since Jesus says more than once in the Gospels that crimes against God or the Holy Spirit are not forgiven - apparently God is the only one who doesn't have to turn the other cheek.

nel (not- well) (no puns please;-))

Bruce, the point about Socrates is irrelevant. We are talking about Jerusalem and Palestine and NO.... turn the other cheek writ large is NOT found in Jewish text as a must. This was an extraordinary piece of teaching as an eye for an eye is still the benchmark for Jews. Extraordinary also was Jesus's inclusion of Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes and every low life under the sun, all welcome to hear the good news and participate. The Jews regarded these people as worse than dogs.

Robert B.
Blasphemy,( not crimes) will not be forgiven. If you can't see the fairness of that then don't complain when your son or daughter calls you a piece of sh#t ( for example not meant to be rude)


@ nel - I have no kids, but my youngest cousin, whom I love dearly, once called me a poopyhead. As you might guess, he was four at the time. I forgave him for uttering the worst insult he knew because, dude, he was four. I would hope that the loving mercy of Almighty God would exceed the ability of a then-teenager to shrug off a childish insult - which is all the imprecations of humanity could ever really be to an all-powerful being. Wouldn't you agree?


Totally, but a four year old is not responsible and 'poopy head' is not as insulting as 'piece of sh#it' delivered with malice by adults.... if it wasn't meant to offend, they wouldn't say it.

If language is all relative and nothing matters, why do minority groups get offended by what they consider to be inappropriate language directed at them ?

Should the almighty be any less entitled to be addressed pleasantly ?

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