God and Technology

The recent posts that Norm Jenson and PZ Myers have been publishing demonstrate a disturbing trend in the United States: that discrimination against atheists is not only to be tolerated, but to be encouraged. Republican candidate Mitt Romney answered a heckler last week who challenged his religion by saying it doesn’t matter the type of faith a President of the US has, as long as they were persons of faith. An opinion poll recently stated that Americans would be more likely to vote for a black, gay, Muslim, woman before voting for an atheist.

And now PZ Myers points to a letter to an editor from a person who doesn’t even believe that atheists should be allowed to live in the US:

It’s time to stomp out atheists in America. The majority of Americans would love to see atheists kicked out of America. If you don’t believe in God, then get out of this country.

The United States is based on having freedom of religion, speech, etc., which means you can believe in God any way you want (Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, etc.), but you must believe.

I don’t recall freedom of religion meaning no religion. Our currency even says, “In God We Trust.” So, to all the atheists in America: Get off of our country.

Atheists have caused the ruin of this great nation by taking prayer out of our schools and being able to practice what can only be called evil. I don’t care if they have never committed a crime, atheists are the reason crime is rampant.

(Originally printed at My Confined Space, though it would seem this one has been making the rounds a few years.)

Alice’s letter to the editor brought up something I was curious about…

If I tell you I’m an atheist, would this make a difference to you whether you would buy one of my technology books?

Would you be less willing to buy? More willing to buy? Or do you believe that there’s no connection between technology and religion, and your purchasing of any of my books would be based solely on the contents of the books?

Or is it that you believe it’s OK for me to write and sell the books, but only if I move to, say, Canada or Australia?

If you’re less likely to buy my books, why? Do you feel you’re helping to support a sinner who only deserves condemnation and despair? Or do you think that God talks to technology writers who believe? If so, what do you think she says?

You used “its” when you should have used “it’s”. I really hate that. Do it again, and I’ll send lightning.

This is an informal poll: all opinions are welcome.

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32 Responses to God and Technology

  1. Euan Semple says:

    PS I also think you live in a VERY scary country.

  2. If I tell you I’m an atheist, would this make a difference to you whether you would buy one of my technology books?


  3. More likely.

    With few exceptions (on which I am only neutral), I find phrases containing “faith based X’ to be extremely offputting, and my brain usually translates that as “not really an X”.

  4. nikkiana says:

    When I wander in the computer section to buy a reference book, the last thing I’m generally thinking about is what religion the author is. For the most part, I consider it to be irrelevant when it comes to technology. That said, if an author is known for being bigoted against a certain race, religion, gender, sexual preference, etc. I might factor in their personal beliefs into my purchase decision if I know about those personal beliefs…. but it’s not something that weighs heavily on my mind. Generally, religious bias doesn’t jump through the pages of a tech book so generally I’m not going to pay much attention to whether Shelley Powers is atheist or Christian or believes there are little gnomes who live in her closet and clean her house at night.

  5. Bill says:

    The only religion that matters in tech is vi vs. emacs. Even then, I don’t care.

  6. Seth Gordon says:

    I have trouble articulating the depth of the revulsion I feel for Mitt Romney.

    In order to be eligible to run for Governor of Massachusetts, he claimed that he was a Massachusetts “resident” during the time that he was running the Winter Olympics in Utah (during which time he even filed a Utah state tax return as a resident). Then, after he was elected, he seemed to be more interested in dissing the state than in governing it. In the most recent election, his lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, was crushed by the Democratic candidate, Deval Patrick–partly because Patrick ran as a charismatic anti-politician and built up a very strong grass-roots campaign, but also because Romney did nothing to help Healey or any other local Republicans.

    The remark attributed to him about “persons of faith” is asinine–would he really have no religious objection to a Wahabi Muslim, a Satmar Chassid, a Unitarian, or a Dianic Wiccan being elected President? But nobody should be surprised by an asinine statement coming from, well, an ass.

    Happy Lent. :-)

  7. ScottM says:

    I’m not less likely– the real debate is whether I’m more likely. I’m tempted only because I’m tired of the faith=real people thing.

    In the end, no less likely and not much more likely.

  8. Funny story.

    I’m a pretty secular guy myself. But I use an open-source content management system called TYPO3 for most of my web projects these days.

    TYPO3′s primary developer is a Danish programmer named Kasper SkÃ¥rhøj. Kasper is, to put it mildly, a very Christian guy. Here’s his explanation of why he wrote TYPO3, and released it under the GPL:

    why do I give TYPO3 away for free? … [A] key catalyst for this view is also that my christian faith tells me two things: 1) Materialism has no lasting value. 2) Whatever my creativity can produce is meant to honor God since he gave me my talent in the first place. For me that translates into the vision of giving my best through TYPO3 to the world.

    So that’s my story. TYPO3 is my personal mission from God.

    This is not the average answer you get to the question “why do you work on your open source project”.

    But the thing is: I don’t care. I honestly don’t. Kasper writes good software, he doesn’t try to impose his values on me if I want to use it (it’s GPLed), and he doesn’t expect others around him to chime in with hallelujahs when he says “Praise God”. His faith motivates him, but he doesn’t expect it to motivate anyone else. So it doesn’t bother me that he and I see the world differently. I’m just thankful that he did the hard work to create a product I can use — whatever his motivation was.

    For me, the same would be true of the author of a technical book. I don’t expect them to affirm my worldview — I just want them to teach me something useful. If they can do that, I’m willing to listen.

  9. Bud Gibson says:

    I hate this faith-based stuff. I lived in the middle east for 2.5 years. Your religion was always the issue. When you are in the minority religion, and everybody makes a thing of religion, it’s never fun.

  10. Digression: There are several mildly amusing ‘Mac vs. PC’ faux commercials up on gootube that start “I’m a Christian.” “And I’m a Christ-Follower.”

    They are only mildly amusing though, because this is about the closest thing we’ll see to actual criticism of the self-righteous holy-rollers from the “Don’t lump us in with THEM” crowd.

    OTOH, I wonder how long it’ll be before someone does a “I’m a Pagan” “And I’m a Shaman” sendup?

  11. Meh. Brain fart. I meant “I’m a Druid” “And I’m a Shaman”, of course (both being merely flavors of Paganism to the unwary).

    For that matter, Reform vs. Conservative (with an Orthodox cameo) would also be amusing.

  12. Doug Alder says:

    Hell – whoops – I’d be more inclined (were I inclined in the first place to purchase material the like of me could never understand ;) ) as an atheist is overall more likely to be rational than a theist and if you are talking technology rational is better than irrational I’d assume.

  13. Tom Morris says:

    I’ve got a very tattered, dog-eared copy of Practical RDF. It’s the best book on the subject (please, please update it!). If I’m serious, religious beliefs don’t influence book purchasing. The fact that you’ve written the best book on the topic is the reason that I tell others to read it (I suggested it as the top book at my SemWeb talk last month).

    The fact that the royalties are going to someone who, presumably, won’t be sending it off to Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or an equivalent ignorance-pusher to help destroy the secular foundations of, and intellectual life within, a country that I love and would like to be a citizen of – that’s just a deal sweetener.

  14. Intolerant “people of faith” give faith a bad name.
    It’s not faith if you don’t doubt.

    As long as your atheism isn’t as intolerant as the intolerant believers… disbelieve away! I care a lot more how people behave than what they believe.

  15. Paul Morriss says:

    I’m a “person of faith”, but I don’t see whether you are or not makes any difference when it comes to technology books.

  16. Phil says:

    I’d buy your book anyhow, if I was looking for that kind of book, because I know you’re a good techie and a good writer.

    More generally, if I picked up a likely-looking tech book and the author devoted part of the foreword to his or her atheism… I think I’d be slightly less inclined to buy, because I get bored with people banging on about religion being wrong wrong worngitty worng. Then again, if the foreword was about the author’s Christian faith I’d drop the book like a hot brick.

  17. Ethan says:

    Usually, one’s adherence to a particular spiritual path doesn’t affect my buying decisions, unless it is expressed in a rather obnoxious or discriminatory way. (Example: A comany places a want-ad explicitly asking for “Christians only”.) And closer to the question you posed, no, I don’t buy tech books (such as I do) based on religious affiliation, but rather content, and relevance.


    I will toss this out for the skeptic/”atheist” crowd and don my asbestos pajamas accordingly:

    My dictionary defines Atheism as:

    “1. The disbelief or denial of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.”

    Semantically, what I think many Atheists are actually saying, not to put words in anyone’s mouth, is “I don’t subscribe to any particular school of religious thought.” Whatever that word is, that’s me. I think perhaps the correct word is “Agnostic” but I may be incorrect.

    Certain people like to make hay beating up on “young Earth creationists” – and yes, they’re pretty easy targets, insisting that the Earth is anywhere from 6-10,000 years old, because they believe the Bible over empirical observation. But when the term “Atheist” is tossed around rather freely – I am referring to its friendly reception in skeptic circles, for instance – what this is essentially saying is that the existence of a god or gods will never be proven, ever. I’m thinking the scope of human knowledge has a long way to go before we could ever definitively say that, any more than we can disprove the existence of intelligent life anywhere else in the universe. It is fair to say that we haven’t found it yet. Of course, this is where faith comes in, where some are, shall we say, “early adopters”. :-)

    As an aside, I suspect that the “God” that is dismissed by some is akin to a stern parent or Santa Claus figure, and I would agree that this is not the nature of God, should “God” conceptually/actually exist.

    (Apologies for the long comment.)

  18. Noah Slater says:

    > … but you must believe.

    Um, no, actually – you just added that bit your self, now, didn’t you?

    Where do people like this come from? They help give religion a bad (worse?) name.

  19. Shelley says:

    I think the comments to this post are much better than the post. I need to ask questions and shut up for the answers more often.

    I think weblogging magnifies this seeming battle between atheists and fundamentalists, so that it seems like the country is locked in immortal warfare. At the same time, I also live in Missouri where we have a state legislature which spends an inordinate amount of time trying to pass religious-based legislature.

    Many of the people I read are atheists and many are people of strong faith. I don’t find it difficult to appreciate both, or the people who don’t profess any opinion on faith. I think I’m more in the majority than the minority.

    As for my books, the only effect that buying any of them does is to have me continue writing them. Be warned.

    Tom, I had checked about doing a second edition of Practical RDF, but it does have a finite audience. Maybe with all the new semantic web stuff.

  20. McD says:

    Politics can often leverage the tyranny of the majority.

    Great leaders reject the politics of polarizing divisions. They seek to find middle ground that transcends our differences.

    An atheist can be a wonderfully principled, fair-minded and loving human being. A devoutly religious person can often be anything but… as illustrated by the letter writer quoted here.

    There’s in tremendous common ground in “Treat others as you would have them treat you.” Simply drop this advocate for hate into an Islamic community for a few days and let him experience the tyranny of the majority for speaking such ideas from an opposing group of the religious spectrum. Rod Serling loved such ideas in his “Twilight Zone” stories. Have the intolerance of the person be used to judge them when they are in the minority.

    There are values that we can all rally around and labeing by belief system is NOT onne of them. America was founded to enable people to hold views that the state would respect as being a basic human right. In that sense, atheism meets the criteria for a protected belief system. The words of the letter writer meet a standard for “hate” speech… they seek to put the person that holds those beliefs outside the protections of the constitution. That is inherently un-american. That strikes me as the road to facism and a country I’d be willing to leave… I’d be eager to leave.

    And I wouldn’t be alone in that decision. Would a majority leave? No. A majority would prevent it from happening using the powers that we have through the democratic process. Christains, jews, muslims, and atheistics would unite to protect the rights we have under the constitution to believe as we see fit.

    “I believe, one day, we will judge people by the content of their character and not the” the religious label they proclaim to espouse.

    Facists will leverage a contempt for the “other” to be given extreme powers to “correct” society. People who value freedom will view such measures as dangerous acts of evil. Beware the power hungry leader who wraps himslef in the flag or uses his “book” as a weapon to reduce or control the rights of others to live and thing freely.

    And Shelley, I’m going to buy your Ajax book as soon as I can just to show my appreciation for the community you enable with your blog(s) and your voice in the ongoing debate over justice in society.

    PS> I am a deeply spiritual atheist. Love is the ultimate religion and it takes from all religious belief systems and stands tall on the common ground we all should value most.

  21. McD says:

    Damn… it would be nice to edit this stuff after posting it and then re-reading it and seeing how many errors I let fly. Go figyre.

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  23. Court says:

    I’m afraid to state that the only technical book I have read that does give praise to God was not a very well-written book.

  24. Chris N. says:

    What chaps me is when some person or business seems to expect or promote religious bigotry. Some advertisements include the alpha-shaped ‘fish symbol’ to communicate the message that the proprietor(s) are Christians and that therefore I might want to discriminate in their favor. And then there are certain atheists that have been trying to promote the use of the term ‘bright’ ‘as a noun’ to describe atheists and atheistic beliefs. These various weasels are happy to ‘explain’ that they are not trying to be discriminatory, but I don’t buy it.

    On the other hand, if someone doesn’t really seem to be trying to promote discrimination, I think it’s fine for them to reveal their religion and even talk about what it means to them, if it’s somehow relevant or appropriate. So I don’t mind learning that technology ‘evangelist’ Guy Kawasaki also engages in Christian evangelism; nor that Shel, in a blog where she talks about a range of semi-personal issues, and about marketing issues, expresses concern about possible religion-based discrimination, which she doesn’t like. And I won’t be complaining too much that Brooks of _the Mythical Man-Month_ makes religious references, because they are in such exquisitely good taste. :-)

    I think people’s relationships to their religions, or lack thereof, are generally more important than what kind of religion or irreligion they identify with. The New Testament says that people might be like trees, and we should judge them by their fruits. Certainly I’d rather judge the tree by its fruit, rather than by whether the tree has a *label* affixed to it saying ‘I’m an excellent fruit tree, of a category unrecognized by the evil biologists! My fruit is delicious and nutritious! Ignore that I have the leaves, flowers, fruits, and bark of deadly nightshade! Look at my bright-fish symbol!’ Most of the people yammering loudly that we should favor them because of their religion seem to be like that poisonously mislabeled tree IMHO.

    Furthermore, in a world where all trees were required to be the same, pathetic inbreeding, unbalanced diets and seasonal malnutrition would be much more prevalent. :-/

    BTW, now we know where that moronic ‘if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” question might have come from. We can blame Christianity! :-P

  25. Charles says:

    I’m a nudist buddhist. I believe the world would be a more enlightened place if we all could detach ourselves from material possessions like clothing.

  26. McD says:

    Well… if we’re putting on labels: I’ll be an “eccumenical assoholic”.

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  28. fp says:

    Of course I would buy your book if you were a declared atheist. II might be less inclined to buy your book if you were some kind of evangelistic jesus freak.

    My biggest atheist challenge has been declaring my lack of belief in god in my own religious community. Quakers are more than tolerant, they’re generally respectful of other people’s “paths.” But many talk a christocentric language that puts me on the outside looking in. Still, joining with these loving people in worship, listening for the quiet voice inside me that bespeaks love and kindness, is a valuable thing to do.

    I hate the phrase “faith based” too. Since I nominally “belong to a faith based community,” the local peace activists are pleased to send me into the fray as the faith-based guy. I almost puke when I hear the phrase applied to myself and I definitely lack respect for most public institutions or initiatives that are described that way.

    Here’s a little Quaker joke anyway: A visitor sat quietly in Quaker meeting, wondering at the lack of activity. Finally he leaned over and asked the person beside him, “When does the service begin?” His seat mate bent close and whispered, “The service begins when the meeting ends.”

  29. Shelley says:

    Re evangelism: I think you have to be careful about discussing religion, particularly in a work situation. It’s so difficult for people to look at their belief, whatever it is, dispassionately.

    I did actually lose out on a job because of religion. It was in Yakima, Wa, just as I finished college. The owner was a born again Christian and embedded his religious beliefs into his company and the jobs. After the job interview turned religious, I bowed out and went back to the computer department at the University and warned them against sending other people.

    A contract I had in St. Louis had a nice group of people, but there was a lot of discussion about church at lunch. More of a cultural thing, and little actual discussion of religion, but I did feel odd and uncomfortable. But much of that was being a former Californian/Bostonian/Portlander/Vermont/Seattleite trying to fit into the work culture in Missouri.

    Frankly, the only religious war that means anything to me is Bill’s vi versus emacs. No one ever died because of their choice of text editing tool.

    Frank, the Quakers are an interesting group. Tolerance personified.

  30. TRauMa says:

    I don’t buy it.

    “Gay black muslim woman” over Atheist? Perhaps they think they would, but than they couldn’t do it.

    Hey, if necessary claim you believe in God and call it the flying spaghetti monster. At least you’re no filthy Atheist that way ;-).


  31. rss says:

    To Bill, who commented about vi vs. emacs:

    You shall surely dwell eternally in /dev/null for this bitter heresy. For Joy did saith ‘vi’, and text did flow FORTH.*

    *”Everyone knows that God programs in FORTH. Or rather… knows everyone god FORTH is-relationship? true. ” –http://www.cryptonomicon.net/msh/