Mandisa Thomas’s essay for CNN: Confessions of a Black Atheist

Excerpts from Mandisa Thomas’ essay yesterday for CNN.  She delivers a much-needed message.


Mandisa Thomas founder and current President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. She also serves on the boards for Foundation Beyond Belief and the Secular Coalition for America.

African-American atheists represent a small but growing segment of American atheists at large.

Most blacks, though, identify as religious, and the church is intricately tied to tradition, history and culture.

I am atheist — and I am black.

Yes, we exist — even if many in the media sometimes don’t notice us. In a CNN special that aired on Tuesday, for example, people of color were not as well-represented as American atheism’s more familiar face: You know, white males.

In fact, African-American atheists represent a still small — though growing — segment of American atheists at large…

Most blacks identify as religious. Belief in God is touted with pride, and the church is intricately tied to tradition, history and culture. It is not uncommon to assume that I attend services as a black woman. The question often isn’t if I go to church — it’s where. And even if one doesn’t go to church, surely they still have faith — because our people have endured and overcome so much hardship that it had to be the work of a god… It can be extremely difficult to discuss religion objectively in the black community. Many have social, emotional and financial stakes invested in this institution, so for one to even say they have doubts is like committing treason. Continue reading

A Telephone Psychic Confesses

[Excerpts from my guest post at The Friendly Atheist.]

Erin Auerbach was a failed actress who came to Las Vegas for an exciting job opportunity that fed what she admitted was a strong ego: She was going to become a professional psychic. “The thing is, I’m not sure that I’m psychic,” she admitted to the interviewer.

“That’s OK,” he replied. “We’ll give you everything you need for the job.”

It seemed easy at first.

I attended one short training session… He stressed that we didn’t necessarily have to be psychic to do the job

[Read the rest of my post A Telephone Psychic Confesses at The Friendly Atheist].

How Do They Know It’s a Sign From Heaven and Not the Starship Enterprise?

They don’t, of course.  One is as likely as the other.  Actually, Capt. Archer is more likely, since we actually know what he looks like.

Time reports that Christians are claiming the miraculous face of Jesus in a Colombia rockslide:

So many worshippers came to the site in Putumayo that police have been brought in to manage the crowd, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports, and some locals have begun charging the pilgrims to see the face.

“If you believe in Jesus, you will see your image,” Ximena Rosero Arango, one of the people who came to the site, told the newspaper. The image has also been making the rounds on social media since Saturday, when the crowds first began arriving.

They may see Jesus, but I know Jonathan Archer when I see him.  Beam me there immediately, so that I may set those foolish Christians straight.  Perhaps other Trekkies will join me, and we shall live long and prosper.

Archer miracle

Old Stereoscopic GIFs Feel Like Time Travel

At least for me they do.  These generate a sensation of being there like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

According to the New York Times, they were invented by Joshua Heineman, a San Francisco artist.  I’ve collected them from all over the net, slowing some of the faster ones down that gave me a headache, and cropping some distracting backgrounds out.

You can now make your own with many more vintage stereoscope slides and a provided online tool at the New York Public Library.

Vintage 3D (34)Hopi tribe members at Walpi Village, Arizona, date unknown.  (Above and following 11 are from Dan Florence at Vintage 3D)

Vintage 3D (28)Hopi girls weaving baskets in Sipaulovi Village, Arizona, early 1900s

Many more below the fold.

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If you appreciate the message of a nature-loving, humanistic, progressive, and scientifically skeptical approach to life, please support this blog!

charlie-chaplinThe last year has been an exciting period of growth for Under the Greenwood Tree, which is getting increasing attention that’s allowed me to become a guest author at The Friendly Atheist and Doubtful NewsIt really does take a surprising amount of time and effort to:

  • expose psychics, astrologers and promoters of pseudoscience,
  • challenge religious anti-humanist and anti-atheist bigotry, and
  • raise awareness of humanist principles of critical and scientific thinking, love for one another and our planet.

My profile two weeks of a professional astrologer who realized astrology isn’t real after he inadvertently switched clients’ horoscopes but they were just as happy had over 10,000 shares on Facebook after Skeptics Guide to the Universe recommended it as a great story.

My YouTube channel has had half a million views, and included:

  • Several dramatic videos exposing the abusive physical and emotional trauma to which Christian evangelists subject children.  A great many venues picked up my video What in God’s Name Are They Doing to the Children, and with a little help from Richard Dawkins and Ricky Gervais, it generated thousands of calls for reform of what is clearly child abuse.
  • Humanist looks at the box office hits God’s Not Dead and Do You Believe?
  • Debunking the latest viral 9/11 truther video.
  • Lighthearted use of pop culture to encourage healthy skepticism.

Please take a moment to help make this happen for another year, and click the PayPal button below.   PayPal protects your personal information, which is kept entirely private–including from me.  It’s quick and easy; you can use any card, and don’t need a PayPal account.  Each small bit makes a difference.

Many thanks to you all for reading and sharing this last year!

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India’s News Media Warns Public That Solar Eclipses Can Make Them Sick, Contaminate Food, and Cause Tsunamis


Crowds in the Ganges River attempt to cleanse away ‘dark energies’ from a 2010 solar eclipse

The Internet continues to reveal the world in the 21st century is not what a lot of us think it is.  Take the London primary school in a Hindi neighborhood, which yesterday banned its students from watching the solar eclipse outside for “religious and cultural reasons,” arranging to shield them from its evil energy by making them watch it on TV inside.  British media drew unflattering attention to the ban, with The Telegraph noting:

Hindu scriptures say that an eclipse makes believers impure.  And fundamentalists believe that they need to bathe immediately after an eclipse and chant the name of God to overcome the forces of darkness.

However parents said children were disappointed by the decision, arguing that religious superstition had been allowed to overshadow science.

It’s a big deal in India, where astrologers are given regular slots during TV news programs.  Yesterday morning, TV News Desk warned its readers that eclipses make you sick and to cleanse themselves when it’s over: Continue reading

Bierstadt’s magnificent portrait of the giant sequoia

Dramatically beautiful painting of giant trees

The Great Trees, Mariposa Grove, California, by Albert Bierstadt, 1876

Arguably the largest living thing on earth, this is the giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, of the redwood family.

This individual tree still lives, and is named the Grizzly Giant.  It’s only middle-aged at a mere 1,800 years old or thereabouts, in a species that can live for over 3,000 years.

Do You Believe the Reviews of “Do You Believe?”

[Excerpts from my guest post at The Friendly Atheist.]

By Bo Gardiner

They’re baaaaaaackkkk… those smarmy Christians and evil atheists have returned to your neighborhood theater! Pure Flix’s Do You Believe? opened yesterday in theaters nationally to the same critics-hate-it/audiences-love-it response that their film God’s Not Dead received last year.

You may remember… my atheist-annotated trailer for it:

Do You Believe?’s predecessor God’s Not Dead was a disturbing collection of clichéd anti-atheist caricatures and American Christian persecution fantasies. Pure Flix marketed it well; thousands of churches held special screenings, and an online store sells GND shirts, hats, keychains, bracelets, window decals, and souvenir cups.

Did the filmmakers tone it down after hearing our criticism that GND encouraged divisive hatred and bigotry? With God’s Not Dead earning over $100 million worldwide on a $2 million investment, what do you think?…

At, Peter Sobczynski describes Do You Believe? as “punishingly preachy.” Comparing it to what he calls “the lunacies” of God’s Not Dead, which he describes as “pretty awful — a frequently ridiculous stew of straw man arguments, stacked decks, an overwhelming persecution complex,” he calls Do You Believe? “so ridiculously ham-fisted that it almost makes its predecessor seem reasonable and open-minded by comparison.” Of this new crop of the godless, Sobczynski says:

… the most grotesque of the bunch [is an] EMT [who] proselytizes to a dying accident victim instead of doing his actual job and winds up being sued for everything he has by the secular humanist widow and her money-loving, religion-hating lawyer… The lawyer, by the way, is married to a cynical doctor… who refuses to believe in miracles and, in one especially astonishing scene, gets irrationally upset at the sight of a couple saying grace before eating

Subtle as a sledgehammer to the toes and only slightly more entertaining

I quite like this guy, who surely deserves his place on the film criticism website that bears the name of the much-missed (atheist) Roger Ebert.

Jordan Hoffman at The Guardian had a similarly intelligent reaction:

It’s a fascinating look at the persecution complex many evangelical Christians feel…

Variety‘s Scott Foundas is equally blunt:

“Do You Believe?” is agitprop plain and simple, less interested in varieties of religious experience than in proffering the old televangelical/tent-revival assurances that faith will not just save your soul but also cure cancer, PTSD and whatever else ails you… “Do You Believe?” proves about as spiritually enlightening as a Kmart throw rug.

Even the Salt Lake Tribune calls Do You Believe? “preachy,” with “heavy-handed dialogue, thinly drawn characters” and “bad writing” that takes

predictable shots at family planning clinics, humanists and even science — with Sean Astin, as a cynical ER doctor, designated as the rationalist a-hole…

Several reviewers shared my sense of Do You Believe?‘s unpleasant racial overtones…

[For the full piece, see my latest guest post at The Friendly Atheist.]

Are Cartoons Really ‘The Worst Kind of Hate Crime That Can be Perpetrated’ and ‘The Single Most Important Issue to Every Muslim?’

Vilify(Click on image to enlarge)

Well, some parts of the new strategy announced by the UK’s Muslim Action Forum (MAF) sound great.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all adhered to these?

This strategy and campaign will have taken its first historical step by presenting a petition supported by over 100 000 signatures of Muslims promoting the concept of Global Civility… Desecration of human dignity through insult, denigration and humiliation is ethically and morally wrong.  Reckless and malicious expressions leading to demonization and vilification must be restrained.

Then what the hell do they think their proposed law that denigrates, demonizes and vilifies religious critics is doing?

MAF intends to launch a series of legal challenges in the English Court system to establish that such depictions of our Holy Prophet peace be upon Him is the worst kind of ‘Hate Crime’ that can be perpetrated on the 3 million Muslims in the UK and 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide…

[The strategy is]…to prevent the continuous insulting and derogatory publications depicting and abusing the personality of our Holy Prophet Muhammad peace be upon Him.

Continue reading