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Freethought Today · September 2012

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

‘The Antidote for Faith’

bratz and catName: Wayne Bartz.

Where I live: Out in the sticks in the Sierra foothills not far from Lake Tahoe, Calif. We are frequently entertained by deer and raccoons, along with mountain lions and coyotes.

Where and when I was born: Chicago, long, long ago in 1938. I actually remember Hitler strutting around in newsreels at the local movie theaters.

Family: I live with my wife, Linda, and eight rescued feral cats.

Occupation: Now retired, I began my career working the trenches as a clinical psychologist, then as a college psychology professor (and also co-authored several self-help books).

How I got where I am today: Today I am a retired geezer, so I guess I got here mainly by surviving.  Where I am as a freethinker is not surprising, since as a psychologist I spent most of my professional life in the company of nonbelievers (80% of psychologists reject supernatural explanations for natural events, including human behavior).

Three decades of training college students to think critically and question authority eventually led to the publication of my recent book, Critical Thinking: The Antidote For Faith.

Where I’m headed: Presumably to oblivion. I am pretty sure I am not destined either for heaven or hell.

Person in history I admire: Carl Sagan, with whom I was privileged to interact briefly on two occasions. He was a warm and engaging scientist who was able to lay open the mysteries of science in a way understandable to the general public,

I most admired Sagan’s ability to remain calm, pleasant and persuasive in the face of hostile questions or ignorance-based preposterous claims. He had that rare gift of keeping his cool in situations where most of us would lose it, and that made him a great educator.

A quotation I like: “Eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God’s infinite love,” (the late humorist Bill Hicks). I also like comedian Rich Jeni’s description of going to war over religion: “This involves two groups of people willing to kill each other in order to determine who has the best imaginary friend.”

These are a few of my favorite things: My fondest freethought accomplishment came from spearheading a California college faculty organization 25 years ago working for the separation of church and state. Our efforts eventually resulted in invocations and closing prayers being permanently banned from graduation ceremonies at more than 100 California community colleges.

Although it sometimes may not seem that way, once in a while we actually win one. Today I am encouraged by the vociferous nationwide out-of-the-closet atheist revolt, fueled by FFRF, Dawkins, Hitchens, Newdow, Harris, et al. As a retired educator, I am delighted by the younger generation’s increasing rejection of religion, with nearly a third now admitting that they have discarded traditional beliefs.

These are not: Nothing is more irritating to me than sanctimonious politicians (e.g., Rick Santorum) pandering to the ignoramus Religious Right, not to mention President Obama repeatedly babbling publicly about Jesus. That’s embarrassing.

My doubts about religion started: When I was a kid, my family attended a Lutheran church where I experienced an odd mixture of community solidarity, social events and high-minded ideals, along with watching adults engage in petty squabbles, hypocrisy and political infighting. My favorite minister, a brilliant speaker and thought-provoking pastor, was let go because he failed to present simple hellfire and brimstone in his weekly sermons.

He tried to make the congregation think, and they didn’t like it one bit. He was replaced by a mundane standard-issue preacher who bored me to tears, even as a teenager. Our wonderful new pastor managed to alienate my parents by pulling a nasty fast-shuffle on me and my older brother. We had worked for a couple of years as church custodians, being paid a few bucks for our labors.

One day the pastor notified me that we were being fired for failing to properly do our job and then quickly appointed his newly retired father to the position. We knew better because my father, a serious German-style taskmaster (a supervising chemist at Kaiser Steel), did a weekly white-glove inspection of our work every Saturday, making sure that everything was 100% up to snuff.  He was not at all happy with the way his sons had been treated and eventually became alienated from the church. He never spoke of it, but my parents quit attending and so did I. 

Why I’m a freethinker: The alternative is unthinkable.

Ways I promote freethought: I spent three decades teaching the scientific method and honing college students’ critical thinking skills as a psychology professor. Based on that work, I recently wrote Critical Thinking: The Antidote For Faith. (It’s available from Amazon and as an e-book from River’s Bend Press at riversbendpress.com.) The book characterizes blind faith as a “toxic poison of the intellect,” in sharp contrast to contemporary American society, which enthusiastically endorses faith as a positive value.

Chapters such as “The Folly of Faith” and “Miracles, Healing and Health Hokum” point out how unsubstantiated beliefs can lead the faithful to some very silly and sometimes dark places. Critical thinking is proposed as an alternative to faith, its implementation based on a step-by-step approach summarized by the acronym CRITIC. The book also targets faith-based scam artists such as psychics, seers, faith healers, hokey health practitioners and assorted gurus and cult leaders.

It concludes with a review of the skeptical views of the nation’s founders, noted scientists, contemporary public figures and entertainers. Philip Appleman, Freethought Today poetry contributor, says that CRITIC methodology should be taught in every grade school, high school and college.

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