Friday, January 28, 2011

That Ear Grating Christianese Language

Now that I’m a wicked person, I tend to get rather irritated when one of these really silly sayings comes out of a Christian's mouth. I used to take comfort in many of them myself, but they’re more of a nuisance to me these days. Let’s take the way that many Christians try to comfort each other when someone dies: “It was just his time to go.” We hear this one quite often, and it’s usually followed with a statement like, “god needed his angel up there with him more than down here.” I thought god didn’t need anything since he is the definition of perfection and since when did people turn into angels upon death? Here’s another one that the late, great George Carlin joked about in his last live performance called It's Bad for Ya: “I just know your grandpa is smiling down upon you right now from heaven and watches over you.” My concern is how often does grandpa watch me? I loved my grandpa, who died of stomach cancer back in 1996, more than just about anything, but I really don’t care to know that he has constant surveillance on me like god himself supposedly does. Is he watching me during bowel movements and smiling? How about intercourse? I’d prefer that he just go about his business and do what people in heaven tend to do, sit on a cloud and play harps. Furthermore, what does he turn his attention to when I die?

Christians also tend to rely on god to give them guidance when their stuck in a rut. One annoying thing they say is, “I’m just waiting on god to show me what to do.” More often than not, they end up going with some emotional cue that just stems off an experience of confirmation bias. They ask for a sign and something occurs that seems a bit odd, even though it probably happens hundreds of thousands of times a day to people, and they go along with it. They excuse all the times god led them into another dead end as some sort of lesson that god is only privy of. God never really helped me accomplish anything. It was the hard work that I put fourth myself, and it would be pointless to keep waiting for signs that will undoubtedly lead you in the wrong direction. This reminds me of the autobiographical novel by Dan Barker called Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist where Dan drives around for hours till he gets to a wheat field, if I remember correctly, and it was all provoked because he thought god was telling him to do so. He was looking for direction in his life, and god led him to a field. Many Christians do this all the time and end up making things worse for themselves. They connect some sort of meaning to an event and make false conclusions about what they should do next. In the aforementioned case, Dan thought god was speaking to him so he followed through despite any previous important engagements he needed to attend to.

For instance, I don’t think that I would have taken a $16,000 hit in the stock market if I didn’t think god was going to reward me for my hard work. So, I stuck with it and continued to be the best Christian I knew how to be. I tried to witness to atheists and certainly saw this as a sign that I was being led in the right direction and I would surely be blessed, but it only ended up making things worse.

Then they’re Christians who are stuck on making sure they only speak positive things into their lives. It’s this whole “name it and claim it” philosophy influenced by Word of Faith teachers and books like The Secret. My mom is one of the worst when it comes to this. I’ll be having a bad day, and I’ll say something like, “things are never going to work out” and my mom will come back with “well, of course not, if you keep speaking like that. Don’t you know that the words you speak have power?” I agree that the words we say can shift one’s emotional state, but they don’t have any sort of mystical power that I’m aware of. I know that cussing sure helps me when I’m frustrated at times, perhaps that is one of gods greatest gifts.

She might say something along the lines of, “don’t you know that you’re a child of the king and you have a seat at his banquet?” Yes, I’m glad that I can be so fortunate while children in the present day Sudanese province of Darfur are being killed by Christians who are convinced that they are witches. If only these children would speak positive words and accept Jesus as savior, they could avoid being murdered by Christians as well.

Another line that really explains nothing is “God’s ways are above our ways.” This is just the Christian’s way of saying that they have no way of explaining the apparent inconsistency of god and his word. This is an indefensible stance because they can’t make a coherent statement about who god is, and it also comes at a time when they are seeking rational answers but can’t find any. It all goes back to the whole, “it was just his time to go.” God spares the murderer but allows a popular local preacher to die prematurely. Or, God allows one person to live in the act of a shooting, such as in the case of the Arizona Senator who recently was shot in the head, and Christians call that a miracle but just call it “mysterious” or "tragic" when others die in the process. They can’t make heads or tails of it so they just conclude that "gods ways are above our ways."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Belief in the Belief in God

I’ve iterated this point in the past , but it seems all the more salient when Daniel Dennett recently reiterated the same sentiment. Most people go along with the ‘gag’ of believing in god; That is to say, most people go through all the motions that a Christian is supposed to go through to show that they think believing in the belief in god is important. At the very least, they agree that trying to believe in god is an important venture.

A person that actually believes in god is a vastly different kind of person than a person who believes in the belief in god. To illustrate, there’s probably no one that I know of who would become a martyr for Jesus. Some Christians settle down and go to church while the Jesus of the Bible demanded that we preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. (Mark 16:15) Heck, most people can’t even get out of bed for Jesus and attend church on Sunday. Those people that do make it through the door generally act like everybody else the rest of the week and you wouldn’t be able to tell that they were Christian aside from the "Honk for Jesus" bumpersticker on their car. There’s just no urgency or “get out of that burning building” mentality exhibited by Christians of this age. If you really believe in god, your actions would follow suit.

Furthermore, shouldn’t a person conduct themselves in such a way that they actually believe god is surveying their every move? I’ve made the analogy before that people tend to give their boss infinitely more respect than they do god, at least while the boss is watching them. God is a twenty four hour a day, seven day a week boss that actually has the ability to go one step further than their boss does and read their thoughts. People act a whole lot different once their earthly boss leaves the room, and there’s probably even more of a discrepancy with their heavenly boss. Aside from being in church, most Christians act as if god isn’t around at all for the rest of the week, and I suspect that their behaviors in church are more indicative of how they want other church members to see them than how they want god to see them.

Many people resume their cussing, slacking off on the job and generally just fall off the godwagon altogether. The very best of them pick our pockets and condone the practice of pedophilia. A Christianity Today survey in 2000 stated that 37% of pastors struggle with pornography and that's just the ones who are actually willing to admit their struggle. How many people would open up a porn site if they knew their boss was watching them? I suspect zero unless they wanted some dire consequences. Is this the behavior you would expect from someone who thinks Jesus is actually in the room watching their every move? I think not.

Dennett makes a comparison to Casper the Friendly Ghost. Casper would walk through walls, but he could also catch a baseball. Why doesn’t the baseball go right through his hand? People seem to notice the discrepancy but don’t mind it that much. They just go along with the ‘gag’. This is what I think Christians do today. They know it’s a bunch of BS but they go along with it. They are culturally assimilated into it from an early age and fall in love with the belief in the belief in god. They think it’s un-American to do otherwise. They love the hymns, the socializing, and group adherence but they don’t really believe in god. Their actions tell on them; they don’t act like the surveillance tapes are running.

I was the same way when I was a Christian. I often pondered why I didn’t act like Jesus was watching me if I really believed in him. I guess it’s because I never really did, and I don’t think anyone else does either, unless they’re delusional. They’ve just been so deeply indoctrinated that they have convinced themselves that they do even when they don’t. Their too scared of hell to say otherwise.

Here is a video of Dennett discussing how Christians really act and how it points to a lack of belief in God:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Problem with Evil and Free-will

So, it’s no secret that we live in an incredibly inhospitable world. We have natural catastrophes around every corner; many that are well beyond humankind’s control. They are beyond humankind’s control and therefore must be under the omnipotent control of god(s), if you endorse supernatural explanations. Many persistent diseases, that doctors have not found a viable cure for, are a seemingly never ending reminder of the intense suffering that persists around the globe on a daily basis. A Christian might say that this presents itself as a sort of “obstacle course” which we must carefully traverse through and gain a stronger faith in the process. It’s hard to imagine that an all-loving god would decide to put a two year old child through a severe hardship, which ultimately ends in their untimely death, as a means of testing others or providing a lesson. If any human being had similar power over a small child’s life and made the decision to cause great suffering upon a child to teach others a lesson, we would immediately label him or her a tyrant.

Besides these inconvenient truths, we have xenophobic countries invading other countries, countrymen drawing arms against each other, and family members killing other family members. We’re told that this is humankind exercising their freewill, and god provides this so that humankind is self-autonomous and at liberty to make the choices they see fit. Ultimately, those who have made a habit of making destructive choices will meet a fiery end. The problem with free-will is that god, being omniscient, can already foresee what a person will do before the winning sperm even enters the egg. Yet, he allows the person to come into the world already knowing that he or she will commit unspeakable crimes that ultimately lead to an early grave and eternity in hell. He doesn’t do anything to alter the person’s future before he or she is born, or we wouldn’t have any evil in the world to begin with. He loves him or her but not enough to keep them from living in a tormented state for all eternity. Could he not resist the urge to create them in the first place? I think the greater act of love would be to forget creating anyone who is incapable of being good. As Epicurus coined long ago:
If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
There is evil in the world.
Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.

Listen in as we pick up on part 3 of a conversation with British philosopher Colin McGinn. He discusses his thoughts often echoed in the above paragraphs on evil and free-will.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Wanted It So Bad

Bud over at Dead-Logic got me thinking about the reasons I left Christianity to begin with. It wasn’t because I was just deliberately trying to find a way out; it was the exact opposite actually. I wanted a stronger faith that involved not only emotional commitment but a logical argument to defend the Christianity that I so desperately wanted to believe in. This is where things became problematic. Instead of strengthening my faith, I began to lose my faith as I began to look at the Bible critically and attempted to tackle the pestering cognitive dissonance brewing in my head. As I’ve often said, I tend to worry (OCD related) and prayer seemed like it should be the perfect tool to alleviate those worries. But, I just couldn’t understand how my seemingly trivial prayers would be answered, or my worries mitigated, when there is so much suffering in the world. In other words, I noticed too many reports of children suffering, and often dying, to think that these worries that plague me would be helped by a god who couldn’t even care for the mere existence of three year old children, for example. I didn’t want to come to that conclusion but that’s where I ended up time and time again. I desperately wanted to continue believing and remember trying to get answers from other people but they all led to unsatisfying answers. Ultimately, all of these unsatisfying answers took a toll and I had to give it up. I had some help from books and the great A-Unicornist along the way too but it was ultimately my decision and no one else’s.

But, I assume that many Christians think that people leave for selfish and sinful reasons. If it’s sinful to find the Christian faith illogical than I’m guilty as charged. I can’t see what I’m supposed to do to change the fact that I think it’s illogical in many places, cruel and illogical in other places, and wholly backward for the most part. If my conclusions are somehow wrong, which I don’t see how they could be, I guess I will spend all eternity living in a constant state of suffering for getting it wrong. This seems like a grave injustice in and of itself. God’s going to send me to an eternal place of torment because I just couldn’t believe no matter how hard I tried and I tried with everything I had. I could pull it off emotionally but the logical fallacies and non sequiturs mounted offenses that were too heavy to surmount. I don’t want an exclusively emotional based faith which lacks substance or logical grounds to support my beliefs with. Maybe that’s the problem and the faith is only meant to be an emotional commitment? As John Loftus points out frequently, god knew that I wouldn’t be able to believe to begin with and he should know exactly what it would take to get me to believe but he refuses to provide the necessary information.

I also tried to find answers for the big problem I had with god’s treatment of children, women and unarmed men in the OT. If you've followed my blog for any time at all you will already know that this was a big problem emotionally and logically for me. How could a loving god command his followers, whom he loves, to kill children and infants? Why would a loving god command his followers to stone people to death? This kind of death is horrible, prolonged and taking the scenic route to getting to the same foregone conclusion you could have came to if you just used a swift stroke of the sword—using a sword wouldn’t make god’s behavior any more justifiable but at least he wouldn’t be torturing the victim in the process. The process of death by stoning could take up to an hour as the victim hemorrhages from the repeated blows to the head.

I’ve given god many chances to help me understand. Even today, I still keep an open mind and am waiting for answers that don’t fly in the face of reasoning. I’m just not finding anything out there that would be enough to get me to go back to the faith. The fact that many Christians become oppositional toward science when science doesn’t come to the same conclusions as their Bible does is not helping matters either. Christians that deny evolution, for instance, are parading their ignorance every time they say evolution is fraudulent.

The point of this post is just to say that I really did try to find satisfying answers that would strengthen my faith and I’m still open to the possibility. I would still like to live in “paradise” with my loved ones forever. So, it’s not that I have closed my mind and have sunken into this blissful state of "sinfulness". So far, answers from science have been far more satisfying than anything my Christian friends or Christian apologists have provided. Apologists tend to give god the benefit of the doubt and add there on biases without even having the Bible to base their assumptions on. For instance, masturbation is wrong even though the Bible says nothing about it aside from a story about Onan and when he failed to inseminate the widow of a brother. Christians will come to their own conclusion and say that masturbation is wrong because you can’t do it without lusting and lust is sinful. You can’t even do it while only thinking of your wife because she isn’t involved so you’re being selfish which is sinful too. So, they basically fill in the blanks by drawing from other scripture which is not even addressing masturbation. Don’t you think that god would have addressed masturbation specifically if it was a big problem that a lot of Christians would have questions about one day? Of course, science completely disagrees with the Christian interpretation of masturbation because it's so replete throughout the mammalian kingdom and no noteworthy harm comes from doing it--aside from guilt associated with religious devotion (go figure). There are other examples out there which are probably better but you get the point. Then, there’s the fact that many denominations of Christianity don’t agree on its central tenants and Christians deny this at every turn. This isn’t even mentioning the fact that there are thousands of different religions which have very little to do with Christianity at all. As Bertrand Russell once said, “every believer should expect damnation purely on grounds of probability.”