Sunday, January 29, 2006

Do as you say, not as you do?

While the esoteric debate of objective vs. subjective morality can be interesting, at some point we need to look at the pragmatic side of the matter—how does it work? When we see how terribly skewed Christianity apply their claimed independent basis for morality, we see a system that is just as subjective, and often worse, than any secular humanist could devise.

It is like the child, who upon being formed by their mother to “Go ahead, take the medicine, it tastes good” asks their mother, “If it tastes so good—YOU try it.” The resulting grimace and hesitation is enough information. In spite of the argumentation, practice demonstrates that Mom can’t swallow her own medicine.

A group of humans (I will focus on the claims of Conservative Christians) has manufactured a list of morals. By alleging it came from a God, they attempt to elevate this list to supercede any list created by mere humans, and trumpet it as, therefore, superior. By defining the God as objective (albeit unable to verify this claim in any way) this list becomes an “objective” standard.

I understand that a Christian cannot know everything on the list. I understand that the Christian cannot comprehend some of the things on the list. For the moment, it is enough to know that we have such a list, providing us insight on do’s and don’ts.

But Christians themselves do not follow this list. In fact, they are astoundingly horrible at doing so.

They take their list and start circling certain items as being moral/immoral. Items that any human could come up with. Items that do not cost the Christian anything:

“Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not lie.” What is so remarkable about those circled items? Societies that never even heard of the Christian God developed these concepts. Any human, anywhere, can develop a set of morals such as these. Attributing them to a God is not remarkable. Billions of non-Christians subscribe to these tenets.

After having this list waved about as an extraordinary system of morals, it is high time I reviewed that list, and see just how “objective” the Christian is being. I can read the Bible too. Remember, this is a list from a God. The human is in no position to pick-and-choose which morals they like, and which ones they don’t. It is an all-or-nothing prospect. If the Christian cannot explain how God-caused atrocities such as Joshua’s genocide are on the list, they certainly have no authority to question the more minor restrictions.

Paul says that entire Law can be summed up as “Love your neighbor.” (Rm. 13:9) Jesus confirms that. (Mark 12:31, Matt. 22:36, Lk. 10:28) If this is number one (or two) on the list, and is emphasized into a place of importance, we must look at it more closely. What does it mean to “Love your neighbor”? Jesus broadly encompasses “Neighbor” to include enemies. (Matt. 5:34).

What moral, what law do we find on this list now? “If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Luke 6:29-30. Wow! When is the last time we saw a Christian argue that should be the number one concern of Christians today? Remember, this is YOUR list, in which YOUR God put it at the very top.

You hold abortion as a sin. It is on the list. Circled. Because of the inability to convince society as a whole, you attempt to pass laws and mandate through the Judicial system by fiat what you cannot do by persuasion. Why are you skipping past the more important laws, as pointed out by your God? You want me to be convinced of your “objective morality”? Start applying it uniformly. Start petitioning just as hard for laws that cost you, not laws you can live with.

Where is the outcry for the reform of all theft laws to carve out an exception when a Christian is stolen from? It is right there on the list. It even precedes “Do not murder.” If your God thinks it is of the most important, why don’t you? You march against abortion clinics. Where are the Christian clinics where anyone who asks for assistance is given freely? Please READ Luke 6:27-36. These “Christian clinics” should so clog our cities and towns that people cannot get to the Abortion clinic without passing 5 or 6 of them. Dare I say, if you converted your Churches into places where people would freely receive food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and jobs without questions, without admonition, without sanctimonious disapproval you would be stunned at how we would start to look at your “objective morality.”

Want to take a stab at the very heart of atheism? Stop behaving like one. If you believed that these morals came from a God, you would act on it.

I am unimpressed with philosophical argument, when I see this. Want to make an impact in the world? Want to prevail on this argument easily? Stop picking and choosing your “objective morals” and start living them. Within your letter to you Congressperson about eliminating abortion, include a mandated Christian-help center.

A rich Christian should be a witticism like “plastic glass” or “jumbo shrimp.” Jesus says, if you want to be perfect, sell your possessions and give to the poor. (Matt. 19:21, Mark 10:21) Stop worrying about material possessions. (Matt. 6:25-34) Give everything you own. (Luke 21:2) I’ll help you out—Christian women can sell or give all their gold jewelry and pearls for the benefit of the poor. 1 Tim. 2:9.

You consider homosexuality a sin. I understand. You desire to pass laws to prohibit homosexual marriage. (Why you want to pass a law prohibiting “sinners” from marrying, since your own system would mandate the elimination of marriage, is beyond me, but so be it.) Fair enough. In looking at your list, I am looking forward to all the proposals on the ballot reducing the amount of Bank Savings, and stock portfolios, and real estate that professing Christians may own.

I am eagerly anticipating the reforms that all of Christendom will be propelling forward with exuberance to eliminate government-assisted aid to the elderly and those needing assistance, as it is clearly the responsibility of the Christians. (James. 1:27) With the elimination of their wealth, it would be easily done.

Come ON! Can anyone point me to a rally, to a petition, to a conference, a proposal, anything in which we see Christians claiming other Christians are not doing their part, and it is time to pass some laws enforcing it! Give me a break.

Our health system is long overdue for some much-needed assistance. Christians, in following their own “objective” morals will no longer require medicine, hospitals or Doctors for diseases. James 5:13-16. By even using such facilities, they are demonstrating a lack of faith, (Matt 17:20, Matt. 21:21) which I am sure will equally be a crime, once Christians have their way.

More importantly Christians should replace hospitals for sicknesses. (The Bible is never quite clear on injury-related problems.) As any believer is able to heal the sick. (Mark 16:15-19). Jesus even indicates that believers can do MORE than he ever did in the miracle department. (John 14:12)

Want a law that says doctors should be convicted of murder for performing an abortion? Great. I assume that the law will also indicate that any person that goes to a Christian for healing and dies will equally be a victim of Murder. If you can’t heal by your faith, as required by your “objective moral” then you can’t call yourself a Christian. At least that would get you out of giving up your Mutual Funds, wouldn’t it?

And what exactly ARE you doing, complaining about the laws in the country in which you live? If you are facing persecution, isn’t that to be considered a joy? Are you allowed to complain about it? Nope. (James 1:2, 1 Peter 2:13-25, Philippians 2:14). Funny, when I look at your list, I don’t see that one circled, do I?

As I start to inspect this list, and its circled items, a pattern emerges—the Christian only circled the items that do have a cost to the Christian. “Do not steal.” Most people do that anyway, that is an easy one to circle. “Give everything you have to the poor.” Now the Christian starts waving the list real fast, and spouting philosophical meta-arguments of the values of objective morality, hoping no one ever really looks at what the Christian is actually proposing.

Look, it is very simple. You want to impress the world with objective morality? Start with laws imposing Christian morals on Christians. Any group that is willing to do that type of self-sacrifice is worthy of notice.

In the meantime, I am less than impressed with your “objective morality.” If you don’t buy it, why should I?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Sorry, nothing else I can do.

Lotsa talk around these parts about morality. Objective vs. subjective. How the other camp is incorrect, but little support for one’s own camp.

And of course, one of those topics that comes up are acts by God that appear evil, and how to reconcile it with a solely Good God. If a Christian discusses this area with a non-believer, it is common for the non-believer to throw some of the atrocities in the face of the Christian with a badgering of “how come, how come?” We’ve all seen them—the flood, Abraham/Isaac, Job, hardening Pharaoh’s heart, the Midianites, Joshua’s genocide, etc. Most of us could recount the arguments for both sides fairly well.

And the Christian is left in the unenviable position of confirming that God is still Good, in some way, so these atrocities must have some greater reason we cannot ken, and somehow God remains good in this greater reason. Basically, the Christian (by defending the actions) recognizes they appear evil, and has no explanation, but holds onto the hope that God must be good.

What could be so much worse that God had to take these routes? If a Christian can’t know (and I sympathize with that) can they postulate what would be worse? Take Joshua’s genocide.

All right—for the moment you are God. You have phenomenal cosmic power. You can create, destroy, and manipulate time. Having created nature, you can direct it to do your bidding. You know what humans will do for the entire course of their existence in the universe.

You know that perpetually, over the centuries, a severe sticking point for non-believers is this action of killing off all the Canaanites, men, women and children, so the Jews could have a place to live, as recorded in the Book of Joshua. You can see that time and time and time again, this will be thrown in the face of those that trust and defend you, and they have little to no explanation. Certainly nothing convincing.

You are looking at the Canaanites, year 1500 B.C.E. Every one you see will die within 100 years, if you don’t lift a finger. You don’t need to kill them; time (which you created) will do it for you. Death by killing is not a necessity. You remember the course of history of this locale over the past 500 years; populations have come and gone, waxed and waned.

What you need is to evict them. Remember, you are God, you saw this coming for 1000’s of years. It’s not like you only have a few days to clear out the squatters. Think of all the solutions available to you. Make the land undesirable. Few years of drought here, Rain in Syria, and the people move off. Send a disease that all it does is sterilize the men. Population dwindles. Create a few natural disasters that scare the occupants to go elsewhere.

Translocate them. Send visions of big, scary monsters. Give a gold rush and good jobs elsewhere.

Even if genocide was acceptable, have it committed by one tribe vs. another. The Tanakh has other stories where soldiers wiped each other out (Gideon) without the Israelites being the bad guys.

As a human, I can think of dozens of ways in which to clear the land of populace (or at a minimum severely reduce the number) without resorting to genocide. Frankly, I cannot think of a single reason why killing the children would ever be necessary.

So, to all the Christians that say it must have been moral, for some unknown reason, can you explain why God couldn’t have taken these other routes to clear the land? Why God absolutely, positively, with no other options available, had to kill these nationalities right down to the children?

Can you frame together a scenario that informs us skeptics that clearly the only and last resort that a good God could do, to clear the land of people, was genocide? An eternity of planning, and the best plan God could come up with is bloody, murderous, slaying?

As I start to look at these other atrocities, I can’t help but wonder why God was not able to put a plan together at least as well as I, a mere human, could. Noah couldn’t even save a one week old baby. God had to have the virgin females, and only the virgin females from the Midianites. Not one virgin baby boy. Not one widow. (Whoops. Forgot. They were ALL widows.)

But even if it was a last resort, the Christian must cling to the fact that somehow this was a good act. Wait a minute. If it was a good act (even a last resort) that means, for God, it was a good act as a first resort. Is the Christian honestly saying that, for God, genocide is good ONLY if it was a last resort? Can they proof that out? Can they demonstrate it was? That God was somehow limited in His ability, that we was forced to go to Defcon One and commit genocide? What, exactly, IS a last resort for a God? How can it have no options?

Realistically, genocide is acceptable to this God as even a first resort. God didn’t look for alternatives to wiping out the Canaanites—It was and always was a moral act.

And building on that, if genocide is morally acceptable for God (and God certainly places no limitation on it being in His sole discretion) then it would be morally acceptable for His followers.

A straightforward question for Christians that hold to the literal translation of the historic events of the Tanakh—in your objective (and I use the term in its loosest possible sense) morality, is genocide wrong? If so, when (since we know of at least one instance it was not) is it wrong and what proofs are there?

It is amusing to watch the arguments of whether morality is objective or subjective, when those claiming objective morals cannot even demonstrate what they are. If there are objective morals, and genocide is acceptable under those morals, I, for one, would be proud to violate that moral. I can only fervently hope that Christians would join me.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A personal entry

I have often (rightly) been accused of bringing a plethora of arguments against theism, bombarding my beleaguered opponent in what appears to be a “shock and awe” mentality. That I consequently write long posts, longer responses, and immense replies, and can become boring.

The problem is that, for me, the lack of evidence for theism did not rest in one book I read, or one principle, or one particular thought. When I began to investigate, it frayed apart so quickly and completely, I was stunned. I knew there were concerns (hence claims of “paradox” or “limited human understanding”) but never dreamed it was this bad.

Because of my background, I initially addressed the God of Christianity. The evidence compelled me to conclude that it was impossible for such a God to exist. Someday, I will discuss that journey, but for now I am starting in the middle of my tale, rather than the beginning. I find the arguments regarding theism as a whole more interesting at this moment.

Ever have a project completely unravel on you? No matter how you tried to fix it, no matter the solution it just steadily went from bad to worse? The other day one of the headlights on my car went out. I opened the hood, jiggled the wires, and it came back on. Problem solved, right? Close the hood. Bang. Pop. Hood wouldn’t latch. Try it again. Bang. Pop. Nope, something was stuck. I got a hammer out of the tool box, banged around the latch for a bit, hoping to hit the right bits to free up the situation, and slammed down the hood. Bang. Solidly latched. Pleased with myself, I put my hammer away; managing to knock over that tin we all have of various screws and nails that some day might come in handy. All over the garage floor.

As I am on my hands and knees, hoping to find every metal object before it finds its way into one of my tires; I couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that I may get a flat tire from trying to get my headlight to work. The situation had gone from bad to worse, just to fix a loose wire. In attempting to analyze theism, I felt the same way—no matter what resolution I came up with, the problems only seemed to get worse.

O.K., I had lost the God of Christianity. The one I had been familiar with for 37 years. While parts of what I had known may still be true, the entire picture was not. As difficult as this was, I still knew there was a God. Maybe not the one I was the most comfortable with, maybe not even one I preferred, but my entire mind was infused with the idea of a God, and to remove that would be to remove my very essence.

Now what? I have an essentially clean slate. God could be anything: big, small, mean, nice, hairy, clean-shaven. The only thing to do is look at what is around me, process what I know and see what conclusions (if any) I can safely come to about God. There is a god—what does it look like?

Well, might as well start with creation. No real sense in believing in a God, without having it resolve abiogenesis and cosmology. Of course it is possible that the Universe made a God, which made us, but then is the Universe ultra-natural, God super-natural, and humans natural? Recognizing the possibility of infinite regression, I figured I had to get my feet wet somewhere and creation is as good a point as any, so to prevent insanity, I rested on God being a creator.

A simple axiom that follows is the created (humans) cannot be more than the creator. Whatever we have came from this creator. Otherwise, we would have something that we got from another creator. Which would mean there is more than creator. And I verge on more problems than resolutions.

FINE. A creator that created what I see. Now, for the first time, rather than fit what I see about me into a God molded for me, I can review the evidence and no matter where it leads—good, bad or ugly, I can confidently state that we obtained it from a creature that provided it.

I see Love. God must loving. BUT, I also see Hate. (You can see where this is going.) God must also Hate. I see good and evil. God must also be good and evil. I see surprise. What can surprise a God? I see fear. What is God afraid of? I see death. Can God die? I see jealousy. What could God possibly be jealous of?

At this point, I realize how little I can conclude about God, just by observing the world about me. Is it possible for an eternal creature to make something less than eternal? For something that lives forever to create something that dies? If God was all-knowing, how could He even conceptualize surprise to create it? I don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Time and again, as my mind took a path, I hit a dead-end of “We can’t know.” Perhaps observing the world about us, doesn’t really tell us anything about a God at all.

Talking to God was natural. I continued, even acknowledging that I didn’t know who I was talking to, but if there was one, I was talking to it. I received no response. Another observation I made was that this God was non-communicative.

As humans, we don’t communicate with other specific humans for two reasons—we are either unable or unwilling. If God wasn’t communicating with me, I could only presume that He was either unable or unwilling. But how can I possibly tell the difference?

Was He unable due to some constraint on His time, power, nature? Was He unable because, in the fit of creation He expired? Was He unwilling because of how I was communicating, why I was communicating, when I was communicating? I don’t know. I don’t know. Or maybe there is something unknown to me, some God-quality that restrains him. How could I possibly determine what that is? I don’t know what I don’t know!

Observations leave incomplete answers; communication is not occurring.

At this point, I have to take a step back and re-evaluate how we can determine anything about a god. Do I use natural means such as observation to determine a supernatural creature? If not, I know of no supernatural means within me by which to use. In fact, can I use logic? I realize that logic is just a way to make sense of the world about me. To communicate within myself, or to others in a manner that we have some consistency, rather than incoherent babbling.

In order to talk about God, we have to be able to do it logically, right? Right? I must be confident to state:

1. A equals B
2. B does not equal C.
3. A does not equal C.

But if God uses some different form of logic, perhaps, in my limited way, I do not know in His world:

1. A equals B
2. B does not equal C
3. A does not equal B, B equals C, and C may or may not equal B or A.

To even begin the discussion, I would need to presume even God is limited by logic. But why stop there? If He is limited to logic (which I cannot confirm), couldn’t He also be limited to time? Could He be limited to space? Could He be limited to power? Could He be limited to a system of morality? Could He be limited by limits I don’t know?

If I give you a list of numbers, and say, “some of these numbers do not belong” we must come up with some methodology by which we can determine what those are. If the list is “1, 2, 3, 5,…” perhaps it is even numbers that do not belong. If the list continues, “…7, 11, 13…” perhaps it is prime numbers. In some way, though, we derive a methodology to make this determination.

Once I claim one limit on God, no matter WHAT it is (nature, logic, holiness, you pick) how do we come up with a methodology by which we can determine what He is or is not limited by? C’mon—you know the answer! We can’t.

I can’t know what God is. I can’t know what God may or may not be beyond what I don’t know. I can’t know even the method by which I can determine what I don’t know!

Look, I can read the fun philosophical debates as to determinism vs. free will. I can read evolution vs. creationism. Bottom line, it all boils into a lack of ability to verify means a complete lack of knowledge. Like it or spike it.

Realizing I know absolutely nothing about God, and have no way to gain even an iota of knowledge, why did I hold onto the belief of a God? I had to step back and see my bias toward a belief in a god, from years of constant indoctrination in the belief. (Note: Not indoctrination in a bad way at all. Like being indoctrinated in a good work ethic. Not a bad thing, just how I was raised.)

It wasn’t a problem with free will. Or how creation developed. It was a realization that the whole concept was inherently flawed. I read numerous arguments for a god from a variety of philosophers (admittedly, toward a Christian bias) and I see all these long fancy word manipulations in an attempt to blur the very basic simple statement—we don’t have a clue.

Once reviewing how the idea of god(s) formed over the course of history, it became evident that humanity created god(s). Not vice versa. There is no god.

Perhaps I didn’t start in the middle. Maybe it is high time that Christians start from the ground up and develop what a God would look like, rather than attempt to smash a God into a Bible-shaped form. Maybe the attempt to formulate a God from observation and analysis would demonstrate how difficult it is to make brash and bold statements as to its wants, desires and intentions. Maybe Christians would get just a hint of why other people believe in other gods, with good justification, and some are convinced by the overwhelming evidence that there is no God.

Merely a stepping stone on my life path.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Why does God get the good stuff?

We can visualize two columns: in one we have all the “God-stuff” and in the other all the “human-stuff.” When we discuss things such a truth and honesty and justice and purity, and love and good, we place all those things in the God-stuff column. When discussing concepts like evil, and sin, and death and disease, and anything remotely bad, we place that in the human-stuff column. On occasion a human may be able to exercise a minuscule portion of God-stuff, but only upon God’s allowing it, and even then, as but a pitiful shadow of the capability of God doing God-stuff. And on even rarer occasion, we may see God exercising some human-stuff, like war, and genocide and suffering, but only because humans messed it up in the first place, and only understand human-stuff, so God has to work with what He has.

The simply question—why? Why do we assume God is good? Why do we place everything beneficial in a God column, and deride ourselves by placing every single detrimental item in the human column? Could there be a mixture of both? Could it be the exact opposite?

Many theists say God is good. The term “omni-benevolent” or “all good” or “solely good” is tossed about. But then the skeptic looks about them at the world, and sees things that are not good, things that even the theists say are not good, and questions where they come from. At this point word-gymnastics kick in for the theist to attempt to explain why there are these “not good” things, and why they must all be in the human-stuff and not the God-stuff.

It is from this that we get the Logical Problem of evil—if God didn’t create sin, where did it come from? And the evidentiary Problem of evil—once we had sin, why does God allow things like Tsunamis and hurricanes? And the Euthyphro problem—how is even an action determined to be “good”? And the Epicurean question—is God unable to stop evil? All arguments desperately using semantics and juggling to attempt to keep the two columns separate, and yet leaving God being God.

The most reasonable explanation is that of the deists—if we have good and evil, they both must come from God. It is ALL in the God-stuff.

I can propose an omni-malevolent God or “all evil” or “solely evil” and it is equally as logically viable as an all-good God. I would simply have to switch the labels on the columns. Of course, the skeptic would also look at my proposed God, and point out the non-evil things, and question where they would come from.

Luckily, in watching my theist friends, I could use the exact same semantic gymnastics, and attempt to resolve the Logical Problem of Good, the Evidentiary Problem of Good, the Euthyphro dilemma of “is it evil because God does it, or does God do it because it is evil,” and the Epicurean question of why God can’t seem to eliminate Evil.

To see how this works, one of the possible responses to the Problem of Evil for the omni-benevolent God, is that He allows evil to exist, in order to achieve a greater Good. (Not saying this is a good response, albeit one that is seen.) I can just as logically, just as reasonably state that, “No, my omni-malevolent God allows good to exist in order to achieve a greater Evil.”

I have never seen a proof that demonstrates a Good God is more viable, or more logical than an Evil God, since we see both in the world today.

I hand you a picture of a painting that is Black and White. No colors, no shades of gray. Unfortunately, the artist is no longer with us. I point out how beautifully the artist painted this black picture on a white canvas. You respond, “No, the artist painted a white picture on a black canvas.” Yet from our photograph, it is impossible to determine which color was canvas, and which was paint. We may argue seeing brush strokes, but in the end, it could equally be white paint on a black canvas, or black paint on a white canvas. (The analogy may not be perfect, but rather than attack it, try and understand what is being said.) And we can’t ask the artist. All we have are some of the artist’s friends saying “The artist always used white paint.” And other friends saying, “The artist always used black paint.” And neither prevailing on which was used in the painting in our photograph.

So why do theists say God is good? That is easy—hope. Not proof. Not logic. Not reason, but simple, human hope. The concept of an evil God is too much to bear, and therefore the only reason to believe in a God is to have hope. And we always hope for good.

For the predominance that read this post, today was not your birthday. Did you look forward to getting a present today? Some cake? A party? Nope—nothing to hope for in that regard. For 363 days in the year we have no hope of getting a birthday present. Just one day to look forward to. Do we celebrate an UNbirthday (other than in a Disney movie)? Nope. As humans, we look forward to, we hope for good. Not bad. Not mediocre. We look forward to leaving the Dentist’s office, not entering.

Frankly, there is little point in believing in an evil God without a Good God to offset it, due to the lack of hope.

But this hope should put us on our guard in attempting to proof things out. When I plan for a case, if I start “hoping” for a certain outcome, my planning can become blurred. I start to see the evidence in only one biased light. I stop reviewing the evidence objectively, and only see it the way I “hope” it is seen. I stop looking at ALL the evidence, and review only the evidence that supports my position. If I did plan this way, my opponent would be sure to capitalize on this fatal error by pointing out the evidence I rejected from my belief in my “hope.”

I assume scientist view their experiments in the same way. To faithfully record the data, even if the data does not turn out as expected. To reject an experiment, simply because it did not turn out the way we “hoped” it would, causes bad results. Our “hopes” do not reality make.

If you are “hoping” for a specific result, introspection should cause you to greatly question your evidence, in realizing the bias. It is not bad to have biases, we all do. It is bad when we fail to recognize them, and use caution in examining our position.

It is fine to have a hope in a Good God. But this hope must not take precedence over the reality that we cannot determine what goes in which column, and we must set aside this hope upon review of the evidence of reality.

The only way we know of Love, is by watching two humans interact in love. The only way we know of Justice, is to watch humanity act it out in society’s role as a monitoring agency. The only way we know of good, is by seeing other humans act in certain ways that are beneficial to other humans, society as a whole, and the earth. The only way we know of Evil is to watch humanity attempt to tear itself apart.

In fact, everything we know of every concept, we see through the actions of the world and its inhabitants. Not from a God. In the end, the only place we can verify where any of these ideas happen is by placing them all in the human-stuff.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bad Arguments

There are arguments and statements theists should not bother to use on atheists. A waste of time. I know that these have been displayed thousands of times before, yet I keep seeing them over and over and over. As recently as yesterday. Either someone is not listening, or someone doesn’t believe it.

Look, use arguments that would work on YOU. If you wouldn’t buy it, why should the other side? In my profession we make the statement, “Don’t sell what you can’t buy.” In a divorce situation it looks like this:

Woman: I would like the piano.
Man: The piano she wants is worth $12,000 at least. Therefore I get $12,000 worth of other stuff to compensate for it.
Woman: O.K. Tell you what. You take the piano and I will take $12,000 worth of other stuff, if you think it is worth so much.
Man: But I don’t want the piano.
Woman: May be true, but if you think it is worth $12,000; you can sell it and pocket the cash.
Man: Oh. Er. Naw. You can have the piano.

The man couldn’t “buy” what he was trying to “sell”—the value of the piano. See it all the time. If you wouldn’t buy these arguments, why should I?

Don’t knock it ‘till you try it. The old, “If you would just try Christianity, somehow, like a tornado, it will suck you in.” We understand that you believe in a God. We understand that, to you, a God is as real as the person that just left the room—even though you cannot see him or her, you know that they exist. We understand that, for you, you “experience” God in numerous different ways, from a still, small voice to a warm feeling of fuzzies on the beach.

You are convinced that if only we would do the most minimal effort, God would suck us in like a vacuum cleaner. But would this same claim work on you? There are other religions that differ from yours. I don’t care which. If you are Protestant, pick Catholic. Or Mormon. Or Muslim. If Jewish, pick Christian Science, or Scientology. If a Moonie, pick Native American Spirit. Whatever your religion, there are persons of another, competing religion that are just as convinced of the viability of their belief as you are of yours. They, too, have God experiences. They too, are firmly convinced of the existence of their God. Just as you are staunchly certain that by being right, they must be wrong, they are staunchly certain that by their being right, you must be wrong.

And this person of a competing religion comes to you and states, “If you would just try _____ (Muslim, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Mormonism, etc.) you would understand.” Are you even remotely moved to “attempt” a different religion? No, a thousand times, no! If I told you, “Why not just try atheism?” are you thinking for even an instant, “Hmmm. Maybe I will give it a whirl.” No! Why not? Because you have done your research, even if it is life experience, and come to the conclusion that where you are at is, at the least, the correct path.

Now, if YOU wouldn’t attempt a different religion, why should I buy this argument either? Yeah, yeah, I know. Because yours is “right.” See that person next to you? They believe differently. They’re “right” too. And the one next to them….and the one next to them….

Taken on its face, this argument is quite rude. It fails to give consideration to the other person’s thoughts and life experiences, and renders them as inconsequential. Do I believe the Abrahamic concept of God is incorrect? Absolutely. Will I argue against it? For certain. Do I assume the other person has no basis for their belief, and it could be easily undercut simply by “trying something new.” No way.

To my knowledge (not to say it never happened) I have never seen an atheist argue against theism with the ploy, “If you would only try atheism or agnosticism, you would see it is true.” Why not? Because we recognize that it is a matter of involuntary belief. You cannot “try” to believe something without facts.

If a person stuck a gun to your head, and said, “Believe in Santa Clause or I will kill you” you would die. You can force your brain to attempt to believe. You would say you believe. You groan and moan and sweat, doing everything you could to believe it. But you couldn’t force yourself to do so. Could you “make” your mind believe it so much, that come next Christmas, when no present magically appears, you are genuinely disappointed? Nope.

The facts get in the way. Inside your head it goes like this:

Person: Believe in Santa Clause, Believe in Santa Clause.
Brain: They have never found his castle at the North Pole.
Person: C’mon Brain, our life is on the line! Believe in Santa Clause!
Brain: There has never been a single picture, footprint, or sighting of the fellow.
Person: STOP IT! Believe in Santa Clause, Believe in Santa Clause!

And so on. It is the same with telling an atheist to just “try” it. In order to do so, we would have to believe in a god. And our brain would start to throw too many facts to allow that belief to take seed and grow.

If you want to argue the validity of those facts, go right ahead. That is a genuine, interesting debate. But to indicate we can force our mind to believe in spite of those facts is just as silly as thinking your mind could willingly believe another form of theism, before reviewing the facts.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Or do you take the Mystery Prize?

This phrase, “Christianity is logical” is fun, let’s explore it. If I was going to build the propositions to show Christianity is logical, I know exactly where to safely start:

P1: God is mysterious.
P2: We do not know everything about God, only what He has revealed to us.

Having started with those two propositions (which many Christians would concur) any other propositions, from P3 to P2003 will all “logically” fall in line with it. With that basis, it is impossible to create any set of premises that will not manage to conform, under this P1 & P2.

Watch how this works:

P3: God is solely good.
P4: Evil exists in the world.

(Commonly the Problem of evil, obviously.) We seem to have a contradiction. BUT, in order to allow for a possible resolution, one can state that this is one of those mysterious elements, which God has chosen to not show us. Voila —what a minute ago was a nasty discrepancy becomes logically possible under P1—God can do it and we don’t know how. Or another:

P5: Humans have free will
P6: God pre-determines all actions.

(The ol’ free will/predestination thing.) Again, a difference. But, bring out P1, state it is an unexplained paradox, and we have yet again, developed a logical, reasonable, all-inclusive belief that is internally non-contradictory in a logical sense.

By creating this HUGE escape clause at ground zero, the Christian is able to weasel out of any apparent logical problem by grasping onto this straw and claim “We don’t know HOW God does it, only that He does. And you can’t know either.”

The apparent age of the earth and fossil record in light of claim of creation? Can’t explain it, all we know is that “God did it.” Why God hated ham? Don’t know, in the mysterious box. Why is one death sufficient to save Billions? Don’t know, in the mysterious box. Why the genocide, the testing of Abraham and Job, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? All can be “logically” explained by the first premise that God is mysterious.

Oh, some may not like the word, “mysterious” as it appears too nebulous, and they can create a much fancier definition, like “a transcendent being, incalculable, inconceivable, and indescribable, which has, on occasion, communicated in an anthropomorphic manner to provide an allotment of knowledge, which even then the human is incapable of comprehending.” Bottom line? “God is mysterious.”

And so we are stymied. Christianity is a logical belief. Or is it?

Part of the predicament of creating this “God is mysterious” premise, is that the Christian must, likewise concede that they have no idea, either, as to the who, what, when, where or why of God’s doing. That, in fact, they are in no better position to make the determination than the non-believer.

The escape clause is so large; it destroys every premise, both positive and negative. Is God good? Who knows, since He is mysterious. As I pointed out before, if God can lie, we wouldn’t be able to verify it one way or the other. Therefore, anything he says about himself cannot be verified! Did God create this world, or did he find it? Who knows—God is mysterious, right? Is there more than one God? Can’t answer. Questions such as morality, Justice, Love, and truth are all swallowed whole in the great big “unknown.”

“Hoisted on one’s own petard” comes to mind. Often a theist will debate with me, and go on at great lengths about “God is this..” or “God did that…” or “God is….” but when I start to question the conclusions that these hypothesizes bring, they whip out the “God is mysterious box” and state, honestly, that they don’t know. Well, if they don’t like the conclusions, they likewise have problems with the underlying claims. “God is mysterious” becomes a convenient excuse, but in reflection, destroys the whole premise of the God itself.

I am not saying that we must know God 100% or not make any claims about Him. Nothing of the sort. I am saying that absent an ability to verify, using “God is mysterious” to get out of a logical conundrum does not present a stamp of approval on the process. I am saying that by claiming a being with whom we have no contact, other than at its initiation, is anything is dangerous work. To make grandiose, contradictory claims, and then resolve them by saying “we don’t know” is unhelpful.

It reduces the concept of “logical” to a laughingstock. If your husband beats you and yet says he loves you, that is logically consistent, because he is “mysterious.” The classic “If…then…” logical statement, in the hands of a theist becomes “If ….then….unless God wants it different.”

Remember, at its root, “logic” is just a way to communicate so that we can reasonable understand each other. So that we understand square circles, and married bachelors are logical impossibilities. So that when we say, “If A, then B” regardless of whether “A” is “2,” “you are good” or “four potatoes” we understand and communicate that “B” will happen. Every single time.

By creating this huge exception, we can never be certain that there aren’t square circles or married bachelors, because God-logic allows the contradictory to exist. The “If…then…unless God steps in and makes up mean down, and right mean left.” Good-by logic. Good-by ability to consistently communicate.

There is another issue for Christians. This claim, “God is mysterious” is directly contradictory to the Bible. In Job we have his friends discussing YHWH and His attributes. One, Zophar the Naamathite says, “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven-what can you do? Deeper than Sheol-what can you know? (Job 11:7-8)

I don’t know about you, but this sure sounds like the “God is mysterious” excuse rearing its head. Zophar tells Job that he is in no position to question God’s ways, since they are unknown.

But what does God say about Zophar’s statement? “…you have not spoken of Me what is right,…” (Job 42:7 & 8) This make no sense. None whatsoever. In fact, if you read the last three chapters of Job, God seems to be saying the same thing Zophar had said, at greater length.

How can we resolve this contradiction? Oh. Almost forgot. That’s right. God is mysterious.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It is a Miracle

Can theists be as skeptical of their own religion’s miracles as they are of their own?
Mention a Catholic miracle to a Protestant, and most times the Protestant need not hear any more on the tale. They already know it is not a “true” miracle. Say ("Medjogorje" ) to most Protestants, and they would not have a clue what you are talking about. Start to explain it is a sighting of the Virgin Mary, and you might as well save your breath.

They won’t research it. They won’t attempt to refute it; they won’t even bother reading the entire story. It has been labeled, “false miracle,” and immediately placed into the wastebasket as a fruitless endeavor to gain any more knowledge of the affair.

But if I was to do the same with a talking donkey, I am considered “close-minded, pre-disposed to not believing in miracles, too skeptical.” What is the difference?

“The Muslims recount a (miracle) of……” Stop right there. Don’t bother completing the sentence. The Christian, at best desires to hear the rest only anticipating to be reduced to guffaws of laughter. But question how one can walk on water, the Christian obtains a somber tone.

“The Mormons tell of how the angle Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith….” And the Christian is prepared to smile in pity at the credulity of certain people. But talk of an Angel who will tell a female she will never been injected with sperm yet produce a child, and it becomes a serious contention of a doctrinal issue.

(And, of course, this goes both ways in various religions. It is certainly not exclusive to Christians.)

Miracles are always proven through testimonial evidence. How can I, as an outside observer, make the determination that the testimony of dead being raised back to life is a “true” miracle, and Mary’s face appearing in a grilled cheese sandwich, based on testimony, is not? (Yes, we have the actual sandwich, I know. But who says that is Mary’s face? THAT is the testimony part.)

Unverified, biased testimony is, frankly, some of the worst evidence there is.

Defendant’s Mom: My son couldn’t have committed the crime. He was home, with me, watching T.V. all night. He has an alibi—me.
Prosecutor: Did you two see anyone else that night?
Mom: No.
Pros: Did anyone call you and talk to your son on the phone?
Mom: No.
Pros: What did you watch?
Mom: I always watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
Pros: Would your son say you watched the same shows?
Mom: He has a bad memory. He may not remember which shows we watched.
Pros: Does you son normally watch TV with you?
Mom: No.
Pros: How many times, in the past year, has he?
Mom: Well, this is the first time he ever has.
Pros: This has never happened before, has never happened again, is unique, and it happens at a convenient time, in favor of your proposition, and is unverified by any other person?
Mom: Yep.

Not surprisingly, most jurors show sympathy towards the Defendant’s mother, but reject her story outright.

Look at the time when Christianity recorded its miracles. It was times when miracles were considered to happen often. Appollonius of Tyana resurrected the dead, performed miracles and ascended to heaven. Even Eusebius did not question the reality of many of these miracles, but attributed them to demons. Peregrinus’ statute healed the sick and gave oracles. Josephus recounts miracles as historical events. Papias does as well.

“Jesus cured a friend of a guy I know from blindness!”
“Really? I know a guy that saw Simon fly about the city!”

All of this is pure testimonial evidence with no verification whatsoever. Over the years, societies have become more skeptical, and no longer do we simply accept testimonies. We don’t accept, “Believe it because I said so,” we want proof. In this day and age of newspapers, internet reporting, blogs, information-sharing, investigation, and scientific knowledge, simply hearing about it from a “friend of a friend” is not enough. (Yet there are exceptions to even that. Urban myths abound!)

And, not surprisingly, the incidents of “miracles” have decreased upon this skepticism. Now miracles are reduced to:

“Aunt Bessie was cured of cancer by a Miracle.”
“In an examination it was discovered, surgery was performed, radical chemotherapy administered, and she is now cancer-free! They say only 20% survive this type of cancer.”
“So an event that happens 1 out of 5 times is considered a miracle? If I play slots, and win 1 out of 5 times, is that a miracle?”

Bottom line. Can we establish a methodology by which we can determine an event recounted by an individual is an actual miracle, as compared to other accounts which are not? If we can, how does the sole testimonial evidence of Christian miracles survive this methodology, whereas other miracles do not? If not, why should I believe testimony of one set of miracles over any other?

Without skeptical verification of a miracle, it should be ruled out.

(Thanks to for information.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

He Loves me, he loves me not...

We have all seen various arguments for/against theism. Many have fun, fancy names such as ontological, or teleological, or start with “Problem of” as in “Problem of Evil” or “Problem of Coherence.”

One I have not seen much action on, though, is the “Problem of Love.” Granted, it is only designed to address a God that allegedly loves humanity, and particular the Christian God. But when I have raised it to Christians, the end result is invariably, “I have no answer to that. God is mysterious.” Which is not very satisfying.

In simplest form, the problem is: If God loves me, why won’t He talk to me?

We need to unpack this further.

I am informed that the single greatest act of love ever exhibited in the entire history of humankind was a God, taking the form of a man, dying and separating Himself from God, so that humans could be saved from the wrath of God. Setting aside the huge non-monotheistic implications of this sentiment, not to mention the historical difficulties, we shall assume for our first premise that this was the greatest act of Love.

In fact, I am assured that due to our puny human minds, we cannot even conceive the awesomeness of this God, and our pitiful human language cannot encompass the length and breadth and depth of this love. “Love” is an inadequate word. We should differentiate it by calling it “Mega-Love.” Or “Ultra-Love.” Or “Super-duper-fantastic-mega-ultra love.” Something to give us just a taste of how incomprehensible this super-duper-fantastic-mega-ultra love is.

I have been told that God had no obligation to perform this act. That if He chose, He was within his rights of justice, due to some other fellow blowing it, to pour out His wrath upon all of humanity, and forever damn them to eternal torture. He came close with Noah. That we would be frying in flames, recognizing the correctness of this action, and acknowledging that justice demands we be there. That God was well within His rights to do so, and arguably should have done so.

It has been preached to me that even if I were the only person on earth, God still would have sent God to do this act, because of this all-inclusive super-duper-fantastic-mega-ultra love. That it was, in fact, my immoral actions that would require this act, and still He would do it.

Understand I cannot use enough hyperbole to even give a hint of how great this act was. Dying so that my friend can live? Piffle. Giving my entire life in service to help others? Meaningless. It was ingrained that all of our greatest moral acts summed together were the equivalent of a used tampon in comparison to the holiness of this God. That all our acts of love were mere shadows of reflections of images of whispers of fog as compared to this single act of super-duper-fantastic-mega-ultra love.

There is no analogy strong enough, or story complete enough to fully portray this love. (Sit through a few sermons, though, and you will hear a few. Men who watch their sons die so that their son’s friend can live in overturned rowboats. That sort of thing.)

So why won’t he talk to me? The second premise is that this God created us. We can observe our fellow humans and one thing becomes astoundingly clear—we actively seek out interaction with others. We attempt to communicate to other humans, and attempt to socialize. Your reading this blog is proof enough.

There is a reason solitary confinement is a punishment—deprivation of socialization is painful to humans. (and other species as well. We are not unique in this regard. Leave a dog at home while you work. ‘Nuff said.) We talk on the telephone, in e-mails, in letters, in books, in person, in groups, one-on-one, in coffee shops. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.

According to Christianity, we are actually designed to communicate with each other, and to communicate with a God. That, with the inability to communicate with God, there is some “emptiness” in our soul. Yet He can’t initiate a conversation?

A third premise is that God has the ability to communicate with humans. We see that in the Tanakh by God actually appearing and talking. Not visions. Not dreams. Well, maybe a burning bush, but still and all, actual words to actual human ears. We see this in the New Testament, with a God appearing in human form, using human vocal cords, human hands and human facial expressions to discuss with human ears and eyes. There is absolutely, positively nothing preventing God from appearing today and talking with us face-to-face. Nothing.

Which brings us to the original question—why wouldn’t He? Anyone with a child knows that you would do extraordinary things for that person, out of just the measly human variety of love. We worry over them, help them, bite our tongue, watch them fall (with our hearts in our throat), encourage them, etc. The simplest thing to do is talk to them. More and more commercials are hitting the airwaves exclaiming the easiest ways to prevent drug abuse is--what? Oh, that’s right, talking to your children.

If we saw a child begging for their parent to just talk to them, and the parent had the capability, yet refused, we would call that parent a monster. We certainly would not exclaim the overwhelming love the parent has!

To claim that God, because he loved humans, performed this act of super-duper-fantastic-mega-ultra love, but then refused to talk to humans for the next 2000 years is justifying the fact that no such God exists. Its why he has been so “silent” It makes no sense.

Me: I just committed the greatest act of love ever done, past, present and future for my son.
Son: Thank you, dad, I greatly appreciate it. You are the best.

Son: Hey, I am up for a job interview, and you have connections with the company. The job sounds great. Can you give me a hand?
Son: Aw, I realize you didn’t help me get that job. It’s probably for the best. I am sure you had some great reasons for it.

Son: You know, I am dating this girl, Jane, and she seems really great. You have had more experience than any other person, is this the person I should pursue a commitment with? There are a few things that don’t match up, but she sure seems great, what do you think?

Son: Boy, I had a GREAT day today on the beach. The sun was shining, the water was perfect. It was like you were right beside me, talking to me. Sure, it was in my head, ‘cause you don’t talk out loud, but we sure were close today, weren’t we?

Son: Oh dear. Doc found a spot on my lung. Says he has to do a biopsy. Might be cancer. I’m really worried. Can you send me some of your encouragement? I know other people have been helpful, but that is other people. What about you?

Son: Well, the good news is that they think they got all the cancer. Thank you so much for the doctor removing the cancer. I know you must have helped in some way. I’m not excited about chemo, but I am sure you will be beside me, encouraging all the way.

Son: I have a real complication this Saturday. My son wants me to go to his game, the neighbor needs help (and you KNOW he doesn’t know you) and the church is having a prayer breakfast that could use my help. I can’t be at three places at once. Which one would you go to if you were me?

Son: Hey, dad, I am starting to have some questions. I know you are real, don’t worry about that. But others say because you don’t ever say anything, and everything we do comes from human sources…..well……don’t be offended, but some don’t think you exist. Silly, isn’t it? So if you could point me in a direction to get some good sources to show them how silly they are that would be helpful.

Son: I know you didn’t say anything explicitly, so I looked up some sources on my own. You know, they have some pretty valid points. In fact, I am starting to have concerns. Don’t worry, I know you are real and all, but can you point out some definitive examples that I can understand? You know me better than anybody, and you know what I need more than anyone else. I’m not so concerned about showing others, but I’m starting to need it myself, ‘kay?

Son: Dad, I am really, REALLY worried. The more I look, the more it is as if you aren’t there. My friends have pointed out that every conversation we have ever had is in my head. Again, I don’t need you to be here right this moment, but a timely word. A note, anything to point me where to look would be appreciated.

Son: Dad, I have talked to you for years. Looking back, I realize that every job I obtained, every girlfriend I dated, every opportunity I realized was by human effort. Every encouragement was through other humans. I realize that even if you didn’t exist, my life wouldn’t have changed. Not one bit. It is clear now that I am talking to myself. I am sorry, but your lack of communication, with a silly claim of love has been as convincing as all the other arguments. If you want people to believe you exist, you might want to work on your conversational skills.

Now, doesn’t it start to appear ludicrous that a God that supposedly loves humans in this super-duper-fantastic-mega-ultra love, can’t even figure out how to talk to those that want to talk to Him? As humans we have more consideration for others than what God shows

I have seen two objections to this argument. First, “who are you to tell God what he should do?”

“Hello? McFly? McFly. Is anybody home?” Who am I? I’m the one he supposedly loves with this super-duper-fantastic-mega-ultra love, remember? In the first premise we established that. If he knows that I require (by His design) communication, isn’t the most loving thing to do is communicate? Again, we can see this in mere human love.

Me: I love you so much, dear spouse.
Wife: Thank you. Look, I have had a rough day. Can you help out by setting the table?
Me: Who the heck are YOU to tell me what I am supposed to do? Now bring me my paper, and don’t bother me when I watch the game. Oh, and dear?
Wife: Yes?
Me: I love you.

The second objection is that God wants us to have faith. Excuse me? He loves me so much that He has to test me for 70 years or so, on a pass/fail so that he can communicate with me for the next trillion years? Didn’t he have to commit the ultimate act of love, because he already knew I was a failure? What is the surprise if I fail again? And if He REALLY wanted to test me, why not inhibit all communication, prevent the New Testament from being written and see how we do? Let’s see this work with just our version of love:

Joe: Hey, isn’t that your wife?
Me: Sh. Sh. Sh. I haven’t spoken to her in 15 years. I am testing how faithful she is to me.
I have already discussed how the word “justice” has been mangled in theism. I see the word “love” as being equally diluted. It makes no sense for a claim that God loves humanity to this indescribably amount, but then is unable to commit the simplest act of love thereafter. We would not accept it in humanity, why would one accept it in a human description of a God?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Where's the Justice?

“God is Just.” We see that phrase often in theistic debates. I used it myself for more years than I care to remember. Yet for all that time, I never thought about the actual implications of such a statement. This is potentially more embarrassing for me, as I work within a system we call “justice” and I should have known better.

“Justice” is not that complicated of a word. It means conforming to or consonant with what is legal or lawful; legally right; lawful. It is equally easy to apply—read the law, review the situation, and determine a yes/no answer—does it conform to the law?

A city may enact an ordinance that states all business signs must be 1.5 meters by 1 meter or smaller, and any person that sets up a sign larger than that is guilty of a misdemeanor. In this simple example, justice is easy to determine. The owner that erects a 1.5 x 1 Meter sign is not guilty. The owner that erects a 1.51 x 1 Meter sign is. Even if it is only 1 millimeter more, in conformance with the law, the owner has violated the ordinance.

Justice is harsh. It does not forgive mistakes or ignorance or consider “extenuating circumstances.” It is always a yes/no proposition. (You may wonder why the legal system can get so complicated then. While we know the law, applying facts to that law can get tricky. What action is “pre-meditated”? What is “reasonable”? Many laws, aware of the stringent requirements of justice, deliberately leave flexibility within the law itself to allow for varying circumstances. Hence high-priced attorneys.)

If Peoria requires $5 for a dog license, and East Peoria, one block over, requires $500 for a dog license, “justice” does not address the issue of disparity. Justice requires that your neighbor, across the street, pay 100 times more for owning a dog. While enacting the laws, we hope the legislatures consider all circumstances, but once enacted, Justice has nothing to do with being fair. It doesn’t care. All it states is, “Here is my law. Conform or pay the consequences.”

If there is no law, there is no need to discuss justice. If our city had never enacted an ordinance regarding signs, the owner could install a 1.5 x 1 Meter sign, or a 12 x 12 Meter sign. There is no such thing as a sign “in conformance” or “not in conformance” with the law as there is no law. We would not even use the word “Justice” in that situation because it has no meaning.

Ahh. The problem. If God is just, that means he is acting in conformance with a law. What law? Where can I look to see that “O.K., this is the law; let’s see how God does”? There is no golden cornerstone in the universe in which we can peer through a telescope and review the base law by which God is bound.

In fact, the word “just” implies, by definition, actions that are unjust. Not in conformance with the law. I ask theists, “What action of God would violate this law to which He is conforming?” Not knowing the law, there is no possible way to answer. You see, we need to have the law FIRST, before we can even start discussing whether an action of God is just or not.

One of the first replies is that God is bound by His nature. So His “nature” is the law by which he is just. Upon inspection, this renders the word “just” as meaningless. God can change His nature at whim and fancy, and, by this defense, be just. In fact, it is impossible for God to EVER be unjust, as whatever He regards to do, at that moment, can conform to His nature, and be, “Just.”

If our town enacts a law that a person can put up a sign of any size, it is impossible for anyone to NOT conform to that law. The law is meaningless. 12 x 12 Meter sign is just. No sign is just. A 1 Kilometer by 1 Kilometer sign is just. Is this what the theist intends to say—that all actions of God, whether murder or resurrection are “just.”? If so—who cares? It is not to God’s credit, as we become merely playthings to His whim.

Again, we cannot inspect His “nature” to even see if God is conforming to that! It is a complete unknown. At this point, I am informed that He is bound by Truth. (Which is fascinating, as there is no external parameter in which to confirm or deny this claim.) And I ask, “Can God lie?”

On occasion, in divorce matters, a husband will tell me, “Ask her if she is having an affair.” I explain to the husband if he has any facts to support this claim. “No.” Then I don’t ask the question, as it doesn’t gain us any facts! (And often hurts our position.) See, I will ask the question, “Are you having an affair?” If she isn’t—she will say, “No.” If she is—she will say “No.” Same question, same answer—two completely different truths. But in either case, I haven’t learned anything new.

“God, can you lie?” If He is bound by a truthful nature, he must answer “No.” If he is NOT bound by truth, then he is free to answer anything. Including, “No.” I asked the same question, got the same answer, and still don’t know whether God is bound by a truthful or not. And if He is not bound by truth, then anything else said about His nature, and being bound to it, and whether it is a law, and whether he is being just, is pure speculation.

This brushes on the Euthyphro dilemma. Is it a law because God does it, or does God do it because it is a law? In other words, is there a higher law or concept or ideal that God is bound by, and cannot violate, or is God free to do what He chooses, and whatever he does becomes a law? In the former we can discuss “justice” in the latter, it is a meaningless word. But in the former, we must admit we have no clue, and no way of ascertaining what that law is.

Another common response is that God’s justice is not like our justice. If we are going to discuss theism, and its implications, we must use common language to understand these concepts, or it becomes absurd babble. I read a great synopsis of this problem:

Theist: God is square.
Skeptic: So God has four sides and four right angles?
Theist: No. God’s squareness is not like our squareness.
Skeptic: Then what meaning is there in calling God “square”?

If it is claimed that God’s justice is different somehow, then we can equally claim that His truthfulness is different, His mercy is different, His concept of moral/immoral is different. Shoot, he is so different; we may as well toss every word in Language, as it does not apply to God. We can’t even say He “exists” because his “existence” doesn’t mean what we think it means—that He is real.

So why do theists say, “God is just”? Because when faced with a difficult question, in which they have no real answer either, it sounds very important, and full of wisdom to nod one’s head and stroke one’s chin and say, “Ahhhh. But God is Just.” This provides all sorts of justification (pun intended) for all sorts of sticky situations.

“Why did God order genocide of the Canaanites?” (Deut. 7:2)
“Because He is just.”

“Why did God order the killing of baby boys?” (Numbers 31)
“Because it was justice to do so.”

“Why did God kill innocent Egyptian Children?” (Exodus 11)
“Because His Justice requires it.”

“Why did God commute David’s sin, but then kill David’s baby?” (2 Sam. 12:13-14)
“Because His Justice allows it.”

“How can God send People to the Lake of Fire who have never heard of Jesus?”
“Because His Justice Demands it.”

See how neat that is? No one can tell me what law God seems to be following, or what he could do to not follow that law, but by creating a “God is Just” box, the theist can toss aside these difficult dilemmas with a dignified statement that doesn’t answer the question, but provides an answer the theist can live with in their own rationalization.

When faced with this statement, ask: “What is this law God is conforming to, where can I find it, how can I independently verify He is conforming, and if God is unjust, how would we know?” Even more importantly, if God was unjust, what could we do about it? There is no higher authority to which we can appeal, saying, “Ah. Ah. Ah. God didn’t follow the law.”

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I recommend you settle...

When the topic of deconversion comes up, one of the first questions that comes up is naturally, “Why?” To which I always respond, “It was a combination of things.” And I get the inevitable reply, “But what was the one big thing that convinced you Christianity was not true?”

The easiest answer, I guess, would be that in reviewing all of the arguments both for and against Christianity, I realized that it would fail to persuade a neutral jury. In fact, it would bomb tremendously.

In preparing for a trial, or a case, in order to best serve my client, I must look at ALL the arguments, and ALL the evidence that both serves and destroys my case. I do not have the luxury of only reviewing the positive points in my favor. Of simply disregarding my opponents position as being “unreasonable.” I know that some day or week I will be in front of a jury of people that don’t have a vested interest in the outcome, and are even slightly antagonistic for time being wasted from their busy lives. That in every single instance I am pushing forward my proposition, I will be facing an opponent that is equally presenting their position—the exact opposite of mine. Each minute they are waiting to pounce if I present a weak argument, or poor evidence. They will capitalize on such a mistake and implement a response to their best advantage.

Imagine a client tells me that they sent a letter. A letter that helps my position. It would be easy to assume my client is telling the truth, and perform no further research. One only has to be burned by THAT assumption once to realize how foolish that is. So I research the facts surrounding this letter. When was it sent? What was the reaction of the person receiving it? What was the reaction of the person sending it? Was it ever referred to again? Were there instances it should have been referred to and wasn’t? By whom? Is it the type of letter that generates a response?

I may come to realize that the letter was never referred to again by either party, that it should been by both parties, and that for all intents and purposes it looks as if it was made up after the fact. I realize that presenting that letter would hurt my case, not help it.

Recently I had a case where my client had saved a damning voice mail for over 4 years. We played it for the witness at the trial, and asked if that is what he said. He admitted it (having no choice) but claimed the nuances were incorrect, and that he actually meant it for only a very limited situation. Not as broad as we were proposing.

Unfortunately for him, he forget that after the voice mail, he had sent a letter that indicated it WAS for the broad purpose, and not the limited nature he had just testified to. He appeared to be a liar in front of the jury. Further, the two parties acted, after the voice mail, as if it was for the broad purpose, and not the limited one.

That is what I am talking about. One has to look at all the evidence, and review what the jury would buy. A simple axiom we use: “Don’t sell what you wouldn’t buy.” Don’t try and convince a jury that the piano is worth $1 Million dollars, when it was testified that the person left it an abandoned barn for three years. No one will buy that these are actions a person would do with a $1 Million dollar piano.

In my initial interactions with atheist, I realized to my complete surprise and chagrin, that I had never subjected the most important element in my life—my Christianity—to this method. I had never reviewed the reasonableness of the non-theist arguments from the proposition of whether Christianity was “sellable” to a non-theistic audience. And what those arguments were in response.

In my mind I see a huge courtroom. We have a jury of 12 people that are neutral. No predisposition toward any particular brand of theism or non-theism. They don’t know the word “God” or who Jesus or Buddha, or Mohammed, or Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy or Confucius are. They do not know the concepts of atonement, propitiation, justice, mercy, incarnation, or sanctification. They have never read the Bible, the Tanakh, the Qur’an, The Book of Mormon, or any other Holy writings.

And we line up the 100,000 (really quite a bit more, but keeping it at that number) various brands of theism. Each brand gets its chance to present its proofs. And each brand is then cross-examined by 99,998 other theists that do not believe in their god, who all attempt to show that this particular god doesn’t exist. I don’t have to do a thing. Not lift a finger. All the other theists are doing all the work showing that this god doesn’t exist.

About 56,300 witnesses in, we reach some Christian-type gods. And now the Christian is placed under the spotlight of explaining why the Bible is divine (and the others are not) where the Bible comes from, whether Jesus was historical or mythical, why their God is just (and the others not) and so on. Rather than preaching to the choir, the Christian is subjected to intense cross-examination from 99,998 other theists that disagree with their position, and is trying to convince this neutral jury it somehow rises above all of the other theisms.

Finally, it is my turn—Number 100,000. All I would say is, “If a fish could make a god, It would look like a fish. Every god you have seen is a human creation.” And sit down.

The jury would come back with a verdict of “There is no god here.”

It is only when Christians are placed in a position where they must defend their view against those that are nor predisposed to believe as they are, will they begin to see the weaknesses of the arguments, and how they would not compel a jury to find in their favor.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Not exaclty an open door policy

Atheists shouldn’t go to church. It really isn’t designed for them.

For years I attended a variety of churches. We changed as our locales changed, or the direction of the church changed, or as our needs went in a different direction. So I figured upon becoming an atheist it would be no problem.

I knew the routines. I knew where to park, where to sit, where the kids’ programs are, when to stand, who can’t sit next to whom. I knew why that family always scowled at this family, and why those two always meet after church for lunch. All of my friends attend church, all of my family attends church, and most of my social calendar revolved around church.

Sure, it would be different as an atheist. I resigned my Sunday School teacher position. It wouldn’t have been honest. I would not be selected into a leadership position. I would need to keep my mouth shut in order to avoid animosity, but how hard can that be? But other than that, it would be fine.

Well, I couldn’t really sing the songs, as they meant nothing to me. I couldn’t be honest, as my honesty was more than the Sunday School teacher, or small group leader could handle. I couldn’t get involved in deep discussions of free will vs. predestination, as both were ridiculously silly to me. And the sermons were becoming pedantic. Hard to listen to a person discuss why Jesus said a particular thing, when I have spent weeks and months reading and discussing whether Jesus is even historical. But other than that, how hard can it be?

I had to withdraw from activities that would make my head explode with the sheer waste of effort on a myth. I couldn’t discuss with the leadership—every pastor I have ever discussed theism with has abandoned the project. All of a sudden, I realized that hearing one more talk about how TV evangelists were not saved (when no body is) would make me inflict paper cuts on my face with a hymn book until I bled to merciful death.

We changed churches. This time, I decided to be up-front with who I was. This was a church that claimed to be open for everybody—a church for the unchurched. If any church could fit me, this was it.

“Hi. I am an atheist that attends a fundamentalist church, because the woman I am married to wants our kids raised in Church. I know more about Christianity and the creation of the Bible than any three persons in your church, including three pastors. I have no interest in theism. Where can I fit in?”
“You are…..uh….a WHAT? You want to do……er……..well……we really don’t see you as fitting in THERE…………uh…..maybe……..not THAT…………………Are you sure you don’t want to be saved?”

Eventually, it was determined I would best be suited doing nothing, and not be involved in any way. If you EVER have someone say to you that atheists run away from church because they are afraid of “the light” send them to me. I will fill their ears with the tale of churches that run away from me, because they are afraid of a few questions.

So now what? The church doesn’t want me. The sermons are so simple-minded (going after the lowest common denominator) that I could hardly keep from laughing. People don’t know what to do with me, and frankly, don’t want me there. I am a stark reminder of their inability to respond to my questions. I start to hate attending the thing I once loved.

If you go into a bowling alley and complain that they make roller-blading difficult, it may not be their problem. It is not designed for roller-blading. Simply put, churches are not designed for atheists that have studied like I have.

You can hardly imagine the number of e-mail and personal conversations I have had with pastors and church leaders, pointing out areas of concern where they have indicated, “We’ll get back to you when we free up some time.” Apparently being a pastor is busier than we thought. I am still waiting. For over a year…

The inevitable. I had to stop attending.

If anyone says that people are atheists because they don’t want to go to church, you might point out to them that the Church is not designed to have atheists attend. People are not roller-bladers because they don’t want to go to bowling alleys. Roller-bladers don’t go to bowling alleys because the lanes make it difficult to build up any speed.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Can you close that vent?

I must admit, I am not real sure what to do with a blog. I don’t see my writing insightful comments that the world can hardly contain its excitement until the next witty installment. Frankly, I prefer the interaction within forums. The debate, the exchange, the ability to interact with people from anywhere in the world, with about any belief in the world.

Or the intimate e-mails and private messages in which we can share quiet moments, laughs, and “let down our hair” so to speak. I feel as if, in writing a blog, it must be clever, or cute, or compelling. That seems like too much pressure.

However, I was raised in a home that instilled proper decorum. We were quiet in Church, sorrowful at funerals, laughed at parties, and at weddings told the bride she is pretty. Regardless. So, if in a blog, one is inclined to vent, I will vent.

Bam. Problems already. I really don’t have much to vent about. My life is quiet good. I have health enough, wealth enough, and am glad for each day that comes my way, as well as the people within it.

Sometimes people think I am venting, because I am impassioned about debating (both on-line and in life) throwing my entire effort into the endeavor, but that is simply intensity. I have a bad tendency to throw out every feasible argument and beat it into the ground. Still and all, I find myself chuckling at either myself or my opponent for how ludicrous the arguing can become.

To the poor sod that ever wanders into this sap, I will strive to increase my angst and write vicious blogs of miserableness, or deep perceptions of human nature or whatever it is that draws people into reading.

Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I wonder..

how many other bloggers started out with a blog, just because they wanted to post a comment and had to create one?