Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Why did I never hear of believers deconverting because of reasonable arguments? I am not strong into “conspiracy theories” and it seems over dramatic to speak of a conspiracy of silence, yet it is not discussed in a church setting.

Perhaps, simply because it happened to me, I am now more attuned to it, but it is not any more prevalent. Like when you find a certain colored car, but once you see one, you seem to find them everywhere. I know I have never met a deconvert in person, nor had I ever heard of one before me, so I figured it was rare.

I hadn’t really thought about it much. Having been on varying forums, I have met others that have deconverted, but I figured “birds of a feather” were just flocking together. We were oddities, sprinkled about the world, but not in real numbers.

Now I am out in blog-world, and I keep running across blogs of people that deconvert. Sure, it is what I am interested in, but I see more and more and more.

And I recall (at the time I thought nothing of it) that in conversations with leaders of churches, more than once it was mentioned that they had “friends” that had become atheists. I thought (like I would as a Christian) it was back-sliding, hard-drinking, sexual deviants that despised the moral requirements of Christianity.

Now I am not so sure…

Is it becoming more common? Is the internet allowing people to interact with others of different beliefs, causing us to question, in ‘net-universe, what we never interact with in life? My family is Christian. My friends are Christian. My social life was geared around a Church. In my work life, religion is never discussed. The only conversations I ever had about beliefs were with those that believe just like me.

And now I see that my friends and family would prefer to not discuss deconversion. Or what I learned. Or what I have argued, studied, investigated, and pursued. Is it that this is happening, and the Christians don’t want to talk about it? Has it become a forbidden topic?

And a nagging thought keeps pressing my brain. Why are theists not interested in acquiring knowledge? This is the belief system they are betting their entire life (and after life) on. I would think they couldn’t get enough. The nagging thought intensifies to a growing concern—is it fear of knowledge?

Learning One universal statement that is replete throughout every deconversion story I have read, is that it came from a desire to learn more. It is commonly stated that a person encounters a particular problem, and begins to investigate it. Traditionally, this leads to further difficulties, further investigation and eventually a full blown study of the very basic tenets of the belief.

For me, it started simply enough with some questions about how atheists could possibly have morality. Then to questions on the canon of the Bible, inspiration, and various troubling verses. At each turn, I was looking up articles on-line, buying and borrowing books, reviewing debates, reading debates, lurking, and thinking. I would read the Bible, pray, and wrestle with the concepts that were presented.

But I never stopped, to this day, learning.

Willingness to Learn At one point, I decided to abandon my entire study, as it was causing difficulty in my faith. It lasted for about a day. If there was a god, and it had given me a brain, and my brain was full of questions, why should I avoid them? Wasn’t I to use my intellect to research the questions on god(s) to determine the appropriateness of each belief?

I do not see a willingness to learn in many theists. Oh, they like to hear the general idea of the other side—but to study it? Understand it? Know it so well, they could actually, if called to, be able to argue the position? No thank you. This requires work, dedication, and more study than the Christian wants.

Besides, the Christian already knows they are right, why bother? It would be a waste of time. Yet I can’t help wondering—if it is such a waste of time, why be afraid? Put the skeptic’s criticisms to rest. Understand it, learn it, and then explain, using God-tapped power, how it is wrong. Or is it that there is just a twinge of fear that the Christian would be unable to do so? Even after requesting God’s help?

It is so freeing to be unattached to a particular dogma or doctrine! No, not in the ability to go out and rob a bank, but in the ability to review a particular statement or claim, and have the freedom to review every possible angle, without necessary adherence to one view. Studying the Bible is actually fun, when not caged in doctrine. Is it an interpolation? Redaction? Original to the author? Is it a story, a history, a polemic? What are the possible Greek/Hebrew interpretations or translations? When was it written, by whom and to whom?

No longer must the Gospels recount an actual historical Jesus. It is possible that some, or even all of it is myth. While I do not hold to a complete mythical Jesus, the possibility remains, as further study continues.

That is what I am talking about, in terms of a willingness to learn. A willingness to even abandon what I held true yesterday, upon learning new information today.

It is at this point, I find many Christians shut down. Run away. While they are willing to review the possibility of a slight modification upon overwhelming evidence, the idea of review basic beliefs is so foreign, they will not take the first step on the path.

Misrepresentation of opposing views. This one surprised me. I see more and more apologetic books hitting the market, in an almost frenzied attempt to rationalize the validity of a belief based on faith. (Think about it.)

But what surprises me is the lack of honest inquiry. Rather than say, “Look, there are two sides to this issue” and fairly present both sides, with an argument as to why the author’s position is the better, I see, “There is the other side” which is then misrepresented.

“Evolution is just a theory.” No, that is a deliberate confusion of the word, “theory” as commonly used, as compared to how science uses it. “There are no absolutes” is confusion between a moral absolute and a logical absolute. “Atheists have just as much faith by sitting in a chair” a confusion between “faith in the unknown” and “trust based upon repeated experimentation.”

Over and over, I see apologetic books misrepresent the position of the opposing side, and then perform a beautiful job of destroying this false argument. Commonly called a “strawman.” If a God is based upon truth, what possible harm could come from fairly and adequately presenting BOTH sides, and then letting the truth shine out?

Almost every single deconvert (including me) has been informed at least once, “Have you read ____?” in the hope that one book would turn around a year of study. And if we dare reply, “No, but I will read it, if you read ____” we get rejected more times than not. We are to read Christian apologetics, but no Christian dares read skeptical books. They are forbidden.

Look, if you want to read what evidence a skeptic bases their claim upon—read the skeptic! Don’t read the theist that claims what the skeptic says—go to the source. It is very damning to say, “Skeptics once believed the Bible was not true because it mentioned Hittites,” when the research reveals the inaccuracy of this statement. Hard to re-establish credibility.

But as I have said before, one has to choose. If all you want to do is bolster the claim in the Sunday School class, go right ahead! Read only Christian apologetics. Make such statements. No one will call you on it. No one will research it. No one will investigate.

They are too afraid, I think.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Do Christians really feel persecuted in America? I can understand, in other countries, where one’s religious beliefs, including Christianity, can literally place a person in danger, where this would be a valid concern—but in America?

I have recently been perusing sites talking about this prevalent persecution of Christians that appears to be on the verge of exploding into a vast, conspiratorial outbreak (at least as these sites seem to claim) and tried to figure out exactly how the Christians are being oppressed. I am, frankly, a little disappointed in the results.

Apparently, it is torment of the highest degree, if I dare propose legislation that the Christian does not agree with. This becomes a bit tricky, when we realize the variety of Christian beliefs out there, and that some legislation agrees with some brands, but is in direct opposition to others. The Catholic Church has endorsed evolution being taught, but if a law is passed stating that, other Christians, it would seem, have been tortured into agony. Oppressed. Harassed. Persecuted.

Excuse me? I am relying upon the scientific community which informs me evolution is as valid a theory as the atomic theory (no one seems to argue that one!) and there is no way to empirically test creationism. If a Christian wants to be taken seriously that they are being racked simply because of what is being taught in schools—change it. Christians, too, have a democratic process. Think intelligent design is worthy of an academic subject? Take it to the academic community and demonstrate it.

Very few Christians, in my experience, have even read one single book on the theory of evolution from the perspective of a scientist. Yet they cry “Persecution” if it is taught in the public schools. That evening, they will take medicine, which has been developed specifically because of evolutionary theory, and think nothing of it.

Another claim of infringement is in “the media.” What exactly “the media” entails is never quite certain. Sometimes it is news reporting, sometimes it is Television, sometimes print media. All claiming that it portrays Christianity in a bad light, and that this is a scourging of the Christian. Yeah, that Passion of the Christ thing must have been terrible.

Here I have to claim some ignorance. I don’t employ enough of the media. Perhaps if I watched more television, I would be aware of Christian-bashing that, according to these sites, must be a daily event. I also do not have cable or satellite, so perhaps all those Christians that pay for such services are subjected to greater torture.

I find it amusing that many churches outright close on Super Bowl Sunday, due to the drop in attendance. Many join in by having a Super Bowl Party (with an appropriate half-time devotional to “legitimatize” it) of their own. I can only assume the congregation is busy being “persecuted” by beer commercials and wardrobe malfunctions.

I attended a fundamentalist Bible college. Televisions were not allowed in the rooms, and each dormitory had a common room with one (1) Television. It could only be on for certain hours in the evening. And the school provided its own TV Guide. If it wasn’t on the Guide, you were not allowed to watch it. This happened to be the year Miami Vice came out. It was on the Guide for the first week. (How, I have no idea.) This show had everything we were not allowed to have—sex, drugs and rock’n’roll! Of course, the next week it was off the list. There was such an outcry from the student body, and complaints, that in the third week (and thereafter) it was allowed with a large, bold statement, “Strongly cautioned. For Mature Christians” assuring that everyone watched it with glued eyeballs. All must have been researching the on-going media persecution of Christianity!

I read bits about how Wal-mart(c) saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is evidence that thumb-screws and the rack are next for Christians. How the “homosexual agenda” cleverly getting homosexual marriages outlawed in many of the states is a sign that soon Christians will have to practice their beliefs underground. Questioning the right of a Christian advocating murdering all homosexuals is apparently oppressive.

Not allowing the Ten Commandments as a monument is harassment. Allowing an Islamic prayer before a football game is equally horrid punishment to the Christian.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming that atheists are persecuted either. (Some may even disagree with this, but it is how I see it.) We live in a free society that allows, and encourages public forum debate in which to express ideas. Part of that speech will be disagreeable to others. But that doesn’t rise to the level of persecution!

And our society will impose laws to protect the minorities. It is easier to eliminate than to be all inclusive. By that I mean it is easier to eliminate all religious trappings than to include all. To have no Nativity, rather than a Nativity, a Kwanza scene, a Menorah, a winter festival, a blank spot for non-practitioners, etc.

And behind all of this, I can’t help thinking—“Don’t you want to be persecuted?” Wouldn’t Christianity be thrilled to stand out? We, of the world, are supposed to be evil, fallen. Of “darkness.” You know the thing that humans of the world cannot comprehend and love rather than the light? (John 3:19) Isn’t this supposed to be a sign that you are doing things right? If you weren’t being persecuted, isn’t that a problem? So why complain about it?

It is a sad, but simple axiom in my work. If the other side isn’t happy, that means I must be doing something right. I would hope it would be the same with Christian oppression. If you aren’t being oppressed by the “world” (whatever that means), you must not be doing something right.

I did read on a few sites, this recognition, and a statement that not all were called to be oppressed (not sure that is true; John. 15:19), and that Christians have the right to speak out against such persecution. But why bother? The worst that is happening is some TV shows make stereotypical jokes, just like they do about other religions, sexes and ethnicities? Or you teach your children creationism out of the school environment? Or you have a Nativity on a thousand lawns, rather than one City Hall?

In light of the atrocities around the world (and there ARE Christians being physically persecuted in other countries) it seems very petty to claim that “Will & Grace” is causing you severe depression by actually having a homosexual laugh.

If that’s the best Christians have for persecution, perhaps to relieve some of the agony, use that “off” button on the remote. Start researching evolution. Teach children what you want on your own time. Start interacting in the homosexual community as a person, not a persecuted prune. Get involved in the process of making laws, and not just the laws you like.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Name that (fine) tune

Talk about your mixed signals—just what did God expect us to think when we started to investigate the universe?

A long, long time ago, humans assumed that the world erratically wandered about, wrecking havoc as it chose, or granting benevolence at its whim. And the humans petitioned the gods of nature to increase the benevolence, and reduce the detriment through whatever means the humans thought were the most persuasive.

But over time, the humans started to notice that the tides always went out at a certain time, the sun always came up in the same spot, that light always increased in summer, and decreased in winter, regardless of how one petitioned the gods.

Humans started to take these repeated events into account, and observational science (in the roughest degree) was born. Instead of petitioning their god for good fishing, they observed the tides, and made their own decisions as to when it was time to fish, and when it was not. The conflict between what the gods set in motion by creating nature, and what the gods actually did on a day-to-day basis was introduced.

And through the course of history, technology has allowed humans to improve their understanding of the world about us. We eventually conceded that despite all appearances, the sun and stars don’t revolve around us. That other planets have gravity, and can also have moons. That light travels at a constant speed. And there are billions and billions of galaxies with billions and billions of stars.

And as we studied, God seem to do less and less. He isn’t holding the earth in space, the sun is. He isn’t holding atoms together, gluons are. He isn’t sending plagues to punish sins, nor demons to cause illnesses. More and more, these are things that are set in motion by a God, and let travel through the course of history. God is reduced to no longer controlling the universe, but on occasion interacting within it. It becomes so rare, we invented a word for it—“miracles.”

I recently became aware of Carl Sagan’s comparison of history to a year. This statistic fascinates me, with how puny our existence really is. If the course of the known universe’s history was compared to one year, placing the Big Bang at the first second of January 1st, do you know when humans would appear? We would have started walking upright at about 5 minutes to midnight on December 31st. That’s it. The Pyramids would have been built at 12 seconds to midnight. Christ would have been born at 5 seconds to midnight.

That impressed upon me, just how little time we have actually been around, and for how long the universe has been cooking, just to bring Humans to boil. A creator would have had to work for (or set in motion) billions and billions of years, the equivalent of 363 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes of a year, just to bring about 5 minutes worth of humanity.

Theists are equally impressed, and developed the “fine-tuning” argument. That the earth was so rare, and the conditions so perfect, that it took this long for God to finally arrive at his ultimate masterpiece—humanity.

The theist will then introduce some astronomical number so large it takes three people just to read it, saying, “The chance of life forming, given the conditions of the universe is 1 in 10 to the gadzillionth, being a 1 with a billion zeros behind it.” Therefore, they will proudly state, God must have created life.

However, isn’t this saying that your god is incompetent? If I told you I was doing something, and not too worry, there was only a one in a gadzillion chance that X would occur, it would be safe to say I had no intention, desire, or expectation that X would happen. If it did, I would call it an extreme fluke, and a mistake.

Yet that is what the theists claim God did. That He created a spectacular singularity, which due to the tremendous amount of speed necessary to keep it from immediately collapsing into its own gravity, the direction and position of the particles were equally tremendously impossible to predict their position. Therefore, life (or whatever the universe would have become) would have been completely unpredictable.

That certain events had to happen, at specific times, in specific sequences, or the whole shooting match would fall apart. And these developments would continue for billions of years, just to get to where we are today.

“Wait,” the theist may cry, “You are making my argument for me that it would so remotely possible for life to develop.” Here is the problem with statistics. Even impossibly large ones. What are the chances of a person winning the tour de France seven times? I have no idea. But after Lance Armstrong did it, what are the odds? Exactly 1 to 1. Because it happened. Long odds are interesting for future events. For past events, no matter how bizarre, they are exactly 1 to 1.

What are the odds of life developing to the point humans appear? Since it happened, we know (with or without a god)—exactly 1 to 1. If it didn’t happen, we wouldn’t be talking about it, now would we? The fact that it took so long, and required intricate steps, does not eliminate this possibility from occurring. Once it happened, the odds remain 1 to 1.

The hidden agenda of the huge odds against life in the fine-tuning argument is not whether it could happen, but whether it did happen. It is similar to seeing Bob win the lottery three times in a row. The odds of it happening are (now) 1 to 1. The fine-tuning argument is claiming that the odds Bob winning three times in a row are so impossibly high, so impossibly unlikely, that the lottery must be rigged, or there is something nefarious afoot.

And here is where I get the mixed signals. I start to look at the evidence of the impossibility of Bob winning the lottery, and I keep getting told by the theist that I must assume Bob cheated, and look at all the evidence in light of that presumption. Which I am inclined to do, but then the theist, rather than introduce specific evidence of Bob’s cheating, simply reiterates over and over the impossible odds:

“It is impossible that Bob could win lottery three times in a row. He cheated.”
“Did Bob know someone who works for the lottery?”
“Look, the chances of Bob winning at all are remote.”
“True, but that is taken into account in your huge number. Did Bob cheat on the first lottery? What evidence is there for that?”
“Hey, the chances of winning the lottery twice are even more astronomical.”
“Yes, I know, we covered that in your huge number. Is there something in the second win that is so similar to the first win that we should look at it as cheating?”
“The chances of winning twice in a row are even more remote.”
(Exasperated) “I KNOW. We have covered this. What evidence do you have that Bob actually cheated?”

See how the fine-tuning argument is NOT an argument for God, but rather an argument that the chance of life coming about is extremely remote? It never introduces evidence that there must be a creator, just skepticism that it could occur naturally. That’s it. Something even science recognizes.

So at this point the theist may say, “No, you have to look at it as if God intervened at the right moment, and the right time. Intervening numerous times within that first second. Pushing our galaxy out this far at the right time. Forming the sun, Jupiter and the moon at the right rate and instant. Time and Time again, God must correct, re-correct and correct again the universe to keep the plan for humans to appear.”

How do we see this God? What parameter do I use to measure a natural event vs. a supernatural event? I see natural developments that take billions and millions of years to develop very slowly, and in an un-straightforward sequence, as if there were no God at all. Every time the theist needs a god, it interjects one without rhyme or reason. Have we reverted back to gods with whim and unpredictability?

So let’s play the same odds with this Creator. If we desire, we can figure out the odds of chance of a meteor the size of Texas hitting the eighth planet from the star Persei. There may have to be a few guesses, and approximations, but we can come within a range. Now figure the odds of a unicorn appearing over London in the year 2006. You can’t. That’s the problem with supernatural, non-empirical evidence. We have no baseline, no ability whatsoever to make any prediction about supernatural interaction.

What are the odds that the creator intervened at the right moment to keep inertia spreading? Since we do not even know if the creator DID intervene here (or earlier, or later) there is no possible way to determine this. The odds of the universe developing life may be gadzillion to 1, but they are still less than the calculated odds of a god intervening. Because those odds are deliberately incalculable.

If the fine-tuning argument desires to be convincing, the theist must use the same methodology and provide support for the odds of a god interacting with “miracles” (non-natural events) at certain times and certain places. As we cannot even get the confirming data to support this claim—good luck!

If there was a god that started the mess, the very odds the theist is citing demonstrate that life was not on this god’s agenda. I start using what scientists tell me is true about the beginning of the universe, and lo and behold, the theist is right—life is extremely unlikely. Therefore, if a god started this universe, the only possible conclusion we can come to is that it did not desire, plan or intend life to happen.

Can I use science or not? I am told that using what science tells me, I should realize that it is an impossibly long odd for life to occur. O.K. Then I use the same science to realize this equally means we would have a creator that did not intend life to therefore occur. And I am told to stop using this science, and start using faith that a god must have intervened at certain times. I then ask the theist, if I am supposed to use odds to realize how unlikely life could naturally occur, what odds do they propose are applicable under their scenario? As there is no way to determine what God intervenes in, and what God doesn’t, they have no odds. Not even a gadzillion to 1.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Eating Apples is bad for your health

One thing I enjoy about the Internet is the chance to discuss differing beliefs with differing individuals. Often we can get stuck in our own rut, talking to only those that agree with our position—this gives us a chance to “stretch our mental legs” as it were.

As a debate was raging elsewhere, a thought struck me that I hadn’t considered before: Can God make a law He can’t break?

We have all seen the conundrum of, “Can God make a rock He can’t lift?” Which demonstrates nicely that we need to limit the description of a God, at least to the logical realm, or otherwise it will simply degrade into meaningless babble. And our debates can revolve around whether God is limited by His own nature, morally, or by some external determination of morals, but can God self-limit Himself to forever bind Himself, thus creating a new moral?

We seem to agree that in the normal sense, God voluntarily limits Himself to the laws of Nature. The Earth revolves around the sun at a certain amount of time. Not a new time every year as determined by God. Gravity attracts at a certain rate. The tides can be measured.

We also seem to agree that if there was a God that interacted with the natural world, it could set aside those natural laws, and remove the limit He has placed on Himself. We even have a name for those instances—“miracles.” The problem comes in, is to determine where morals fall. Are they inherent within God, like logic, that cannot be extracted, or are they like the laws of nature, that God normally limits Himself, but can, on occasion, breach by His choosing?

The reason this even crossed my mind was thinking on the Adam and Eve story, with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We all know the story, God creates a Garden, places a tree in it, and tells Adam and Eve to not eat the fruit of the tree. As near as the simplistic story tells us, there was only one moral in the Garden, that is to Not eat the Fruit. It came to me: “Could God have eaten the fruit?”

Moral. Let’s assume that God could eat the Fruit. As we see from the story, eating the fruit would not have given God any more knowledge than He already had. The breach of morality could be disobedience to God, not the actual eating of the fruit.

Under this scenario. God could have arbitrarily picked anything—“Don’t pet the tiger,”-- and that would become the immoral act. God could pet the tiger, humans could not. The tree itself, being named “Knowledge of Good and Evil” means nothing. Could have been an average apple tree.

This raises interesting questions, though as to what is “moral” and what is not. If it is moral for God, can it be immoral for us? That would arguably mean that all things that are immoral for us could be moral for God. He simple arbitrarily picked a few items out that He is most certainly allowed to do, but we cannot.

But then should we attempt to imitate God? Should we research an determine what His morals are, and emulate them, or do we accept what other humans say God says we can or cannot do, and accept that?

This also brings into question whether God is being arbitrary. By what method could we possibly determine He is using to pick what is moral/immoral for us to do? Is it our conscience? Is it societal determination? Further, God could easily, using His whim, make something moral today and immoral tomorrow.

Assume, A is moral to God. Whether A is murder or eating ice cream doesn’t matter. Under this scenario, God can tell humans that A is immoral to humans. But since it is actually moral, the very next day, God can say A is moral, and that, too, would be correct. The next, A is now immoral, and so on.

The only determinative as to what is moral/immoral is that the same action may be disobedient to God one day, but obedient to God the next. Which causes some concern. God can’t disobey God. Even if, on Monday, God says, “A is wrong. It will always be wrong. No body, not even me, can do A,” on Tuesday, God can say, “New Rule. Now A is O.K. for me to do, and not anyone else.” God can change in an instant, and never disobey God.

For all you moral realists, this is a bit of problem because it vests morality in a God that can change its mind with no retribution. Saying Eating the Fruit was Moral for God, but Immoral for us, leaves us with the complete inability to determine what is actually moral, and what God is just ordering.

Immoral Assuming God could not eat the fruit. Think this through. God is the determination of morality. He creates a situation that He knows he cannot violate. It is in a tree that He created. It is an action that he created. (No tree==no choice=no immorality.)

This makes God the creator of immorality. Even for Himself. On what basis, other than whim, is it created? Prior to creation, no immorality. At creation, He makes a tree. Nothing inherent in the tree itself (in fact, to God, it would simply impart knowledge he already has.) Then God says, “No can eat. Not even me.” At this point, the possibility of immorality comes into existence. Prior to that second, no such immoral act could possibly exist. Only after that second does the possibility of immorality exist.

But if God can create immorality, equally, it would seem, He could create morality. Which would mean that, just like the previous problem the next instant He could “undo” His statement, and remove the immorality from eating the tree.

Non-moral Perhaps it would make no difference for God to eat the fruit or not. This still leaves us with the problem of something that is immoral for humans is non-moral for God. He can make a non-moral action to be immoral (or moral, frankly.) What other non-moral actions has He made moral/immoral?

We are left in an interesting pickle. We have no clue whether eating the fruit is moral/immoral/non-moral to God. Any of the options leaves us with the problem of whether we should be following the same moral dictates of the God (which we cannot determine) or we should be following what God says, whether ultimately it is moral or not.

Let’s look at real life. We, as humans, find genocide detestable. If there is anything that most seem to agree is “evil” it is this act. Assume that in some way, some how, you learn that it is immoral to commit genocide. “Over God’s head” as it were, written in whatever stone absolute morality is written.

A human comes to you and says, “God told me to tell you to commit genocide.” On this, you could scoff and say, “Ha! I happen to know that genocide is immoral. Therefore I will not commit it.” But this generates a concern. If God can determine a moral act is immoral, can He not equally determine an immoral act is moral? Why would it only be a one-way street? The person could respond, “But you believe morality is vested in God’s nature. That is your absolute morality. And God specifically informed me that it has now changed—it is now moral.” Couldn’t it be?

If it was immoral for the humans to eat of that tree, and non-moral or moral for God, then God arbitrarily determines morality. If it was immoral for both, then God created immorality by creating a choice. Either way, it is God that is determining immorality on an unknown, unverified, and completely uncertain system.

Which should gives us an extreme humility in imposing morality on others, based upon a God that refuses to reveal what is really moral or not.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sword Drill

It is a bit of a sticky wicket, trying to figure out how to use the Bible, in these debates.

The other day I read (and it is quite common) a claim by an atheist, requesting Christians to refute it, with a closing statement, “…and don’t use the Bible to defend your position.” We have all seen it.

I understand exactly where the atheist is coming from. The Bible is no more authoritative on the properties of God, than the movie ”Oh God; You Devil” or the Boston yellow pages. Just because a few men or women got together 1000’s of years ago, and wrote down their particular version of God, and another group of men and women pared it down to just a few books, does not exactly bowl us over with enthusiasm.

If we concur that the Bible is authoritative, how hard is the argument for God? “The Bible says so.” Boom—we’re done.

To analogize, for the Christian, imagine debating with a Muslim. They may refer to the Qur’an, but as you do not hold it authoritative in any way, as to what God’s properties are, it does not move you one little ounce, if the Qur’an purports a concept on theism. It’s a book about a God, sure. But not authoritative to the Christian.

Your telling me “According to the Bible….” is the equivalent of my telling you, “According to the Book of Enoch…” Unmoving.

BUT I certainly relate to the objection of the Christian in this regard. The very basis of their belief is in the Bible. The description of their God is in the Bible. The roots and foundation of their entire belief system is embedded in the book.

It is the equivalent to telling a lawyer to argue his case, but he cannot use the law! I can see why the Christian would mutter, “Then what in the blue blazes CAN I use?”

Worse, there are people like me that do not hold the Bible authoritative, yet feel free to cite passages against the proposal the Christian is making. I sense they feel it is hardly fair for me to use it against them, yet not hold to the truth of its precepts.

Is there a middle ground? Is there some level of definition, by which we can agree, “At least here it has viability, and from here we separate.”? I find it difficult to arrive at such a definition.

Take the most basic—Christianity is described by the Bible. Whether true or not, that we can say, “There is a Christian. To determine what they believe, we can use the Bible.” But even that has become nebulous. Using the Bible, we have liberal Christians that do not hold the stories of Jesus to be completely true. We have inerrantists, literalists, allegorists. We have varying numbers of books in the Bible. Even taking someone like a Calvin or a Luther, we struggle to understand their position on the Book of Revelations.

Simply saying, “That person believes the Bible is inspired” leaves a whole world of questions to limit their beliefs.

The atheist may say that since the Christians can’t seem to agree on what the Bible says, why should they hold it as authoritative? The Christian may say that their interpretation of the Bible is the correct one, and the others should be dismissed.

Even if we agree on the matter of what the words themselves are, this matter of interpretation becomes problematic. The other day, I was reading an article on the “Problem of Evil” and the author was emphatic that God not only is responsible for the existence of evil, but since there is no such thing as free will, and God controls everything that happens, God actively decrees evil. The author went on to note how God performed the greatest act of moral evil and injustice in human history.

The author further noted that God loves. Therefore, the author interpreted scripture as saying that the love of God must include the existence of evil. Because the Bible has both, so therefore it is true.

It is this type of argument that drives a non-believer to say, “…and don’t use your Bible.” Not the Bible itself, but these interpretations the believer demands as truths.

And it is difficult, for me, having now studied the Bible, and realized it is just human thoughts, to hold it in the high regard necessary for the Christian to appreciate my position.

For example: One verse says “God incited David to take a census…” and another says, “Satan incited David to take a census…” Both use the same word, “incited.” Later we find out this census was immoral. For me I can shrug this off as two different writers, that, just like other human efforts, result in a contradiction. I hardly think twice about it.

For an inerrantist, it becomes difficult to explain God and Satan both performing the same act that results in a sin. We end up with the notion that “God incited David..” must be translated, “God allowed Satan to tempt David….” and “Satan incited David…” must be translated, “Satan incited David.”

But what really baffles me, is how little many (maybe most?) Christians know about their Bible. I have a friend that said, eloquently, “Christians do Bible study. They don’t study the Bible.” I find the book, its creation, its implications, and how it has wended its way through history a fascinating subject. Rather than cage it in a doctrine, it is free to be studied as it developed.

Mention the translation problems and most Christians look off into space. Comment on the synoptic problem, and they look puzzled. Allude to the fact that Paul didn’t write 1 Timothy, and they think your brains fell out of your head. Now, this is true of the predominance of Christians, but not all Christians. There are many that can hold their own on these arguments, and even prevail to make a point.

What to do?

I am not sure there is an easy solution. How would a Christian take the Qur’an seriously? How can I take something that is man-made and elevate it to a more authoritative position than other man-made products?

Here is an area in which it appears we cannot find easy middle ground.

Suggestion to Christians? Want us to take the Bible seriously? Study its creation. Study the translation problems. Study the Canon. Learn the history behind it. Study the Hebrew Culture, and the Greek/Judean world of the First Century.

Perhaps within that study, you can learn why I do appreciate the Bible as a literary document, but consider a human creation. Not asking you to do so, but perhaps see why others do. Just like you consider the Qur’an a human creation.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Logical Song

There have always been attempts to rationally defend Christianity, through the means of philosophies, logical arguments, and proofs. I wonder if the mantra should be “Saved by Faith, Justified by Philosophy.” (And yes, that is a play on the word “justified.”) As if philosophical arguments take precedence over the religion itself.

I see more outrage over a logical fallacy than a verse taken out of context. Cries of “strawmen” without quiet explanation. I am reading another blog about Paul’s contempt for the “wisdom of this world,” yet the comments are replete with use of exactly that wisdom today to support Christianity.

It is a dilemma for the theist. Without the ability to empirically observe the supernatural, we are solely left with devising what the supernatural consists of by our observations and extrapolations of the natural world. But the question continually arises—how do we verify that what is natural is at all reflective of supernatural?

For example, we have the concept of “time.” The reason we understand that time has happened is by measuring the amount of change. We can observe it, derive concepts from it, test it and work within its parameters. Having seen it here, does that mean the supernatural has “time”? Must the supernatural have everything the natural does? And if it does, can it be something different than what we observe? Can they reverse change and call it “time”? Can they stop time? Or is “time” such a foreign concept, that we are simplistically explaining a deeply complex phenomenon?

I continually see leaps of, “We have it here, so they must have it there.” O.K., but we all realize immediately that would make supernatural just part of natural. So the theist must modify it to some degree, and what that degree is, or why, or how all remains a complete mystery.

And we talk of morality. I learn that God has morality, but it doesn’t look like our morality. We know He has it, because the natural has it. We know it is different in the supernatural because……well…….because the theist doesn’t want God to have immorality. Therefore, it must be different. We talk of love. I learn that God has love, but it doesn’t look like our love. We know He has it because the natural has it. We know it is different because……well…..because loving God should communicate continually with people and He doesn’t.

Here in the natural world we treat sentient beings with respect. Apparently in the supernatural world, God’s sovereignty does not require it. We hold people responsible for their own actions. Apparently in the supernatural world, one doesn’t. Time and time again, I am informed that supernaturally, “things are different.”

Which is it? Am I to derive concepts from the natural world that lead me to believe in a supernatural world or not? Where does the theist obtain the information to pick and choose which bits stay and which bits go?

Another example, I am informed that by observation of a creation in the natural realm, there must be a creator in the supernatural realm. Fair enough. I also observe morality and immorality in the natural realm. Whoops! Brakes on! All of a sudden I am informed that the supernatural has a different sense of morality/immorality. I observe death in the natural realm. Whoops! Brakes on! I am informed that souls are immortal. I observe the passage of time…..On and on, things I observe here, I am, on occasion, to use to derive the supernatural, and on occasion, to not. Who gets to pick?

Despite all these differences and varieties, the one thing that apparently crosses over is logic—the method by which we attempt to derive what God must be like. It is this logic that the Christian uses to rationalize their belief. And it is good they do so. If we cannot discuss theism in a logical fashion, then all our conversations would degrade into the appearance of a drug-induced psychotic state.

But since we cannot empirically verify anything in the supernatural world, and I am informed that numerous, if not countless, ideas and concepts in the natural world are not the same in the supernatural world, how is it that logic must be the same? Could logic be different in the supernatural world?

And once we say that, then really there is nothing to say about the supernatural world, except we have no way of knowing anything about it, even if it exists. How to get around that? Simple—by definitional fiat. As long as we retain the power to define what the supernatural world must look like, all logical problems can cease to exist.

One of the most basic concepts of logic is that: “A cannot equal Not-A.” Something can’t be and not be at the same time. Is this true in the supernatural world? Let’s see:

1. God = Not (tempted)
2. Jesus = tempted.
3. Therefore, Jesus cannot equal God.

Ah, there is a logical problem. How to get around? Simple—place Jesus, by definition as 100% God and 100% Man, and all logical problems go away. Need Him tempted? Point out He is 100% Man. Need Him to be the atonement? Point out He is 100% God. Dying? Man. Raising Himself up? God.

We have the logical problem of 3=1. What to do? Define it as a trinity, and all logical problems go away. Muck it up with long-winded apologetics, and somewhere within hope that people do not realize you are simply defining what you are attempting to prove.

Elsewhere, I have pointed out how genocide is immoral. What to do, to get around the logical problem of God being moral and ordering genocide? Simply, merely change the definition of genocide from “the systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group” to “the systematic killing of a whole national or ethnic group, unless God orders it, because He is sovereign and gets to do what He wants.” See how easy that is?

Watch the leap from using logic to derive concepts to actually defining those concepts to avoid the logical problem.

A real world example that is often provided is the property of light. It acts as a particle and as a wave which should be mutually exclusive. Logically, a conundrum that is resolved by defining light as having the properties of both.

“A-ha,” the theist may say, “you are guilty of committing the same infraction. Avoiding a logical problem by definition.” But there is one immense, insurmountable difference—we can observe light. Whether we observe in space, underwater, over Europe, or underground. And, regardless of who observes it, it demonstrates both properties.

Remember why we are even using logic to determine supernatural—because it is empirically UNobservable. Light we can verify—gods we cannot.

Further, we can observe other items in nature (electrons) that have the properties of a wave and a particle. We can compare it to light, and see if these concepts that demonstrate duality, demonstrate similar duality. What God can we compare God to?

I see theists break this conversation down in very small pieces, so that the circular argument cannot be observed:

1. Since we cannot observe (and therefore define) supernatural beings, we must use logic to determine what they look like.
2. Use the logic of the natural world to put forth premises of the supernatural world.
3. If a logical contradiction occurs, re-define the supernatural being to conform to logic.

See how each of these three steps, individually, makes sense, but as a whole demonstrate that theists define that which they attempt to prove?

The multiverse theory looks about our natural universe and surmises that if this universe exists, it is possible that other universes exist. Many theists scoff at this. They inform me that, looking about this natural universe, a “supernatural” universe must exist. One that may, or may not, look like this natural universe, and may or may not, have some of the same concepts of this natural universe. The only thing we know about the “supernatural” universe is that it is bound by logic. Unless defined that it is not.

Rather than philosophically attempt to bolster one’s belief, better to stick with faith.

I once sat through a session with a church leader, answering questions on Christian concepts.

Q: What about the Problem of evil?
A: We think God holds Free will as more important but we don’t know.

Q: What does Heaven look like, and will there be pets?
A: We don’t really know.

Q: How can Jesus be 100% God and 100% Man?
A. We know that He was, we just don’t know how.

Q: How can God be three persons, yet one?
A. We can define the trinity, we just don’t understand it.

(It was, of course, much more theological and descriptive. But in a nutshell, that was the answer.) The final question, though, amused me:

Q: Is it arrogant to say the Christianity is the only way to get to Heaven?
A: Truth, by its nature, is restrictive. It is not arrogant; it is recognition of what is real.

We may not know one single thing about the supernatural, but we can be assured that what a theist says about it must be true.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Heads: God wins; Tails: Pharaoh Loses

I have always greatly enjoyed the story about Pharaoh/Moses and Exodus. Since we have been talking about morality here and there, it is fun to review that story in light of some of the statements claimed by Christians and their morality.

O.K., a little back story. The Hebrews were slaves in the county of Egypt. Yahweh had apparently forgotten about them, but happened to hear them complaining, and “remembered” His covenant with Abraham. Curious action for an all-knowing God.

God’s Wife: Alright, God. You need to paint the back wall of Heaven today.
God: Hey! Just remembered; I have to help the Hebrews out of Egypt. Gotta go!

Naturally God picks an 80 year old (Moses) and his 83 year old brother (Aaron) to lead the people out. The first few chapters of the Book of Exodus provide the interaction between Moses and God. To save you the time:

Moses: But I don’t wanna.
God: And you’re gonna.

What is more interesting is that God predicts exactly what will happen. He tells Moses that they will be leaving Egypt and inheriting Canaan. But, God tells Moses to ask Pharaoh for a three-day journey in the desert. No mention about ever leaving and never coming back.

This is a lie. God tells Moses to lie to Pharaoh. Is telling a lie immoral? Is telling someone else to tell a lie immoral? Of course, perhaps one could say that this was technically not a lie, because they really were going for a three-day journey. And another three-day journey. And another three-day journey. In fact, they were going for not just one, but 4,850 three-day journeys! Maybe lie is not the right word. An abysmal lack of the complete truth?

And Moses asks Pharaoh for the three day journey.

It has been discussed that God’s morals didn’t change through the course of history, but that how He interacted with humans changed. At one time, it was very important (apparently) that polyester blends should not be allowed. At another, no gold and pearls on women. What appears to be a change of requirements is merely God trying to interact with humans as best as He can. The one thing that remains constant, though, is that we must always, always, always obey God.

When God asked Pharaoh (via Moses) to let the people go, Pharaoh was supposed to obey this request of God’s--right? That would be obeying God.

Wrong. (I know. This morality based upon God can get tricky.) See God had already determined that He needed Pharaoh to say “no” so that God can show God’s power to the Egyptians. Apparently God’s glory trumps God’s call for obedience. (Exodus 7:3, 10:1-2, 14:4) God goes on and on about it, in fact.

Luckily for our story, then, Pharaoh does the right thing by saying, “No.” Right? Nope—wrong again! Because Pharaoh does the right thing, by saying “No,” God sends the first plague.

At this point, we must pause and wonder, exactly what the point of the plagues was? God had already determined that He would be sending the Tenth Plague, killing all the firstborns. (Ex. 4:23) Was God punishing Pharaoh? For what? Pharaoh, as we have seen, was doing exactly what God desired—giving God a chance to flex His muscles. Was God trying to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go? But when Pharaoh wanted to, God had to step in and physically force Pharaoh to change his mind.

We enter a macabre dance between Pharaoh, God and Moses.

Moses: Let my people go.
Pharaoh: No!
God: Pow with a plague.
Moses: Let my people go.
Pharaoh: Ulp……O.K.
God: Wrong! I have to harden your heart.
Pharaoh: Oh…..er…..then, “no”?
God: Bad choice. Pow with a plague.

Moses: Let my people go.
Pharaoh: Well. “No” was wrong. “Yes” was a problem. I’ll try “no” and see what happens.
God: Bad choice, again! Pow with a plague.
Pharaoh: O.K., O.K., O.K., I get it. “Yes.”
God: Not yet. Haven’t performed the tenth plague yet. I will harden your heart so that you will not let my people go. (Ex. 4:21)
Pharaoh: Look, God. If I say “no” you just hit my country with plagues. If I say, “yes” you beat me until I say “no.”
God: Did I hear you say, “no” so it is pow with a plague, or was that a “yes” so I have to harden your heart until you say “no.”? Wasn’t quite clear. Oh, what the hey—here’s a plague.

Finally, of course, God leads them right into the Tenth Plague.

I would think, as a Christian, personal responsibility would be a requirement for punishment. Apparently not, at least according to our story.

What if you and your spouse were young farmers somewhere in Egypt. You don’t own slaves. You barely know of the Hebrews. All you are trying to do is get by with what you have in the current bad times. The greatest joy you have is your newly born child. (Uh-oh.) You don’t even have a say as to who would pick the King’s shoes to wear to breakfast, let alone matters of national policy. Even if you DID want the Hebrews to go, look who is against you—the King of the Egyptians, and the God of the Hebrews.

What possible personal responsibility could such a farmer couple have in the fact the Hebrews were not allowed to leave Egypt? Yet, of course as we already know—that baby is killed along with all of the others.

After the tenth plague, without even asking, Pharaoh tells Moses to let the people go. Finally, God doesn’t step in. Guess what happens? Ta-da! The people are released to go. (Makes one wonder if God hadn’t stepped in earlier, what would have happened. No, wait. No it doesn’t. When God stopped stepping in, the people were let go.)

The Egyptians are broken. The people may leave. Now we have been told that Jesus is God. That He was right there, thick in the action. We all know the Jesus of the New Testament, “Love your Neighbor.” The Hebrews would see a neighbor in dire need. Countless Egyptian homes that would desire solace and concern. (In fact, the same sort of concern the Egyptian Mid-wives had provided the Hebrews 80 years earlier.)

So I am sure Jesus used this opportunity to demonstrate the exceptional qualities of Love within the Hebrew religion—right? Nope. Jesus orders the Hebrews to go ask for silver and gold from the Egyptians. Why is this Jesus so interested in silver and gold from grieving parents? The word used is that the Hebrews “plundered” the Egyptians. (By the way, this was a command of God. Ex. 3:22)

Alright. God has destroyed the Egyptians agriculture, killed all of their livestock, ruined their economy, and decimated their society. To add insult to injury, He has plundered their wealth while they grieve for their dead. Surely that would be enough.

It isn’t. It would appear that God did not feel quite satisfied with all of the killing previously performed. It didn’t sit right.

Pharaoh was ready to leave well enough alone. He had not intention whatsoever to have anything to do with those Hebrews. God can’t have that. God steps in and hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh must pursue the Jews.

Why? What possible gain could God have from this? The people were free. They were on their way to Canaan. Pharaoh wasn’t following them. What compels a God like this to cause further murder and destruction? God cranks it up a notch, by not only hardening Pharaoh’s heart, but He hardens the entire army’s heart! (Ex. 14:17) Basically, He would have to, to get them to ludicrously follow the Hebrews.

The Army was comprised of men who had lost children, brothers, fathers and cousins. They had seen the complete destruction of their society. For 60 to 90 days, they are held back by a cloud, watching the Hebrews slowly trudge across the sea floor. Morale would be at an all-time low, if not abandoned in full rout. About the only way TO get them to purse this crowd would be a miracle.

And, of course, having little choice in the matter, they follow the Hebrews and drown. The greatest irony of it all? The one person that is not listed among all the dead was Pharaoh. The very entity that God poured all of the blame on, did not receive the punishment. Everyone else did.

Obviously, as any study of history or archeology reveals, these events did not occur. But how does turning this into an allegory help? If, for some bizarre reason, God was compelled by some actual force of nature to do these horrendous things, and we simply cannot know why, that may, in some small way, give us pause to wonder of a possible excuse.

But to create a story to make a point, with such a base morality, is very difficult to explain.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Do you know Jesus?

Yesterday, walking into a courthouse, a refined woman approached me and said, “Do you know Jesus?” I mumbled something about being late, and walked on. My mind was crammed with thoughts of, “Obviously I know who Jesus is. I live in America, don’t I? Which Jesus do you want to talk about? The mythical? Historical? Teacher, miracle worker? Do you want to talk about the prophecies he allegedly filled, and why the Jews do not hold him as a Messiah? Do you want to talk about Paul’s Jesus, Mark’s Jesus, John’s Jesus, Judas’ Jesus, or Thomas’ Jesus?”

Don’t get me wrong, I do not fault the woman. She has been informed that this is what a God requires her, and she has faith in it like she has faith in the sun. She couldn’t stop believing it any more than she could stop breathing. And I understand how the conversation is supposed to unfold. I am to reply, “Tell me more” and at that point the Holy Spirit is to come swooping in and work his magic, softening my heart.

Yet I began contemplating this momentary encounter and realized what an odd notion it is. I would be surprised, in America, to find anyone that does not know at the least who Jesus is. There would be no expectation of my exclaiming, “Who? I never heard of that person before. Why are you asking me?” That wasn’t what she was asking.

If I had the time and inclination, she would have discovered I know more facts (or lack thereof) and theories (plenty of them!) as to the who, what, and when of Jesus than she did. That wasn’t what she was asking. I could have told her that I, too, had had as much of a personal relationship as any human could to the deity known as Jesus, and that wasn’t what she was asking.

She wanted to “get me saved.”

But why should she have to say anything in the first place? The god that would have created this world certainly has the opportunity to communicate with me. He doesn’t need human intervention to do his work for him. It is as if the Holy Spirit is sitting on the sideline, being held back, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. I want to talk to that guy. I really want to work my God magic on his mind, opening him up to the possibility of Jesus. Just ask him. Just talk to him. C’mon.

“Wait…….Here you go. There! Say it! Say it! BINGO! Now that you asked, I am released and I can come in with all my Godly power! Thank goodness that human was around to mention the name ‘Jesus’ or I would never have been able to do my stuff.”

How silly is that notion?

Or worse, what if the Holy Spirit, being in a cantankerous mood, decided that, like Pharaoh, I was going to get the hardening treatment? Instead of helping, He was going to prohibit. At some level, you have to feel a bit sorry for Pharaoh. Sure, he initially decided to not release a slave nation that was lying about going on a holiday for three days when it was really trying to escape. But after God worked him over with a few miracles, the desired effect was achieved—Pharaoh decided to let the people go. Only then did God quash the whole point of the previous miracles by forcing Pharaoh to not give up.

What if He did the same with me? “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. Talk to the guy. If you don’t talk to him, there is no reason for me to step in. GREAT! You talked to him! Look, he is starting to turn toward you and seems to be ready to ask a question. Looks like I am on! Time to stop this fellow from even thinking about hearing about Jesus. Boy I love my job.”

It is as if God created a world where He is limited by what humans will do, for some strange reason.

We were told that witnessing was as much a benefit for the saved as the unsaved. What possible benefit could this woman receive by being re-buffed by dozens of lawyers? Did she deliberately place herself at a busy intersection, hoping to be constantly turned down? Was this a sign of persecution?

We weren’t people at lunch. We weren’t sitting on a bench enjoying the day. We are on our way to court. She was approaching us at a point in time where nobody has time to sit and chat about Jesus. It should have been expected to not get into a lengthy conversation. Like standing in a busy highway, and being “persecuted” by all those cars swerving and honking. What does one expect?

I get how it is presumed to work. All that is supposed to be needed is a little impetus. A teeny, tiny shove in the right direction. And if the other side is willing to move, even a millimeter, God is supposed to take over. It is amusing when, with people that do not know my background, I am told, “If you would only read just a little bit of the Bible, you would see it is true.” I still read the Bible quite a bit, only as a historical document, not a deity inspired document.

Where is the system breaking down? That fellow holding the “John 3:16” sign at the football game is reaching millions of people. Is that enough? Is seeing a billboard enough? How much of the Bible must one read before God “kicks in” and does the rest? Or are some so hardened, it doesn’t matter what they do, they are doomed from the start?

Why is it that God needs all this work from humans, to get a simple job done? Time to face facts. It isn’t a god that is doing all the work. It is the humans out pushing. If they stopped hawking, lo and behold, God, too, would come to a grinding halt. That should tell us something about the force of god(s) in the world.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Choices to make

At some point in one’s independent study, one has to make a choice. It may not be a conscious choice; it may not even be a time-specific event. But nonetheless, the choice is made. Do you study the topic as if to reaffirm the belief of those that believe as you do, or do you study a topic as if to persuade those that believe the opposite?

This was brought home forcefully in a recent discussion I had. A fellow was going to give a talk, to a Christian audience, about the evolution/creationism debate. While he knew some of the general parameters of the differences, in order to “bone up” he chose to read a recent Dembski publication on intelligent design.

All I could think of was—why? His audience already believed in creationism. Why waste the time reading an entire book? He could easily download a few articles, read a few quotes, and the audience would happily nod along at the intellectual scientific phrases, barely in the grasp of their vocabulary, thus signifying creationism’s justification for inclusion in the scientific debate.

I don’t mean to get into an evolution/creationism debate here, as this premise is equally true on a variety of topics, including arguments for god, science, cosmology, textual criticism, historicity of founders of religion, and canonicity of a religion’s writings. Evolution/creationism is exemplary, though.

Envision being a creationist. And you are going to talk to two very different groups.

The first group is a Sunday School. A room of people that already believe creationism. That is almost certain to not verify a single one of your facts. You could quickly skim a Behe, or Johnson, or Morris, or Ross, and start spewing facts against evolution. Point out the Cambrian explosion, and the introduction of phyla. The “irreducible complexity” of the flagellum, or the immune system. Point out quotes from scientists that appear to question evolution. Laugh about the “missing link.”

Afterward, the crowd will thump your back, with accolades of how well-versed you are in the subject, and you can beam with satisfaction of a job well-done. And who can fault you? You are merely quoting other authors that have done their research, right?

Now imagine talking to a second group. A group of scientists. People that do not inherently believe as you do, but believe, in fact, in the opposite. Now, instead of merely quoting some person on the Cambrian explosion, you will need to know when it was, why the controversy over the dates, the possible lengths of time, and various arguments to those lengths. What creatures existed before, and what creatures existed after. Why, in the classification of phyla are there various numbers as to how many appeared during this time. What the fossil record is.

No longer can you afford to merely cough out some quote of a creationist quoting a paleontologist, you actually have to know your stuff! Say “missing link” and be laughed at. Say “transitional fossils” and be prepared to be inundated, and have to explain the various fossils, and the fossil records.

This becomes a very difficult study. Much easier to simply read what one already believes, and nod your head. Harder to actually understand the other person’s position, why they hold it. When I get into the discussion of evolution/creationism, I usually ask the creationist, “What was the last book you read by a scientist holding to the theory of evolution, and what were his/her three strongest arguments for evolution?”

I do this for two reasons. First to see if they have ever bothered to read a book on evolution by a scientist, and second to get them thinking along the terms of what the other side’s arguments are. I am most often greeted with silence.

I enjoy discussing these things with theists. Anything from the arguments for god to the canon. But I have often found that theists do not necessarily enjoy arguing with me. It is difficult, attempting to put forth an argument with someone that doesn’t agree with you. That asks, “Why?” That follows your conclusions to see if you are consistent.

In my employment, not only am I faced with that daily, I anticipate it. My opponent is not going to simply give up, because I string together an argument. It has to be persuasive. Coherent. Sellable. Something the other side realizes that a neutral judge or jury will find convincing.

Most people, of course, do not live like that. They prefer to socialize and discuss with those that solely believe as they do. That don’t question their beliefs. That accept any articulated argument in favor of their position on face value. Which is fine and good.

But in this debate, shouldn’t one study the other side? Learn their position? Be able to frame the opposing arguments as well as, if not better than they can? There is so much out there! Isn’t it time to start reflecting on things from another perspective, other than you own?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Another personal entry

I empathize with those that think life without a god is purposeless.

After months of study, and absorbing every item from books, or articles, or conversations that my mind could handle, it was becoming increasing clearer that my belief in God was slipping away. I could not sustain it. I tried avoiding it, praying hours on end, reading, not reading, reaching for every avenue of escape I could find. Rather than the problems resolving themselves, the problems compounded. More and More and More.

While still retaining a belief in God, (although no longer the God of my youth) I saw the inevitability of the path before me. Unless a miracle occurred, I could only land in agnosticism. (Atheism was incomprehensible.) I became despondent.

It felt like a doctor informing me the only way to live was to operate; amputating both my legs. The reality was resignation to a bitter result. Or being informed that I had lost all finances, and would never, ever own more than $100 to my name, no matter how hard I strived, or saved or no matter what I did. I figured, without God, I would no longer have purpose. No afterlife. No moral grounding. No interaction with happy believers. I truly expected, within a few months, to be an agnostic doomed to depression for the rest of my life.

Yet because it was reality, my mind could only accept the evidence. One morning (I remember it well) I looked in the mirror, and after taking a deep breath, expelled, “I don’t believe in God.” (I still half-expected a lightening bolt to come from the light socket and damn me to hell for such a blasphemous statement. This wasn’t doubt. This wasn’t question. This was my willfully ceasing forcing my brain to accept something it could no longer.)

I went to work, waiting for the depression to arrive. Nothing. In fact, I still thought about my wife, and children, and what I needed to do for them. What I needed to help out around the house. Thought about work and what needed to be done. That evening, I felt a little guilty for not being depressed by now. Maybe my faith was never that strong? Maybe I secretly never wanted to be a Christian? Shouldn’t I be depressed by now?

As the weeks went by, I kept waiting for the monster to strike. Surely at some point, the realization of what I had done would crash into my head, driving me into a deep melancholy. Actually, I was getting happier and happier! I continued to discuss theism, but no longer did I have to justify things that didn’t make sense. I could use my brain, my logic, my reason freely without limitation. I could state, “I don’t know” and it was a relief, not a feeling of failure. It was recognition of my human limitation, and that I was doing the best I can with what I have. I was not “letting down” some God because of an inadequacy.

I found myself enjoying humans MORE than I had before! Amazing! I could recognize their faults and mistakes and think, “Hey. I make mistakes, too. They are doing the best then can with what they have, just like me.” Rather than worrying about how to “love my neighbor” and balance loving my wife, my children, my family, a job and social life, I could focus on the thing before me, whatever it was, and not worry about what I should be doing. There are only so many hours in the day, and I can only do so much.

I found more purpose in life than I ever had before! Rather than live the best I could, in the hopes of eventual reward, I squeeze the most I can out of every minute I have left, whether it is one or millions. Enjoy life!

When I could no longer hold onto agnosticism, and became an atheist, I went with bounding step. I now knew that such changes in belief were not recipes for depression. Such changes are warranted by the increase in information, and modification of belief, based upon that new information.

Was it all laughs and giggles? No. There was a time, after deconverting, that I missed theism. I didn’t give up a belief I had held for 32+ years with just a snap of my finger. There were some relationships lost. Some feelings hurt. Some words shared that hurt. Plenty of occasions where doubt snuck in—was I doing the right thing? But unlike the doubt of Christianity, where it took effort and time and prayer to quash it; this doubt seemed to vanish as quickly as it came. All it took was a second’s review of the study I had done, and “Ah. That’s right. 1000’s of questions with no answers.”

To any theist that feels life without a god is purposeless, I know exactly how you feel. I wish there was some window, some test that you could review my brain and see that I felt the exact same way. It is a valid perspective that cannot be debated away with mere words. I wish, equally, there was a way in which you could walk in my shoes, just for a day, with the knowledge there is no god and see how purposeful life is. How releasing it is to recognize humanity and its potential.

But I can’t. So most times I don’t bother sharing this. Theists can’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it when I went through it, how could others? No sense saying it—wasted words. It is a path that one must take, and learn, on their own.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Subtleties of God

Early this week, I entered an involuntary one-day diet program. My body decided to refuse all food, and release (as quickly as possible) any food within me. A few of my co-workers had earlier joined this program, and apparently decided to “sign me up” as it were. Had the flu.

People discussing a God that interacts with the world today agree that such a God has the power to inflict sickness, as well as the power to prohibit sickness, and the power to cure sickness. The problem seems to come in as to determining whether God is even involved, or it is just the natural course of events. Some say that a certain illness came from God, others say it could not have. Some say a cure came from God, others note the extensive medical care provided in conjunction with that cure.

But at the very heart of the question, who can tell what diseases/cures come from God, and what are just natural? They all look exactly the same!

Non-theists get sick; non-theists get well.
Theists get sick; theists get well.

There is no method by which we can determine which came from God and which did not. We all know a theist that has looked for a job. It is interesting that no matter what happens, within the process, God gets the pat on the back.

“Got an interview, praise God.”
“Didn’t get the job, must be God has something better for me.”
“Sent out 1000 resumes, and didn’t get a reply. God must be teaching me patience.”
“Went through an interview process and got the job, Thank God.”
“Got laid off. Time to trust in God.”

One of the fascinating similarities between theism and cults, is the disapproval of questioning the leader. One can never question God as to why or what He is doing. One must always assume it is for the person’s best. No matter the loss of wealth or health, never, never, never say, “Hey, God. I didn’t like that.” One does, of course, and soon thereafter, is repenting for doing so.

Here the human works hard, looking up jobs, sending out resumes, appearing at interviews, studying how to interview, working at the job to impress the boss, and it is God that gave it to them? Why is it any different for me? Why does your God give me the job just as easy/hard as He does you?

Non-theists get hired; non-theists get fired.
Theists get hired; non-theists get fired.

There is no method by which we can determine which came from God and which did not. We live our lives based entirely as humans alone in the world. Oh, you may pray, and entreat, and even hear a small voice in your head. You may even see an amazing set of circumstances that you feel is a signal or answer to prayer. But then you go out and do what your intuition tells you, and work just as hard as if there was no God.

Guess what? It all comes from humans. No one has prayed for financial help, and all of a sudden gold coins float down from the sky. Instead, upon learning a person needs assistance, a charitable organization, which is funded by people such as myself, provides help. Humans helping humans. And God gets the credit?

It is no coincidence that Jesus, alleged to be a God, appeared exactly in the form of a human. Not a single distinguishing characteristic that could differentiate a God between a man. While Joseph Smith obtained the information from an angel nobody saw, he translated, by himself. All the information came through—a human. Mohammed delivered the Qur’an. A human. Mary Baker Eddy—human.

Time and time and time again, every message, every insight, every communication is always filtered through a human. A human writes a book another human claims is from God, and I am supposed to accept it? Why?

An athlete pushes her body to limits, working out for extraordinary hours, sacrificing countless other possibilities, restricting her diet. Then, using every ounce of her strength and ability performs well in her sport. And thanks God? Why? What did God do? What I see is a committed human, endeavoring to be the best.

Why did God take so long to allow people to break the four-minute mile?

Without referring to God as doing so much, the world wouldn’t change a bit. We would still all be humans, doing human things. I realize now that the influence of God taught to me, was described as being very, very subtle. So subtle, it is as if it was non-existent.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On Comfort

As humans, we strive to be comfortable, over the expense of everything else, including the truth. Volumes are written about people that refuse to see that their spouse is having an affair, because they would prefer the “comfort” of the lie of a stable marriage, as compared to the reality of the problem.

What makes each of us comfortable is different. For some—financial stability. For others—committed relationships. What makes me comfortable is having answers to questions. Inquiries that hang out there, unanswered and unexplored, prey on my mind, and cause me to become extremely uncomfortable. To the point, I need to do some research. Now, it may become evident that there is no answer, or we can only speculate, but I am drawn into the process of contemplating and comparing the various proposals for resolutions, and how those answers conform to reality. I can safely be comfortable again, once I know the rationale behind the answers, and what the most likely answer is (with what we know now).

When I first started interacting with atheists, I was admittedly surprised at the quality of their questions. I was embarrassed that I had not addressed some of these issues previously in my Christian walk. So, being me, I became uncomfortable. I started looking for answers. But the answers I found, while satisfactory for those who already believed, would not suffice in response to these questions. For once, I did not have the luxury of providing an answer to a Sunday School class that was already 99% convinced of the answer before I started speaking. I needed to find answers that were convincing to the unconvinced. That would be convincing to me, if I was an atheist.

I initiated conversations with friends and family, expressing some of the questions and concerns I was contemplating. Their response dismayed me. I assumed (human nature) that they would be just as uncomfortable as I was to have these lingering questions, and therefore, just as willing to explore. Boy, was I wrong!

With a sole exception, to a person they refuse to talk to me on this issue. Flat out refuse. I have had pastors that ceased calling me back, deacons that cease writing to me. I heard:

“I refuse to talk to you about this.”
”Since I am firm in my faith that what I believe is right, I did not even bother to read what you write.”
”Even if you proved it all wrong, I would still believe, regardless of what you say.”

Understand, these are people that I had discussed topics such as babies going to hell, free will vs. predestination, the tenets of grace, contradictions, etc. etc. etc. until the wee hours of the morning on countless nights! We would discuss how many angels dance on the head of a pin, and whether we should even discuss angels dancing on a head of a pin.

This was a “safe” place in which I could comfortably discuss these weighty ideas, and the door was slammed in my face. I had taken them way, WAY out of their comfort level! To even contemplate the possibility that what they believed, at its very foundation, would be untrue was too much. They would rather believe a lie, and be comfortable, than face the questions I proposed.

Why? What would make people so uncomfortable that they would physically repel from even conversation? Why do churches limit the topics, the reading, and the knowledge of their audiences? (Don’t believe me? Go review the Evolution section of the local Church library.) It is fear. Fear that one’s belief is wrong. That fear may entail fear of hell, or fear for one’s children, or fear of lack of morality, or fear of purpose, or fear of no after-life, or a combination of a variety of fears. But that fear is so prevailing that to even question the possibility of being wrong, places a person so far out of their comfort zone, they would prefer to be wrong, but believe they are right, than substantiate their belief.

But why should I care? Recognizing that each person has a different drive for comfort, and a different tolerance, shouldn’t I leave well enough alone, and provide them the comfort of their belief, regardless of its viability? Sure, until that comfort requires, to maintain it, the harm of others. Then all the warning bells and whistles must go off.

If the belief was merely one of belief in a creator, with an understanding and acknowledgment of the equivalency of a lack of belief, we would be done. You believe your way, I believe mine. Shake hands and play ball. But attached to that belief are certain rules, and commandments that cause harm. Rules that have superceded the original belief itself, and have morphed into the justification for the belief.

Originally, everyone had a God with simple rules, “Don’t murder; don’t steal. Provide me with treats.” And humanity got along with that quite nicely. So nicely, in fact, that it was too tempting to not add on their own rules, to “round out” the package a bit in their favor. Now, sadly, we are saddled with oodles of rules, all necessary to maintain this belief.

Think of the atrocities women have had to deal with, all because of a few sentences in a book. We have women leading in homes, in educational systems, in the business vector, and in government. But step into a church, and all that is thrown out the window. It is the one area in which Man can continue to reign superior. A woman could become the President of the United States, but on Sunday, is not allowed to teach a Sunday School of men in most of the churches I attended. She could order them to war, but just not speak to them on Sunday.

At what point do we say, “It is time for you to become UNcomfortable with this belief”? That we say, “I am sorry for your discomfort, but you need to justify this misogynist attitude, and a few sentences written by a human, which other humans claim came from God, doesn’t cut it.” My wife is an intelligent, thoughtful person that I rely upon her judgment literally daily. How ridiculous to enter our church and say, “Sorry, dear, but you go to the back of the bus because some guy that has been dead for two thousand years says so.” I should not require that belief to maintain comfort.

I have been enjoying a discussion on homosexuality in another blog. Want to start a debate? Just mention homosexuality, and the comments start a-flying! Do we reach a point (not that it is occurring in this blog) where we say, “Your acidic condemnation of homosexuality does not qualify as justification for comfort in your belief.” One of the biggest regrets of my years of Christianity is not standing up to the bigotry spewed against homosexuals. I, like all of my friends, ducked and swallowed hard when we heard things like, “AIDS is punishment from God against the homosexual.” Did we believe it? No. Did we call the person on it, though? Equally, no.

You don’t need to call damnation upon another group to stay comfortable in your belief. You are having troubles enough as it is trying to get the basics right. Absolutely, I should have stood up and said, “You shall not become comfortable in your belief by disparaging others. If my questioning, my probing, and my tenacity makes you uncomfortable—good. It is time.”

Having been there, I understand. With the system we end up with things we don’t like. Things that don’t make sense. But since they are part of the system, we feel obligated to adhere to them, in order to maintain the system as a whole. Balderdash.

When I hear someone claim a city deserves tragedy because of the school board it elected, or a city deserves tragedy because of a festival it is having, I seriously question why they need to believe such things (if they really do) in order to maintain their comfort level.

Just as Christians cannot understand how extremist Muslims can strap bombs on their chests and blow up civilians to avoid the fear and maintain the comfort, I am equally having a difficult time understanding how Christians must likewise harm other humans in the same desperate attempt to be comfortable. Be comfortable on your own, and leave us out of it, thank you.