Have Faith

reason

So there we were in court. First time I’d been on a jury. Pretty serious case too. If it went against the defendant, he’d be facing the death penalty. So I suppose it was pretty serious for him too.

First up was the arresting officer. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘I have every faith this guy’s the culprit.’

‘How much faith?’ said the judge. ‘Is it real, deep-down, sincere faith?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said the cop. ‘Really unshakeable, supernatural faith. That’s him okay. We’re not looking for anyone else. Genuine conviction, you see.’

‘Yes, I do see,’ the judge said. ‘And very commendable it is too.’

‘But…’ spluttered the guy in the dock.

‘Wait your turn,’ the judge snapped. ‘We gotta hear the expert testimony before we get to you.’

The expert took the stand. ‘I believe it was this guy,’ he said, pointing to the man in the dock. ‘Yes sir, I’m sure it was. I have a really good feeling about it. This is him, definitely.’

‘You really, really truly believe?’ the judge asked and the expert nodded. ‘Well, that’s good enough for me,’ the judge said. ‘So… anybody got anything to add before I pass sentence?’

‘Er, yeah,’ said he guy in the dock. ‘What about the evidence?’

‘The evidence?’ said the judge. ‘Who needs evidence when we’ve got all this belief, faith and deeply held conviction?’

‘Well,’ the guy said, ‘far be it from me to say so, but isn’t the evidence important?’

‘Important?’ snorted the judge, resulting in guffaws all around the courtroom, including from my fellow jurors.

‘Yes,’ said the accused. ‘Important evidence like my watertight alibi. Like the DNA and finger prints that weren’t mine. Like the CCTV footage. Like… that other guy’s confession.’

‘Oh, come on,’ said his defence lawyer jumping up. ‘We’ve been over this. It means nothing. What’s really important is what people believe. Faith, like the officer here said.’

‘Well,’ said the guy in the dock, ‘I have my doubts about that.’

‘Oh, but doubt is of the devil,’ said his lawyer, ‘It’s faith that matters – faith and right belief.’

‘That hardly seems reasonable to me,’ said the man. ‘After all, it’s my life that’s on the line here.’

‘Now you’re just being absurd,’ said the judge. ‘What has reason got to do with anything?’

‘But I thought…’ began the accused, looking more perplexed than ever.

‘We’re none of us here to think,’ said the judge, ‘least of all you. How many more times must we tell you? Faith is all that matters.’

‘Well,’ said the defendant doubtfully, ‘if you say so…’

‘Great!’ said the judge, jumping in quickly. ‘I’m glad you’ve finally seen the light.’ Then he turned to us, the jury, and said: ‘I’m going to direct you to find the defendant guilty. The belief and faith of those here today is all we need to convict him.’

So we did, and the judge passed the death sentence. The condemned guy didn’t seem too pleased and as they led him away, started yammering all over again about evidence. I guess some people never learn. But I mean, faith, belief, conviction – call ’em what you will – they trump evidence any day.

The Kingdom Comes

This guy they think is going to save the world – or at least make his country great again – is one smug bastard. An egotistical megalomaniac who carries on as if he’s God Almighty.

He expects to be obeyed at all times, issuing orders he demands everyone follow, regardless of how reckless or impractical they are, and making promises he can’t possibly keep. He’ll countenance no dissent, argument or protest, lambasting those who challenge him with petty name calling and abuse. Being hyper-sensitive and childishly petulant, he takes offence easily, abandoning any semblance of rationality and becoming malicious and spiteful in his condemnation – damnation, even – of those he regards as his enemies. Despite this obnoxiousness, he can’t understand why he isn’t universally loved. That he isn’t, is, he tantrums, the fault of those who wilfully, stubbornly, refuse to recognise his magnanimity.

He says he’s pro-God, but what really matters to him is his own legend. His first love is himself. He’s self-focused and self-promoting, racist and xenophobic, divisive and irritable, obsessed with his own status and what he sees as his God-given mission to revitalise his nation and return it to those he regards as his own. To this end, he’s surrounded himself with acolytes, cranks like himself, who will serve as his yes-men and women, who’ll do whatever he tells them. In return, he offers them a share in the power he’s assumed, together with the privilege of enjoying a little of the glory he’s convinced is his. Naturally, these sycophants do his bidding; they know that if they don’t, they’ll be out, ejected from the inner circle as energetically as Porky Pig from a bar Mitzvah.

But enough of Jesus.

If only there were some sort of parallel in the world today that would help me convey what a delusional, controlling, self-aggrandising individual he really was. Sadly, I can’t think of any.

bannon

 

 

Experts in make-believe

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As it is in the secular world, so in the Kingdom of Heaven. Entirely self-appointed experts abound in the religious sphere: priests, pastors, preachers, imams, rabbis. Some have degrees in theology; some have a degree of enlightenment (or so they claim) from personal encounters with the supernatural; some have learnt at the feet of the experts who have gone before them.

But what are religious experts expert in? Unlike our politicians who have at least a degree in a legitimate subject (even if not the one they now profess to know all about) the only thing religious experts are knowledgeable about is a collection of fantasy stories. That’s the Bible, of course, for Christian ‘experts’, with its supernatural beings, monsters, giants, magical incantations, transformations and resurrections.

If these experts were to encounter the same sort of fantastic notions in any other book, they would readily acknowledge that what they were dealing with was myth and legend. Not so their own ‘holy’ text! Oh no. This, of all the books of magic that exist, is, they say, the real deal because in amongst the far-fetched stories is some moralising about being extra-nice to fellow Jews and loving your enemies.

All that Christian experts are expert in is myth. That is their specialist subject. They’re not really interested in the injunctions about serving others; the mythical stuff they refuse to acknowledge as myth is much more to their liking: the eternal God-man, living forever, fantasy heaven, fantasy hell. The expertise of priests, pastors and preachers is in this smorgasbord of twaddle – and even then they frequently get it wrong. Those who offer their ‘spiritual’ experiences as demonstration of its veracity (‘I know it’s true because I commune with the eternal God-man’) add nothing of substance to their claims; all they’ve done is internalise myth, nothing more. Myth it remains. And just how useful is expertise in made-up stories in this day and age?

Like politicians who are skilled in one area but assume expertise in another, Christian experts also think that their knowledge of myth makes them experts about all sorts of other things: psychology, morality, the state of the world, politics, science, history and pre-history – even the future. They know all about these, they like to tell us, because by extrapolating from their book of myths and legends, they have an understanding that surpasses that of the real experts in these areas (we can exclude the future here; no-one in the real world claims to know with any certainty what the future holds. Naturally, Christians like to pretend they do).

You think this isn’t the case?

Because of what they think the Bible says:

Mike Pence, ‘evangelical Catholic’ and vice-President, thinks God will heal America only if ‘his people, who are called by his name, humble themselves and pray’ (quoting 2 Chronicles 7.14). He wants to end state-funded abortion rights into the bargain and disputes climate change;

Franklin Graham, who said prayers at the recent inauguration, insists that God himself engineered Donald Trump’s election;

Pastor Robert Jeffress, who provided a private church service for Trump prior to the inauguration, thinks so too, so that America can have ‘one more chance’.

Jim Bakker, ex-felon, televangelist and guest at the inauguration, claims he was responsible for Trump’s election because he ‘bound’ hell-spawned demons who opposed Trump.

Pastor Rick Wiles, meanwhile, is too busy enjoying being sprayed with the golden showers of God’s Grace that even now are ‘oozing’ from Heaven because of Trump;

Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist & Senior Counselor and one of the architects of the immigration ban, is pushing hard for a return to ‘Judeo-Christian traditionalism’ (which hasn’t stopped him from being married and divorced three times);

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s anti-gay Education Secretary, thinks schools should be used to build God’s Kingdom on Earth and wants Creationism taught alongside Evolution;

Ken Ham continues to influence people like Betsy, by teaching that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, Adam and Eve really existed and humans co-existed with dinosaurs;

Jerry Falwell jr, appointed by Trump to reform higher education, sees no contradiction between being a pro-life creationist and an arms advocate;

Religious Rights leaders are urging Trump to reverse the rights granted to LGBT people under President Obama, both in America and worldwide. At the time of writing it looks like he might;

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s alabaster daughter, asks what the Bible has to say about the Women’s March in Washington last week and concludes that women who protest are ‘loud, undisciplined and without knowledge’;

Sandy Rios of the religious ‘American Family Association’, agrees, saying feminists are ‘people who live in filth’;

Steven Anderson thinks people in need are ‘lazy bums’, just like the Bible says (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and continues to call for LGBT people to be executed;

A million and one other preachers and pastors think they have your psychology all worked out – you’re nothing but a sinner in need of Jesus’ saving grace.

By any rational standard this is all lunatic stuff. These people know no more than you or I about any of the subjects they spout about. They think they do – and worse still others believe they do – because of what (they think) is in their collection of myths; ‘I know what I’m talking about because it’s in my magic book!’ And who are we to doubt such credentials?

It is all fallacy. Christian experts are experts only in the ephemeral, the unproven, the mythical. Yet they claim to know so much about everything else as a result. They claim they know how you should live your life and what, for you own good, you should be allowed to do and what you should not.

People such as these have now come to power in America.

 

Trust the Experts

trump

Following Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, a meme has surfaced suggesting that ordinary people have taken to rejecting and ignoring experts; that we no longer trust or respect them and have taken decisions, which in the past they would have made for us, into our own hands (with, the implication is, disastrous results).

If only our experts were experts in the field they profess to be experts in. The views and advice we reject are very often not those of the knowledgeable at all, but merely of those who claim to be experts.

In democracies, ministers and government administrators are, to give them the benefit of the doubt, experts in a given area – frequently in UK government in economics and politics itself – but are, on election, often appointed to a position outside this area of expertise. The current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for example, has no health related qualifications; his degree is in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Being generous, we might say that he is an expert in these areas, but, he has no expertise whatsoever in the field of health, healthcare, the management of hospitals nor even the management of people. There are those who rightly point out that in these areas, he really hasn’t much of a clue. Yet, as Secretary of State for Health, he manages the entire NHS in England and Wales. Was there really no-one who could make a better job of it than Mr Hunt – an expert, say? Was Hunt any more of an expert in Culture, the post he held before being shunted into Health by David Cameron (another ‘expert’ – in Media Communications – who had no experience, let alone expertise, of managing the Health service)?

Similarly, Justine Greening, the current Education secretary – who has previously been Economic secretary, Transport secretary and secretary for International Development – is an economist and accountant. She is not an expert in Education, nor was she for all of her previous responsibilities. Then there’s Lynn Truss, Secretary of State for Justice (an economist), Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport (historian), Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (degree in maths), Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary (classics), Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (political science), Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence (classics & ancient history) and Theresa May (geography).

And it isn’t just in the UK; the appointment of similarly non-expert experts is taking place right now under Donald Trump – himself an expert in what? – in the USA. Granted that in the UK government, there are some ministers whose qualifications bear some resemblance to the posts they hold (Philip Hammond, Sajid David) but why do we, the electorate, tolerate the deplorable mismatch of others? Ministers do, of course, have civil servants to advise them on their roles, but these are unelected, unknown bureaucrats and who is to say whether their expertise lies within the fields on which they’re advising?

It is no wonder the populace seems to have lost faith in experts. It is because too many of them are not. When I’m ill, I call the doctor not an accountant. When I’m concerned about the environment, I listen to a climate change expert not a political scientist. If I’m seeking justice, I appeal to the courts system, not the banking sector. Why don’t government appointments work like this? Why are we managed by people who have no expertise and, in many cases, no experience in the field in which they present themselves as the ultimate expert? And why are we expected to trust them, to follow their advice and believe in their promises and plans? Most of the time they don’t, quite literally, have much idea of what they’re taking about, and when they’ve got themselves and the service they’re supposedly overseeing into a mess, they’re moved on in a cabinet reshuffle, to another post they don’t know very much about.

It’s difficult to see how things could be any different with the system the way it is, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. If it’s the system that needs to change, then it should. It isn’t too much to ask of those who govern us that they have some expertise in the areas for which they accept responsibility.

And what has this to do with religion, you may ask? Be assured it has. Next time.

It’s Only Make Believe

godsatan

All you have to do to become a Christian/be saved from sin/gain eternal life is to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

Except, it isn’t.

You’ve also to put your faith in the Bible, acknowledging it’s God’s word in some form or other. It would be impossible to be a Christian without it; you’re required  to read it, let the Holy Spirit or one of God’s chosen instruments here on Earth interpret it for you and you’ve to live by it.

And this, in turn, entails believing in the menagerie of supernatural creatures and invisible realms the Bible assumes exist. Angels and demons we considered last time, and then there’s –

The Risen Christ who sits at the hand of the Father. He sits? He’s like a real body, but at the same time not a real body? A spiritual body, then, who metaphorically ‘sits’ next to –

God the Father, whom no human has ever seen (confirmed by John 1.18 but contradicted by Genesis 32.20) who abides in –

Heaven, a place no-one has ever seen. No, really, no-one. Not even those people who have hallucinated about being there. Hallucinations, dreams, visions, even so-called out of body experiences, are not evidence Heaven exists. They’re evidence that people sometimes hallucinate, dream and have visions and out of body experiences. The same is true of ‘sightings’ of God himself and of –

The Holy Spirit. That’s the part of God Christians dupe themselves into thinking has moved in inside them to guide them through their Christian life. That’s the same Holy Spirit who’s guided God’s Chosen to create 34,000 different distinct interpretations of the Truth. Even now, the Spirit is leading church after church down the road of apostasy, according to those he also leads to condemn them. Confused yet? It all makes sense if you recognise that it’s all imaginary, created by human beings who didn’t and don’t know any better. Like –

Satan is. He’s the character who evolves during the course of Bible until he’s a cross between Lex Luthor and the Joker; God’s arch-enemy. He only ‘exists’ to get God off the hook. All the bad in the word can’t be God’s fault now, can it? Somebody’s got to carry the can and it sure isn’t YHWH. So Satan, the devil, gets to be the embodiment of evil. Which isn’t to say evil doesn’t exist because it does, but it’s not caused by this third-rate Dick Dastardly. Nor is –

The Anti-Christ. This is the guy Christians believe will appear at the end of the age, some time around AD 100 according to Revelation 14.9-10. Never mind his creator there calls him something else entirely (‘the Beast’ as it happens); unless he’s finally arrived in the shape of Donald J. Trump, he’s no more real than –

Those who’ve died (‘the saints’ according to Catholics) and have been given new, magic bodies in Heaven or –

Those who’ve died and have gone to Hell to be tortured forever. That’s because –

Hell doesn’t exist either.

Nor do seraphim (Isaiah 6.2), cherubim (Hebrews 9.5), dragons (Psalm 148.7), satyrs (Isaiah 13.21) or unicorns (Numbers 23.22 etc) .

How do we know these beings, places and states don’t exist? Well, they’re all invisible, intangible, undetectable, unverifiable, supernatural (literally, ‘outside nature’), and, ultimately, unconvincing. They’re rejects from far more interesting mythologies that abounded in the ancient world. Today’s mythologies – of Middle Earth, Game of Thrones and the innumerable virtual worlds of computer games – are far more plausible (and even then, not very).

The supernatural doesn’t exist; everything we know is part of a physical universe. There is no evidence anything exists outside, alongside or in addition to that universe. (Though if you think there is evidence for the supernatural – and I mean evidence, not ‘feelings’, personal experiences or ancient texts – then please make it known in the comments).

There is an abundance of evidence, however, that –

Human beings are rather good at inventing stories and mythologies;

Their psychology inclines them to inner imaginings;

They are largely irrational and with a tendency to attribute agency to inanimate objects, phenomena and the chimera of their own imagining;

They have a fear of death and their own personal extinction.

How could religion, with all of its make-believe, not fail to materialise under such conditions? And how can anyone in this day and age take it seriously, knowing what we do now?

I know I can’t.

Angels & Demons

angel

Last time, Benjamin Corey was feeling rather pleased with himself that he’s able to take a more considered, adult approach to the Bible. He doesn’t interpret it like those dim-witted fundamentalists. Instead, he consults ‘scholars’ to tell him what the Bible’s really about. And in case we’re in doubt, that is never (ever) anything to do with myths or fairy tales.

Which makes me wonder: what do mature, clever Christians like Benjamin make of the Bible’s supernatural fantasies and its cast of invisible beings?

Do they, for example, dismiss the demons that are all over the New Testament? Jesus, you see, believed in demons; he thought some illnesses were caused by them and had a repertoire of incantations for exorcising them from their victims. There are cranks today who believe the same sort of thing, but that’s a bit too much of a fundie approach for the kind of serious-minded Christian I’m talking about here. They probably don’t care that the Bible says in Ephesians 6.12 (written by fake-Paul) that demons are all around us, engaged in invisible spiritual warfare in equally invisible heavenly realms.

I can’t help but think that if only a demon would make itself visible and show us what it looks like, we would know that fake-Paul and Jesus were right and not just religious fanatics inculcated with the unscientific notions of their primitive cultures. But no, no demons have ever shown themselves in person (as opposed to ‘in a person’) except, of course, in third-rate horror films.

So how about angels? Maybe we could see an angel – an undeniable, indisputable, bona fide angel. According to the Bible, they were often seen back when people didn’t know any better. Mary, shepherds watching their flocks, the disciples, Mary Magdalene, Paul and even Jesus himself encountered angels in the flesh. So why don’t we see them now? Why don’t they make themselves known, outside of people’s imaginations? According to fundies they do, but alas, there’s no evidence this is true, which is convenient to say the least.

Still, I’m sure you can be a Christian without believing in angels and demons, even if the Bible is sure they’re real. You don’t have to believe everything it says (right, Dr Corey?)

So what about the rest of the Bible’s fantasies, its invisible creatures and make-believe places? Next time we’ll take a look at the evidence for them and ask, are they really just the low-fi special effects of a book well past its sell-by date?

Things a Christian Wishes (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)

corey

On his blog recently, Doctor Benjamin Corey offered up a post called ‘S%#t I Wish (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)’. I discovered it via the Friendly Atheist blog and naturally felt compelled to respond to Doctor Corey’s four bits of S%#t. The comment I posted on The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey is as follows:

S%#t 1: Please stop saying or insinuating that we’re a bunch of uneducated or unenlightened idiots.

Do atheists say or insinuate this? I’m not sure they do. I would suggest atheists find it difficult to understand why people of evident intelligence choose to believe propositions for which little or no evidence exists, that are rooted in myth and which, in reality, fail to deliver on their promise. It’s not that believers are necessarily unintelligent or idiots – clearly many are not – it’s that they are prepared to disengage their intelligence, critical faculties and rationality in order to believe all manner of spurious nonsense.

S%#t 2: Please stop insisting that we read our Bible like right-wing fundamentalists.

I’m surprised you offer this as something you wish atheists would stop ‘insisting’. First of course, atheists don’t insist that anyone read the Bible the same way as anyone else. We would prefer it if no-one read it at all. It is well past its sell-by date and has nothing to offer people living nearly two thousand years after its creation; it is after all a testimony to the failure of the beliefs that spawned it (the Son of Man ascending to the Earth to establish the Kingdom of God here).

Second, implicit in this demand is that there is an intelligent way to read the Bible and there’s the ‘ring-wing fundamentalist’ way. In fact, you don’t even insinuate that certain Christians are ‘ignorant’ and ‘unenlightened’ because of how they read the Bible, you say so explicitly when you talk, ungrammatically, about the ‘unenlightened, ignorant nonsense that fundamentalists do with the Bible.’

But at least fundamentalists regard the Bible as the Word of God (agreed they cherry-pick it and don’t behave according to it precepts) and claim it is ineffable and infallible. Perhaps, as you suggest, more enlightened Christians are free to interpret it in more liberal ways, dismissing that which is context-bound and so on. But then, where does that leave it? Is it authoritative or not? Does it speak directly to people or can it only ‘really’ be understood through the exegesis of scholars? If the latter, as you imply, then can it only be read and understood by those with above average intelligence? How does this square with Jesus’ insistence that his Kingdom was for those with child-like trust?

S%#t 3: Please stop referring to our belief system(s) as fairy tales.

Difficult this one. It depends whether myth and fairy tale are synonymous. Having taught English literature for many years at a university in the UK, I would argue they’re not. To the layman, however, they probably are in that both involve fantasy beings, implausible events, symbolic characters, sacrifice and enlightenment – just like religion really. So no, there is definitely a case here, Dr Corey, that if the cap fits… if your ‘belief-system’ walks, talks and smells like a myth (or fairy tale) then it probably is. You are stuck with atheists pointing this out to you, I’m afraid.

(By the way, your examples of Mickey Mouse and the Old Woman in the Shoe are not fairy tales. One is a commercial enterprise involving anthropomorphised animals and the other a nursery rhyme. I suggest you consult scholars who can explain to you what a fairy tale is, and the differences and similarities between it and myth.)

S%#t 4: Maybe lay off the whole, “religion hasn’t done any good for humanity” type of argument, because it’s obnoxiously untrue.

Reference for this quotation or did you just make it up? Sam Harris perhaps comes closest to saying this sort of thing – comes close but doesn’t actually say it. He says on balance that the good religion has done is outweighed by the evil perpetrated in its name. He doesn’t, though, say no good has come from religion. Sorry, Benjamin, but this is a straw man ‘argument’ you’re presenting here and is itself ‘obnoxiously untrue’.

Would we be better of without religion? Without the myth, the deadening of critical faculties and the adversarial nature of ideologies (even within Christianity)? Of course we would. Without precepts like ‘love your neighbor, love your enemies’? No, but then these are not exclusively religious. Far too many believers disregard them anyway.