Experts in make-believe

pence

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.

 

The God of Reason

god4

The next three posts will look at the claim Christians make for their God being the God of Reason. The fact that he is, they say, demonstrates how inconsistent those who see no evidence for a deity are when we use his very attributes – reason, logic and rationality – to make a case against him. Here’s Dr Jason Lisle on Answers In Genesis:

…there is an absolute standard for reasoning; we are to pattern our thoughts after God’s. The laws of logic are a reflection of the way God thinks… Laws of logic are God’s standard for thinking. Since God is an unchanging, sovereign, immaterial Being, the laws of logic are abstract, universal, invariant entities. In other words, they are not made of matter—they apply everywhere and at all times. Laws of logic are contingent upon God’s unchanging nature. And they are necessary for logical reasoning. Thus, rational reasoning would be impossible without the biblical God.

The materialistic atheist can’t have laws of logic. He believes that everything that exists is material—part of the physical world. But laws of logic are not physical… The atheist’s view cannot be rational because he uses things (laws of logic) that cannot exist according to his (Godless viewpoint).

Similarly, Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God argues that the fact humans can reason is evidence both of God’s existence (because reason has to come from somewhere) and of our being made in his image.

According to Christians then, God is the only reason we can think rationally at all.

But then where did God’s rationality come from? Is he pure reason or is reason an attribute he acquired or evolved over time as we did? As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, the only reasoning intelligence we know of is our own, and it is the product of evolution. If God’s ability to reason also evolved – and we know of no other way it could have developed – then he must intially have been incomplete. He could not have been the supreme intelligence Christians claim he is now. If, on the other hand, God is and always has been pure reason, there should be plenty of evidence for it. Let’s take look:

We first encounter God in the opening chapters of Genesis, where he puts two naked humans in a garden and tells them not to eat the fruit of a tree labelled ‘The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’.* He sets this tree right where they can see it and then he leaves. The two people, who have no concept of right and wrong (that’s the point of the tree) each take a bite of its fruit. While taking his evening stroll in the garden, God discovers what they’ve done and is not best pleased. (I hope you’re getting just how logical all of this is.**)

This deity, who, according to Dr Lisle and Tim Keller is the epitome of logical reasoning, doesn’t then take the trouble to explain to his creations, ‘Look, I’m sorry I made you without a sense of right and wrong; I’ll put that right. But you’ve got to promise me you’ll do as I say from now on because you won’t like me when I’m angry.’ No, he doesn’t do this; instead he throws a hissy fit. He punishes the couple, who until they’d tried the fruit had no idea disobeying him was wrong, and, just for good measure, he trashes the rest of Creation too – forever. Because of a single act committed by two naive individuals who didn’t know any better, he ruins everything and then, irrationally, blames the humans for the mess he’s made. That’s his reasoned, reasonable and rational response to their upsetting him – which, if he was the omniscient being Christians tell us he is, he’d have known was going to happen anyway.

Of course the whole set up and God’s reactions are not rational, reasonable or logical at all. They’re not considered, proportionate or insightful either. The God of Reason, the God who is Reason according to Answers in Genesis and Tim Keller, scores on this, his first outing, zero points on the scale of reasoned, reasoning reasonableness.

Maybe though God was just having an off day and he improves later on, once his intelligence has evolved a bit more. We’ll find out next time.

 

* All my examples of God’s great thinking skills and ‘reasonableness’ are drawn from the Bible; there are, however, simply too many to reference throughout this series of posts. I would be happy to supply them to any who feel the need to see them.

** Yes, I’m aware it’s a myth but a) many Christians don’t and b) even as a myth the story seeks to address how humans became alienated from God, ironically by developing the capacity to think for themselves. 

 

Sweet and sour, nasty and nice

or, whatever happened to Luke 18.11-14?

prayer2Why is it when people are emotionally blackmailed into becoming followers of Jesus, does their conversion make them sweet and sour, nasty and nice at the same time? The sweet and nice parts are what their new experience does for them. They get a new start of sorts, are introduced to like-minded friends in the church and become compelled to share their new joy with everyone else, whether they want to hear it or not, about how much they’ve changed because of Jesus. It’s nice for them. Deluded too, but if it makes them happy then why not?

This is why not. What they don’t tell you, not at first anyway, is how sour and nasty they have also become; how they must now defend God’s standards, because, as everyone knows, the omnipotent God of all creation is incapable of defending them himself. Being born again and morphing into ‘a new creation’ involves, without exception, becoming judgemental of others, condemnatory, inflammatory, bigoted and spiteful.

You think not? Then you haven’t heard what these same Christians think about abortion and women who have them. Homosexuality and those who are gay. Transgenderism and those born in the wrong body. Science and those who value evidence. Atheism and those of us who see through believers’ sad delusion.

Christians don’t, as some of them profess, hate the sin but love the sinner. They despise those who have philosophies different from them, those who live differently from them, those who are different from them.

A recent BBC poll asked if the world wouldn’t be more peaceful without religion. Here’s the results as of 14th July 2016:

Poll

I don’t know how many people this represents nor where they’re from – the site doesn’t say – but it would seem that most of us would think we would be better off without religion. It’s long past time we were able to be; religion has nothing to offer. It’s time we stopped giving it special treatment because some of it is sweet and nice. Its sour, nasty aspects are just as much a part of it, inseparable from whatever positives its adherents say it has. I’ll be looking soon at how we might push back against religion’s pervasive and poisonous influence in society.

Christianity: always winter but never Christmas

Spot the difference:Shore

Christians are hot on evidence.

There isn’t enough for evolution, they say, even though there’s an abundance.     

None, they claim, that the Earth is billions of years old, but only 6 thousand.

Not enough that climate change is man-made, when there’s considerable evidence it is.

None that there’s a genetic component to homosexuality when science reveals that there is.

But, as far as the resurrection of the body, judgement and eternal life in either Heaven or Hell are concerned, these they believe in, no evidence required.

I recently challenged Christians on Charisma magazine’s blog-site to provide or point me to evidence that any one of the 107 billion people who has ever lived who after they had died had gone on to enjoy either eternal life in Heaven or eternal punishment in Hell. Unfulfilled promises from magic books weren’t admissible, because a promise of something happening is not the same as it actually doing so. Jesus didn’t count either, as there are no eye-witness accounts of his bodily resurrection, only stories written decades after the supposed event. In any case he was half Vulcan or something, not an ordinary mortal.

Alas, my challenge went unanswered. You won’t find it on the Charisma site now because it has been removed by the moderator there. Expecting evidence from Christians for what they believe is patently unreasonable. After all, who needs evidence when you can exercise your licence to believe whatever you’re told?

Of course, there is no evidence of any resurrection nor of anyone who has gone on, post-mortem, to enjoy everlasting life. Have you noticed how everything about Christianity is either invisible – God, the Holy Spirit, Heaven, angels, demons – or lies permanently in the future; the Second Coming, the resurrection of the body, the Kingdom of God, judgement and eternal life? All of them always just that little bit further on. This year, next year, sometime, never. Just not now.

Yet Jesus, Paul, Revelation’s John and most other New Testament luminaries believed God’s Kingdom, the resurrection and judgement were coming within their own lifetimes.* Not one of them entertained the thought that 2000 years down the line none of these miraculous events would have materialised.

Small wonder then, that at the start of the second century, believers began to lose hope in the Second Coming, the Kingdom’s arrival and an earthly resurrection of the dead. Maybe, some of them began to think, eternal life would be not be here on Earth, as Jesus and Paul had promised, but in Heaven with God, which they most definitely hadn’t. This way, everything that hadn’t happened here on Earth would happen instead after death (we can see this transition taking place in the very late gospel of John). All of which was fortunate, because it dispensed with the need for confirmation and evidence; no-one could prove – apart from the fact nobody has ever survived their own extinction – that believers didn’t go to Heaven when they died. Equally, no-one could provide evidence they did.** How neat and convenient.

So if any Christians reading this would like to like to show us some evidence for the resurrection of the dead, post-mortem judgement, Heaven, Hell, God’s Kingdom on Earth – any of it – I’m sure we would all like to see it. Until then, I will go on regarding all of these assurances as empty promises – pie in the sky – that believers cling to desperately, while calling their desperation ‘faith’.

* See Matthew 16.27-28 & 24.27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21.27-28, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 15.51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17; 1 John 2:17-181; Peter 4.7; Revelation 1.1 & 21.2-4

** Psychics claim to commune with the dead, of course, or at least with their spirits; more hokum from the minds of the deluded. Even if it weren’t, this isn’t the kind of resurrection Christians envisage for themselves. They dismiss psychics’ ‘evidence’ of life-after-death as so much demonic deception.

The Stuff Christians Say… (part two)

Balaam

Atheists don’t behave as evolution says they should: This ridiculous accusation is often slung at atheists by Christians who seem to see it as some sort of stinging rebuke. Answers In Genesis is very fond of it; the Hamster’s drones and other Christians seem to believe – without ever thinking it through (plus ca change) that because those who acknowledge the veracity of evolution don’t behave according to its principles they are somehow inconsistent in their ‘beliefs’ – hypocritical even. They seriously propose that because natural selection and the survival of the fittest (not one of Darwin’s phrases) are cruel, uncaring processes, then that is how, for the sake of consistency, atheists ought to behave too. We shouldn’t care, they say, when a child develops cancer or someone dies. We shouldn’t attempt to cure illness or work to prevent suffering because these are nature’s way and part of the mechanism of evolution.

While it’s true they are, it’s been a long time since our behaviour, our existence and continued success as a species has been solely determined by what nature does. Humans regularly override its mechanisms, natural selection included; every time we use birth control, show compassion for the weak, heal the sick, develop medicines, engineer genes and preserve life. And so we should.

Christians seem unable to comprehend that evolution is not a pattern to be followed. It is not a set of instructions for living, a prescription or a set of (a)moral guidelines. It is the best explanation, supported by considerable amounts of evidence, of how life developed on the Earth. As such it makes no ethical claims nor does it demand that its principles be blindly followed (that’d be religion). Are Christians truly unable to detect this difference?

Atheists have no reason to be moral: I’ve looked at this ignorant claim before. Of course we have reason to behave morally. We’re human, we live in human society. Morals help us do so while doing the least damage to ourselves and others. They may also enable us to bring some happiness or comfort to those around us. Atheists don’t look to an imaginary God to tell us how to be good; our morals come from our culture, upbringing and education. Christians’ morals do too, whatever else they may claim. They certainly don’t get them from that most immoral of books, the Bible.

 

to be continued…

Big Bang Theory

BigBang

You’re probably familiar with William Paley’s teleological argument for the existence of God. If you haven’t used it yourself then you’ll have been subjected to it by proselytising believers. A couple of days ago I had someone treat me to an updated version of the argument.

I was on the phone with a sales-person, talking about his company’s product, when he decided it would be a good time to dust off the old idea, give it a make-over and use it to convince me of God’s existence.

He started by asking me if I would agree that a computer must have an intelligent designer; I agreed this was so (though I have my reservations.) He responded with ‘how much more then must the universe and life on Earth – being so much more complex than a computer – also have an intelligent designer.’ He said this was ‘something to think about,’ and I agreed it was, though maybe this wasn’t the best answer I could’ve given.

Having ‘demonstrated’ that everything must be intelligently designed, my new friend announced that this was therefore irrefutable proof that Allah must have made everything.

Oops. I’m sure this isn’t what the Reverend Paley had in mind when he devised his watch analogy two centuries ago. His proof, however, is every bit as much a demonstration of Allah’s existence and creativeness as it is Yahweh’s. Or Vishnu’s or Marduk’s or any other of the multitude of deities credited with intelligently creating the universe and life in this insignificant part of it. Any one of them could’ve done it according to the teleological argument. Take your pick and sign up for the set of beliefs that corresponds with your choice.

But wait – complex machines like watches and computers bear no relation to anything in nature. A watch found on a heath, as Paley conjectures, or computers in hedgerows, can only have got there because a human being put them there (fly-tipping again). They would not be there because they’d arisen, like the rocks, grass and other plants that surround them, through the processes involved when nature creates something. Moreover, we know that machines have intelligent creators, because we are they. What doesn’t follow is that because man-made objects are demonstrably the product of intelligence that natural ones, which, remember, bear no relation to computers, watches, cars and CAT scanners, are as well.

We are gaining more understanding of how the universe came to be. Significantly, it doesn’t require that there is intelligence behind it. If it did, we would then need to explain how that intelligence arose, who created it and by what process. To say, as religious believers are wont to do, that this supreme intelligence has always existed is no explanation at all. If we’re to have something that has always existed then it is far more likely to be that which we know really does exist, rather than something we don’t. Conceding the longevity of the components of the universe, which we know to exist, is a far better bet than inventing deities to account for it. A God no more explains life, the universe and everything than do fairies the intricacies of my computer (gremlins maybe, but not fairies.)

For all that, life on Earth does have a creator. The genealogy of the universe tells us that physics begat chemistry begat biology. (‘But if life emerged from physical and chemical processes, then how come there’s still physics and chemistry?’) All life on Earth, including ourselves, is the product of these processes, ‘the blind watchmaker‘ that Richard Dawkins speaks of. They are not intelligent, do not have names like Yahweh or Allah and do not, on their own, create the machines that only humans can design.

Searching for Answers

TrustA tiny pamphlet is thrust into my hand by the street preacher’s confederate. Searching For Answers? it says, the question mark meaning, I suppose, ‘are you searching for answers?’, to which the answer is probably ‘no’. I’m not even sure I know the questions, which rules out, I can’t help feeling, finding the answers. It is badly printed and has a picture of a sunset on the front; inside shoddy grammar and misspelling tell me, not entirely to my surprise, that I need God.

The preacher is in full flow. Evolution, he’s saying, is a hoax, though he doesn’t tell those passing by why it is. Unless we repent of our sins and accept Christ, he insists, we’re all going to Hell and waves his Bible to prove it. A woman sitting on one of the nearby benches shouts something back at him – I can’t quite hear what, though it’s something about love – and he, with the advantage of his microphone and loudspeaker, bellows at her that there’s no arguing with God’s Word. Plus, he’s only telling her what a terrible person she is because he loves her.

I’ve made the mistake of slowing down to hear what’s going on and as I attempt now to walk on, to return to the reality of Saturday afternoon shopping, the man with the tracts catches me again.

‘So,’ he says, ‘what do you think? Will you let Jesus into your life?’

‘Not today,’ I say, ‘we’ve both got better things to do.’

‘There’s nothing better than turning to Jesus. And he likes nothing better than saving another lost sheep. Are you a lost sheep?’ he adds.

‘No,’ I say. ‘I’m not a sheep and I’m not lost. I’m on my way home right now, in fact.’

‘Ah, but do you have a home in heaven?’ he asks. He’s good; whatever I say, however light I try to make it, he turns it round into another impertinent question.

‘I thought you had all the answers,’ I say to him, glancing down at the tatty bit of folded paper in my hands. ‘Don’t you know?’

‘I’m telling you, my friend, you don’t,’ he says earnestly. ‘You are lost in your sin and because God cannot tolerate sin you have no place in Heaven. Not unless you repent and accept Christ.’

‘Jesus!’ I mutter under my breath. ‘Look, I don’t believe in your Christ or any of this stuff.” I push his tract back at him, ‘and I’m not your friend either.’ He looks crestfallen, but only for the briefest of seconds. His ally, still performing for the crowd, is shouting that Jesus is coming back soon to judge the world.

‘And you’d better be ready,’ my new best pal tells me, reinvigorated. I shake my head and step round him, apologising that I have to go; why? I wonder, when it was he who accosted me? So, despite not searching for any answers, I now have them. They just don’t seem to match any questions I might have, like why there’s so much suffering in the world and why human beings do such terrible things to each other (often in the name of religion) and what am I going to have for my tea? Now there’s a question worth answering.