The stuff Christians say… (part one)

Jesus-Facepalm

On the day Christians remember the time Jesus allegedly spent being dead and buried (that’s one day, if you’re counting; what happened to the three he promised?) by going shopping or watching sport, let’s take a look at some of the nonsense they spout about atheists:

Atheism/humanism is of Satan: Given there’s no evidence for any supernatural beings, there can be no devil, Satan, Lucifer – or whatever other name Christians come up with for this fantasy figure. (Bizarrely, it’s Jesus who’s called Lucifer in Revelation 5.5) The devil is a creation of the human mind, intended to explain the nasty stuff in life and to let a supposedly good God off the hook. It follows that an imaginary being can’t make human beings be anything. The devil therefore does not make people atheists nor direct them in their ways.

Humanists/atheists set themselves up as God: Every manifestation of the god(s), including those that happen to be popular at present, is of human origin. Like all the others, the Christian God is a product of the human imagination that is made manifest only through human behaviour. So who is it who sets themselves up as God? Those who recognise that this creation of the human mind has no external reality, or those who claim an intimacy with the ‘Supreme Being’, believe his Holy Spirit lives within them and delude themselves into thinking they speak for him? No prizes.

Humanists/atheists worship man as God: Atheists don’t do this either. We are well aware of humans’ fallibility, inconsistency and capacity to bugger things up. However, we’re all we’ve got. There’s no God going to come and save us or solve our problems. We have to do it ourselves (or, as the case may be, not). Nor do atheists regard other people as wicked sinners who have no good in them – a particularly unhealthy viewpoint favoured by the religious – but this hardly constitutes ‘worship’.

Atheists hate God: Only to the same extent we ‘hate’ Santa Claus, Poseidon and Ra. You can’t hate (or rebel) against something that doesn’t exist. We do get very tired though of Christians foisting their views on us, insisting we should believe what they believe. And we get angry when they disparage others and attempt to curtail their freedom because they alone know what Jesus would want. But being angry about Christians’ unreasonableness is not the same as hating something that doesn’t exist.

To be continued

Is It Wise To Be An Atheist?

Tract

Christians say the funniest things… like ‘atheists can’t possibly know that there’s no God.’

This is the argument expressed in a tract,  Is It Wise To Be An Atheist?, that I was given on the street the other day:

A person cannot really be sure there is no God (unless) they have existed for all time and have identified that God isn’t there; they have been everywhere and have seen that God isn’t anywhere and they know everything and therefore know for certain that God is non-existent.

Safe to say, these are not the same impossible criteria Christians apply when determining whether deities other than their own exist. Even Christians know that Allah, Zeus, unicorns and the tooth fairy don’t really exist. But without being immortal, omnipresent and omniscient, they cannot know for sure. By their own criteria, all mythical/supernatural beings have as much chance of existing as their God. Yet Christians do claim, with reasonable certainty, that other Gods and imaginary entities are not real. This is because determining the authenticity of entities is not about absolute certainty but probability and, yes, reasonable certainty.

For reasons I explore on this blog – here, here and here, for example – the likelihood that a god of some sort exists is low. That that god should then turn out to be the one worshipped by Christians today reduces the possibility still further, on the basis that the more conditions one adds to a proposition, the more improbable it becomes.

To put it another way, the probability that there is no god is already high; that there is no God as conceived by Christians is higher still. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude he does not. This is reasonable certainty; the same reasonable certainty Christians apply when dismissing all other gods.

Better luck next time, Christians.

Arguing for God

God3It’s a funny thing, but there aren’t hundreds of sites on the internet arguing for Barrack Obama’s existence. Nor the Eiffel Tower’s. Nor Australia’s. Nor the moon’s, nor the universe’s.

Why not? Because we have an abundance of empirical evidence that all of these things are real. People have experienced them first hand, can observe them and interact directly with them. There is no need to ‘prove’ or argue for their existence.

There are, however, hundreds of sites – plus books and broadcasts – that argue for the existence of God. This is telling. It is, whether those offering such arguments realise it or not, a blatant admission that there is no empirical evidence for him. If there were, there would be no need for argument and ‘proofs’; no need for apologists to resort to persuasion that is ultimately self-refuting to ‘demonstrate’ his existence. No need for apologists. Their problem is, of course, no-one has ever met God nor observed or interacted directly with him. Not in the same way people have met President Obama, seen him on the television, heard him speak or interacted with him in person. No-one has done anything of the kind with God, not even those who claim they have and feel compelled to tell us all about it. Every encounter with the Almighty has taken place in the mind of the individual experiencing it, just as St Paul admitted. God himself has never made an appearance.

So, yes, it’s very telling, this having to argue for God. If there was clear evidence of him there wouldn’t be any need to devise arguments for his existence; he’s not, or shouldn’t be, a philosophical proposition. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, creative being would, by dint of his immanence (presence in this world), be somewhat obvious and there would be incontrovertible evidence of his existence. Christians and other god-botherers say there is such proof, citing Nature, Goldilocks universes, Holy Books and personal experience. But these are far from incontrovertible, being much better explained by other means, none of which involve God. His very superfluousness demands that, through the application of Occam’s razor, he be discarded; not, as apologists would have it, rebranded as ‘transcendent’, a sleight of hand allowing them to proffer unreality as the ultimate reality.

The desperation to convince others there’s a God with an existence outside the human imagination is, then, more than adequate demonstration that there isn’t. Christians and others who want us to believe their God is real, protest much too much and in so doing, demonstrate precisely the opposite.

All in the mind

Disaster

A new minister at the church near where I live has announced his plans to bring ‘God’s love’ to people in the parish. This sounds laudable enough, I suppose – it’s better than delivering God’s condemnation and judgement as many holy rollers are prone to do – but it begs the question why God doesn’t deliver his own love in person. Why is it he feels he can only channel his love through flawed and fallible human beings? Why doesn’t he engage intimately with his creation and let his love be known and felt directly? Why doesn’t he show his love by eradicating cancer, say, or preventing natural disasters, or exterminating the mosquitoes that cause the deaths of up to 2.7 million people every year? Why, in anything that would count as a tangible expression of God’s love for the world, as declared in John 3.16, is there a singular lack of evidence for both his love and his very presence?

‘Ah, but wait!’ say any Christians reading this. ‘God’s love is made manifest through his people, just as the new minister suggests.’ But this is my point; if I only ever expressed my affection for my loved ones through intermediaries – or even strangers, as this minister is to me – or only through a succession of Valentine’s cards, what sort of impression of my love would they have? They would, I think, be unconvinced of it, because love is not just a distant expression of feeling; it’s what we do for others. Love is action.

‘Ah, but wait again!’ say the Christians. ‘What about the second part of John 3.16 that tells us that God showed his love for the world by sending Jesus to die for us?’ You’ll pardon me, won’t you, if I find that a paltry and pathetic expression of love? If I had somehow expressed my love for others millennia ago, no-one at this distance would be impressed by a largely symbolic ‘gift’ proffered only after its original intended recipients declined it (Matthew 22. 8-10).

God didn’t really do this, of course; he didn’t send Jesus, didn’t instruct Paul to extend to all and sundry the offer of salvation that Jesus made only to Jews, didn’t transmit any sort of time-travelling compassion to reach us in the present; doesn’t express his love through other flawed human beings today. How do we know this? Because there is no God to show us love nor to judge or condemn us. Any judgement, condemnation or love is expressed by other human beings, frequently in the name of one god or another but humanly derived even when drawn from a holy book. Gods don’t write books; they’re human creations too.

Everything to do with God, from his very existence and all of his supposed attributes – his aversion to sin, his revelations about himself, his miraculous and mysterious ways, his answers to prayer, his non-answers to prayer, his supposed offer of eternal life, his holy books and his hatred and love – derive from human hopes and fears and our need for explanation. We know this because God’s love and all his other supposed characteristics are made manifest through human agency and in no other way; they have no existence outside the human imagination. So the new minister’s love can’t really be from God. At best, it will be a level of interest and concern for a limited number of people, because that is all that is humanly possible. Even so, it’s more than a God with no direct dealings with his creation can manage. Every expression of who he is, how he thinks and how he behaves is a projection of how human beings think and behave. That is why he is so maddeningly inconsistent across cultures and even within them, depending on which cult (and they’re all cults), denomination or church claims to be representing him. The Christian God is, like all the others, a human creation and all manifestations of him – including his much vaunted love and the relationship believers claim to have with him – are entirely human too.

What Does Atheism Have To Offer? (Part Two)

Think4. Atheism offers genuine morality
Having no magic book to tell them how to behave (not that Christians derive their morals from theirs) atheists work out their own morality. They don’t do this in a vacuum, however, recognising that morality is culturally derived, evolving as the means by which primates with complex social arrangements relate to one another. It’s likely they adhere to their moral codes imperfectly, as do believers of various stripes. Not having an ideology they feel compelled to impose on others, they don’t regard their fellow human beings as mere conversion fodder. The atheists’ world is big enough to embrace all, though they lament the damage wreaked on it by religion. Atheist terrorists are a much rarer breed than their religious counterparts, while secular societies are among the most peaceful and prosperous in the world today (with the more religious generally at the opposite end of the spectrum.) Nor do atheists attribute their behaviour to supernatural forces; neither god nor the devil inspires them to act. Rather they recognise and take personal responsibility for what they do.

5. Atheism offers authenticity
An atheist is free to be him or herself. There is no striving to maintain the imagined standards of an imaginary god, no need to represent the perspective of a ‘sacred’ book or to defend the indefensible. The atheist does not see themselves or other people as lost, worthless, sinners, suppressors of truth, goy, infidels or any of the other disparaging terms used of non-believers in so-called holy books. The atheist can be a free-spirit, possessed of self-respect, and true to themselves and their nature, whatever that may be. Here’s how pastor-turned-atheist Ryan Bell put it in a recent blog post:

I don’t have secrets anymore, which is a huge mental and moral relief. I also wrestle with less cognitive dissonance than ever. All of this means I’m more at peace and more comfortable in my own skin. I give far fewer fucks about what people think of me and my decisions. My ire is raised, from time to time, by unfair attacks, and I will probably always struggle with my tendency to be a people pleaser, but I am in recovery. I’m learning to tell the truth on a more regular basis and trust that people can handle the truth (whether they actually can or not). I’m learning to trust myself and what I know while remaining open to critique and able to say I was wrong.

6. Atheism offers free thought
Having no dogma to represent or promulgate, no myths to restrict them and no cult leaders, shaman or gurus dictating to them, atheists are free to think for themselves. Religion demands that its adherents begin with myth or dogma, which the facts are then forced to fit. When they don’t, which is invariably the case, the believer is compelled to dismiss the facts to preserve the fantasy (if you think not, you’ve never visited Answers In Genesis). The atheist, on the other hand, can begin with the evidence and reason from it to make up their own mind about ethics, the issues of the day and the human condition.

to be continued…

What Does Atheism Have To Offer? (Part One)

Station-12-ArtistOver the next few posts I’m going to do my best to answer the question, ‘what does atheism have to offer?’ that a commenter on Facebook has put to me – that’d be you, Dave – because, he says, I’m too sneery about Christianity. Some of my response will of necessity be personal in nature, and you can take or leave whatever I say; you won’t go to hell if you disagree (or heaven either.)

1. Atheism offers the truth
Christianity wasn’t delivering; it didn’t ring true for me any more and lacked explanatory power. As a result, a need to know the truth of why we’re here and what life is about preceded my atheism. I set about examining the facts of our existence as we know them, together with all the evidence. I became committed to this pursuit regardless of where it might lead. I didn’t, initially, confine my questioning and subsequent reading only to secular or scientific sources, but continued to explore religious and spiritual explanations of life as well. These quickly paled in comparison with empirical evidence; they were vapid and unsubstantiated, relying as they did on talk about ‘energies’ and entities that no-one had ever seen and for which there was no evidence.

Drawn increasingly to scientific explanations of life – biology, genetics, psychology, astronomy – I became increasingly aware that God wasn’t and isn’t required to explain anything about life, the natural world, the universe or indeed anything. Natural phenomena (and they’re all natural phenomena) have, on the principle of Occam’s razor, natural, not super-natural, explanations. The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this was that he wasn’t and isn’t involved in any of them. His very superfluity demonstrates his non-existence; a god who is not evident in any aspect of reality is a god that doesn’t exist. This pursuit of truth therefore led to atheism as something honest and inherently truthful.

2. Atheism offers a real life in the here and now
Living without recourse to the supernatural is refreshing. There is no god (no angels, devils, spirits, ghosts or demons either) watching over us, waiting for an opportunity to punish or bless us; no god whom we are answerable to either in the present or at some future judgement; no god of vengeance who must be obeyed; no god who will vindicate us at the end of time; no god to grant us eternal life; no set of frequently bizarre rules to follow and no empty promises to claim. Atheists take full responsibility for their own lives and behaviour; they construct their own meaning, knowing this life is the only one they’ll get. Atheism alone grants this responsibility and privilege.

3. Atheism offers a humanist perspective and approach to life
This is not the End Times™ as salaciously envisaged by Christians ancient and modern, just as the first century wasn’t – even though Jesus and Paul both thought it was (Matt 16:27-28; 1 Thess 4.15-17 etc.) The atheist accepts that the only help we’re going to get in solving our problems is from ourselves. There is no god waiting in the wings to put things right; no end time scenario when he will come to rescue a chosen people. (This is, incidentally, one of the most pernicious ideas ever to have been devised by humankind, causing more strife and ‘excusing’ more inhumane treatment of others than any other we’ve devised.)

Apart from natural disasters – and we seem to be contributing increasingly to those – the cause of all of our problems is us. Equally, the solutions will have to come from us too. More positively, all of our endeavours, our achievements, our scientific, technological and social progress are ours alone too. We have the potential to do great good, and often do, just as we cause great harm. Free of religious restrictions, the atheist is at liberty to help others out of fellow-feeling, not because a (non-existent) god demands it.

to be continued…

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.

Rejecting Jesus – The Book

RJCoverIt’s a miracle! Rejecting Jesus is now in book form! And on Kindle too.

ScrollWell, not quite – sorry JC.

But you can now read Rejecting Jesus posts in the format the Son of God would surely have preferred if books had existed then the way they do now. The pictures are all present and correct too, in glorious B&W, for all first-century messiahs to enjoy.

Available here and here and also all over the world. Go, buy it, make disciples of all nations.

 

Of Pans & Kettles

WilliamMeet Father Dwight Longenecker. He operates a blog called Standing On My Head, which, if he really does, might account for the topsy-turvy view of the world you’ll find there. Dwight makes grandiose and daft claims for the Roman Catholic church while taking side-swipes at others’ beliefs: Atheism, he says, is dull because – quite unreasonably – it insists on ‘evidence’, which Dwight is sure is quite over-rated. Other belief systems are boring because they don’t involve nearly as much dressing up and parading with statues as Catholicism. Islam is a demonically inspired religion that can only be defeated by Aslan the Catholic church’s special magic… you get the picture.

Here are some other fantastic claims he’s made recently:

On other religions:
There is only one God who is the source and ground of existence. However, there are also demonic beings sometimes called “demi-gods” that many people worship as “gods”.                                                                                                                           

The ‘everybody is wrong but me’ argument, which is ironic when so much of what Catholics believe isn’t even remotely biblical: the Pope, purgatory, Marian worship, saintly intercession, transubstantiation. All this extraneous stuff is regarded by other Christians as being itself ‘demonic’. Dwight doesn’t seem to realise he’s in a glass house (church?) and in no position to cast this particular stone. 

On the after-life:
I would have thought the universal human belief in an afterlife – as well as near death experiences – provide ample evidence, but of course (atheists) dispute that.

The problem here is that there is no ‘universal belief in an afterlife’. As I note in ‘All Is Vanity’ below, the belief in the resurrection of the dead is a very late development even in the Old Testament; ancient Judaism, despite its belief in Yahweh, did not consider the possibility for most of its existence. That said, if there were such a universal belief, it would not mean eternal life actually existed. There has always been widespread belief in fairies and sprites but that doesn’t make such beings real. There is no correspondence between the extent and persistence of a belief and the existence in reality of its object.
As for near death experiences, the clue is in the name; near death. Near death is not death, it’s life. How else would we know of the experiences if not through people who have been resuscitated, brought fully back to consciousness? These experiences are now known to be brain-induced hallucinations while a person remains, if only just, alive.

On the Catholic version of the after-life:
Your understanding of the Catholic approach to the afterlife is immature. We don’t spend our life trying hard to get into heaven. We spend our life in an abundant, joyful and disciplined way being a follower of Jesus Christ and aiming to become “perfect as he is perfect”.

That my understanding of an immature belief is immature seems fitting. I don’t suggest Catholics spend their lives trying to get into heaven; this is a straw man of Longenecker’s creation. I’ve also yet to meet a Catholic who is any more ‘perfect’ than the rest of us. I’ve not encountered many joyful ones either, come to that.

On living this life:
The intrinsic problem with your saying you would rather make the “most of this life” is the question of what that actually means. Your idea of “making the most of life” and your neighbor’s idea of “making the most of life” could vary enormously. Who is to say what “making the most of life” consists of?

Dwight and the church he represents would rather we all conform to Catholic ideas of what makes life worth living. As for who is to say what making the most of life consists of, I’d have thought it was those living it. Dwight has chosen strange religious practices as his way of living his life, but so insecure is he in his choice he feels the need to denigrate others’ choices as a means of bolstering his own.

On the world’s problems:
It seems to me that most of the problems in the world are caused by people “making the most of life”- which usually means unfettered and total selfishness – which of course leads to destruction.      

I’d be the last person to mention the Catholic church’s paedophilia scandals, its covering up of those scandals, its suppression of women and LGBT people, its accumulation of vast wealth in the service of one who constantly preached against it. Nor would I want to say anything about the church’s historic failings (so no mention of the Inquisition, the imprisonment and execution of those who disagreed with it, its support of Hitler and so on.

Dwight presents no evidence for his subjective claim (‘it seems to me’) that the only alternative to Catholicism is hedonism and selfishness. The false dichotomy is wholly disingenuous. It is not hedonism or atheism that says we merit God’s special attention; not atheism that panders to our selfish desire to live forever; not atheism that says God will get us out of the hole into which we’ve dug ourselves; not atheism that promulgates such a supremely arrogant and self-centred view of life. No, it’s the Christian perspective that does that, the Catholic one. Indeed, it could and has been argued, by Hitchens, Harris et al, that most of the problems in the world are caused not by atheism or even ‘unfettered selfishness’, but by religion.

Atheism and the humanism to which it gives rise accept that we got ourselves into this mess and it’s ourselves who will have to get us out of it. Maybe that’s boring and maybe it will prove impossible, but it’s better, more realistic, than appealing to fairy tales, dressing up and talking to statues.

 

Picture updated 23/08/15

On Being An Agnostic Atheist

GodSo, no evidence offered by Christians – and I know quite a few read this blog – that human beings can, as their religion promises, live forever. No surprise there. Dave did comment, on Facebook, that he knows, because of faith, that he’s promised eternal life, but as I said last time, faith is not evidence.

Moving on. Over at his Northier Than Thou blog, Daniel Walldammit notes how often he comes across apologist sites that say, ‘I don’t believe in atheists.’ I’ve noticed similar statements online and in the hands of street preachers: ‘atheism is a temporary condition’ (quite clever that one, if somewhat overused), ‘atheists are just in rebellion against God‘ and ‘there’s no such thing as an atheist‘.

atheism-1Given that atheism exists whether Christians condescend to believe in it or not, I want to explain how you can be both an atheist and agnostic.

Theism is the belief in a personal god, one that was involved in the creation of the world, has taken an interest in its development and who relates to his principal creation, humankind. This theist god has a personality of his own (they are almost all ‘male’), is hands-on, intimately concerned with people and their behaviour. I see no evidence for this type of god, for reasons I’ve explored here and here. As a result, I am an a-theist, one who denies the existence of such an imaginary being.

‘But,’ say some critics of this argument, ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’ Not so, as Irving Copi demonstrated long ago:

in some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence.

Without evidence there is no existence either for my pet dragon nor for the multitude of gods that humans have imagined for themselves throughout history. To claim that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’ is an appeal to faith and wishful thinking (they’re the same thing). It says in effect that just because I can’t prove my God (or Santa Claus or my dragon) exists, doesn’t mean he doesn’t. But evidence is all: an entity which cannot be demonstrated evidentially does not exist independently from the human imagination that conceives it.

For my part, I’m also an anti-theist, which does not mean, as Christians like to claim it does, that I’m in rebellion against God – just as Christians themselves are not ‘in rebellion’ against Allah, Vishnu or Santa Claus. It isn’t possible to rebel against fictional characters. It is possible, however, to oppose the mumbo-jumbo that has accumulated around them and the irrational belief and unreasonable behaviour which that engenders. This is what it means to be anti-theist.

Deism is the belief in an impersonal god. It is a hypothetical entity that may or may not exist and is entirely unknowable, which is why I use ‘it’ to describe it because it would be impossible to know, if it does exist, whether it is male, female or something else entirely. While there is an absence of evidence for this type of god too, it is more difficult, because of its hypothetical nature, to demonstrate in the same way as for a personal god, that it doesn’t exist. It easier to refute the supposedly known features of a theist god, than it is the unknown qualities of the unknowable. So, I concede this impersonal deity may exist somewhere. I’m almost entirely certain it doesn’t, because absence of evidence is, after all, evidence of absence, but it could and I have to acknowledge that remote possibility. In this minimalist sense I am agnostic. I don’t, I stress, believe in this only remotely possible god; it is so hypothetical and inconsequential it might as well not exist, if it in fact it does. The concession I make that it may have a presence in some distant part of the universe, or possibly out of it, makes no difference to my life, beliefs or behaviour.

So, it is possible to be an agnostic atheist; to deny the existence of personal gods like Yahweh and Allah on the grounds that there is no evidence for them, while admitting to not knowing whether an unknowable god exists.

Even though it doesn’t.