Faith: An Exercise In Futility

MountainsWhat is faith?

The anonymous author of the book of Hebrews says it’s ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ (11.1)

Hoping for ‘things’ like perfection, resurrection, eternal life, heaven (not to mention the ability to move mountains), the likes of which no-one has ever achieved, is nothing but wishful thinking. Despite what the Hebrews author says, wishful thinking isn’t evidence of anything – except a capacity for wishful thinking.

By it’s very nature, then, faith is not evidence, but the very opposite. It is the effort to believe in things for which there is no evidence and the delusional insistence that the imagined is more real than that which is.

God’s Ache

 TBNI was going through my nightly ritual of channel-hopping before going to bed the other night when I lighted on a station called ‘TBN’. ‘TBN’, for the uninitiated, stands for ‘Trinity Broadcasting Network’. It is managed and operated by a posse known only as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No-one else is involved. These three have decided the best way to get the word out to the masses is to do it on the TV, which, I suppose, beats the old-tech approach. I mean, who reads books these days?

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit Collective was evidently having a night off and had delegated the job of running the station to an ordinary mortal (whose name I was sure I’d remember but have already forgotten). This chap was telling everyone – I say ‘everyone’ though he was standing in an empty attic – just how much God loves us and yearns to heal us. That was his word, ‘yearns’, which means to desire strongly or to ache to do something.

And I found myself wondering why he doesn’t – heal us, that is. I’ve already shared my thoughts on the Godhead’s abdication of any hands-on demonstration of his love, but if this bloke was right and God really does want to heal us – then why doesn’t he just get on with it? He could post a big miraculous sign in the sky saying ‘Hi. It’s me, God. I’m doing all this, the healing you’re seeing all over the world,’ so everyone would know it was him and not aliens or some super-advanced scientists who’d travelled back from the future. Or – even better idea – he could have it broadcast on his very own TV station. If he’s not available to do it himself, what with all his preparations for the miracle-to-end-all-miracles, he could get one of those Holy Joes who’ve got a direct line to him to announce it for him. Franklin Graham maybe, or Jan Crouch, who could have her hair roughed up specially:

Starting tomorrow at 12.00 the Lord God Almighty will be curing every illness, healing every psychological and physical ailment and eradicating all illness, just like he said he would way back when (in Isaiah 35.5 and Matthew 11.5 if you’re interested). Okay, he’s a little behind schedule but he’s been busy and, well, better late than never.

Something like that.

If the Lord doesn’t care for either of these splendid options then surely he can come up with a better alternative; according to his human mouthpieces, he sends storms and earthquakes when he’s unhappy, so he could easily conjure up something nice for a change. He’s a creative sort, after all. Not to mention omnipotent.

Now I know there are a couple of theological flies in the ointment that would make all of this difficult for him. The first is Kryptonite. Or human sin… one or the other. But he could obliterate this at the same time, couldn’t he; make us all perfect first then the Kryptonite couldn’t harm him while he’s busy fixing us. I know, you’re going to tell me this would be an infringement of our free-will. But there’s nothing Biblical about free-will. God’s never been keen on it, preferring instead to choose his buddies up front, and in any case, he’s going to eliminate it completely once they’re all taken up into Heaven. So it really wouldn’t hurt him to make some sort of decision about it now. With free-will gone he could just get down to the business of making us all better, not forgetting to take credit for his work in one of the mysterious ways I’ve suggested.

‘What’s in it for God?’ I hear you ask. Well, my tele-evangelist failed to say, but I can think of at least three benefits: 1. He’d get over his ache. Instead of just yearning to do something about disease he’d have actually done something and this would make him feel a whole lot better about himself. 2. He wouldn’t have to worry about Kryptonite any more. 3. He’d have lots of new friends that he wouldn’t then have to consign to Hell.

To be honest, I can’t see why God hasn’t done something like this already. His first idea, to bully a load of ancient tribesmen into submission, didn’t work so well and Plan B just ended in tears. Let’s face it, it wasn’t the greatest of ideas. This though is a far better option. So if you’re listening God, it’s yours, gratis.

                        God?

                                      God?

What Does Atheism Have To Offer? (Part Three)

Celia17. Atheism offers knowledge instead of belief
‘But you must,’ Christians have said to me, ‘believe in something greater than yourself’ and ‘You can’t deny your spiritual needs.’ Well of course there are things greater than me and of all of us. The universe for a start; love, beauty, friendship, music, great art, nature, the night sky – sex even. Who hasn’t had a spiritual experience through their appreciation of these things? The fact they exist though, makes ‘belief’ in them redundant. We only need ‘believe’ in those things for which there is no evidence – which is why you can’t ‘believe’ in evolution; you can only know it as fact. Similarly, atheists know there are greater things than themselves. They don’t, as a rule, worship them, but appreciate them, often in awe and wonder, for what they are. As for such experiences being ‘spiritual’, we do not, of course, have ‘spirits’ either to nurture or express. We are emotional creatures and the value we find in those things greater than ourselves often stimulates sublime emotional responses. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but our responses reflect conditions within us, not the supernatural without.

8. Atheism offers the embrace of reality
Part of the inherent honesty of atheism is its recognition that this life is all there is. Atheism faces up to the fact that we are organic beings and like all organic beings our lives come to an end; there is nothing in us, no part of us, that survives death. Knowing heaven and eternal life are impossibilities atheism promises neither. Religions do, of course, and that is their great selling point but no-one, apart from atheists, seems to notice that they never actually deliver what they promise (because they can’t.)

Christians also tell atheists that it takes more faith not to believe in God than it does to believe in him. They need only look to their own experience to realise this cannot be so: they don’t need faith not to believe in Allah, Santa Claus or any number of other mythical beings. Equally atheists don’t exercise any faith at all not believing in Yahweh.

9. Atheism offers, unfortunately, an unsatisfactory name
One thing I wish atheism made possible but doesn’t – not yet anyway – is a better term for one who is unencumbered by gods, the supernatural and superstition. I have no wish to be defined by what I’m not, which is how ‘atheist’ works. It also implies that being a theist is somehow the default position and that any other is an aberration. I quite like ‘humanist’, but that doesn’t quite capture it either, but I’m not keen at all on Richard Dawkins’ suggestion of ‘bright’. The tide is turning though and once absence of belief becomes the norm, the right name for the true default will present itself.

10. Atheism offers a sense of well-being
Happiness, tranquility, peace perhaps don’t come from atheism per se, but they do stem from it: the opportunity for the consciousness I think of as ‘me’ to experience life in the here and now. I know many are not able to enjoy being here to the same extent that I and many in the west are able to, but this only makes it more important that we all do something to help improve the lot of others. As the nineteenth-century atheist Robert Ingersoll expressed it, ‘the time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here, and the way to be happy is to make others so,’

As I write, Queen’s ‘Who Wants To Live Forever?’ is playing on the radio. It hardly matters who wants to; we can’t and we don’t. And – same group, different song – it’s true that ‘nothing really matters’. Really, it doesn’t, and so we are free to get on with living instead of trying to impose our beliefs on others, exterminating those we don’t like or squandering our one and only life because we think there’s a better one waiting. Atheism is far from nihilistic – it allows us to see the value of this life and helps us live it to the full.

So, what has atheism to offer? Freedom, honesty, meaning, contentment. Or, to put it another way, and to paraphrase what somebody or other once said, atheism really is the truth that can set you free.

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…

2015: How was it for you?

2ndComingI promised this time last year to revisit my predictions for the year that lay ahead. So how did I do in my prophecies for 2015?:

The first was that there would be no Second Coming in 2015. Well, how wrong could I be! As we all know Jesus returned on September 13th, just as John Hagee hinted he would be. It’s been so great, hasn’t it, living in Hell / God’s Kingdom on Earth (delete as appropriate) since that time. Fantastic. I’m so pleased to have been wrong about this one.

On the other hand, maybe what I said last year still stands: Jesus won’t be back this year. Just like he wasn’t back in 2014, 2013, 2012… 1985… 1914… 1868… 1497… 1000… 446… 35. Just think of all those years – count ’em, nearly two thousand – when he’s failed to return so far. Actually, he promised he’d be back while his followers and those listening to him were still alive, around AD30 or thereabouts. Safe to say he’s not coming back at all, just like dead people don’t. Not in 2015, not ever.

Of course it still stands. As ever Christianity fails to deliver. That hasn’t stopped True Believers™ from telling us that he’ll be back very, very soon. Which was prediction number 2: Christians will go on believing that Jesus is going to return any day now. I gave up collecting examples well before the end of the year – there were just too many – but here’s a few of them: here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Will the gullible Born Again ever come to their senses and stop listening to idiots like these? (Nope).

Prediction 3. There’ll be no natural disasters or human calamities as a result of gay marriage. There have been lots of disasters and calamities during the year, but here’s the thing – natural disasters have natural causes, not supernatural ones, and similarly, human calamities have human causes. Not one of the events this year (or any other) was the direct result of gay marriage. This hasn’t stopped the religious from claiming – as I predicted they would in prophecy number 4 – that disasters and calamities are God’s punishment for gay marriage; here, here , here, here, here, here and here, for example.

Prediction 5: More than one prominent Christian will call for the execution of gay people. Yup. Here are those loving men of God doing just that (and here, here and here too). Jesus would be so proud.

Prediction 6: Christians in the west will claim they’re being persecuted when they’re being expected to treat others fairly and equally, and not to discriminate against them. Yes, I know Christians are persecuted in some parts of the world, but the moaners I’m talking about are only focused on their own self-serving, self-inflicted ‘marytrdom’. Again, there are just too many of these to link to them all, but here are a few (and here, here and here).

Prediction 7. Christians will respond to criticism with clichés like ‘they wouldn’t dare say that about Muslims’… ‘Christians are the last group who are fair game’… ‘It’s time for Christians to speak out’… ‘Stand up for God’s standards…’ etc. Yes, predictable in more ways than one

Prediction 8: Christians will continue to dismiss and disparage anyone who doesn’t share their views, especially atheists. Look out for ‘atheists have no morality’,’the fool hath said in his heart there’s no God’ and ‘atheists want to oppress Christians’ occurring with tedious regularity. And they didn’t disappoint: here, here, here and here.

Prediction 9: There will be more revelations about the abuse of children by church ministers. Of course there were. Christians may be new creatures in Christ but that doesn’t stop some of them behaving in the same old despicable ways, God love ’em.

Ditto number 10: Church hierarchies will attempt to cover up the abuse of children by their ministers. And here they are at it. The body of Christ certainly seems to have an unhealthy interest in the bodies of others. Still, they always ever so modestly cover up afterwards.

Prediction 11. There will be the usual manufactured ‘war on Christmas’. Ho-hum. And you can guess who did the manufacturing.

And finally I offered number 12: these predictions have far more chance of coming to pass than any of the so-called prophecies of Bible. And do you know, they did. That’s because none of the Bible’s predictions have ever come to pass – not those purportedly about Jesus himself, nor of the second coming, nor the judgement of sheep and goats, nor God’s Kingdom on Earth – and (here’s another prediction) they never will.

So, another year of empty promises, failed prophecies and superstitious fantasy in the wonderful, wacky world of religion. May you all be safe from the effects of faith and fundies in the one that lies ahead.

Peace Off

angels

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2.14 as rendered by the King James Bible.

Whatever happened to that peace? There hasn’t been peace on earth ever since the angels were made to herald Christ’s birth with these words. Some of that absence of peace – the conflicts and wars – has been the result of religion, including that of Jesus himself. Then again, he did contradict the angels when he said he hadn’t come to bring peace but a sword and for once, he was right (Matthew 10.34). So what can the angels have meant? More to the point, what can those who created these words to put in the mouths of non-existent beings have been thinking? Is their declaration a promise? A prophecy? Something to look good on Christmas cards?

Other translations of Luke 2.14 avoid the whole peace on earth shtick by watering down the statement: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’ reads the NIV. Now only those whom God ‘favours’ are granted peace, which presumably means only Christians, and it’s now a vague sense of well-being (complacency? smugness?) that isn’t of much use to the world at large. Certainly other New Testament writers, the creators of John’s gospel and the letter to the Ephesians for example, interpret ‘peace’ in this very limited way.

And yet, in Isaiah, in verses applied to Jesus (especially at this time of year; they were read out in the carol service I attended last night) we find him descibed like this:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9.6)

Apart from the fact this is a specifically Jewish prophecy that has nothing to do with Jesus – which is why most of the titles don’t really apply to him (nobody has ever called him ‘Wonderful Counselor’ or ‘Everlasting Father’) – there again is the idea that he’s somehow connected with capital-letter Peace. He’s a Prince of it, no less.

But wait – there’s more:

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (9.7)

Of course; it’s all end time stuff! We should’ve guessed. Long term peace on the Earth, predicted by the angels and, ostensibly, by Isaiah is going to be in the future, after Jesus returns to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.

Have you noticed how it’s always in the future? Everything Christianity offers is going to happen later: heaven, eternal life, the second coming, the rapture, resurrection, God’s Kingdom, the lion lying down with the lamb, the end of war, everlasting peace. Not in Jesus’ own time as he thought; not in Paul’s, not in the gospel writers’, not any time since, but always just around the corner, any time now, soon. Never in the here and now. Peace on Earth, like all those other promises, is always just out of reach, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the closer you think you might be to it, the further it moves away.

A friend added one of those clever posters to Facebook recently. It said, amongst other things, that it wasn’t okay to ‘shame’ religion. I couldn’t disagree more. Scams must be debunked and the sham of religion’s empty promises held up to the light of reality. None of the things that the Bible says will happen is going to; not now, nor in an ever-elusive future.

A happy and peaceful Christmas to both my readers.

Loose Threads

FamilyPick a thread. Any thread. And start pulling. Gently does it, no need for force. A gentle pull on any of the loose ends of faith and the whole fabric will come apart quickly.

Here, pull on this one marked ‘the infallibility of the Bible‘. See how easily it comes loose as soon as you realise that most of it, Old and New Testament alike, was written long after the events it purports to describe, some of it by imposters and forgers.

Or this one – the salvation thread, much of it stitched into place by an excitable chap prone to hallucinations. Pull it and see how its pattern is nothing like the one proposed by the man it claims to be about.

Pull the magic threads, the ones about Gods, supernatural beings, heaven and hell, eternal life. Watch them disintegrate in your fingers once they’re teased out into the real world.

Take hold of the threads about Resurrections, Second Comings, Raptures and Judgements; so fragile, these break away as soon as they’re touched. The only miracle is that they’ve lasted this long.

Then there’s the promises threads, about how believers are going to do fantastic miracles and heal the sick and raise the dead. Imaginative and colourful, these have never really fitted in.

Then there’s the prayer threads, whose embroidery tells us how prayer works, how God will give us whatever we ask for. Downright embarrassing, these – yank ’em out.

And how about the strands that those who say they love the cloth pick out themselves and throw away? You know the ones; the threads which tell them how to live their lives that they just don’t like the look of and think spoil the overall effect. These have definitely got to go.

What about the threads that weren’t originally there – the ones about ‘defending God’s standards‘ and having a ‘relationship‘ with a dead person? These grubby, greasy threads have been added in to replace the ones those who love the cloth have pulled out for themselves.

Choose any number of other threads – the ones that clash with other bits of the pattern, the ugly brutal ones, the fantastic, the ignorant – and give them a tug. Oh, look. They come away too.

And before you know it, the entire fabric has come apart in your hands. All that’s left is a pile of worthless, brittle threads, good for nothing but throwing in the bin.