Faith by any other name (is still a waste of time)

celia3Faith; the brand name for ‘wishful thinking’. In what other area of life, other than the religious, do we have faith in faith? Christians like to say we do – we have faith, they say, in the pilot who’s controlling the aircraft we’re flying in, or we have it in the surgeon who’s operating on us. But this is not faith in the sense religious people usually use the term. ‘Faith’ in pilots, surgeons and even our own abilities is more like trust or confidence; trust that the pilot is qualified to fly the plane, confidence that the surgeon is trained and skilled or that we have the ability to complete the task we’ve set ourselves. This is not faith in the sense of ‘belief in things that can’t be seen and for which there’s no evidence’. It’s not faith in the sense of wishing and hoping there really is a God and that he cares enough about us to grant us eternal life, much in the manner of the magic fountains and wish-granting genies of folk tale.

Religious faith – Christian faith particularly – is of this latter kind. It’s not trust in a real person’s capabilities, be it our own or a specialist’s. It’s a blind belief in a God who evolved from being one tribal deity among many into the everlasting, omniscient creator of all things. A God who, if he did create everything, set us on the Earth together with viruses, microbes, infections, disease, sickness, cancer, AIDs and Alzheimer’s. A God who thought putting us in an environment so frequently hostile to our well-being on an insignificant planet in the corner of a vast and indifferent universe was just the right place for us.

This is a God who doesn’t seem to understand us but who is swift to punish us while he himself stands by as half of his favoured creation endures poverty, starvation and the cruelty of much of the other half. His ways are not our ways, believers say, making what they surely know is a flimsy excuse – the flimsiest – for his failure to interact with us in any meaningful way.

Faith is the wishful thinking that despite the evidence, this neglectful, capricious God really does care for us. He cares so much he has devised an illogical, incomprehensible plan (or two) that, with its blood sacrifice and magical overtones, we must believe if we want his forgiveness for the way he made us in the first place.

We need to have faith that this cosmic madman will bring us back to life us after we’ve died and take us to Heaven to live with him, but we must first have the right sort of belief, even if it’s difficult to work out what that is. Faith is necessary for all of this because there isn’t a scrap of evidence anyone has ever been returned to life after they’ve died, or that Heaven exists, or that anyone has ever gone there. That’s why it takes, not trust, but a great wallop of wishful thinking that this fantasy is not only real but more real than the reality in front of us.

As for me, I can’t believe any of it.

  – I can’t believe the claims of those who even today say they’ve seen or heard from God or Jesus or Mary, who reckon they’ve had visions the same way Paul or Peter, Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy did.

  – I don’t believe those who say they almost died and went to Heaven, because what these visions of fantasy figures and make-believe places have in common is that they take place, so far as they occur at all, entirely within people’s heads.

  – I won’t believe that those who say all of this magic, hallucination and mumbo-jumbo is true because it’s in the Bible, when the creators of that book were men far more ignorant and superstitious than any reasonably educated person today.

  – I am unable to believe muddled nonsense that is designed to appeal to our vanity and fear of obliteration.

  – And I really don’t care that some say they get comfort, joy and morality from their belief; their morality no more derives from God as mine does from Superman and emotions don’t make any of it true.

So, faith – what good is it? If your answer is it enables you to believe the impossible, then isn’t it just another word for delusion?

 

 

 

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.

Silence of Mind

ThinkerThe anonymous blogger over on Silence of Mind, (we’ll call him ‘SoM’) is arguing that Christianity is responsible for Western civilisation. He does so even though others have pointed out to him that the essential elements of a civilised society – democracy, the rule of law, moral codes, mathematics, scientific enquiry, medicine, education, art, literature and architecture – were all evident in human societies millennia before Christianity emerged.

SoM goes further, however, insisting that Western culture owes its existence solely to Christianity. He doesn’t demonstrate how this is so; he is content to assert that it is. He is, of course, confusing correlation with causation, failing to recognise that Christianity’s involvement in the development of Western society does not mean it was the cause.

Having reach this insupportable conclusion, SoM makes an even greater leap of faith by declaring that because the Christian faith created civilisation as we know it – we’ll ignore, as he does, the church’s suppression of so much that is integral to a civilised society during the ‘dark ages’ – then Jesus must therefore be God. Here’s how he puts it:

1. Jesus established the Christian religion.

2. Christianity became the religion that spawned Western Civilization.

3. Western Civilization is the only civilization in human history to have developed modern science.

4. Modern science proved the existence of God

5. Since only God can reveal God, Jesus of Nazareth must be God.

So wrong in every respect:

1. Jesus did not establish the Christian religion. Paul did.

2. Christianity did not spawn Western civilisation (see above).

3. Western civilisation is not the only one to have developed science, and where it has emerged has often been in spite of religion, not because of it.

4. Science certainly has not ‘proved’ the existence of God. It has no interest in the so-called ‘supernatural’ nor, indeed, in ‘proving’ anything. It is significant that none of the explanations science has arrived at require the involvement of a god.

5. ‘Since only God can reveal God, Jesus of Nazareth must be God’ is a non-sequitur; it doesn’t follow from anything that has gone before, as flawed as all of the previous assertions are. What SoM is claiming here is that because “1, 2, 3 and 4 are the case (though I have failed to demonstrate they are and in fact they are not), then A must equal B”.

In the end, SoM’s ‘argument’ is the same as saying that because there is a place called Greece, Zeus must really exist. Or because there are tea-shops, we can be certain Bertrand Russell’s teapot is orbiting the sun, forever just out of sight.

As proof of the divinity of Jesus, the argument from the scientific and cultural achievements of the West has to be one of the worst. All arguments (and SoM’s assertions can hardly lay claim to the term) that attempt to demonstrate how an abrasive, inconsistent zealot from a Palestinian backwater was secretly the God of the Universe are equally worthless while God himself remains unproven, as he always must.

This is why believing anything about him and about Jesus’ supposed divinity is called ‘faith’. If it were possible to prove the things held on faith, then faith wouldn’t be necessary. But it is, because believing the impossible and the unprovable can only be managed by by-passing and, yes, silencing the mind’s critical faculties.

Angels with anuses

Lot

Of the many tawdry stories in the Bible, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19.1-29) is one of the most sordid and ludicrous.

In case you don’t know it, two angels visit Lot in the first of these ‘two cities of the plain’ where the local men express a desire to rape the pair. Unbelievable, right? All the men (19.4) wanted to rape two other men? It would appear so, but only because the story, designed to explain the demise of the two cities, is a fabrication by a rabidly homophobic scribe, intent on expressing his own prejudices and sexual fantasies. There is little evidence the cities really existed.

Anyway, Lot offers them his daughters instead, telling the local rapist mob that the gals are virgins, though in fact they have husbands (19.12 & 14). Lot’s rampaging neighbours don’t seem to know this but all the same decline his generous offer. So, to cut a long story short, God destroys both Sodom and Gomorrah allowing only Lot and his family to survive. Then, for no plausible reason, his nameless wife dies as they flee and Lot has drunken sex with his not-so-virginal daughters (19.33-38). As a result of the incest, the two of them give birth to genetically compromised offspring.

So this Lot – I’m tempted to say ‘this Bad Lot’ – who lies, offers his daughters to hormonally charged thugs, fucks the gals himself and has children by them, is declared by God to be a ‘righteous’ man (Genesis 18 and 2 Peter 2.7-8). The bar was set very low in them good Old Testament days.

Over on National Catholic Register’s blog, Thomas L. McDonald tries to explain what this seedy little story really means. (Steve Wells responds to his desultory efforts here). Central to it, are the so-called angels. What sort of beings are these? The term means ‘messengers’ and this pair at least are very mundane; they are incapable of defending themselves against rape threats (Lot has to defend them) and while they claim they are about to destroy the two cities (19.13), it is in fact God who does so (19.24). Later angels are more like the X-Men; they have grown increasingly grotesque (Daniel 10.5-6) and have developed superpowers like flight (Isaiah 6.2) and invisibility (2 Kings 6.17). The Sodom pair though are mere prototypes. There is nothing supernatural about them because the concept of the angel as a supernatural emissary of the divine was in its infancy when this story was written. They are simply human messengers.

Which is how they are capable of being raped. If they were the ‘evolved’ angels of later fantasy it would be inconceivable that they could be overcome and abused in this way. That these two can be potentially is because they are human males with human male anatomy. The bottom line is, if you’ll forgive the pun, they have anuses, without which they could not be anally raped. The story blithely assumes this to be the case even though all subsequent exegesis consistently ignores it.

This ugly, homophobic, semi-pornographic story has led to untold damage to innumerable people throughout the ages. It has given us the disparaging terms ‘sodomy’ and ‘sodomite’, even though no ‘sodomy’ takes place in the story and isn’t, in any case, routinely practised by same-sex couples. It has served as the prototype for the blaming of LGBT people for (always unrelated) natural and man-made disasters, from earthquakes to tsunamis and 9/11. The moral usually taken from it – even though it lacks any morals at all – that being gay is evil, has led to, and provided ‘justification’ for, the persecution and destruction of gay people right up to the present day. Perhaps, given the same story is referenced in the Qur’an, its influence can even be seen in last week’s massacre in Orlando. 

That the prejudiced and ignorant today continue to be influenced by this unimaginative, tawdry little tale is the lasting legacy, the real tragedy, of Sodom and Gomorrah.


Religion poisons the well. Again.

dye

The shooting in Orlando of people in a gay night club (50 dead, 53 wounded) is yet another example of religion as the antithesis of human flourishing. Not Christianity this time, of course, but that other ‘great’ religion, Islam, the religion of peace. But Christians cannot distance themselves from atrocities like this, carried out in the name of God, when the influence of even moderate religion is a pervasive, unhealthy presence in our society.

It’s true that Christians don’t, as rule, rampage in the streets or fly planes into buildings but they do contribute to the medium in which more extreme forms of religion grow:

Westboro Baptist Church, for example, with its own peculiar brand of Bible-based homophobia – ‘God hates fags’ and all the rest – is, like it or not, an expression of Christianity;

Right-wing evangelicals who interfere in the churches and governments of Africa and South America, actively encouraging them to take a homophobic stance and to pass anti-LGBT laws, are equally culpable; Scott Lively, Pat Robertson, Sharon Slater, you too are people filled with hate;

Likewise, those Catholic bishops who use their influence to denounce gay and transgendered folk as ‘mentally disordered’;

Christian bloggers who trot out the old, ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil’ (Isaiah 5.20) and misapply it to homosexuality, together with those who quote Leviticus 18.22 (‘abominations!’) and Romans 1.26-27 (‘unnatural and indecent!’)…

All of these contribute to the animus directed towards fellow human beings whose ‘sin’ is merely to be different. Religions, or more specifically their adherents, contribute significantly to the levels of misery in the world today, though Christians will cry ‘foul’ here (or ‘persecution’ even, because how they love claiming they’re being persecuted when asked to demonstrate some empathy and a little love.) After all, it wasn’t a Christian who gunned down the people in the Pulse nightclub this weekend. No it wasn’t. But every time religious bigots –

tell others what despicable sinners they are,

misrepresent and denigrate minorities,

promote ‘gay cures’,

attack same-sex marriage,

add quotation marks around the words gay and gay marriage, as if they’re somehow not real,

assert homosexuality and transgenderism are synonymous with ‘moral decay’,

claim natural disasters are God’s response to gay people’s very existence,

boycott businesses that support equality,

‘take a stand’ against transgendered people using the appropriate restroom and

refuse to serve gay couples –

every time, in short, they say LGBT people are evil, sick or worthless, the self-righteous prepare the ground for individuals like Omar Mateen to do what he did in Florida on Sunday. Religious leaders condemning such atrocities after the event is too little, too late, when they’ve failed to take charge of their acolytes and  do nothing to stem the tide of hatred flowing from their churches, mosques and temples. 

To those of us on the outside, religions are all of a kind; harmful superstitions. If a ‘faith’ entails belief in supernatural beings and puts allegiance to such imaginary figures above fellow human beings, it is without merit. It is the evil among us.

The Stuff Christians Say… (part three)

DoorToDoorAtheists are aggressive/militant/unreasonable: The Christians might’ve got us on this one. After all, it is incredibly irritating when we atheists start preaching in the town centre or invade others’ events to tell them what to believe or dish out loony pamphlets or turn up at people’s doors when they’re just about to have their tea. And what about all those meeting places we have, on just about every corner of the city, with smart-arse posters about Adam and Steve on the board outside? And let’s not forget our readiness to blow up ourselves and others in the name of our great cause. Now that’s ‘militant’! Yes, we atheists really do have too much freedom to push our views on others. No wonder we’re so insufferable. (Note to self: check you’ve got this right.)

It takes more faith to be an atheist than a Christian: It takes no faith to recognise there are no supernatural beings. It takes no more faith not to believe in God – or to acknowledge that there is no God to believe in – than it does not to believe in Santa Claus, Poseidon or Ra. Christians themselves require no great abundance of faith to dismiss these characters. Is it so difficult to understand that atheists disregard the Christian pantheon of fantasy figures in exactly the same way? Or are believers practising their dishonesty-for-Jesus again? There is no faith involved in being an atheist. On the other hand, believing in an omnipotent but suspiciously inactive God, a super-hero Saviour, a magic Spirit, angels, cherubim, seraphim, demons, Satan, resurrected saints, Heaven, Hell and all manner of powers and principalities – this requires faith in delusional quantities. No atheist could possibly compete. Nor would they want to.

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.