I listen to a lot of Podcasts and YouTube while working, getting dressed, making dinner, etc. I am aware that YouTube is videos, but I don't watch the videos, I just listen. There are quite a few atheist activists that I have discovered during my deconversion journey. Some were great in the beginning. I used to love The Atheist Experience, a call-in show where believers can call in and talk to atheists about belief. It's basically a debate show. In the beginning I loved it because people were asking the questions that I had and the atheists made some really good points. I saw how flimsy the arguments were on the part of the believers. However, the show also raises my blood pressure. It makes me uncomfortable to listen to people argue and some of the believers had such stupid/illogical/brainwashed ideas that I would have to fast forward through the show. I also don't always agree with how the atheists on the show treat their callers. I understand that they have listened to the same dumb arguments for years, but they will get angry at a believer for interrupting them and then do the same thing a minute later. I've heard the reasoning behind this and I still disagree. I don't really watch/listen to the show anymore because of it, although occasionally I'll click on a clip that sounds interesting. My personal favorite is The Thinking Atheist as he is usually very measured and informative.
One thing I do not do is listen to any of this around my husband. The first reason is simply that he is super defensive when it comes to anyone trying to disprove religion or if they claim to be an atheist. He flat out dislikes the idea of anyone trying to destroy the faith of someone else. Although he believes himself to be very rational in this area, the evidence I have seen is that the minute atheist is tacked onto something, he becomes extremely critical of everything they say. He speaks about them as hateful or angry people, pushing the stereotype of angry atheist onto all of them, whether they are being hateful or not. On Sunday morning as I was getting dressed I mistakenly assumed my husband had gotten out of bed and was downstairs making breakfast as he always does on Sunday mornings. So I turned on Mr. Atheist's newest video.
I like Mr. Atheist. I don't always agree with him mind you. There probably isn't a person on this planet that I agree with 100% of the time, but I like his platform and his delivery of information. What I didn't know was that thanks to Daylight Savings Time throwing him off, my husband was laying in bed listening to the entire episode. And he had a problem with it. Later he told me, "That guy you were listening to this morning. He was so hateful. I mean, you can just tell he is so full of hate and loathing." I turned back the episode in my head and was confused. Hateful? Loathing perhaps, but hateful? Watch the video above and tell me what you think.
Husband's logic was that because Mr. Atheist was happy that Cardinal Pell is finally getting his commupance, he is a hateful bad person. Good people don't rejoice in people going to jail, especially if they haven't gone to trial yet and haven't been convicted. My husband is the epitomy of Lawful Good, or so he says. I think he is Lawful Neutral. He absolutely downright refuses to be a part of any side until the law has gotten involved, evidence has been presented, and a conviction has been declared. This does mean that he doesn't agree with things like the #MeToo movement. Not because he doesn't think that it can't happen or even that it is okay, but because they are baseless accusations with no evidence, which means that they mean nothing. Accusations aren't fact. Without facts it's just a rumor, although certainly a rumor that could destroy lives. I agree with him in that we live in a society where we try people through the media long before they ever arrive in a courtroom. I also know that we, the laymen, are often not made aware of certain evidences that lawyers, judges, juries, and police are made aware of. Like half of the country, I was completely on board with Michael Brown being innocent and having his hands up and not deserving of death by cop. That was until all the evidence came out showing that an office had been attacked by Brown inside his vehicle and a gunshot had gone off IN the car. Then the fact that he was shot from the front, not behind and that the bullet wounds were consistent with a person charging head first towards someone. That started to paint a very different picture. Not one full of innocence. I was forced to face the idea that I had chosen the wrong "side" in this debate. It was a humbling experience. One could start being a conspiracy theorist at that point and refuse to believe the evidence because it doesn't line up with the narrative you wanted to believe. A lot of people I know did this. The cops lied, they planted evidence, witnesses said (eye witness accounts are not evidence), etc. If the evidence is true though, then we have a police officer whose life and career have been destroyed because people want to believe their own truths when it comes to certain situations. Not to mention the countless businesses that were destroyed by raging mobs and people who were hurt. So I completely understand why my husband is loathe to take a side without evidence. It makes sense.
The question then is, Is it hateful to want people to be convicted of crimes? Is that revenge or is it wanting justice? By wanting Cardinal Pell to be prosecuted and imprisoned, is that a hateful act? Husband says that no one should be happy or rejoice in someone going to prison. That is a tragedy for everyone involved. It's a life wasted, a failure on someone's part to help the accused. There are victims who, even if the person is jailed, still have to suffer through this for the rest of their lives. If you claim to be better than someone, then you can't go around gloating and seeking revenge. You have to be better. You have to want to help both victims and victimizers. They are all people who are deserving of love, pity, and redemption. I would posit that Mr. Atheist never said he was "better" than anyone, although it is implied that he is better than a child molester, which in all first-world countries, is a given. But who is making that rule? That you can't be happy when a known child molester goes to prison and is off the streets? Husband? I would say it is very human to breath a sigh of relief and experience some kind of euphoria when someone who is bad has gotten their just desserts. (To be clear, Cardinal Pell has not been convicted of anything. In the eyes of the law, he is still innocent.) Does it make someone hateful? Perhaps if the person was being cruel for no reason or wanted people to get hurt because they disagreed with an idea or something, but to suggest someone is hateful because they are happy that a rapist is going to jail? Even without a conviction, I would say this is a normal response. It becomes hateful when you refuse to accept evidence of their innocence and continue to declare that the person is guilty just because you say they are. It is hateful when you continue to vilify their name because you decided that there was some evidence that the judge, jury, and lawyers missed and that this person who has been deemed innocent deserves some kind of mob justice. I absolutely believe that Michael Jackson is being tried through the media via a documentary after having been declared innocent of the crime he was accused of. The man is dead and the only people who this is hurting now is his family. That's not justice. That's cruelty. It is also hateful that after someone has been to prison for a crime, they continue to be persecuted for their crime and are unable to work or live normally again because in our society we seem to think people need a lifetime to pay for crimes that the law says only deserve 10 years in prison.
I personally don't think Mr. Atheist is being hateful in wanting a priest to be prosecuted for his alleged crimes. The way the Catholic church has handled it is not the way an organization should act if someone is innocent. Sadly, because so many priests have been caught diddling little kids, he IS being lumped into a much bigger problem, innocent or not. Perhaps the evidence will show that he is innocent. If that happens, there will be people who will refuse to believe it. There will be atheists who, despite being huge proponents of evidence for a god, don't hold the same convictions when it comes to law and justice.
A small personal story: When I was a teenager a friend at church told me that her step-father had been molesting her for eight years. I was the first person she had ever told. I knew immediately that this was beyond me and I found an adult who I knew had suffered through something similar who could help. A few days later he was arrested. I was supremely happy that this man had been arrested and was going to be prosecuted. My friend could have been lying. In the eyes of the law he was still innocent. But I knew that she wasn't lying and the fact that he could no longer hurt her filled me with so much relief and happiness. He ended up being convicted of his crime and served five years in prison for what he did. I was not a hateful person for wanting him to be imprisoned and prosecuted. I saw firsthand the devastation it brought to my friend and her family. It destroyed a marriage. And I was still glad it happened because it was right.
Lesson learned though....be careful what you listen to around your husband who thinks most atheists are angry and hateful. If he hadn't found this thing to knit pick over, it would have been something else. Double-check to be sure he is not sitting in the next room otherwise you will have an uncomfortable conversation about the morality of justice seekers in the parking lot of the grocery store.
Books are my life. Quite literally, books are what pay my bills. I write books, have a degree in publishing and a master's in creative writing, worked in bookstores for just under thirteen years, work for a publisher now, and have my own library. If I have an expertise in any subject, it would be books. As a teenager who grew up without a television, books were my only gateway into a world outside my own. I gobbled up anything and everything that seemed the least bit interesting. I read medical textbooks, ancient history, literary classics, sci-fi, fantasy, sociology, religion. The only two genres I don't gravitate towards is mystery and romances. Mysteries because I don't care in the least bit for surprises and romances because I find romance cloying, particularly in romance books. Books were also the first places where I "met" atheists.
Atheists are particularly present in sci-fi books, my favorite genre by far. When I was younger I used to just assume that if the character in the story was an atheist, then the author themselves was an atheist. It never occurred to me that there could be more nuance than that. As such, the minute I saw an atheist on the page, I would immediately be defensive. After all, atheists have an agenda so surely there was something the author was trying to get across in their book. Exceptions applied if the faithless had a bit more faith by the end. Ship of Fools by Steven Russo is a book in which the main protagonist is a staunch atheist on a religious pilgrimage deep space vessel. But he has an experience involving the giant stained glass windows depicting Christ while on a space walk and begins to see the beauty of religion. As a Christian, I loved that. I assumed that the author must be religious because only someone religious could write something so meaningful. (for the record, the books is amazing and I definitely think I was reading more into it) Since my deconversion I've only come across a few books where the main character is unapologetically atheist and I've disliked all of them for various reasons. Ready Player One for example is a fantastic novel, but there is an entire page dedicated to Wade's meandering thoughts on religion. And then it is never mentioned again. It's a diatribe against religion, but is pointless since it means absolutely nothing to the story. An authorial intrusion at its worst as it serves no purpose in the story.
Recently, I finished reading Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry. In this contemporary young adult book we are introduced to Michael, whose dad has moved them yet again to a new town with a new school and new friends. Except this time, this self-professed atheist is sent to the best school in town, which also happens to be a Catholic school. Michael is out of his depth from the beginning, but quickly finds a few friends who started a secret club called Heretics Anonymous. This small crew of five mostly sit in the basement and complain about the school. Unlike Michael, all of them are believers who just don't agree with all of the Catholic church's teachings. Hence the name of their little group. Michael is technically an apostate, but they let him join anyway. Right away Michael starts to shake things up, convincing other in the group that they should go public, using malicious compliance as their main tool. The dress code says they can only wear ties ordered from one particular company? Okay. The kids order the ugliest ties they can find on that company's website and pass them around the school. The pranks begin to really shake up the school, but not for the better. Soon kids are getting in trouble for things that HA did, one girl seems to be on a personal mission to destroy HA, his friends are becoming frightened, and his fledgling relationship with the leader of HA is in jeopardy. Not to mention that Michael is having a really hard time holding back his deep resentment of his dad for bringing them here in the first place. When things go south, Michael takes the blame, but deep hurt doesn't go away with one apology.
Sounds like an interesting premise, right? Atheist stuck in a private Catholic school surrounded by religion and bucking the system? My problem with the whole thing though was that Michael knows absolutely nothing about religion. Growing up in a culture surrounded by religion, he knows the very very basics of Judeo-Christian religions, but has never even cracked open a Bible. But he sure as hell has some strong opinions about religion. This bothered me. A lot. Those who grow up with a lack of religion, rarely even think about it. It's so normal not to believe and they seem miffed by the whole religion thing in general. It's been such a non-thing for them. The angry atheist stereotype (which is how Michael comes across often) are usually those who have left religion and are harboring a lot of anger towards the "lie" they were taught. I see a lot of these on Reddit, a lot of which are young people. They were raised in a Christian home and after lots of research have come to the conclusion that there isn't evidence for a God, particularly the Christian god and they feel disillusioned. Some, like a lot of YouTube activists become rather "militant" (for lack of a better word) about it. But these people actually know religion. They know what it is they are against, what teachings they abhor, what doesn't work for them, why they don't believe. Michael knows nothing. To me this makes him the worst kind of atheist.
Now, I am aware that this is fictional, but Michael is the epitomy of atheist stereotype....from a believers perspective. I've seen it over and over again now, this belief that those who don't believe in God, just haven't had the right experience yet or haven't read the Bible or just need to make the right friends in order to change their minds. Michael is all three of these. The reason Michael bothered me so much though was that he knew so little. He is militant in his beliefs, yet hasn't taken a moment to find out about the faiths of others. Without any Biblical knowledge, he looks like an idiot in theology class and can't argue any point because he doesn't know what the other side believes. If he just wanted to be chill and not rock the boat, perhaps this would be okay, but since he feels the need to be in your face about his nonbelief, it's just unacceptable. Nevermind that Michael in this book is just a general asshole overall. He disparages other people's beliefs at every turn, without knowing what they believe or why. He is in your face for absolutely no reason beyond being a jerk. Not only didn't I like Michael as a character, I also hated him for being the Christian stereotype of angry teenage atheist who knows nothing about religion.
I don't know the author's religious viewpoints, but I would wager that she was raised Catholic (quick Google check...yes, I am correct) and although she probably isn't as religious as her parents would like her to be now, she still holds onto the upbringing as something positive, even if there are cracks in the foundation of belief. I'm sure she has met several atheists over the years, but can't seem to shake the stereotypes she grew up with. I can also see that she was really trying not to make religion the good or bad guy, showing the reader that there is more nuance than that. I just don't think she did it well and Michael was a terrible foil for it. The character I wanted to understand and never really did was Lucy, Michael's love interest. I wanted to know why she had trouble with the Catholic church, where those ideas were coming from. Did she read the entire Bible and came away with questions? Was her faith eroding? Did she find herself staying up at night thinking about theology? What were her original motivations for starting a group called Heretics Anonymous? Once Michael takes the blame, why is she so angry with him still? She went along with almost everything except the thing that got him caught. Was she mad at him for going against the group's wishes or was it the way it was done? The reader was never given much of a glimpse into Lucy's motivations, but she was by far the more interesting and complex character. She was also not a stereotype.
There aren't many outright atheist or agnostic characters in children's literature. Young adult books would obviously be more prone to have them, but authors seem to steer clear of this by just not mentioning religion at all. That's why they stand out. I used to be defensive when I came across any book with this type of character. It turns out, I still am.
The passing of an abortion bill in New York has brought the anti-abortion fanatics out by the droves. Now, I am aware that the bill is really defining late term abortions, something that the data shows happens in only 1% of abortions and only in the most extreme cases. Not only that, but they are terribly expensive and there are a million hoops to jump through. The parents who decide to follow through with a late term abortion are mourning deeply the loss of a much wanted child, rather than the image that anti-abortionists paint of people using it as a form of birth control. Although there are certainly irresponsible people out there that have gotten knocked up one too many times (along with the subsequent abortions) for anyone's comfort, this is certainly not the case for late term abortions.
Do you think anti-abortion proponents care at all about this? If you guessed no, then you would be correct. They are well aware of the stories of fetus' with all their organs growing outside of their bodies who will never be able to survive outside the womb. And they don't care. They share stories about women who decided to carry their non-viable child to term, knowing the baby would die upon arrival. Those women being so anti-abortion bask in their choice. I applaud their choice. That's a hard thing to do. My problem lies in that these same people have decided that because they made that choice, everyone should. Sure, they got to hold their full-term baby and watched it die in their arms, therefore this is what is right for everyone.
And I know doctors get it wrong sometimes too. We have all heard the stories of doctors encouraging abortions saying the child will be a vegetable, only for the child to come out and only have some minor difficulties. Of course, no one is sharing the stories of the babies born who are vegetables. I'm part of a special needs group on social media and these parents often vent about how people are so insistent that their children are just perfect. All of them have stated that if they could remove the disability their child suffers, particularly the ones that mean their children will never grow up, they would do so in a heartbeat. Some have expressed that although they adore their child and will fight to the death for them, they also aren't against the idea of people aborting fetus' with the same affliction because it is hard raising special needs kids. It just is. Of course, the religious see disability as some kind of extra special blessing that they have to endure.
I am NOT saying that people should abort those fetuses. I very much don't like the idea that people abort fetus' who aren't perfect or have minor health issues. What I am saying is that that should be their choice. A pastor at my old church had a son who had organs growing outside of his body, several holes in his heart, and would not survive outside the womb for long. They decided to carry to term, however they made it clear that they were not actually against an abortion and that the decision had been agonizing. They decided that for them, they needed the closure of meeting this baby and neither the mom nor the fetus were in medical distress. The baby lived for three days. They took him home and loved on him and took pictures with him. He looked so perfect. But they made sure to tell the church that although they have always been fairly anti-abortion in the past, this incident change them. They realized now how agonizing and terrible of a decision it was and that they would never fault anyone who chose to abort. No one, not even me, could understand what a horrible decision that is unless they are making it.
If you are devoutly anti-abortion, you will of course make an expected decision. You have that right. I am so sick of seeing these stories being passed around though that are supposed to make the reader believe that this is the only and right choice. That to do anything less is sinful and playing god. I can't imagine how much this harms women who have had to make that awful choice too. Here she had to make a terrible decision and you constantly remind her what a piece of shit she is for doing it. Christians offer the added bonus of "salvation", which promises redemption by constantly reminding you what a piece of shit you were before said salvation. I can't imagine what the church must feel like if you came to it later in life, full of "sinful" things you did in your past. I know several people who talk about what pieces of trash they were before Christ. Of course, they weren't really, just regular humans trying to figure out who they were, but the church doesn't spin it that way, so piece of trash you are. Then again, if you did enough terrible things you'll be touted in news stories as having an amazing testimony, so hey, silver lining. *sarcasm*
This is a bit of a ramble rant and I'm writing while lying sick in bed, so if it doesn't make as much sense as some of my other posts, just remember....you chose to read it.
"Whenever I disagree with you, I just pray that God changes your heart."
I originally started writing a post based on the above words spoken by my mother. At first I was offended because it suggested that there was something wrong with my thoughts and opinions. But then I realized that I kind of felt the same way about my mother, so it was hypocritical of me to be upset about it. I DO wish my mother would change. I love the fact that there are several areas where she has already changed. The fact that my mother doesn't anoint her house with oil anymore, talk about demons incessantly, or complain about how everything is evil is huge.
I also have a hard time imagining her without religion. It is so wrapped up in her core identity that I don't know who she would be without it. Her entire social life is centered around shared religion. Her backstory/testimony is about God's redemption in her life. As much as I would like her to change, I am at peace with the idea that she never will. That's probably one of the bigger differences I have with a lot of religious folks.
I don't actually think people are capable of change. Now hear me out. This may be a matter of semantics, but I believe that people have intrinsic personalities, things that make them who they are. There is a good deal of science to back this up (this, this, and this). We are, after all, animals. Certain things we do are simply biological. All children lie, even if never shown how. Any parent will tell you that there are certain personality traits that show up in babies, some more worrying than others. As a young child I liked to perform, putting on little shows and plays for my parents. It isn't surprising that I tried my hand at theater, play violin, and love to show off my singing. What IS surprising is that although I love all of those things, I decided not to pursue them for a living because I learned that what I really needed was praise and I could get that through anything as long as I worked hard enough. Did I change? No. But I learned through experience that my needs could be fulfilled in other ways that also had the added bonus of not being as challenging. Being an actress is hard ya'll.
"But you changed your mind about religion..." I can hear you thinking. Yes. I changed an opinion and belief that was taught to me from a young age. But my belief that Adam and Eve were once real people was not directly connected to my personality. Believing in ancient people doesn't make me any more or less talkative. Any more or less of a show off. However, there are some people whose religion intertwines with their personalities because they are the type of person to be susceptible to certain things. My brother-in-law *Heath is the perfect example of this. The man is intrinsically a suspicious and untrusting person. Because of this he is highly susceptible to conspiracy theories. He's also not very analytical by nature, so that also makes him more prone to believe certain things without evidence. Even if his opinions about religion were to change, I doubt he would be any less of a conspiracy theorist, the theories would just change to fit his new beliefs.
So at the end of the day, I suspect that even if my mother wasn't a hardcore Evangelical Christian....she would be a hardcore Evangelical something else. Because that is who she is. I don't expect her heart to change because I don't think that is possible. And when she says she prays for me to change, I absolutely choose to believe that what she wants me to change is my opinions, not who I am. It makes it a little more bearable to deal with I think.
One of the things that fundamentalist parents seem to fear more than anything is the influence of the "liberal" university. They rant and rail about it, using God's Not Dead as a manual for what their children (now turned adults) can expect in college. Some encourage only Christian colleges, refusing to pay if their child chooses some other type of school. Some, like most of my church friends when I was 18 and 19, just joined Christian clubs and created their own Christian bubbles within their universities. It's easy enough to do. None of them seem to know what an actual liberal college is like though.
Let me tell you about my college. Emerson College. When I picked it, I chose it for it's major. One of the few in the country with a BA in the field I wanted to go into, publishing. Out of the six colleges in the US that offered this major, Emerson was the only one I had actually heard of. I knew nothing about the school. I didn't even visit before applying. I didn't care. They had the classes I wanted and although moving to Boston sounded terrifying, I was ready for some adventure. Now, I already had an associate's degree and once accepted, almost all my credits transferred over. My first introduction to my school was while I was standing outside the building, a Duck Boat tour group drove by and the tour guide said on the speaker, "This is Emerson College, where you are either gay or liberal, although probably both." I remember thinking, hmmm....I didn't see that on the College board site. No matter, I was much more progressive in my beliefs so being surrounded by gay people didn't bother me that much. It did concern me that people might be anti-Christian though. Back then I still thought that if you weren't a Christian, this must mean you are anti-Christian.
Now, my school was absolutely very liberal, but at no point did anyone bash religion. There were a few sneers directed towards Republicans, but mostly mild complaining that moved on quickly. Professors rarely shared personal opinions and were quick to re-direct conversations that got too opinionated or rude. I took an ethics course and I cannot begin to tell you anything about the professor because he was so damned good at controlling the classroom and keeping the discussions on topic. That was also the class where I discovered that one could have strong moral opinions without resorting to the Bible. He didn't teach me that. I figured that out on my own. I took a Race and Discrimination course with another fabulous professor who focused on one type of discrimination each week. One week we would discuss Native Americans vs. Redskins and the next we were analyzing immigrants. I sat next to a girl who was super nice and during one particular class the professor asked us to write down something that we feared people finding out about us because of the stereotypes and prejudices surrounding them. Then we were to share these with our partner. I wrote down that I was a Christian, because I felt uncomfortable sharing that at such a liberal college. She wrote that she was a Lesbian, which she was afraid to share because of people like me. Holy shit was that a wake up call. You are afraid to tell me because of what I believe and I'm afraid to tell you because I know my beliefs come with some not nice things attached to it. That was something I learned from another student, not a professor and not in a way that was trying to erode my faith. One student in a writing course I was in, challenged my notions of corporal punishment. He argued that hitting children in any context was wrong. Morally reprehensible and abusive. That there are other successful ways of parenting and studies showed that it did more harm than good. This was the first time I really had to confront the idea that my parents, particularly my mom, were abusive in my childhood. I didn't want to think about them in that light because I loved them and am close to them, but that student sent me down a path where, after reading numerous studies, I have to agree. My parents were abusive. They weren't doing it because they disliked me or didn't love me, but they also did it out of anger and it crossed the line way too often. All of these revelations came from regular people in my classes.
It is true that going to a non-Christian school and stepping outside my fundy bubble, I was then surrounded by people who challenged some of my opinions and beliefs. But none of them did it on purpose. My classmate didn't know that my parents spanked me. My other classmate didn't know I was Christian. They didn't really care either. But by being exposed to people who were different then me and also attending a church that was a lot more progressive then anything I had ever gone to, I grew a little bit more. I didn't become an atheist until nearly a decade later and I don't think I can contribute my loss of faith to my education. There is also a possibility that those things would have happened in a Christian setting too. The church I went to in Boston most certainly challenged my Christianity. For example: It was there that I realized how absolutely bat-shit crazy speaking in tongues actually is. That's when I stopped completely. Obviously, what the fundy parents are trying to do is stop thought and inquiry, but if your kid is curious enough and adventurous enough, I don't think there is any way to stop it.
Disclaimer: I was an adult education student at Emerson College and did not experience the "normal" college experience. There is a high possibility that if I was a regular undergrad who lived in campus, my experience would have been very different.
A friend of a friend has started a (Christian) blog. I find blogging to be a great way of getting one's thoughts out, almost like journaling, something I did for nearly a decade before switching over to blogging. (anyone remember Xanga?) Yesterday, a link was posted to said blog with the promise that this will explain why this blogger believes in God, with evidence to back it up. Now, I am still very open to the idea that there may be a god out there. It's an interesting hypothesis and one that I don't mind people trying to find evidence for. I was disappointed to find that it was a series of paragraphs containing all the worst logical fallacies and Christian-isms.
Many would argue that religion is based on faith and secularism is based on evidence therefore a belief in God is invalid.
I would argue that both should be based on evidence. Not having evidence doesn't invalidate belief, but it makes it highly suspect and relegates it to an "unknown" territory, requiring either further investigation and/or agnosticism.
In [Timothy Keller's Making Sense of God,] Keller argues that "reason and proof must start with faith in reason and belief in some particular concept of proof" (Keller 2016, p.34). He goes on to say that there is even more faith involved in ordinary rationality than that as many great twentieth-century thinkers (Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Ludwig Wittgenstein to name a few) have argued that all reasoning is based on prior faith commitments to which one did not reason (p. 34).
Firstly, reason and proof do not have to start with faith in reason and proof. This is presupposition. Faith assumes that something is true without anything to back it up and then seeks out "evidence" to make those claims true. Science has a process in order to find evidence. It begins with a hypothesis. Before Einstein proved (a loose term since a hypothesis is never considered truly proven) thermodynamics, it was just an hypothesis. Then he used a complex series of tests and experiments showing that the process was repeatable with the math to back it up. Those tests could be run by anyone and they would get the same results, which then led to it becoming a theory. In science, if a hypothesis proves to be untrue, the idea is abandoned. If you follow the Big Bang Theory (yeah yeah, hear me out), this season Sheldon and Amy stumbled upon an idea concerning super asymmetry. Super excited, they were sure this would lead to accolades and promotions, along with their names in the history books. Then when Leonard comes across a paper disproving super asymmetry, Sheldon loses his mind. Here's the important part: Sheldon gets upset because, like a good scientist, he knows that this is the end. He cannot keep trying to prove something that someone else had already disproved. All his dreams were dashed, he's upset, but he immediately stops trying to prove this hypothesis. Faith does NOT do this. It claims something is a law, a fact and then, with or without evidence, it insists on continuing. It forces fact to conform to it's own logic and ignores anything that does not. If something about the faith doesn't make sense or line up with known facts, the faith is not abandoned.
An example that he gives is the faith we have that our eyes, ears, minds, and memories are not deceiving us (p. 34). Their reliability cannot be tested without using and therefore assuming their reliability (p. 34).
Actually, scientists don't rely on eyes, ears, minds, and memories. We have categorically proven that none of these things can be trusted. Optical illusions prove that our eyes can easily be deceived. We are also aware of things like face blindness, synesthesia, dyslexia, and pareidolia, all of which affect the reliability of our sight. Our ears can also be suspect. How many times have you thought you heard a doorbell or someone talking, only to realize there is no one there and you are alone? People with schizophrenia hear distinct voices and can have conversations with said voices. Our minds are also tricky. One little thing gets out of whack and all kinds of interesting things can happen. Foreign accent syndrome happens when someone is brain damaged and they end up with a speech impediment that sounds, to our ears and theirs, like an accent from a different country. Nevermind that we know so much about psychology, that we are aware how the mind can change and twist things, sometimes to the point of mental illness. My son has been through so much trauma, abandonment, and neglect that it has permanently brain damaged him. And his mind isn't to be trusted, because his trauma has taught him not to trust adults, that he isn't safe anywhere, and that lies are necessary for one to get their way in life. Memories are actually the worst though. Our memories are entirely unreliable. It's why eyewitness testimony has become a more and more an outdated way of presenting evidence in court. There have been eyewitness accounts that have been completely refuted by video evidence and those people refuse to believe the evidence because they "remember" it a different way. All that to say, you can absolutely test something without first assuming it is reliable. In fact, all the studies that show those things are unreliable came after everyone just assumed they were. It took someone questioning that reliability in order for it to be tested.
The assertion that science and empirical evidence are the only ways to understand reality also requires faith (p. 35). Science is only fit to investigate the natural world but not fit to investigate whether anything exists beyond it (p.35).
This is the logical fallacy called 'Appeal to Faith'. This assumes that the only way to understand something is through faith, therefore all understanding is based on some kind of faith, even things that have proof and evidence. The whole point of having evidence is so we don't have to rely on faith any longer. Also, we may not be able to test whether a metaphysical god exists, but we can certainly test the things that its followers claim as signs from those gods. Christians (along with several other religions) claim that God heals through prayer intervention. A Harvard study looked at people who had just had bypass surgery. Their findings were that those who knew they were being actively prayed for actually did worse than those in the control group who either weren't being prayed for or didn't know. Knowing people were praying for them to do well put some kind of mental pressure on the patient who in turn did worse. There have been several studies done about parapsychology and there is absolute nothing to back of their claims of being clarevoyant. In fact, when looked into, most of the claims concerning predictions of the future have been dead wrong. And Christians write those off as people who weren't really listening to God. The problem lies in the fact that the people who are claiming to be prophets of God and psychics really believe they are though. My son is convinced he can see the future. He is so obviously full of shit, but a religious group would probably exploit this to their advantage, which is why he goes to an Unitarian Fellowship that doesn't believe in that crap. We can absolutely test faith healings, prophecies, prosperity doctrine, etc. The problem is that even when there is evidence contrary to religious claims, the religious refuse to accept it. Religion is not open to investigation.
If the universe cannot possibly have created itself, then it is plausible to believe that something created it. That something would have to exist outside of it and therefore would exist outside of the constraints of space and time making it impossible for us to explain using something that could only explain the natural realm. This being would be SUPERnatural.
Why must we assume this? It would seem more logical to say, "So far we don't know how the universe began. We will keep searching for the answer." And that's it. So far the answer hasn't led to God either, because there is no proof of there even being a god. Why do we automatically jump to the 'God of the Gaps' fallacy? The universe cannot possibly have created itself is not a fact, although it certainly seems like Keller is saying it is. The universe cannot possibly have created itself is a hypothesis and without any proof, the religious are trying to say that a god did it.
More evidence that points to the existence of a creator is the order and design that is seen in the natural realm. The Earth is located in just the right spot in relation to the sun. If it were any closer, it would be too hot for life to exist. If it were any farther away, it would be too cold. Coincidence? Also just look at plants, animals, people, and just nature in general. Pick up a biology book and read about how complex life is. Even something as tiny as a cell is so complex. It is so tiny but is necessary for life to exist. The oxygen we breathe here on earth and the water we drink are necessary for life to exist. There is a reason we haven't found life anywhere else. That is because these conditions for life don't exist everywhere. But they exist here. What are the odds that everything winds up in the perfect harmony that we see here by accident. I'm guessing very astronomical.
Christians assume the planet was made just for them, rather than that we (all living species on the planet) adapted and evolved to live on it as our planet became more and more habitable. While it is true that the Earth is in what astronomers refer to as "The Goldilocks Zone", it is also obvious that Keller and the author of this blog are unaware that our planet is constantly wobbling and we are in an eliptical orbit which means that there is no actual "sweet spot". Our planet is constantly heating and cooling and is affected by the other planets, our moon, and the sun on a constant basis. A current hypothesis from UC Santa Barbara is the idea that our planet's bulk composition with all its uranium, thorium, and potassium are part of what makes our planet habitable. The odds of our planet being habitable ARE astronomical if you think in small numbers. But when you think of things in terms of billions of year and you also look at how big our universe is, they aren't so astronomical. We are a blip in the cosmos, but we aren't a singular anomaly. I should also point out that despite the complexity of life, it is not perfect in any way. The human eye itself is a terrible design, one that we would send back to the shop if someone made it for us. The complexity of cells is amazing, but it doesn't mean that a god made them.
A third reason why I believe God exists is the existence of morality. Going back to Tim Keller's book Making Sense of God, Keller states that most secular people today hold a set of ethical beliefs about the nature of human life (Keller, 2016, p. 41). They are committed to science and reason, to progress and the good of humanity, and to the rights, equality and freedom of every human being (p. 41). He goes on to state that Secularism is marked by a call to take active responsibility for making a better world and for the betterment of other people of all races and ethnicities (p. 41). They would argue that removing religion from the world would help us to realize these values (p. 41). The problem is, they cannot explain where these values come from. None of them can be proven empirically and they do not follow logically from a materialistic view of the world (p. 41).
They come from us. There I explained it. Morals and values come from the culture and people groups who create them.
From a materialistic view of the world, you are made strictly of matter with no soul. You have no purpose. There is no after-life and the world will eventually burn up in the death of the sun. Nothing we do here in this world matters because it will not make a difference in the end (p. 42). If this were true, we should be inclined to live as selfishly as possible (p. 42).
Human evolution shows us that we form groups in order to survive as a species. Within those groups there have to be laws (morals) that govern the way we interact with and support each other for the continuation of our species. Being selfish would go against the group's self-interests on the whole. You don't need purpose or an after-life in order to take care of the people you love on this planet. Just because we are a blip on the universe' radar doesn't mean that you can't have meaning in your life, only that there is no grand over-arching cosmic plan.
While there ARE people who live pretty selfishly, there is something in us that knows that is wrong. What put those values in us? I believe that the existence of those values point to the God who put them in us.
Let's discuss some of these so-called morals from God shall we: 1 Samuel 15:3: "This is what the Lord Almighty says ... 'Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.' " This is a common thread. The God of the Bible has no problem with mass genocide having orchestrated the supposed flood, the death of everyone in Jericho except Rahab of course, and the countless other cities that were destroyed by the Israelites. Let's remember, these soldiers were killing babies. With swords. On God's orders. We consider that a human rights violation now. Sounds like we have developed some morals that extend beyond God. There was also that time God sent bears to maul some children to death for bullying a bald man. Leviticus 21:17-24 tells us that God discriminates against people with disabilities. They can have some bread from the church, but God makes it very clear that he does not want offerings from anyone who is disabled. The idea that a disabled person couldn't take communion or worship God would appall Christians today, but their God clearly doesn't like them. And when people got upset with Aaron and Moses (Numbers 16:41-49), God sent a plague to kill over 14,000 people. So what if Jesus came and said some peaceful stuff (not all of it mind you), the Bible isn't just the New Testament. If you say that your morals come from God, then that means all of them. No cherry picking.
In summary, I have shown why I believe that it is plausible to believe that God exists. You may say that I have't proven anything but I can also say that you can not absolutely prove that the universe always existed and everything in it was created by it. None of us were there at the beginning of time to see how everything began so it is difficult if not impossible to come up with absolute proof of how it happened. Every explanation is theories based off of evidence.
I don't really see anything plausible in these arguments for the existence of a god. Nevermind that my own disbelief in a god is not formed around how the universe started. Frankly, I don't really care about how the universe was formed or how it happened. I care about whether the Christian God, and all other gods for that matter, is a real entity or not and whether the holy books are accurate and true. Anthropological, historical, and archaeological accounts show a very different picture from the Biblical account that has been so widely accepted. I see a book written by a nomadic people who created a god to help explain their understanding of the world and to give them authority to take over and slaughter other neighboring kingdoms. This was followed by the New Testament where another more gentle god was created around a holy man, myths were added to his story to align it with Old Testament prophecies, and a religion was formed mostly by two men who couldn't even get along most of the time. There may well be a being out there that started the universe. The chances of that entity being the god of the Bible is almost comical. The chances of any of the holy books being accurate is just as laughable. We human want so badly to understand our universe and our place in it. We want death and life to have meaning and purpose. And we created religions to that end.
What would be more honest on the part of this blogger concerning his belief would be this: "I believe God is real because I was taught from a young age that he was. This was confirmed constantly by believing parents, a country full of theists, the churches I attended since childhood, the college I chose to attend, and my wife. As a teen I re-dedicated my life to God after a tragedy in my family and this faith helped me get through some very difficult times. I constantly seek out information that confirms my beliefs and biases, even though I know (because I am educated enough) that this is intellectually dishonest. There is little chance I will ever leave this faith because believing by faith is far more important to me than actual evidence. Nevermind that I don't believe my life will have any purpose or meaning if there isn't an afterlife. I like the idea of an afterlife. It means that I will see the people I lost again. That thought is more important to me than anything in the world, real or not. I need that. So I will continue to create rationalizations for the irrational as long as it means I feel comforted in some way.
Lately, I've seen a lot of the non-religious rejoicing over the fact that religion, particularly the more conservative Evangelical types of Christianity are on the decline. Now, I personally have not seen much evidence of this. Then again I live in the Bible belt where Jesus and cornbread go hand in hand and the chances of people deconverting from religion are extremely low. I also live in a state where, if religion continues to go into more of a decline, there may be a serious vacuum left behind when it comes to social justice and services for the needy. Where I live almost every area of care is dominated by religion. Foster care, adoption, soup kitchens, battered women's shelters, halfway houses, pregnancy care for the impoverished. If the groups are not run directly by a church or religious organization, then it is guaranteed that the volunteers within them are religious. At our local soup kitchen, churches and religious small groups take up the majority of slots for volunteers. I've seen the list. Such and such Methodist church is serving breakfast (10 volunteers), First Baptist Church youth ministries for lunch (14 volunteers), Main Street Lutheran Church for dinner (8 volunteers). Our local homeless shelter is run by a Christian family and they consider it a ministry. They have a shelter, soup kitchen, battered women's shelter, employment help. You name it, they are doing it. They have several thrift stores as well. Both Goodwill and Salvation Army are also religion based. The Salvation Army requires their employees to sign statements of faith. I just met, for the first time in four years, another foster/adoptive parent who isn't religious. That's rather telling I should think. Let's also not forget the various churches who do things like feed the homeless at a local park every Monday night or the ones who do coat drives for the school down the road. Several churches in my area have clothing and food pantries as well as help to pay bills for their parishioners in need. (we'll ignore the fact that many come with strings attached)
Now, I'm sure you are wondering about one of my earlier posts when I spoke about how many of the churches in my area could shut down and it wouldn't affect anyone. This is still true. There is such a glut of churches in the Bible belt and so many are insular to the point that their presence makes absolutely no impact on the community around them. However, within that glut there are a handful of churches that are really living out the calling to take care of the "least of these". Their contribution is considerable and cannot be scoffed at or ignored, even if they may have ulterior motives (evangelism) at their core.
The truth is, if Christians go into the decline, we still need people to step up and take over these much needed organizations. We still need volunteers. And here's where I am going to be really honest. I do not see enough people doing that outside of a church. My work used to organize regular volunteering events, but once the woman who organized them left, they disappeared. There was no mandate by the company or any kind of religious/moral reason to do it, and so it just stopped. No one wondered or seemed to care if a vacuum was left if we stopped. Only 2% of the US population adopts children. The vast majority of the people who do are religious and say that they are adopting not only because they want children, but because it is important to their religion. I fear that the current foster care crisis will only grow larger if there are less Christians working in it. Do I think we would be better off without a whole bunch of Christians doing "orphan" care that is really just extreme evangelizing and indoctrination? Sure. But kids deserve families and I don't exactly see people in the atheist community stepping up here. I can't name a single soup kitchen in my Tri-city area that isn't run by a church or religious organization and I do NOT see non-believers making their own.
Here's what I do see. I see a bunch of social justice warriors pulling down statues because statues of dead white southerners offend people. I see people stopping traffic over the fact that the big university nearby isn't diverse enough, completely ignoring the homeless man on the corner. I see people so concerned about gender politics and putting people's pronouns in their emails, but don't help out the LGBTQ kid who is homeless down the street because they look dirty. I understand we can't all care about everything. I know we can't champion every cause. What I have noticed though (and done some research too) is that the things the Christians are doing for their community are very different from what matters to those outside of it. If religion continues to decline, someone has to pick up the slack. And frankly, I doubt someone who flees in the middle of the night from their abusive spouse with three kids in tow gives a damn whether you use their proper pronouns or if the statue down the street is of confederate general. And while we are all busy talking about whatever hashtag social justice trend is in the news at the moment, there are real people in crisis now. It very much seems like the non-religious community is happy to allow the Christians and inter-faith ministries to worry over things like the homeless and poor. This is going to bite us all in the ass in the future if we can't figure out ways to shift that load off the churches. We can't rely on the government either, because anyone can see that our leadership cares more about staying in power then they do about the least of these in our nation.
Disclaimer: I absolutely think that things like confederate general statues belong in museums. I also think that if I had to choose between two things to be outraged over, I'm going to go with the increased homelessness in my city hands down. I can care about both, but I'm not putting all my energy or anger into an inanimate object.
It's Christmas time and you know what that means? Christmas music! I love to sing so really, I love any kind of music I can sing along with, but Christmas music is one of my favorite. Frankly, even thought I am just shy of being an atheist for five years now, I will sing along with any and all Christmas music from Frosty the Snowman to O, Holy Night to Away in a Manger. I mean, I sing songs about Yellow Submarines and Ziggy Stardust and neither of those things are real either. But I definitely have some favorite and I am going to share my top 10 Christmas (non-religious) songs with you.
I've written before about how intimately familiar I am with sickness and death. I've had friends and family die from old age, drunken car accidents, stroke, drug overdose, and lots of cancer. Cancer is horrible. The treatments for cancer are horrible. I've seen enough people die from it to know that there isn't a magic cure through a doctor or a god.
Last night I learned that my aunt, only a few years older than me, probably has breast cancer. This is terrible news for anyone, made worse by her age, newlywed status, and the fact that he best friend just died of breast cancer three years ago. She is trying to find comfort in any way she possibly can. Some of the things she said to me last night: God will be glorified through my death. God will be glorified through my life. I think they already have a cure for cancer. My doctor is really amazing, but she wasn't very reassuring. I'm not going to do radiation, it doesn't work. My mother-in-law is a 15-year cancer survivor and she did radiation. I believe God will heal me. I don't know why God didn't heal my friend. I don't want to be a cancer survivor. This isn't a battle I want to fight.
I tried to just listen to her. I offered one sloppy attempt at reassurance and immediately regretted it. This information is too new. She is testing out what "thing" will make her feel better. Being religious, she'll probably land on something god-related. Even if she is cured through medicine or surgery, she'll still give the glory to a god. I've seen it over and over again. Even on their death beds, these people will say that they know God is going to heal them. When my ex-boyfriend died of brain cancer, people were angry because his wife wouldn't allow any visitors who were coming to say goodbye. You had to believe, or at least pretend to believe, that he was going to be healed. No goodbyes. People were upset because they loved him and in the end, they were denied an opportunity to see him one last time because they didn't believe God was going to magically heal him. Side note: That widow is now an anti-vaxxer who does raindrop therapy and is a vegan.
Watching someone slowly die of cancer changes your view of doctors, medicine, healing, alternative medicine, etc. You realize that doctor's are just people who make educated guesses, which, when you are dying, never feels like enough. You want there to be a bad guy, someone to blame for your illness. Some blame a devil or think that their "sin" created their sickness. Others blame Big Pharma or the unknown researches for holding out on them. "I would be better if only medicine wasn't such a business. Someone has the cure and they are just a money-grubbing asshole who is allowing over half a million people to die every year in order to make money." I personally, find the cure conspiracy theories to be the most ridiculous things because it shows an extreme lack of knowledge in how cancer works. Even if a cure was found for one type of cancer, it doesn't mean for all. For example, we do have a cure for HPV (a fact that many conspiracy theorists seem to ignore). Having a vaccine with a very high success rate doesn't seem to matter though because people still die of brain cancer, therefore all researchers are holding out on us. I also find this thought process personally offensive, because I have several friends who work in various forms of research for cancer and AIDS. They are good people. All of them are Christians too. There is nothing in the world that would make them happier than to see a cure in their lifetime and there is no way that they would accept a pay off if they did. When someone says that Big Pharma already has a cure for cancer, they are also calling into question the character of anyone (my friends included) who are out there doing medical research. There is a fantastic Humans of New York interview series at a children's hospital. One man has been researching the same child brain cancer for 30 years. It has a 100% mortality rate. This man has devoted his life to trying to find a cure. The heartbreak he expresses at not having found a cure and that all his patients die, is terrible. To look at that man and say that you think he is just holding out on you implies that you think he wants his patients to die. It makes him into a monster. Easier to blame a monster than accept that your body is frail. Sometimes our own DNA betrays us. Sometimes it has to do with our environment. It isn't anyone's fault.
My aunt has breast cancer because sometimes, particularly as women age, some women get breast cancer. It may or may not be caused by something in her environment or some drug she has been taking. A doctor will give her options and it is up to her how she chooses to fight, even thought this a fight no one wants to be in. She can work with modern medicine despite its flaws or she can try alternatives which are a crapshoot at best. If she finds solace in a god, then more power to her, but it won't matter. Half a million people dying of cancer every year in the US tells me that this particular god isn't in the healing business.
I love my aunt. I don't want her to die or be sick. I don't want to watch yet another loved one slowly succumb to cancer. There is a very real possibility that this could be her last Christmas with us. This makes me so incredibly sad. This could also be a quick surgery, one boob less, and she is on the road to recovery. But I refuse to play this game of make-believe where I think there are magical answers in either science or religion.
Ahhh, Thanksgiving. A time for food, family, and awkward conversations about religion. To give them credit, my in-laws are actually pretty good about avoiding politics and religion. My mother-in-law is a staunch Trump supporter who hates Obama/democrats and yet manages to not bring this up 97% of the time. So I'm okay with this.
My husband's cousins on the other hand, just can't help themselves. *Abby is one of those people. She once came in while we were on the couch and was weeping over how wonderful the church service she just came from was. She was also the person who talked about there being a "witch" that they prayed over in service. Abby was concerned that our son has been going to a Unitarian fellowship. "Aren't you worried that those other beliefs will rub off on him." I'm counting on it. She was surprised by this. I explained that my kid has made up his own religion that is absolutely ridiculous. I hope people challenge him in those beliefs. I hope people call him out when something sounds religious. I'm glad they are encouraging him to learn more about all religion because he knows nothing about any of them and refuses to learn from me. I didn't bother to mention that the kind of church she goes to, the one that believes in demons and witches, is the exact kind of church I am avoiding. Since I don't feel like vetting every Christian church out there, it felt smarter to take him somewhere where he would be free to explore his beliefs in an environment that doesn't play on his dark fantasies.
Then she shifted the conversation to talking about hearing the voice of God when it came to jobs. Now, this is where I should let you know that Abby has had a rather tumultuous professional life. She doesn't have a career and bounces every few years to various clerical jobs. Nothing wrong with this, but there is clearly no plan in place on her end. Her past two jobs have ended because of layoffs, which she admits that she saw coming but didn't "feel peace" about leaving. This is Christian-eeze for, I felt uncomfortable leaving and didn't have another plan so I just stayed. It doesn't matter if things worked out well or not, these people always find a way of spinning it so that their decision was good.
Which explains why she was so miffed when I told her that I have never heard the "voice of God". Ever. Even when I was a Christian, I never felt like God was speaking to me. In fact, it often made me wonder if I just wasn't praying hard enough or not listening hard enough. What I didn't trust were my own thoughts, because those sounded suspiciously like my own thoughts and almost always aligned with what I wanted. From what I read in the Bible, it seemed to me that if God wanted me to do something really important, that not only would I know that it absolutely came from him, but it may not always align with my own feelings on the matter. Of course, I used to Christian-eeze phrases like "the Lord led me" and "I felt called". In truth, those were just decisions that made sense. So I told Abby this. That I have never heard the voice of God. "But, how do you make decisions?" she asked, completely mystified. Easy. I weight the pros and cons, talk it over with friends & family, and make the best choice based on the available data. I don't trust my own gut feelings, because life has taught me that feelings are fickle and should only be used when feeling danger. And just like Abby, some of those decisions have been beneficial and some have not.
Here's an interesting thought experiment: Where do you think you would be right now if you only listened to your gut feelings and inner voice?
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.