Dr. James Dobson and the Big Fear

download_20150122_145356An old friend just sent me this as a “check this out” and I found it to be especially disturbing. I’m sorry if people have grown tired of my soapbox religion talk, but I feel that there’s important takeaways to be had for everyone, myself included. Continue reading

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Two Years Later – 10 Things I’ve Learned

lessonIt’s been well over two years now since I first admitted to myself that I no longer believed in a god. Two years. Wow. That isn’t a massive amount of time by any stretch of the imagination, but when I look at all that has transpired in those two short years, I’m astounded at what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown and what I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Continue reading

“Noah” – My Review and Thoughts

Let me start by saying that I love the director, Darren Aronofsky. In 2002 a friend that helped forge my love of cinema walked into my dorm room with a movie and said, “We’re watching this right now.” The movie, one of two that truly changed the way I look at film, was “Requiem for a Dream.”

Ever since that day I’ve loved and been in awe of Darren. His movie “The Fountain” stands as my favorite movie of all time.

I was not a big fan of “Black Swan,” but thought “The Wrestler” was spectacular.

So, when I tell you I’m a fan of the director I have a history of his movies and have been following him for over a decade. If you want a good head trip, check out his student film project, “Pi.”

When I found out that he was making a movie about Noah I was more than intrigued and for more than one reason. Darren was raised Orthodox Jew and the story of Noah falls directly in the wheelhouse of the Jews. That’s from their holy book. Not the Old and New Testaments. Just their holy book.

Another reason I was intrigued about his take on Noah is because he has a very gritty style and he’s an atheist.

Never once did I think he would go out of his way to talk down about or slander the name of Noah, but I fully expected a gritty and human retelling of the events from Genesis.

Last night, while in Hawaii of all places, my wife and I went and saw the movie and I loved it and I really think there’s something for everyone, even the most fundamental of believers, in it. I don’t think the vitriol it’s received is fair. You can hate the movie because you thought it sucked or was boring, but to hate it over biblical interpretation is foolish and closed minded in my opinion. Especially considering how well it sticks up for the message of the Bible.

My wife and I both walked away truly stunned at how much the central story was hammered home. God, only referred to in the movie as The Creator, gave humans a shot and we ruined it. We brought this on ourselves. The only true justice is to wipe us off the map and leave the beasts. The only part of creation unchanged from the Garden of Eden.

Noah accepts and supports this conclusion. I can absolutely feel for the poor guy. He’s very, very torn, but sees it as the right thing to do. Is he happy about it? Hell no, but he does find it to be just.

I also love that God was only called The Creator. I really did. Mainly because it showed a more hands off approach to creation in my mind. A less literal form of deism. He created and then stepped away and only steps in when things get really bad. It’s a far less personal God to be sure, but I think it works well if you’re sticking with the free will aspect of apologetics. It’s not the interpretation I was raised with, that God is always around and listening and helping us out, but it actually makes a lot of sense in this movie. I suspect that’s a much more Jewish aspect of belief in the God of Abraham.

A lot of people seem upset that Noah isn’t the guy we all grew up with in the coloring books in this movie. He’s not smiling and flanked by his animals. He’s a gritty and bad ass guy that is torn and human. He’s constantly plagued with uncertainty and doubt. At one point in the movie he seems absolutely overwhelmed with what he has to do, but he continues on!!! How could any believer find fault with this? Have you ever felt overwhelmed with a task you felt called to do? Didn’t Jonah literally run away from going to where God called him? Lot’s wife, I always felt, got a bad name because she looked back against God’s command, but what a human thing to do.

Even to me, an atheist, it took about 15 minutes into the movie to adjust to some of the more fantasy parts of it. Particularly, The Watchers, which are angels that left heaven to help man and God punished them and ruined their heavenly forms by strapping them down with rocks from the Earth. Honestly, they became one of my favorite aspects of the film as they too had human characteristics and sought to return to the glory God had in mind for them…just like Noah. The battle with The Watchers and the humans was one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in years. Both visually, redemptively and just plain out action.

Bottom line is that Noah is a very good movie with aspects for all to enjoy. It really does hammer home the traditional Christian message that God made this and man was the one that royally screwed it up. That it is just for him to wipe it all out. I particularly loved the part where a major choice was left in Noah’s hands.

So, go see the movie, but do so with an open mind for some of the more fantastical elements, but rest assured that even though it’s not the Noah we were raised hearing about and coloring on in our Sunday school work books, it’s a very human tale about an ordinary man tasked with an extraordinary undertaking by his God.

And the underlying Christian message is fully intact.

Being a Good Christian: The Art of Self Loathing

Even at my most apathetic levels of belief there were certain truths I never let go of. I knew there was a god and that I needed him. That I was ultimately a broken image of what god had in mind for me and that I needed his grace and mercy to get to heaven because as Romans 3:23 constantly reminded me, I’d fallen short of the glory of god.

I’d been raised to accept, and I truly believed, that I was depraved without god. That my flesh and it’s desires were entirely revolting in god’s sight. I’ll never forget the immense shame and disgust I felt with myself the first time I masturbated. I prayed for forgiveness for being so weak! I was so undeserving of his love! I hated myself for being the way I was!

What I realized in my college years was that even the most upstanding of believers are, at some level, self loathing. It’s part of the deal when signing up for the Christian tradition. Growing up I had multiple people that I was in awe of because their walks with Christ seemed so holy and beyond reproach. They were what all believers, in my mind, aspired to be.

When I’ve tried to relay this point to believers, that Christianity goes hand in hand with self hatred, I’m scoffed at more loudly than normal. No, I wasn’t understanding what Christianity really was. It’s a relationship! It’s love! 

But when you break down the most basic tenets of what you’re accepting as a Christian, that you’re a sinner and deserving of hell without Jesus, you’ve already admitted that you’re flawed, broken and undeserving of happiness.

I really don’t feel there’s any need to take the illustration further because at it’s most fundamental core you’re accepting what’s stated above. And if you accept it, you’ve become repulsed with who you are and gladly submit to the authority of an ancient text that works only through assertions, fear, faith and circular reasoning.

That’s been one of the most amazing aspects of giving up belief. Realizing that I’m not garbage. People around me became even more beautiful to me than they already were. All their accomplishments and character traits and skills are all self attained and self realized.

I’m sure many people would say I’m focusing too much on the negative. That a joyous relationship with Jesus isn’t at all like that, but I’d disagree. I’m merely looking at all aspects of that relationship and the costs. In my practical mind if you have to accept that you’re unworthy of heaven or depraved without the love of Jesus, then that means you also accept that you’re damaged goods, unfit to sit at the table with the adults. It’s really quite gross when you look at it wholly. 

While I may never be a beautiful or unique snowflake in the grand scheme of the universe, I love that I am a person full of confidence, cheer and love. Sure there’s aspects of me that can always be improved, but the bottom line is that I’m my own man. I’m standing on my own 2 feet with a smile on my face and my arms outstretched to love people as they are.

Can Christians say that? They can say that about other believers in their god, but so long as you don’t match up with their ideologies they’ll accept and possibly even love you, but with caveats. Having grown up in belief I can say these things with confidence. I myself have been guilty of being extra friendly to non-believers or people of other faiths in hopes to show them the love of Jesus and to win them to Christ. Believers will always be working just as I was, with some ulterior motive, even if it’s small, of winning you to the cross. Looking to shackle you with the same self loathing that they aren’t aware of themselves.

If you find yourself in such a situation do as Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife tempted him and run away. Even if that means leaving your cloak behind.

A Loving Summation of Atheism to a Worried Christian Mother

Yesterday, an old friend sent me a message on facebook to a pretty extraordinary page on reddit. The page, which can be found here, is a Christian mother asking for help on how to react to and treat her son which just announced his atheism to her.

I applaud such a parent that reaches out for help in the way she did. She may also have sought out or is currently seeking help from a pastor or other church leaders, but she deliberately went to the atheism thread on reddit and asked for help. Wow. Way to go, mom! What better people to ask about how to deal with this than other atheists that have more than likely gone through very similar situations themselves?

There was one response which blew me away. So far, it’s one of the most articulate, non-threatening, loving and diplomatic responses to a question like this I’ve ever heard or read. It’s not only good reading for believing parents of non-believing kids, but anyone that better wants an idea of where the atheism mindset is.

I’m just going to copy and paste it here because it needs to be seen by as many people as possible. Explaining my conclusions to my family was and continues to be some of the more strenuous points of my life….and I’ve seen some shit.

“Hi Unsuremother,

First, off, though I am an atheist myself, I want to empathize a little: this must be difficult for you and your family. Your faith commitment is an important part of your life and it is bewildering to have your own child turn away from this. I don’t know exactly what you believe, but you might be worried about his soul in the next life, or his behaviour in this one. If you don’t believe in God, how do you know right from wrong? If you reject God, how will you be reunited with Him in the next Kingdom?

The most important thing to understand is that these kinds of concerns, while very vivid and real to you, only make sense within a belief system your son no longer accepts. There is no sense in making threats of Hell or damnation anymore: atheists do not believe such a place exists. We don’t believe such a place could exist. The thing that is important to remember is that while we no longer believe that there are places beyond the world, the world he lives in has now become all the more important. That’s all we have. That’s all we ever have. His world is family, and school, and friends: all these things structure his life and he will need them more than ever. He needs you. He’s still a kid, and he’s a kid dealing with Really Big Questions in the only way he can: honestly and critically.

Most of us have come to this point honestly. This must be emphasized. We’re not angry at God, we’re not trying to get attention or going through some cultural phase. We looked at the arguments on both sides and came to the best conclusion we could. We only have 70 odd years on this planet. We make mistakes, too; we are fallible creatures prone to error and haste. We do our best. And sometimes our best is ‘well, I don’t think any of this is right.’ I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t rightly know where the universe came from, or how life began at first. But I don’t need all the answers to know that some answers are the wrong ones. I don’t know, and I don’t think Christians, or Muslims, or Taoists know either. They claim to know; I claim to not know.

Suppose I’m wrong. Suppose your son is wrong. I’m standing outside the pearly gates and St. Peter, or God Himself, gives me one chance to explain myself. What would I say except “I’m sorry–I got it wrong. I really tried. But I got it wrong. I saw all the different religions, each saying different things, all changing over time. It seemed just a part of human culture, not ultimate truth. I saw unnecessary suffering and couldn’t make heads or tails of it, if you were good and all-powerful. It didn’t make sense to me to posit something existing to explain existence: that gets it backwards. I’m sorry, God, that I didn’t believe in you, but it wasn’t malicious–I just–I just screwed up.”

What would Jesus say to that? Would he send me to suffer forever? Do I deserve to be tortured eternally because I read Lucretius as a young man–the 2,000 year old Roman poet who professed his atheism before Christ ever walked desert sand? Because I looked at the ontological argument and found it wanting?

Or would he press me to Him and forgive me? And wouldn’t I desire that forgiveness—?

If there is a God that would send me to Hell for making this mistake, I don’t want it in my life. Nothing justifies torture. Nothing at all. And He would not be worthy of worship–or even respect. If He is merciful, then I will apologize. If I am right–and he doesn’t exist–then I live my life as a free man.

And that is how atheists live: under actual freedom. The German philosopher Nietzsche wrote that ‘freedom is responsibility’–genuine freedom. I am responsible for the consequences of my actions. So: how do I live? What do I do? Do I want to live in a society where everyone does what they can get away with? What standards do I hold myself up to? This is the essence of the atheist’s morality: his freedom, his rationality.

Before even Lucretius wrote his atheistic treatise De Rerum Natura, there was another man, Socrates, who asked a simple and startling question: Does God say something is Good because it is good, or is something good because God says it is? We must be careful here. If what is good is whatever God says is good, then we have no morality at all, but caprice. If God says: kill your son! it is good to kill your son. If God says: from henceforth, children shall be murdered–then it is good, by definition, that children be murdered. But that’s not morality. That’s authoritarianism. And if you say: “But God would never do that,” I ask: why? Because if there is a reason, then goodness is independent from God after all. It is grounded elsewhere. In what? Well: maybe in reason itself? Or maybe morality is just part of the universe–a different kind of part, not like your sofa or TV or the moon is part of the universe, but the way numbers, or relations (like ‘equal to’)–an abstract object, none less the real.

There is a very, very long tradition of ethical thinking that is, in fact, older than Christianity itself. In philosophy classes we teach wisdom that was recorded a millennium before Christ. If it is impossible to be good without God, there wouldn’t be one virtuous atheist. Yet there are millions of us non-religious men and women on the planet, and we live our lives, as best we can. Atheists don’t fill the newspapers with tales of carnage or debauchery–clearly we can figure it out on our own.

Well. Not quite on our own. We have each other. No one else–just each other. And that’s enough. So be there for your son.”

 

The Problem of Evil (Or The Old Story of How God Loves Him Some Free Will)

Well, this is a post that I’ve been dreading doing for a long time, but I’m going to get something down here if it kills me. Here we go….

So, if there’s a god that really loves us then why is there so much evil in the world? The answer from believers, it seems, is always free will. If god gave us free will then he has to allow for not only good, but also bad. If this freedom weren’t allowed then it would not really be free will.

Fair enough. I understand the argument. What I’d like to do now is show why it’s a weak excuse for a god that allows such massive atrocity and devastation to visit individuals as well as massive groups of people.

It seems that god holds free will in such high regard that he’d rather a woman raped and killed or a child molested than intervene and stop the offender. The rapist is exercising his free will to rape and maim. It wouldn’t be free will if he wasn’t allowed to after all.

What always struck me was that nobody considers the free will of the victim. You know, their desire of not wanting to be raped and fighting back against their attacker? Does this not factor into god’s decision to intervene or not?

Imagine that you’re walking along a city street late at night and you take a turn down an alley. In the alley you see a man attacking a woman and it’s clear that he’s going to attempt to rape her. What would you do? Would you do like god does and just not intervene because you know….free will. He’s exercising his ability to rape. If god holds it in such high regard then maybe you should as well. Or would you help the woman and scare off the attacker?

I hope that any level headed person would attack the attacker or call for help in an attempt to stop the attack. If you agree that you’d stop the attack then I think it’s safe to say that you’ve more moral sense than god. Or maybe you just think you know better than your god?

If you think that god put you there to stop the rape I think you’re scapegoating the issue. If your god really were all powerful he could simply wipe that guy out or remove the sickness from his brain that makes him want to rape. Why would he even allow such an atrocity to take place? So that we can have a measurement of how evil people can be? So we can know good from bad?

There’s 2 good points in the bible where god shows he really doesn’t think so highly of free will after all. The first example is good old Pharaoh. Turn with me if you will to Exodus 9:12:

“But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.” – NIV

This is a story that every kid knows inside and out if you’re raised in the church as I was. What this verse means is that god ultimately acted upon the Pharaoh to get the outcome he desired whether Pharaoh wanted to or not. Then, because god is ultimate justice, he punished the Pharaoh and Egypt for the choices the Pharaoh made that he may not have actually wanted to make. What?!

What justice is this? Would this ever pass in any court? If you were injected with a drug that made you not in control of your own actions, but made you obey the whims of the madman that gave you the drug, would any court punish the victim that was forced the drug? No. You punish the man administering the drug!

To me this is a clear violation of the Pharaoh’s free will followed by the extremely unjust punishment given to him for doing something he was forced to do.

Let’s say I gave you 50 bucks. I told you that it’s your 50 bucks and you can do whatever you want with it, but then I controlled what you did with it. Would it really be your 50 bucks? Or what if I let you spend it where you wanted and then punished you if you didn’t spend it how I saw fit? Would you really have been “free” to do with it what you want? Was it really a gift?

This analogy falls directly in line with god doing one of his most awesome acts of “check out my guns, man!” In case you haven’t guessed it yet I’m talking, of course, about the Great Flood.

God, being unhappy with the choices his creation has made, floods the earth and kills all men, women, children and babies (except for a few people that repopulate the earth through incest….again) because people weren’t doing what he wanted them to with their free will. Does this not seem like a contradiction? God gave us free will and then when we didn’t use it how he liked he killed us off. Stay classy, god!

One of the most outrageous crimes I’ve ever heard was the story of Elisabeth and Josef Fritzl. Josef Fritzl kept his daughter, Elisabeth, locked in the basement for 24 years and raped her almost nightly. She gave birth to 7 kids by him. 24 years?!

Can you imagine how much she cried out to god to help her? Sadly, god again seems only to care for the free will of the attackers or the strong. Does this not seem silly to anyone else?

Now imagine this happy scenario, say that a rape victim loses faith in god because of the horrible trauma they were forced to suffer. They can’t imagine why a god would allow such a thing to happen so they eventually reach the conclusion that there are no gods. She dies years later and goes to hell.

Meanwhile the rapist, having been caught and thrown in jail, finds Jesus and accepts him into his heart. When the rapist dies he goes to heaven.

This, to me, is the ultimate morally revolting idea of Christianity. That it’s not about what you do, but what you believe. The ultimate injustice carried out by a “loving” god that has shown he will intervene in free will, but only if it’s to further his glory.

I guess pedophiles, murderers and rapists are all just part of a larger plan that we’ll never comprehend to bring about some greater glory that we don’t have the mind to understand.

It’s a notion that I’ve gladly wrung my hands of.

Absolute and Objective Morality – My Response

Since becoming an atheist there’s been a handful of go to arguments for believers to try and show me how wrong I am. Far and away the one that’s most common, and that I’ve grown most weary of discussing, is absolute/objective morality. For the sake of my sanity I’m writing my response to that argument here.

Objective morality is the idea that certain systems of ethics or moral judgements are not just true according to subjective opinion, but factually true. People that think along this way would say that murder is wrong in the same way that 1 + 1 = 2.

The theist argument goes like this: If objective morality exists it has to come from a god. Objective morality does exist, therefore god exists.

Please note that the theist can’t do anything more than assert that objective morality exists. They can’t point to it or go to it for reference. It’s a feeling they have. A very subjective feeling as it seems that not everyone agrees that murder or rape is wrong.

They then almost always go on to tell me that if there’s no objective morality then what’s stopping us from raping and killing anyone and everyone? If there’s no absolute truths then why live morally at all?

What a sad way to view the value of human life.

So, you’re telling me the only thing keeping you from raping and killing people like Ted Bundy is because you believe in the god that authored an ancient text that damns people to hell? The same god that condones slavery and genocide and you dare to say you have a moral high ground? Do people not see a contradiction here?

Some non-believers argue for the existence of objective morality, but that it’s not given by a god. That science can tell us what is objectively moral. I don’t particularly agree with that point either, but my contention may be more of a case of semantics than anything else.

The only morality I believe in is subjective morality. I do believe that there can be an agreed upon “best fit” in terms of morality for a society. You could even argue that the best fit is objective morality, but I wouldn’t take it that far. Even a society where human sacrifice was common practice had a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Subjective morality is what’s allowed us to evaluate current moral standards and move away from them once we realize how immoral they are. Moving away from the barbarism of the bible, like stoning unruly children at the city gates, killing non virgins, killing rape victims, owning slaves and even killing people of different religions, has taken a subjective viewpoint.

Is god moral because he does things that are good or is he moral because he’s god and anything he commands, by nature, is good (Divine Command Theory)?

If god gives us the source of this objective morality then why would he himself allow something like child rape to happen? Does he let kids get raped so that we have a standard by which to say it’s wrong? If god does this then is he worthy of worship and why would you accept a moral code given by a provably immoral being?

If the world received proof tomorrow that god doesn’t exist would you then conclude that the rape of children is morally acceptable?

If god gives us morality how do we know this code is actually moral? If god tells you that child rape is wrong how do you know he’s correct? Or do you admit that you don’t know and that you’re just following what god says? If so, then by your own admission, god hasn’t given you moral standards by which to comprehend right from wrong. He’s just given you a list of rules to obey without any understanding being necessary. What’s so moral about obedience?

People will usually bring up how the Problem of Evil exists because god gave us free will to choose to love him or not. You can’t have free will without the potential of evil. I’ll save my problem of evil response for another post, but for now I’ll say that god has shown he’ll intervene in free will as he did when he hardened the pharaoh’s heart. So, to the god of christians at least, he’s proven to step in and change a man’s mind against the man’s will.

My point is that if christians argue for the existence and following of an objective moral code from their god, that they really don’t have a concept of what morality is.

If believers really think that if there’s no objective moral truths, that we should all just rape and kill then, by all means, give it a go! See how long you last in a world where people have decided that rape and murder deserves imprisonment or death in return.

The truth of the matter is that evolution has bred in us traits of altruism and cooperation. The societies where these tendencies were more prevalent would’ve been more likely to survive not only the elements, but against other groups that were hostile.

If objective morality really exists how come it seems that so many people didn’t get the memo? The Nazi soldiers (Godwin’s Law just entered the post) felt they were in the right when pushing Jews into the showers to be gassed. The things that people claim to be objective usually coincide with what they feel subjectively to be true.

And finally, if you insist on the existence of objective morality how do you determine it’s actually your god that gave it? How do you separate your god from the thousands of others, both living and dead, that have existed?

When people ask me how I determine what’s moral my response is about as simple as it gets. I ask myself, “is what I’m about to do going to help or harm anyone?” If there’s a possibility of harm coming to a conscious creature (humans) then it’s probably not moral and shouldn’t be done.

It’s really as simple as that.