Agnosticism > Atheism (and Theism)

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With as much as I generally don’t like to run, you’d think I was running some crazy ass marathon for the amount my intellectual landscape has shifted over the last 5 years.

From lifelong believer to outspoken atheist full of venom to an atheist that’s just live and let live to now just a plain old boring lacks the balls to take a firm stance agnostic.

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The Narcissism of The God of My Wants

Blessed_Trinity_One_God_Wallpaper_1600x1200_wallpaperhereIf I see one more person give praise to the almighty over something they received, I may blow my lid.

To see one more individual living in a nation as privileged as the United States give praise to god for a new car, house, phone, clothes or job may just push me over the edge.

I had a friend very recently tell me about how god blessed them with a new house. That Jesus himself gifted it to them. In that moment, it took some inner Herculean strength to not say some things I’d later regret.

Please allow me to try and put what my friend was saying into perspective, while god/Jesus (Gesus) is spending so much time blessing you with riches and your wants, there are people all over the world suffering horrible deaths because god can’t be bothered to give them simple things like food and water. While Gesus blesses you further, he continues to neglect men, women and children the world over. Gesus can certainly be bothered to help you get a promotion or a new house, but can’t possibly be pestered with starving children. Wow.

How people fail to see how narcissitic this thinking is blows my mind. This thanking Gesus for material things while others suffer and die in nightmarish conditions needs to stop. It’s gross.

These things you’re thanking Gesus for are the result of work, friends, money, effort and coincidence. Your god has no hand in helping you buy a house, get a car or finding a high yield CD for your grandmother at the bank.

God, you see, is always on the side of the believer. He answers their prayers, blesses them, grants them entrance to heaven and loves them. Others not in this specific belief system, are not listened to and do not find favor with god and suffer an eternity in hell.

This is the epitome of arrogance and a good example of how detached believers living in a developed nation can be from reality.

So, if you’re a theist and reading this, please stop thanking your god for trivial things while the rest of the world suffers immensely. To think your god helps you with non life retaining things and neglects others’ more basic needs, not only paints you into a very unbecoming light of arrogance and narcissism, but it puts the concept of your god into a far more unflattering light than is necessary.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Sam Harris:

“Given all that this God of yours does not accomplish in the lives of others. Given the misery that’s being imposed on some helpless child at this instant. This kind of faith is obscene. To think in this way is to fail to reason honestly, or to care sufficiently about the suffering of other human beings.”

 

 

Be You

I received a call from an old friend today that was noticeably under immense stress. This stress, I soon realized, is the by product of living a double life: one half a believing and practicing Christian and the other as a closeted atheist.

It’s something he and I have talked about numerous times over drinks in the past, but I’ve never heard such exhaustion in his voice in all our years of friendship.

He’s absolutely torn, just as I once was, between keeping his current facade of belief and Christianity going or being true to himself. He’s done a very good job of keeping up appearances, but the cracks are showing and he’s feeling the stress of living a double life.

Regrettably, he confided in me that he’s most terrified of losing his relationship with his parents.

As someone who mutually finds identity and solace in my close relationships with my family, my heart breaks for the guy. Admittedly, the hardest two people to admit I was an atheist to were my parents. The talk, the explanation, the reassurance that it’s not a phase. That no, I’m not mad and no, I don’t think I’ll see Phil again and no, I won’t be going to heaven or hell.

To take the lights out of someone’s eyes like that is not an experience I wish to ever have again, but it’s one I’m glad I had.

Having tried to fake belief for a while myself, I told my friend about when I decided I wasn’t going to live a double life anymore. A non-believing friend of mine told me about an acquaintance of his that was, at that time, 66 years old. Turns out this man had been an atheist for over 30 years and nobody in his family knew. He’d lied his way through every prayer and conversation all in the name of not rocking the boat. Of not letting people down.

I knew immediately after that story that I’d not only be honest with everyone I loved, but also with myself. I didn’t want to live in a prison in my head. Afraid and ashamed to be me.

Most people I told took it in stride and a good many tried to convince me to just love Jesus! That I can choose to follow him! It took a good while for them to understand that you can’t force yourself to believe something your mind doesn’t. It literally gets to a point where it’s not a choice that can be made. You can’t shut off your brain.

So, for my old and dear friend that was patient, kind and loving to me as I poured out my heart, and a few tears, about my deceased sibling, I say, be yourself, brother. Be true to you and be honest with those you love and hope they have the sense to love you for the amazing man you’ve become and not for what god you associate with.

There’s far more peace and happiness to be found when we don’t reject who we are for the sake of those that are supposed to love us unconditionally. Rejoice in being you and be the man that others aspire to be.

“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.”

 

Original Sin: The Biggest Lie

Original sin. The fall of man into his sinful nature. The depravity of our human flesh brought to reality through this one act. The betrayal of the God that gave us everything and gave only one command: but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” – Genesis 2:17

Anyone raised in church or that has gone to church is sure to know this story. It’s the biggest hinge that all of Christianity hangs upon. It’s the reason Jesus had to come and save us. Save us from the hell he’ll throw us in if we don’t love and accept him.

To effectively relay my point I feel that there needs to be some back tracking done or some ground work laid. If you’re the type of believer that believes in the account of creation as a literal retelling of the creation of the universe then I don’t feel anything I’m going to say will apply to you.

If you feel the earth is really 6,000 to 12,000 years old then you’ve effectively showcased your purposeful ignorance to science. You’ve shown that the assertions of an ancient and contradictory text are more meaningful than everything we’ve come to learn about the earth through study and observation.

Whenever someone tells me that I can’t prove that the universe wasn’t created in 6 literal days I simply point them to the fact that, in their bible, the sun wasn’t created until the 4th day. Since we count days as rotations of the earth, which orbits around the sun, there’s no way a literal 6 day count could have transpired.

Also, it seems people are ignorant of the fact that Genesis actually has 2 different timelines on creation:

Humans were created after the other animals: God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” – Genesis 1:25-26

Humans were created before the other animals: 18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. – Genesis 2:18-19

Adam and Eve were created simultaneously: 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27

Adam was created first, then animals and then Eve from Adam’s rib: 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. – Genesis 2:20-22

So, if you want to take the creation story as literal feel free to, but know that you have conflicting information as well as no way to count the first few days as literal. To a reasonable person this information, coupled with all we know about the earth taught to us through science, it pretty much is the Mozambique Drill to a literal interpretation of Genesis.

What’s that leave us with if the creation story is not literal? It leaves us where most believers seems to fall. A poetic retelling of what actually happened.

At first glance this seems to do away with many of the problems I stated above. It doesn’t matter that the creation account is scrambled because it’s not literal. It doesn’t matter that the sun wasn’t created until the 4th day because He’s God and He can do those things. It’s just a poetic way to explain the origins of the universe.

If evolution is true, which it is, it creates a massive problem for the creation story, literal or poetic. Even theistic evolution is an insurmountable problem.

What you’ve effectively taken out the equation with a poetic retelling of creation or naturalistic and theistic evolution is original sin.

Please let that sink in. If the creation story is a poetic retelling it means that those events didn’t literally take place. There is no literal Adam and Eve or serpent to deceive them. There is no garden and there is no tree.

Naturalistic and theistic evolution also means that there were no homosapiens around to get themselves into such a quandary. So again, no Adam, Eve, serpent, garden or tree.

So now the big issue. Please try to realize how large of a problem this is and what it implicates. If we’ve concluded that the above statements eliminate the possibility of Adam and Eve and that the whole story is basically not trustworthy and doesn’t warrant serious consideration to be literal, then original sin, Adam and Eve betraying God and bringing about our sinful natures from which we’d need Jesus to be saved, is a sham. It’s a lie. A lie to sell you a cure to a disease you don’t have.

The entire purpose of Jesus coming to earth and being crucified was quite literally for something that never happened. He saved us from something that we can deduce didn’t happen.

The real kicker is that Jesus also seemed to have taught that Adam and Eve were literal people:

6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ – Mark 10:6

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ – Matthew 19:4

And here, here’s the spot where I actually feel a bit bad because it’s all salt on an open wound at this point, but Jesus is shown to be a descendant of Adam in Luke 3:38 – “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”

So where does this leave a reasonable believer? Someone that tries to make faith and science work together. Or get logic and emotion or feelings to play together nicely. Sadly, I feel that this is a topic that is irreconcilable. There’s jumps in thinking that can’t be made. You can have all the faith in the world, but you can’t be saved by something (Jesus) from something that didn’t happen (original sin).

Jesus, if he existed, was no doubt a very forward thinking guy, but he was no messiah. He was just another guy that made extraordinary claims about being the Son of God. Our insane asylums and prisons are full of these people and we don’t take a one of them seriously.