Some pressing questions…

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Today’s article is a guest post by Brandon Christen of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri.

Well, the other I got into some great conversations with some Christians friends and acquaintances. I’m actually working on a much longer post concerning something one of them said concerning knowledge, as well as my response to it, but that one may take a bit. In the meantime, I thought I’d relate something else that happened at the table that evening.

When the table was discussing general questions they’d have for God, were he available to take any, one young man spoke up and said something to the effect of “I’d like to know why the Bible only says the Earth is around 6,000 years old, when we actually know it’s around 4.5 billion years old.”

There were several answers proffered up from the other people at the table as each person interpreted his question in a somewhat different way.

When it came to me, the token Atheist at the table, I looked at the young man and I said “You know, I’ve got something I want you to think about. It won’t answer your question outright, but I hope it’ll get you to start asking more questions. Hard questions.” He nodded his head in approval, and I continued.

“You’re right to be curious as to why God, who is supposed to be all knowing, didn’t clue anyone in on the age of the Earth; why he didn’t just tell it to us to start with. He could have easily told whoever he was having write Genesis to include a verse saying ‘The earth is 4.5 billion years old, give or take several million,’ and the person writing would have copied it down, if we are to believe in divine inspiration. It would have been that easy. Right?”

He nodded. I continued…

“But he didn’t. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? I mean, if God knew that eventually mankind would become highly skeptical of the Bible, he could have easily loaded it with super-accurate scientific facts and predictions. The precise age of the earth would have been a good, logical starting point. Just think about how many more souls would believe in the Bible this very day if God had filled it with astoundingly accurate facts like that; facts whose presence would actually lend credibility to the idea that the whole book was divinely inspired. Now, why do you think God didn’t do that? Think on it.”

The young man said he would, and that was that. He remained quiet and looked very thoughtful for the rest of the evening.

Now, I know I’m not breaking new ground with my rhetorical question to that young man, and I don’t pretend to be. Many people have, for a very long time (and more eloquently than myself), argued that if God were real we could rationally expect him to have included some genuine predictions and insightful facts instead of vagaries and allusions. However, the young man’s response tells me that that maybe it’s not something we’re still (as a movement) pointing out often enough.

Why didn’t God include a message warning us about either world war?
Why didn’t God clue us in on the 2004 tsunami?
Come to think of it, why didn’t God clue us in on any major tsunamis, earthquakes, or hurricanes?
Why didn’t God show us how to more effectively combat cancer?
Why didn’t God show us how to treat AIDS?
Why didn’t God teach us about antidepressants?
Why didn’t God give us some guidance on how to handle the current tensions mounting in the Middle East?
Why didn’t God at least give us fuckin’ Aspirin!?!?!?

This list is by no means exhaustive.

To any Theistic friends who may read this, do you think these are silly questions? Think again. They’re simple, yes, but they do raise the important underlying question of why God, if he so desperately wanted us to know him, gave us so few clear-cut, decisive facts to prove he was there and that he cared.

Also, I don’t want to hear lame responses like “Oh, he did tell us. You just have to have more faith and/or read the Bible more carefully.” If God is truly all-knowing and all-powerful, then he could have easily explicitly written out warnings for all the problems I mentioned, plus many more, in ways that no rational person could fail to understand.

As a Skeptic, I value good information. It’s rare to come by, but once found it can help illuminate a whole host of issues. If God really wanted my attention, and the attention of millions of other Skeptical souls he supposedly loves, he could easily have put some clear-cut facts and predictions in the Bible for us to read.

Those clear-cut facts and predictions are missing, and thus so is a god worth caring about.

SASHA blog guest contributor Brandon Christen, a former Church of Christ preacher-turned-atheist, was born and raised in Missouri. He grew up in a religious family, and joined a far-right conservative church when he was a senior in college. For almost six years, the church dominated all facets of his life and thinking until, in early 2010, he began to openly question its steadfast rejection of science and philosophy. After a protracted struggle with his convictions, Brandon became an atheist in September of that year. These days Brandon remains intensely interested in religion, focusing on religious versus secular moral and ethical issues. Brandon frequently engages in conversations with as many religious individuals as he can in a “grass roots” effort to spread awareness about secular morality. He also acts as a strong voice in the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri. While he sees debunking religious falsehoods as important, Brandon’s ultimate focus is on becoming a professional philosopher and emphasizing in ethics so as to lend his voice to the attempt to heal the moral divide between believers and non-believers. 

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward CurrentNonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

God vs. Cashiers

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I believe that religion devalues human life. All human life, not just the lives of the religious practitioners. I think that religion indoctrinates innocent people to waste their minds and under-appreciated their lives, their family’s lives, their friend’s lives, and the lives of total strangers as well. If you disagree with that viewpoint and want to know just why I hold it, you’ll be disappointed here; this blog post is not one wherein I seek to affirm that position. I will, however, post on that position later.

Rather, in this post I will take one group of people who (in my experience) are some of the most under-appreciated people out there, and highlight three reasons I believe they are more worthy of our appreciation and love than the God of the Bible.

I want to talk about why the cashiers at Wal-Mart are more important to you than God.

1.) The Cashier is genuinely helping you.
Did the cashier create a manufactured problem and then demand that you take steps to fix it? Did they come into your home, rob you of your supplies, and then demand that you return to Wal-Mart to purchase more in order to avoid starving to death? No, of course they didn’t! Matter of fact, there’s a good chance you don’t even know them beyond the name printed on their nametag; and they don’t know you, either.

God, we are supposed to believe, knows each of us perfectly. If you’re really gullible, you may think he knew us before time even began (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean). However, God set things up in Genesis knowing Adam and Eve would fail and also knowing that the rest of us would sin in their footsteps. He knew from the start that every human being would be in peril of going to hell, but he made the world in a way to accommodate that threat anyway. In short: he’s a prick. He manufactured the problem, then tried to force us to take the “medicine,” which would supposedly be Jesus.

At least the cashier isn’t stuffing you into a problem and then demanding you ask for their help to get out! No, they’re just there to try to help you with problems that you have in one of life’s basic little areas; buying your groceries. But still, when you think about it, that’s more than God ever really does…

2.) The Cashier can affirm you as a human being.
As  human beings, we all need interaction with our fellow humans. It’s simply part of what it is to be human. Without interaction with other humans, we quickly start losing our grip on who we are and begin desperately inventing things to talk to (a la Wilson from “Cast Away”). Whenever you pass through a cashier’s line at Wal-Mart, they will at least talk to you and, in so doing, acknowledge your existence has some value. Most of them will even smile and try to make a bit of small-talk.

Now God, on the other hand, if he is real, seems to habitually avoid us. It’s as if he’s the cosmic version of that friend whom you know could answer their phone, but they let it go to voicemail anyway. Believers beg, plead, beseech, and pray all year long, but not once do the clouds part and reveal any attention to validate their actions. Instead, they’re left desperately trying to link disparate events and say it was “God’s work.” That’s a horrible, pathetic reward for so much time spent in prayer. God never speaks to us, smiles at us, laughs with us, or asks us how are day is…all things which, for an omnipotent being, would be infinitely easy to do.

But Wal-Mart cashiers do! I’ve had many chats with them, and I’ve seen others do the same. I’ve seen them smile at me, genuinely laugh at my jokes, and engage in at least somewhat meaningful small-talk. I was a Christian for years and years and never got that sort of treatment from God! When you walk out of Wal-Mart (and if you were lucky enough to get one of the good cashiers) you can, silly as it may sound, feel a bit more like a part of an interconnected community of shared meaning. Again, that’s more than you can say for God…

3.) You can know that cashiers are real.
When it comes to knowledge, it is a tricky business. I’m of the school of thought that we cannot ever 100% know anything; there are for us only degrees of certainty resulting in justified belief.

Still, even taking into account all the Cartesian possibilities, there is more certainty and a greater justifiability in believing that cashiers are real beings than believing that God is a real being. That being the case, there is more reason to give them your acknowledgment, respect, and appreciation. God, on the other hand, is purely hypothetical. Anyone who claims to know he exists (they can be identified online as the ones typing that they KNOW in ALL CAPS, which is OBNOXIOUS) actually only means that they really really really believe he exists; they are convicted in that belief. fervently held belief does not actually count as real knowledge. The fact that we can do tests to show that cashiers are real stands high against the fact that we can do nothing to give even an ounce of credibility to the claim that God is real, not matter how sincerely that claim is made.

So, as real beings just like you, cashiers deserve at least some of our respect and appreciation. They are, after all, our fellow humans, citizens, and sometimes even neighbors. They help us, and they sometimes even try to make our visit to Wal-Mart more pleasant. They are more helpful to you and more apparently real than any god has ever been.

So, the next time you go to Wal-Mart (or any other store) and you’re in the checkout line, smile and talk to your cashier. After all, they’re more important than God!

_________________________________________________________________________

SASHA blog guest contributor Brandon Christen, a former Church of Christ preacher-turned-atheist, was born and raised in Missouri. He grew up in a religious family, and joined a far-right conservative church when he was a senior in college. For almost six years, the church dominated all facets of his life and thinking until, in early 2010, he began to openly question its steadfast rejection of science and philosophy. After a protracted struggle with his convictions, Brandon became an atheist in September of that year. These days Brandon remains intensely interested in religion, focusing on religious versus secular moral and ethical issues. Brandon frequently engages in conversations with as many religious individuals as he can in a “grass roots” effort to spread awareness about secular morality. He also acts as a strong voice in the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri. While he sees debunking religious falsehoods as important, Brandon’s ultimate focus is on becoming a professional philosopher and emphasizing in ethics so as to lend his voice to the attempt to heal the moral divide between believers and non-believers. 

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward CurrentNonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

A God I’d have a beer with…

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“Yeah, I’d vote for Senator What’s-His-Nuts. He seems like he’s pretty real…you know, a regular guy. I could see myself having a beer with him, is what I’m saying.”

I hear that line a lot going in to the voting season (and though I’m not here to talk politics, I will say that I think it’s really stupid).

It seems like a lot of people enjoy evaluating potentially important decisions on who will lead their city, state, or country based on whether or not the person they’re voting for would have a beer with them.

Which is only just *slightly* more civilized than deciding who leads by way of a Viking moot.

However, as of late I’ve seen a lot of Christians seem to adopt roughly this same view on God. They will cuss, drink, and generally act all “in yo’ face” for Christ. This often includes being aggressive in their discussions and debates with Atheists and other non-Christians. When called out on the sophomoric behavior and then (for icing atop the cake) informed that their actions are, in fact, in conflict with the teachings of their Bibles, they will respond in a way that essentially boils down to this: “Yeah, well, just because that’s what it actually says doesn’t mean that’s what it really means.” When pressed for clarification, normally their reasoning is reveled to actually be “I just feel like God approves. Besides, he’s loving and I’m sure he’ll forgive me since I’m devoted to him.” That’s pretty much the theological equivalent of “I think God would have a beer with me.”

M’kay, kid. So, you think that the all-powerful, cosmic, mega-tyrant of the Old Testament (and the son-murdering, earth-ending God of the New Testament) is going to see you transgressing his strict instructions on thoughts and behavior but, just before he smites you, stop and say to himself, “Oh, that’s okay. They have a ‘personal relationship’ with me, so I will overlook it.”

Yeah…I call bullshit. Read the Bible. Yes, there’s plenty about love and forgiveness and blah blah blah in there, that’s true. There’s also quite a few scenes where God over-the-top smites someone for disobeying some part of his commandments. For example, in the book of 2nd Samuel God murders some poor fellow for reaching out and trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling in the mud.

Interestingly, God merely thanked Indie for it. Thanked him, then backed away... timidly.

The reason God killed the guy? Well, Mr. High-and-Mighty had decreed earlier that only certain people (namely priests) were to be permitted to touch the ark. Remember though, the victim (named Uzziah) was only trying to keep the sacred ark from falling on the ground; he had no ill intentions. Hell, it was practically reflexive. Still, God murdered him on the spot for innocent disobedience. We could talk at length about the moral implications from this disgusting story, but the main point I want to emphasize here is that God didn’t care where Uzziah’s heart was or what his intentions were; he just straight up killed him for the physical act of disobedience.

Pictured: a man who would appreciate God's response

Don’t think that sort of murderous tyranny is relegated to the Old Testament only, either. The New Testament has, as its major theme, the idea that people who disagree with God are wicked, foolish, disgusting, and ultimately hell bound.  Threats and promises of eternal torment are to be found a plenty in the New Testament, and they are aimed at anyone who refuses to bow down to God in exactly the way he demands that they bow down. So no, God doesn’t seem to laid back about his doctrines in either testament.

At no point does the Bible contain a clause saying “pick the parts you like because God is a cool, laid back deity who ‘gets you’,” so all this nonsense with self-professed Christians cussing out Atheists, making death threats (or wishing death upon us), and just generally acting like assholes under the pretense that God will understand and forgive them needs to stop.

Now, why am I taking the time to say this? Why do I care if Christians match the proper level of piety espoused in their Bibles? Simple: because beliefs shape society, and only earnest beliefs can be changed through rational discourse. Want a society where women are treated as property, knowledge is seen as evil, and bigotry reigns supreme? Easy enough to do, just expose your population only to hard-line, fundamentalist religious doctrines and you’ll have it in no time. Want to undue all those evils I just mentioned? Well, muster up enough logically and emotionally valid arguments to change peoples minds and go hash it out over coffee or some such. It’ll be more difficult and take longer, but eventually through education, logical reasoning, and social grass-roots activism you’ll hopefully accomplish your goal if the people you’re talking to actually care about what they believe.

Hoover, the key point to notice is that for social change to happen, those who are in the wrong must at least take their beliefs seriously enough so as to be able to critically evaluate them. Otherwise, all the activism, logic, and debate in the world won’t elucidate them as to why they are mistaken.

So you’ll get nowhere fast with idiots who don’t even understand or practice their own professed religion. People like that merely use their religion as a thin cover for ignorance and tribalism. Tragically, once they reach that stage there’s usually no arguing with them; the best you can do is ignore them and hope their kids turn out different.

In the end, I’ll be blunt: I detest religion. However, I respect a person who, despite being religious, is at least sincere, well read, and well thought out about where they stand. I can debate, discuss, and reason with just such a person and for that alone they have my appreciation. However, those who act however-the-hell they want or thoughtlessly spew hate in the name of their God of choice while remaining ignorant of the very commandments they’re transgressing have absolutely none of my respect whatsoever.

_________________________________________________________________________

SASHA blog guest contributor Brandon Christen, a former Church of Christ preacher-turned-atheist, was born and raised in Missouri. He grew up in a religious family, and joined a far-right conservative church when he was a senior in college. For almost six years, the church dominated all facets of his life and thinking until, in early 2010, he began to openly question its steadfast rejection of science and philosophy. After a protracted struggle with his convictions, Brandon became an atheist in September of that year. These days Brandon remains intensely interested in religion, focusing on religious versus secular moral and ethical issues. Brandon frequently engages in conversations with as many religious individuals as he can in a “grass roots” effort to spread awareness about secular morality. He also acts as a strong voice in the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri. While he sees debunking religious falsehoods as important, Brandon’s ultimate focus is on becoming a professional philosopher and emphasizing in ethics so as to lend his voice to the attempt to heal the moral divide between believers and non-believers. 

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward CurrentNonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

And now, if you will, a metaphor….

Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.

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Imagine a massive boat filled with many sailors. At some time, a rumor began spreading amongst all the people that the boat was heading towards an island that was unbelievably amazing; an island where all the normal laws of reality were suspended and ultimate, endless bliss would enrapture them forever. Many of the sailors took so much joy from this thought that they began ignoring their duties on the ship, doing little more than staring out on the horizon and waiting for the island to appear. Many others did indeed continue their day-to-day tasks on the ship, helping to keep it clean and such, but they constantly talked about the island. It was their obsession, their passion, and their pride. Groups and sub-groups formed around different ideas of what the island would be like. Some thought it would be tropical, others temperate, and still others thought it would have every climate imaginable for all people to enjoy. Arguments sprang up over what sorts of foods would be present on the island!

At various times, different sailors would hold out their spyglasses and shout aloud “I see it! I see the island there!” and many would swell with enthusiasm…that is, until it was revealed that the crier had seen wrong (or, on occasion, even outright lied). Despite all these false alarms and misplaced swells of hope, the vast majority of the sailors kept believing, to the point of certainty, that the island was just over the next wave.

Eventually, almost all of the sailors took to ignoring the present duties of ship-board life and chose to stare out on the horizon with their own spyglasses, each on certain that they could see the island in the distance (despite some of them looking in utterly opposite directions). Indeed, there were many heated arguments, but one thing every one of them could agree on was this: regardless of exactly where it was or what it was like, that perfect island was definitely out there, somewhere. It just had to be.

One day, one of the sailors climbed up to the top of the mast and found two other sailors there, arguing.

“I think the island will be temperate!” said the first. “It will be temperate, I tell you!”

“Ah, but you’re mistaken, friend. It will be tropical!” said the second. “I guarantee you, for I can see it!” he continued, holding his spyglass aloft.

“Fool!” shouted the first. “I can see it, and it is, in fact, quite temperate!”

At that point, the third sailor (who had just climbed up) yanked the spyglasses from both others and told them this:

“Actually, friends, you’re both mistaken. If you’ll just look right here,” he said, gesturing to the ends of their spyglasses, “you’ll see that you each just drew what you wanted the island to be like on the glass. You were never actually seeing the island; you just painted what you wanted to see and thus saw it in your own imagination. Now if you’ll just look without these faulty spyglasses, you’ll quickly see that there is no island; in fact, there never was an island. However, what we do have is an amazing ship with everything you could ever really want already on it. There are lots of other people onboard, too. You can get to know them, make friends, find lovers, and have wonderful conversations. You can learn, eat, relax, work, and overall have a merry life aboard this ship if you’ll only just stop obsessing over this island you came up with.”

“But the island is supposed to be perfect!” cried the first sailor.

“Indeed! Perfect!” shouted the second, both of them clearly distraught at this news.

“Ah, but that is exactly why it doesn’t exist, friends,” said the third sailor. He reached out and put his hands on their shoulders: “Nothing perfect is out there. I’ll admit it, this ship is sometimes leaky and some of the other people aboard aren’t too terribly pleasant. But I think you’ll find that once you stop daydreaming about perfection and start happily working with what you do have, you’ll find yourselves much happier.”

Now, just guess which sailor was the Atheist…
_________________________________________________________________________

SASHA blog guest contributor Brandon Christen, a former Church of Christ preacher-turned-atheist, was born and raised in Missouri. He grew up in a religious family, and joined a far-right conservative church when he was a senior in college. For almost six years, the church dominated all facets of his life and thinking until, in early 2010, he began to openly question its steadfast rejection of science and philosophy. After a protracted struggle with his convictions, Brandon became an atheist in September of that year. These days Brandon remains intensely interested in religion, focusing on religious versus secular moral and ethical issues. Brandon frequently engages in conversations with as many religious individuals as he can in a “grass roots” effort to spread awareness about secular morality. He also acts as a strong voice in the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri. While he sees debunking religious falsehoods as important, Brandon’s ultimate focus is on becoming a professional philosopher and emphasizing in ethics so as to lend his voice to the attempt to heal the moral divide between believers and non-believers. 

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

But…but what about faith?

Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.

Click here to Like our Page on Facebook (or use the sidebar if you’re logged in).
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It’s a subject I hear in one form or another quite a bit.
“But what about faith?” 
“Aren’t you forgetting about having faith?”
“That’s where faith comes in.” 
“I just have faith.”  

It seems like I can’t voice my Atheism or demand a good argument without at least one person popping up and, as if they were presenting a novel idea, asking me why I haven’t realized just how important faith is. To be fair, I think it is a decent question to ask someone why they don’t think faith is a good reason to believe in God; I say this merely because so very many people in our society do believe in God, due to faith, that it is of some importance why one would toss out (as I think they should) the epidemiological grounding of “faith.”

To me, it seems, there are several great reasons to dismiss any claim that stakes its ability to be taken seriously in your ability to “just have faith.” I’m now going to, as succinctly and respectfully as I can, outline what my top three reasons are.

Number One: Because it’s just plain stupid. 
Imagine, that someone came up to me and informed me that they could, without mechanical assistance whatseover, fly. Just strait up fly.

Ta da

Now what if I believed that person without any evidence? Without a video that wasn’t suspiciously susceptible to being doctored? Without eye witness reports that were definitively genuine and consistent with the facts in addition to being consistent in regards to how they describe the flying man?

You would, justifiably, call me a fool. Now what if I based my life upon the notion that this person could actually fly? What if I justified my every action and vote based on what I thought the flying-person would want? What if I hated, loved, empowered, and oppressed based on what I thought the flying-person would like? What if I did all this still without good, genuine evidence of their powers, and when you asked about it just told you “I simply have faith!”

Yep, you’d call me stupid. And that’s okay! It would be honest. It might not be polite or sensitive…..but meh, fuck it, at least it would be honest. And really, can you be more respectful towards someone than when you are totally honest with them? That’s why I don’t shy away from telling my Christian friends that I think faith is a silly, shitty reason for believing anything. It is sad but true that honesty hurts sometimes.

Pictured: honesty incarnate

Number Two: Most believers even tacitly admit that it’s stupid.
The thing is, most Theists will confess that faith is a poor excuse for belief in a very round about way. When someone from another religion (or some silly new age spiritualism group) claims that they “just have faith” most God fearing, Bible revering Christians (for example) will try to argue with them and reason with them to follow the Bible’s claims instead. In so doing, they are de facto admitting that reason and evidence ought to trump someone’s faith.

Or what about those times when Theists boldly assert “Atheism isn’t a logical position; it’s based on faith as much as any religion!” Claims like this are normally followed by a list of arguments and evidences (however lame) as to why that particular Theist’s favorite dogma is true. Inherent in this claim/argument setup is the notion that faith isn’t as good as reason and evidence.

Indeed, it seems the rule that for most Theists that the faith defense is only trotted out when their backs are against the wall and it’s clear that they’ve not a single good, well reasoned, logical argument on their side.

Number Three: It’s damned insulting. 
I’ll probably wind up writing a separate post about this single subject later on; I simply feel that passionately about it. I personally find faith to be fundamentally insulting to myself, my Christian friends who rely on it, and the human species as a whole. I used to be deeply indoctrinated in the Christian faith; a real fundamentalist. I was steeped in the personal crisis/redemption subculture and my faith in God was absolute, unquestionable, and crucial to my life.

However, steeped in the faith though I was, I fought. I struggled and clawed my way out, bit by painful bit, via reasoning and acknowledgment of evidence. It was a hard won fight, and in the end my faith was gone and I’d gained new respect for my mind and its abilities. But damn it was difficult…


Like trying to climb a mountain made entirely out of bullshit.

Nowadays, when people tell me I ought to go back to just having faith, I get incensed. My mind, such as it is, will never be the absolute best around. Bigger fish in the sea, blah blah blah. Still, with nothing but my grey matter, I figured out huge holes in the faith I was taught to revere (holes which were later confirmed by my reading up on these sorts of things). The point is I’m damn proud of my mind, and I’d hate to see it muddied by the sloppy non-reasoning that is faith.

And, on that point, I’m also irked to see my Theistic friends, who are good people, waste their minds on faith as well. It’s an insult to their inner potential, as it is an insult to the potential of the human species and the powerhouse of a brain we’ve been dealt by nature; a brain that could be put to better use solving the world’s problems and finding beauty and joy in the one life which we know that we have.

Faith is just such a damned waste.

So there we are. The top three reasons I despise “just have faith,” and other such slogans. It is stupid, those espousing it usually tacitly admit that it is stupid, and it is just plain insulting.

We’re done here.

_________________________________________________________________________

SASHA blog guest contributor Brandon Christen, a former Church of Christ preacher-turned-atheist, was born and raised in Missouri. He grew up in a religious family, and joined a far-right conservative church when he was a senior in college. For almost six years, the church dominated all facets of his life and thinking until, in early 2010, he began to openly question its steadfast rejection of science and philosophy. After a protracted struggle with his convictions, Brandon became an atheist in September of that year. These days Brandon remains intensely interested in religion, focusing on religious versus secular moral and ethical issues. Brandon frequently engages in conversations with as many religious individuals as he can in a “grass roots” effort to spread awareness about secular morality. He also acts as a strong voice in the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri. While he sees debunking religious falsehoods as important, Brandon’s ultimate focus is on becoming a professional philosopher and emphasizing in ethics so as to lend his voice to the attempt to heal the moral divide between believers and non-believers. 

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

Free Will and Falling Away

Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.

Click here to Like our Page on Facebook (or use the sidebar if you’re logged in).
Local to Columbia? Join the Facebook Group, too!

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The following is a guest post on the SASHA blog by Brandon Christen of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri.

This post is based off of a conversation I had with a Christian at Skepticon IV a couple weeks ago. Basically, it began when I told him that I used to be a devout Christian (a preacher in training, actually). He responded that no, I wasn’t; in fact, according to him I had never really been a Christian and never really believed after all. I had merely lied to myself and others and said that I’d believed. And how did he have this glaring insight into the inner machinations of my mind? Why, the Bible of course! I’ll be blunt: I think it was a shitty, below-the-belt style argument and that it was stupid. Bear with me as I explain why I think so.

The Bible makes many, many conflicting assertions. Do remember the story of Manasseh, where the wicked king earned Judah its destruction due to his villainy? (2nd Kings) Or do you remember the story of Manasseh, where the wicked king repented to God and Judah was spared that particular judgment? (2nd Chronicles) Both stories are there, tucked right in the bible with the rest of the errors.

You would think that, since the Bible contains so many shady areas and bits of outright contradiction with itself and history, proponents of the Bible wouldn’t be so bold as to rigidly apply its claims to every facet of daily life. Ah, you would hope…but alas, you would hope in utter vain, for apply they do. Should women obey their husbands? The Bible say yes. Should homosexuals be seen as dirty or unclean? The Bible says yes. Should slavery be acceptable? The Bible says yes. Should brutal child labor be opposed? Ah, trick question! The Bible has nothing to say on that subject…

Another thing the Bible asserts (which is thus asserted by many of its adherents and is more pertinent to this post) is that true Christians can never actually fall away. This idea is communicated in several verses, such as Matt. 7:21-23, John 10:28, and Romans 8:38-39. There are other verses as well, but for the sake of this post those three will suffice. (Let it be noted before we continue that still other verses in the Bible say one cannot lose their salvation. Contradictions: +1, Divine Perfect Revelation: 0)

In any case, back to the claim that real Christians never fall away. I have two major problems with this claim; 1.) it tries to assert a definitive knowledge of mental states, and 2.) it defeats another favorite Christian belief, which is that God supposedly values human free will.

1.) To make a definitive statement of anyone’s mental state is tricky, if not downright impossible. Barring access to advanced machines that actually see neural activity, we simply cannot know what’s ticking in someone’s brain…you know, that thing that determines all mental activity, period. That being the case, boldly telling someone you just met on a street corner that they were never really a Christian (or boldly telling them anything else about their opinions and beliefs) is about as intellectually sound as thinking you can accurately predict what some random stranger on the other side of the world is doing at this very moment. Without having to see them. Ever.

The only way (in casual settings) that we can know what someone is thinking is if they tell us. Even then, we cannot really know if that is what they’re truly thinking because they might be lying or we might be misunderstanding them. (Imagine asking someone what they are thinking when you see them looking at you and they say “Nothing, just debating if I’d like to grab a cup of coffee. They might have been thinking of asking you out, and that’s their way of asking if you’d like to get coffee with them, or they might have been thinking of how much they can’t stand you and that was just a convenient lie to explain away the glazed look in their eye from a moment earlier…or, they might actually want to go get coffee).

Coffee: masker of many lies

So, if you cannot know what someone is thinking even if your directly asking them face to face, how on earth can you claim to know if they really believed in God or not when you are just now meeting them? Simple answer: you cannot. Stupid answer: you can because the Bible says that people who fall away really didn’t believe anyway.

If you want to try and apply contradictory words scribbled down by shady sources thousands of years ago to the amazingly complex workings of the brains of other human beings, have at it. That tells me two things about you: one, you drastically oversimplify the world and two, you aren’t worth my time of day.

2.) My second big problem with the “You were never a Christian because real Christians cannot lose their salvation!” claim is with its second half (the idea that real Christians cannot lose their salvation).  Whenever I debate Christianity with its practitioners, invariably I bring up the Problem of Natural Suffering and the Argument from Reasonable Non-Belief. Whenever I ask “Why does God not intervene and eliminate suffering?” or “Why does God not reveal himself and let us all know he exists?” the answer is usually “Because that would interfere with our free will.” However, if God magically “locks” you in place as a Christian the moment you genuinely believe, then what is that if not an egregious violation of your free will? He removes your ability to freely follow or reject him and you become the very thing that Christians keep claiming we aren’t supposed to be when they argue for free will: a God-robot.

So there they are.  For now, these constitute my two biggest problems with the “Real Christians don’t lose their salvation,” argument. I could probably find more problems if I spent more time thinking about it, but I’ll be honest; it’s a really stupid, shitty argument and I don’t find there to be much point in wasting time on it when there are other legitimate (and intellectually interesting) arguments concerning God to dissect.

For me, this argument boils down to a desperate attempt at assert knowledge one cannot have of another’s mental states as well as a stab-in-the-heart to any subsequent attempt at defending free will; all done merely to uphold the claims of an ancient compendium of superstitious ideas and bigotry.

Brandon Christen was born and raised in Missouri. He grew up in a religious family, and joined a far-right conservative church when he was a senior in college. For almost six years, the church dominated all facets of his life and thinking until, in early 2010, he began to openly question its steadfast rejection of science and philosophy. After a protracted struggle with his convictions, Brandon became an Atheist in September of that year. These days Brandon remains intensely interested in religion, though now he views it from a secular perspective. One of the chief problems he sees between Secular Society and Religious Society is the presumption that religion takes the high ground on moral and ethical issues. To combat this problem, Brandon frequently engages in conversations with as many religious individuals as he can in a “grass roots” effort to spread awareness about secular morality. He also acts as a strong voice in the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri. While he still sees debunking religious falsehoods as important, Brandon’s ultimate focus is on becoming a professional philosopher and emphasizing in ethics so as to lend his voice to the attempt to heal the moral divide between believers and non-believers. 

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

Dinesh D’Souza: Three god-awful minutes

Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.

Click here to Like our Page on Facebook (or use the sidebar if you’re logged in).
Local to Columbia? Join the Facebook Group, too!

_________________________________________________________________________

Today’s article is a guest post by Brandon Christen of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri.

With a little over an hour to kill before going to work, I decided to watch some debates on YouTube to pass the time. A good friend of mine mentioned he was watching a speech by Dinesh D’Souza, and since I had never listened to him or read any of his works before, I looked him up. Upon finding a debate between him and Christopher Hitchens, I listened for a while. I’m sad to say, I could only make it about three minutes in before taking time out to write a blog post about three horrible stupid things he said within those three minutes.

Moving at breakneck speeds to drop an average of one bad argument per minute, D’Souza began with the claim that “The universe is rational!” (paraphrasing). “How odd,” he says, “that the universe operates rationally? How could this have happened!” To answer his question, D’Souza claims that the only way a universe could embody rationality is to have been created by an omniscient (which he claims to mean “hyper-rational”) being, such as God.

He then pointedly asks why it is that the universe obeys laws. He claims that for an electron to “know” where it is supposed to be is unfathomable in a universe without an all-knowing, all powerful creator behind its creation. He also says that there can be no laws without a “lawgiver” and, thus, the universal laws of nature demand that there be a lawgiver reigning over them.

Finally, rounding out his list of bad arguments (again, after only three minutes) is D’Souza’s claim that Atheism leads to crimes against humanity. He starts by saying that the Inquisition only killed 2000 people over a 300 year period and that the Salem witch trials only killed 18 people. He compares these 2018 deaths to the millions killed in Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, and Stalin’s Russia (all of which, he claims, were results of national Atheism) and says that Atheism kills more than Theism, so is therefore worse than Theism.

I see no better way to take this than point by point, in order. So, here we go…

A.) As taken from the Miriam-Webster Dictionary, the word rational means 1.)” having reason or understanding” or 2.) “related to, based on, or agreeable to understanding.” Neither of these things have anything to do with unconscious matter, only with how conscious minds deal with the world. Saying that the universe behaves rationally is an improper usage of the word “rationally”. It’s like me saying that a glass of milk that gets spilled was “misbehaving.” It’s intuitively ridiculous if you think about it for more than a moment.

What can be said about the universe is that its constituent parts seem to act in certain ways under certain circumstances. How does rationality fit in to this? Well, rationality (by my view of it) is how well the human mind corroborates with external reality. A person who thinks that the glass of milk spilled because it was feeling feisty and just wanted to is thinking irrationally (given that the glass of milk is inanimate), whereas a person who sees the glass of milk spill and then figures out what physical events (such as, say, a dog bumping into the table) caused the milk to spill. I feel I should point out that it is also perfectly rational (and honest) to, absent enough data, simply say “I don’t know why the milk spilled,” instead of making a reason up.

B.) D’Souza then goes on the claim that the universe “obeys laws,” and that the presence of laws demands the existence of an external law giver. Again, D’Souza is conflating terms. In the realm of physics and biology, “natural laws” are not the same as laws in a human legal system. Human laws do indeed demand law givers; human laws are decided upon, enacted, and enforced in various ways. You might have a committee agree on a certain law, then pass it. Or you could have a judge give a ruling that is then taken and used as a legal precedent.

However, natural “laws” are merely terms used by science to describe the orderly operation of matter and energy. They are by no means asserting that these laws were clearly made by any intelligence, and you could easily call them “natural habits,” “natural ways,” “natural operations”, or “natural predictable circumstances and events” and they would be just as accurate.

The problem is that the word “law” is an emotionally laden term, as for most people it does indeed carry the idea of a lawgiver. Speakers like D’Souza use that emotionality to their advantage; they speak to an overly simplified way of thinking that does direct word-to-reality translation of events, so when he says “It’s a law” the crowd he appeals to automatically thinks “That implies a lawgiver!”

C. The last thing D’Souza throws at the audience is the ancient, tired, sagging straw man of “Atheists societies lead to mass murders!” He uses all the traditional boggy men for this argument; Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany. He says that each of these societies was atheistic and that is the reason they were able to throw morality out the window and launch into mass killings and genocides. I say: bullshit.

First of all, any armchair History-channel-watching historian (like me) can easily say that Hitler was not an Atheist. The honest answer to Hitler’s specific spiritual beliefs is “I don’t know,” because there is (as far as I’m aware) no resounding historical consensus on what he believed. He at various times advocated Christianity, then a weird, ultra distorted racist version of Christianity, then some paganism (perhaps thrown in for good measure). [Editor's note: Hitler was a member of the Catholic church, and was never excommunicated]. Many other Nazi higher-ups were big into paganism and bizarre spiritualism, and I feel it tragically necessary to point out for any confused readers that neither of those things are Atheism.

Second, the nations that committed these atrocities weren’t nations of Atheists. I’m not so sure on Cambodia, though I would assume the same, but I do know that the idea that Russia was brimming with Atheists is false; most Russians maintained their religious beliefs and the Orthodox Church was still alive and well when the official state ban on religion came tumbling down. Germany in the 30s and 40s might have had leaders who looked down their noses at Christianity, but the nation itself was by no means filled with Atheists, either. Many Germans were Catholic or Protestant (like most everywhere else you go in the West) or some form of neo-paganism that was all the rage at the time. At any rate, they weren’t all Atheists.

Furthermore, even if they had been Theists, that wouldn’t have stopped the genocides or atrocities. A casual glance through the Old Testament features plenty of God-sanctioned destruction, war, pillaging, and homicidal insanity. Offhand, I can think of God ordering Moses to order his brother, Aaron, to slay several thousand Israelites just because they worshiped the wrong god and God ordering the people of Israel to kill men, women, and children and seize their lands when they reached Canaan. If we are to believe the tenets of the Bible (setting aside whether they’re historically true or not) then clearly a belief in God won’t stop mass murders so long as that’s what you think God is telling you to do.

And on that point, what does D’Souza have to say? How does he refute the notion that Theism can just as easily lead to innocent deaths if the Theists in question get an unction that God wants them to kill? Well, as you’ll recall, he simply says that Theism kills less people; remember, he defended the Inquisition and Salem Witch Trials by saying that only a total of 2018 people.

….Really? Fucking really? We’re boiling down the value of belief systems (as compared to mass murder) by how many get mass murdered? This may not be the most intellectual thing I can say, but go fuck yo’self Danish D’Souza.
However, all that actually misses the point. It’s just fun side dressing, so to speak. The real point of order I’d call here is that Atheism didn’t lead to those people being complicit in genocides and mass murders. Idealism did. An Atheist (and Atheism as a “system”) simply doesn’t believe in any gods or supernatural entities/locations. Period. That is not an ideology, it’s simply an epistemological position. Now, human beings have a tragic habit of desperately wanting to play follow-the-leader. Any leader. Even one so disgusting as Adolf Hitler. Those who throw themselves into the mindless obedience to a certain ideology or leader also lose their ability to make their own decisions; they become the nameless, oblivious henchmen from old James Bond movies. It is those who mindlessly obey a certain leader or ideology that commit horrible crimes, regardless of whether or not they believe in God.
And by the way, Secularism (and the New Atheist movement) advocate, along with a deemphasizing of religion, an abandonment of all forms of mindless ideological adherence. Really, it is only natural that a bunch of free-thinking, humanistic types would despise such thinking; it is dangerous as well as insulting to the potential we human beings have evolved. To an Atheist like me, someone saying “I have absolute total faith that my leader is right in all things, and I would gleefully kill or die for him” is only three words off from “I have absolute faith that my God is right in all things, and I would gleefully die for him.”

So in the end, the short answer response to all three shitty arguments D’Souza advocated is:

1.) The universe isn’t rational, it’s predictable. Rationality is a term to describe human minds that line up with how reality really is.

2.) No, the universe doesn’t obey laws in the legalistic, social/moral way. It is, again, predictable. Scientists call them laws because at the present they seem immutable and they needed a good, strong word to get that point across.

3.) No, Atheism doesn’t breed monsters. Mindless obedience to one leader or ideology breeds monsters. Atheism just breeds a propensity for doubting outrageous bullshitty claims. (Which, by the by, is a great ingredient for preventing mass murders and genocides.)

Brandon Christen was born and raised in Missouri. He grew up in a religious family, and joined a far-right conservative church when he was a senior in college. For almost six years, the church dominated all facets of his life and thinking until, in early 2010, he began to openly question its steadfast rejection of science and philosophy. After a protracted struggle with his convictions, Brandon became an Atheist in September of that year. These days Brandon remains intensely interested in religion, though now he views it from a secular perspective. One of the chief problems he sees between Secular Society and Religious Society is the presumption that religion takes the high ground on moral and ethical issues. To combat this problem, Brandon frequently engages in conversations with as many religious individuals as he can in a “grass roots” effort to spread awareness about secular morality. He also acts as a strong voice in the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri. While he still sees debunking religious falsehoods as important, Brandon’s ultimate focus is on becoming a professional philosopher and emphasizing in ethics so as to lend his voice to the attempt to heal the moral divide between believers and non-believers. 

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!