Category Archives: Religion

Thoughts on Religion. Probably, Christianity and the Bible in particular.

(Mostly) Harmless Faiths

I just started following Atheist Quote of the Day on Facebook. Today it asked its constituents the question, Most of us will agree that a faith based without evidence is irrational and negative, as most religious faiths are. However, what forms of faith, if any, do you think are good?

Here was my answer:

I like Buddhism, if you strip out the mythology and concepts like reincarnation. Siddhartha is said to have refused to make a definite statement about nebulous concepts such as reincarnation (see the book “Buddhism Without Beliefs”, which I must admit to not having finished).

I like the Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends). Their faith is very simple and non-specific; the more liberal varieties don’t require a god (there are Atheist Quakers, though I don’t know many). They hold that every human has “the divine light”, which is non-specific enough that you could arguably define it to be “the human spirit” (which doesn’t have to be a non-physically-based entity)… Best of all, it does not approve of basing your life on a book. I’ve known of a few Atheists and Agnostics who came from a Quaker background, which honestly seems a fairly natural progression.

Unitarianism seems okay. It’s not for me, being old enough to feel kind of stuffy and liturgical. On the one hand, by acknowledging some basic truth among all faiths, it might be considered to give some undue credibility to them; on the other hand, being forced to treat them all alike, it effectively prevents any specific dogmas or creeds from drawing too much attention and approval.

Don’t know much about it, but from the little I do know Ba’hai seems alright. Probably suffers the same basic problems as Unitarianism. It has the key feature of not getting too caught up in any particular beliefs, because God supposedly is revealing himself through a series of clearer pictures (Christianity, then Islam, then Ba’hai…), and theirs is not the last revelation.

The Role of Worship

(A comment I posted at My Sister’s Farmhouse.)

Hey Rechelle, I can totally relate to what you’re saying. Before my deconversion, I was a “worship leader” at various churches. I received a lot of emotional fulfillment from that job (still miss it), but looking back on it now, I see it for what it was: emotional manipulation. In fact, I think a lot of my relationship with God, and my impression of a relationship and conviction that God was a “real person”, was defined by the act of worship. It’s the medium through which you practice the art of loving God… and if you love Him, there must be a Him to love, right? (Realizing I’d spent nearly thirty years being hopelessly in love with what turns out to have been a fictional character is not an easy thing to come to grips with, that’s for sure. I felt like a schizophrenic who’s just come to terms with the fact that the elaborate and detailed fantasy world in which he’s spent so much time being the hero, was never real.)

In the church background I come from, we were acutely aware of artificial, “performance-y” sorts of worship. Better to sing off-key and a capella in a heartfelt ballad to Jesus, then to play with an immense band, complete with video accompaniment (filled with nature scenes and people raising their hands to God), but be so distracted by the machinery of worship that I’m no longer singing to God.

And yet, how can an outsider judge whether a worship leader was giving a “heartfelt” performance or not? In the end, isn’t it just a certain infusion of emotion into the music, a little spontaneity, knowing when and where to shift the dynamics of the song, when to take out or subdue the instruments, when to rise to full-bodied playing and singing? Sure, I really was “singing my heart out to God” when I was playing this stuff, but the real, observable result was… performance. Performance specifically designed to sound like “not a performance,” but guaranteed to manipulate the emotions of the (devoted) congregation. I had been raised up in and had an innate intuition for what “real worship music” sounded and felt like, and that’s what I played. And sure, I was manipulating my own emotions right along with every one else, but that’s what it was: emotional manipulation. If, by the start of the pastor’s message, everyone wasn’t feeling rested, and at peace, and then just-fired-up enough to be ready and eager to listen to what the pastor had to say about Jesus – as well as humbled and ashamed of their dirty, foul human nature, and yearning to come closer to perfection by looking to Jesus’ example – then I hadn’t done my job.

I never felt closer to God than when I was worshiping. Not even when God would “make his presence” known by all the various amazing and beneficial coincidences we’re conditioned to believe are the direct Hand of Providence, and not the result of statistical probabilities which the human psychological make-up has such a poor innate recognition of (and which is equally biased to completely ignore and forget the unbeneficial and equally “amazing” but coincidental events that come to our lives).

Silent Partner

DagoodS has come up with yet another of his insightful articles. Here’s an excerpt.

As teenagers we made out behind the church or in the parking lot where the Youth Sponsors couldn’t see us. Our God/Silent Partner supposedly could see us; but he wasn’t around. He was SO silent, it was like…to us…he wasn’t there. As Older Christians we gossiped about the person, but never to the person because our Silent Partner…well…he was silent, see? Didn’t say anything about it.

Or we loaded up our bank accounts. Or justified not tithing this week, ‘cause we were taking our friends out to dinner. Our Silent Partner seemed to be just fine with substituting dinner for tithing. Didn’t say a word….

See, that is the best part of a Silent Partner. When you want to say something bad, or blame, or offend—they are there for you. But when you do not want them impinging on your lifestyle—they conveniently fade into the distant background where they belong.

Eliminating God Ain’t The Answer

(The following is the tail end from a comment I made elsewhere on the site, that I felt was worth placing a bit more prominently.)

Society’s problem isn’t belief in God, and eradicating theistic belief is not an admirable goal. If someone were to successfully eliminate all God-belief tomorrow, some other superstition would immediately arise to take its place, and become the basis for various travesties. The problem, then, is in our willingness to accept superstitious, unverifiable beliefs as not only a replacement for, but actually superior to verifiable evidence, and not with any one such superstition that may happen to be a current favorite.

The consequences of the actions we take should be commensurate with the firmness of our beliefs; the firmness of our beliefs should be commensurate with the quantity and reliability of the supporting evidence. I have no problem with belief in God that is honestly ready to shed itself in light of contradictory evidence, and I have little patience with atheists who lack that same readiness.

God vs Santa Claus

So, a few times I’ve been asked why arguing against the existence of God is so important to me as an atheist. Most recently, my sister Grace (who, by the way, is awesome, and is one of the very few to respond to my apostasy with genuine questions, rather than blind assertions), asked:

if God is just a magic man and/or type of Santa Claus… why all the fuss in arguing His non-existence? If He truly does not exist why are people so passionate about denying Him? What is the point on your end? people don’t write about denying Santa Claus, because they don’t believe he is real but even if some people do believe in Santa no one spend their time trying to convince them.

The response I gave, that I’m actually not passionate about denying God, and that the concept of God doesn’t bother me, is true, but also potentially misleading and may have been missing the point. As I also said in the response, there are things I’m passionate in arguing against, and while I may feel indifferent about the actual existence or non-existence of God, I feel very strongly about particular conceptions of God, or certain arguments that are built on the premise of His existence, and I think I can state my position a little more clearly as follows:

  • If you’re naughty, Santa Claus gives you coal in your stocking; he doesn’t torture and maim you for all eternity because you didn’t accept his only begotten elf as your personal savior (and after having created you in such a way that you would be “naughty”).
  • Santa Claus never told women that they must be submissive to and obey their husbands, respecting their authority.
  • Nobody uses Santa Claus as a pretext to determine who is allowed to fall in love, marry, and have a family, and who is not allowed.
  • Santa Claus doesn’t make anyone feel torrents of guilt just because they notice that a member of the opposite (or, same) sex is very, very attractive.
  • Santa Claus is used to manipulate you into buying things; God is used to manipulate you into supporting evil wars and evil leaders.
  • Belief in Santa Claus means you might remain ignorant about where your presents really come from; some beliefs about God mean that you remain vastly ignorant and deceived about where we come from… and where we are going—and are compelled to strive to keep everyone else just as ignorant.
  • There are a number of people for whom God does not fit any of the above at all. I have no quarrel with them. Some atheists claim that “liberal” religion is bad because it provides a sort of safe haven for fundamentalism, but I have yet to see a strong case for this. If all your God does is provide you with hope, and a motivation to do what is right as determined by your own conscience, and to love your fellow human, then good on ya. I could care less about convincing you He or She isn’t real. It’s when belief in God begins to convince you that what is evil is really good, or that some factually-supported knowledge must be untrue just because it contradicts what your God said that I become indignant. And yes, that’s the sort of God-belief I will be somewhat passionate about: because, unlike Santa Claus, it has a very real and direct impact on the world in which I live.

    What God Doesn’t Explain

    Following is an excerpt from my response to this comment from smeagain, which I’ve made into a short blog post as it pretty much summarizes why I’m an atheist (as opposed to some other variety of ex-Fundamentalist-Christian). It doesn’t really say anything I haven’t said before, but it makes a pretty decent summary.

    I have come to many of the same conclusions as Micah, though I don’t call myself an atheist, I can no longer call myself a Christian.  It still feels weird saying it.

    All of this aside, I can’t find a way to explain away God.  Sure maybe life on earth evolved independently, difficult to accept but easier than zapped into being by the creator.  The whole universe exploding into existence from “the big bang”.  but where did all that energy come from.

    To me the more science discovers, the more we see the nature of

    To me, the more science discovers, the less is explained by the existence of God.

    As you say, “where did all that energy come from”—the big bang can’t have been the very start, and I don’t know anyone who thinks it was. It’s simply “as far back as we can trace”. Something must have been before it. Something must have had no beginning. To minds that have developed in a universe where all things have both beginnings and ends, it’s boggling. And yet, to say that God is that “something” explains nothing. Why isn’t God subject to the same “beginning” that everything else must be subject to? It’s certain that there is something eternal, but answering “where did the universe find its beginning?” with “God” doesn’t actually answer anything; it simply shifts it to “where did God find Its beginning?”. You can assert that “God had no beginning”, but you can just as easily assert that “the universe had no beginning”, or the “underlying fabric of matter-spawning quanta”, or whatever. To the question, “where does all this come from?”, the answer “a Magic Man did it” is not an answer. It’s simply another question in disguise.

    That’s why I’m an atheist: there are no remaining questions for me to which God is any kind of reasonable answer. It’s true, this leaves a number of questions to which I now have no answers of any sort; I just think that admitting that the answers haven’t been found is more intellectually honest than substituting made-up ones.

    That said, I don’t have anything against belief in a God, as a concept in itself: I don’t even think it’s a “superstition” so much as a sometimes-convenient, if illusory, abstraction. It’s when folks take this God for whom no evidence exists, and add detailed knowledge about His character and what He wants us to do and not to do, for which no credible source exists—that’s when I start to become concerned.

    The Providence of Pasta

    Ever since converting from Christianity to Pastafarianism, I find that the Flying Spaghetti Monster makes his presence known to me constantly, reassuring me by his active involvement in my day-to-day life.

    One might suppose that, having rejected the One True God in deference to the One True Monster, I would cease to reap those little beneficial coincidences-that-aren’t-coincidences, those thoughtful reminders that a deity is in fact watching over and actively manipulating events in my life. One couldn’t be more wrong.

    Several months back our next-door neighbors moved out, and some new ones moved in. Blessed be the Bucatini, the new neighbor was a Linux Software Engineer, who likes Star Trek and plays the Piano, and was even a fellow Pastafarian—just like me! Such a meeting of kindred spirits couldn’t possibly be coincidence! Unfortunately, the FSM placed the call on him to serve His Noodliness in San Diego just a short few months later, so I probably won’t have any more contact with him. Which is alright, really, ’cause it turns out he had some just-mildly-irritating social idiosyncrasies, but hey, if everything the FSM sent my way were perfect, where would be the challenge to life, and the need to depend on Him? I’m not quite sure what the FSM’s purpose was in introducing someone like that into my life only to snatch him away again before there’s any chance to form any sort of a relationship, but anyhoo, I guess it’s the thought that counts.

    Having an obscenely large number of accounts with various machines at various points on the Internet, I’ve recently taken to pre-generating a set of secure passwords, and whenever I need a new one, I just grab the next one on the list. These passwords typically consist of a randomly-chosen pair of dictionary words, with a randomly-chosen punctuation character between them. Imagine my surprise to find that the randomly generated passwords for two of my accounts are direct (if terse) descriptions of what I use the accounts for! Clearly the odds of this being simple. unguided chance is too high for this to be a mere coincidence (I calculate the odds at one in two-and-a-half billion (thousand million), which is precisely the chances of a particular pair of words being chosen at random from a dictionary of 50,000 words). I’m mystified as to what the purpose might be that the Flying Fettuccine has deemed worthy to place His Noodly Appendage upon my laptop’s pseudo-random number generator, and why these particular accounts and none of the dozens of others; but I take comfort in the knowledge that He has done so, and that the Lasagna works in mysterious ways.

    Yesterday was truly a day of Remarkable Reminders of Pastafarian Providence. Why, just last night I was taking the bus home as usual, and was amazed to discover that I had precisely enough quarters—no less, no more—to pay the fare. Praise Pasta! And earlier that morning, an old, old acquaintance friended me on Facebook—she was a classmate from first grade. First grade! What are the odds that we’d even remember each other, let alone the odds that she would find me through another mutual friend who had just added me because that friend had found me through my best friend’s ex-girlfriend of a decade ago, who happened to have a friend in common with me. Way too many coincidences to be “Just Coincidence”. Truly, the Might of the Macaroni is terrible to behold! How humbling and awe-inspiring it is to know that the Flying Spaghetti Monster devotes his vast and eternal energies into arranging such Divine Appointments. Truly I am blessed! I have no doubt that the Almighty Pasta has arranged just such a meeting so I can tell her all about Him.

    The proof of His Divine Pastaness is all around. I marvel that so many don’t see the signs—or, as I must sadly conclude, turn a blind eye toward them. How do they not see these daily testimonies to his presence? If they’d just take the time to offer up a prayer (“Grace” seems appropriate), or spend a little time to read The Recipe Book a little every day, maybe they’d come to know Him as I have. All these signs I encounter every day prove beyond any shadow of a doubt, the undeniable reality of His Daily Presence and Providence, and provide me with the absolute surety that My Monster Is Real.

    Or maybe just that people tend to be abysmally poor at estimating probabilities. Shrug.

    (Note: just to be clear, I didn’t make a single one of the above stories up. If you really believe things like these are uncannily unlikely, you should probably take a closer look at what you think you know about statistics, chance, and math.)

    Quotation of the Day

    I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.

    —Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, quote from Fort Wayne Indiana News-Sentinel on August 16, 1993 (according to Wikipedia).

    Thanks to the Barefoot Bum for bringing this to my attention, and to Five Public Opinions for bringing it to his.