Posts Tagged ‘atheism

24
Jul
11

Advantage Atheists?

As my post a few days ago makes clear, I see parallels often between fundamentalist Christians (or any religion’s fundies, really, I guess) and hardcore atheists.

Let’s face it: Both groups have their aggressive and argumentative evangelists, and are every bit as annoying as their mirror-image dogma-pushers.

Looking more broadly, rank-and-file Christians and rank-and-file atheists (that is, the ones who just aren’t that into converting folks or really fretting about differences in thinking) generally don’t care about their “opposite number.” Really, the average atheist can get along fine with the average Christian and vice-versa.

Yet, I have to admit that the advantage may go to atheists in one respect. Specifically, in that group of people who are serious about their beliefs (religious or non-religious) and like to espouse their opinions but aren’t trying to convert anyone. They’re the people who are just trying to prove to everyone else they’re right and looking for as much validation as they can from like-minded folks and don’t care whether you convert to their side. In fact, many of them would prefer that you didn’t because they want to continue to dislike you.

Because in that subset of Christians and atheists, they are often trying to explain things and defend positions about things like morality, environmental issues and the like. And frankly, the people who take the Bible too seriously are way more annoying and off-the-rails wrong about issues like those than are atheists using science and logic as their foundation.

Not that this realization makes atheism in any way enticing to me. Why would it? I already have made peace between faith and reason in my life. Between spirituality and logic. Between the ethereal and the carnal. But it does make me wish I could do more to shut up the embarrassing folks who keep trying to justify so many wrong attitudes in life with the Bible, citing damn near every part of it except for Jesus’ teachings.

01
Apr
10

Making the Change

It’s time. Time to bow to the inevitable. It’s been pointed out to me so many ways that faith and reason don’t mix. I’ve been faced with contradictions and challenges in my faith walk.

So I’m hanging it up. Stepping off the path I’ve been walking so long. There’s no proof of God or any higher power, so why keep looking for one?

After all, my moral code doesn’t require a higher power, does it? I can do the right thing without a god watching over my shoulder, much less an invisible one.

My circle of friends will improve. Instead of being surrounded by mindless sheeple, I can cast off those losers and move on to people whose heads are firmly in reality.

I’ll be able to reopen my mind to expand and to grow. No longer anchored by superstitious nonsense, I can stop being held back. Now when I read a book on some social issue or historical situation or intriguing person, I won’t be filtering it through my religion-clouded mind.

I will become a fully actualized human being. I will evolve to the level I was intended to. I will be free…

OK, if the sarcasm is too subtle, and you’ve forgotten that it’s April Fool’s Day, I’m doing none of that. Well, not giving up my spiritual walk, thank you very much. The growth, intellectual ability, and the rest I will pursue, but then again, I’ve always pursued them. Because believing in God and in Jesus has never held me back from any of that.

This wasn’t a post meant to tease my agnostic or atheist readers into thinking they converted me. This wasn’t meant to confused or dismay my readers who believe faith has a place in life. But being April 1, it seemed as good a time, and as good a way, as any to make a point.

The point that faith is not garbage, and it is not some universal “idiot maker.”

I’ve been down this road before in other posts, but there’s a little twist I want to make this time, based on some blowback I got at another blog when I called the blogger on some bullshit. He was making a point about the stupidity of religious folks, in this case those who believe in the Rapture, by using a video of a prank perpetrated on a Christian to make her think the Rapture had happened and she’d been left behind. Problem was that the prank was clearly a fake. Clearly it had been scripted, it was badly acted, and wasn’t a prank at all. This was pretty universally acknowledged by the blogger and the many commenters who were enjoying sticking it to the faithful.

And yet, it was still maintained that making using the video as an example of Christian stupidity, even though it was a scripted/fake situation, was justified.

Moreover, in my criticism of that tactic, and my defense of faith, some interesting comments were being hurled around. Basic themes were:

Religion/faith prevents people from engaging in critical thinking or being progressive socially and politically

Religion/faith are holding back human evolution and progress

Believing that there is no God is a harder but more rewarding path than faith

If you believe in a higher power of any kind, you are not intelligent

Those are the biggies.

Except they aren’t true. Sure, there are people who don’t think and are faithful. But you know how many people don’t really practice their presumed religions in any way…or who don’t believe…and are ALSO idiots? Do you truly think that every person who wants their “life doctrine” fed to them is religious? Really? If so, do you get out much? Not many people call President Obama the antichrist, at least not in comparison to the number who call him a socialist or fascist or jihadist.

I have deeply held faith beliefs, and yet I engage in critical thinking all the time; sometimes about my own faith.

I spent most of my life irreligious, and frankly, it’s far easier to not believe in a God. It’s really freaking easy to go through life not thinking about any higher powers and to behave as if the only consequences to our actions are those we reap on this Earth. As to whether faith or lack of faith is more rewarding, I can’t say. I suspect there is no appreciable difference as long as the person feels fulfilled in their journey. But in many ways, a faith walk is far more challenging (when properly pursued) than a non-faith walk. So don’t tell me I’ve taken the easy way.

And finally, how has religion and faith held us back? I keep hearing from so many atheists about how we won’t move forward until we shed religion.

I keep hearing about how too few Christians are “progressive” yet the moment someone like me comes along shattering that image, and talking about friends who likewise shatter that image, we’re branded as apologists who just work in new fantasies to fill the gaps. We go from being socially irresponsible idiot to mostly harmless idiots.

Scientists can make as many fancy theories of unproved and unobserved things as they want to fill in the gaps. But add an intelligence to something unseen and unprovable, and you’re a mindless automaton.

But you see, as much as these things annoy me, in the way they disregard and marginalize people like me, that isn’t the real point of my rant. Yes, once again, as so often happens in this blog, I’ve done something I almost never do in an article about some pharma business deal or information technology trend: I buried the lead.

Here’s what bothers me and what I don’t understand:

Why must the most intellectual and/or pompous atheists insist on a “scorched earth policy” in which the only good world is one without religion, whether formal and institutionalized or a more personalized spirituality?

I mean, really? These folks claim that religion hampers our progress.

Truly?

How?

Most of our technological and scientific and artistic outpourings have taken place in cultures in which religion was important. Even in these relatively secular days since the late 20th century, we still have an estimated 5 or 6 billion people out of around 7 billion who claim to have some kind of religious or spiritual belief. And yet we have these huge advances in genomics, information technology, energy, conservation, and more. Art continues to be put out, whether purile or thought-provoking, family friendly or aggressively provocative. Social advances continue.

Even with the most egregious example lately of religion and science butting heads, which would be the embryonic stem cell debate, religion stopped nothing. In fact, it hardly even put a dent in stem cell research, even with President George W. Bush backing it. In fact, that debacle, as embarrassing as I may consider it as a progressive Christian, ultimately forced researchers into a much better direction anyway, and one that is more practical long-term: figuring out how to make adult stem cells act more like embryonic ones so that they can be changed into any kind of cell in the body. Huge advances are being made there, and not an embryo in sight.

Where is this fantasy world that so many atheists concoct where they are persecuted and humanity is being held back in some primitive mode?

Because, frankly, science marches on, and so does everything else.

And oh, by the way, how about the large number of scientists who still believe in God? I’ve seen the figure at over 60% as recently as 2005. Just because some of the more notable ones with big book publishing deals like Stephen Hawking don’t believe in God doesn’t make it a universal belief.

Oh, yeah, I saw one guy dismiss that 60%+ figure by citing a survey of “leading scientists,” limiting the pool only to members of the National Academy of Sciences and ignoring the multitude of other scientists out there. (I guess by this guy’s standard, if anyone polls journalists about something, I can’t be included because I didn’t join a professional journalism society. So much for the bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and more than 20 years of experience…)

Science includes elements of faith. Faith can include elements of reason. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Moreover, if atheists are waiting for that magical utopia wherein there is no faith in higher powers, they are going to be waiting a long time. And when that time comes, if it ever does, I’m pretty confident we’ll have a world with just as much intolerance, just as much violence and just as much ignorance as we have throughout history so far.

13
Jul
09

Getting Off Track, Part 2

As is so often the case, I went negative on my “own kind” first by pointing out some serious flaws in many Christian mind-sets (see “Getting Off Track, Part 1“) before I decided to go pointing fingers at the non-Christians. But now, it’s time for some people on the other side to get their share.

I saw a bumper sticker a few days ago: Jesus, Protect Me From Your Followers.

I got a chuckle out of that, because it is true than many Christians make Christianity an easy target due to their actions (and not because there’s anything inherently bad in the tenets of Christianity itself). Frankly, a lot of Christians scare me, and I’m a faithful (if inconsistent) follower of Jesus.

But at the same time, when people get in my face (literally or figuratively) about how arrogant I am that I would say Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, I can only ponder this: “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”

Why the rancor toward Jesus and the faith centered on him? I mean, this is one of the most progressive guys of ancient history. I’m still waiting to see agnostics and atheists pile onto the Jews or Buddhists or anyone else and call them arrogant for believing their paths are the right paths and probably the only legitimate paths.

And please, don’t start with the “Well, Christianity has done more damage than…” It’s a bullshit argument that half the time isn’t even accurate and generally has little to do with Christianity itself, and I’m tired of people arguing that most of the world doesn’t really even know about Jesus, much less believe in him, and thus I should shut the hell up…and yet somehow my faith is doing these people such harm. You can’t have it both ways. Is Christianity abusing them, or are they ignorant of Jesus? Kind of hard to believe both things.

Maybe I’ll start a path toward accepting the argument that having a set of strong beliefs makes me arrogant when more people around me start saying, “Gee, representative democracies in capitlalist nations sure do seem to do a lot of damage to the world! We’d better abandon capitalism and democracy right now!”

It is not arrogance for me to say that Jesus is the right path. It’s my belief, and you are welcome to think otherwise and to disagree with me. But it still doesn’t make me arrogant.

You see, God has an easy way, and a hard way. But it all comes down to Jesus the Christ in the end.

I give Little Girl Blue as much freedom and latitude as I can. I allow her, even at just shy of four years old, to disagree with me strenuously if she likes. But in the end, if something needs to be done a certain way (i.e. Daddy says so), then it will get done my way in the end. Not because I’m a tyrant but because that’s the way it needs to be, for her health, safety, and general well-being and proper growth.

Now, Little Girl Blue can say, “Daddy, I don’t want to” and then do it anyway because I’ve asked her nicely and explained why it’s necessary. That’s the easy way. (Note, I don’t expect the easy way to be to just obey me without question; not even God really expects that of us…He knows us too well). Or, she can throw a tantrum or ignore me repeatedly and do other things that will cause me to raise my voice and possibly snap one of her favorite DVDs in half and throw it out (should she push things that far).

She has options. But eventually, it comes down to me or to mommy and what we’ve laid down as law.

You can give Jesus some serious consideration now (and hopefully come to see that he is the way, the truth and the life), or you can just keep shouting that it’s arrogant to believe such things. But I wonder, when your heart beats its last, and you see Jesus, and he gives you an amused little smile, a shrug of his shoulders and says, “You know, Deac and Big Man and a lot of those other folks pretty much had a lot of it right. So, why don’t we talk about the choice you want to make now”…what are you going to do?

Are you going to say, “Oh, well, I guess we should talk then. I guess I was off track there.”

Or will you say, “Fine, I’m here, you arrogant messianic asshole. You think I’m going to bend my knee now?”

Hard way, easy way…and even a semi-hard way right in between the two, I believe…but hell, it’s your choice, and I’m devout in my conviction that you have every right to make any of those choices. Your right. Your free will. It doesn’t affect me in the end. I wish you well, I hope you do well in this life and the next, and I respect your rights.

If that’s the new definition of arrogance, then I’m happily arrogant.

09
Apr
09

One Nation, After God

church01So, as you may have heard, not only are we in a post-racial America now that Barack Obama has been elected president (yeah, right…), we also may be on the brink of the End of Christian America (cue up the ominous music…and go here if you want to read an article about this matter).

OK, so fewer Americans self-identify as Christians. More people identify as having no particular religious beliefs or profess to be atheists. And “only” a third of Americans think of themselves as born-again.

And I say: So what?

What is the frickin’ problem here? Why are so many Christians so up in arms about this? As a Christian myself, who is born again, this trend strikes me as neither a surprise nor, in fact, even a real issue.

I say this for two reasons: one of them political/social and the other biblical.

The Political and Social Aspect

Regardless of the ranting and ravings of the more froth-at-the-mouth conservative commentators, the United States of America is not a Christian nation, and never was. It doesn’t matter that our money says “In God We Trust.” It doesn’t matter that the Founding Fathers were either Christians or Deists. It doesn’t matter that the government added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, (62 years after the pledge was first introduced, incidentally). We are not a Christian nation.

The Founding Fathers expressly dictated that there should be no state religion. They were trying to escape the tyranny of a government that told them what to believe and taxed them from afar while giving them no say in the running of their nation. And even if they had put Christianity into the Constitution as the official religion of the the land—which they didn’t—they had designed the Constitution so that it could be amended later to change with the times and evolve. Even if they secretly desired everyone in the nation to be a Christian, they left open the intrinsic right—and expectation—that not everyone would be so.

If we are going to insist that this be a Christian nation because the Founding Fathers were Christian, we should still embrace other notions they had at the time, such as the idea that only white landowners should vote. We should therefore revoke voting rights from all women, most of the men in the nation, and all non-whites. If that sounds good to you, you scare me and should immediately hole up in your bunker until you starve to death.

In a nation that embraced immigration and encourages people all over the world to come and enjoy our “American Dream” by becoming citizens of our nation, or at least fans of it from overseas, it is ridiculous to think that we would remain overwhelming Christian. There is more than one religion in the world. And two of the other biggies, Judaism and Islam, come from essentially the same roots as Christianity, so we should expect them to stick around too and even grow.

I don’t want a nation to base it policies and laws on a single religion’s belief system. So, frankly, I’m glad that conservative Christians aren’t calling all the political shots and able to freely frame laws around their specific religious precepts.

The Biblical Take on Things

But beyond the political and social reasons why should neither be surprised nor frightened by a lessening of the “Christianity” of the United States, there is the biblical aspect.

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament have all told us, multiple times, that people will ultimately turn away from God for the most part. It has been made crystal clear that a time will come when Christians will not necessarily be in a position of prestige or even safety. “Men will become lovers of themselves and not of God.” Furthemore, “we will be persecuted for Jesus’ sake.” Need I go on?

If you’re Christian and you’ve read the Bible at all, you should expect that the world will gradually drift away from Christianity. We were never promised a world in which folks would mostly be praising God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost and just a few people would be lost. God would prefer that no one be lost, but the fact is that the world is supposed to go away from God’s away. That’s is what we’ve been told to expect.

To fret about gradual movements (or even seismic-level ones) toward that and to argue about how wrong it is strikes me a lot like complaining that teenagers often don’t listen to their parents or like their decisions. Sure, it’s a valid topic of conversation, but the core fact you’re addressing is only going to come as a surprise to someone who’s totally clueless about reality.

This doesn’t change the fact that we should be ready to share the Gospel with those who are interested or who don’t really understand it. But to be surprised that Christianity would fall by the wayside should be no surprise at all. That road was predicted more than 2,000 years ago for us.

17
Mar
09

If God Came Down…

gods-handI’m going to say something that might strike a lot of you as silly.

If God came down and showed His power and said, “I am God, and by the way, yes, Jesus is my son”…well, I don’t think everyone (perhaps not even the majority of folks) would start believing in God or the way of Christianity.

Mind you, if Vishnu came down or Zeus or Buddha or anyone else, I think they wouldn’t get as much respect as you’d think, either.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit as people have chided me in believing in a God who won’t show Himself more obviously. I also read a very interesting novel recently called The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson, and the main character in it, who’s more than a bit of a doubter, writes at one point, something to the effect of: “Just one flaming cross in the sky that everyone can see at the same time. That’s all it would take.”

But that’s a lie, really.

Think about it. If a flaming cross appeared in the sky, would you assume it came from God? Even if there was a booming voice saying, “Respect this cross, for on it my one begotten son died for your sins”? Or, would you be one of the people who claims it’s some sort of prelude to an alien invasion, and that aliens created religion as a way to come back and wield power over us with minimal resistance?

Or might you be someone who would claim that some government or coalition of governments seeking to institutionalize religious precepts had made the cross and voice appear with some hitherto hush-hush technology created in Area 51?

Or might you think you had lost your mind and were hallucinating or in a coma or something, and everyone around you who saw this was just part of your imagination, too?

Or, hey, God Himself steps out of the clouds, not just some fiery lightshow. You might use one of the theories above, or maybe you’d say, “Shit, some numbnut was born with the ability to reshape reality, and now we have a crazy mutant near-omnipotent nutjob who thinks he’s God almighty.”

These are not silly notions; that humans would doubt so much even then. Many people don’t like the idea of a God in Heaven. They will not accept that idea no matter how hard you hit them over the heads. Some people don’t want to have a God in Heaven, and even if they are made to believe He exists, those people may quite well reject Him because they don’t like His way of doing things.

So, in the end, even if burning crosses appear in the sky, well…I think we’re mostly left with faith.

12
Mar
09

Superstition, Insanity and Faith

black-cat-on-red1With Friday the 13th coming up tomorrow…oh, that unlucky day…I thought I’d wax philosophical on superstition vs. faith.

Fearing that bad luck will befall you because you walked under a ladder is superstition. Leaving food out for the fairies so that they won’t do mischief in your house is superstition. Keeping a rabbit’s foot in your pocket is superstition.

Hell, I’ll even grant you (despite my Christian faith) that praying for something and expecting to get what you want is superstition. (God isn’t a cosmic ATM).

Faith in any religion or belief in a god (or God Himself) is not superstition. Maybe it is if you’re looking to explain love as being some god firing an arrow in your ass or the movement of the sun as being due to some dude’s invisible chariot. But a belief in a higher power is not superstition.

In fact, I find it no more ludicrous than believing that the whole universe just spontaneously popped out of nowhere, which is what a lot of people seem to believe. Or that it was a pre-existing compressed ball of matter/energy that suddenly exploded. Because the fact is that believing the universe is some random unguided thing that has always existed in some form is just as wacky as believing there is an entity (or are entities) that shaped it and perhaps guide it on some higher level.

So, with that, I respectfully request that anyone who has been baiting Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or anyone else with the “I can’t believe you buy into that superstitious nonsense” line please stop. You can disagree with faith, but please stop lumping it in with superstition. I wish some of you would stop with the “delusional” tag as well, because I know that I’m well aware of reality, the laws of physics and the need to function in the world around me.

As for the Scientologists, who maintain a huge, cultish church around the writings of a bad science fiction author?

Well, they’re just fucking insane.

25
Feb
09

Taking the Leap

the-big-leapNo surprise to regular readers that I have semi-regular discussions with atheists and agnostics on this blog and at others. I don’t try to covert them, because I’m not clinically insane nor masochistic, but I think it’s great to make sure we all understand each other. Much better than one side calling the other a bunch of superstitious idiots, while the other side is calling them narrow-minded secularists.

In fact, TitforTat and The Word of Me have probably been my most frequent foils lately (and I mean that in the nicest recreational fencing/dueling way possible). In terms of longer dialogs, though, TWOM had a conversation with me here with regard to a Mrs. Blue post here, and I’m trading thoughts with him over at one of his postsover at his blog right now.

It’s good stuff, and I like the conversations. As long as no one gets to calling me an out-of-touch looney-toon, all’s good (that hasn’t happened often, and most of those people I don’t even try to engage again). But I have been thinking a lot lately about what divides a spiritual believer from a non-believer, and it strikes me that as much as we intellectually can appreciate each other, it is hard to truly explain ourselves to each other. For both sides, it seems self-evident that our position is the correct one, and it troubles us on some level that the other side hasn’t broken through to our way of thinking.

This struck me in particular when TWOM recently posted in one of his comments something to the effect of “I’ve read the Bible and I’ve tried to understand it and believe.” I’m probably misquoting him a bit, but that was the gist as I recall. And it’s been said to me before by other agnostics and atheists that they have tried to read the Bible with an open mind and “just don’t get it.”

And this is precisely where the rubber meets the road: Faith vs. concrete facts. Intellect vs. surrender.

This is not to say that the faithful lack intellect nor that the doubters and atheists lack any kind of “spiritual” or moral core. Far from it. But here is the best example I can come up with as a person of faith:

Imagine a person who decides to go skydiving. There are a few likely scenarios.

She completely freaks out with fear and doesn’t go to the skydiving takeoff point at all. This would analogous, I believe, to someone who says “Yes, I’ll consider your points and/or read that Bible thing” but never really tries.

She goes to the site, freaks out, and just cannot get on the plane, or she gets on the plane but cannot get herself out of that seat until it lands again. She never jumps, but she at least went to where it would all start. I liken this to the person who does give some consideration to it, but never really turns off the literal/concrete parts of their brain. I mean, I personally enjoy and respect (and use) critical thinking, but you cannot think your way to faith.

She makes it to the door of the plane while it is in midair, but she cannot make the jump. She sees all that open sky beneath her and feels the excitement and fear in her gut. She has a visceral and emotional reaction, but making the leap is just too much. She goes back to her seat. Here we have a person who has managed to open their heart and might see a glimpse of what the faith believer sees, but on some level, the thought of letting go is too much. Whether because of fear that it might be true, and a desire not to find out and have to consider answering to a higher power, or whether fear that faith will lessen them somehow; reduce their intellect or spin them too far away from provable reality perhaps.

She jumps out of the plane and goes for the ride. This would be the person who does make the leap from purely temporal and rational thought to faith. It is a wild and scary ride sometimes, and the person might regret it in some ways. The person might even decide one day to reverse course and deny that faith she tasted or decide not to embrace it fully, but the leap was indeed made, whether for a short time or a lifetime.

None of this is to suggest that atheists or agnostics are cowards. Fear isn’t altogether a bad thing. And they, in turn, could accuse someone of me of being fearful of considering that there isn’t anything beyond this life; that there isn’t any intelligence guiding the universe. They would argue that I am afraid to let go of a comfortable superstition.

Myself, I don’t feel fear at the possibility there might not be a God. I have considered it. Hell, I spent most of my life ignoring spiritual things and the church and might as well have been an agnostic or even atheist, despite having been a baptized Catholic who occasionally went to church. I still find myself at a crossroads at times when I ask, “Am I spiritually delusional?” In the end analysis, having made the leap and feeling the swell of my spirit and sensing things beyond the physical and intellectual, I simply cannot conceive of there not being a God.

It is, to me, as clear and as unassailable as the existence of gravity. That doesn’t mean I don’t doubt some of the specifics of the Bible or wonder if my spiritual path is the right one. But for me, taking the leap wasn’t simply a transient thing. I live in a world where God exists, and I can no more deny Him than I can deny myself.

20
Dec
08

So It’s An Uneven Field by Miz Pink

I know Deke keeps an even head most of the time and a sunny disposition with people who think people who believe in God are nutter-butters. He doesn’t let it get to him much but I do see times when he clearly gets a little miffed (even if he tries to hide it) that his faith somehow puts him in a category of not being “in touch with reality” or not being a “critical thinker.”

So as I see things here at this blog in the comments sometimes and stalk him around some of the other blogs he posts at I can almost see him getting a twitch in the corner of his eye and balling his fists at times. Not often but enough.

I understand it because I get irritated when I see some of that too. As much as I don’t like Christians who brow-beat everyone else and slam them with “your going to hell” when they disagree and crap…I also don’t like atheists and agnostics who act like people of faith are simple-minded folks who are holding onto fairy tales.

But you know what? I’m not going to get irritated anymore, and I’m gonna encourage Deke not to either.

Jesus told us we would catch flack for our beliefs and for lifting him up. He told us we would have tribulations and trials and he told us to turn the other cheek.

People who are opposed to faith-led beliefs are sometimes going to be irritating and even insulting at times. They are going to be in many cases dismissive. I accept that. And as hard as it makes my job or Deke’s. As much as it might hurt to not get the same consideration that we give to them (I’m not lumping everyone into this boat…there are atheists and agnostics who are respectful but some are just jerks) well…we just need to accept that they are going to want an uneven playing field.

They are going to want to throw science into our faces and remind us that we can’t prove the existence of God, then rub salt into the wound by telling us that we shouldn’t even be trying to use science or archeology or anything else either because the Bible tells us faith is enough. They will continue to tell us it’s silly to believe in a God that always existed but refuse to explain how that’s sillier than the fact we live in a universe thats clearly always existed or came from nothing at some point…just like God.

It’s not worth getting upset about. And after this post, I probably shouldn’t even point out this mindset again…because it’s not something we should let get to us. As believers in Christ, it isn’t our right to expect a level playing field in discussions about faith with ANYONE. We might get level fields. Sometimes we might get the high ground in a debate and have the advantage. But we shouldn’t expect anything to be “fair” and we shouldn’t let that stop us. We should just be ready to take the heat and turn the cheek and keep on going.

06
Oct
08

Necessary Dogma?

I’m going to start with a simple question:

Can we exist without religion?

Now, I don’t mean can you personally exist without religious, faith-based beliefs. Obviously, you can. Many of you do. What I mean is: Is it possible for us to be human and have a society in which there is no religion?

You can feel free to disagree with me, but I am going to throw down the gauntlet and say, “No.” Because I don’t believe we can ever remove religion from the human experience no matter how far science goes and how much evidence accumulates that faith in a higher power is silly.

I’ve been thinking about this since seeing Bill Maher on The Daily Show a couple days ago. At one point in his newly released documentary film Religulous, in a clip shown on The Daily Show, Maher stood in a park shouting out some of the tenets of Scientology just to see how crazy people would think he was. And, of course, also to make the point that as crazy as Scientology’s underlying sci-fi mystical underpinnings are, Christianity and other religions should be seen as equally silly because their underlying “mythology” is nonsensical, too.

Later in his interview with Jon Stewart, Maher noted that he wasn’t an atheist himself, despite the hard time he gives religion, because atheism itself is still a belief system based in absolutism, and he abhors that. In other words, there is no way to know, he seems to be arguing, and thus agnosticism is the only way to be if one is going to be intellectually honest. (These aren’t his words, but my interpretation of his meaning.)

OK, I’m not arguing Maher’s logic here. No point or need to anyway, as religious faith is by its very definition something that cannot be explained or proved by science. What I want to talk about is two things that Maher has shown me in this segment with Jon Stewart.

First, since he’s admitted that atheism seems just as stupid to him as belief in God or in multiple gods, he obviously isn’t quite the douchebag I’ve always felt he was. I still find him frequently irritating when he riffs on political, social or religious issues and I think he can be way too smarmy, but this statement alone make me respect him much more than I did before. But a corollary to this is that it also proves my point that religion will always be with us in some organized fashion or another, not matter how much certain people would like it to go away. If we cannot know for sure either way, you can therefore assume that someone will always gravitate toward, or even create, a religion no matter how silly it might seem to most everyone else. In other words, no matter how much science advances, there will always be doubt and thus always niches for both theism and atheism.

Second, the fact that Scientology exists, even though it is so eminently mockable, is proof religion will always be with us. Scientology is based on the lunatic sci-fi egomaniacal ravings of author L. Ron Hubbard. Now, there are people who swear by Scientology’s ability to help people, but they look like a bunch of loons to me, and Tom Cruise’s increasing zaniness, bordering on outright insanity, just cements that idea for me. But back to my point: Scientology uses science fiction-type concepts to create a religion instead of using mystical ones. Given that science will likely never advance enough to explain the whole of existence, this means that even if you wipe out all the old religions, someone will simply create a new one that draws more from science than mysticism/magic.

Nothing I’ve said here proves anything. I still have ample reasons both spiritually and even historically to believe that Christianity is honestly the path to God and the true way, spiritually speaking. And if you have alternate religious beliefs, you will tell me that I am wrong. Fair enough. Just rambling a bit and posing what I hope is an interesting question.

And, as a follow-up to the “Can we exist without religion?” question, I find myself wondering, “Why, then, do we insist on looking to (and for) a higher power now that we no longer need to explain why the sun rises and sets, why the seasons change, why people get sick and die, etc.?”

24
Aug
08

I Just Don’t Know

So, yesterday’s post by Miz Pink, “I Can See Clearly Now,” got me to thinking about something. In the effort to win souls over to God, it’s really about inspiring the folks who are in non-Christian faiths and those who are agnostic to seek Jesus. It’s not about reaching atheists. Not that atheists cannot come to a point in life where they consider the possibility of God (or gods). They can. But let’s face it: You don’t go straight from atheism to theism. You have to at least progress to agnostic first.

I mean, it’s pretty impossible to go from “I don’t believe” to “I believe” without at least having a few-minutes-long debate in your head that goes something like: “Well, maybe.”

With people of non-Christian faiths, those people tend to come to Christianity because they see something in a Christian person that makes them seriously take pause (in a good way) or because they see some essential truth in the Gospel that is missing from their own faith or because they have come to a point where their own faith is ringing very false but Christianity doesn’t. It seems somehow fairly straightforward because the person already has a grounding in faith. It’s just a matter of realizing the faith was being misdirected.

It gets very complex with agnostic folks, though. And I came to the realization recently that many of the anti-religion folks who have challenged my beliefs online aren’t atheists. I have often thought of them as such, and some of them really are, but most I think are actually agnostic. They dislike Christianity or any other religion because while they can conceive that there might be a spiritual world, they maintain that with so many different faiths, there is no way to know which path is right, and maybe all of them are.

I could go into any number of reasons why it is clear to me that Christianity is the right path and why other faiths exist, but that would get this post to be way too long, get me off my point and generally just irritate some folks. I don’t want to do all of those things in one post, really.

So, back to my angle on agnosticism. I think there are really three main types of agnostics, and two of them pose particular challenges. And I don’t mean challenges in converting them, because that isn’t the job of a Christian. Only the individual, though connection to God through Jesus, can cause a conversion. It isn’t even the job of a Christian to start the process; only to help show by various means that it is a valid process to begin or to at least consider. No, the “problem” with some of the agnostic personalities is that they (a) create barriers to God reaching them and (b) they tend to encourage arguments between the agnostic and Christians that he or she may encounter.

The Seeking Agnostic

This is the kind of agnostic that a Christian is most likely to be able to inspire or support on a path toward becoming born again. The seeking agnostic doesn’t know what the answers are, but he or she desperately wants to know. Such people can be in a very dangerous position, depending on how badly they want answers, because they may seek answers through very charismatic but fringe churches in the Christian sphere, they might be drawn into dangerous cults, or they may get caught up in a faith that isn’t going to get them to where they need to be “on the other side.”

The Apathetic Agnostic

This kind of agnostic doesn’t know and doesn’t really care if they figure it out. These folks often figure that if there is a God or multiple gods, then we are almost all going to get a “pass” because no decent mega-powerful spiritual being could possibly hold our ignorance against us. They are wrong, because they miss the point that any spiritual being who cares about our eternal souls and doesn’t make him or herself obvious clearly wants us to seek connection. I’ve talked about this before, but probably most directly in my “End of the Line?” post. To put it in a nutshell, my personal belief is that God will give a lot more credit to those who try to figure things out, even if they end up on the wrong path, than to those who try to coast through life like there isn’t anything to worry about after life ends. I would go so far as to say that there are some people out there who think of themselves as agnostic but might actually be born again. That’s a complex topic, and probably one for another day, but I think it is possible. But that would be the seeking agnostic, probably not the apathetic agnostic, anyway.

The Almost-Atheist

These are the folks who are probably more likely even than an atheist to try to intellectually smack around believers of all sorts by telling them it is ridiculous to claim that anyone knows the true path to God, assuming that there is actually any God. I think that most hard-core atheists, the ones who truly don’t even try to accept the idea that a spiritual world might exist, really don’t give a shit what believers think. It may concern them on a gut level, but a real atheist who has any intelligence won’t try to convince a faithful person to give up his or her god. Lord know I don’t try to convince atheists or agnostics to believe in God or Jesus, only to treat me as a person with a brain and to try to have some smidgen of empathy for me about why I choose to believe.

The almost-atheist is probably the most likely person on the planet to tell a Christian or any other religiously oriented person that it’s time to give up superstition, stop “rattling the bones and feathers” and join the 21st century world. And part of that, I think, is because they are bothered on some level that they don’t know for sure, and that people are out there acting like they do.

And that’s cool, too. To each their own. There are plenty of people I have encountered in all three camps, both in real life and through the Internet, and I don’t like them any less as human beings. Just thought I’d share some of my insights (or maybe they’re my own biased misconceptions) since Miz Pink inadvertently got me to thinking about all this.




Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley

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