Monday, April 25, 2011



Someday I must atone for what I’ve done

In the name of the father and the son:

I do not bring peace but I bring a sword—

Witness heaven and hell in one accord.

Abandon that family – follow me:

I will atone for this inequity.

Forgive me, for I do blaspheme today—

I will give my answer on Judgment Day.

But there is a lesson I must learn

Before receiving punishment I earn:

If I should grow again with each mistake

Then I should be condemned for my own sake,

So I may revel in sacred knowledge

I encounter in sinful tutelage.

I inherit my sense of right and wrong

Not from a bequest which didn’t belong

To me, but from what I earned honestly

Through my schooling in blunt conformity

With the blinded oracle of Nature.

I therefore know myself as a creature

Abused by God and cast into a pit

For transcending my ignorant spirit.

Friday, August 20, 2010



One swirling, starry night in Bethlehem,

Plucking out an eye, rather than an ear,

Could have been a prophet, priest, or poet;

But, enraptured by patterns and pictures

Of airy canvass, instead seek palettes

In pastel-plastered hands of the divine,

Molded in reflection by the longing

Stirrings of compassion and resentment;

I march underneath the Arc de Triomphe

Of the mind: submerged somewhere deep in time

Lies the glimpse of passion in my paintbrush,

Some speck of love and trauma in my eye -

A lust for wonder that can never die;

Yet the greatest of us can only cry,

While grief remains of all these the greatest,

Highest joy in this transitory world:

Since change is the one medium of love,

My brush flickers: embers burning boldly;

Their glow reveals the beauty of the sky,

As seen by those who steal a glimpse and sigh.

- Teleprompter

Monday, February 1, 2010



An ugliness lies within perception

That draws fire through my words and vision:

Ambition embedded in jealousy

Has been charting my life's trajectory.

Every gathered drop of resentment burns,

Reducing a thousand gnawing concerns -

Yet when lightning strikes, the raging torrent

Sputters: to give life breath without consent,

To give the echoes voice and the void eyes.

Fear will replenish anger and devise

Concentrations of every form of hate,

Which bemoan and also perpetuate

Within the author of new creation.

Either destruction or inspiration

Will consume all the feelings synthesized

By senseless emotion, rationalized.

- Teleprompter

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

They Will Not Control Us

You are not the prisoners of context. You are not the prisoners of your own bodies. You don't have to be.

You can transcend this interaction. You can transcend stimulus-response. You can transcend your impulses and urges.

Set yourselves free. You have the key to your attitude. How will you confront the world? How will you defend yourself from the onslaught of circumstance?

You have the power to change. You have the power to stop. You have the power to start over. Will you allow yourselves the opportunity to become something greater than yourself?

Christians say that Jesus died for your sins. What exactly did Jesus change? Did he change the environment? Did he change the laws of genetics? Did he stop complexity arising from simplicity?

How did you and I get here? We evolved. To such great hands does the creator of the Universe entrust its creation! Our current state is the direct result of doing whatever we could to survive.

Fighting, fear and fate. These are the masters of billions of years of natural selection. We have been engineered to survive. You have been engineered to become amoral beings. To be or not to be.

That is the sole moral law of our universe. Every act you consider good is only designed to ensure a fair chance of survival. Every wrong you do is wrong because it hurts another survivor. What's the difference?

Everyone wants to survive. What's fair to me is what I could get in my position if I were you. It's easy to deny someone else. It's preferable to look out for number one. Let me repeat: to be or not to be is the moral law.

However, you are not the hostage of fortune. This is the good news. You can be better by cooperating. You can transcend your fortune. You can defy fate. You can master probability. Do you want to transcend your own mere survival?

We can create a better legacy. You do not have to be controlled by your environment. You do not have to be consumed by your urges and impulses. You each have the ability to question everything you do. Inquiry is the ultimate path to transcendence.


This post found inspiration in Muse's song "Uprising" and in The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

Friday, January 1, 2010

It's A Foundation Beyond Belief...Literally!

There is a new organization on the block - the Foundation Beyond Belief - that I am proud to bring to your attention. Foundation Beyond Belief will represent and coordinate charitable and educational efforts intended to demonstrate and encourage the generosity and compassion of atheists, humanists, and other freethinkers. The Foundation will also provide a comprehensive education and support program for non-theistic parents.

Foundation Beyond Belief will highlight ten different charitable organizations every quarter. All contributions each quarter will be directed toward these charities - however, individual donors can direct their contributions toward any of the organizations which are featured. You can join as a Member by making an automatic charitable contribution each month in the amount of your choice.

The featured charities may be affiliated with or founded on any worldview as long as they do not proselytize. I believe that the Foundation Beyond Belief can be and will be a tremendous resource not only for atheists and humanists, but for all the people who will be positively affected through the actions of the charitable organizations which are the beneficiaries of the Foundation Beyond Belief.

Members of the public may not realize that many people who are not religious also feel the desire to help other people through philanthropy. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the world's most notable philanthropists, are non-believers. When you watch the suffering all around you in this world, there's a desire to act and to help someone else achieve a better life for themselves. How could you not see the suffering? How could you not want for your fellow human beings the opportunities that you've had for yourself? It's simple, but profound, empathy and compassion.

I am proud to be able to bring news of this Foundation to my readers. Here's a brief video which explains and elaborates many of the details of the Foundation Beyond Belief:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ex-Christians and William Lane Craig

Earlier today, Demian Farnworth, author of the blog Fallen and Flawed, sent me a link to this podcast from Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig.

Tonight, I will be live-blogging my reactions to Dr. Craig's commentary, having never heard this podcast before. Let's see how this goes.

Question: It seems like more and more Christian apologists are leaving the faith and actively promoting atheism on the Internet. What do you think? Further, is it really possible to leave the faith for intellectual rather than emotional reasons?

Dr. Craig: You could say that the increasing number of people leaving the faith who have studied apologetics is simply a function of the increasing number of people who are studying apologetics.

Other Host: I think we have to look at in on a case-by-case basis. Could someone leave the faith for any intellectual reasons, or is it emotional?

Dr. Craig: I think it's for moral reasons, frankly...I say that not on the basis of case studies or investigations, but on the basis of what Scripture says.

Me: Whoa, I was with you up until then. You haven't done any case studies, you haven't done any investigations - you don't have any stories or rumors. Just Scripture...not very convincing.

Dr. Craig: Scripture says that if you inculcate godliness into your character, you will not fail [emphasis mine].

Me: 'The Scripture says'. I've read entirely too many deconversion accounts where people have specifically related that losing their faith was the last thing they ever wanted to do, that they wanted to serve their God but just could no longer believe. 'The Scripture says' isn't doing it for me, because unlike Dr. Craig, I actually have read up on "case studies".

Dr. Craig: This is why Christian apologists must make sure that we're keeping our lives clean and pure and holy before God.

Me: Fine. But you honestly think every other person who ever deconverted didn't try that? That's the great thing about defending Christianity: it's so difficult that no one can reasonably be expected to live it, so easy that you can get a child to do it.

Dr. Craig: I think, ultimately, that no one either fails to come to faith or falls away from faith due to intellectual difficulties alone. Ultimately, it's a spiritual matter about the orientation of that person's heart, and whether that person truly wants God and is open to God, or whether that person is closing God out of his heart and mind.

The Other Host and Dr. Craig: Some other stuff about Paul.

Dr. Craig: Some of these Christian apologists who have fallen away will often be very open about the moral difficulties which have led to their falling away: immorality, pornography, adultery"

Other Host: It's pretty easy to get burned the last thing we want to do is to start taking a hardened stance towards people.

Me: That sounds like fairly good advice to me for any profession.

Dr. Craig: Another danger is becoming too cerebral...Alvin Plantinga, his book talks about how because of sin we love ourselves instead of God...the Holy Spirit helps repair that and help us respond emotionally to God and love Him. And if we ignore that side of our personality, then we can become dry and burned out.

Other Host: Sometimes people need just a human touch.

Me: Again, that sounds like good advice.

Dr. Craig: I think when you look at the some of the narratives of those who have left the faith, you will find a bitterness and a disappointment with those in the Christian Church because people did not come along side of them and help them when they were going through their time of struggle.

Me: And that's pretty much the end of the discussion on that subject.

Dr. Craig is clearly sincere about his beliefs. When presented with the potential problem of people who shared the same beliefs as Dr. Craig and no longer believe what he believes - it's only natural that Dr. Craig should find a way to reconcile his opinion that he has correct beliefs with evidence that contradicts his beliefs. By dismissing those accounts, which very obviously contradict his beliefs if he grants that some of the people who've deconverted may have done so for intellectual reasons, he's reaffirmed his beliefs from doubt. Once one begins the path of 'there may be intellectual reasons against my belief', one's priority is going to be critical thinking, and one is going to end up questioning one's beliefs.

Of course, there are plenty of religious people who are good critical thinkers. But the beliefs of Dr. Craig clearly have the most important place in his life, subordinating all other interests and motivations. Intellectual reasons for deconversion? No way. It can't be. Get out of here. There must be some other reason for this incident - they must have sinned or something, or maybe they were never Christians in the first place? It's easy to rationalize, and in the end, that's what I think this process is.

When sincere religious believers such as Dr. Craig become aware that other people around them no longer share their beliefs, there's some tension that has to be resolved. If the belief is correct, then logically people wouldn't leave the faith for intellectual reasons. If people may have left for intellectual reasons, then the faith may not be all it's cracked up to be, and that's clearly an unacceptable option for Dr. Craig and for many others who present similar arguments about the true nature of ex-Christians.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Occupational Hazard: Eternal Damnation

I read a wide variety of commentary on religious topics so I can understand and empathize with those who have different beliefs than I do.

One of the Christian blogs I read frequently is Demian Farnworth's excellently written Fallen and Flawed.

He has recently returned from a one-month blogging sabbatical, and in his return he certainly has not failed to provoke much introspection and discussion, especially in his latest post From Believer to Unbeliever: The Lie We All Fall For.

Demian also has many thoughtful commenters, several of whom have even at times inspired me to rethink opinions that I have held about certain elements of Christianity.

Al is one of the commenters who has earned my respect. He never fails to express himself clearly, fervently, and above all respectfully in accordance with his beliefs.

For this entry, I'd like to post part of Al's response to my comment on Demian's latest article and share my reactions to it with all of you. Please forgive me, Al, for posting so much of your speech on my blog, but I hope you won't mind exposure to an audience of mostly non-believers?

Now, I’m not going to restate what Demian has said so wonderfully above, so I’ll close with this thought: If you don’t “get it,” it’s because you haven’t properly sought it!

By "it", I believe that Al is referring to an understanding of "genuine faith" in Christianity. Now, I know that 'understanding' is far too weak of a word for this context. A more appropriate word would encompass not only comprehension, but also a certain degree of attitude and receptivity. I believe that word may be 'attuned'.

That may be because you don’t want it, and that’s understandable– after all, the free gift of life will ultimately cost you everything if you receive it– If Jesus bought you with His precious blood, that means He must get what He paid for: You and everything that pertains to you: your independence, possessions, opinions, reputation, associations– everything!

Al, if you're right about this, I don't wish to be wrong. Now, what I am about to say in no way do I intend as insult or mockery, but as a sincere and fully non-judgmental observation, perhaps even a compliment: I can tell that you and Demian have given "your independence...opinions, reputation" over to your beliefs. They are secondary to your committment to Jesus. There is nothing I can say that can change that. I know - and that's not why I reply to Demian's articles.

We are in some sense stuck. You believe that I am blind to the spiritual Truth. I believe that there are people just as committed as you and Demian who have given their "independence...opinions, reputation" to Islam, to Judaism, that there is no discernible difference between you and the people who have "lost their faith". I don't list Ken Daniels or Charles Templeton because I believe they earned divine favor through the strength of their alleged works...I listed Daniels and Templeton because I see no difference between their early faith and yours presently. Lots of people have given their "independence...opinions, reputation" to Christianity only to no longer have the capacity to believe it. I know it seems unlikely to you, but it's where I am, and that boils down to why I am engaging you now: I'm not here to talk to you because I'm an agnostic atheist and you're a Christian - I'm here to listen to you and converse with you because I'm a human being who happens to be an agnostic atheist and wishes that people could understand where I've come from.

Or it may be that you DO want it, but just don’t realize it yet or don’t know how to ask for it. Your desire must be wholehearted– holding nothing back. No half-baked idea that you’ll try it out & see if you like it, then decide. Ask, beg, plead– persist; don’t take ‘no’ for an answer!

I do admire and highly respect your attitude: holding nothing back, not taking no for an answer. It's my approach, too. I refuse to hold back any doubts of my former religious beliefs, not taking any answers that are contradictory or fallacious.

As an agnostic atheist, these are a few of the things that I have accepted about Christianity and about religion:

1. I accept that morality has been derived as a product of naturalistic altruism and cooperation.

2. I accept that there are many flaws and contradictions in the Bible, which render much of it to be unreliable and untrustworthy.

3. I accept that evolution by natural selection is the best explanation of the diversity of life on planet Earth, that this scientific facts precludes any literal interpretation of the Biblical text, and that the process of natural selection displays no indication of divine guidance whatsoever, especially from the all-good, all-loving, all-knowing God embraced and proclaimed by most Christians.

4. I accept that there is no evidence for a physical soul which survives death.

5. I accept that there are a multitude of religions, several of which condemn me to eternal suffering or to annihilation for disbelief in their individual religious tenets.

6. I accept that faith reveals just as much to the Muslim and the Mormon as it does to the Christian, and that faith reveals just as much to the Baptist and to the Methodist and to the Roman Catholic as it does to the Lutheran - I accept that each new theological innovation is a product of fallible human beings.

So here comes the big question:

If you don’t get it, God has not yet opened your eyes and, unless you strive with Him to do so, He may never, in which case you will go to your grave still guilty of sin against Him and will be judged and condemned to eternal hell. That’s because you will have embraced the LIE that Demian wrote of in this post, and God will have given you the desire of your heart, allowing you to be absorbed in strong deception, to your undoing forever.

Will I allow myself the chance to "be judged and condemned to eternal hell"?

As I've said before, if you're right about this, then I certainly don't want to be wrong.

But that's a risk I'm willing to take.

It's the occupational hazard of being a skeptic.

And that's something I accept. I accept the possibility that I am "absorbed in strong deception", that I have "embraced [a] LIE". However, I cannot accept the possibility, that there exists some kind of God out there who leads not only atheists and agnostics in deception, not only Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Mormons in deception, but also Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Calvinists, Arminians, the non-denominational, the prosperity gospel crowd, and the Pentecostals and the Seventh-Day Adventists in deception.

If your God exists, then the history of civilization must be a deception, the history of the Christian churches must be a deception, the history of human religious practice must be a deception.

If you don’t see, it is because you are blind in the grasp of spiritual death. Looking at the first comment on this thread I see our old friend, Teleprompter (and I mean that, Tele)– someone whose intellect I greatly respect, even though it is his worst enemy. I read your comment, Tele, and right smack-dab in the middle of it you state your problem: “…but I definitely don’t see…” I love you, my Friend, as Christ loved me when I was His enemy (if you wonder why, I have no answer), but your eyes are sightless in spiritual death– that’s why you don’t see. The god of this world has blinded your eyes.

As a skeptic, spiritual death is an occupational hazard I'm willing to risk. I hope my previous statements in this response explain adequately why I have such a strong willingness to take this risk. I am not trying to be cavalier about this enterprise, but to candidly state my beliefs and why I continue to maintain them even against such high potential stakes as the possible damnation or annihilation of my eternal soul.

We will each and all spend eternity in someone’s service. Pray God it may be His who loves you, and not one who hates you.

I am genuinely grateful that you are concerned for my welfare - I mean this wholeheartedly. If you sincerely believe that my intellect is indeed my worst enemy, then it is only love that could move you to subvert its machinations. However, I believe that this is not the case.

Al, if your God exists, then why would He give me an intellect that He knew would destroy my faith in Him? Perhaps I am misusing the intellect that I have been given. But I do not believe that I am misusing my intellect by applying it in the manner in which it has been entrusted.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Paradox of Theistic Morality

Hello again, dear readers! I apologize for the extended layoff, but I have been terribly busy lately. Today's topic concerns the relationship between religious values and morality.

I have envisioned a brief analysis of religion and morality as a casual, but animated, conversational dialogue. I imagine that such a conversation may develop between two close friends, Q and A. Our pal Q is a theist (he or she could be a Jew, a Muslim, or a Christian - it doesn't matter) while A happens to be a non-theist.

Q: It's incomprehensible to me how an atheist could have an explanation for morality.

A: Why so?

Q: Well, I've always believed that there must be some form of absolute morality, and that God is the best explanation for our sense of right and wrong. This seems especially likely to be the case in light of the arguments of famous defenders of the faith such as C.S. Lewis and William Lane Craig.

A: I think it's highly unlikely that God's morality is absolute. Doesn't the god of the Bible say that it's wrong to murder, yet even in books such as--

Q: --Allow me to interject. Do you believe in right and wrong? If I ask you about slavery, do you believe it is wrong? If I ask you about rape, do you believe it is wrong? If I ask you about theft, do you believe that is wrong?

The bottom line is that we all agree that certain things are just wrong, yet why should we agree to this if there is no objective morality in place?

A: You're asking me why we should agree that slavery and rape and theft are wrong?

Q: Yes.

A: Well, first of all, you're asking me whether we agree. Don't you think that if there were an absolute morality, you wouldn't have to ask me whether I agreed? In that case, wouldn't I just know that they're wrong?

Q: But don't you agree that they're wrong?

A: I do. But it's not because I believe that any god said so.

Q: Then if there is no god watching over you, if there is no ultimate moral standard, then who can tell you not to run out into the street and rape, steal, or kill? Who can tell you that it's not okay to cheat on your wife or your taxes?

A: I think you're finally beginning to understand what I'm trying to say. Who can tell me that it's not okay to cheat on my taxes? Who can tell me that it's not okay to rape or kill or defraud someone?

Q: Are you going to answer my questions, or are you just being cute with me?

A: No, I'm going to answer your questions directly. Allow me to elaborate.

Let's pretend that you have a group of agents in one place. All of them can benefit if they take something away from the others, but none of the others benefit if something is taken away from them. Wouldn't it be the most beneficial for all of the agents if everyone could have security for themselves and their possessions?

Societies decide on what is moral or immoral. Societies are built upon a foundation of respect, trust, and empathy.

If your husband or wife catches you cheating, he or she is going to lose that trust, and your relationship will deteriorate. If the government catches you cheating on your taxes, you'll go to jail -- if you aren't caught, then there will be less money to pay for things like national defense and road construction and social security, and if everybody acts like that, then the relationship of the country will deteriorate. If individuals don't cooperate, everyone suffers.

Do you really need a god to tell you that people will get hurt if you're selfish or rash or cruel? Do you really need a god to tell you that peoples' lives will be improved significantly over the long run if they would only cooperate?

Q: I'm afraid you're missing the forest for the trees. What if the majority of individuals liked or enjoyed rape? Would you still say that it's moral? Wouldn't you still say that it's morally wrong?

A: If there were a society that approved of rape, then perhaps that would be a difficult dilemma. But how likely is it that a society which widely approves of rape can survive or flourish?

Q: How naive you are. Do you realize that patriarchal societies throughout history have engaged in and even justified spousal rape under the law? Here's a case where most of the people in a society see no problem with something, the society is not negatively affected because of this something, and yet you still would hesitate to say that you are not morally opposed to this something.

A: You're right; just because something survives or flourishes doesn't make it fair or just.

Q: Ah ha, fair and just! You're using the vocabulary of absolute morality. How do you have any idea what is fair or what is just? Aren't you arguing that fairness and justice evolve along with the societies in which they develop? You have no justification to say that something isn't fair or isn't just because you have no consistent standard to say what it is that makes something fair or just in the first place.

A: You're right, again. Racial minorities and women and religious minorities and those of differing sexual orientations than the majority have struggled to obtain rights and are still struggling to obtain rights today. How far have we come in discerning what is fair or just, and how far must we go?

Q: How far? Not only are you avoiding my questions now, but you're also just bringing more and more difficulties for your position in this discussion. You can't analyze the past and discern whether something that happened then was moral or immoral unless you have a consistent, absolute standard of morality.

A: Humanity has developed different moral ideas such as justice, empathy, fairness, and loyalty. As we learn more about the universe around us and the reality of our existence, our knowledge about ourselves and about our world increases. As our quantity and quality of information increases, so does our potential opportunity to reflect upon what is fair and just.

When we are able to observe species in nature that have same-sex relationships, we gain more evidence that neither homosexuality nor bisexuality is a choice, but rather something inherent in the nature of certain individuals. When women have more choices outside the framework of their traditional roles as mothers and caretakers, we gain more evidence that women are not inferior to men. When DNA confirms that all human beings originated from the same ancestry, we gain more evidence that there is nothing superior about any one race over any other race.

Humanity's ability to learn more information about our world gives us new ways and new perspectives on what fairness and justice mean. Our circle of empathy expands; our horizon of moral concern is broadened by the new ways in which our lives are interconnected and intertwined. It has become increasingly difficult for humans to sink into their tribal tendencies and neglect those found to be outside the immediate circle of acquaintances, for we human beings have found more and more that our fate is interdependent on the fates of our fellow creatures. There is no nation, no tribe, no race, and no language that can unify or dominate our world - there is no nation, no tribe, no race and no language that can stand alone and take care of itself alone.

Our evolving morality is largely a product of two trends: our inherent moral intuitions which have evolved for the cooperation of our societies, and the ways in which our existence has been changed by technological discoveries - these two elements have combined to shift our moral compass and provide us with new perspectives on the meanings of old notions like fairness and justice. The underlying concepts are the same - the basic cooperative qualities which compel a society's attention have not changed - but the ways in which we perceive each other as a collection of overlapping societies has indeed changed. Our broader moral outlook is a function of the manner in which our way of perceiving ourselves as human beings has changed.

Q: That certainly sounds impressive, at first. You've argued that certain moral concepts develop in an inherently natural fashion because they advantage the development of complex societies, and that an increasing level of understanding between human beings emerging through new technology has also continued to expand the arc of human moral concern. However, how do you get people to accept this morality? Why should I listen to you?

A: That's a great question - I think you are getting this after all!

Before you ask, no, I am not pulling your leg. Let me explain.

Organized religion is a political system which expedites the acceptance of commonly held moral conventions by the masses. Adherence to the dominant religion of a society is an acknowledgment that one accepts the shared moral code of his or her peers. Religion is a system of political values which distills the accepted mores of the day and disincentivizes free riding from those agreements -- put more simply, religion punishes, or threatens to punish, those who do not pull their fair share.

Of course, we have both agreed that the commonly shared values of individual societies shift greatly and vary widely over time and place. The development and evolution of the dozens of widely embraced branches of the three major monotheistic religions is a prime example of this variation between evolving political values.

Thus, your claim that religion is the safeguard of absolute morality is false, because organized religions are almost exclusively interdependent with the majority views of the societies in which they develop.

Therefore, the paradox of theistic morality is this: while most theistic apologists claim assertively and vigorously that their religion is the safeguard of absolute morality, one of the major reasons that religious apologists abhor non-adherence of their religion is because of their fear that the non-absolute moral agreements of society will collapse if enough individuals dissent from the non-absolute "absolute morality" which is the paradigm of the particular time and place inhabited by said religious apologists.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Deliver Us From Evil

I have had many worthwhile discussions with Demian Farnworth of the Christian blog Fallen and Flawed. Our most recent exchange began with his description of writer A.N. Wilson's reconversion to religion.

I found several of the statements made in Farnworth's analysis to be provocative. Perhaps the most intriguing statement I found was this claim:
Materialism can not adequately explain our complex world. Christianity, on the other hand, as a working blueprint for life, can.
Since a substantial portion of my deconversion from Christianity has hinged upon the exact opposite argument - that while Christianity cannot adequately explain our complex world, naturalism can provide a working blueprint for life, to paraphrase the structure of Farnworth's claim - I was intrigued to see a discussion of this argument from a viewpoint distinct from my own.

I decided to enter the fray, and set my naturalistic beliefs side by side with Christianity, and attempt to compare which view could actually better explain the complexities of our existence.

I made a brief argument against Christian theism via the origin of suffering.

Traditionally, almost all Christians have interpreted the text in the Genesis creation stories to imply that their god originally created a paradise on Earth, and that only the disobedient sin of Adam and Eve introduced suffering into our world.
If suffering is inherent in the nature of the world, and not brought into the world by the transgressions of humanity – if the evil that happens in the world cannot possibly be the direct result of a Biblical Fall as depicted in Genesis, then traditional Christianity is falsified. Do you agree?

I have found that suffering persisted in our world for an incredibly long time before the first existence of humanity, therefore I believe it is impossible that humanity is the direct cause of evil and injustice in our world, and that therefore almost all types of Christianity are either absurd or implausible.
Here's an excerpt from Demian's reply, which he made shortly after my original comment:
Second, your argument for naturalism hinges on suffering existing before man. I don’t quite understand that. How could suffering exist before mankind? And how do you know? Furthermore, how do you define suffering in terms of naturalism? In other words, if the natural state of things is beast eat beast, how can you say “that’s suffering?” How are you defining suffering, that’s really what’s at stake.
Those are good questions. How should suffering be defined? How could suffering exist before humanity? Here's a hint to what I believe, courtesy of YouTube satirist Edward Current:

At the end of the video, Current's character states:

"You know, it's almost like, here on Earth, it's every species for itself.

Humans don't get any special treatment at all, do they?

It's because life evolves - through natural selection, not Intelligent Design."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Deconversion Story

This is the story of my deconversion from Christianity. I originally posted this account on the Forum of the blog "Unreasonable Faith". I hope you'll enjoy it.

I have been raised as a Christian, having attended services for most of my life at a small ELCA Lutheran congregation. I was baptized as a baby, and I was confirmed around the time I entered high school. I attended Sunday school, Bible studies, and church camps. I sang in the choir and I was an acolyte, usher, and greeter.

However, despite my active involvement in the church, I had not thought much about the basic essentials of my beliefs. I had read large portions of the Bible (I still haven't gotten myself to read it all - I've been meaning to do it), and I prayed often, but while I grew up, I was never confronted by any serious challenges to my perspective. I had friends who went to other churches, but I didn't really know anyone who was non-religious. I had this default assumption that there was a God, and that most of things I had been told in church were true.

I was never really one to question authority, and I enjoyed church greatly, and I had a lot of friends there at first. I wish I had a higher voice so I could sing "I Wander As I Wonder" in the proper key. That hymn is eerie, and that is why it was always one of my favorites.

Many things happened to me when I was in junior high and high school. Several rifts developed in my church, attendance lowered, and we had some pastoral changes. I also first learned that some of my friends were atheists or agnostics. It actually shocked me at first -- I grew in a fairly conservative community. Every time I drive on the highway, I spy a large billboard which declares "Trust In The LORD With All Your Heart". I thought to myself, 'atheist?! I don't believe that.'

But I didn't really know them that well, so I shrugged it off.

When I was a junior in high school, one of my closer friends let me know that he is an atheist when we were discussing religion. I started debating (casually) with him and his friends about religion during our study hall period. I was the Christian, and there were two others who were atheists.

Some of the questions he asked made me reflect for a bit, but I wasn't very phased. I didn't have a literal interpretation of the Bible, and I accepted evolution, so we actually agreed on a lot. I wasn't affected by a lot of the arguments he used in the areas that we agreed. However, looking back on the experience, I think if my friends had spent more time on how those points specifically apply to religion, I would've been more receptive. But I also realize that they didn't want to push me too hard, because we were friends, and they didn't want to ruin our friendship, which I also appreciate and understand.

He did ask me why God would create homosexuality and condemn it in the Bible? I didn't know - I was unsure. I didn't think he would. My friend referenced Leviticus, and I pretty much ignored it, I have to admit. I could've been more open-minded.

He also wanted to know if I didn't take the Bible literally, how did I *know* which parts were metaphorical and which were not? I gave an answer I had already heard, that the Holy Spirit guides the believer in the interpretation of the Bible. If I were my friend now, I would've emphasized the divisions in church history. I do remember that my friend emphasized the corruption of certain church leaders, but I always brushed these criticisms away by saying that God's church was for imperfect people, as everything human in this world was imperfect. Maybe I would've been more receptive if he had argued specifically that the existence of so many divisions on interpretation and meaning of scriptures, which accord with cultural practices, makes it supremely unlikely that the texts are divinely inspired. However, that is a complicated argument and hard to fit into a 25-minute study hall period, and I know that when atheists talk to Christians, the harder they argue, the more militant or harsh they seem. I know this can be the case, so I can again understand why my friend didn't press me harder, and I do appreciate his willingness to put our friendship ahead of mere ideological differences.

When I was a senior, my English teacher exposed me to existentialism - I started reading Camus and Sartre. However, I maintained that this was fully compatible with my Christianity, and in retrospective, I don't think that this was a contributing factor to my deconversion.

I also began reading a lot of Vonnegut when I was in high school. I read Player Piano, Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, and Slapstick. Those are all excellent, and I also read Vonnegut's brief essay autobiography, the title of which I cannot recall. I <3 Billy Pilgrim! But I hated the ending of Cat's Cradle - I despised it. It was so irredeemably depressing and gloomy. Somehow, Slapstick was the most amusing and intriguing book of the four, though it seems to be the least popular and the least well-known. There are many excerpts about tribal and community ties which really hit home what it means to be part of a group of people with the same feelings and the same beliefs. I think that book did lay some of the groundwork for my later epiphanies.

Finally, last year I was a freshmen in college. The summer before I left, I had to arrange a schedule of coursework. I was trying to fill my schedule with general education requirement classes, and I wanted to take World Politics very badly. Instead, my counselor stuck me with Forms of the Sacred, a class on Eastern religion. This would prove to be quite fateful.

The second or third week of school, we also had an activities fair. I was out walking after lunch one day, and I strolled along the path in the main common area to visit the booths for all of the clubs on campus.

I spied a banner for a non-religious group. Intrigued, I stumbled over to the display, and asked the volunteer about the nature of the club. I was told that this was a new club for discussing religion, which would primarily be focused on atheists and agnostics. Since I had discussed religion with my friends in high school, I added my information to the mailing so I could stay in contact with the club.

So two or three weeks afterward, I am sitting in my religion class, nonchalantly scribbling notes. We're talking Hinduism, and my professor is going off on a tangent. My ears perked up. The tangents were what made that class - I loved my professor's sense of humor and offbeat commentary.

So anyway, he's talking about all of the different religions in the East, and how they relate, and he casually lets out that some scholars speculated that there might be a link between the proto-religions of the East and some of the western religions. Normally, that would just be an interesting tidbit, a typically inane musing which may fascinate those students who are paying attention.

But that careless slight, that unintended observation -- it struck me. I really had an existential crisis. I felt a surge of doubt paralyze me at that very moment; thoughts of "what if this (my beliefs that I had grown up with) isn't true??!!"

"What if this isn't true?!"

Doubt. I was struck by doubt. Nagging, overwhelming, unceasing, terrifying doubt.

I suddenly realized that I had no idea why I believed what I did.

That was the beginning - that was the day I quit believing in "faith".

And of course, one of the first ever meetings of the atheists and agnostics organization was scheduled later that very week. So I went, not knowing what would happen. All I knew was uncertainty.

So I went. The chairs were arranged in a circular fashion. One of the first things that occurred, since everyone was just getting to know each other, was that each individual in the circle was supposed to say a little bit about themselves: what year they were in, where they were from, something cool about themselves, and if they were an atheist or agnostic, when they became one.

I was one of the last people to be reached, so I got to hear almost everyone else's accounts first.

I was quite nervous at that moment, I must admit. I really didn't know what to say -- I hadn't really reached out to anyone by that point. When I first told my Catholic roommate that I was going to go to the meeting, he looked at me with suspicion because I had already told him that summer that I was a Christian. I told him that I was a Christian, but that I was going anyway because I was interested in the group.

It was sort of a fib. I wasn't sure anymore if I was a Christian or not, because of the doubt that I was experiencing at that time.

Finally, it was my turn to speak. I related my year, where I was from, my hobbies, and my name. Then I stammered something like this:

"Well, I'm not really sure what I believe right now. I was raised as a Christian, but since I've gone to college..."

My brain fizzled. What was I going to say?

"I think my faith has..."

I couldn't say anymore, but I took my hand and made a downwards motion.

In the days before the meeting, I had begun to do some additional research about religion, and I continued this after I returned from the meeting.

Every time I examined my old beliefs, they made less and less sense to me.

The Bible seemed incomprehensible to me. I started asking a lot more questions about it that I couldn't answer. The evidence for a historical Jesus who did the things the Bible claimed was less than I would have liked to believe (I had never actually thought about whether he actually had existed and did the things the Gospels said he did.) It seemed there was too much cruelty and suffering in the world. Evolution and naturalism seemed to be performing spectacularly. Christianity was failing miserably. Everywhere I turned, it appeared that the answer could be better explained if there were no all-good, all-loving, interventionary god.

Finally, there was one particular area that seemed to be the nail in the coffin for my prior religious beliefs.

All the other religions in the world. I had heard Krishna call for grace - I had heard Buddha call for compassion in the wake of suffering - I had heard creation stories which sounded more plausible than the ones I heard growing up. "There was a time when there was neither nothing, nor something". That's a real creation story.

Frankly, Christianity became just another religion, just another faith, and just another mythology. People who believed in other religions seemed to be just as moral as Christians. People who were Christian based their moral ideas on the same principles that non-Christian people used.

And almost all of the so-called religious experiences claimed were more similar than they were different, no matter what the religion.

I remember reading of Near Death Experiences where Native Americans saw a vision of a great chief, where some Hindus saw a great bureaucracy in the sky, and Christians saw heaven and hell.

And even if that weren't enough, I began reading about neuroscience. I became convinced that there is no such entity as the soul. If I needed yet another nail in the coffin, that was definitely it.

The experiments demonstrate that when the brain is harmed, all of the things which have traditionally been identified with the soul are damaged.

What is the soul? Isn't the soul the essence of who you are? And what is the essence of who you are? When the brain is damaged, the essence of who you are changes irrevocably. So when the brain is damaged, is your soul damaged, or is your soul the brain? But we know what happens to the brain when you die -- it rots. So much for the after-life? How can you have a soul to be judged without the brain? It's not plausible.

Lastly, I was already an agnostic atheist for many months before I read "The Evolution of God", but it really cemented many of the conclusions which I had already reached. The evidence which emerges from the sections about political influences on the Old Testament, why the Israelites came out of Canaan and not out of Egypt, and why Paul sold Christianity the way he did in the days of the early faith really make it difficult for me to revert to Christianity or any religion similar to it.

I am an agnostic atheist. I believe that most, if not all, of the gods ever worshiped by humanity are implausible. I do not know if there are ultimately any gods or higher powers. However, I live as if there are none.

Even if there are gods or higher powers in or outside of the universe, I believe that I am living more deeply in communion with them by not adopting a set of beliefs which I am 99% sure are false, and by trying my best to live a moral life based on empathy and respect.

I know that I have prattled on at great length, but I thank all of you for sharing in my journey and my experiences. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Is Faith More Reliable Than Science?

“Science is not only less reliable than faith, but faith is used in science."

Did I miss the science Crusades, the science Thirty Years War, or the science Spanish Inquisition?

How reliable is your faith, exactly? Are you a Christian? If so, what kind of Christian are you?

If you’re a Catholic, you may believe that your god directly revealed himself to a line of men who frequently embodied corruption, nepotism, and hypocrisy.

If you’re a Protestant, you’re already admitting that your faith is not 100% reliable, because why would there need to be a Reformation if faith is generally reliable?

If you’re Orthodox, how do you explain the abundance of Protestants and Catholics if faith is so reliable?

If you’re any kind of Christian, then how do you explain the plentiful and confusing abundance of contradicting interpretations of the same exact sacred texts?

If you're a Muslim, which tradition do you adhere to? How do you explain the existence and persistence of other sects? Why is your faith so fragile? Your holy book is even written in the same universal language, and you still have many of the same problems as the Christians.

You think faith is reliable? The wise walk by sight, not by faith.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An Indifferent Universe: The Original 'Original Sin'

Here's a thought experiment:

"Sin is the fault of humanity, but it had to be that way, and fortunately, we still have free will.

How do I know this to be true?

Well, for hundreds of millions of years, various animals and plants endured enormous levels of suffering before humanity existed. So it is difficult to claim that the direct actions of humanity are responsible for suffering in our world. However, one could say that suffering was predetermined for humanity. Essentially, it must then be our fault that the suffering of the world was predetermined for us. So everything's our fault (even if it's not), and we still have free will (even if we don't). Christianity makes complete sense."

Obviously, I'm being sarcastic here.

We can now determine that there was never a Paradise - that there was never an Eden - and that the "original sin" of humanity is merely our own existence in an indifferent universe. Sure, Christian tradition can try to pin the blame on a species which only arrived on Earth during the most recent instant of geologic time, but the growing evidence across nearly all disciplines of science can easily refute such a bold and unsupported assertion.

How can I prove that the only reason a god would permit evil is to bring about some other end? How can I know that this is not the only possible world that it is feasible for a god to create? I most likely cannot fully prove either of these things to you; what I may be able to demonstrate adequately is the incoherence of Christian dogma when its doctrines are contrasted with the harsh, vivid realities of our existence.