Archive for April, 2017

How to Persuade an Atheist to Become a Christian

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon this article. In my personal life there’s been significant changes, and it was probably an idle search for something that led to me go down a hole…you know how that goes. Anyway this is an article written on wikihow as a step by step instruction for a Christian (assuming evangelical) to convince their atheist friend to abandon their non-theistic ways. I quickly bookmarked the page for use here. Usually these kinds of guides are full of bible quotes: which are genuinely ineffective because it’s a clear case of special pleading. You have to believe in the authority of the Bible to be convinced of the quotes to begin with. Same goes with people who claim “you should be a [insert religion here] because my [priest/imam/rabbi] said you will find only eternal suffering if you don’t.” If you don’t believe these people have any authority, their words aren’t going to convince you either. It’s why I’m always skeptical of stories of atheists who are convinced by the Bible or story of Jesus: that story isn’t convincing unless you already accept a number of premises which by doing so means you were already a believer. I haven’t read through this in anything other than a brief skim so it’s happening in the closest thing to real time for this medium. It’s broken into subsections which I’m labelling with letters and then steps that I’m using numbers for. My readers aren’t stupid, you’ll figure it out. Also we’re just going to call the Christian “Ned” (as in Flanders) for the sake of brevity.

A: Approaching the Subject

1: Put yourself in your friend’s shoes: The writer notes that Ned should imagine that someone is trying to convince them “to reject your salvation in Christ.” This should show Ned that high pressure sales aren’t going to work, and that this may be a long process. They shouldn’t lecture either. Alright, that’s good advice. If you’re going to have the conversation this is a good starting point. An outright attack will make anyone defensive, it’s not a good strategy and it cuts both ways. Pointing out contradictions and inaccuracies in the bible, for instance, only confuses people who think that it’s a literal record, but it doesn’t convince them to be atheists. So far so good but then this happens: “Realize that a large percentage of atheists used to believe in God, but was hurt somehow in their faith (at church, by another religious person, church goer, such as a Christian, etc.) and have converted to atheism. This is not true for another large percentage of atheists, of course.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, yes a lot atheists used to be believers, that’s just simple numbers. Atheists in the US are between 9-18% of the population so a simple numbers game would tell us that the odds of a person being born and raised atheist is low. However, the “hurt somehow in their faith” is bullshit. This is an accusation that goes around popularized by movies like “God’s Not Dead” and it’s sequel. I was never hurt in my faith by a person. I’m not angry at god, I don’t believe that it exists or that if it does, it has any interest in us or our religious devotion. This is a problem of definition, if a person isn’t Christian because they are angry at god, it doesn’t make them an atheist. You also don’t convert to atheism, you just top being religious. There’s no organization to join, or book you have to buy. You just stop going to Church and stop praying. Ned’s going to have a weird conversation if he walks into it thinking this. Another point is that the author is just making up percentages. A large percentage are this? Give me a number, or a citation. Then we should also note that this isn’t true for a different large percentage either.

2: Choose a Convenient Place and Time to have a Dialog on Matters of Believing in God

Another solid piece of advice. I worked at a cable company in Toledo OH, and once some co-workers found out I wasn’t religious they just wanted to chat and chat about it. I wasn’t even a solid atheist then but they really went after me about it. No real criticism on this point.

3: Have a Genuine arms-length conversation

In short, the idea is to actually have a conversation and not lecture the other person about sins, accusations, or getting preachy. I guess here, the author should have written: “don’t make it personal” because I’m not entirely sure what a “arms-length” conversation is. Also I’m unclear about what a shock-jock approach is supposed to be as well. Ned is supposed to be open and honest or else he could end up causing irreparable harm to the friendship. Yeah that might be something to worry about while you are thinking that despite your friend’s good behavior he’s still going to hell because he doesn’t believe the right words. If you want to avoid harming the friendship maybe don’t try and change their entire way of thinking. Then this happens, “Discriminating tastes in food and in life’s issues, for some good stuff, means you have an angle (a stand), a point of view.” I don’t know what this means.

4: Don’t Try to Convert Your friend or to Present Ultimate Ideas (don’t ask for conclusions or offer stark dilemmas of Heaven versus Hell)

Ned is supposed to get the person interested by presenting “Jesus Christ as the Son of God in your personal, fulfilling life, following Jesus. Show the Christian life as fulfilling, exciting, attractive to others and they’ll be more interested, curious to learn more about the way you live your life as a Christian.”

In other words Ned is supposed to make his pitch by saying that it works for him. He’s happy and wouldn’t you like to be happy as well? Alright, it’s not a bad method but I don’t see how that will work. The problem that the author has, is that he doesn’t understand what an Atheist is. I lead a fulfilling life, it’s relatively exciting, but I also get to sleep in on Sundays and I don’t have to avoid eating meat on Fridays during Lent. I’m also not afraid of Hell, or Demons, or whether or not two guys get married. Ned isn’t offering me anything here. I could also say that I get to read/watch whatever I want (depending on the sect of Christianity). As an Atheist, you’ve got to give me something more than just “I like X, so you should do X as well.” That doesn’t work when Mac users try to convince me it’s not going to work here either.

Again the author has some decent advice, one is to realize that you should not be arguing facts. Yeah, that’s a good point: because Ned won’t be arguing facts, he’ll be arguing religion. Now there are facts regarding religion, but not observable, independent facts that don’t require a shared perspective for them to be true. Ned is cautioned against getting into a “tic-for-tat” conversation. What the hell is that? I think he meant to say “tit-for-tat” but couldn’t. If you’re going to try and make the conversion as an adult you have to be unafraid of talking like one. This isn’t about dropping “fuck” every now and then, but if the saying is “tit-for-tat” use that. Otherwise it comes across as childish and silly.

We’ll break here and continue next week. There’s some good stuff coming in the next section so be sure to “tune in.”



The Religious Easter

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

I’m an atheist, so I don’t do Easter. At least I don’t do the church thing on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. I don’t do the Passover thing, or whatever other vernal equinox holidays exist, or have existed. I don’t do the whole “keep Eoster/Ishtar in Easter” thing either. I know that Easter comes a couple Sundays after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. I tried to double check this on Wikipedia, but seriously, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Pope Francis, you want to get on my good side for a few weeks, just set a fixed date. It’s not that hard, the Bible describes an eclipse on Good Friday so just figure out when that was (between 30-36 CE) and just make that the day. As Noah Ludgeons in last week’s Scathing Atheist podcast: it’s now now, we don’t need a complex algorithm for a specific day anymore. We have calendars and stuff.

Every November, right after Halloween, the Christmas shit comes out. It’s very rare that we see it before Halloween as the retail industry makes too much money to mess with Halloween much. Right after the decorations and ads come out, we begin to see the calls online about “keeping Christ in Christmas,” the various rants about how offensive “happy holidays” is to the delicate Christian snowflakes, and the calls against the over commercialization of Jesus’ birthday. It’s the same every year. So the important question is: where are the same calls for Easter?

This might be a controversial claim, but Easter is more important than Christmas to the Christians. It was for me, as a religious day, when I was one. Boil it down to the essential elements of the story and Christmas is just a baby being born, not that special, happens all of the time. Easter is the story of a dead guy coming back to life. That literally never happens. Death is final. It’s also the event that proves Jesus was not just some end-times preacher but the real deal. So where are the people demanding that we remove all of the pagan imagery from Easter displays?

There was one complaint I could find concerning Cadbury didn’t put the word “easter” on their packaging, but that was it. And it was really in England, and…it didn’t happen, it was on the display boxes the entire time. Just not on the individual eggs, which while a ridiculously insecure complaint, it is at least consistent with the type of reaction that we see in the states when Starbucks releases a red cup with nothing else on it.

I guess I just want to know what the difference is? Because this year, while I didn’t do Easter, I did easter. With the exception of a complete lack of church attendance there was only one other significant difference between Easter now and Easter then, which was I didn’t hunt for a basket: my kids did.

Nothing is different. Right? Hide a basket full of sugar somewhere in a house, let the kids find it, then there’s actual food. If you live where I do, sometimes there’s a butter shaped ostensibly like a lamb with two cloves for eyes. After that is an egg hunt for the kids where plastic eggs containing more candy are hidden throughout an area, and that’s Easter. Let’s me put the fine point on it: the only difference that I could perceive was that I didn’t go to mass.

I didn’t censor any religious behaviors nor imagery. It’s just that no one seemed to care about it. Admittedly, there is the possibility that they don’t bring it up around me, but they’d have no motive to do so. I simply just check out of those conversations unless one of my kids gets brought into it.

So the important question still stands: why was there no continuous outcry? Eggs are not Christian symbols, neither are rabbits, nor is chocolate, or any other kind of candy with images of rabbits or again, chocolate. It seems that every ancillary celebration of this holiday is designed to distract people from the actual purpose of the event, and again, the mystery is why no one has a problem with it. The entire thing reeks of a forced nostalgia to keep people celebrating completely devoid of the actual meaning. It’s literally what Lewis argued with in his Screwtape letters.

Is it because if they keep the children focused on what the day actually is about, they won’t be able to keep the kids interested in it. A, “look here’s some candy, now Jesus came back today, want to see what happens when you put a peep in a microwave?”

If you look at the whole purpose of the holiday, and indeed, the story: ignoring all other aspects of the day you’d get a pretty frightening lesson. Jesus came down and then died for our sins so that we could gain eternal salvation. Our sin in this case, was being born. The very act, which none of us chose, was somehow sinful because of what some other guy who is so far in the past that only DNA connects us ate a fruit he wasn’t supposed to. In order to give us that salvation, a different innocent person had to be brutally executed, in what amounts to such a gross miscarriage of the very concept of justice that for it to work it has to render that concept meaningless. An innocent person cannot die for a guilty person (in this case all people), and have that still be called “justice.” Also, the further lesson is that the individual who made the rule that we are all condemned for, needed to satiate a weird bloodlust in order to forgive us, instead of just changing the rule, because he (God the father) is either subject to those rule, which means there’s a higher authority, or just did it for kicks.

Maybe it would force people to recognize that other than four incoherent and contradictory stories, there’s little evidence that any of it did happen. This is just speculation because the lack of the outrage is a total mystery. Not that I want it, I’m just curious as to where it is. Now if you’ll excuse me I have some sweet-tarts shaped like R2D2 to steal out my three year old’s basket.

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Re-Writing the Bible for the Christian Right II

April 11, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve been kind of big on hypocrisy lately. Not that I’ve been actively hypocritical but in calling it out, mostly on various political arguments. For instance it’s pretty hypocritical to continue with a rule change that you once condemned as anti-democratic and a threat to the functioning of the country. It’s just the simple definition of the word. A more complex version might be to say that you can’t support an action with regard to, say, the Syrian people being attacked while at the same time denying those people refuge from those attacks. That version is a little more subtle and nuanced, but the label still fits. This isn’t a politically focused blog so I’ll just leave those there (feel free to agree/disagree in the comments though): but one problem that I had back during the ACA proposal says was in the stark disconnect between the Christian Right and social programs from the government. Notably was the idea that providing health care to those that cannot afford it was hurting the country and stealing their tax dollars. The former complaint is a technical matter. Would the financial burden of the government be too much if it were to provide subsidized health insurance? Turns out, no it wasn’t, but at the time there was no way to really know that unless you went to the CBO and asked for their economic prediction.

The latter objection was mysterious to me, not because of the sentiment but because of who it came from. Notably the Christian right were the ones against the ACA and any kind of healthcare reform that involved using tax money to pay for poor people’s health. It’s literally in the bible that a person ought to render unto Caesar and sell their belongings to take care of the poor. Did they miss that part in their churches? Because it was a lesson in the songs, the readings, the homilies so much that even someone half paying attention couldn’t walk away without thinking, “that Jesus guy has got a real thing for poor people.” I guess they missed all of those parts when they concentrated on the times that Jesus said it was ok to hate the gays (which is zero by the way). It’s just one of those weird things that keeps coming up even from those apologists who think I should like Jesus because he was a moral philosopher–a point which I strenuously disagree with–but that’s for a different post.

So I guess that it’s time to rewrite the Bible so that their position fits with their book. While Jesus mentions taking care of the poor a bunch of times, I think it’s better to go with Matthew 19 as that’s the book and chapter which explicitly talk about giving your belongings to the poor and how the rich people are least likely to make it to heaven. It needs some work so that the Joel Olsteens and Krefro Dollars of the world can feel justified. I’m going to ignore the frankly weird stuff about when it’s ok to divorce and that it’s preferable to be a eunuch, because I’m not sure what the hell the lesson is there. For those playing at home we’re starting with 19:16.

16: And Behold, one came and said unto him, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”

17: And he said unto him, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”

18: He saith unto him, “Which?”

Jesus said, “Though shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, though shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, 19: honor thy father and thy mother: and, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

20: The young man saith in reply unto him, “Master? That last one, isn’t one of the commandments. It sounds great, but it’s not in there, unless I have missed it in my scrolls.”

21: And he said back unto him: “It’s implied, the lesson of all the commandments is thus.”

22: A Greek wanderer then spoke up, “Teacher, does this forbid slavery and forced relations as well?”

23: Jesus ignored the stranger and then addressed the young man again, “Have you kept the commandments that I have thus told unto you?”

24: “Yes, but the other man asked a question…”

25: “Of course I know that.”

26: “Fair enough…,” the young man cleared his throat, looked upon the audience, lifted his shoulders, then saith unto him, “So, all these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?”

27: Jesus said unto him, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Unless by doing so you create a culture of need and dependence in which thou shalt surely leave them lying in the dust. For better they learn not to be poor through their own sandal thongs than they become like the locust feeding off the crops of others.”

28: The young man nodded, “So if a man be starving, I should not help that man?”

29: Then Jesus said unto him, “For the rabble in Rome rely on the bread of others, thus they have no impetus to feed thyselves. In doing so, such charity breeds sin.”

30: The Greek wanderer then spoke up: “Teacher, what if the difference is thus between life and death, or their ability to feed their children?”

31: This time Jesus addressed the man, “A poor man who relies on the charity of others shall surely not enter into the kingdom of heaven, it is a far better charity to let that man die lest he become full of sin on the need of others.”

32: And Jesus said unto the mob, “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

33: And everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

34: The young man and the Greek man looked at each other vexed, then the young man spoketh: “We should not give unto the destitute but unto you?”

35: Jesus replieth, “Yes, for many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”







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Religion and “Safe Spaces”

April 3, 2017 Leave a comment

The general myth about “safe spaces” is that ultra leftie liberal types need them to be protected from things that they don’t like. Typically this is a pejorative levelled at them by conservative-right wing types who still want to call homosexuals “fag” or “dike” and not have to worry about being confronted by a person who is bothered by it. It’s often used in the same breath as “trigger warning” which is allegedly for students who don’t want to see certain kinds of images or have to read certain ideas. I teach at a liberal arts college, with a heavy science department, and have never once been instructed to offer either of these things. I only use the phrase “trigger warning” ironically, and usually after the thing that would have needed the warning. None of my students have reported any kind of instruction about either of these things, and one of them, said that she had also only heard the term “trigger warning” as a joke.

Legitimately these are issues that require these types of things. Trigger warnings came about in response to people who are suffering from PTSD. Someone that has gone through war, for example, may react badly to scenes of violence. Safe spaces usually have to do with harassment, and the space involves a refuge from that. In both cases I don’t see the problem with either concept.

So what makes this interesting to me and relevant to this blog, is the type of person that actually takes action to demand a safe space is also the type of person that so casually dismisses them while deriding the stereotype of who they think uses them. Typically it’s ultra conservative religious individuals who can’t stomach any kind of criticism or even the existence of belief systems that aren’t there own. They especially don’t like the competing idea of “nothing” and sue, take to social media, to air their outrage that someone thinks different than they do.

Let’s take Pakistan who has approached both Facebook and Twitter with a request to allow them to track down those individuals who use the platforms to utter blasphemous things about god. To my knowledge,  a of this writing, neither platform has agreed. This request has been made to help Pakistan enforce its blasphemy laws which are enforceable with the death penalty in some cases, though extra-judicial enforcement usually takes care of things as well. According to the BBC, some critics claim that these laws are problematic because they are used to oppress minorities….yeah, that’s really not nailing the issue at hand.

The issue is that the religious conservatives in Pakistan (and other Islamic countries where these kinds of laws are on the books) can’t stand to have their delicate sensibilities frightened by the specter of someone thinking differently. However this is an extreme example in a country where the theocrats can get away with it. In New Zealand there’s some moderate outcry over a Satanist group that is holding a charity drive–Soles for Satan–which is taking donations of clothing for the poor in New Zealand. One religious group has likened it to a good deed from a gang. To which the reply ought to be, “so?”

In the US, we see the same thing. Some Christian doesn’t like the fact that the girl at Starbucks doesn’t wish them a “Merry Christmas” and they get so upset they start a ban Starbucks movement, or some other store where the aforementioned “insult” occurred. They protest the teaching of science in science classes, of sex in sex ed classes, and really don’t like when they are just aware of the existence of homosexuals.

Whereas atheists like myself drive to work and pass 15 churches (I have a long commute) on the way to and then 15 on the way back yet require nothing to help myself deal with it. Every time I go grocery shopping around this time of year I pass a rather large Easter display and those disgusting cadberry eggs in celebration of an event that I don’t believe in and am pretty sure never happened. I suppose in this, I share an equal outrage amongst the Christian extremists who also hate Cadberry because they didn’t put “Happy Easter” on the box…even though it’s totally on there.

Which one of us requires the safe space? My only offense at the Easter display is that my three year old wants candy, and she can’t have it because she’s got an allergy to an ingredient so I have to deal with that. However I’m not personally offended. Just a little annoyed at the pleadings of a sad three year old with giant doe eyes.

If it offends you, fine, I get part of it I used to be really religious, but remember when you accuse others of needing a safe space that you’re asking for literally the same thing. It’s just blatant hypocrisy, though that’s kind of their thing though.

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