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Angry at God?

May 22, 2017 1 comment

Two weeks ago I wrote the final, in what amounted to be three, post regarding a wikihow article on how to convert an Atheist into Christianity. It was, at times, good but mostly it was just the run of the mill type of argument that I’ve seen time and time again. What did separate it from the others, was the advice that one not assume the stereotypes of atheists are true. For example, that the Christian not assume that the atheism stems from some kind of personal tragedy and that the person really believes but is angry at god. As “Josh” in God’s Not Dead angrily yells at Professor Hercules, “Why do you hate God!?”

I’m not entirely sure why this stereotype exists. I wonder if it’s because it’s the only way that believers can internally reconcile the problem of evil. If a baby is born with spina bifida and dies having lived a life that is nasty, brutish and short it’s no one’s fault. At least it’s no one person’s fault. So, it’s nature. Right? If you have a God that is in charge of nature, then it’s at the end of it, its fault. This is the problem of evil. We can ignore problems of mass murderers because the answer to that, unless you’re a Calvinist, is free will. Natural evil, the death of the many thousands because of the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 also falls into the sphere of what we are talking about. Evil, tragedy, that is no person’s fault other than the fault of the person being in the right place at the wrong time. In the case of the baby, it’s the fault of merely existing.

The problem of evil thus stated, is whether one should be faithful/dutiful/worshipful to god that allows such tragedy. Wrongly attributed to the philosopher Epicurus the usual text of the problem is that if an all good, all powerful, all knowing god allows evil in the world we have a contradiction. Good enough to have the desire, powerful enough to stop it, and knowing enough to be aware; how can this being exist?

There are many different answers to it. However, one is, to just deny such a being exists thus escaping the contradiction. If you deny one half of the argument the other half no longer applies. This is the “shit happens, what are you going to do?” approach to the problem of evil. In fact, it can no longer be rightly called the “problem of evil” since without the divine being, there’s no problem. However if you do believe in a divine power, are not a deist (those that believe, like the Epicureans, the gods are have no interest in the world or its creatures), and think that the divine being pays special attention to the inhabits of our world you have a problem. There are several attempts to answer this philosophical problem: I’m not going to get into them now, each of the solutions (the more thought out and formulated ones that is) probably deserve a post to themselves.

I’m more interested in the stereotype of atheists. Because I believe that this problem is the origin of the stereotype. I’m basing this on assumption, and will probably have to really hit hard the research in order to come to a semi-definitive understanding. I imagine that the real truth might be elusive.

My thinking on this is that it’s easier to claim that an atheist isn’t a person who doubts the existence of a divine being. Rather, it must be denial because of anger. This misses the point of the problem of evil but in a mindset that refuses to understand the rejection of a religious devotion to a deity, it makes it seem at least plausible.

Moreso, I stated earlier that the problem of evil was wrongly attributed to Epicurus. What’s interesting is that the formulation was originally given by a Christian writer named Lactantius in his work “De Ira Dei” or “On the Wrath of God.” The book is mostly a gloating about how the enemies of Christianity will suffer because the Emperor of Rome had recently converted to Christianity. Parts of the book are polemics against the two dominant philosophical schools that Rome had imported from Greece (as Rome never came up with its own school): Stoicism and the aforementioned Epicurean school.

In the existing writings we have of Epicurus, and his followers, he is affirmly theistic. He believes that gods must exist (even the great Cicero, who hated the Epicurean school, admits this) but, again, they have no involvement or interest in the world. Lactantius agrees with this but then summarizes the problem of evil, using it to claim that the because the Epicureans believe that such an involved god who cares about people does not exist therefore the Epicreans must be atheists. I’m obviously summarizing the point, and for my argument I need to a do a little work in linking the two premises, but nevertheless atheism became identified with Epicureanism. I should note his attack on the other school, Stoicism, resorted to attacks on their hard determinism and view of nature. In Lactantius’ mindset it’s not that the Epicureans were disbelievers, it’s that they had an insufficient faith that didn’t allow them to accept human tragedy and the Christian god at the same time. So in order to discredit them, he just slaps the label of “atheism” on it in order to discredit the entire school and call it a day.

It’s a stereotype that needs to go away, because it’s just resoundly untrue. I imagine that it might the case for a few, anything is possible, but the vasy majority of atheists that I know and the more famous of them (Penn Jillette, Christopher Hitchens, etc.) also have not had the “angry at god” motive. Also it’s self-defeating, and itself a contradiction. I cannot be mad at a person that does not exist. I deny the existence of god so I can’t be mad at it/him/her. That wouldn’t make sense. I can be angry at it like I can be angry at Saruman, but that’s the extent of it.

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Blasphemy Law

May 16, 2017 Leave a comment

The charges have been dropped against Stephen Fry, but that does not mean we shouldn’t be having this discussion. Let’s be frank, this is from a person living in a country that voted Trump into office and I get to look down at another country (thus far…) because that’s how backwards and borderline insane this law is. I can try and make fun of the UK, but that’s some pot-kettle bullshit, but Ireland!? You don’t get a pass. Sure, by popular vote, they legalized gay marriage nationwide in 2015, but we only have to go back 6 short years to find the passage of the blasphemy law.

Not 1009, where it would still be wrong, but it’d be understandable, but 2009. Where everyone is starting to get on board with smart phones, where wifi is pretty much expected, and where the global economic collapse had just started to abate.

My oldest daughter had already been born. Which means that she was born into a world where there were fewer blasphemy laws on the books. That’s not progress, that’s regression. Not to sound ethnocentric, or Eurocentric, or whatever-centric; but this is the kind of law you expect that they have in Saudi Arabia…because they do. Which, if we must find some good in this, it’s that this law is proof of what happens when religion and the state mix. It apparently doesn’t matter what religion is mixing with what state. Ireland is a Republic not a monarchy or a dictatorship. As America’s incompetent president continues to talk randomly about churches and freedom, the Irish example is one that needs more conversation because as innocuous as it turned out to be, it’s still abhorrent that this kind of law exists in the first place. Especially, I must stress, that it was passed in 2009.

This story of the Irish blasphemy law goes back to 1937 and the Constitution of Ireland. The Constitution mandates according to article 40.6.1.i:

This continues with article 44.1:

These articles mandate that the Irish government set up a legal statute prohibiting blasphemy passed in 1937, the law was only applied to Christian religions. Also, it’s important that these articles specifically mention blasphemy as a crime that needs to be outlawed. I haven’t read the entire Irish Constitution (my family isn’t that Irish) but I’m pretty sure that it will lack any mention of other crimes.

Note: It does mention one more, treason (article 39).

So the law, passed in 2009 states that (I’ll omit irrelevant portions):

(a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and

 

(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

The only defense the law offers is that if the utterance or publication has serious value that a reasonable observer would judge. This would mean anything in an artistic, political, scientific, literary, or academic value. The crime is punishable with a fine not to exceed 25,000 euros (approximately 27,000 US).

Was Fry in violation of this law? You be the judge, in the interview Fry is asked about his atheism and what he would say if, when he died, he found himself standing in front of the god he denies existing. Fry replied, “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.”

He then goes on to explain that if it were the Greek Pantheon, it would make more sense as those gods didn’t pretend to be all good, all knowing, or the creators of the world. Here’s the entire 2.5 minute exchange. 

I’m not an Irish detective, nor am I a lawyer. However, given that the definition of “blasphemy” is a “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion…” it seems like a slam dunk. However, his utterance did not correlate to the second half of the statute requiring an outrage of a substantial number of adherents to the relevant religion. So perhaps that’s why the Irish government dropped the case.

Fry’s comments are nothing new. They are not exactly the most eloquent way of putting the old “problem of evil,” but I do like his delivery. His way of making it a personal conversation in which he scolds the maliciously capricious god. Perhaps it has some kind of performance value. Perhaps that is another reason they dropped the case.

Yet none of this matters because the state should have no compelling interest in the crafting these kinds of laws in the first place. I’ve said it more times than I care to link to: there is no harm in blasphemy. There was no harm in the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, the Danish newspaper cartoons, in Piss-Christ, the Last Temptation of Christ, or the Life of Brian. There are literally no sacred cows.

The only thing that these laws seek to protect is the insecurity of the believer, their fear that other people might have seen what they have and rejected it. What else could it be? Words shouldn’t be able to hurt an all powerful being, but somehow nations and people have deluded themselves into thinking the creative being behind the entire Cosmos needs protection from a few air vibrations if they occur in a certain order.

Sure, to repeat the opening point: some people may think that it’s fine because they didn’t prosecute Fry. Even the wording of the law allows so many excuses that it’s nearly unenforceable. Yet that’s not the main issue, it’s that the Irish Constitution felt that this was necessary enough to mention the need for the law in the first place. Of course if they decide to charge him again, article 16 of the defamation law offers Fry the best defense*:

(1) It shall be a defence (to be known and in this Act referred to as the “defence of truth” to a defamation action for the defendant to prove that the statement in respect of which the action was brought is true in all material respects.

 

 

*Though again, I’m not a lawyer, not Irish, and certainly not an Irish Lawyer. Don’t take legal advice from a blog.

How to Convert an Atheist III

May 9, 2017 2 comments

Part III of our story…(Primary source here)

Part 3: Keeping the Dialog Open

Step 1: Walk the walk

Walk the walk is an interesting piece of advice, and it seems like it should have nothing to do with the current situation. The author recommends that Ned does not try and convert with words but to demonstrate with “spirit and power.” This an interesting intersection or words versus deeds, and there’s some conflict amongst the various sects of Christianity as to whether it is actually merely belief, or belief and actions, or actions. Pragmatically, this would be great advice at Part I step 1: Just be a good person and shut the hell up, they might come around. End of guide. It ends with this gem: “Some atheists are atheists because of their often-justified perception that Christians are hypocritical. But you know they’re not all that way. Prove it.”

You know like all of those anti-immigration, anti-helping the poor, Christians who think you need to believe in Jesus in order to be a good person but then have a political platform that states “what’s is mine is mine and no one else can have it.” Directly contradicting the actual words of the Bible and the Jesus character in it that they like so much. So don’t be a hypocrite, generally that’s good advice.

Step 2: Invite Your Friend to Come with You to Church

Yeah, thanks, no.

I can find other ways to be bored on Sunday…watching a Bills game for instance. Or listen to someone talk about a Bills game. I’d say sleeping, but I like doing that.

The advice goes on to say that Ned should invite the person to a non-service function, more of a social event than an actual mass. Even I go to these things, but isn’t that just being a nice person? I like doing X, you want to come to X? Personally I’d stay away from fund raisers, because that’s not going to help the atheist to the cause. Unless there’s beer and fried chicken, because then you actually get something out of it. The author stresses that Ned be clear to their friend that it is a religious function.

This is excellent behavior. When Passion of the Christ was in theaters, one of the mega-churches near Toledo roped a friend of mine into going. He was Pakistani and non-religious, but also very lonely. A very pretty girl chatted him up at the gym he went to and asked him to a movie. He, rightfully, thought that if it was not a date, then it was at least a friend type thing, but it wasn’t just the two of them: it was a church function. They sent people out to trick them into seeing the movie. You start out with a lie, or deception; it’s not going to end well. My friend thought the movie was “meh,” but was super pissed that he had been deceived.

Step 3: Be Patient

Don’t be pushy. Good advice.

Yet the general tone of the guide has changed here. The assumption is now that the religion has something the non-believer wants and just isn’t aware of. Look, this is America, and though we do not have an official religion and were not founded on religious principles of Christianity; the odds are 7/10 people you meet are Christian. This is a very religious country…at least in words. If an Atheist, who is statistically the child of a religious person, isn’t aware of Christianity there’s something very odd about that. Ned having a special club that he goes to once a week, might make his friend want to go, but other than the “I’m into Jesus” part what else is being offered  that the atheist doesn’t already know?

Step 4: Be Persistent

Ned is supposed to show how practical the religion is through his relationships with his Christian friends. What about when this backfires? I have relationships with all kinds of friends of various backgrounds. I can pal around with whoever I want: people that plant different crops in the same field, women that deign to have authority over a man, idolaters, I even met a Satanist. Like Machiavelli said, the hell bound are a lot more interesting.

Variety is the spice of life, as the adage goes, why on Earth would I only want to hang out with one kind of person?

Step 5 If you Want to Pray for Your Friend, Do it in Private

Sure, if reasoned debate doesn’t work, try hoping.

Ending a conversation wherein Ned has failed to convince the atheist with “I will pray for you,” the author remarks can be seen as rude. And yes, it certainly can. As often times it’s a condescending remark that implies the person’s soul is going to be eternally tortured and Ned hopes that it’s not. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “god bless you” after someone sneezes. It’s really a contextual thing, but it’s best, if you’re unsure to just keep it to yourself. The author gives the reasoning: “If God is going to answer your prayer and convert the atheist, then he would do so whether the atheist hears it or not. 

We kind of know the answer to this don’t we: He’s not or else he would have by now. Remember this is an all-powerful being that could very easily come on the television/internet/radio and just proclaim its existence. Instead, it decides to hide behind a 2000 year-ish old book, through several dead languages translated into several other languages in the hopes we decipher the clue like a shitty version of the Da Vinci Code. Maybe the Christian should remember that if god wanted to convert the atheists he could easily do so with an obvious sign and the attempting to convert people who are otherwise happy with their lives isn’t necessary. Just live and be happy. Stop worrying about what other people do or believe in as long as it harms no one.

As a summary though: this guide wasn’t as bad as I feared. Most of it was just talk, keep an open mind, and don’t be a dick about it. Unfortunately it runs under an assumption that people who aren’t Christians, don’t understand it. It’s endemic to the guide, because in their worldview, if you knew about it you would have to be one. That’s ultimately the problem with this guide.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Persuade An Atheist to Become a Christian II

May 2, 2017 5 comments

Continuing last week’s post. Here’s the primary source.

This is a weird instruction manual. It’s broken up into steps, that’s obvious, but it’s also broken up into parts. Yet there’s no real indication that each part/step should be building off of the previous. I’m not sure I should even call them “steps” but I did last week so I’m going to continue with that.

Part II: Talking About Your Faith

Step I: Tell Your Friend What Christianity Means to You

This one comes with a picture of the atheist wearing blue rectangular sunglasses. It’s just weird and I have no further comment on it. I just want to know if he’s supposed to be blind, and if so, is that metaphorical? The advice here is for Ned (remember that’s the name we’re using for the Christian), to just say that being Christian is making him happier. He knows people, there’s a community, etc. Just like how we’re all vegans because a recent convert explained how awesome it is that they don’t eat meat anymore, the cool people they meet at the co-op, and how paying three times as much for arugula is so totes awesome. This isn’t really advice for Ned because everyone hates that person who won’t shut the hell up about the new thing they do. Whether it’s the person who just quit drinking, the aforementioned vegan, or the douche in the soul patch that totally doesn’t get why people watch television. However there’s a further bullet point, “In general, it’s best to avoid discussing the concept of eternal punishment for non-Christians with an atheist, which will turn into a debate. If someone feels like you’re trying to “save” them, it can seem condescending and frustrating for your friend.”

Yeah best to avoid the bad parts, once they’re sucked in they can deal with all of that then. Look, the Hell thing is integral. The reason it starts the debate is because the atheist isn’t going to go along with the plan. Hell is a problem because depending on the type of Christian there are different reasons you get eternally tortured. Is it because you weren’t a good person? Maybe, but “good” is a vague concept, and if you didn’t say the right magic words it doesn’t matter how good you are. If you weren’t baptized, according to some versions, you go to hell no matter what you did in life. Then there’s the question of purpose: eternal torture = justice. How? There’s no possibility of parole, even if you fully recant all of your sins. Best to avoid the tricky subjects we wouldn’t want Ned to begin questioning his own religion.

Step II: Establish a common language

Another excellent point, and not just for this conversation. In any kind of debate it’s best to lay down what the words mean. I do this in my conspiracy course, and it’s especially important in religious conversations.

Step III: Don’t try to debate the specifics of the Bible

A discussion between a believer and a non-believer doesn’t need to be a debate about science, or creationism, or an intricate dissection of the creation of the world as discussed in Genesis. Discuss faith in terms of your church, writings of Early church and personal experience of it. What does it mean to you, to be a Christian? That’s got nothing to do with dinosaur bones and the age of the earth. Avoid these subjects. 

This guide is telling Ned to avoid the subject of talking about the specifics of the book which lay down the foundation for the entire religion. I’ll say this to Ned, it’s probably best you heed this advice but not for them, for you. Pew Research polls indicate time and time again, that atheists/non-believers know the most about the Bible coming in second only to Orthodox Jews. So Ned, don’t get into this fight it won’t work for you. You don’t want to find out that there is no Old Testament prophecy regarding Jesus, and the one everyone keeps referring to, within the context of it being given, has to do with an utterly different situation. You also don’t want to get into an argument that reveals an omniscient deity getting very little correct in his book and making some egregious errors (rabbits chewing their cud for instance). That’s before we even start on the contradictions, the weird laws, the horrible moral advice, treatment of women, and the rules that are laid out that the average evangelical wouldn’t want to follow anyway. Definitely avoid the book, at all cost.

Step IV: Try to understand the perspective of your friend

Good solid advice here. The author even assumes that not all atheists are mad at god, or were hurt by someone religious pushing them into non-belief. This is a huge step. Occasionally when someone finds out that I’m an Atheist, they’ll ask, “so what happened?” They expect that I have a dead relative or some kind of abuse, and I just say I had lots of questions and then there’s Tom Cruise (seriously). No tragedy pushed me into it but Christian media seems to think this is the only path for a believer to apostasy. The problem with the questions, I’ll explain, is that no one had answers other than “we don’t ask those types of questions.” Ned, if he’s coming at me, will have to answer those questions, and yes I’ll want empirical evidence as well.

Step V: Let your friend try to convert you

This is also good advice. See things from both sides, I think my side will always win because there’s no faith at work over here, but nevertheless I can turn each one of these examples on Ned. What’s so great about being an atheist? I get to do all the things you do, and I can sleep in on Sunday. I do all the holidays, but don’t have to go to Church for any of them. It’s fantastic. I get to read whatever book I want, and only like the books that mean something to me, without having any of them forced on me. It’s good stuff. My morality isn’t bogged down by Bronze age agricultural rules and tribal law, I can adapt to changing circumstances. If someone isn’t bothering me, I don’t have to think about it or condemn that person. Now, Ned, what have you got?