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The Flat Earth

July 10, 2017 Leave a comment

For the last month I’ve been working on a companion blog to the course I teach entitled “Conspiracy Theories, Skepticism, and Critical Thinking.” I’ve set it up over at Blogger, for the particular reasons that when I clicked on the link “set up blog” it sent me there. I imagine it’s somehow easier because it will then be linked on the course dashboard, so it saves the students the trouble of having to tap twice.

This post is not an advertisement for the other blog (although you can click the link above if you are so inclined), it’s a different tone in writing and is designed for students taking the course. I provide sources and citations when it becomes necessary, there’s also a lot more editing done. This blog is more personal and I do not share personal stories with my students. Thus far the posts have been methodology, with a couple of historical conspiracies thrown in. Yesterday though, after finishing the historical-factual conspiracies it was time to delve into one actual conspiracy theory to just give an example of how everything works. That theory, the one I always start with, is the Flat Earth Theory.

Briefly, flat Earth theory is the idea that the earth is flat, and a huge conspiracy exists that covers this up. The weird thing is, and this has been the story of my class, I started covering it as a goof. An example of something no one seriously believed except a few die hards on the internet, but then it started making the news. Rapper BoB got in a fight with Neil Degrasse Tyson (whom I’m supposed to hate because I’m in Philosophy but I don’t, he makes a good point), then a bunch of NBA players jumped on board as well. Now there are billboards claiming “Research Flat Earth” which, is the exact wrong thing they want to recommend.

We’re not here for the conspiracy, we’re here for the atheism. The first question I ask is why anyone would believe this, and the first answer is religious literalism. When I say this: I mean Ken Ham style the bible is literally true, every word, every sentence, no metaphor. Though I don’t know if Ken Ham is a flat earther, but he should be.

The Old Testament of the Bible describes the Earth like it would a modern indoor sport’s stadium. There’s a dome, a foundation, of which the Earth is in-between. References to this include, but are not limited to: Psalm 19:1, Isaiah 45:12, Daniel 4:10-11. There’s other references that explain in more detail the “firmament” where the water is held before the flood, and some others of more ambiguous quality. The New Testament doesn’t escape this either, the famous temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:8) has Satan tempting Jesus by taking him to high place and showing him all the kingdoms of the Earth. This is only possible if the Earth is flat, given the kingdoms in China and the Americas at the time (to name a few that are blocked by the curvature of the Earth). It also refers to the “four corners of the Earth” at 1:7 and 7:1. Part 3 of the Middle Eastern trilogy doesn’t escape either as Surahs 15:19, 18:47, 20:53, for example explain that the Earth has been rolled out like a mat or shaped like a bed.

So what gives here? Was the Earth flat until the end of the Quran where god changed the shape of it like in Tolkien? Or did the writers of these works of religious sanctimony get it wrong? If god wrote the books, or inspired their words, then they ought to be free from such egregious error. This isn’t like the claim in the Old Testament, where bats are listed as unclean birds. I mean, that’s pretty bad, but I suppose to the author a flying creature is a flying creature; this is a fundamental error on the shape of the planet that the creator designed (and then wrote the description of the design).

Apologists will argue that this is metaphor. That of course the Earth does not literally live underneath a firmamental dome and no one really thought so, just as “Homer” didn’t actually believe that that the sky was “vaulted.” The story of the temptation is just a story, and probably metaphorical (Satan give what he doesn’t own anyway). The Quran is just stating that the world is unfurled before the servant of god like one rolls out a carpet. It’s metaphor plain and simple. Right, sure, I agree. Those stories are just stories and certainly not accurate descriptions of the world, nature, or places that probably didn’t exist.

However, that’s not who this post is directed against. It’s directed against those that take the words literally. The people that define the world as being 6000 years old because that’s what the genealogy of the Bible would put it as. The ones which sue to remove Evolution from science classes because it contradicts what it says in Genesis (remember the Quran adopts wholesale the account of creation and most of Genesis and Exodus, I’m not just picking on the Christians, Creationism is also a problem in Muslim countries as well).

They have to adopt the flat earth model as well. They can’t escape what the words actually say and any attempt to do so, as I have done above, would be to renounce the literalism that they feel is such an imperative that they go to court to suppress any opposition. What I would like to understand, is their justification for rejecting the flat earth cosmogony that their books recommend. If their justification is that the flat earth is ridiculous that says a lot about their literalism as well.

 

Jesus By a Preponderance of the Evidence I

July 3, 2017 Leave a comment

This post is the first in a monthly series wherein I’ll go through the claims made by Robert Palaszewski in his book “Jesus By a Preponderance of the Evidence.” The subtitle of the book is “The Objective, Rational, Historical and Scientific Evidence for the Truth of Christianity.” The book is supposed to be an argument that not only was Jesus a historical figure, but also that the religion of Christianity is true. This implies that we’re going to prove the Jesus as Son of God idea as well.

I’ve read the first chapter and the first thing I need to lay out is that I’m skipping the “Journeys” sections. The reason is that they anecdotal, and I suspect made up, stories about people coming to Jesus. They are not proof of anything, if true, they only serve to prove one person’s journey, so there’s little to look at or do with. Personal accounts are not objective, they go against the grain of what the book describes itself as, and I’m not sure what they are doing here.

There is nothing but DNA. We are but a cosmic accident, products of nothing but chance. Therefore, we owe no allegiance outside of ourselves. God is chance. he is accident. He is the great Nothing. God is dead. The very notion of God is dead. We are free to remake ourselves in any image we want. We are free. We are masters of our own souls…”

This, the author claims is the mission statement of the current age [It’s also, itself italicized, but I’ll italicize any block quotes from the book]. And, oh boy, is there a lot to unpack in there. It’s claimed that this kind of statement (there’s more to it as well) is what the high priests of our time, the scientists, tell us. It however is not. I could probably write for the next month on just these three paragraphs but I’ll just have to pick one part. The notion of an “accident” is a popular one among the apologists. It offends the personal identification that we are somehow special amongst all of the other creatures in the Cosmos, but there’s little evidence that this is so–other than wanting it to be the case. It’s pure anthropomorphic justification for our place in the universe and is reminiscent of the more modern cosmological arguments that talk about universal constants and the odds against life that drive whatever authority this argument mysteriously still possesses. The real problem is, that “accident” is a matter of perspective; if you are a believer you can still buy the physics explanation for why we are here. Just ask the Catholic Church, they endorse it but then say that God is the Prime Mover in all of it.

The “God is Dead” thing drives me nuts. Yes, it comes from Nietzsche. Yes, he had syphilis and eventually went crazy (the book it comes from, Thus Spoke Zarathustra is from his middle period when he was about stage 2 of Syphilis). What needs to be kept in mind, is when and who says it. Nietzsche, puts the line into a fool character walking a tight rope. And cherry picking the quote is just stupid, the full line is “God is dead, and these are his tombs.” It’s a comment about how people mourn their religion inside dark places instead of celebrating it like the ancient Greeks/Romans did. Also, for an Atheist, god isn’t dead–he was never alive to begin with.

From that long screed we move on to Pontius Pilate. For some reason I’ve been seeing this a lot lately from the apologist crowd. In John 18:38 Pontius, while interrogating Jesus, asked “What is truth?” and this is somehow meant to be the rallying cry of those denying Jesus. However, and I can’t believe the biblical “scholars” ignore this, is the context of the quote. Never mind that it would be odd for an Atheist to be deriving authority from a line in the bible, but John 18:37 has Jesus telling Pilate that he is speaking the truth and his followers are those of the truth. When Pilate asks, “What is truth?” he’s not using it in the general sense, but referring to the thing that Jesus just said sense. Even if, and I would dispute this, Pilate were using it in a general sense the context of the conversation still revolves around him interrogating someone suspected of a crime. Pilate, and by extension non-Christians (as Pilate was likely not an atheist), are not advocating for epistemic relativism.

Yet that’s the tone filling out the rest of this section, what follows is a long screed about what people like me believe. I always find these entertaining, because apologists could just, I don’t know, ask. The takeaway here is that atheists are cultural and moral relativists. What’s good, is what I determine as good and I have no right to inflict that kind of judgment on anyone else because morality doesn’t derive from a divine source.

This leads into a discussion of all the ways that society is crumbling around us because we no longer Jesus hard enough. Violence and sex in pop-culture, violence in the streets, sexual liberation, etc. The usual accusations thrown at the next generation by the previous despite the facts that the world has actually been getting better. We even go so far as to cite a study which, in his words, “The Journal of the American Psychological Association can argue that pedophilia is not so bad.”

I found this rather shocking so I found the footnote (I hate endnotes) and checked the study. It says no such thing. What the study actually determined was that the stereotype of the damaged victim of sexual abuse was just that, a stereotype. While there was long term damage the general assumption that the victims were “lost causes” was not borne out by the evidence. What seems to have a moderating effect on the outcomes of the victims is the level of support that the victim receives afterward. There is nothing in this paper that claims pedophilia “is not so bad.” Maybe the author should have read the paper instead of repeating what someone told him about the study as it really affirms the need for victim support post abuse.

This however would go against his desire to make sure that everyone reading is offended. I am, but that’s because he didn’t read the study or if he did, he didn’t understand it–whether purposefully or accidentally.

Then we have a long argument against moral relativism. A section I agree with, if not for the shoddy examples and poor construction of the argument. One of his arguments that we atheists apparently make, is that “there is nothing to sin against” so therefore everything is permitted. Yes and no, there is no sin, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t immoral actions. Shooting children in a daycare is wrong and immoral, but not a “sin.” His tactic here is to parse out the words in an extremely pedantic manner. For him all immoral actions are “sins” so if you don’t believe in “sin” you can’t judge something to be immoral. That, however is not a working tautology because I don’t use the one word. In general I’m against moral relativism, and to be fair he gives an interesting analogy with various religions, they can’t all be right.

Religion is a zero sum game. Of the many competing religions only one, if you believe in them, could be considered true. Allah and Jesus both can’t hold their self-proclaimed monopoly on the truth, at least one of them have to be wrong. It’s a good point, but he can’t dwell on it because it leads down a road of doubt. What if his interpretation of Jesus is wrong? Or what if Jesus is the wrong religion? Since he’s offered no evidence of anything yet, making this claim is spurious at this point. No worries, because he jingles the keys of cultural relativism once again and the lack of an authority by which we derive our morality. We’re 16 pages in, and there’s yet to be one objective rational or historical piece of evidence offered. Perhaps the rest of chapter one will begin presenting it.

A new Emoji

June 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Did you know that there’s a new emoji you can use with facebook? I’m probably late to finding this out, but if you “like” the LGBTQ page you get a rainbow flag emoji that you can use to like stuff. It’s a nice little honorary thing for the month, that some people will use once in awhile, and most people will never. Such an innocuous tiny piece of digital coding.

Which means, of course, that people like Josh Feuerstein have a problem with it. Josh is famous(ish) for being the jackass that ranted at Starbucks because they didn’t have the right order of magic images on their disposable paper cups around Christmas time. He was so angry that he implored his viewers to tell the poor guy or girl working that their name was “Merry Christmas” so that their preciously fragile sense of self-worth wasn’t shattered upon not being constantly reminded that Christmas was coming. This is despite the numerous and sometimes overwhelming items that Starbucks sold with the word “Christmas” on it, such as the Christmas blend coffee that they would heretically place in last year’s plain red cup.

Josh, has a problem because there isn’t a cross emoji in facebook’s arsenal of seven. With that he’s claiming some kind of persecution, because he, and those like him, want to feel persecuted. They need it, lest they admit that his religion (in general not specifically his version of it) has a stranglehold on this country. The average person you meet is some form of Christian with rare exception. Only when you shatter the umbrella term of “Christianity” into its various sects do other belief systems over take it: e.g. depending on how you define “none” they are the largest single group, but even then you have problems. “None” doesn’t mean “atheist” it means no officially religious affiliation which can include Christians that don’t belong to an official church, the “not religious but spiritual” crowd, and the lapsed. Out of ten people on the street seven are likely to be Christian in some form.

Those are facts, and if people like Josh Feuerstein were swayed by facts, we wouldn’t have people like Josh Feuerstein in the world. I want to caveat this: I know that most people don’t care, I know that most Christians don’t care. Just people like this.

Economically I follow the Adam Smith model. I’m all for free markets (this will be relevant shortly) on some things, I’m for regulation where it is necessary, and am against government intrusion for the conduct of business in general. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule such as when the conduct of business causes harm through either purpose or negligence. I say these things because I want the offended to realize: Facebook is under no obligation to cater to your delicate sensibilities. Also, Facebook is not doing this for any other reason than to generate revenue, it’s not about you and the special place you think you occupy in the universe.

Facebook is a company that generates profit. They provide a service in exchange for earning money, in a way that I don’t understand, that’s their sole reason for existence. So if Josh thinks that Facebook is even aware of who he is and how much he’s offended, he’s merely deluding himself into thinking he bears a greater place in the world than he does.

That’s all that is going on here. Facebook is looking for clicks and they’re getting it, and Josh is helping that along as people have been trolling his page to “like” his posts with the flag emoji. I, for one, would not even have been aware of this emoji if it weren’t for people like him complaining about it.

This is just another example of people like him feeling persecuted because other people are being included that aren’t him. No one loses equality when other people are given recognition. It’s not as though people with the flag emoji are given Facebook plus accounts or that their posts are given a special preference, they just have a little rainbow flag.

It’s not discrimination either because no one is stopping anyone from doing anything. There are no religious emoji whatsoever. Maybe if there was a Star of David, a Crescent, a Yin-Yang, and no cross he might have a point: but there aren’t. I’m willing to suspect that he’s probably not advocating for any of those emojis along with it: his ilk just want their version because they are losing the ability to not have to see things they don’t like. Pretty ironic coming from the type of person that usually screams about how people are too easily offended these days.

In a spirit of charity I’ll offer him a suggestion: don’t like Facebook’s inclusivity of LGBTQ? Then stop using it. Problem solved.

Categories: atheism, Uncategorized Tags: ,

The Irony of the Protest

June 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Not that one. The gay pride parades in various cities over the last few weeks don’t gain much notice to me for the simple reason that I don’t like parades unless I’m in them. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of standing around and waiting.

No, I want to draw attention to the anti-Sharia demonstrations that happened. You know of which I speak, where a few dozen “Real ‘Mericans'” decided to protest against a thing that wasn’t happening, isn’t happening, and is nearly impossible to happen. I think the joke about these protests is that they might as well be protesting against term limits for unicorns.

Let’s play hypothetical here and figure out the steps it would take to get just one Sharia law in place. First you would have to have a city or municipality that has enough of a Muslim population in the US to create the demand for the law. Where is that place?

Our best bet would be Detroit. The city of…Robocop? Or is brotherly love? I forget which. In either case a quick search of the demographic breakdown of Detroit shows that Wayne County in Detroit, with an astonishingly high Jesus denying percentage of 3.5% of the population. That’s pretty small, the “nones” (my people I guess) make up a whopping 54% of the population. We’re more likely to get a statue of Lawrence Krauss in the middle of the county than we are just one Sharia Law on the books, but I suppose the entire area could be Gerrymandered like Austin Texas and maybe that would gain the Islamic population a whole seat on the city council.

Step 2: Now that we have our population we need to get our demand. So what law? Sharia law is just Islamic religious law, and like literally every other religion adherence to the law depends on two main things: the place where you were born and what family you were born into. If we even assume that there are no half-assed Muslims, i.e. the equivalent of those Catholics that only go to church on Christmas, Easter, and whatever family event is occurring (funerals and weddings), there’s still a Sunni/Shia divide that we’d have to assume away for the sake of our experiment. Most Iraqis, which are the sect that immigrated to Detroit in the 80s, are Shia so we’ll just run with that. Not that it really matters because I’m not to up to date on religious laws regarding particular sects of Islam. So let’s just run with a bill that forces women to wear the head scarf in public.

Step 3: Pass the bill. How on Earth could this be done? Unless the group took over every seat on the city council, then the mayor’s office, they would still end up fighting for the law in court. There’s no way that one of the numerous Christian nut jobs like Ken Ham, wouldn’t file a suit against the law before it was passed. There’s no way that the Freedom From religion Foundation or the ACLU wouldn’t file a suit before the law was passed. An executive order couldn’t get this one through.

However, since we’re in the imaginative dream land, let’s assume it was passed. Now it still has to contend with first amendment lawsuits. Now, this would be interesting because all of the Christians who argue for prayer in school love to point out that the “separation of church and state” isn’t in the Constitution so they would have to either admit that the Islamic head scarf law was fine because that’s what the people wanted or they would have to eat crow admitting that it was just a convenience argument for them. Nevertheless, we not only have two hundred years of court cases forming a firm foundation for the excise of religious laws, but also the guy who wrote the Amendment explaining the “separation of church and state” as what he meant. The law wouldn’t make it through the local court.

Unless they took over the local court, in which case it would still be fought at the state level, and there’s no way we can reasonably pretend (or unreasonably) as we have done thus far that the state of Michigan would get an Islamic majority or take over the court system.

Again, we’ve had to assume that this fictional Islamic majority would also want the law.

So what is the protest about? Stoking fear of something that cannot happen in order to make other people feel special. I’ve never read the Man of la Mancha, but I’m told that this is like that. Tilting at windmills, because it’s easy to fight an imaginary enemy than a real one.

I opened this post mentioning the pride parades for a reason. I wonder how many of the people who attended these Anti-Sharia law protests are also on board with LGBT equality. I’m guessing there’s very little overlap between the two on a Venn diagram. I wonder how many of those same people are in board with equal rights between the sexes and think that a woman should maintain autonomy over her own body. Do any of these anti-Sharia people think that there ought to be prayer in schools and that the government should be showing Christmas/Easter displays?

Don’t let them lie about it: this has nothing to do with freedom. The irony of the protests is that these people want the exact same thing that those who would like Sharia law want: religious theocracy. It’s just they want their religion to be the one in charge and not someone else’s. It’s why they get so upset if a school decides not to serve bacon during Ramadan but see absolutely nothing wrong with the same school serving fish on Fridays during Lent. They have more in common with ISIS than they would ever admit.

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?