Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Fortune and Popularity

March 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Let’s start with some good news. I assigned my introduction to Philosophy course to write a short one page essay on whether or not a person needs religion to be moral. I have 41 students in the course, and 0 papers responded in the affirmative. Even though I had some papers begin with “I consider myself a devout Christian,” “Being raised Catholic,” and “As a practicing Muslim…” not one person in the class was of the opinion that religion was a necessary factor in being a good person. This, coupled with my skepticism course in which I just asked the question as a yes/no/don’t know received all but one in the affirmative (the missing one didn’t answer the question so I pushed that into the “don’t know” category).

It seems to me that this is the last realm where religion has the upper hand and the new generation is killing it off. So what’s the next move; would it be to figure out what about the current message is turning people off, make whatever adjustments possible, and go for a kind of rebranding? That makes sense and is the most reasonable measure that an individual could take. Perhaps such self-reflection may make the people in charge realize that they refocus their efforts toward something that matters to the up and coming generations, dial down the rhetoric when it comes to apostates, atheists, and homosexuals. Perhaps allow women a higher position in the hierarchy or (in the case of the Vatican) allow priests to marry. I’m just spit balling here. The other option is to force the individual to come to you through the use of fear.

Italian Philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli is rather infamous for his line that it is better to be feared than loved when it came to how the Prince ought to be viewed by his subjects. Without getting into it too much, this is a serious misquotation of his sentiment. What he said was that being loved is the ideal, but that people are too fickle and too ready to take advantage that being loved by them is a difficult endeavor; while making the population fear you is much easier. Once love is lost it is quite difficult to reclaim it while fear is a much simpler emotion to get back. If the aristocracy loses the fear of the state, the state can just start making arrests and seizures, but to regain love it is a mystery as to what the state can do.

I bring it up because of two news stories coming out of the Vatican. The first is that the International Association of Exorcists, back in January were pleading that they needed new recruits to meet the demand for their services. The second piece of news was that the Vatican was blaming the rise in demand for exorcisms on fortune tellers. These two pieces of news are related of course. The one sees a need for demand while the other tries to explain the demand. However, is the motive the desperate need to drive up the demand for services through the emotion of fear? The concept of possession is a frightening one, that something can take over your mind and body, and especially so if that being is malevolent (interesting that we never hear of benevolent possession).

The problem is that in lieu of actually attempting to bring people in through the changes I mentioned above they are resorting to the fear of the unknowable. A fear that is based in a phenomenon that has no basis in reality. When religion was total, it served not only the moral explanation but also the worldly explanation. The things which happened in the world, in the environment, and in the body were explained through the nature of the religion. Possession, the transformation of an individual into something terrible, was explained through demons. Now, we have numerous other explanations for that same concept so this idea of demonic possession is unneeded. What’s even more unneeded is the solution to the problem: exorcists. If someone is suffering from “possession” they need to see a mental health professional not someone who is going to chant at them a magic spell.

The second part: the purported cause of the rise in demonic possessions is as absurd as it gets. This would be like hearing a Reiki practitioner blame a rise of cancer on touch therapy. Let’s make the bold assumption that fortune telling was a real thing: why would that be related to demonic possession? Are the fortune tellers learning the future from demons, if so, then the fortune tellers are performing literal miracles. Not only are they viewing that-which-has-yet-to-happen but they are also communing with the spiritual world.

Fortune telling isn’t new though, and a particular target of the Vatican are tarot cards, which aren’t new either. They date back to the renaissance Europe, and were originally just playing cards until the 18th century when they were almost exclusively used for the divination practice they are commonly associated with today. Unless there’s been a severe uptick in the amount of decks sold or people having their fortunes read by them, this only makes sense as a means to remain relevant. Sure, if morality is no longer the magisterium of the church, the physical realm is out, I suppose the last realm is defense against the dark arts. A person who believes in possession is probably also likely to contact a psychic so why not claim that the competition is the cause.

I will concede them one point though, fortune telling is responsible for demonic possession in the same way that unicorns are responsible for UFO sightings. (sorry for the lack of links–I’m having a computer issue that is forcing me to use a ten year old model and my patience for it to catch up is non-existent)


Theological debate

March 5, 2018 Leave a comment

I have just finished teaching the a-religious section of my intro to Phil course. It was prefaced by Cicero’s Design Argument (as well as a sub-argument within it) and the Anselm Ontological Argument. From there I move on to Paine and Ingersoll writing against the truth of religion. Both of them have similar complaints but it is Ingersoll writing with the benefit of a hundred years of scientific progress who really nails it down in his essay “The Gods.”

His point is that none of the “revealed religions” contribute anything to scientific discovery. At best, they are only as advanced in knowledge as the science of their day. He concludes this position by stating that an omniscient being communicating to his chosen prophet should have knowledge of the world that is more than the people know at the time or at least clear and unambiguous if it is to be limited to contemporary knowledge. In order to assist in the understanding of the argument I make two things very clear: the first is that the argument only applies to those reading their respective works literally. By this I mean Ken Ham build a boat in Kentucky literally. For example most Christians do not accept the Bible as an accurate gauge of the age of the Earth. They, in short, reject Usherrism (that the Earth is only 6000 years old). It’s not a doctrine of the religion generally. The same would apply to other religions and their creation stories. I find it doubtful that any of the Norse believed in Ymir and the giant cow as stories that were literally true and not just as stories.

The second thing I make absolutely clear is that this is not just some liberal anti-Christian bashing either and I bring in examples from other religions that also show a scientific ignorance of the world. Along with the Bible’s Flat Earthness I show the same problem with the Quran. Suras 13:3, 15:19, 18:86, 18:90, 50:7, 51:48, 79:30, 88:20, 91:6; all refer to the Earth as being “spread out” or “rolled out.” I’m not a Quranic scholar nor an Arabic scholar. I speak no Arabic, but I can however, recognize the letters as being Arabic (which means nearly nothing, I can point to something and say “Arabic” but that is literally it). All I can go by are the translations that are available to me and every one of those 9 verses of the Quran tell me that the book has the world being flat.

The first time I introduced this problem, this semester, after a class I student approached me. Let’s call her “Aisha” as that’s one of the most common Muslim names for women, Aisha disputed my claim about the Quran. She’s a practicing Sunni Muslim who went to Quranic school. I value the truth more than being considered correct and my only problem with the student is why she didn’t bring it up during the lecture, but I’ve been told by previous students that I can come across rather imposing so maybe it’s that. Anyway, she claimed that the Quran makes the claim that the Earth is “egg-shaped” rather than flat–this is something that I’ve heard before but never really looked too much into it. I didn’t feel that I had to with three verses backing me up on the flat earth. The general thesis that I was teaching was the book was wrong, and even if one verse claims that it’s egg-shaped I have three (eight with a full survey of all verses) claiming that it’s not. She repeated the claim during lecture a session later, having gained some confidence that I wasn’t going to rip into her for challenging me, and I publicly said that egg shaped would be far more accurate than flat giving it a point on the Bible, but then still missing the general knowledge when placed against the Greeks, Babylonians, and Egyptians of the same time.

After class, Aisha challenged the position again saying that since the Earth isn’t a sphere which the Greeks claimed but rather an oblate spheroid the Quran is closer to the mark. I told her honestly, I didn’t know, but that I would look it up. And thus here we are.

First problem: the Earth isn’t shaped like an egg. It’s not even close. The shape being described as an “oblate spheroid” is largely a geometrical description because it bows out a little in the center. For intents and purposes the Earth is a sphere, just an imperfect sphere. Sticking to the “oblate spheroid” description would be like telling my daughter that she drew a rhombus and not a square because I doubt all of the angles were 90 degrees. Eggs are narrower at one end than the other, that’s not the Earth so Ingersoll’s point would still stand here as the omniscient being should have that knowledge and ability to communicate it.

Second: I’ve already mentioned it, the book has one verse making this claim and eight others making the flat claim. Clear and unambiguous was the expectation Paine and Ingersoll had for the inerrant word of God. Even if we remove those qualifications it should not be contradictory.

Third: The Quran does not say “egg-shaped.” This took some digging to which I’m actually grateful to have been forced into doing. The three primary English translations of the Quran translate Sura 79:30 as “And the Earth, moreover, hath He extended (to a wide expanse);” “And after that He spread the Earth;” “And the Earth, He expanded it after that” this from the translation by Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, and Shakir respectively. “Egg” comes from Dr. Rashid Khalifa who translates it as “He made the Earth egg-shaped.” This translation is regarded amongst the orthodoxy as heretical, however that’s not my issue with it (this post would be considered heretical) though it is an important issue for the faithful, so I’m going to put a pin in that. What does matter is that contextually the verse doesn’t make sense. 79:29 discusses making the day and night, 79:31 details making the sea and the pastures.

If 79:30 doesn’t fit. “He made the dark therof, then brought for the the morn therof, he made the Earth egg-shaped, and produced the water…” It would be redundant to claim this egg shape as the dark and morning are already established to be cyclical. Further, the repeated claim that the sun circles the Earth (13:2, 18:86 [a repeat from the earlier list], 21:33, 35:13, 36:38, 36:40), actually makes more sense contextually with a flat earth than with a round earth.

It’s an interesting situation and it is clear to me that Khalifa is retrofitting a word that can be loosely interpreted as “egg-shaped” so that the Quran is more accurate than it seems to be. It’s also curious that this is the only time he makes this adjustment and not for the other eight times. No matter the case, the problem is that it falls further into the trap of Ingersoll as he points out the excuses the faithful make when defending the mistakes of knowledge in their holy book.

A Religious Duty?

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Well I’m impressed, we’ve managed to keep the latest mass shooting in the news for more than a week. If not for the effort of the school’s students this thing probably would have gone away by now, but those plucky young high school students have bitten back at a lobby group and the gun fetishists. What those people forget is while they might be good at verbal sparring, passive aggressive and aggressive social interactions, that’s all these kids know–they are in high school. If their high school experience was anything like mine, that’s four years of constantly having to come up with insults and rejoinders, it’s their life while their opponents just have to remember what they said two weeks ago after the last shooting.

This however isn’t a political blog, though sometimes it steps into that territory–and this post will be one foot in and one foot out. I want to talk about the mass shooting on Valentine’s Day, but I will do so by asking a question: why are Christian evangelicals so in love with firearms?

For those who consider themselves Conservatives, I get it, I don’t agree because they have lauded the 2nd Amendment to a status where it overwhelms all other rights, but it’s part of their political platform. For the conspiracy theorists with the delusional Red Dawn fantasies playing out in their heads, again, I get it–you’re wrong but I get it. It’s these Christians that I don’t understand. How is it that owning an assault rifle has become part of your religion?

One church had scheduled a blessing of assault-style rifles before the shooting but then refused to cancel or reschedule the event after it. Which, fine if they want to keep it going that’s up to them, my confusion is why this is even a thing? I’m willing to bet that there’s a strong overlap between the type of church that does this, the type of preacher that supports it, and the type of parishioner that attends and Apocalypse preaching. After every shooting we can count on these types to offer the same type of reasoning: taking god out of the schools, gay marriage, abortion, etc. They have a knee-jerk reaction to blaming access to these types of guns and want to blame it on literally anything else (even when the shootings happen in churches).

When I was religious, I wasn’t into the Apocalypse stuff. I read Revelations, a few times, but that was mostly because it was so weird. I was into D&D and mythology so that book fit in, though it wasn’t as well written. Being raised Catholic, I was taught that the book was not a literal check list of things that were going to happen before the end of the world but that it was just some of the usual metaphorical literature that was universal amongst end time religions in those days. My “New American Bible for Catholics” is specific in its introduction: “This much, however, is certain: symbolic descriptions are not to be taken as literal descriptions, nor is the symbolism meant to be pictured realistically.”

That’s the general message of every time I was taught this book. Interestingly, this book is where I started to realize that my religion was full of numerology which, at the time,  I did not know was a bullshit pattern recognition coupled with some good old fashioned consequent affirmation. Everything in the book has a number in it: Jesus is a seven horned, seven eyed, lamb for example. If I still had them, I could scan copies of my doodles of these monsters, the beast with seven heads, seven horns on each, and seven crowns on each horn was probably just a mess…especially if I was trying to fit it in the margins of a single subject spiral notebook.

Yet we know that there are those that take this book quite literally and I wonder if the reflexive defense of guns is related. The enormously popular “Left Behind” books and movies by La Haye and Jenkins seem to agree with me. Portraying a world in which all the real true Christians are raptured while those that are not wage a guerilla/terrorist war against the one world government fuels the idea that weapons are needed to fight the Anti-Christ. If this is so, then why is the focus on the war part of this kind of Christian theology rather than on following the teachings and then hoping to get raptured? It seems that this type of Christian has just given up hope and latched on to a “warrior for god” mentality that they, for some reason, believe will grant them eternal bliss in heaven.

No matter the explanation there is an intrinsic relationship with ownership of a gun and a particular strain of religious belief. If Jesus is love, then why do I need an AK, AR, or HK?

This strange bed fellowship is more than likely related to the false sense of persecution that these people feel whenever other groups are granted the same legal rights that they felt were exclusively theirs for the longest time. Pointing out why that perspective is flawed has been the subject of numerous other entries on this blog.

Then again, it could be much simpler. It could be that the religious right is just that in name only. We’ve already seen that they are willing to endorse our current president in the name of family values when he’s defaulted on that several times. It could very well be that these religious extremists will say anything that tightens their control and they’ve been using religion as a cover story for the last several decades. I wish I had an answer to this question, because it sure is mystifying that these sectarians who push a “Jesus is love” message have a unique and directed fetish for a weapon of war.


Bad Influence

January 15, 2018 1 comment

Atheists are a bad influence, obviously. That’s why in some countries atheist bloggers are hacked to death by machetes, imprisoned and whipped, and in the US 13 states won’t allow them to hold public office. It’s why we’re the least trusted “religious” group in the US. Yet, sometimes the atheist argument lines up perfectly with a non-atheist argument as I was trying to make clear last week at a family function.

My position was that my cousin shouldn’t have to go to religious education classes for the Catholic Sacrament of Confirmation. Now, wait up. I wasn’t making the “I don’t think anyone should have to go to religious education class” argument–even though I think that is a perfectly rational argument to make. I was making a different argument based on personal experience. Long time readers will know that I went through all of the Catholic sacraments (except Holy Orders and Last Rites–of which the second should be obvious), with Confirmation being that last one.

My cousin is in the “Confirmation prep” stage where he’s having to go to these religious education classes in order to prepare for the sacrament. For those ignorant of it, it’s just Baptism II only this time you are supposed to be aware and making a free choice, provided you don’t count familial and social pressure when you call it “free.” You get up, say a bunch of words affirming your belief in Jesus, the Pope, denying Satan, and pledging loyalty to the church. The Bishop blesses the whole thing and then you get cake. I’m being glib but that’s the nuts and bolts of the sacrament.

So, other than the atheist objection, what could possibly be my problem? The classes are pointless for my cousin just as they were pointless for me because we both attend(ed) Catholic school. Catholic school has religious education classes as part of the daily curriculum and its assumed that all the students are Catholics. This latter part, is of course not true, some people just sent their kids to Catholic school because it can be a better education. Nonetheless the religious education courses in the school take care of the instruction on what Catholics believe, how they are supposed to act with regard to their religion and the various historical facts concerning both the religion and the church. This makes the Sunday night course (that’ swhen my class was) absolutely superfluous for someone who is attending such a school.

For me, the classes were enjoyable for one reason: there were women there. I resented having to go to school on a sixth day for stuff that I already knew because I had learned it in the three years of Catholic high school and the nine years of Catholic grade school (I’m a survivor). Whereas the other students in the room, the ones who had attended the one hour post church classes for their lives, and some that hadn’t; could spout off some the Commandments and maybe knew who the current Pope was, were probably getting taught something. Part of the whole deal of Catholic school was to provide the extra religious instruction so forcing people to go to the other classes also seemed like a waste of the other student’s time as well. The teachers of the course just expected us to know the answers to the questions, but we were usually completely zoned out for the reasons mentioned above.

The further redundancy was the mandatory community “volunteer” project where they forced us to “volunteer” doing something in order to claim that we were ready to fulfill the sacrament. My high school mandated the same thing in order to progress a grade. I forget what the hours were but let’s say it was twenty. The Confirmation class also mandated an amount, let’s again say it was twenty.* Alright, cool, two birds one rolling stone? No. They didn’t overlap, or at least it wasn’t assumed by either organization that it would. The more creative of us (never doubt the ingenuity of a lazy person to work a loophole) were able to connive some sort of overlap, but nevertheless the entire point was rendered meaningless by the forcing of it.

You can’t make a person volunteer for something. That’s a contradiction, a point which upon bringing it up got me sent to the disciplinarians office in high school. I was told that it really was volunteering because I wanted to do it, to which I replied, “No, I want to move up a grade, this is a requirement.” He responded that meant I wanted to, and that I should. Which, earning a detention, I said “No, I will do it but I won’t call it volunteering because it’s not of my own choice (I wasn’t reading Kant on my own, they taught us about free will and choice in religion class).” The point is that the extra religion class was redundant in every respect except that it was a few years behind my other Catholic school cohort’s pace.

So upon making this argument at the family function, I was called a “bad influence.” Here’s the thing, all of those arguments before weren’t originally developed by me,  I was told them when I was going through it by family members and friend’s parents who didn’t think they needed to drive me to school on Sunday night to learn something I was getting taught on Monday. Further, certain people at the function agreed with me. However I’m the bad influence because I’m the only one that would take the argument one step further and say it’s not needed at all.

Now, I’m not trying to air some private family issues (that’s why I’m not using any names), all I’m saying is that the argument makes sense. If there was something, anything, that justified the redundant classes other than “that’s what they say you have to do” I would just have chalked it up to being another hoop that the Catholic Church makes you jump through. However no one was able at the time to give me such a reasoning.


  • I can’t remember what the exact hours were but they were the same amount.


December 18, 2017 Leave a comment

As a universal atheist, i.e. one that finds all religions to be false, it’s easy to find yourself agreeing with ideas that you normally hate. For example: I don’t want to see Sharia law in the United States but that doesn’t mean that I agree with the type of people who repeatedly post about it because their point is usually about immigration and hating people who are coming from countries where Sharia law is just the law. It’s useless to indicate that there is no chance of Sharia law in the United States due to that pesky 1st Amendment and 200 years of legal precedent as a protection, but nonetheless I don’t want Sharia Law.

It is however worth pointing out that those same people are often the ones lobbying to remove those protections so that their religion can be the one in charge. Weird, because the two religions have a lot of the same rules, just a couple of differences of trivial importance. I also find it uncomfortable when I find myself agreeing with some of the ridiculing of various religious practices from the same kind of individuals often reverting to the type of comments that begin “well yeah that is pretty silly but so is X.” This is to remind the individual that for every religious rite/rule/habit of the foreign religion their religion has just the same silly feature that they follow without question. Yes, it’s pretty silly that two of the Abrahamic religions won’t eat pig meat, but it’s just as silly to abstain from fish on Friday during a specific forty day period set by the full moon. That’s the real power of religion, to take something arbitrary and make it a rule. Tell a group of people that they can’t eat French fries on a Tuesday and they’ll laugh at you, tell them that rule is in a holy book, and it’ll give them pause. The more liberal of them might actually consider following it for fear of upsetting someone else, while the more conservative might order double to purposefully offend this made up group.

Raised Catholic I never questioned the prohibition of eating meat on a Friday during Lent. The reasoning behind this, which I’m sure I’m actually going to be educating some of the few Catholics I have reading this, is pretty ridiculous. Since Jesus was allegedly executed on a Friday giving up his flesh, the Catholic church decided as a way to honor that, that “flesh” meant meat so the faithful were to abstain. The original rule was every Friday but then that changed to only the Fridays during Lent (at most 5 days) and Ash Wednesday. Now they’re allowed to eat fish though, because according to the Latin origin the word “carnis” which is “meat” translates to “animal flesh” which for some reason doesn’t include fish…because fish aren’t animals (?). Whatever, this is a religion that based on the same book that thinks bats are birds (Lev 11:19) and that rabbits chew their cud (Lev 11:5 and 11:6). Also in that same chapter their are four legged flying creatures. Further to get along with the ridiculousness the Catholic church decreed in the 17th century that the Beaver was a fish for the purposes of Lent, also the Capybara, because since they live in the water they must be fish.

However those are minor things and unless you are completely devoid of a sense of humor, they’re pretty absurd. When we get into the various sects of religions things get more serious. For example I see posts ridiculing ISIS (as is deserved) and the simmering Islamic civil war between the two major off-shoots of Sunni and Shia. The difference is political, Muhammed didn’t leave an heir and the sects developed over the difference between who should lead the Islamic Caliphate back in the 7th century. Dumb, says the evangelical minister, why can’t they just get along like all the Christians do? Never mind the millennia long history of Christian sectarian war (not just violence but straight up war), most recently in what is known as “The Troubles” of Irish history. The Muslims do seem to get along at their most holy of sites though, the violence is done to pilgrims on their way to and from it, but never, it seems, there (minus the occasional trampling which seems to happen every year).

Well it happens with the Christians too. Which brings me to the most absurd example of how religion poisons everything and it involves a ladder. That’s not a metaphor, it’s a literal ladder.

The holiest site in the Christian religion is in one of two places: the alleged birthplace of Jesus or the alleged resurrection site. The latter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and its presided over six different Christian sects: Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac Orthodox. These six groups do not like each other, to the point where moving a chair outside a monastery at the church a mere couple inches started a fist fight between the Coptic and Ethiopian monks landing eleven in the hospital (there were a bunch of videos on the internet about it). Because these six groups couldn’t decide who was in charge of what back in ancient times they constantly fought over which group would oversee the alleged* site of the death and resurrection of their God. Because of the violence, the Sultan Osman III of the Ottoman Empire decreed what is known as the “status quo.” Basically, this meant that everything would freeze as is in the 18th century as the Ottoman empire controlled the region. No change to Holy Sites could be made without universal agreement amongst the various religious groups.

This brings us to the ladder. At some point, no one really knows, but definitely in the mid 18th century someone put a ladder on a ledge near a window. That person was probably doing some work there, but it can’t be moved because of the sectarian disagreements. The question is, who owns the ladder and who has the right to move it? The problem is that you can’t six different groups to agree that a ladder should be taken down. There’s probably a lot of spite going on, but c’mon, it’s a ladder. I’ll do it, provided that travel and stay expenses are covered. I won’t, however treat it with reverence because it’s a ladder that has no historical significance other than indicating how petty and silly religious groups can be when it comes to territory. Which is the real lesson here. See we atheists can point to bombings, assassinations and wars to show what evil humans do in the name of superstition, but if we want a real lesson in how absurd this can get, it’s a ladder on a ledge outside of a window that is the real icon of religion.

*I keep using “alleged” because of the story of how this site was chosen seems suspicious to me. Emperor Constantine’s mother chose them, as the story goes, but how she made the choices seems to be a matter of controversy (I’ll bet it was chosen simply to remove the temple to Aphrodite from Jerusalem).

By A Preponderance…

December 4, 2017 Leave a comment

We left off with the idea that we need some sort of deity in order to be moral. A ridiculous claim that even my religious students do not stand by. We’re still searching for the evidence that the book promised…

Continuing on with his decrying of the morality of the non-believer he begins citing the bible. Sigh, the problem here should be obvious. If he’s going to be claiming proof, undeniable proof, then he can’t cite evidence that requires you already believe. That’s a perfect example of question begging. This line from 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power,” begins our conversation about hell. The “These” in that line are those that do not obey the gospel of Jesus. Which, is a little weird, since there is very little to obey in those books.

Now, now, I’m not retreading the mythicist line about that not being a real person. I’m talking about the four books themselves. There’s very little to obey. Most of the books are stories about Jesus, but as far as obeying there’s very little. What is there is sometimes contradictory, i.e. Matthew’s Jesus says that we must obey the laws of the prophets (Old Testament laws) while Luke’s Jesus says (16:16) that they don’t matter anymore since John the Baptist. Just sticking with Matthew we are told to let all those see our good words (5:16) but then to not do that and instead do our good works privately and not bring attention to them (6:1, 23:3-5). So who goes to Hell? Those that do good and slap their names on the side of buildings or those that do works and never talk about them? In both cases we have individuals that are both following and not following the gospels. In both cases these are “red letter” passages, meaning they come from the mouth of Jesus and not some epistle writer.

God, according to our author, respects our free will in much the same way that a person with a gun against your head demanding your money respects it as well. You’re free to not give it, but the consequences are there. Which, fine, a religious person has to believe this. However, I’ve written time and time again that if the only thing keeping a person moral is the threat of hell, it’s not morality it’s compulsion. A moral act ought to be done without the consequence in mind. If I tell the truth I should do so not because of the threat of hell but because I have an intrinsic respect for the truth (whether that be Kantian, Utilitarian, or some notion of Justice).

Palaszewski then wraps up this chapter with speaking of the most important event in the history of time–the sacrifice of Jesus. Which, again, is only something if you already believe it. There’s no evidence for the non-believer to accept here. He’s merely assuming the conclusion and then using that to justify the premise. Here’s where he’s going to get himself into trouble. Let’s assume that the story happened and that Palaszewski’s earlier remarks are also true. Good? Having a problem? You should be because it’s contradictory.

If God respects our free will and allows our choices to dictate whether we go to hell or not then how has he been punishing people prior to the sacrifice of Jesus? According to Catholic doctrine (and most Christian doctrines) heaven is opened by Jesus’ death. This means that prior to this, it doesn’t matter what kind of choices you made you were still going to Hell because you couldn’t have known about Jesus or this gospel. Some Catholic thought tries to work around this by offering the Purgatory solution. That all of the prior dead, still under the sin of Adam, were not in Hell but Purgatory and when Jesus was dead for those two days (it’s not three, not by any measurement of time) he lifted them up. This is provided you had only committed venial sins and not mortal sins the latter of which is automatic hell. Again though, that is required that you knew the difference between them. Nevertheless it is the fallacy of special pleading, we have to accept the existence of this purgatory which is not mentioned in the Bible in order to justify this contradiction.

I have two kids: one was baptized and the other was not (long story). Does this mean that the one with at least the exposure to church goes to heaven and the other doesn’t simply by virtue of that exposure? According to our author, yes. Yet, it’s not exactly their choice at this point. The same goes for someone born in China, while they may be aware of Christianity, they are more than likely not believers so according to the author they are going to Hell because they aren’t fulfilling their life’s sole purpose in worshipping god. That’s not the respect of free will because those kids in China did not have the opportunity.

Thus far, nearly half way through this book, we’ve seen no evidence, no argument, no proof of the truth of Christianity or Jesus. Instead, I must ask: what am I reading? Given what we’ve gone through so far, I’m reading a book that is designed to give arguments to people that already believe so that they can throw them at non-believers. It also serves the point of making believers think that they have some kind of intellectual foundation for their preconceived notions. The biggest problem though is that these aren’t good arguments. They might confound a new atheist, but a mere introduction into informal fallacies will quickly nullify anything this book is saying. It’s pure counter knowledge.

The No True Christian Fallacy

November 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Every semester since I began teaching my skepticism course, I’ve offered the following assignment:

Choose one informal fallacy, explain it, give a relevant example and then discuss.

The entire course is based around conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. There’s no reason that a student shouldn’t be able to come up with a cromulent example. Depending on what school you subscribe to there is either one fallacy or there are over a hundred. The former is a remark made to me by a colleague who said that, really the only informal fallacy is the non-sequitur since the conclusion never follows from the premises. The latter is because you can find one fallacy with many different sub-fallacies underneath it’s umbrella. For example, an argument ad hominem (against the person rather than against the argument) is a large category with several smaller derivations. The “guilt by association” fallacy is really just an ad hominem slightly to the left of the person.

When teaching I don’t wear my atheism on my sleeve. I keep my personal beliefs, aside from being anti-conspiracy theory, out of the course where possible. Though I think my concentration on evidence based reasoning might lend itself to exposing my skepticism of religious belief, but I’ve also received comments from student evaluations wondering why I had to be so religious in class (seriously, I think it’s because I have a wide religious knowledge like most atheists in fact).

I have a student this semester we’ll call “George.” She has chosen for her example, the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and she wants to apply it to right wing Christianity. Her central claim is that people like Pat Robertson and the numerous people like him are not Christians because their rhetoric does not reflect True Christianity. George, whom I did not expect to take this line of thought, believed that when they say that people who are unlike them are guilty of the fallacy. Clearly her and I needed to sit down.

I explained very quickly that she was either “right with a ‘but'” or “wrong with an ‘if.'” (thank you Simpsons); because while she was correct in her estimation of their problem, she was wrong in that she’s committing the exact same fallacy as them. The look on her face forced the question out of me (it didn’t “beg the question” because that’s an entirely different thing), “are you a Christian?”

She said that she was, and a Catholic. Which then prompted her to explain that everyone who didn’t follow a specific set of Christian rules weren’t really Christians and these people she was planning on talking about qualified. I then pointed out that they would say the exact same thing about her, further they would probably call her a heretic and a polytheist because of the Catholic veneration of Saints and Mary. This elicited a laugh from her but my facial expression conveyed that I was being utterly serious.

The way the No True Scotsman works is that you see a member of a group doing something and the claim is that by very action they are performing, disqualifies them from being a member of that group. “No true Christian would ever say God hates fags.” “No true Muslim would ever commit an act of terrorism.” “No true Buddhist would ever condone genocide.”

Via, rationalwiki, Henry Drummond said, “No man can ever be opposed to Christianity, who knows what it really is.”

The problem is in the definition of group itself. Is there a distinct set of qualifications that make one a member and prevent them from joining. “No true bachelor is married,” is not an example of the fallacy because ontologically the definition requires that person to not be married. No true Christian denies the existence of Jesus, is again, not an example because the definition requires the individual to believe that Jesus existed. However, behaviors are not ontological qualifications. The assassin of Dr. Bernart Slepian was a Christian despite his willingness to murder a person in his own home, and despite the fact that the popular belief is that Jesus would not condone such an action. This is despite the fact that the assassin claimed to be a Christian.

What the fallacy amounts to is distancing an individual from a group because we identify ourselves as members of the group and wish to avoid being the target of a guilt by association fallacy. George may not want to be associated with Pat Robertson because of what he says, and Robertson would likely agree since she’s probably too tolerant and doesn’t think god sends Hurricanes against cities who once elected a lesbian. However, we can’t make the assumption that these people are lying. If they say they are Christians, we should assume they are Christians.

Which is why we have that pesky separation clause to begin with, because when we atheists ask “what religion?” we don’t mean the distinction between Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. as being the religion of the United States; well not just that. We also mean what Christianity? While Catholics and mainline Protestants share a lot in common they also share a number of distinct differences. Even within mainline Protestant Christianity there are many differences. Some Protestant churches have no problems with gay marriage and homosexuality; while others distinctly do. So which one are we picking? The unification of these different sects under the term “Christianity” didn’t really occur until the 70s. Before then you’d be hard pressed to get an Anglican, Episcopalian, Catholic, and Mormon to agree that they were all members of the same religion despite the fact that they all believe in this Jesus fellow.

George seemed genuinely confused as my observation as though she hadn’t ever considered it. Which, is likely the case. I explained that I was raised Catholic and was taught that the other Christianities weren’t the correct ones because their beliefs and practices were different. Likely, kids in other religions were taught the same thing about me. However the core membership qualification is what matters in this fallacy whether or not we like the person’s actions. If an atheist commits an act of terror, they are still an atheist, it’s just that they are a terrible person who coincidentally did the act. This especially applies to religiously motivated actions. If a terrorist says, I did this because of this and for this; we can’t say they didn’t.