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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.

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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.

 

Defending a Religion

September 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Again, I have to point out that Noah Ludgeons on this week’s Scathing Atheist put it much better than I could, when discussing the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar of the Rohingya Muslim minority. A group of people that are denied citizenship on the basis of them being the members of the wrong religion. That is to say, the victims are Muslim and the perpetrators are Buddhists. A couple of years ago, I related a story about a group of Buddhists who burned down a Muslim orphanage, this was back in 2013–also in Myanmar, and the problem has only continued.

The point being made in the diatribe was that because Buddhism is a religion, it’s just as bad as any other religion. The only reason we don’t hear about it is because they aren’t a majority religion in a majority of countries. Buddhism gets a good rap because the Dalai Lama seems like a decent person (then again so does Pope Francis), and we’re apparently still dealing with the leftover waves the Asian fascination that this country went through in the 70s. Again, though it’s a religion and every religion, once it gets the majority begins a campaign to slowly get rid of those pesky other modes of thought. We need look no further than the Mormon story. Oppressed, outlawed, and in some cases it was perfectly legal to hunt them: once they settled in Utah they began their own purity programs. Puritans driven out of England for their beliefs ended up driving their own dissenters out in the Colonies. Perhaps the Rohingya Muslims would be doing the same if they were in power, but we don’t need hypotheticals to wonder what Muslim majority countries do to apostates, heretics, and even those that believe in the wrong kind of Islam.

Among the theme of his diatribe though was a secondary point that he dwelled on but that I want to tackle a little more in depth: Why do atheists defend Buddhism?

I’ve known a few legitimate Buddhists. I say legitimate to differentiate from those people that have an unread copy of some pop-philosophy Buddhist book on their shelf which they are “totally going to get to someday.” The problem that I’ve had is that for some reason there is an assumption that Buddhists and Atheists are on the same side. A claim, which I absolutely do not understand. I’m an Atheist, I don’t accept unproven claims, and Buddhism is full of them. Sure, they have that whole non-violence thing going on, but so do most religions…and I’m not a pacifist. They still ask for money for the sole sake of existing, they have numerous supernatural claims, and most importantly: as is the case in every religion, they regard existence on this planet as a bad thing. They don’t have gods…except that they do, it’s just the gods aren’t like the other religions in that the deities aren’t at the top of the food chain, but they’re still gods.

I suppose one of the reasons is that Buddhism holds no power in this country and thus is shielded from the bad press in a way that the Christian theocratic evangelicals earn. They haven’t committed terrorism here so they don’t get the PR that Islam gets. As far as I know they have never been the target of conspiracy theories like those of the Jewish religion. Perhaps all of that is why the Buddhists think the Atheists are on the same side.

Atheists on the other hand have an annoying tendency to defend this religion and that’s the most infuriating point. They’ll talk about how the Buddha preaches love and how most Buddhists are peaceful regular people but the same can be said of literally all religions. Most religious people are not the Pat Robertsons of the world who think homosexuality causes hurricanes, yet we Atheists will paint Christianity with that brush but excuse Buddhism when it does nearly the same thing. Islam is more prominent for it’s treatment of women but Buddhism has the exact same problem with women. When I bring this up to other atheists I get push back, and sometimes not polite pushback either.

Sure, Buddhism, in many respects is not as bad as other religions. There’s not been any Buddhist Crusades, as long as we don’t count Mongolia in the 14th century. Even if we agree that putting the religions in a spectrum where one religion is clearly the best, it’s still a list of bad things to worse things. If we assume that Buddhism is the best of the bunch it’s still just the least bad of a bad thing. Why then are atheists defending this religion?

The only religions that do not have a problem with murder, sexism, homophobia, or various methods of thought control are the ones that no one practices anymore. Sure Wicca doesn’t have the history but if they had the control you’d start seeing in fighting amongst the various sects. You can find articles that talk about what a “real Wiccan” does and that’s just the taste because if you gave them the authority they’d make a meal out of it. All religions do this.

Perhaps Buddhism gets the pass it does because it’s so utterly foreign. In the US we have the saturation of the Abrahamic tradition which means that we’re used to it, while Buddhism is something we know from movies where a monk can punch through a door. We know them from the Wu-Tang Clan and are unfamiliar with the drawbacks of the religion and that they are literally like every other religion once it gets into power. A good explanation but once the historical facts are pointed out that gets waved away as being not representative of true Buddhism. Which, sure, but we don’t drop the same allowance on any other religion–as well we shouldn’t, it’s just the no true Scotsman fallacy. In fact, we go nuts when some Christian nut throws a bomb in a planned parenthood clinic and other Christians say, “that’s not a true Christian.”

Buddhism is just as bad as the other ones we shouldn’t be pretending otherwise, and most importantly we shouldn’t get offended when someone points out their problematic history as well. We’re not Buddhists, we’re atheists.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

 

How to Persuade an Atheist to Become a Christian

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

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

A: Approaching the Subject

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

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

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

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

3: Have a Genuine arms-length conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Better to be an Atheist?

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

I suppose it’s what I deserve for skipping a week. Last Monday I had a mini-conference on fake news at the University where I teach. It was rather informative though I think they could have spent more time concentrating on the purpose of fake news rather than just some techniques on how to teach students to avoid it. After that, I had a doctor’s appointment (everything is fine), and by the time I returned home I was too exhausted to write my entry. The thing about habits, with me anyway, is that if I miss the day I normally do something then it’s pretty likely that I won’t get to it. Still though, I persisted, and went to work searching subjects.

Then the Pope made the news. This is usually what I call a ‘freebie.’ I’ll spend only a paragraph so as to not bore long time readers familiar with my perspective on him. Pope Francis has this annoying habit of doing one thing right and then within a few days negating the net gain with a wrong thing. For instance in the same week news broke that he endorsed both the theory of evolution and the big bang (the latter if we remember, first theorized by a Catholic priest), he then authorized the ordination of a whole bunch of new exorcists (science/reality +1, -1). One step forward, one back.

Last week he said that (paraphrasing) it would be better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Christian. I agree, and I spent three weeks on this blog posting about Christian hypocrisy towards refugees. I claimed, by quoting their book, that Christians have a command by god to welcome refugees and help those in need. Further that they can’t say they are against homosexuality because of their book and simultaneously be against immigration because that’s abject hypocrisy. Cherry picking your moral commands isn’t morality. Not only did I say that but the three leading Christian denominations in the US agreed (Catholic church included).

Pope Francis was referring to those types of people who dutifully go to church, join advocacy groups, donate their money and time to the church, but then ignore the needs of the poor, immigrants, and other causes the church believes Jesus would have advocated for. It’s in line with what he said a few years ago regarding us non-believers: that as long as we’re decent people we can win too. Now, he’s gotten some kind of shit storm about this from the Trump supporters who think he’s attacking their icon (and they’re probably right about that). It’s the usual sound and fury, from this group of people that attack anyone who criticizes their dear leader. I doubt the Pope is chain smoking in the Vatican wondering what canon law he needs to exercise in order to return things back to the 15th century in order to get revenge.

One might wish to argue that this isn’t a step forward. That it’s just like the atheists can be good people too comment. However that person has to realize that he’s not making the proclamation to us atheists but rather saying that the standard isn’t just belief. Which is a good call because it impresses on the faithful that merely having faith doesn’t make you good. An idea that is so prevalent in this country that atheists are at the bottom of the pile when you ask about trustworthiness among believers. Even in Trump’s America, Muslims are viewed as being more trustworthy simply by virtue that they believe in something.

However that wasn’t enough for a full post. So, knowing history, and having the pattern recognition that has been essential to our survival as a species I waited. Then, with the predictability of Newtonian mechanics it happened: he took a step back. Yesterday the news broke that he was now lessening the punishments for priests convicted of pedophilia. This isn’t a blanket order, it applies to a handful of cases, and he’s doing it as part of an atmosphere of mercy that he wants the church to represent.

The problem here is that there is a certain measure of justice that needs to be put in place if we’re supposed to be trusting these people. Benedict was more stringent, and even Francis’ own words on this matter have been one of “zero tolerance.” However, just as the Medieval church was resistant to the very concept of zero so apparently is Pope Francis. I’m not claiming that he needs to send these people to the square to roast inside an iron bull, but the very least you could do is remove them from your organization as well as those that hide them. Instead of, you know, promoting them to the position of Chief Financial advisor or just telling them that they now have to do a lifetime of penance and prayers.

I was raised Catholic, a lifetime of penance and prayers is kind of the default. They’re priests so a lifetime of penance was going to be more their thing than otherwise. So how is this at all a punishment? Well they can no longer perform public ministry, which is a big deal for them, and they can’t be around children, which isn’t a punishment but rather a safety measure for any future victims. Five years of psychological counseling? I’m sure that’s the minimum, and this one I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, yes absolutely, since we aren’t sure what is causing this and why the percentage rate among Catholic priests doesn’t track with incident rate among the general population. Getting to the bottom of what the causal mechanism is should be a priority. However, not doing this from the inside of a prison but rather the full protection of the Vatican seems to be, again, on the outside of the concept of justice. I get the mercy thing, but there needs to be justice for the victims.

You almost made it a week buddy.