By HonestDiscussioner

Religion, Philosophy, Politics, and anything else I'd like to talk about


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Embellishment Should Destroy Faith

I was reminiscing through some old memories of my "discussion" with my ex-step father. If you've been with me for a while, you may remember him as the person who said he was not interested in listening to what people who disagreed with him had to say, and when I said that was close minded, he retorted "No, it's not closed minded if you're right.". That was the quote of 2010, in my book. When dealing with such immensely poor logic, it should be no surprise that he parroted the argument made somewhat popular by Lee Strobel, the "Wouldn't Die for a Lie" argument.

As the argument goes, we should believe in the Bible because those that saw the resurrected Jesus died martyrs, they were given a choice to either confess Jesus was not resurrected and live, or stick to their guns and die, and they all chose death. Since so many people wouldn't die for something they knew was false, it must be true! Now I had only been involved in the religious discussion for a year or two at the time, so I had not heard of this before, and it was this argument that led me to the always wonderful ProfMTH, who did an excellent series attempting to debunk the "Wouldn't Die for a Lie" argument.

Within Prof's video, he mentioned a number of stories of early Christian tradition where members of the church were purported to have experienced violent deaths, but only after several miracles occurred preventing earlier attempts at taking their life. For example, bathing in boiling oil that did not hurt them, or falling from a very tall height and receiving no damage, only to be finally done in by a blunt trauma to the head.

That such miracles would occur and none of those witnessed to it would find it odd or compelling strains credulity, so I think it's best to assume that these stories are embellishments at best and downright lies at worst. It makes sense to me that, were a Christian leader killed back in those times, people might ask why God didn't save them. They couldn't lie outright and say he's still alive, so they do the next best thing and describe how Jesus intervened numerous times to save him. These types of stories appear rather often it seems as well.

This, in my opinion, should be more than sufficient to crush any faith in the story of Jesus. If they were willing to embellish these things, what else were they willing to embellish? Perhaps when their Messiah was killed, they embellished his death to mean that he was resurrected in spirit, and then further embellishments occurred later on to include a bodily resurrection. It makes sense, as the later the gospel, the more gracious the claims become. The oldest gospel doesn't have Jesus appearing at all after his death, and in the youngest gospel, people are poking him in his wounds and he's chowing down on some fish.

Why have faith in this? Those were incredulous times, people made stuff up and others repeated it as fact. Even in today's world where cameras are in everyone's pocket and everything is documented online, this still occurs. That this was beyond the capabilities of men with a clear theological and later political agenda seems to be of the utmost level of ridiculousness.

Consider whether you really are justified in believing in the story of Jesus, because from where I am sitting, there is no such justification.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

LadyTigerLily vs. Antitheism

Let's face it, antitheists get a bum rap. So often it is associated with the utmost vitriol and disgust with religion, with people who do everything they can to piss off, hurt, or otherwise get in the face of people who advocate religious principles. Certainly, such people exist, and they would accurately be called "antitheists", but they'd also be accurately referred to as "human" and no one would suggest that all humans are like that.

Some people like to define their terms and insist to everyone that their definition is the one true or at least the most accurate definition available. Instead, I'm going to be giving a definition and ask that we operate under that definition for the duration of the discussion. If you have a different definition or find fault in my own, that's fine, outside of this video use the word however you see fit, but for the purposes of communication, let's try to operate under a single definition and not get involved in semantics.

See I have this idea, this concept, and that is the idea that religion, while certainly having done some or even a lot of recognizable good, has had an overall net negative impact on our society and planet, and that therefore religious ideas and beliefs should be fought against (nonviolently, of course). Now, when referencing this idea, this concept, instead of repeating it verbatim I will apply a label to it to ease communication, and that label is "antitheism".

Enter LadyTigerLily (LTL) on Youtube, who has over the past few months, expressed a number of criticisms of anti-theism. Now to be fair, her criticisms seem to target a different version of antitheism than I am defending, but they still tangentially apply so I feel they warrant addressing. For example, she argues "I've had plenty of people talk to me . . . who are just on and on about how 'theism is the worst thing in the world, and nothing good has ever come out of theistic thought, and nothing good has ever come out of people who are religious'. Really? Well, considering the clergy were some of the only educated people back in the day and without these institutions, based in religion, we wouldn't have a lot of things, you can't really say that".

Now I'm not going to defend the idea that religion has done "nothing but harm", but LTL's criticism actually highlights an excellent argument for antitheism. Why was it the fact that the clergy were the only educated people "back in the day"? Why was it that almost the entirety of philosophy was generated around or on the foundations of Christian theism? Well, religion instituted a monopoly. They didn't allow thought that disagreed with their own to flourish. They crushed opposition, and used religion to take hold of the entire European region. They didn't want the laity to be able to read, they wanted them to have to go to the church to read the holy texts to them.

While LTL is correct that there are certain things that we wouldn't have today, certain philosophical ideas would never have come about and certainly particular pieces of artwork and architecture wouldn't exist, that's about where it ends. Without the church, there would have been a much wider field of philosophy to draw on, and if we're talking technology, we'd actually have a much greater level of technology today without religion. It is no secret that the church frowned upon much of science, and Galileo Galilei is only the tip of the iceberg. It's no coincidence that the Dark Ages coincided with the rise to power of Christianity, with much of ancient knowledge at the time being destroyed by the early Christians.

So yes, religion produced much thought, some of it positive, but without religion, we would have been far better off.

She then continues. "It is true that people use religion in terrible ways, and it is true that people hide behind religion because it gives you an overarching scheme that says I didn't do it (points up) they did . . . but that can be said about anything, religion doesn't make people assholes. Assholes use religion to justify their being assholes."

Here we come to a problem. LTL was quick to point out how the majority of western thought came from a religious foundation, but here we are to assume it plays no part in how the majority view the world? That without religion, people would still hold views just as damaging, but with a different (or lack of ) justification? Now this may be the case with some, some people are genuinely assholes, but others are affected by religion and indoctrinated into a highly organized belief system by which the associate deviation from that system with eternal torture.

Let's look at the hot button issue of today, women's reproductive health. LTL has (rightfully) been railing against the "Summer of Hate" we've seen from Republicans the country over. What we should keep in mind is that many of these politicians (and much of the republican party) to religion, when religious conservatives sometime around the 80's decided to back religious candidates and effectively became a very powerful force in American politics. While there would still be idiotic people in congress without religion, they wouldn't have the teeth that they do today. The country wouldn't be so focused on the Christian perspective and these ideas would lose a lot of their popular support.

LadyTigerLily later opines "None of us are really that different from each other, none of us are really that much better or worse. Whatever we may believe, whatever background we may come from."

This I wholeheartedly disagree with. While we may all share some fundamental values, even if with some they are only as basic as the avoidance pain and pursuit of pleasure, there is a wide spectrum when it comes to people and how good or "assholish" they are. There are some who dedicate their lives towards helping people, and others that dedicate their lives towards hating people, and most of us fit somewhere in between on that spectrum. Now I'm not interested in "judging" everyone as much as evaluating the potential of their ideas and the impact they have on society. Some people have wonderful ideas, and other rather terrible ones, and usually these ideas originate from their background. Again, there may be similarities, but "the devil is in details".

Finally, we come to her arguing "There are plenty of religious people who are not ignorant yahoos, that are not benighted individuals with their heads in the sand, but there are plenty of atheists I know of that are exactly that way."

This is all true. Being religious doesn't mean you are a bad person and being an atheist doesn't give you an automatic "I'm always logical" sticker on your forehead. However this is mistaking antitheism with antitheist-ism. I'm not against individual religious people, antitheism is directed towards theism as an institution. The way I look at it is as answering "no" to the question "is religion worth it". Now LadyTigerLily is Wiccan, but I know so little of Wicca that I can in no way assess whether it fits into my own views of what constitutes "theism", as my concern isn't with philosophies and ways of looking at things as it is truth claims that cannot be verified and used as a basis for action.

Overall, my position is that we'd be better off without religion, and that in general theistic belief should be actively opposed through rational discussion and public activism (but no government intervention or force). I'd really like to know what LadyTigerLily thinks of this proposition?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

MrRepzion - Faith & Prayer

Deconversions are rarely an overall pleasant experience. Even if the final admission that you've lost your faith is liberating or exciting, there is generally a lot of struggle and pain that comes along with it. Our minds tend to try to hold on to our beliefs and ideas as long as possible, and when a new idea comes along that contradicts an old and long-held belief, your mind can become a literal battlefield, and no matter the victor you are likely to suffer emotional scarring.

Such is the case with the recent example of MrRepzion on Youtube, who recently deconverted from Christianity to deism. As of this writing, he has made two videos on the subject, and if anything is clear it is that this has been a tumultuous experience for him. I feel for him, my own deconversion was just as painful. Like him, I prayed many a prayer with no response. My prayer was such that I would challenge anyone to find fault in it from a Christian perspective: I read the Bible and simply prayed for understanding and guidance. If my prayers were answered, then I was guided away from Christianity, for the more I read and prayed the less convinced of Christianity I became.

This isn't about me, however. This is about MrRepzion. I had numerous reasons to no longer hold Christianity as valid, and while MrRepzion appears to have a few, the lack of efficacy of prayer appears to be the cornerstone of his non-theism. This is quite evident in his first video, and is further expounded upon in his follow up. While I believe he is on the right track, if I am being honest I would have to conclude that his arguments against Christianity from issues with prayer miss the mark slightly.

Please don't think me insensitive for criticizing someone who is obviously going through a rough time, especially when they have moved closer to my own camp. I do this because my critique is something that I feel he is bound to hear at some point, and to avoid a painful mental tug-of-war with wounds so fresh, I would prefer if he was actually prepared for them. Recall, I said his issues miss the mark slightly, not that they were entirely unjustified. It is quite possible that he has no need of my assistance, that he in fact is already well aware of the devil's advocate style arguments I'm about to present, and could have even better responses to them than I do. In case he doesn't though, I would like to go over what I expect he's going to hear at some point.

Up until now, I have been addressing my audience as a whole, but from here on in I will addressing MrRepzion himself. Hiya MrRepzion, HonestDiscussioner here.

I understand your frustration with prayer, and identify with the feeling of talking and/or pleading to an entity that gives no indication that they are listening. Likely, they aren't there and aren't listening, but that's beside the point. From the perspective of Christians, they will generally find this unconvincing. You've already experienced some of their less eloquent (and incoherent) reasons on your first video, such as the accusation that you're simply being selfish and demanding metaphorical treats.

However the more accomplished apologist won't assault your ego in this manner. They know they aren't as familiar with your experiences as you are, and they certainly aren't as familiar with how you perceive your overall experiences. Blanket assumptions won't convince you, and they know it.

What they are likely to do, however, is to try to reframe your experiences to make it look as though God is working in your life no matter what those experiences may be. They won't accuse you outright of being selfish, but they'll lead you to that conclusion so that it seems you came up with it on their own, all while they gently smile understandingly and without judgment, knowing that you'll be able to make yourself feel guilty enough on your own, if they are successful.

This will generally be centered around the premise that God and\or Jesus has a plan for you. Yes, you prayed for help on your tests, or your you prayed for someone else's benefit, for simple healing. Whatever it was, it doesn't really matter, it could be a prayer that innocent baby seals not get bludgeoned to death with a rusty nail board, the apologist could argue that it is all part of God's plan.

See, what you should obviously conclude from you not passing your math or geology test, is that God has a different plan for you. He's telling you that your current path is not the right one, and you're trying to get him to change your path to what you not, not what "He, the almighty and source of all that is good" wants.

This is where you are lead to feel guilty over wanting anything at all; that in all things you must put your faith in God and just trust that things will turn out okay. It's the only way they ever will in fact. Prayer isn't meant for you to appeal to God for intervention, but merely as a way for HIM to tell YOU what to do, though I doubt it would be put that way. Technically, this idea isn't wholly inconsistent as a theology, no less consistent than most modern popular theology anyway. As I said earlier, I'm playing devil's advocate here, to the end of giving you a heads up on what I expect will be coming your way at some point. Again, I fully acknowledge that this may be unnecessary on my part. You may be able to poke 101 holes in the proposition I laid out for you just now. If that's the case, then I apologize for wasting your time, but otherwise I hope you will indulge me in breaking down what I just said.

What is the long-term prescription for your current issues, from this modified prayer perspective? Well, to fix your situation, of course your should continue to pray until an answer comes forth. Now if the Christian God doesn't exist, what you are doing when you pray is searching your unconscious mind for answers. This can indeed be an excellent tool for problem solving complex matters, as is evidenced by people who do just that outside the context of prayer (usually it is called "meditation"). Eventually, you will come up with something, a course of action of some sort. You are to try that out. If it succeeds, great! It works, God told you want to do and you did it. Now if it fails, well you just didn't understand what God told you, so get back to the drawing board and continue praying until you get another idea. Rinse, repeat until something works, and then thank God for allowing you to finally understand him. It's all part of the plan.

Hopefully by now, the problems with this should be evident. It's a classic example of only accepting positive results for your claim and dismissing negative ones. When things go well, God did it. When things don't, it's your fault for not doing what God wants. It thrives on making the proposition of God and prayer as unfalsifiable as possible, and shouldering as much of the burden as possible while giving any and all credit to God. This is something actively taught in churches around the world, and if you are anything like me, you will be sickened by that prospect.

Fortunately, the prospect isn't entirely falsifiable. Try as they may to avoid it, even this can be subjected to the scientific method. Now perhaps your "lack of faith" is strong and you have no need to test the proposition; you find it insufficient on its own. If so, great. Otherwise, I would suggest that you attempt this version of prayer. Pray to Jesus Christ for guidance as to what to do, for the entire month of August. Then, in September, do exactly the same as you did before, but pray to something else. Pray to Vishnu, or Buddha, or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Heck, pray to an inanimate object you know has no special properties, all while saying you have no desire to know what Jesus wants for you. Do this over a couple months, switch the entity that you pray to. Then, view your results. If Christianity is true, or at least if this proposition of how prayer works is true, you should expect that the month of August was crucial towards your actions, and nothing that you came up with in the other months was entirely helpful (in fact, it should set you back).

This is, admittedly, asking a lot. However you don't really need to actually go through with this. If an apologist actually makes this argument, simply ask them what they think of your little experiment, if they'd be confident the results would work in their favor, or if in fact there would not be much of a difference in your life between the various months. Some may argue for the former, but I find it a much more likely prospect that they'd take issue with the overall endeavor, that to do anything other than simply accept what they are saying is a terribly ungodly thing to do, that questioning it is itself wrong.

Then, you will know they truly have nothing to offer you.