Atheism

Why I Don’t Take My Hat Off in the Seventh Inning

god bless america

When the Star Spangled Banner is played before a sporting event, I gladly stand, remove my hat, and salute the flag. I still weep when the Star Spangled Banner is sung, even though my tears now flow from a sense of sadness I feel over what is happening to the country I call home. If I am called to say the Pledge of Allegiance, I will gladly stand, remove my hat, and respectfully stand in silence. Because of the 1954 addition of “in God we Trust”, I can not in good conscience recite the pledge. So, I stand silently as my fellow citizens swear their allegiance to the Christian God and the United States.

Since 9-11, Major League baseball teams often have those in attendance sing God Bless America. This song is a unified prayer to the Jewish/Christian God. (Irving Berlin, a Jew, wrote the song in 1918) This is where I draw the line. I refuse to sing a patently Jewish/Christian song that extols the wonders of a deity I think is a myth. Those in attendance are asked to stand and remove their hat as God Bless America is sung, but I remain seated with my hat on. One of my sons usually does the same. Unlike many of my fellow Americans, I know the difference between the Star Spangled Banner, America’s anthem, and God Bless America, a song that promotes Christianity.

The same goes for Christian prayers at sporting events. There is one race track I frequent, Limaland Motorsports Park, that routinely has everyone stand and remove their hat as a generic, lame-ass Christian prayer is read. I sit until the prayer is over and then I stand and remove my hat as the Start Spangled Banner is played.

My passive resistance is a small thing, but this is my way of standing in opposition to the thinking that the United States is a Christian nation. It’s not, and if I wanted to sing a song about the Christian God or hear a Christian prayer recited I would go to church on Sunday.

Published: April 11, 2014 | Comments: 10

Why Lana Hobbs Left Christianity

questions

In a post titled, Reasons I Questioned and Ultimately Left Christianity, Lana Hobbs had this to say:

…There was a question in my mind — I’m not sure where it came from — ‘What would i believe if I hadn’t been raised Christian from birth. If I had grown up Muslim, taught that THAT was truth and unbelievers would go to hell if they didn’t follow Allah, would I have any reason for becoming a Christian?’

In the end, all I had to go on was faith, and I became convinced that I never would have had faith in this particular religion, had I not been raised the way I had been.

I read and searched for reasons to believe, both in God’s goodness and his existence.
In the end, I didn’t just give up the fight, I changed my mind.

I didn’t want to leave the religion that kept me in good standing among my friends and family, and I certainly didn’t want to give up the faith that meant I was loved by the Maker of the universe, but I looked at the evidence and arguments I had accumulated – and I accumulated a lot – and decided that the evidence for God was not substantial.  The only thing worse than leaving was following after a lie.

I had lived my entire life centered around God, trying to please God, trying to get other people to follow God, and now I wasn’t sure He existed. That soon morphed into being inclined to think he didn’t.

I identified as an agnostic for awhile, and now identify as an agnostic atheist.

I don’t believe in God any more. And I’m okay with it.

You can read the entire post here.

Like many of us, Lana struggled with the loss she knew would come if she ever said she no longer believed. I deal with this issue in Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist. Our beliefs and our church community provided structure for us. It is where our friends were, where we went to fellowship with other like-minded people. It is in this setting that we found purpose, meaning, and direction.

But then came the questions and the doubts. Unlike many people, the answers we were given for our questions and doubts did not satisfy us. The more we pried, looked behind the curtain, studied, and read, the more questions and doubts we had. Try as we might, we couldn’t faith our way back to Jesus.

Some people pull back from the questions and doubts and make an uneasy peace with Christianity. They can’t bear to lose the lifelong connections they have with family and friends. I never criticize people for doing this. I don’t put my life up as an example of the path people should follow and I suspect Lana thinks the same way. Every person must walk their own path and determine whether the evidence is sufficient for them to continue to believe.  What is most important is openness and honesty.

I love reading the deconversion stories of others. While there are similarities in every story, there are also differences, and it is those differences that I find most interesting. I appreciate Lana telling her story. Every time a person tells their deconversion story they are a public reminder to doubters who are struggling with their faith that they are not alone.

Published: April 10, 2014 | Comments: 3

The God of Mississippi

new mississippi seal

Yesterday, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant signed into law Senate Bill 2681, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Evidently, religious freedom must be under attack in a state dominated and controlled by Southern Baptists, right? Of course not. Mississippi is poor, racist, and Christian just like it always has been. There have been no reports of lost religious freedom, yet Mississippi legislators felt the pressing need to “protect” religious freedom. Why?

To answer the why question all you need to do is look at who participated in the bill signing:

Tony Perkins stated after the signing:

What the Founding Fathers hailed as a virtue to be pursued and protected is today being pursued and pummeled by those who want to see religious freedom quarantined to the four walls of our churches. Fortunately, there are still some elected leaders who understand that all our freedoms hinge upon our First Freedom, the freedom of religion. Today, I had the honor of joining Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) at the signing of SB2681 — the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and had the opportunity to thank him first-hand — and others who were instrumental in passing the bill — for their tremendous leadership in defending religious liberty.

Unfortunately, political courage is in short supply these days. That’s never been more obvious than these last few weeks, when the opposition launches massive misinformation campaigns. Too many “leaders” tuck tail and run, instead of standing their ground and learning the facts. Some things are worth fighting for — and religious freedom, the ability to live out our faith in every aspect of our lives, is at the top of that list. As the Apostle Paul instructed the believers at Corinth, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

There is absolutely no aspect of our lives that should be beyond the guiding light of Scripture — a truth the Founding Fathers not only understood, but also felt obligated to defend.

The Southern Baptist Convention, an increasingly fundamentalist denomination, and Tony Perkins, drunk with political power, continue to push their theocratic agenda at the state level. Knowing that they can not win at the federal level until the Republicans regain control of the White House and Congress, they busy themselves getting laws passed that “protect” religious freedom and ban abortion. As they continue to lose at the state level on the same-sex marriage issue, they have found another way to “protect” heterosexual marriage by using laws like the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Some gay activists believe that this bill will allow Mississippians to discriminate against gays in the name of  religious freedom.

The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act also changes the state seal requiring the addition of IN GOD WE TRUST. Make no mistake about it, the GOD now prominently displayed on the state seal is the Christian God, the God of the Southern Baptists, the Roman Catholics, and Tony Perkins. This law is not about freedom at all. It is all about giving Christianity preferential treatment in an increasingly secular society.

Not long ago, I said that I was tired of what I thought was petty lawsuits filed by groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, and the American Humanist Association. I now see that unless we fight the theocratic tendencies of Christians at every point, they will inch by inch attempt to turn the United States into a Christian nation. In doing so, they will destroy the secular state and give their religion preference. As history clearly tells us, when state and church become one, freedom is lost and people die.  Those of us who are secularists or who believe in a strict separation of church and state must stand our ground against the theocrats. If we don’t, we shouldn’t be surprised when more states pass similar religious “freedom” laws.  It is easy for us to get distracted by the huge progress we are making on the same-sex marriage  issue and not pay attention to the theocrats who have walked in the back door. While we are busy celebrating our successes, they are busy getting laws passed at the state level that restrict minority rights, deny women control of their own bodies, and give Christianity preferential treatment.

Published: April 4, 2014 | Comments: 11

Evangelicals and the World

love not the world

According to John 8:44, all non-Christians have the Devil as their father:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

When well-meaning liberal Christians and other religious practitioners say that we all are the children of God, they are speaking from sentimentality and not the Bible.

Ephesians 2:2,3 states:

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

Before becoming a follower of Jesus, the Christian was worldly, living a life of fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind.  They were molded, manipulated, used, and controlled by their father the devil. Without Jesus, they would live out meaningless, hopeless lives and then die and go to hell.  Their father and his world, this world, must be repudiated and overcome if the Christian is to have any of hope of entering heaven.

According to 1 Peter 5:8, the father of all non-Christians, the devil, walks on the face of the earth like a lion seeking to attack and destroy. The Christian, according to Ephesians 6:11-18, is to be like a well-armored soldier wielding a sword against the devil. The Christian is constantly reminded that they must be watchful against the schemes of the world. The devil delights in nothing more than ruining the life and testimony of a Christian.

The Christian is warned that they should not be “spoiled” (seduced, led away) through vain deceit and the philosophies and the traditions of the world. They are also warned that they should not be conformed to the world. Instead, they should make themselves a holy, acceptable living sacrifice to God. After all, since Jesus died for their sins and by his resurrection from the dead he secured eternal life for them, it is quite reasonable for God to expect the Christian to:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23

The writer of 1 John reminds Christians that they are to:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 1 John 2:15,16

So what do we know? Every non-Christian follows after their father the devil. The devil is the king and ruler of this world and the Christian must resist and fight against him. The devil will, along with those who are his children, do everything they can to destroy the Christian. The Christian must not let this happen. They must fight back, using not fleshly methods, but spiritual ones.  When they do this, they will find favor with God because their resistance against the world is evidence that they are a true follower of Jesus.  They should also understand that, just as the world hated Jesus, so will the world hate them. Until they die, they will be a participant in a cosmic battle against the world, sin, and all that opposes God and the Bible.

Yet, when we look at American Christianity what do we see? Do we see people who are battling against sin and the world? Do we see them denying self, taking up their cross, and following Jesus? Do we see them denying the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life? When we look at their methodology, do we see them using spiritual weapons rather than fleshly weapons?

Generally, the answer to all of these questions is NO. 78% of Americans say they are a Christian. In other words, almost 8 out of 10 Americans believe the gospel narrative found in the Bible.  If this is so, if 8 out of 10 Americans are Christian, why then is there so much sin and debauchery in the world? If almost 250 million Americans are Christian, why hasn’t America become the theocracy that many Christians clamor for? With such a large Christian majority, shouldn’t we be living in some sort of perfect, sin free millennial kingdom where God, Christianity, and the Bible rules and reigns?

Yet, according to some studies, 80% of Christians can’t even be bothered to show up at a local house of Christian worship. (an ABC poll reports that the percentage is 62%) And of the 20% that do show up, the majority of them attend one service a week and are not actively involved in the church. As any pastor can tell you, the vast majority of church work is done by a small percentage of people and the vast majority of the money contributed is by that same small percentage. The average Christian shows up to church irregularly, is non-involved, and gives a small percentage of their income to the church. No matter how often the pastor preaches about faithfulness, doing more for God, and tithing, most Christians aren’t listening.

Jesus said, For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Evidently, for most Christians, their heart is somewhere besides the church and its mission. According to a 2011 Christianity Today article titled, Are American Evangelicals Stingy?, Evangelicals give about 4% of their income and Christians in general give about 2.4% to the church. It seems that the world is definitely winning when it comes to money.

Like their non-Christian hell bound siblings in the world, Christians love the world and the things that are in the world. Their lifestyles make a mockery of the moral and social high ground they profess to walk.  Not long before Jesus ascended back to heaven, he said to his disciples:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:19, 20)

This is commonly called the Great Commission but what it really should be called is the Great Omission. Most Christians have little concern for the spiritual welfare of others. Most never share their faith, content to let the world know that they are a Christian by having a honk if you love Jesus bumper sticker on their car or their house/work space decorated with Jesus junk made by poverty-stricken people in a third world country.  They get riled up over things like same-sex marriage, abortion, and teachers not being allowed to lead public school students in prayer or Bible reading, yet when it come to fulfilling the one, direct command that Jesus gave to every Christian, they say nothing.

How does your Christian neighbor live? Do they fundamentally live differently than you? I doubt it. They own houses, lands, and cars and spend most of their life enjoying the fruit of their labors. How they live their life betrays what they really think is important. If hell was a real place that every non-Christian will be tortured by God for all eternity, shouldn’t Christians spend every waking moment and every extra dollar trying to keep people from going to a Christless hell? Yet, even the most fundamentalist of Baptists spend little time trying to evangelize the world.

The small percentage of Christians who consider themselves sold out, on fire, committed, sanctified, hardcore Jesus loving, Jesus obeying followers of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, will likely shout AMEN to everything I have written here. But, in doing so they will be missing my point.

Christians need to know that non-Christians, including atheists like me, see them for who and what they really are. We see the hypocrisy, the denial of the teachings that they say are the words of God. We measure our lives by theirs and we see little difference. Like us, they live in the world, want to enjoy the fruit of their labor, and desire to live as long as possible. Like us, they have good days, bad days, and a lot of in between days. They love, hate, and are kind, mean, nasty, arrogant, gracious, impatient, long-suffering, jealous, and envious just like their non-Christian neighbors.

If hell and heaven are real, dear Christian, why would you not work night and day evangelizing others, forsaking wealth and health, and burn yourself out for God. This way you will get to heaven much sooner. I doubt that many Christians will choose this path. Why? Despite their certainty and their talk of eternal bliss in the afterlife, they deep down doubt that there really is an afterlife. Like the atheist, they want to wring as much as they can out of life. For if there is no afterlife, what a waste it will have been to not live life to its fullest.

Even among Christians who consider themselves sold out, on fire, committed, sanctified, hardcore Jesus loving, Jesus obeying followers of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, they don’t seem to be in a hurry to get to heaven.  It seems that for all their talk about being a temporary citizen of this world, they are really planning on applying for permanent residency.

I guess I have said all this to say, that what we have in America is cultural Christianity. It is a religion that people give lip service to, a religion good for weddings and funerals, but not overtly applicable in the day-to-day lives of those who profess that Jesus is the son of God. Not even the professional Christians, those who call themselves pastors, elders, bishops, and priests, seem to be immune from being very much a part of the world.  Their cars, houses, suits,entertainments, expense accounts, retirement funds, and bank accounts, tell all who bother to listen that this world is really their home and that they are in no hurry to leave.

Take a look at the modern mega church movement. What do you see? Church leaders in love in with power and money. Even the most ardent of culture warriors live an opulent life funded by book royalties and exorbitant salaries and speaking fees. These churches build multimillion dollar buildings, places that house tens of thousands of passive sheep who come to listen to the superstar preacher tell them what they want to hear. Rarely, if ever, do they consider what could be done with all the money they spend on having the nicest sheep pen in town.  They tell themselves that God deserves the very best, when in fact their lifestyle betrays the fact that THEY are the God that deserves the very best.

You see dear Christian, I don’t care about what you believe. Your beliefs mean little to me. Only in the insulated Christian ghetto do beliefs matter. Outside the pogrom, the only thing that really matters is how a person lives their life, and from my seat in the pew what I see is people who don’t live any different from me. In fact, I live better than many of them do. When Christians begin to really live out the teachings of Jesus, then maybe, just maybe, I might pause and consider the claims of Christianity. Until then, what’s on TV?

As long as Christians do as they did this week with World Vision when they decided to hire same-sex Christian married people, then Christians are just talking to the hand when they try to preach Christ to me. According to one report, the day after World Vision’s press release, 2,000 Christians called in to cancel their monthly financial support for hungry children. Rather than support fairness, justice, and equal rights for all, these offended Christians would rather withhold money that children need to feed themselves.

Let me be clear dear Christian. You may try to convince yourself that atheists like me hate God or have a secret desire to live an immoral life, and that is why reject the Christian God, but, the truth is, one the biggest reasons we reject your God is because of how you live your life. You preach one thing but live another. You demand of others what you do not demand for yourself.  Your life betrays the fact that you are, in almost every way, an atheist too.  You rail against the world and claim to be a pilgrim on your way to the celestial city, yet your lifestyle and behavior shouts from the rooftop that you are a well-heeled resident of the world that is in no hurry to leave.

Published: March 28, 2014 | Comments: 10

Nice to Your Face Christians

pretend friends

One day, a new family moves in next door to John and Sally. After they are all settled in, John and Sally walk over to their new neighbor’s home and introduce themselves. John and Sally are quite friendly to their new neighbors, Bruce and Polly. Every time John and Sally see their new neighbors they wave and shout out, Hi neighbor. Bruce and Polly begin to think that John and Sally are wonderful people. Such great people to have for neighbors, they say to themselves.

One day, John and Sally walk over to  their new neighbor’s home to ask them a question. It is a very important question, one that could affect Bruce and Polly’s future. You see, John and Sally are members of First Evangelical Church. First Evangelical is known for being a friendly church, a church that really cares for other people. John and Sally have been members of First Evangelical their entire lives. Their pastor, Bro. Certainty, taught them that it is very important for them to witness to all their neighbors. After all, the Bible says, go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone and everyone includes  John and Sally’s new neighbors.

Bro. Certainty, the skilled marketer that he is, taught John and Sally what is commonly called friendship evangelism. Rather than telling Bruce and Polly that they are sinners, headed for hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus, John and Sally are encouraged to pretend friend Bruce and Polly. Try to find a common interest, they are told. Be nice. Bake them a pie or do some other act of kindness. By doing these things, Bruce and Polly would be more receptive to the gospel, Bro. Certainty told them.

So this was the day that John and Sally put aside pretense and revealed what it was they really wanted from Bruce and Polly.

John: Hey, how ya doing today?

Bruce: Great, how about you? Isn’t this warm weather awesome?

John and Bruce trade pleasantries as Sally and Polly talk about flowers and gardens. After a few minutes…

John: While we are here, I would like to talk to guys about something very important.

Bruce thinks to himself, great here comes the Amway pitch. I knew they were being TOO friendly.

John: Sally and I are members of First Evangelical Church. We have attended First Evangelical ever since we were little children. We think it is the best church in town. Our pastor, Bro. Certainty is so winsome, everyone LOVES him! We were wondering….next Sunday is Friendship Sunday…and since you guys are our new-found friends we thought that you might be interested in visiting our church next Sunday.

Bruce thinks to himself. Fucking awesome. Our “friendly” neighbors are Bible thumpers.

Polly snickers to herself. Can’t wait to see how this turns out.

Bruce: John, Polly and I are not church-goers. We don’t believe in God.

John: But Bruce, surely you believe in some sort of God? Only an atheist says there is no God.

Bruce just looks at John…giving him THAT look.

John: Oh, I see you guys are a-t-h-e-i-s-t-s.

Bruce: Yes we are. (Bruce refrains from giving a smart-ass response)

For the next twenty minutes or so, John and Bruce argue back and forth about God, Christianity, sin, salvation, and atheism. When it becomes apparent to John that Bruce is one of those apostates that have committed the unpardonable sin that Pastor Certainty talks about…

John: Well I hope you will think about what I told you about Jesus. What if you are wrong?  Wouldn’t it be better to believe in Jesus and then you wouldn’t have to worry about going to hell when you die? Better safe than sorry, right?

Bruce, without uttering a word, mentally bangs head on a wall.

Bruce: No thanks, John.

John: Ok, then. Well, let’s go Sally. If you ever change your mind, you know where we live.

Bruce thinks to himself, that’ll be a cold day in the hell I don’t believe in.

Off John and Sally walk, sad that they were unable to reach their new neighbors with the truth. Oh well, we told them, they say to each other.

A few days later, Bruce and Polly pass John and Sally on the street. They wave, but John and Sally advert their eyes and don’t wave back.

Polly: What’s that all about? I thought they were our friends?

In a recent post about the death of Fred Phelps, Andrew Hackman wrote:

To me, the only difference between Fred Phelps and the average conservative Christian is delivery style. It is similar to Delores Umbridge and Voldemort in the Harry Potter story. Both stood against Harry. Both wanted him eliminated. Both hated him.

Voldemort’s hate blazed in his eyes. Delores hid hers behind soft tones, feigned concern, and a predator’s smile.

But both had similar plans for Harry.

I don’t believe there is an afterlife, but if I did I would hope that Phelps can now rest from the burden of his hostility, and that his wounds have been healed.

In the end, I preferred the bigotry Fred wore on his sleeve, to the slippery words of “love” offered by so many Christians who quietly share Fred’s heart.

Remember this the next time your Christian neighbor or coworker tries to befriend you. What is their real agenda? Do you really want to be friends with someone who thinks you will tortured by God in hell for eternity if you don’t believe exactly like they do? I know I don’t.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to read The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals and Why Ex-Christians Don’t Trust Evangelicals.

Notes

Graphic by David Hayward

Published: March 24, 2014 | Comments: 21

Is Religious Belief a Virus and Why Atheism is not the Antidote

religion is for fools

I hate Twitter. I am not a fan of having 140 characters at a time discussions and I think many “discussions” on Twitter quickly devolve into the equivalent of two monkeys throwing shit at each other. I tweet every time I post a new blog and I try to “engage” those who respond on Twitter, but I am convinced that a lot of people never read one word of the post they are responding to. They seem to respond to the title rather than the substance of the post. I do not get into Twitter flame wars and I tend to ignore or block anyone who displays childish, trollish behavior.

Apologists for Christianity and atheism roam the internet seeking out opportunities to abuse the opposing side. I have watched with amusement countless unprovoked Twitter wars between Christians and atheists. Each side thinks they have the upper hand and is “winning” the war.

Yesterday, a denizen of the atheist Twitterverse sent me a tweet about Should We Respect the Religious Beliefs of Others? This post has receieved a lot of attention and some atheists are not happy with my approach to religion and those who practice it. Of course, this is not new. I have been branded an accommodationist, a denier of the one holy atheist faith, and a closet Christian.

The above mentioned atheist tweeted the following about religious beliefs:

Absolutely not! They should be publicly ridiculed and shamed until they cease to exist.

I responded with one word, WHY?

The atheist responded:

because religion is a virus. It’s dangerous. Never mind bronze-age thinking that doesn’t apply in today’s world.

I want to focus on notion that religious belief is a virus that atheism is the antidote for. It is bad enough that this atheist thinks the religious should be shamed and ridiculed, but it is even worse that they think religious belief is some sort of harmful, deadly virus that must be eradicated. I don’t want to get into the philosophical or biological arguments for or against religious belief. If you want to investigate further please read:

What I want to focus on is notion that religious belief is a virus that must be eradicated.

The first problem I have with this argument is that it lumps all religious people together.  Doing this makes it quite easy for the atheist to dismiss the beliefs of billions of people. All religious belief is a virus and the antidote is atheism. Most atheists who think this way usually conflate all religion with fundamentalist religion. (specifically fundamentalist Christianity)

Five or so years ago,  I drove to Fort Wayne with a friend of mine to hear atheist Robert M. Price speak. In his speech Price said positive things about Christianity. During the Question and Answer time, one young atheist, full of hostility towards Christianity, stood up and challenged badgered Price over the positive things he said about Christianity. According to this atheist, in 2,000 years Christianity had not done one good thing. Not one.

I was astounded to hear this atheist talk this way and I later wrote about in on my blog. I think it is ludicrous to suggest that Christianity has not done one good thing in its 2,000 year history. While we can certainly debate whether the good they did/do outweighs the bad they did/do, only a person blinded by hate for Christianity can fail to see that Christians, through the sects and churches they are a part of, have done many good things. (regardless of what we may think of their motive for doing so)

The second problem I have with this kind of thinking is that atheists have yet to prove to me that atheism is an antidote for the Christian virus. I am of the opinion that atheism offers little when it comes to life, morality, and ethics. Atheism is, and always will be:

The rejection of belief in the existence of deities

Atheism is not a worldview, a moral system, or a way of life. It is simply “the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.” The problem the atheist movement has is that many atheists never move  beyond this statement. They spend all their time arguing/debating/attacking Christianity rather than developing a comprehensive worldview, complete with a standard of morality and ethics.  They need to intellectually grow up and start thinking about what a post-religion world might look like. Are we sure the world would be better off if everyone became an atheist? I am not convinced.

When I tell someone I am an atheist, what does this statement tell the person about me? Not much. All they know is that I don’t believe in God. (and here in America God is defined as the Christian God) They know nothing about my morals, ethics, or beliefs. They know nothing about how I view the world. This is why it is important for me to tell them that I am not only an atheist but I am also a secularist and a humanist.

It is my humanist beliefs that give my life a moral and ethical foundation, a foundation atheism can not provide. Perhaps this is a good spot to remind readers of what I call the humanist ideal (from the Humanist Manifesto III) :

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

The humanist ideal is what provides me with a view of how I want the world to look. It provides the parameters for how I want to live my life and how I want to engage others around me. Standing on a street corner screaming I am an atheist might feel good, but it does little to change the world for good.

Look, I understand the anger some atheists have as a result of being misused, abused, and attacked by Christian fundamentalists. I share their anger and frustration over Christian fundamentalism’s war against justice, fairness, science, and freedom. But, suggesting that all religious belief is inherently harmful, a virus for which atheism is the antidote, helps no one. It makes the atheist out to be no different from the  fundamentalist.

I have my own misgivings about how fundamentalist Christian parents indoctrinate their children at an early age, about how they teach them to think about the world. It troubles me that children often don’t choose a religion but a religion is chosen for them by their parents. But, don’t we all do this? Whatever our beliefs and values are, don’t we teach them to our children? I don’t know of any parent that treats their child as a blank slate and allows the child to write whatever they want on the slate. Parents have an obligation to teach their children how to think and how to navigate the world. If parents don’t teach their children, others will. From the moment a child is born, they are faced with countless beliefs, ideas, and values competing for their allegiance.

Like most atheists, I want children to be taught to think critically. Instead of being told what to think, I want them to be taught how to think. But, as every parent knows, there is a limit to allowing a child to think for themselves. Parents have an obligation to care for and protect their children until they are ready to fend for themselves. So, if a 12-year- old girl uses her “critical” thinking skills and decides she wants to be sexually active with the 16-year-old neighbor boy, should her parents allow her to do so? Of course not, because there is more to life than just developing the right thinking skills. Maturity comes with age and experience, and until a child is mature enough to survive on their own, their parents have an obligation to protect them.

Since we live in a world that is dominated, influenced, and controlled by religion, should our children not be exposed to religion? (as I mentioned in a previous post, I think every high school student should be required to take a class in philosophy and world religions) If we don’t expose them to religion then we make them vulnerable, easy targets for cults and proselytizing religions. I see no harm in a child attending the local religious social club with the parents. As long as they are not aggressively evangelized, they will be fine.

Like it or not, most children will graduate high school with a borrowed system of beliefs. Taught by their parents, extended family, teachers, culture, and peers, they will begin life with what others have taught them. As they  get older, they will begin to develop their own system of beliefs. They will likely hang on to some of what they have been taught and abandon or reshape the rest. Every person must determine for themselves what they REALLY believe. Thanks to the internet, young people have a limitless source of information to consult as they develop their own beliefs. Atheists have to decide if they want to be a source of information for inquiring minds or just another billboard advertising a truncated, intolerant atheism.

I think humanism is the best hope for the world and this is why I try to engage the religious. Nothing is gained by getting into Twitter or Facebook wars with Christian zealots. They can’t be reached, but there are millions of people who can be reached and they should be our focus. The hold that fundamentalism has on a family can be broken in one generation. All it takes is reaching one person with the gospel of humanism. Once they see that humanism is the best hope for the world, the fundamentalist “virus” can no longer replicate and it dies. The person may become an atheist but maybe not. Maybe they will become a religious humanist or a liberal/progressive Christian, or maybe they will  say that they are spiritual. It’s their journey and wherever they end up is where they need to be. And we atheists need to be OK with that.

Published: March 21, 2014 | Comments: 22

It Can’t Be For Nothing

mind games

The other night I was watching the TV show Mind Games and Clark, played by Steve Zahn, had a discussion with a client that was emotionally distraught over his culpability in the death of his brother.

The young man said to Clark:

Why did Michael die? It can’t be for nothing!

We all want to think our life matters. We all want to think that when someone dies tragically or unexpectedly that their death had some sort of meaning. (see God Killed Our Baby: Isn’t God Awesome?) It is hard for us to embrace the reality that our life, outside of those we love, doesn’t matter much. We like to think that our death will have some meaning or that in dying a greater good is accomplished, but the truth is most of us will live, die, and in a generation or two be little more than a faint memory or an entry in genealogy chart.

Only a handful of people ever make it to the pages of the history books, and those who do will likely have their life covered in a couple of paragraphs. The rest of us will live, hopefully enjoy a good, peaceable, long life, and then we will die. If we are buried in a cemetery there will be a marker memorializing our life, but, in time, the marker will fade and will one day become unreadable. For those who us who will be cremated when we die, there will be no marker, our ashes will be scattered, and outside of the memories our children and grandchildren have and the little trinkets of our life we leave them in our will,  our life will fade away.

We spend a lot of time talking about making our mark in life, about making a difference, about making the world a better place. These are wonderful ideas, but I fear that we easily are deceived about our status and importance. People tell us how vital and important we are; why life couldn’t go on without us.  If we are lucky, the local newspaper will write a glowing obituary about our life. Those who know us will read it and think what a great person we were. But quicker than the newspaper is placed in the bottom of the birdcage, they will move on with their lives, and decades later we will be but a faint memory, a story told at Christmas and on Mother’s/Father’s Day.

Smart is the person who sees themselves as they are. Pride, arrogance, and an inflated view of self and our value to the human race deludes us into thinking that we are something we are not. Humility and realism keep such thoughts of grandeur in check.

Bruce, man you are a real bummer today! No, just a realist. Yes, I want my life to matter, yes I want to make a difference, yes I want to be remembered generations from now, but I know better, and unless I become president or a serial killer, I know that a few decades from now I will be forgotten. My children may swear to me as I am dying that they will never forget me, but I know that they will, in time, move on with their life, making new memories with the living.

My Dad’s parents died 50 years ago. My Mom’s Mom died 20 years ago. Dad died 27 years ago and Mom died 23 years ago. While I miss them dearly, the only time I remember them is when I look at a picture or I am talking with a family member about the past. They are all dead, never to walk again on this earth. I am still alive and my life continues to move forward until it too will be no more.

Clark reassured the young man that his brother’s death wasn’t for nothing, and as he said this I smiled and shook my head. I know better and so does Clark.

Notes

And the power of religion lies in the fact that it gives people meaning and purpose and a promise that they will live on after death. It doesn’t matter whether life after death is true. All that matters is that people think it is. A topic of discussion for another day is whether thoughts of the afterlife keeps people from living the only life they will ever have. Instead of enjoying this life they offload enjoying it in hope of  a future  divine payoff.

Published: March 20, 2014 | Comments: 7

It’s God’s Fault I am an Atheist

romans 1

I have finally figured out why I am an apostate, reprobate, God-denying atheist…it’s God’s fault. Many of my Christian critics think that I have a hard heart, that I have committed the unpardonable sin, that I am a reprobate. According to them, I have crossed a line from which there is no coming back. I am what the Bible calls a reprobate. (which, in their mind, means I am probably a closeted homosexual)  Why am I this way? Why do I have hard heart? Why do I continue to blaspheme God and his son Jesus? Why do I, to quote the Bible, continue to kick against the pricks?

Tony Reinke, content strategist (oh the titles we come up with these days)  for John Piper’s Desiring God website, writes:

1. What is a hard heart?

A hard heart is an obstinate and calloused heart that fails to respond to God or obey him. A hard heart is blind to the precious value of the gospel and refuses to embrace Christ (Rom. 11:8). Most precariously, a hard heart is synonymous with spiritual ignorance and alienation from God (Eph. 4:18).

2. But does God actively harden the hearts of sinners? And if so, why?

Without question, the answer is yes, he does. The Bible speaks of God’s active agency in hardening hearts with unmistakable bluntness.

Maybe the clearest example is Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. God hardened his heart in obstinacy on purpose. “Not once in Exodus 4-14 is the assertion of God’s hardening of Pharaoh grounded in any attitude or act of Pharaoh. Instead, again and again the reason given for the hardening is God’s purpose to demonstrate his power and magnify his name,” as Paul explains in Romans 9:17.

We find another example in John 12:36-43, showing Jesus unmistakably connecting unbelief in his day with the hardening of God…

…God has his ways and his prerogatives in divine hardening, and those prerogatives are just and right (Rom. 9:14-24).

At the same time, a hardened heart always reflects the willful, self-hardening, and rejection of God by the sinner (Rom. 1:26-28). Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15). God also hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 7:3) for God to display his wrath and power.

But this answer raises another question: is the hardening work of God now passed? Was it only a stage in redemptive history to bring out the cross and the in gathering of Gentiles? Or, to ask the question another way:

3. Does God harden Gentile hearts, and does he still harden hearts today?

Further evidence in the epistles leads me to answer yes and yes. We know God’s hardening will one day manifest in the Gentile world on earth at a future point leading up to the return of Christ (2 Thess. 2:1-12).

But even more tangibly, the hardening of God is made manifest in two ways: in the continued rejection of the Messiah by ethnic Israel (Rom. 9-11), and in the celebration of homosexual sin by Gentiles (Rom. 1:26-28). In both cases, broadly speaking, God’s hardening is made visible to modern eyes.

4. So whose hearts are hardened?

As the New Testament makes clear, the whole world is ultimately divided into two groups, the gospel-embracers and the gospel-rejecters, or more specifically, the elect and the non-elect. In the end, these categories divide the entire population. There are vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath (Rom. 2:5). There are “elect” and there are “the rest” (Rom. 11:7). God “has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills,” and those two categories cover all human beings. The hardened in this passage include a Gentile Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17-18).

Taking this point even further, based on the contrast in Romans 11:7, I believe we can say every one of the non-elect will experience God’s active hardening at some point, to be shut up in a condition that excludes one from salvation. God’s hardening is a feature of his activity with the “vessels of wrath.”…

So there ya have it, Christians. It’s God’s fault that I am an apostate, hardhearted, reprobate, God-denying atheist. If you don’t like how I am, take it up with God. After all, according to Tony Reinke, he is responsible for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Published: March 19, 2014 | Comments: 22