Humanism

Bruce, Do You Believe in God?

atheist and deist having sex

Written in 2010 Edited for clarity and grammar

I still get asked fairly often, Bruce, do you believe in God? Even though I self-identify as an atheist, some people doubt that I really, really, r-e-a-l-l-y believe that there is no God.

When it comes to the God question, I am agnostic. I can say with great confidence that I don’t believe any of the current deities in the human panoply of Gods is God at all. Could some sort of deity show up on the scene in the future? Sure, it is possible. Is it probable? No.

So why then do I self-identify as an atheist and not an agnostic?

First, I got tired of having to explain what I meant by the word agnostic. Saying, I am an atheist is pretty straightforward and less likely to misinterpreted.

Second, I live from day to day with no thought of whether a deity exists. I don’t do anything in my life that remotely says to someone else, Bruce believes in God (and I have met a lot of Christians who are just as atheistic as I am). Morally and ethically I do my best to live according to humanistic principles. (See The Humanist Manifesto III.)  My concern is with how I live in the here and now. I have no thoughts of Heaven (or hell), no thoughts of eternal life, and no thoughts at all about anything beyond the grave.

That said, when I look at the natural world I can certainly see how someone might adopt some form of deism. While I do not find deistic arguments intellectually satisfying, I do understand how someone might come to such a conclusion. Most of the deists I know are every bit as atheistic as I am. The difference between us is that they hope that there is some sort life beyond the grave.

Even if I grant the premise that it is possible/likely that a God of some sort created the universe, there is no plausible way for me to make the jump from this nonspecific, ambiguous God to the Christian God of the Bible. Believing that a God of some sort created everything is one thing, but believing that the Christian God of the Bible is that creator is a leap of faith I cannot take (and I wish Christians would admit that when they use the word God, it is not a generic God they are talking about).

At the end of the day, atheism and evolution offer the best explanations for what I observe in the natural world. Do they provide ALL the answers?  Of course not, but I no longer need certainty. I am quite content to live with ambiguity, and not knowing everything is a humble reminder that I am human. While I still thirst for knowledge and understanding, I know that my quest will never reach a place of certainty or infallibility.

2016 Reason Rally

reason rally 2016

In 2012, tens of thousands of skeptics, secularists, atheists, agnostics, and humanists gathered in Washington DC to give testimony to the rise of American secularism. This was, for many secularists, a coming-out party. This was godless Americans telling Christians that they were no longer willing to stand idly by while the religious right trampled on the US Constitution and the separation of church and state. Most of all, it was a public statement of solidarity, a reminder that secularists can be found in virtually every walk of life.

Four years later, American atheist and humanist groups are gearing up to host another Reason Rally. The Rally will be a multi-day event, Thursday, June 2nd through Sunday, June 5th, culminating with a huge gathering at the Lincoln Memorial from 8 am to 5 pm on June 4th. You can find out more about the 2016 Reason Rally here.

Several readers have asked if I plan to attend the Rally. They  would like for me to be considered for one of the speaking slots during the four-day event. While I would never recommend myself to be a speaker, It certainly would be an honor if I was asked to do so.

Roy Madewell, a long-time friend and reader of this blog, asked if I would please encourage readers to suggest to Rally planners that I be considered for one of the speaking slots. Fearing the wrath of Roy and his merry band of atheists, I have acquiesced to his request. If you would like to suggest to planners that I speak at the Rally, please contact them here.

Is God Punishing Me for My Sin?

god of loveOne of the saddest questions I see in the search logs is this: I have ____________________. Is God punishing me for my sin?

If a person believes the Bible, then the answer to this question is Yes.  God does afflict people because of their sin. God maims, sickens, and kills people, all because they violated one or more of his laws. No disobedience is too trivial for the thrice-holy God to punish. Remember Uzzah, the man who broke God’s law by touching the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-clad chest containing the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna ? David  commanded the Ark be moved by cart from one place to another. As it was being moved, the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. Fearing that the Ark would topple over, Uzzah, a Levite, reached out to steady the Ark. God rewarded Uzzah for his saintly effort by striking him dead.

In the Old Testament,  God is shown using affliction and destruction to either make a point or to get someone to do what he wants them to do. God is definitely a hands-on kind of deity, punishing sin to the third and fourth generation. In the New Testament, we are told God often afflicts Christians to test or make them stronger. Sometimes, God uses heartache and tragedy to get Christians’ attention. I’ve been told by numerous Evangelicals that the reason I’m in so much physical pain is that God is trying to get my attention. I’ve even been warned that God might kill me if I continue to ignore his warnings.

Then there are the times that God maims, afflicts, or kills people because he wants them to give praise and glory to his name. God, ever the adoration-seeking narcissist, will go to great lengths to get people to worship him. In the still of the night, God comes into the bedroom of the infant daughter of Christians Bobby and Isabelle. Is God there to admire the beautiful little girl? Perhaps he wants to tell her that she will some day grow up and be a woman greatly used by God. Sadly, on this night God had a more sinister plan in mind. He reaches into the crib and puts his nail-pierced hand over the baby’s mouth and quietly suffocates the child to death. Why would a supposedly loving, caring, and kind God do such a thing? For no other reason than come morning he wants the dead child’s parents to give praise and glory to his name. No explanation will be forthcoming. Bobby and Isabelle will be expected to act as if their daughter’s death is all part of God’s wonderful plan for their life.

Christians believe God is the creator of the universe, and as the Sovereign ruler he has complete and absolute control over everything. When Christians face sickness, disaster, or the loss of a loved one, they are reminded by their pastor and friends that God is bigger than their circumstances. Just trust God, they are told. Surely, he is using your troubles to make you stronger and draw you closer to him.  Suffering Christians might even be asked to search their hearts for some sort of secret sin that lies buried deep within. Perhaps God is trying to get them to acknowledge and forsake this secret sin.

The things I have mentioned above are some of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. What kind of God operates in this manner? Of course, I am sure someone will tell me: Bruce, how dare you question God! For many Christians, God is above reproach. Even when he acts like a psychopath, God is given a free pass. After all, the Christian says, his ways are not our ways. We must trust and believe that God knows best.

Sadly, many Christians are so disconnected from reality that they cannot or will not see things as they are.  If a mere human did what the Bible says God did, he  would be tried before a world tribunal for crimes against humanity. And I have no doubt that he  would be convicted on all counts and sentenced to death. Perhaps God deserves the same judgment and punishment.

It’s better to believe that shit happens in life, no God necessary. People get sick, face untold suffering, and die. Through genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, people are afflicted with all kinds of diseases. In many cases, these diseases are what will eventually kill them. It’s far better to believe that this is how life is than   to think that there is a God in Heaven set on afflicting us for our sin or because he needs his ego stroked.

The liberal Christian is likely to scream foul and say, God is love.  Yes, according to the Bible, God is love,  but he is also everything else I have mentioned in this post. To liberal Christians I say, please take off your blinders and read ALL of the Bible. Ignoring the portions of the Bible that make you uncomfortable or make God look like a mean, vindictive, son-of-a-bitch, doesn’t change the fact that those passages ARE in the Bible. If these accounts are not to be accepted as an accurate description of God and how he operates, why should we then be expected to believe that God is love or that Jesus is who and what Christians claim he is? Where’s the instruction manual for playing the pick-and-choose Bible Game®? From my seat in the atheist pew, it looks like Christians are just making up the rules as they go.

If God is unchanging and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then Christians have no other option but to accept God as he is described in the Bible. If Christians are unwilling to do so, then they need to be honest and admit that they have fashioned a God in their own image. Either that or Christians must admit that the Bible is not a divine book; that it is just a work of fiction written by men thousands of years ago.

For most of my adult life, I lived as a stoic, come-what-may, Christian. No matter what suffering, trial, or adversity came my way I believed God was either punishing me for sin, making me stronger, or teaching me a lesson. Like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim on his way to the Celestial City, no matter what came my way I continued to endure and run the race set before me.

My wife and I are quite matter of fact about life. This drives some people crazy, but we have been deeply influenced by Christianity and its belief that we are to bear whatever adversity comes our way. We believed for most of our adult lives  that God was faithful and would never give us more than we could bear. This kind of thinking can make someone quite passive about life. Since God is behind everything, the Christian is expected to keep trusting and believing right up to the moment they draw their last breath. No kicking, no screaming, no defiance. Just a sweet, thank you Jesus smile as they are carried away by angels to Heaven.

This kind of thinking makes people less human. It often robs them of their will, their desire to live. Many Christians are like the Apostle Paul who wished he could die and go to a better place. After all, according to the Bible, this world is such a sinful, wicked place that death becomes the sweet release.  But what if Christians are wrong about life, suffering, and death?  Let me use here what I call reverse Pascal’s Wager. What IF this life is all the Christian has? What if death really is the end? Shouldn’t  Christians want to enjoy THIS life to its fullest? Wouldn’t they want to live every moment of every day in such a way that reflects the brevity and finality of their life? Instead of living according to the notion that they are most miserable if this is all there is, how about seeing that life is a great a blessing even if there is no afterlife.

Despite the physical struggles, pain, and debility that dominate my life, I am grateful to be counted among the living. I’m not ready to become worm food, nor am I ready for people to say lies about me at my funeral. I refuse to go “gentle” into the night (Dylan Thomas, Do Not God Gentle Into that Good Night). I will not stand like a lemming in line waiting for the Wraith to come and turn me into food. Life is worth living and I don’t need the promise of eternal life to make it so. And I sure as hell don’t need to concern myself with thoughts of a mythical, sin-punishing God who finds some sort of perverse pleasure in pulling the wings off his creation.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you would like to ask Bruce a question, please contact him via the Contact Form. If you would like to financially support this site, you can make a donation through Patreon or PayPal. Buying books though our Bookstore is also greatly appreciated.

IFB Church Sign Says, Pity the Atheist Who is Grateful

Yesterday, Polly and I drove 50 or so miles northeast to Toledo to celebrate her 57th birthday. We had a delightful evening and enjoyed a scrumptious meal at Mancy’s Steakhouse.  On our way to the restaurant, we traveled on I-475 North and passed by Hope Baptist Church, one of the largest Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches in the area. (The church is pastored by Richard “Rick” Sowell.)  Hope Baptist has quite a snazzy and expensive church building as far as IFB church buildings go. Hoping to maximize their message, the church has a digital sign that can be read easily from the interstate. I wish we could have stopped along the road so I could photograph the sign, but traffic was heavy and we were pressed for time. I did, however, write down the message and text it to myself. Here’s what it said:

PITY THE ATHEIST WHO IS GRATEFUL

Over the years, I’ve had a few Evangelicals question my use of words like “blessing” and “grateful.” Some of them suggested that my use of these words proves I am still a Christian, as does the fact that I capitalize words such as  Bible, God, etc. Evidently, no matter how I much I try to suppress God, he oozes out of my life. Can’t argue with brilliance like this, right?

The argument goes something like this; the words “blessing” and “grateful” are words that can only be used by someone who has God as the focus of their worship. The Christian says, WHO is blessing you, Bruce? WHO are you thanking? They got me. I’m caught in an insurmountable problem. What should I do? Is it time for me to admit that it is the Christian God that blesses me?  Is it time for the preacher-turned-atheist to admit that he is grateful for what blessings come into his life from the God from whom all blessings flow?

doxology hymn

This line of argument reveals that many Evangelicals have no curiosity and are unable to think of any explanation but that which flows from and fits the narrow confines of their fundamentalist theology. For Rick Sowell and the people of Hope Baptist Church, the locus of blessing, gratefulness, and thanksgiving can only be their version of the Christian God.

Well, let me disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that an atheist can’t use words like “blessing” and “grateful.” As an atheist and a humanist, I reject the notion that there is a God. As I have humorously said before, when the words Oh God are screamed out in our bedroom, we know exactly who the God is. Too risqué? Consider this. Who is it that blesses your life? A fictitious God, a deity no one has ever seen? The Christian says yes, believing that ALL blessings flow from the hand of God Almighty and any humans taking credit for these blessings are blaspheming God. However, as a man rooted in the here and now, in the earthy present, I choose to recognize that what blessings come my way come from one or more of my fellow human beings, nature, and the animals I share this world with.

When someone does something that is a blessing, I express to the person blessing me that I am grateful for what he or she has done. When I tell the doctor THANK YOU, I am directing my gratefulness to the person responsible for my medical care. When we stopped to pick up Bethany from my son and daughter-in-law’s home last night, I thanked them for babysitting. Polly and I were grateful that they were willing to watch Bethany so we could have a nice time on the town. Should I shoot up a prayer to the ceiling, thanking the Big Man Upstairs for them being willing and able to babysit? Of course not. God didn’t do the babysitting, they did.

Video Link

One of my all- time favorite movie prayers is Jimmy Stewart’s dinner prayer in the movie Shenandoah:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked Dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

This prayer reveals the essence of the atheist and humanist view on expressing gratefulness. Who deserves our praise and expression of gratefulness? The person doing the work. When someone makes a financial donation supporting this site, I don’t send them an email letting them know that I thanked someone other than them for their donation. Simply put, we should give credit to whom credit is due. If religious people want to give their deity an honorable mention, that’s fine, but the praise and gratefulness should be directed to the person responsible for the blessing.

So, to Rick Sowell and Hope Baptist Church, I am GRATEFUL that you continue to provide me with blog fodder. Keep up the good work. As long as you and your fellow Evangelicals continue to deliberately distort how atheists and humanists view the world, I plan to send a bit of Bruce Gerencser Blessing® your way.

Note

Hope Baptist Church is King James Only, pastored by Rick Sowell, a graduate of Peter Ruckman’s school, Pensacola Bible Institute.

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Book Recommendations for Those with Questions and Doubts About the Bible and Christianity

read me

Recently, a new reader sent me the following email:

I found your site by way of various blogs on Patheos.  Over the weekend, I read one of our posts describing your journey to atheism…In particular, I am interested in a list of five or so books that you had read on your journey.  I cannot find your post and am extremely interested in reading your suggestions.  Can you point me in the right direction?  I’m married to a Southern Baptist, who was completely non-practicing until we had kids.  I’m an atheist, trying to be extremely respectful of my husband’s religion, while my young children are rebelling against it because of science and common sense… (email edited)

This is a great question, one that I get quite often, so I thought I’d put together a list of books I recommend for those who have questions or doubts about the Bible and Christianity. I think these books will be quite helpful. If you know of other books that would be helpful, please mention them in the comment section.

Books I Recommend

   
jesus interrupted Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)Bart Ehrman
misquoting jesus Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and WhyBart Ehrman
how jesus became godHow Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from GalileeBart Ehrman
gods problem God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer Bart Ehrman
in faith and doubtIn Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving FamiliesDale McGowan
parenting beyond belief Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without ReligionDale McGowan
raising freethinkersRaising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond BeliefDale McGowan
origin of satanThe Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and HereticsElaine Pagels
search for godThe Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for GodCarl Sagan
magic of reality The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True Richard Dawkins
beyond absence of faithBeyond An Absence of Faith: Stories About the Loss of Faith and the Discovery of SelfJonathan Pearce & Tristan Vick
meaning and value Meaning and Value in a Secular Age: Why Eupraxsophy MattersPaul Kurtz
faith vs fact Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are IncompatibleJerry Coyne
why evolution is true Why Evolution Is TrueJerry Coyne
evolution of godThe Evolution of GodRobert Wright
christian delusionThe Christian Delusion: Why Faith FailsJohn Loftus
end of christianityThe End of ChristianityJohn Loftus
christianity not greatChristianity Is Not Great: How Faith FailsJohn Loftus
outsider test of faithThe Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is TrueJohn Loftus

 

 

A Few Thoughts on Abortion and the Planned Parenthood Videos

planned parenthood

I’ve been asked to give my take on the Planned Parenthood videos.

When it comes to Planned Parenthood’s mission, to provide healthcare to women, I am 100% in their corner. Providing abortions is a small part of Planned Parenthood’s services, and defunding Planned Parenthood would have a deleterious effect on the health of poor women. Attempts to defund Planned Parenthood are driven by religious belief and bad science. We live in a secular state, one that supposedly separates church and state and one that values science; yet, when it comes to abortion, the debate is framed by religious claims that result in skewed interpretations of science.

The strident pro-lifer, based on their religious beliefs, says that abortion is murder. I have written about this before in a post titled 25 Questions for Those Who Say Abortion is Murder. The abortion is murder view is irrational and is a denial of what science tells about fetal development and life.  Just last week, Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher and a candidate for President, said he supports personhood for zygotes. (see Personhood USA) That’s right, Huckabee wants constitutional protection conveyed the moment a man’s sperm unites with a woman’s egg.  This means that Mike Huckabee, along with those who support personhood for fetuses and believe abortion is murder, think that the following should be considered a person protected by the constitution and those aborting them are murderers:

3 day old human embyro

Three Day Old Human Embryo.

4 week old fetus

Fetus at 28 days

human fetus

Fetus at 56 days, 1/2 inch long

Fact: 63% of abortion take place within eight weeks of pregnancy.

This is what a fetus looks like at 12 weeks:

12 week fetus

Fetus at 12 week

Fact: 89% of abortions take place within 12 weeks (first trimester) of pregnancy.

When I look at the science along with the aforementioned photographs, I see potential life. I don’t see a person, one deserving constitutional protection. (Please see Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contractions) All the religious posturing and moralizing in the world won’t change my view on this matter. Why? Because it is rooted in scientific fact and reason.

As the fetus continues to grow it moves from being potential life to actual life. Usually this is around weeks 20-24. Fetuses can and do survive when born prematurely, and it is for this reason I support greater protection for them under the law. The state has a vested interest in protecting human life, not potential life. I do not agree that abortion after viability should be a decision made between a woman and her doctor without any regard to the fetus. Once viability is reached there is a third party, the baby, that should have rights. Not absolute rights, mind you. There are times,due to health concerns or fetal abnormality, that is it medically prudent to terminate a pregnancy after viability. Since the overwhelming majority of abortions occur before viability (98.8%) or post viability as a result of health concerns or fetal abnormality, I see no reason to oppose abortion.

Why is it that pro-life groups rarely use the aforementioned photographs to make their case? Why do they always graphically display fetuses aborted late in a pregnancy? Shock value.  I wonder if some who say abortion is murder would think differently if they were presented with a picture of a zygote and not a picture of a full term fetus?

The recent videos concerning Planned Parenthood are disturbing. The group behind the videos are using highly edited footage, releasing them over a long period of time in hopes of maximizing the damage, inflaming passion, and bolstering the campaigns of pro-life candidates for President.  (Please see People of the American Way post  The Activists and the Ideology Behind the Latest Attack on Planned Parenthood)

Despite my opposition to the group behind the videos, I do find the videos troubling. Is Planned Parenthood selling fetus parts? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that they are selling at cost various fetus parts to researchers, but no in the sense that it isn’t a huge revenue stream for Planned Parenthood. What Planned Parenthood is doing is legal, no different from harvesting organs for transplant.

I am sure someone is going to say, but Bruce, look at how nonchalant the Planned Parenthood people were on the videos. I agree, this is troubling, but is their crassness any reason for the government to defund Planned Parenthood or for abortion to be outlawed or criminalized? Of course not. Again, I go back to the science. Like it or not, in most cases, the aborted fetus is a blob of developing cells. Since these developing cells are potential life, not human life, why shouldn’t researchers be permitted to use these cells and developing organs to find cures or treatments for diseases that are afflicting and killing humans?

I think the crassness displayed on the videos is troubling, but explainable. Take doctors. Doctors are around sickness and death every day. Imagine a group of doctors sitting around a table talking shop. How do you think the discussion would go? A bit of morbidity, humor, and deflection? This is their way of coping with the work they have been called to do. (and yes, I think many of the people who work in abortion clinics have a sense of calling, a deep desire to help women in a time of great need)  The same could be said for coroners, morticians, homicide detectives, crime scene investigators, CDC investigators, and crime screen cleaners.  As someone who lives with the ugly specter of death lurking in the shadows, I have a gallows sense of humor about death. Some family members and friends are appalled by my humor, yet it is how I cope with the reality that death is stalking me and will ultimately seize me as its prey. People who are around death often use humor to cope and often seem detached from their work, and I think that is exactly what is shown on the Planned Parenthood videos.

What Planned Parenthood has is an optic problem. They allowed themselves to be snookered by ideologically driven religious nut jobs who want to make abortion, along with birth control, illegal. Planned Parenthood needs to do a better job of vetting who they are talking to. They also need to put  some of their workers and executives through sensitivity training.  We say that getting an abortion is a monumental decision for a women. If this is true, then our behavior and demeanor should reflect this, not unlike our response to someone who is dying and has decided to stop medical treatment.

I am sure those on either side of this issue will disagree with me and that’s why I have been hesitant to write about it. My position on abortion is informed and quite developed, so I don’t waste my time arguing about it. I recently had several dust-ups on Facebook with people who think anyone who is pro-choice or supports Planned Parenthood is a sick, vile, evil, murderer. Rather than continue to read such drivel, I unfriended 30 or so people, including family members. (and yes, I tried to educate them before I unfriended them)

I find it interesting that the same people who are so ardently pro-life are very same people who are pro-war, pro capital punishment, anti-homosexual, anti-same sex marriage, anti-immigration, and anti virtually anything that has to do with care and compassion post-birth. It seems the only life they care about is the one in the womb.  These same people say they are anti-abortion, yet they oppose free birth control and standardized sex education, two things that we know reduce the need for an abortion.  There’s one word for people who think like this, hypocrite.

16 Reasons Why I am Not a Christian

why

Eight years of answering questions about  WHY I stopped believing in the existence of God and some readers still can’t understand why I am no longer a Christian. I even wrote two posts answering the WHY question, Why I Stopped Believing and Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing. The former was written for a obstinate Christian commenter and the latter was written for a former parishioner, who later unfriended me on Facebook because she found my story so troubling.

What follows are 16 reasons WHY I am not a Christian. There are many more reasons than this, but this list should satisfy those who continue to prod and poke, trying to find the REAL reason(s) I am no longer a Christian.

  1. I no longer think the Bible is a God inspired text
  2. I no longer think the Bible is an inerrant text
  3. I no longer think Jesus is God
  4. I no longer think Jesus was virgin-born
  5. I no longer think Jesus turned water into wine, walked on water, healed the sick, or raised the dead
  6. I no longer think Jesus resurrected from the dead
  7. I no longer think there is a heaven or a hell
  8. I think the belief that God will torture all non-Christians in hell for all eternity is repugnant, abhorrent, revolting, repulsive, repellent, disgusting, offensive, objectionable, cringeworthy, vile, foul, nasty, loathsome, sickening, nauseating, hateful, detestable, execrable, abominable, monstrous, appalling, insufferable, intolerable, unacceptable, contemptible, unsavory, and unpalatable.
  9. I think the Bible shows a progression of belief from polytheism to monotheism
  10. I think the Bible teaches multiple plans of salvation
  11. I think much of the history found in the Bible is fictional
  12. I think the Bible God is an abhorrent, vile deity, one I would not worship even if I believed it existed
  13. I think science best explains the natural world
  14. I no longer think humans are sinners
  15. I think humanism provides a moral and ethical basis for life
  16. I see no evidence for the existence of the Christian God, thus I am an atheist

These reasons are based on a lifetime spent studying the Bible and studying the textual, historical, and moral underpinnings of Christianity. These studies led me to conclude that the Christian God is a fiction.

If I had any doubt about these things, eight years of interacting with Christians on this blog have led me to conclude that Christianity, as currently practiced in the West, is bankrupt. I see nothing in Christianity that would cause me to reconsider my rejection of the Christian God.

While I have many online friends who are a liberal/progressive Christian, I can not intellectually embrace their beliefs. Since none of them thinks I’m headed for hell when I die, I hope they understand why I can not embrace their faith.

I refuse to let others control my storyline. It’s my life and who knows it better than I do? All I know to do is tell my story. Each reader is free to accept or reject what I write.

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Selflessness: Are Atheists Only Concerned with Themselves?

Here’s a graphic one of my son’s sent me from their Facebook news feed:

selflessness

As they read this, thousands of atheists hit head on table and mutter, really, this old canard? Let me kill this thinking in one, swift easy statement.  If selflessness is consistent with Evangelical Christianity, why are so many Christians selfish? Bam! Shut the door!

People who post things like this have the IQ of a walnut. Rather than THINK they post. No thinking Christian would EVER claim that selflessness is the domain of Christianity. All the Christian has to do is think about all the selfless non-Christians who have helped them over the years and all the selfish Christians who haven’t.

If the question is, can the morality taught in the Bible lead to a life if selflessness, then the answer is yes. But, the same could be said for humanism and other ethical and religious systems of belief. Christianity has no corner on the selflessness market. If anything, American Evangelical behavior often reveals a crass indifference to the plight and suffering of others. The Republican clown bus is rapidly filling up with men and women who want to be President in 2016. All of them profess to be a Christian, yet their policies are in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus and the Bible. Only one candidate for President, Bernie Williams, has dared to challenge the American capitalistic system, which is, by design, a heartless, selfish system of economics. Again, I am having a hard time seeing the Christianity selflessness connection.

Many Evangelicals wrongly think that atheism is a moral and ethical system of thought. It’s not. Atheism is, and will always remain the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. That’s it. Me telling someone I am an atheist tells them nothing about my morals or ethics. The fact that I think evolution best explains the natural world says nothing about my morality or ethics. Evolution is a statement of fact. There are Christians who are evolutionists. A conundrum…Christian=selfless Evolutionist=selfishness. Just another two-cent reason why the whole Christians are selfless argument is groundless.

As a humanist, I live my life according to the principles of humanism. These principles are succinctly stated in 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.

As I try to live by the humanist ideal, I am ever aware of how far from the ideal I am. I would never say to anyone that unless they become a humanist they have no capacity for selflessness. Humans are social creatures who thrive in interdependent relationships. Rare is the person who wants solitude and loneliness. Thousands of people read this blog because they want the sense of community and connections that comes from doing do. Facebook is a hit because we desire to connect with like-minded people. We want to belong. As part of a tribe or group, we help those we have a connection with. If I had a serious medical need and required $10,000 to save my life, I know that a mere mention of this by my fellow bloggers and Facebook friends would result in the need being met. Why would people who have never met me face to face selflessly help me? It is our humanness and the bond we have with one another that drives us to selflessly help others. Are we always selfless? Of course not. All of us, Christian or not, can be a selfish asshole, thinking only of what’s best for ourselves. But, more often than not, atheist, humanist, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindi, pagan, or Buddhist, when called upon, will selflessly help others.

Years ago, I was at Sam’s Club checking out and in the line next to me was an Asian young man trying to buy some stuff for his Mom’s restaurant. The cashier wouldn’t let the man make a purchase because he was using his Mom’s membership card. The man spoke with broken English and was thoroughly embarrassed by how the cashier was treating him. I left my line and went over the cashier and gave her a piece of my mind. And then I told her to put his stuff on my card and he could pay me for it. Now she was the one thoroughly embarrassed, having been called out for her ill-treatment of the Asian man. She quickly corrected course and took care of the man’s order. As he left, he looked to me and said thanks. I said, no problem. Did I do what I did because I was a Christian? Of course not. I have no tolerance for those who berate and belittle others. In other words, I don’t like assholes and that’s why I came to the man’s defense.

When I come in contact with others, I do my best to be kind and considerate. A year or so ago, I had a meltdown at the local Meijer customer service desk. The young woman running the desk didn’t help me as I thought she should in the time I had allotted for her to do so. I told her, forget it, and walked away.  Everything was fine until I swiftly turned around and went back to the desk and shouted, and you don’t give a SHIT do you! Polly helplessly stood by while I made a public spectacle of myself. She didn’t say a word, but by the time we were half way home I realized that I had acted like a first class asshole. As soon as I got home I called the customer service desk and talked to the young woman who had been the subject of my anger. I apologized for my behavior. Several times she told me, that’s OK. I told her, no it’s not. No one should treat someone like I treated you. The next time I was at the store she let me know that she appreciated me apologizing.  She told me that she had never had a customer apologize for treating her like shit.

You see, I am a saint and a sinner. I can act selflessly and I can act selfishly. No one has the selfless market cornered. Take the drowning story in the graphic above.  Does any Christian REALLY believe that an atheist would idly sit by and so nothing while someone drowns? I am a cripple. Anyone who sees me knows I have problems getting around. I have had uncounted people extend kindness and courtesy to me as I try to navigate a store, stadium, or restaurant. Yes, I have met a few selfish people who wouldn’t offer me help if my life depended on it, but they are the exception to the rule. Even when I complain about how people often ignore someone in a wheelchair, I don’t think they are being selfish as much as lacking in instruction about people with disabilities.

The underlying issue is that many Christians, particularly Evangelicals, believe that morality comes from God and that without God a person cannot act morally and ethically. When challenged with examples of godless people who act morally and ethically, Christians often attack the motive for the godless person’s good behavior. The atheist is acting selflessly because they have an ulterior motive, they say. How can they know this? Can we really know the motives of others? Besides, isn’t the moral and ethical behavior of the Christian predicated on gaining a divine payoff, a mansion in heaven and eternal life? Whose the selfish person now?

As a humanist, I am deeply interested in seeing my progeny thrive. Because I love them and desire their company, I try to protect them from injury and harm. Because I desire to live in peace and harmony, I do my best to be a selfless member of the human race and the community I live in.  I don’t need the threat of hell and judgment or the promise of heaven and eternal life to motivate me to act according to the humanist ideal. My country, community, tribe, and family are important to me and because they are I act accordingly. Why is that so many Evangelicals fail to understand this? Why do they arrogantly think that morality, ethics, and selflessness are the domain of their religion alone? Why are they deliberately blind to overwhelming evidence that suggests that every person has within themselves the power to act morally, ethically, and selflessly?

Perhaps it is selfishness that drives their blindness? Imagine what would happen if people realized that living a moral,ethical, and selfless life does not require Christianity. Once the threat of hell and the promise of heaven is removed from the equation, people are less likely to join up with fundamentalist religious sects. Instead of looking for the one road that leads to heaven, they could choose one of the many road that lead to a virtuous, well-lived life. Imagine people doing good and acting selflessly because it is the right thing to do, not because they fear God or covetously desire a divine payoff after death.