Archive for the ‘Atheism’ Category

Rob Bell, Hell, and the Evangelical Uproar

Posted: March 15, 2011 by skepticalprogrammer in Atheism
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Recently a pastor friend of mine shared a link to a critique of Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. For those who haven’t heard about the controversy, the Evangelical Christian community is in an uproar because in Love Wins Rob suggests that a loving God would not send anyone to “Hell” as hell is traditionally defined. Instead of the traditional eternal torment and torture in a fire with no hope of escape for all eternity, Rob speculates that Hell could be more aptly described as the pain and suffering we put ourselves through when we live apart from the wonder of God’s creation.

The critique above basically sums up Rob’s book as the path to Hell (as traditionally defined, not as Rob defines it), and shows the author’s lack of critical thinking skills by using a number of logical fallacies to demonize Rob’s claims. One fallacy in particular that bothered me can be found in the following passage:

Throughout the book he engages in what can best be described as exegetical gymnastics, particularly in dealing with the Greek word aion, a small word that is crucial to his arguments.

While this word is commonly translated as “eternal” or “everlasting,” Bell argues that it can also mean “age” or “period of time,” or even “intensity of experience.” Using this approach, he briefly argues from the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46) that eternal punishment isn’t eternal, but rather an intense period of pruning.

Now here’s the thing: aion and aionos definitely can mean “age” or “period of time,” they also mean “eternal.” The word’s context helps us to determine its meaning. So if we assume that these words primarily mean “age” or “period of time,” what happens when we apply that definition to John 3:16 where aionosis used?

For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have life for a period of time.

Not as encouraging, is it? While Bell might argue here that “life abundant” might be a better fit (playing on the “intensity of experience” angle and tying it to John 10:10), at the end of the day, we’re left with an approach that gives more credence to living your best life now than it does to worshipping Jesus.

Rob Bell’s argument is not that aion primarily means “age”, or even that it means “age” more often than eternal. Rob’s argument is that in the passages that are often used to describe hell aion can be translated more accurately as “age” or “period of time”. As anyone who has translated text can tell you, context is everything. While translating from English for example, the phrase “Firing up a bowl” would translate very differently depending on whether you were talking about pottery or a party; likewise the Spanish word Mariposa can either reference a butterfly or a homosexual depending on the context.

Why then would someone who is obviously familiar with translating from Greek make such a rookie mistake in logic? I believe the answer is that he is terrified of the implications of Rob’s assertions.

Without Hell, Christianity will die.

As a former Evangelical I can tell you that the thought of those I loved (or even those I didn’t know) ending up in Hell was enough for me to go out of my way to ensure that they never had to endure that torment, and I was from a church which focused on God’s grace rather than hell most of the time. Others such as my wife however, were not so lucky. Growing up in a more conservative background, she heard about the horrors of eternal damnation regularly in sermons, “Judgment Houses”, and everyday conversation. Because of this, she experienced fear and guilt when she began questioning her faith, partially because she had been conditioned to think that not believing would bring her eternal and excruciating pain. When it comes to converting others to Christianity, you would be hard pressed to hear an alter call that does not mention Hell as the alternative to faith in Jesus. Overall, without hell there is very little reason to convert to Christianity, or to avoid deconverting from Christianity.

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This video brings tears to my eyes. Every time. I hope it touches you as much as it did me.

Major life events do not need to invoke religion or a deity to be special and meaningful to the individuals involved.

Seriously. I wouldn’t think something so simple would need to be said, but recently, I realized even more just how saturated our culture is with religious language and thought. People seem unable to express even basic human sentiments without invoking the supernatural.

skepticalProgrammer and I have been searching for a song to play in the background of a slideshow with Little Bit’s hospital photos. You wouldn’t believe just how difficult it is to find something that isn’t completely focused on God/Jesus/Religion rather than the special occasion of a baby being born or the relationship between parents & child. After weeks of searching, we decided to either go with something instrumental or Phil Collin’s You’ll Be in My Heart. There were hardly any secular (or even loosely religious) options available. Can people really not celebrate an enormously special occasion without all the supernatural platitudes? Can’t your baby’s birth, or your marriage, or your graduation, or your anniversary, or any other significant life event be about the PEOPLE involved, their lives, their accomplishments–the simple beauty of nature and humanity?

And after all the frustration of trying to find an appropriate song, I am even more frustrated to know that when he is born, well-meaning friends and family will be telling me over and over again how blessed I am and how wonderful God is for giving me my beautiful baby boy and a loving husband. Yeah. Thanks. But no. The true beauty is in the fact that my husband and I met against all odds, connected with each other, fell deeply in love, spent many years together learning, growing, changing, becoming closer and closer. That we, as an expression of our love, engaged in a sexual relationship which 8 1/2 months ago resulted in half of his DNA and half of my DNA creating a new life that is living and growing in me at this very moment…a life that we will love and nurture and cherish for the remainder of our own lives. That is beauty. That is love. That is happiness.

God is not necessary. In fact, it would be nice if we could just leave him out of the event all together and instead focus on welcoming this amazing new life to the world.

As Tim Minchin puts it, “Isn’t this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex wonderfully unfathomable world? How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap, man-made Myths and Monsters?

I have a very difficult time understanding theists who base their lives on a particular faith and particular religious text yet do not believe that text to be inerrant. Personally, I much prefer when theists use a non-literal interpretation. Believing in the inerrancy of these texts goes against science, portrays a deity I would have some serious issues with if there were reason to believe in his existence, and is more often than not quite disturbing when it comes to issues of morality. But how can one possibly apply a non-literal interpretation?

First of all, that leaves only the individual (or religious leaders in the individual’s life) to determine what he or she believes to be true from their sacred text and what can be discarded as “human error”. How can there be any validity to any of it at that point and how can we ever get closer to what the deity in question was trying to convey? The “truths” supposedly conveyed in such texts would be far too important not to be communicated clearly. A moral, all-powerful, all-knowing God could have ensured a perfectly morally acceptable text including specific and reasonable moral principals and without contradictions or cultural biases no matter when the text was introduced to society. In fact, wouldn’t any communication from God to humanity be the perfect opportunity to point out cultural biases and immorality that existed at the time (slavery, genocide, sexism, racism, etc. etc. etc.) rather than supporting them…to move humanity forward rather than allowing us to be drawn backwards…even these thousands of years later?

I can see how one might interpret a religious text as vastly allegorical and metaphorical–in fact, that’s how atheists such as myself view religious texts and it is by far a much less disturbing approach–but once interpreted in such a way, how can one still believe the fundamental supernatural claims as truth? And besides, whether a literal or non-literal interpretation is applied, there is still not a single bit of evidence for the existence of a supernatural world or supernatural beings. Period. Sometimes, I just don’t understand how I was ever so convinced that my religion was true…

**Edit: Vaguely relevant thoughts from skepticalProgrammer**
As someone who was once upon a time a hardcore Christian who rejected the literality of the Bible, this post was very interesting for me to read. When I was younger I found myself performing incredibly complex mental gymnastics in order to sync my worldview with that which I was being fed at church. One thing that is most interesting is the ability I had to overlook and re-interpret the violent themes in the Bible in favor of the hopeful and encouraging themes which were more in line with my own moral code. One example of this is the story of Elisha and the bears, in which God violently murdered 42 youths for calling Elisha bald; I interpreted this story as an example of God protecting his faithful from even the small things which hurt our feelings. Looking back I can see how fucked up that whole story is, but because I wanted so badly to believe I was able to create positive spin for even the most barbaric stories in the bible while still believing in a loving God.

New Adventures

Posted: March 4, 2011 by justmeangie in Atheism, General, Parenting
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I realize that this blog has not been updated in quite some time. I apologize for the lack of entries. There really are a lot of topics I’d like to tackle and I even have several incomplete entries that I’m hoping to get back to eventually, but circumstances have changed a bit for skepticalProgrammer and me. We are expecting our first little one in just a few short weeks!

So now begins a new journey. We are no longer simply trying to figure out how to live in the Bible Belt as an atheist couple, how to deal with super conservative religious family members, and how to sort out our own thoughts after having spent nearly all our lives truly believing and following religious doctrines. We still have all of that to deal with, plus we are once again in unfamiliar territory as new parents trying to figure out how to raise a skeptical and freethinking child who will be able to look at the world openly and honestly and come to his own conclusions about life and philosophy. What a daunting task! Really though, we couldn’t be happier.

The blog may take a bit of a different direction based on these changes in our lives, but I’m hoping to continue to write entries and have discussions that deal with the underlying basic issues and concerns that skepticalProgrammer and I have with religion and supernatural belief systems. I imagine there might be quite a few posts about the challenges and joys of secular parenting mixed in there as well though.

Either way, I wish you all the best and hope to continue the dialog that has been developing through the blog!

Question for Theists: Why do you believe?

Posted: July 1, 2010 by justmeangie in Atheism, General
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In a recent post, I laid out some of the most important reasons for me personally not believing in a deity. I am curious, however, as to what theists view as the most compelling evidence or logic for their belief, first of all, that a divine being exists and, secondly, why you chose your particular religion over others. I read a lot of apologetics about the nature of god and his supposed texts, but very little concerning these two fundamental questions and certainly nothing compelling or logically sound so far. I’m not trying to start an argument or even a debate and I will appreciate any responses whether I agree with them or not. I am honestly curious.

Thanks in advance!

Reasons for my Nontheism

Posted: June 4, 2010 by justmeangie in Atheism, General

It has recently been pointed out to me that I have not specifically stated my reasons for not believing in the existence of a deity. True. I wrote this blog with the assumption that readers would understand my beginning position and that the posts would go from there. It never occurred to me to actually write out the logic behind this stance. I guess with most of the audience being theists, this might be something worth tackling; though as I’ve said before, far better thinkers and writers than me have written extensively on the topic–for both sides of the argument.

But anyway, I’ll list some of the reasons…at least a few of them since I couldn’t possibly write them all coherently in a single blog entry. In fact, there are whole books dedicated to many of the reasons listed below.

Disclaimer–These are not “my” reasons. They are common reasons that many people have written about and elaborated on. It took a while, but when I was emotionally able to look at these arguments honestly, I found that they make much more sense to me than any theistic arguments I had (have) ever heard.

Burden of Proof

First of all, when the emotional attachment a person has to his or her particular brand of religion is broken, it’s easy to realize that the claims are, in fact, quite ridiculous. Imagine looking at Christianity, or any other religion, as an outsider. What would it be like if someone told you that there was an invisible guy that you could talk to telepathically, that he was everywhere all the time but you couldn’t see him, that he could and perhaps would change physical laws upon request, that he needed to come to earth to die because the humans he created are so bad that only the torture and murder of a god in man-form would save us, that he was conceived without a father, that he was a man on earth but a god in heaven at the same time, that his earth self talked to his heaven self, that he walked on water and performed miracles, that he died but came back to life in three days, etc., etc? It would sound absolutely ridiculous if you weren’t raised from the time you were a child in a culture that accepts this view as plausible.

Given these incredible claims, the burden of proof lies with theists, not atheists. If I told you that there were invisible fairies in my front lawn, I would be expected to prove it to you, the non-believer, before assuming that you also believe the fairies exist. It wouldn’t make any sense for me to make the claim and then tell you to prove to me that there aren’t any invisible fairies. How do you prove that invisible fairies don’t exist? You could say that it is highly improbable, but it would be impossible to say for certain that something with “god” characteristics (invisible, not testable or measurable in any way, etc.) does not exist. Hence why most atheists are agnostic atheists rather than gnostic atheists.

Since tackling the god issue rationally, I have not yet seen a convincing argument for the existence of a supreme being or anything supernatural at all. And believe me when I say, I’ve been reading up on it more than I care to admit. 🙂

Unconvincing Logic

Why do you believe the Bible? Because it’s The Word of God. How do you know it’s The Word of God? Because the Bible says it is!

God is real because I can FEEL Him. I just KNOW he’s real.

I passed that really hard test after I prayed. God exists!

My relative had cancer, but God healed her and now she’s better! Proof!

This kind of “logic” is all too common in religions. These are just a few examples among many. To touch on just one of the above statements, the religious believe their holy text to be divinely inspired, even though other religious texts claim the same, but have contradictory information. In response to this, theists generally invoke “faith” to say that one should believe and live by their text and not the others. But why should a person have faith in one religious text over another? Couldn’t you just as easily have faith in the Qu’ran? The Book of Mormon? The Bhagavad Gita? Why did you chose your particular religion? If you really think about it, it probably has a lot more to do with geography than anything else.

Contradictory Deities

On a similar note, based on the incredible religious diversity and the hugely contradictory depictions of God, the most logical conclusion is that these people really have no idea what the crap they are talking about. If there really were an all-powerful deity, wouldn’t it make sense that the major world religions would perceive him (or her or it) in a way that there would at least be a little bit of agreement about what is being perceived, his (or her or its) nature, what he wants from humans, his laws, what he does and does not do, and so on? Again, the belief systems spread based on geography more than anything else.

Science and the History of Religion

Throughout history, supernatural explanations were standard in explaining occurrences of the world that did not make sense at the time. A volcano erupts? The gods are angry! Sun rises each morning? It’s pulled by a god on a chariot! Each unexplainable phenomenon was explained supernaturally. As science advanced, religious and supernatural explanations were replaced with concrete, testable, scientific hypotheses and laws. Perhaps that person is acting strangely because he is schizophrenic, not because he is possessed by demons. Perhaps earthquakes happen based on the movement of tectonic plates and not divine wrath. Perhaps the vast diversity of life can be explained by the theory of evolution and lifeforms were not uniquely created by a supernatural being. Perhaps germs cause illness. And on and on and on. Religions have evolved (well, some of them) to accept current scientific truths, but this process shows the flaws of supernatural thinking. God is <this>. Oh wait, no he’s not. Never mind. God is <this(a)>.

Now, one could say that god works through these natural processes or that he created the natural processes, but I don’t see the need for the extra step. If the world could theoretically work just fine without a deity, why assume a deity?

Whence Cometh Evil?

The major monotheistic religions for the most part assume three characteristics about a deity: He is omniscient, benevolent, and omnipotent. The single most compelling reason for me not believing in the deity of these religions in particular can be summed up by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

And I know the theological response will inevitably invoke the principle of free will and that there are countless apologetic books devoted solely to this topic, but the free will answer has just never sat well with me, even when I was a devout Christian. People can have free will without floods, earthquakes, diseases that kill innocent babies and children, and so on.

One final note: What if I’m wrong? What if the Christian god does exist? I think YouTube user TheoreticalBullshit explains how I feel about this much better than I ever could.

But these are just the thoughts that I have about this subject at this time. As always, it could change. I don’t expect or want you to be convinced. Fundamentally changing the way you see and understand the world is quite a difficult process and I wouldn’t want anyone to enter such a journey unprepared. Continue in your own search and find what works for you. Do the best you can with what you have right now. Yesterday is a memory and tomorrow is imagined. Now is reality. (In other words, none of this really matters anyway.) 🙂

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” ~Siddhartha Gautama