Thursday, December 11, 2008

Silly Questions -- Serious Answers

When I announced my atheism, many of my friends, family, and others took it upon themselves to try to bring me back to Jesus. I will acknowledge that for most of these people, it was well intentioned. They genuinely cared about me and my immortal soul. I cannot fault them and in a certain way, I appreciated their concern over my religious views as it conveyed general concern for me. I tried to assure them that things were fine and that I really was not a different person. Others, however, were far less charitable. Some of the hate-mail I got (and still get) is pretty vitriolic. I was certainly less benevolent with this crowd and shot back a few responses of my own. In any case, there are several questions which keep coming up and I think are worth a look at here.

Why do you hate God?
This one is an odd one I guess. It’s that black or white thing again. If you don’t love God then you must hate him instead. The simple fact of the matter is that I do not hate God. That would be about as logical as hating Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I just don’t have enough time or energy to hate very many things and have even less time and energy to hate that which does not exist. Hating the Easter Bunny is crazy and so is hating God. What is most odd is that there are billions of people in the world who are in love with what is the intellectual equivalent to the Easter Bunny. That is really crazy.

Do you know you are going to hell?
Uh, is that like going to Cleveland? These people are just trying to scare me back into Christianity. Sorry folks, this one won’t work on me. What, are you going to threaten me with Frankenstein next? I am just not afraid of a non-existent place or thing. However, I am offended. Hell is the worst of all ideas that has come from religion – most notably the Christian version. Most versions of hell are for finite times and then once cleansed, you can come into heaven. In the Christian version, you get to go for all eternity -- just because you didn’t believe. How many millions or billions of people have been consigned to this place of torment just because of the inconvenient fact of where they were born and never even had a chance to believe? This is insidious at the very best and it really lays the Christian heart bare. They are not a religion of love and tolerance – they are a religion of hate and vengeance. Their god is not a god of love, but a god of petty jealousy and hatred. In my de-conversion, I really, really struggled with this. This was the hardest part of the whole thing to shed. I would lay awake at night and wonder what if I was wrong? Was it worth the risk? I contend that most people who are Christian are more afraid of hell than are “in love” with their faith. That is really pathetic if you ask me but I fully understand that fear. I think that those who invented hell should be the ones sent there – or at least be sent to Cleveland for all eternity.

What about your children?
Funny, but this one smells a lot like the last question. There is an implicit threat of hell in this one. They don’t want to come out remind me that I am going to hell. They know I have made my choice. However, why would I want my poor innocent children to suffer from the sins of the father? (And as well all know God visits the sins of the fathers onto their progeny. See Exodus 20:5) Well, the truth is, I want to give my children a gift that I did not receive: an open, curious, truth seeking mind. Growing up, I was fully brain-washed into Christianity and the process of getting out was very painful. I was unable to think for myself, unable to ask the obvious questions, and unable to really find what truth was until I broke the shackles of faith. I would never put my children through that. My children are being raised to ask questions, to be curious, to use those brains of theirs for something other than worrying if they have pissed off some angry cosmic sky god. They will be better and happier for it. If in their future they choose religion, good for them. At least I know that I did not force it upon them. They had a chance to weigh the facts and make an informed choice. I doubt that they will fall into that simply because they will be able to see the facts and the myths side by side – a chance many never had.

For the record, anyone caught trying to convince my children of their faith (at least until they are old enough to decide for themselves) will face a very angry and very nasty father. Some Christians have actually had the audacity to try and tell one of my children about Christianity and why she needed to believe in Jesus. Bad call – because I will personally show up and shred you and your phony god to pieces. Fair warning!

Why do you resist God’s plan for your life?
Much like the first question, this is just silly. I resist God’s plans for me because I think that Roger Rabbit’s plan for my life is just way more interesting. Mmmmm . . . Jessica Rabbit . . . I don’t resist God’s plan for my life. It does not exist because he does not exist. This is simply absurd. Let’s play pretend for a minute. Let’s say that God does exist as described and that he does actually have a plan for my life. Could I actually resist? Me, a tiny finite being can actually resist an omnipotent being? Free will you say? That simply contradicts omnipotence. Oh well.

However, this also really shows another facet of religion and especially Christianity. People take comfort in the idea that God has a plan for them. They know that everything happens for a reason and that ultimately it is all part of God’s plan. When Ted Haggard was caught soliciting some gay sex, that was somehow part of God’s plan for him. Embracing God’s plan also embraces the fact that we cannot be held accountable. After all it was God’s plan. We don’t always know what God’s plan is in our lives because his brain is just so big. Maybe this de-conversion is also part of God’s plan for me. This is a lousy way to live. I would rather live with my choices and their consequences good or bad than to think that some being has a special plan for me. It is also this highest form of solipsism. Am I really that important that the master of the universe (not He-Man mind you, but God) would really have a special plan for me? Or is it just a big, lonely ego boost that allows us to believe such drivel. It’s the latter.

Why have you joined Satan?
Uh . . . he offered me a better contract and the perks are way better. Again this is just silly, silly, silly. I have not joined with an imaginary fire god. Again here is the black and white problem. If I am not with God then I must be with Satan. It is like my wife saying that when I am not with her I must be with another woman. This is known to us in the land of logic as a false dichotomy. For that matter, it also falls into the problem of religious dualism and cuts against the grain of monotheism. (More on that in another post.)

If there is no God, where does morality come from?
There are two parts to this issue. First, it implies that if you are not religious, you cannot be moral or that you are morally inferior to one of the flock. Second, it implicitly suggests that morality must come from God and cannot arise from anywhere else. Let’s take on the first supposition. I am not going to go into too much detail here (perhaps in a future post.) However, history is replete with examples of religious people acting immoral. In fact, most of the worst atrocities that humans have committed against each other have been committed in the name of their god. Being a believer does not give you a shiny moral compass any more than being an unbeliever. Christopher Hitchens in God is not Great, Sam Harris in End of Faith, and Dan Barker in Godless really do a great job of taking on this little chestnut. I encourage you to take a look at these books for a more detailed answer.

The second part is a personal favorite of mine. We’ve always wondered where our morals have come from. Philosophers have debated this for years. However, science can once again give a much better, simpler, and functional explanation of this. Morals are evolved customs which we have created in order to live in social harmony. Any social grouping needs rules and guidelines to ensure that the social order is maintained. This is not a uniquely human trait. Social animals also have “morals.” Consider wolf packs for a moment. These animals have relatively complicated social rules for living in the pack. Only the alphas can mate. The betas and omegas have to care for the young. The alphas eat first. There are plenty more. Failure to follow these rules will get a wolf banished from the pack or even killed. These social rules exist to ensure that the pack is healthy, harmonious, and can survive. Similarly, humans are also social animals. Like wolves, early humans created various customs and rules which would ensure that their small bands would survive and grow. This is clearly an evolved trait. You see this process occurring in any social structure both human and non-human. When we invented God, however, we assigned morals to God and then turned around and suggested that God actually assigned them to us. By doing so, the inventors of religion were able to use morals as social control and were able to use the fear of God to control the pack. It was no longer the physical strong man who ruled the pack; it was the religious strong man who could rule the herd.

Here is the progression: 1. We created social rules. 2. We created God. 3. We conferred upon God the ability to create the morals that we had already made. 4. We claim that God is the source of morals. 5. Brian slaps himself on the forehead and thinks we are all quite mad.

Can you prove that God does not exist?
This question only shows that most Christians have never taking a class in rhetoric or argument theory. You learn in your first week that the burden of proof is on the affirmative position. Russell’s Teapot and the Flying Spaghetti Monster are examples of what happens logically if the burden of proof is placed upon the negative position. I don’t have to prove anything. Christians have to prove to me that God exists – and so far they have failed time and again to provide sufficient evidence to do so.

Can you prove that there is nothing more in the universe than what we can measure?
Answer: no. However, this is a bassackwards question. What they are trying to trap me into is taking an affirmative position that I know there is nothing more in the universe than we can measure. When I fail to do this, then they say that I have to admit that God exists. First of all, it is possible that there are additional dimensions that I cannot perceive. There could be much more than we could ever perceive or even measure. In fact, I think that there is a pretty good chance that this is true. Many hypothetical physicists have done work that suggests this to be true. Admitting this, however, is a far, far cry from acknowledging that Jesus is the Lord of the Universe. Even if I went as far as to say that God could exist, there is no evidence to suggest that it is Jehovah. It could be Zeus; it could be Shiva; it could be any number of other gods. This question is one of the favorites of Christian apologists. However, when you really look at it, it is just as flimsy as any of their other arguments.

Why are you militant? Can’t you live and let live?
This is an interesting question and does deserve a good response. When I first came out, I was all about live and let live. You do your thing and I will do my thing. I really believed that. However, I am willing to take that position anymore. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, where I live, you cannot swing a dead cat and not hit a church. They are all over the place. In less than 10 minutes, I can walk to over 8 churches. It’s sort of scary. More importantly, many of these churches are having membership drives. They are getting out into the neighborhood and trying to bring new people to the flock. When they discover that I am not interested – or that I am atheist – they really put on the efforts to re-convert me. They are not about to live and let live. They are constantly pestering me, my family, and people I know. It is annoying. This makes me very overt about my lack of faith.

Additionally, most Christians are not willing to live and let others live their lives. The religious right in this country has worked long and hard to deprive others of rights, to force their religious view on us through political power, and to marginalize anyone who crosses them. I feel that it is necessary to speak out against this and to fight as hard as I can to prevent the religious right from gaining any more power. Too few people are fighting on the side of the oppressed – I figure that I need to be one of them.

Finally, and most importantly, we are at a crossroads. Religious militants from any number of faiths including Christianity are gaining power through violence, terror, and fear. Many faithful moderates suggest that these are only minorities and that these terrorists are not part of their faith. However, these moderates also fail to take a firm stand against it. Instead, they get all wishy washy about the issue. By not firmly taking a stand against religious terror and violence, these so-called moderates are tacitly condoning it. Enough is enough. We cannot afford to live in a world where superstitious people control the bomb. As Bill Maher says, “I don’t want someone who believes in talking snakes to be my commander-in-chief.” I could not agree more. Sam Harris, in End of Faith, notes that unless we can break away from religion – we will all eventually be slaves to it. The simple fact of the matter is that many Christians in the United States eagerly wait for the day that a mushroom cloud forms over Israel. They believe that this will be the signal for the end times. They are willing to support policies and actions which hasten this holocaust. That, my friends, is scary. That is why I’ve become a militant for my non-faith. I am not trying to covert anyone, but I believe that if people of reason and people who are freethinkers talk more and shout loud enough, there is a chance that we can prevent religious fundamentalists from destroying our world. Yes, I am a militant – but I have to be to protect myself, my family, my community, and my world from being engulfed in the fires and darkness that religion wants to plunge the world into. The moderates have utterly failed to curtail the acts of the extremists making it necessary for others to do so. I will be counted as one of those others.

That’s it for now. Be well, be good, and be who you are and be good at it.


psy-cop said...

Great posting. I have been asked all these questions so many times I can answer them in my sleep. Would you guys come up with something new? Please.

Carrie Lehr said...

So, is the dead cat swinging related to your satanism or do you just hate cats as much as you hate God? (And Santa and the tooth fairy)

Brian Dyk said...

Carrie -- swinging dead cats is an old Dutch tradition called "Svinger de Katen tot." We do our best to make sure that the cat we are swinging belonged to one of the neighbors. You should stop by sometime and try it.