3/31/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Consider my servant Job



An accurate retelling of the Book of Job (with some things ommitted for time's sake).

3/30/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Christ & me: an abusive relationship

By Never Going Back

Looking back on my sixteen year "relationship" with Christ, hindsight has lent me the wisdom to discern that it was truly an abusive one.

I have an intimate knowledge of domestic violence. I experienced it growing up and as an adult woman in unhealthy relationships. My counselor defined domestic violence as controlling another person through the use of fear and manipulation. If that is the case, then I think it's safe to say that my "loving Heavenly Father" beat the shit out me!

For sixteen years I lived in morbid fear of this place called Hell, where he would promptly send me for any infraction. I was constantly confused by the scriptures that seemed to insult me one minute and build me up the next. For sixteen years I heard Him tell me that my righteousness was as filthy rags and that without Him, I was nothing. For sixteen years, I was told that nearly all my desires were sinful, all my thoughts and feelings were wrong, and all my plans- fruitless. For sixteen years, I was the ant living under the magnifying glass of God. I lived in constant mental anguish over my "sins" and over fear of Hell. I lived in constant fear of this "loving God's" fearful wrath.

My last abusive relationship with a man was a terribly traumatic one. Somehow, he was able to reduce me to a mere shell of the woman I had been when I had met him. I was ever aware of the tone of voice I used, the words I used, the volume of my voice, etc. I was not allowed to have my own opinions, thoughts or dreams. I was not permitted to confront HIS issues at all. I was not allowed to show any reaction or emotion other than pleasure. I could not have a bad day. I could not be angry with him for his misdeeds, and should he ever say he was sorry, I better forgive him OR ELSE. I was constantly threatened with neglect, abandonment and abuse. I walked the line in every way. I allowed this man to treat me inhumanly, because I had been taught from an early age and especially as a Christian, to be submissive, to not ask questions, to not trust my own instints, and to look to someone else to define my self-worth.

The more I looked at this god, the more I gave real consideration to his personality, the more I realized how similar his human attributes really were. I didn't leave religion because of the abuse, because like most victims, I didn't realize that I was abused. It was always my fault, of course. There was always some hidden sin I was unaware of, and if I was doing well in towing the line, then I had to be careful not to give myself any credit for my righteous living, because afterall, the glory went to God. No, I didn't know I was a victim; I truly believed that the problem was within me.

It took me a long time to leave, but I finally did it, and as my name so vehemently professes: I am NEVER GOING BACK. So many people are in this same abusive relationship with their "god", and I look on with pity, wishing them the same freedom that I have now. You really just don't see it when you're in it. As a Christian, as in all abusive relationships, you are reduced until you either die or run for your life.

In the Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbin's character, Andy Dufrane, comments that he has two choices: to get busy living or get busy dying. One day, I realized that I was faced with those same two choices, and I chose life. Ironic that Christianity promises life more abundantly isn't it? It nearly sapped me of mine.

I wish that I could say the voice of madness is gone, but I hear it resonate now and then in my head, seeking to remind me that I am nothing, that I am unworthy, that I am wrong for having left, that it will be better this time if I just come back... That is the haunting legacy of abuse. It helps to know that I am not alone in my suffering and that many of you have felt the same angry blows of religion and often for much longer periods of time.

Anyway, thank you all for entertaining my rant. It has been therapuetic.

3/28/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Julia Sweeney -- Letting go of God



Julia Sweeney shares the first 15 minutes of her solo show at TED2006. The comedian and playwright created the SNL character "Pat," and wrote her own hit Broadway show "God Said Ha!" (produced also as a film). (Recorded February, 2006 in Monterey, CA.)

Pros & Cons of becoming ex-Christian

By Amanda, a.k.a. newly not

It was a weird feeling the day I shifted my beliefs and discovered there wasn’t a God. For those of you who are also recently confirmed in the Almighty’s nonexistence, I offer some pros and cons to the new lifestyle in light of the slight mourning you may be feeling in the dissolved hope of eternal life:

Pros:


1.) You’re no longer required to force the following things into your daily schedule:
  • Read the often confusing, boring, contradictory, and vile text that is the Bible.
  • Have a sincere chat with God (a.k.a. the ceiling), asking for anything to do with yourself last, mind you.
  • Live for GOD and obey God’s Word, which, if taken literally, would include dozens of absurd laws.
  • Serve God in your work (even if you work at McDonald’s) and love strangers (even if you innately don’t like people).
You know, the things a “good” Christian should be doing, but many of us ex-Christians weren’t doing regularly, anyway.

2.) You’re no longer obligated to attend church services and related activities once a week (or more!). Assuming the typical worship runs an hour-and-a-half and you attend one sixty-minute Bible study a week, that’s 130 hours saved a year. Automatically forfeiting sleeping in on one out of two of your weekend days will be a thing of the past.

3.) You can now choose to give your money in the amount you want, when you want, to where you want, rather than immediately writing out a check for a full ten percent to the church.

4.) Feel free to enjoy “worldly” things without guilt: you can now watch the shows you want, spend money on the things you want, do harmless but un-Christian things (read your horoscope, celebrate Halloween), and all in all, conduct your life without the pressure of God controlling it.

5.) God’s morals are no longer your morals. You can now think for yourself and stop pretending that you think homosexuality is wrong, that women are to submit to their husbands, or whatever else you secretly disagreed with the whole time you believed in God.

6.) You might be prompted to take better care of yourself and really live your life because you know that any day now it will be gone.

7.) You’ll lose your rep as the annoying/judgmental/close-minded “witness” for Christ.

Cons:

1.) You can no longer pray and expect a god to help you out, or thank him when things happen to go your way.

2.) When you’re dead, you’re dead. This is less of a con when you put into play that you really wouldn’t want to stick around Earth forever; what happens if we use up all of our resources, for example. Reality has the potential to be worse than being dead. If you get to be old and falling apart you may be more at peace with the idea. Also, you’ve already not existed for an infinite amount of time before your birth; each night when you go to sleep or when you are “put to sleep” you are in a state similar to death because you are unconscious. Most people don’t fear going to sleep because they trust in eight or so hours they’ll be awake again to start another day. Death still sucks, of course, but nobody can control it and you won’t be able to think about it sucking once it happens, so appreciate the gift that is life!

3/27/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Daddy's Little Girls

Imagine a couple arriving at a church in a limousine- she's in her finest dress, he's in a tuxedo. In front of their friends and family, they stand before each other and pledge a covenant- she to remain his, and he to protect and care for her. After exchanging rings, they embrace and join each other on the dance floor to commemorate their vows, as the guests eat fancy cake.

Sounds like a wedding, no? Sure would be too, if the couple weren't father and daughter.

While not a wedding, these "Father-Daughter Purity Balls" are designed to be enough like one to really set off my creepiness alarm. Now, it's all well and good for fathers to have strong and loving relationships with their daughters, but this seems to be taking it too far. The vow made by the daughter is strictly sexual- she is essentially ceding sovereignty of her body, and specifically her genitals, to her father. According to recent participant Mike Parcha, this arrangement "is a culmination of the relationship we have with God and with each other."

And he would seem to be right. Most ancient societies were strongly patriarchal, to the extent that daughters were essentially the property of their fathers. The Old Testament reflects this mentality:
Deuteronomy 22: Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, ‘I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.’ The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: ‘I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, “I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.” But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
In this instance, the virginity (sexual sovereignty) of the woman is considered the property of her husband after marriage. If the new husband suspects that his property is damaged, it naturally falls on the previous owner to provide some evidence that it was in pristine condition when he owned it.
Deuteronomy 22: If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
Here again, we see the sexual sovereignty of the woman as the property of her father. In this example, rape is viewed as a crime not towards the woman, but to her father- and it is to her father that the fine must be paid. The woman is forced to become the rapist's wife- sort of a "you break it, you bought it" policy.

So it really does seem as if these displays of paternal ownership of their daughters' vaginas really are consistent with the Christian scriptures. But is it a good idea? Ignoring the psychological implications of "marrying" one's own daughter, a common rationale for these Purity Balls is that they preserve virginity in a sexually permissive culture. But is that really true?

In a study conducted by Columbia's Sociology Department Chair Peter Bearman and Yale professor Hannah Bruckman, although abstinence vows significantly delayed first intercourse, 88% of young people who had made vows did have sex before marriage. And not only do these vows not work, but these people were also more likely to have participated in sexual activities that were more likely to expose them to sexually transmitted diseases- males, for example, were four times more likely to engage in anal sex than other males who didn't take abstinence vows. And contraception was used less - 20% less condom use, for example, in males who made vows of abstinence. Thus, the data explain what had been a puzzling fact- why teens who vowed to be sexually abstinent were no less likely to catch an STD than other teens who engaged in sex earlier. Rather than being protected from sex, the teens who made vows were sheltered from sex in a way that promoted risky behavior with many partners once they did have their first intercourse experience. This conclusion is consistent with anecdotal evidence I've reported before.

Now, one thing that Bearman and Bruckman point out in their study is that abstinence vows work initially because they are tied into an identity movement, which can exert considerable sociological force. However, they point out that like other identity movements, it can be fragile- the number of common participants cannot be too many or too few and certain ages are more susceptible than others. An important component of this effect seems to be the non-normative nature of the vow- that is, those who make abstinence vows need to view themselves as is a minority for the vow to have any effect at all on delay of first intercourse. It may be the case that these Purity Balls, which seek to instill in young girls the concept of an abstinence vow as a normal part of life, may be doing more harm than good to their cause. If they are too successful, especially considering that most of the participating girls seem to be home-schooled, where their social experience is extremely limited, the vow itself may carry less social force that they are hoping.

If that is the case, then the only thing left is the crushing impact of religious guilt, and I don't expect that to be terribly psychologically healthy for the average Christian girl, especially one who is "married" to her father.

3/26/2007                                                                                       View Comments

We are rarely proud when we are alone

By DagoodS

(Title by Voltaire)

Claiming that a person does not believe in God because of their Pride is a rotten argument. Do not be surprised if it fails to even nudge the skeptic.

It is often said, in the debate of why a person believes or not, that the non-believer failed to be humble, or thought too much of themselves, or was arrogant, and thus dismissed the concept of God. Since it is not true, the statement fails to compel.

If you are guilty of using this claim in a debate, you can save your breath and your fingers.

You see, in order to be persuasive, we must talk in concepts and ideas that the other person can relate to, not simply push out some platitude and assume that it is effective. I may find it extremely persuasive that a Chevrolet Corvette can go from 0-60 mph in less than 5 seconds. That may be the impetus by which I am persuaded to purchase the vehicle. Can you imagine my using this selling feature to a mother with three children? While she may be thrilled to hear how fast she can escape reality, upon looking at the two-seater, and the luggage space only large enough for a briefcase, she would be less than impressed with my sales technique. She wants space, not speed.

The people that are the most persuasive are the ones that first determine what motivates their target. If money, the salesman puts it in terms of economics. If power, in terms of might. If love, in terms of romance.

As pride had nothing to do with my transformation of beliefs, a person telling me that “It is because you were too proud” is amazingly ineffective. Place the shoe on the other foot. If I told you that the only reason you believe in a God, is because you have been brainwashed, does this impel you to question why you believe? Of course not! You are very aware you were not brainwashed, so my stating such does not motivate you, and it actually harms my argument, since you know my initial premise is incorrect.

“You have been brainwashed to believe in a God. If you would only stop being brainwashed, you would see that there is no God.”

Not very convincing, is it? Then why use the same, unconvincing tactic on others?

Have you ever thought about how many people you are throwing into this label of “pride”? Billions and Billions. There are only a few million (if that) persons that believe in your particular God. I am not talking about Jesus to the Christian, or Allah to the Muslim or YHWH to the Jew, I am talking about your specific God, with all of its nuances, flavors, and idiosyncrasies. If you are a protestant, that particular “God” did not appear before the 16th Century. A Calvinist, not until Calvin. If you reject some Holy book and writings, but accept others, how many other persons have you met that fully aligned with every word and phrase that you do?
Very few believe exactly as you do regarding infants, baptism, salvation, marriage, election, etc. But even then, that will always leave Billions of persons both before, now and later, that do not believe in your particular God. Are every single one of them too proud to buy into your particular god?

As we go through life, our views of our God can change. Is it true that every time this view changed, and we no longer believed our former God, the change came about from pride? If a Christian converted a Jew, would that change of belief be from Pride? What about a Jew that converts a Christian? Is that Pride? How can we be so arrogant to state that when a person modifies their belief to our belief, it is proper, but when they modify their belief to something that is not, it is pride?

When I was growing up, God didn’t like Movie Theaters. They were places of sin, iniquity, evil and bad popcorn. My parents didn’t go to Movies, my siblings did not go to Movies, my friends did not, my church mates did not, my school mates did not. I knew no one that was upright, moral, or pure that would ever even THINK of going to a movie.

My brother and I snuck into Cannonball Run and thought we had gotten away with murder! Then came the Video Cassette Recorder……

Between 1980 and 1984, our community saw a transformation. All of a sudden, God liked Movies! Was this change in belief in what God liked/dis-liked have anything to do with pride? Did it have to do with intellectual change? Nope, it was a cultural change. When movies became so readily available, to prohibit them appeared ridiculous.

Now that we know Billions of people are suffering from similar bouts of pride in their refusal to believe a particular god, the next step, beyond stating it, is to proof it out.

At first blush, “you have pride, therefore do not believe in my god” appears to be poisoning the well. You know, when you taint the water so bad, no one dares drink it to be made a fool. If I protest and say, “It is not pride” the first response is, “Sad. Too proud to see his pride.” If I fail to protest, it confirms the statement.

At second blush, the statement, “you have pride and therefore do not believe in my god” is preaching to the choir. The only ones buying it are the ones that agree with that particular God.

On occasion, I heard preachers talk about how good it is people sacrifice their Sunday to attend their church that morning. Think about it. The ONLY persons hearing that are….People attending church! “You guys are great for doing what you are doing. Those guys (who aren’t here and can’t hear me) are bad for not being here.” Makes the audience so happy (dare I say “proud”?) to pat themselves on the back for being so holy. And no harm, because the unholy ones didn’t even hear it.

The only people that agree we non-believers are too proud to believe in your God, are the select few that believe with you. No body else. You are selling to an audience that has already bought the product. Is that the intention of this statement?

Simply stating it is not enough. You must proof out the assertion; prove that people are deliberately refusing to acquiesce to your God because of pride.

Yes, I know. You have the proof; because God told you. Are you forgetting those Billions of other people? Billions of other gods told Billions of other people that YOU have too much pride to buy into their individual belief. I am being told by conflicting God-beliefs that I have too much pride to believe in their God. No matter how we turn, you and I are doomed. There is some God-belief out there that we are both being too proud to believe.

Yes, I know. But your God-belief is the correct one. After which I immediately hear Billions of voices shouting, “No, MY belief is the correct one.” We have to do better than merely assertion. We have to do better than merely, “God says so.”

A question that always pops in my head is, “Proud of what? My thinking? My humanity?” We hear the phrase, “Atheists think they know more than God,” or “You worship your mind,” or “You have faith in your brain,” none of which is accurate.

Am I proud of my thinking? I am well-aware that in some areas I think better than some people, and worse than others. In other areas, I think worse them some and better than others. Even a super-genius can be wrong, and a 2-year-old can be right.

Thinking is on a scale. Some of us are numbers people, some are visual, some artistic, and some can write poetry to beat the band. For every reason I have to be proud of my ability to think, I have just as many, if not more, to be humble. I can process out arguments. I cannot paint much better than stick figures. I can problem-resolve quite well. I cannot do two things at once.

Most atheists that I converse with are humanitarians. I do not run across “I think better than you, so I AM better than you” any more than I do with theists. Or any other –ists. We all seem to be pretty equal on the playing field in this regard.

Are there proud atheists? Sure. Are there proud theists? Just as much. I see neither group having a corner on the market on pride OR thinking. We all have some pride and some humility.

Do I think I know more than God? This is laughable. Simply because I am an atheist, doesn’t mean I have no clue about the concept of God. I understand very well, that part of being a God, and certainly part of being a creator, would necessitate that God would have to be smarter than I am. He would know more. To even remotely think that I could be smarter than an entity that has the ability to make a star is ludicrous.

The problem is not thinking I am smarter, it is the lack of ability to compare. Sure, IF there is a God, it would be smarter. Just like IF there were leprechauns, they would have more gold than I do. I am not “proud” that I have more gold than leprechauns. I simply have no basis by which to compare. If someone could present one, it wouldn’t take much to beat me in the gold-comparison.

Do I require God, in some way, to show me that He is smarter? Again, no. Since I, a less intelligent creature, can see the numerous conflicting gods, all of which claim that not believing in them is due to pride, certainly the more intelligent creature can see that as well. As I cannot, with my limited thinking ability, determine which God is correct, than even God can see that He must do something if he wants to correct the situation.

I know. He already has. Hear those Billions of voices behind you, disagreeing with your particular dispensation of God? Since I am not smarter than God, I cannot tell which voice could possibly be correct, since they all conflict with each other.

Am I proud of my humanity? I see a miscommunication here. Often theists (and I was certainly taught this way) believe there is a scale of some sort. That the most important entity in the universe is God. The second most important are humans, because they can have a relationship with God. The Third are animals, the fourth the earth, the fifth the rest of the universe we cannot explore. While this scale is not laid out so explicitly, it certainly is effectively demonstrated. Even within each level, there can be varying degrees. Sadly, some theism teaches Man is more important than Woman. Saved are more important than unsaved. Sinner of 100 sins is more important than Sinner of 1000 sins.

I wonder if the theist that claims I am using Pride to usurp God is using this scale. You see, if there WAS such a scale, by eliminating God, guess who becomes number one? Most metaphysical naturalists (as near as I can tell) and certainly one atheist (that I can confirm) do not see the world this way.

There is no scale. A human just happens to be the current state of this evolved being. I’ll let you in on a secret. If you hear the claim “The human is the greatest evolved creature” it is most likely from a creationist. Not an evolutionist. In some areas we have evolved more advanced than other species. But I would prefer the eyes of a cat, frankly. And certainly the lifespan of tortoises.

Can humans process thought better than most creatures? It would appear so. Doesn’t make us “better.” We are not even adequate at swimming and stink at flying. We cannot predict weather, nor can communicate over long distances. We are just one of many creatures that live on earth. In another million years or so, the next evolved creatures will wonder how we made it at all.

Further, I realize how insignificant I am in the vast universe. My flavor of theism taught that God cared about the very hairs on my head, and whether I stubbed my toe. My flavor of atheism says the universe doesn’t give a damn if I live, die or explode. I can assure you which flavor is more humbling.

There is no pride in eliminating one’s “grand significance.”

So why is “pride” a reason to not believe in God? What is the person proud of? What act of humility is required that God will demonstrate himself to that person? Is asking once enough? A thousand times? Never at all?

Finally, on a personal note, I was happy as a Christian. I liked God, and I figured God would (hopefully) understand I was doing the best I could with the abilities I had. Sure, I screwed up, but that was inherent in the nature of humanity, and I did my best to screw up as little as possible.

I came across some intriguing questions about God, and figured I could do some research, learn some, quash those questions, and then go merrily on my way. Instead I became embroiled in the fight of my life, attempting to learn enough about God to make those questions abate. I thought, and studied, and read and prayed and agonized over the complexities presented. I did not have time to be proud, because I was too immersed in study.

When I realized that I was losing my belief in God, I became despondent and depressed. I tried everything any human could ever do to hold onto that belief. And yes, I “let go and let God.” Unfortunately, your god chose to not wipe those pounding questions from my brain. It is difficult for me to state the cost of the inevitable change of belief in my relationships and within my family.

Pride? With a wry smile, I shake my head at that argument. You would be better served arguing that I deliberately dis-believe in God because I like Ham sandwiches. It is more compelling with more depth of thought.

3/22/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Biological Basis of Morality

By Zachary Moore


A letter to Nature published yesterday by researchers from the University of Iowa and Harvard University (including Dr. Antonio Damasio, author of "The Feeling of What Happens" and "Decartes' Error") have shown that a particular region of the brain, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, is responsible for mediating our moral judgments.

Specifically, for transforming what would be a simple utilitarian ethical calculus into something more akin to the Moral Razor. In the study, people with injuries to this part of their brain were more willing to sacrifice the lives of their fellows in order to save a larger number, even if it meant flat-out murder.

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a region which is thought to allow for social emotions, like compassion. These emotions seem to be essential for correct moral decisions in high-stakes situations; they seem to provide the moral foundation for higher-level ethical analysis which preserve moral symmetry through subconscious feelings.

According to Dr. Damasio:
This area, when it’s working, will give rise to social emotions that we can feel, like embarrassment, guilt and compassion, that are critical to guiding our social behavior. A nice way to think about it is that we have this emotional system built in, and over the years culture has worked on it to make it even better.

Are all Christians brain damaged?

By Lorena


Consider the following paragraph from the CNN article, Brain-damaged people give insights into morality.

But when asked to make decisions in emotionally wrenching scenarios like the permissibility to kill one's own child to save other people's lives, those with the brain damage were far more likely to accept this utilitarian but harsh solution.”

Or is it Bible-God who is brain damaged?

According to the Bible, God did kill his own son to give life to us the wayward ones. Narrow minded Bible-God came up with the “utilitarian but harsh solution.”

The article further explains, “Another wartime scenario involved enemy troops searching for civilians to kill. The people in the study were asked about their willingness to kill their own infant whose crying was drawing the attention of enemy soldiers who would then kill the parent, the baby and people hiding with them. Again, the people with this brain damage were far more willing to judge killing the baby as the right moral choice.”

Here is another question, is Christianity the most immoral of all institutions, since its very foundation is the highly immoral act of portraying a being as perfect and also willing to give his son's life for others’ sake?

Aren’t you scared that at one time you, too, held up such “moral” values? I am.

3/20/2007                                                                                       View Comments

3/19/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Ali G vs. Kent Hovind



Da Ali G Show
does science. Ali G (Sasha Baron-Cohen) invited (now federal inmate and tax cheat) creationist Kent Hovind to discuss evolution. The show erroneously lists Hovind as a "Dr," but his "doctorate" was earned from an unaccredited diploma mill. By the way, Hovind believes in Unicorns:

It's a miracle!

By Dave, the WM

I'd just moved into an apartment in Japan. My daughter was two-and-a-half years old, could talk in full paragraphs, and entertained my wife and I by singing all the words to every chorus sung at the English-speaking Assembly of God church we attended. We were far from home, but the joy of the Lord was our strength, and the oddness of our surroundings only helped solidify our church family relationships and our faith. We believed we had been sent to this far country to represent the one true god.

I was up every day at 4am for an hour of intercessory prayer, followed by a solid hour of in-depth Bible study and memorization. Then I was out the door for a morning run before reporting to work. The Air Force was inflexible in its scheduling requirements, so I was never late.

In a short time my family and I embraced a mission to be part of the evangelical effort in Japan. The military may have assigned us here, but we believed there was a higher purpose to finding ourselves in the land of the rising sun, where only 1% of the population claimed belief in some form of Christianity.

We dove into English evangelism at a nearby non-English-speaking church. Evangelical churches in Japan frequently hire "native speakers" to teach proper English pronunciation to interested Japanese people. Everyone in Japan takes years and years of English in school. As a result, most people can read English quite fluently, but because Japanese are teaching English pronunciation to Japanese, the general population speaks broken English, sometimes derogatorily referred to as "Japlish."

Since English is the international language of commerce, many Japanese people desire to speak it correctly. And the only way to be sure of speaking correctly is to hire someone who natively speaks the language. When I was in Japan, a considerable number of military members, and/or their spouses, taught English to private students. They had weekly "conversation lessons" with Japanese who would pay liberally just to have someone talk with them in real English.

This practice was so popular among the Japanese adult population, that churches offered the service, hiring committed Christians from English-speaking churches . Of course, the church versions of "English class" would heavily flavor the lessons with stories from the Bible. Sometimes the English students would convert to Christianity. That's why it was called English evangelism.

When I wasn't working, or praying, or teaching English, or attending church, or participating in a home cell group, or traveling with mission trips to northern Japan, I was in the train stations of Tokyo, passing out tracks.

This introduction is to help show that I was very active and believed that I was indeed, a "True Christian."

And that's why when I had a miracle, I was extremely grateful, but not overly surprised. My god was a mighty god, after all, who reigned from heaven on high. Miracles were a normal part of my theology.

My daughter was running/toddling around our apartment, and in her clumsy exuberance, crashed headlong into the pointed corner of our coffee table. Her half-dozen teeth were crushed backwards into her face, blood was gushing everywhere, and her two young parents were hysterical. Her face was a wreck.

At the hospital, the doctors told us there was nothing anyone could do. Her teeth would probably fall out. All they could offer, they said, was something for the pain and to stop the bleeding.

So, with our now deformed-mouthed little girl, we went home, laid hands on her, and prayed to the Lord of Hosts to heal our whimpering baby.

The pain medicine made our daughter groggy, so we put her to bed. When she awoke the next morning, her teeth were perfectly straight, and except for a small scar where she'd bitten through her lip during the fall, she was completely healed.

It was a miracle. God had healed our daughter. We spread the news far and wide, and used that experience to testify to the living reality of our God.

That was 15 years ago. About seven years ago, I started to severely question my faith. I eventually left Christianity and started this website.

So, what about that miracle?

In the last couple of years I've noticed that when our daughter sings, her face lacks symmetry. This doesn't seem to affect her ability for music, but it is somewhat distracting to the people watching her sing. I took her to an orthodontist for an opinion and found out that one side of her jaw is longer than the other. The only way to correct the problem, he said, was to break her jaw and re-set it. When it healed, hopefully, the two sides of her face when singing would appear more symmetrical.

I asked what would have caused such a problem. He replied by asking if she'd had a hard fall when she was very young.

"The coffee table!" I thought.

The doctor explained that what probably had happened was that my daughter had damaged the jaw during the fall, which stunted the growth on one side. He assured us there was nothing anyone could have done, and there was no way to know the extent of the damage until our daughter grew up.

We told him about her teeth being bashed into her mouth in the fall, and how the teeth had straightened over night. He said that things like that were not uncommon. The healing powers of the body, especially a young body, were amazing at times.

What is my point with this little personal introspection?

Many Christians hang on to their faith based on some personal experience that they consider to be miraculous. I know Christians frequently do this, because I was one of those Christians. Typically, the so-called miracles are fairly minor events, events that could be easily explained by any number of natural causes. I know this, too, because my miracle mentioned here is a prime example.

For those Christians who are sure that Christianity is true because someone was healed of a backache, or someone babbled in an unknown tongue, or some old lady left her wheel chair for an hour or two, or something equally routine, I challenge that person to ask why amputees never grow new limbs. Ask why people who have lungs removed, never grow new ones. Ask why all the so-called miracles of healing by Almighty God are so easily mimicked by the natural healing powers of the body.

Believing is nice. It gives a wonderful feeling of being watched over and protected, but it's all a lie.

I was simple believer. I didn't think I deserved a miracle, I didn't expect special treatment, I was just living out my faith in the best way I knew how. Along the way, I saw what I believed were miracles from time to time, performed just for my little clan, or other Christians, by the great and wonderful god of creation. Since leaving Christianity, I've come to realize I was wrong. For those who are so afraid to admit to being wrong, let me assure you, it's not shameful to admit to being wrong.

Christian, I was wrong. I have since come to realize that everything I believed to be real in Christianity only contained the reality of dreams, crafted in my imagination.

And finally, if the gift of tongues is real, how come every English speaking evangelist in Japan had to learn the Japanese language the hard way?

3/18/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Choosing Skepticism

by J.C. Samuelson

Since my first tentative steps into skepticism back in 2003, I've learned a great deal about faith, religion, critical thought, history, science, human nature, culture & society, and HTML tags. And I've had the great pleasure to meet the electronic shadows of hundreds of others - both believers and skeptics - whom I treasure for their contributions to not only my learning but to humanity. Some of them I'm very happy to be able to count as friends. It's truly humbling to meet so many great minds, though it was disconcerting to realize that I'm not the smartest person in the world after all.

It's very difficult to summarize what I've learned, but if there's one thing I could suggest as an advocate of skepticism for someone just beginning to doubt religious faith it is this: Not all truth claims are equal. Question everything, including skepticism. At the end of the day, the provisional certainty it offers is, in my opinion, far more comforting than any religious dogma ever could be.

Every attempt ever made at explaining the world, or reconciling our place in it, has been and forever will be an attempt to gain a feeling of control over chaos. We have always feared the unknown, the unexplained, the uncontrollable. Finding an explanation (or creating one) reduces that fear to a more manageable level, even if most of those things remain forever beyond our control.

Over time, our explanations have improved and so have our methods, tranforming fear into a useful tool that drives exploration and innovation. Instead of cowering in abject terror, we stand in awe of the universe and all its marvelous natural intricacy. We still can't control it, but our fear of chaos no longer paralyzes us. That is, we can be comfortable saying "I don't know, but I can't wait to find out."

Religious faith - the sort that presently confronts the world in the form of martyrdom-motivated terrorists and emotional, but ultimately dogma-driven evangelicals - is anathema to that statement. To paraphrase Sam Harris, adherents to first-century dogma have access to twenty-first century weaponry. Thus, religion has ceased to be a reliable way to maintain or improve the human condition, regardless of what good it may have done in the past or even still does on a limited scale. Instead, it holds us back from discovery and even threatens us with destruction.

But others have said as much already and with greater eloquence, so I'll focus on how I think religious faith places arbitrary limits on knowledge and discovery, while healthy skepticism encourages growth.

In the Catalog of Ambitious Human Projects, religion sits securely at the top of the list. No other endeavor or school of thought can claim to have addressed so broad a range of issues with as much ruthless efficiency as religion. With one phrase the religionist can explain the universe and everything in it (including the entire range of human experience and thought) by saying, "God did it." The ambition of this statement is eclipsed only by its astounding simplicity, and contrasted by its complete lack of profundity.

To be sure, explanations of how and why "God did it" are plentiful and highly detailed. So are those that explain why we should think that phrase is meaningful. Many highly intelligent people have written books that contain these explanations. An entire industry has grown around these books. The market for apologetics has never been greater, at least here in the U.S.. This is perhaps a testament to the increase in demand for evidence, and signals a trend toward evidence-based beliefs. Yet these books perhaps also hinder that trend, by offering the same tired explanation couched in the language of reason and science.

Yet, it seems significant to me that all of these books, regardless of how well-written or how seemingly sensible they may be, trace their origins and their raison d'etre to one book. It's a book that hasn't been revised in nearly 1,700 years, but is promoted as the source for all knowledge concerning God and its doings since before humanity raised its demon-haunted head out of the muck (apologies to the late Carl Sagan for co-opting part of his book title for that). To my mind, it is overall a terrible book in spite its occasional flashes of philosophical insight.

This is a book that gives license to tyrants and helps silence dissent. It gives a reason for reason but is reason's worst enemy. It gives comfort to the sick and the dying, but offers no cure. For science it is an obstacle to funding and the doom of discovery. It sanctions war, slavery, and intolerance but is strangely offered as a solution to all of them and more. It is the refuge of the ignorant but is referenced even by the wisest among us. Yet despite its many shortcomings it is considered above reproach. Why?

The only explanation ever offered is the same as the one already mentioned, with one word changed: "God wrote it." This is, in a word, pathetic.

Contrast the above with the practice of healthy skepticism. Referring back to the Catalog of Ambitious Human Projects, healthy skepticism ranks somewhere between religion and our more mundane pursuits. Its goal is far less lofty than the claims of religion, but is no less challenging. With one phrase the skeptic tames arrogance, promotes exploration and innovation, and drives us toward self-improvement: "I don't know." As astoundingly simple as the one described above, it is eclipsed only by its unpretentious nature and stands in stark contrast to the claims of religion.

Instead of one answer for everything, the skeptic seeks many answers addressing many different ideas. If skepticism can be said to have guiding principles, that of open inquiry is the first. Nothing is exempt from scrutiny, even skepticism itself. Every concept is a potential target, and has an equal opportunity to have evidence presented in its favor, including religion. Every answer and every piece of evidence offered is evaluated and interpreted according to rigorous standards that apply equally across the board.

Yet the skeptic recognizes the limited nature of human cognitive effort, and seeks ways to circumvent human failings. Because of this recognition, the skeptic doesn't consider anything absolutely certain. Comfortable with uncertainty but desiring progress, the skeptic accepts answers established by quality evidence as provisionally true pending further evidence. In a sense, the certainty of skepticism is that nothing is absolutely certain.

There is no dogma in healthy skepticism, except to the extent that its guiding principles are considered sound (but can themselves be subject to revision). These include open inquiry (as already mentioned), evaluation of all truth claims according to similar but equally rigorous standards (dictated in part by the claim itself), critical thinking, and evidence-based belief. Moreover, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The hope of the skeptic is to find the most reliable picture of reality available.

This is not to say that skepticism isn't without flaws. Skepticism can help to foster controversy, and can slow the decision-making process, sometimes even to a halt. There is also, as I can well-attest to personally, the danger of information overload. It can be exhausting work. Skepticism does not proof an individual from irrational beliefs either, though it can mitigate them due to its guiding principles. Also, there is no divinely-inspired book to give the skeptic comfort or guide his/her actions.

Some misidentify skepticism with cynicism. This is unfortunate, because skepticism does not insist on disbelief or assign a default minimal value to every idea. Unlike the cynic, the skeptic has hope, and recognizes the value and necessity of imagination, intuition, faith (of the less-than-divinely-inspired sort), hope, creativity, and love to the human experience, bringing each to bear in the persistent search for quality answers. Moreover, the practice of skepticism humbles a person in the face of the overwhelming immensity of what isn't known. Contrast this with the cynic, who often persists in doubt for its own sake, and thinks very little of human endeavors.

In short, the practice of healthy skepticism can be among life's more satisfying pursuits. Indeed, it becomes a part of who a person is and guides many of the decisions he/she makes. It has been so for me.

What are your thoughts?

William Crawley meets Richard Dawkins

This is a 30-minute BBC interview of Richard Dawkins by William Crawley broadcast on February 20, 2007. Dawkins' latest book is "The God Delusion."

Wiping our asses in heaven?

© 2007 Tim Simmons

I’d like to talk to you about a subject that rarely
sees daylight. I meant that figuratively, of course.
Perhaps we just take it for granted. Maybe it's just
not a very interesting activity to discuss on your
lunch break. It's something that most people do every
day but almost no one talks about it among friends.
Of course I'm talking about the taboo subject of…
wiping.

You're probably thinking there's not much to say about
the subject. On the contrary, I'm thinking about
starting a newsgroup on the very topic -
alt.wipeyerbooty. As I type this, I can think of so
many things I want to say on the topic but let me just
spotlight one of them.

The main point I'd like to make about wiping is that
it is an activity that none of us can really avoid and
is a daily reminder of the dirty reality in which we
live. Wiping is just a bad side effect of the design
of the human body and we all know who designed the
human body, right? What I want to know is, why don't
you ever hear a preacher do a sermon about how we’re
all going to wipe our asses for all eternity once we
get to Heaven?

Think about it. Paul preaches a resurrection of the
dead wherein the spirit of the person is reunited with
their body. Jesus rose from the dead and bodily
ascended into Heaven. It's pretty clear that the New
Testament teaches the notion that we will actually
have physical bodies in Heaven. Now, I like a good
bowel movement as much as the next guy but come on,
don't tell me that I'm going to have to be wiping my
ass in his presence for all eternity! I would think
God has better things planned for us than the
execution of mundane necessities of existence!

But this poses another question. Perhaps we don't
need to eat once we get to Heaven. But if that's
true, then we won't need the thirty some odd feet of
intestines either. Oh, I almost forgot teeth. Won’t
need those. And of course there will be no
procreation allowed. So I won’t need my… um, well,
heck, why WILL we need a body in Heaven?

But this is all speculation, folks.

So you see, this normally taboo subject can be an
interesting topic on its own but it can also lead to
interesting speculation. Now if you'll excuse me, I
think I feel a good bowel movement coming on.

Religion 101 Final Examination

Contributed by Zachary Moore:

By Miles Rationis

1.Which of the following is the most compelling evidence for the existence of an intelligent and loving Designer?
  • a. A Caribbean sunset
  • b. The screams of a baby seal as it is torn apart by a shark
  • c. The first time your perfect new baby smiles at you
  • d. The speed of the Ebola virus converting an African child's organs into liquid
2. A deeply devout Catholic couple has just returned from their fiftieth anniversary celebration, when suddenly the husband falls to the ground, clutching his chest. What is the most productive action for the wife to take?
  • a. Call 911
  • b. Put him in the car and race to the hospital herself
  • c. Administer CPR
  • d. Fall on her knees and pray to the Lord to spare his life
3. You are a product tester and frequently bring your work home. Yesterday, while dressed in a flame resistant suit (up to 3,000 degrees) and carrying the latest model fire extinguisher, you discover your neighbor's house is on fire. As the flames quickly spread, you stand and watch your neighbor's new baby burn to death. Which of the following best describes your behavior?
  • a. All-powerful
  • b. All-knowing
  • c. All-loving
  • d. Mysterious
4. One day while jogging in the park, you see a maniac with a butcher knife about to attack a six-year old girl. Which would be the most morally proper action to take?
  • a. Grab the nearest rock and beat off the attacker
  • b. Call the police on your cell phone
  • c. Yell "POLICE!" and run toward the attacker in a threatening manner
  • d. Calmly walk away, because God works in mysterious ways, and what appears "evil" to our finite human mind, may in fact be part of a vaster plan in God's infinite mind, so it's best not to interfere
5. You are the incarnated Son of the all-powerful and all-loving Creator of the universe. What would be a good way to demonstrate your compassion and power?
  • a. Cure cancer forever
  • b. Cause all the earth's deserts to bloom with food crops
  • c. Unite the world with a common language and an end to poverty
  • d. Conjure up a jug of wine and follow it up by walking on water
6. Since we can never "know" whether or not a God exists - it is fundamentally a matter of "faith" - it's best to be a believer since you have nothing to lose, but everything to lose if your disbelief is incorrect. Keeping in mind that the fate of your soul depends on the right choice, in which God should you place your belief? For extra credit, include a brief essay justifying your choice, along with the reasons why you reject the other three.
  • a. Zeus
  • b. Quetzalcoatl
  • c. Vishnu
  • d. The Holy Trinity
(*Note: Choice D assumes you were born around 400 A.D. or later, after the invention of the Trinity)

7. You are the Creator of the universe. Your chosen people are a tribe of nomadic herdsmen, presently in bondage on one of the millions of your planets. Their ruler is being quite obstinate. Keeping in mind that you possess not only infinite power but also infinite love, your best course of action would be to:
  • a. Cause the ruler to drop dead of a heart attack
  • b. Cause the ruler to fall off a cliff
  • c. Visit the ruler in a dream and persuade him to let your people go
  • d. Slaughter a great number of innocent babies who had nothing to do with the ruler's policies
8.You are a Starfleet Federation explorer in the process of cataloging two newly discovered planets. The majority of the inhabitants of each planet believe in a deity, but they are two different deities. Deity "X" is said to be not only all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing, but the designer of a marvelously complex and ordered world. Deity "Y" is said to be indifferent, absent, unconcerned with the affairs of his planet, and some even say evil. Which god rules over which planet?
  • Planet A: Has apparently achieved a state of advanced benign equilibrium in which there are no viruses or diseases, and only a very small number of natural disasters, which, when they do strike, always eliminate only the sinful and evil. The inhabitants, both plant and animal, have learned to maintain their existence through photosynthesis, and thus do not have to kill and eat each other in order to survive. There are no "birth defects;" every inhabitant comes into existence perfectly formed and equipped for a long and productive life.
Deity X_____
Deity Y_____

  • Planet B: Adorned with many examples of beauty and order, it is also constantly beset by hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, volcanoes, lightning bolts, viruses, disfiguring diseases, parasites, leeches, flies, crop-destroying pests and many other phenomena which afflict both the innocent and the evil. Every life form on the planet can only sustain its existence through the destruction and consumption of other life forms. Some of the inhabitants are born with a crippling condition called a "birth defect", which condemns them to living extremely limited, short, or painful lives.
Deity X_____
Deity Y_____

9.What is the number of children born without arms or legs that have been miraculously restored by a visit to the shrine at Lourdes, France?
  • a. Too many to count
  • b. Over 1,000
  • c. Several dozen
  • d. Zero, but only because their faith was not strong enough
10. As we all know, there is only one true religion. What is the one true religion in each of the following circumstances?
  • a. You are born in Karnak in 3000 B.C.
  • b. You are born in Bombay in 300 B.C.
  • c. You are born in Baghdad in 900 A.D.
  • d. You are born in Mexico City in 1956 A.D.
11. Although you are new at golf, you have just hit a beautiful 200-yard drive and your ball has landed on a blade of grass near the cup at Hole 3. The green contains ten million blades of grass. The odds of your ball landing on that blade of grass are 10,000,000 to one against, too improbable to have happened by mere chance. What's the explanation?
  • a. The wind guided it
  • b. Your muscles guided it
  • c. There is no need for an explanation
  • d. You consciously designed your shot to land on that particular blade
12. Which of the following is most likely to be true, and why?
  • a. Romulus was the son of God, born to a mortal human virgin
  • b. Dionysus turned water into wine
  • c. Apollonius of Tyana raised a girl from the dead
  • d. Jesus Christ was the son of God, born to a mortal virgin, turned water into wine, and raised a man from the dead
13. Conceding that torture is permissible under certain conditions, which of the following would be the best justification?
  • a. Your prisoner is the only one who knows the date and time of an assassination attempt on the Pope
  • b. Your prisoner is the only one who knows where a nuclear device has been planted in Washington, D.C.
  • c. Your prisoner is the only one who knows where a vial of nerve gas has been placed in the London water supply system
  • d. Your prisoner has announced that the earth revolves around the sun
14. We know that Christianity is true because the Gospel writers, inspired by God who can make no error, recorded the founding events. For example, on the first Easter morning, the visitors to the tomb were greeted by which of the following:
  • a. A young man (Mark 16:5)
  • b. No, no, it was no man, it was an angel (Matthew 28:2-5)
  • c. You're both wrong, it was two men (Luke 24:4)
  • d. Damn it, there was nobody there (John 20:1-2)
15. According to inerrant Scripture, the Savior prayed alone in the garden while the three disciples who accompanied him had fallen asleep. How did the gospel writer know the words of that prayer?
  • a. Jesus left them written down under a rock
  • b. They were recorded on a primitive taping device
  • c. The gospel writer was psychic
  • d. The three disciples were later hypnotized and asked to recall the prayer
16. According to at least one sainted church father, one of the pleasures of the saved will be to behold the agony of the damned. What would be the best time of day in heaven for a mother to behold the agony of her only son?
  • a. Early in the morning before it gets too crowded
  • b. Mid-day when she can compare notes and share the celebration with other mothers
  • c. Late at night when she can enjoy the flames in starker contrast
17. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we always look to the Bible as a guide. In this example, your teenage son has returned home from the prom intoxicated. The Bible's instruction is:
  • a. Sit him down for a heart to heart talk
  • b. Enroll him in AA
  • c. Take away his driving privilege for one month
  • d. Smash his head in with rocks
18. In this example, your son-in-law, returned from his honeymoon, has just told you he suspects your daughter was not a virgin on their wedding night. Wishing to abide by God's holy rules as laid out in the Bible, you should:
  • a. Ask him if he was a virgin before you do anything
  • b. Advise him to forgive her
  • c. Talk to your daughter
  • d. Go find those rocks
19. You are eating lunch at a crowded fast food restaurant, occupied mostly by children, when suddenly a gunman bursts in, screams "Do not question or test me," and sprays the room with bullets. Ten people are killed instantly, many more grievously wounded, but somehow you escape unharmed. His ammunition expended, the gunman collapses to the floor. What should you do?
  • a. Call the police and wait for them to arrive
  • b. Call the police and leave
  • c. Risk death by asking the gunman why he did it, even though he told you not to
  • d. Fall on your knees and give thanks and praise to the gunman for sparing your life
20. Why did God show his backside to Moses, as described in Holy Scripture, Ex.33:23?
  • a. He invented everything, and this was simply the first mooning
  • b. He was really ticked off when Moses dropped the tablets
  • c. He was piqued, having just discovered His almighty powers were useless against chariots of iron (Judges I:19)
  • d. Moses was too serious and needed to lighten up a little
21. Jesus was God, and God knows all things, including all the medical knowledge that will ever be known. Why did Jesus blame demons for the case of epilepsy he cured?
  • a. He was suffering from a temporary case of "brain freeze"
  • b. The Aramaic word for "demon" is the same as the word for "cranial malfunction"
  • c. Neurology was not his specialty
  • d. In first-century Palestine, demons really did cause epilepsy. This affliction only began to be caused by electrochemical brain activity after about 1850 A.D.
22. This morning's paper carries a story about a suburban father who became so enraged with his disobedient children that he carried them both to the backyard pool where he drowned them, along with their puppy, their kitten, and their hamster. How should this father be treated?
  • a. He should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law
  • b. He should be banished from the town
  • c. He should be lynched to save the taxpayers' money
  • d. The townspeople should gather together to sing hymns of praise to him
23. This morning I started my day by insulting my mother in public, then punched out my father, my brother, and my sister. Then I gathered up all my clothes, sold them to a second-hand store, and with the proceeds bought a used Uzi and 50 rounds of ammunition. Next, I went down to the animal shelter and injected all the dogs with a drug that caused them to go insane and dive into the nearby canal where they all drowned. By this time I was hungry, so I went over to my neighbor's apple orchard and burned it down, because I wanted an orange and there weren't any. On the way home, I stopped at the local steel mill to discuss my philosophy of life with some of the guys. They laughed at me and said to stow it, so I tossed them all into the blast furnace. That night I discovered my son looking at a copy of Playboy. Concerned for his future welfare, I cut off his right hand. What historical character did my activities today most resemble?
  • a. Genghis Khan
  • b. Charles Manson
  • c. Adolph Hitler
  • d. Jesus Christ
24. Down through the ages, who has been most responsible for the medical discoveries that have relieved untold amounts of suffering and pain, and extended the length of that most sacred of creations, human life?
  • a. Medical doctors
  • b. Research biologists
  • c. Chemists
  • d. The Catholic Church
25. A great sadness has come into your life which you feel you cannot bear. A friend informs you of a free counseling service which has never failed to aid and comfort many others. You call the counselor; the phone rings and rings with no answer; you finally hang up. What is the most likely explanation?
  • a. The counselor is sitting by the phone but not answering in order to test your faith in him
  • b. The counselor always stands ready to hear your pleas for help, but sometimes the answer is "no"
  • c. The counselor will not answer because he wants you to profit by the spiritual strength that only comes through suffering
  • d. The counselor is not home
ESSAY QUESTION

While it is true that there have been and still are many different gods and many different religions, they are really just the various names by which various cultures approach the same God. Explain how and why each of the following is the same God:
  • Quetzalcoatl, who wants you to skin a young virgin alive, then put on the skin and dance;
  • Shiva, who wants you to pray over his penis;
  • Allah, who wants you to fly airliners into buildings;
  • Catholic God; who speaks directly through the Pope;
  • Baptist God, who most definitely does not;
  • Jesus, who wants you to castrate yourself to ensure arrival in heaven
  • Jehovah, who any day now, is going to kill everyone on the earth except for his Witnesses

3/16/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Stark's Outing Stirs The Waters

By Zachary Moore

Now that Congressman Pete Stark has been "outed" as a non-Christian (although he's being described commonly by others as an "atheist," he's described himself as a "Unitarian who does not believe in a Supreme Being" - a difference which is perhaps nothing more than semantic subtlety), people on both sides of the theistic/atheistic debate are taking the opportunity to weigh in.

Sam Harris offered this in an op-ed today:

Pete Stark, a California Democrat, appears to be the first congressman in U.S. history to acknowledge that he doesn't believe in God. In a country in which 83% of the population thinks that the Bible is the literal or "inspired" word of the creator of the universe, this took political courage.

Of course, one can imagine that Cicero's handlers in the 1st century BC lost some sleep when he likened the traditional accounts of the Greco-Roman gods to the "dreams of madmen" and to the "insane mythology of Egypt."

Mythology is where all gods go to die, and it seems that Stark has secured a place in American history simply by admitting that a fresh grave should be dug for the God of Abraham — the jealous, genocidal, priggish and self-contradictory tyrant of the Bible and the Koran. Stark is the first of our leaders to display a level of intellectual honesty befitting a consul of ancient Rome. Bravo.

...

Let us hope that Stark's candor inspires others in our government to admit their doubts about God. Indeed, it is time we broke this spell en masse. Every one of the world's "great" religions utterly trivializes the immensity and beauty of the cosmos. Books like the Bible and the Koran get almost every significant fact about us and our world wrong. Every scientific domain — from cosmology to psychology to economics — has superseded and surpassed the wisdom of Scripture.


And the Christian Seniors Association (a favorite of stodgy grandparents everywhere) offered their reaction:

According to Christianity Today, Congressman Pete Stark (D-California) became the first member of Congress to deny the existence of God. "When the Secular Coalition asked me to complete a survey on my religious beliefs, I indicated I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being."

“It is sad but not surprising that the current Congress has produced this historic first – one of its members has denied God,” said CSA Executive Director James Lafferty. “The liberals in Congress want to throttle any school child who bows his or her head in prayer, but they want to establish a right for liberals to bash Christians and berate God around the clock.

“It is time for religious members of Congress to push back. A simple declaration of a belief in God by members of Congress on the House floor will be greatly informative for the American people. Members who wish to expand could use the ‘special orders’ portion of the House calendar to elaborate but a simple “I believe in God” will suffice.

“We have long recognized that all of this hot air about ‘separation of church and state’ has been a veiled effort to intimidate and silence religious voices in public policy matters.

“If the liberal House leadership refuses to recognize lawmakers who want to affirm their belief in God, then we suggest they add it to the end of floor speeches on other matters.

“Congressman Stark’s statement is a very sad benchmark for America. It could be the moment which defines the decline of our country or it could be the spark which marks an important day.

That would be the day that religious Americans stood-up to the liberal bullies who are so determined to use the power of government to silence prayer and every other religious expression of free speech.

“This is a fight which is destined to be fought in America and we think it should begin today.”

It strikes me as somewhat over reactive to respond to the admission of negative belief by a single congressman with a demand that the Christian members of Congress use the mechanisms of government to officially declare their positive belief. It seems somewhat reminiscent of the eagerness of celebrities to publicly declare their heterosexuality as homosexuality has gradually become more accepted, and homosexual celebrities have made known (or have been made known) their orientation. As the majority worldview, I wouldn't think that Christians would need to have so much anxiety about asserting their presence in any sector of public life, but perhaps this is a sign that they recognize that their idealogical dominance is beginning to slip away.

3/12/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Secular Coalition - Atheist Lawmakers

By Zachary Moore


Last year, the Secular Coalition for America offered a $1000 prize to identify the highest-ranked nontheist politician in America. Their catch: Congressman Pete Stark.

According to the SCA press release:

There is only one member of Congress who is on record as not holding a god-belief.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a member of Congress since 1973, acknowledged his nontheism in response to an inquiry by the Secular Coalition for America (www.secular.org). Rep. Stark is a senior member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is Chair of the Health Subcommittee.

Although the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, the Coalition?s research reveals that Rep. Stark is the first open nontheist in the history of the Congress. Recent polls show that Americans without a god-belief are, as a group, more distrusted than any other minority in America. Surveys show that the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office.

Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, attributes these attitudes to the demonization of people who don't believe in God. "The truth is," says Silverman, "the vast majority of us follow the Golden Rule and are as likely to be good citizens, just like Rep. Stark with over 30 years of exemplary public service. The only way to counter the prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so."

In October, 2006 the Secular Coalition for America, a national lobby representing the interests of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists, announced a contest. At the time, few if any elected officials, even at the lowest level, would self-identify as a nontheist. So the Coalition offered $1,000 to the person who could identify the highest level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States.

In addition to Rep. Stark only three other elected officials agreed to do so: Terry S. Doran, president of the School Board in Berkeley, Calif.; Nancy Glista on the School Committee in Franklin, Maine; and Michael Cerone, a Town Meeting Member from Arlington, Mass.

Surveys vary in the percentage of atheists, humanists, freethinkers and other nontheists in the U.S, with about 10% (30 million people) a fair middle point. "If the number of nontheists in Congress reflected the percentage of nontheists in the population," Lori Lipman Brown, director of the Secular Coalition, observes "there would be 53-54 nontheistic Congress members instead of one."


This would at least seem to contradict the idea that nontheists can't get elected to public office, although it may be the case that this public "outing" by the SCA jeapordizes his political future.

How Christian Mind Control Works

By John Blatt

How does Christian Mind Control work?

Coercion is defined as, "to restrain or constrain by force..." Legally it often implies the use of PHYSICAL FORCE or physical or legal threat. This traditional concept of coercion is far better understood than the technological concepts of "coercive persuasion" which are effective restraining, impairing, or compelling through the gradual application of PSYCHOLOGICAL FORCES.

A coercive persuasion program - within Christianity it is called "The Gospel Persuasion" - is a behavioral change technology applied to cause the "learning" and "adoption" of a set of behaviors or an ideology under certain conditions. It is distinguished from other forms of benign social learning or peaceful persuasion by the conditions under which it is conducted and by the techniques of environmental and interpersonal manipulation employed to suppress particular behaviors and to train others. Over time, coercive persuasion, a psychological force akin in some ways to our legal concepts of undue influence, is MORE effective than pain, torture, drugs, and use of physical force and legal threats.

The Korean War "Manchurian Candidate" misconception of the need for suggestibility-increasing drugs, and physical pain and torture, to effect thought reform, is generally associated with the old concepts and models of brainwashing. Today, they are not necessary for a coercive persuasion program to be effective. With drugs, physical pain, torture, or even a physically coercive threat, you can often temporarily make someone do something against their will. You can even make them do something they hate or they really did not like or want to do at the time. They do it, but their attitude is not changed. In Christianity this is called a "false conversion".

This is much different and far less devastating than that which you are able to achieve with coercive persuasion. With coercive persuasion you can change a person's will without their knowledge and volition. You can create new "attitudes" where they will do things willingly which they formerly may have detested, things which previously only torture, physical pain, or drugs could have coerced them to do. In effect, their desires change, their viewpoints change, and their feelings change through this Gospel persuasion. Most people have no idea of the depth of change that this type of persuasion can bring into a person, even changing them in "an instant". This seems impossible and that is a part of its strength and deceitfulness.

The extreme anxiety and emotional stress production technologies found in Gospel Coercive Persuasion supersede any physical style coercion that focuses on pain, torture, drugs, or threat in that these physical systems of coercion do not change an attitude so that subjects follow orders "willingly." Christian or Gospel Coercive Persuasion changes both attitude AND behavior, not JUST behavior.

Christian or Gospel Coercive Persuasion (or thought reform as it is sometimes known) is best understood as a coordinated system of graduated coercive influence and behavior modification designed to change the wills and volition of individuals, usually in a group setting, in order for the originators of the program - those witnessing or preaching - to spiritually and psychologically profit from this persuasion to validate their own program and to continue the feeling that the program gives each converted person. This Gospel Coercive Persuasion is a psychological program that is inherently addictive in itself, because the program makes itself the sole purpose of life and feeling. This is one of the reasons why it is so hard on many levels to deprogram and be freed from this psychological addiction of this program.

The essential strategy used by those operating such programs is to systematically select, sequence and coordinate numerous coercive persuasion tactics over CONTINUOUS PERIODS OF TIME. There are seven main tactic types found in various combinations in the Christian Coercive Persuasion program. A coercive persuasion program can still be quite effective without the presence of ALL seven of these tactic types.

TACTIC 1. The individual is prepared for thought reform through increased suggestibility and/or "softening up," specifically through hypnotic or other suggestibility-increasing techniques such as audio, visual, verbal, or tactile fixation drills (anything that is "moving" to the emotions as well as to the mind, i.e., worship music, dancing, embraces, stirring preaching or instructional teaching from a pulpit) and excessive repetition of routine activities.

TACTIC 2. Using rewards and punishments, efforts are made to establish considerable control over a person's social environment, time, and sources of social support. Social isolation is promoted ("You are not of the world", "Christ can to bring a sword"). Contact with family and friends is abridged, as is contact with persons who do not share church-approved attitudes. Psychological and emotional dependence on the group is fostered.

TACTIC 3. Disconfirming information and nonsupporting opinions are prohibited in church communication. Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss with outsiders. Communication is highly controlled, especially communication from God. God's communication is one-way, via the bible, and nothing is to contradict that communication. An "in-group" language is usually constructed, sometimes called "Christianese."

TACTIC 4. Frequent and intense attempts are made to cause a person to re-evaluate the most central aspects of his or her experience of self and prior conduct in negative ways. Efforts are designed to destabilize and undermine the subject's basic consciousness, reality awareness, world view, emotional control, and defense mechanisms as well as getting them to reinterpret their life's history, and adopt a new version of causality. This is usually called "sanctification" and "working out your salvation with fear and trembling."

TACTIC 5. Intense and frequent attempts are made to undermine a person's confidence in himself and his judgment, creating a sense of powerlessness. The only power that can help is God, or more precisely, the specific church's or Christian group's version of God. The eldership, church leaders, or "advanced" Christians are usually relied upon to understand the bible and for "encouragement" to "have the mind of Christ."

TACTIC 6. Nonphysical punishments are used such as intense humiliation (private and public confession of sin), loss of privilege (suspension or excommunication from the church or Christian group), social isolation (from the world and the "unbelievers" as well as from erring or heretical Christians that doesn't agree with their church or group), social status changes (from being a "respectable" and "stable" Christian to a "weak" or "unstable" Christian), intense guilt, anxiety, manipulation and other techniques for creating strong aversive emotional arousals, etc.

TACTIC 7. Certain psychological threats (force) are used or are present: That failure to adopt the approved attitude, belief, or consequent behavior will lead to severe punishment or dire consequence, (e.g. physical or mental illness given by God, the reappearance of a prior physical illness, worldliness, personal economic collapse, social failure, divorce, failure to find a mate, etc.).

Another set of criteria has to do with defining other common elements of mind control systems. If most of Robert Jay Lifton's eight point model of thought reform is being used in an organization, it is most likely a dangerous and destructive cult. Conservative Christianity is a dangerous and destructive cult (please note that "dangerous and destructive" does NOT mean that it must be PHYSICAL. The dangerousness and destructiveness is a psychological, emotional and spiritual one. Just because Christianity doesn't normally create personal or public violence does NOT mean that it is not severely destructive on many other levels). If you are an exchristian or presently a Christian you will be able to see that every sentence of these following points are prevalent within Conservative, Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity. The eight points follow:

Robert Jay Lifton's Eight Point Model of Thought Reform

1. ENVIRONMENT CONTROL. Limitation of many/all forms of communication with those outside the group. Worldly books, magazines, letters and fellowship with unbelieving friends and family are taboo. "Come out and be separate!"

2. MYSTICAL MANIPULATION. The potential convert to the group becomes convinced of the higher purpose and special calling of the group through a profound encounter or experience, for example, through an alleged miracle or prophetic word or spiritual feeling while within the group.

3. DEMAND FOR PURITY. An explicit goal of the group is to bring about some kind of change, whether it be on a global, social, or personal level. "Perfection is possible if one stays with the group and is committed." (This "perfection" is associated with sanctification, "(Mat 5:48) Therefore, you be perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." "(2Co 13:11) For the rest, brothers, rejoice! Perfect yourselves"

4. CULT OF CONFESSION. The unhealthy practice of self disclosure to members in the group. Often (but not always) in the context of a public gathering in the group, admitting past sins and imperfections, even doubts about the group and critical thoughts about the integrity of the leaders.

5. SACRED SCIENCE. The group's perspective is absolutely true and completely adequate to explain EVERYTHING (A knowledgeable Christian can rebut any critical question presented and Christianity is the Truth and is capable to explain everything about life and spirituality). The doctrine is not subject to amendments or question. ABSOLUTE conformity to the doctrine is required. "(Mat 7:28) And it happened, when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were astonished at His doctrine." "(Mat 7:28) And it happened, when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were astonished at His doctrine." "(1Ti 4:16) Give attention to yourself and to the doctrine; continue in them, for doing this, you will both deliver yourself and those hearing you."

6. LOADED LANGUAGE. A new vocabulary emerges within the context of the group. Group members "think" within the very abstract and narrow parameters of the group's doctrine. The terminology sufficiently stops members from thinking critically by reinforcing a "black and white" mentality. Loaded terms and clich�s prejudice thinking.

7. DOCTRINE OVER PERSON. Pre-group experience and group experience are narrowly and decisively interpreted through the absolute doctrine, even when experience contradicts the doctrine.

8. DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE. Salvation is possible only in the group (Christianity). Those who leave the group are doomed.

Any group that has most or all of these points is a destructive mind control cult.

CHRISTIAN COERCIVE PERSUASION IS NOT PEACEFUL PERSUASION

Christian programs identified with the above-listed seven tactics have in common the elements of attempting to greatly modify a person's self-concept, perceptions of reality, and interpersonal relations. When successful in inducing these changes, coercive thought reform programs also, among other things, create the potential forces necessary for exercising undue influence over a person's independent decision-making ability, and even for turning the individual into a deployable agent for the organization's benefit without the individual's meaningful knowledge or consent.

Christian Coercive Persuasion programs are effective because individuals experiencing the deliberately planned severe stresses they generate can only reduce the pressures by accepting the system or adopting the behaviors being promulgated by the purveyors of the coercion program. The relationship between the person and the coercive persuasion tactics are DYNAMIC in that while the force of the pressures, rewards, and punishments brought to bear on the person are considerable, they do not lead to a stable, meaningfully SELF-CHOSEN reorganization of beliefs or attitudes. Rather, they lead to a sort of coerced compliance and a situationally required elaborate rationalization, for the new conduct. With this being said the mind will reconstruct its reality and will view everything through this new reality. The construct of this new reality, to the new convert, is perfect and whole and beautiful even though it is psychologically devastating and logically contradictory. The Christian mind cannot see its own blind-spots. It sees no contradictions, no dangers, no imperfections, yet this is the Matrix that is the Christian Coercion Persuasion Program.

Once again, in order to maintain the new attitudes or "decisions," sustain the rationalization, and continue to unduly influence a person's behavior over time, coercive tactics must be more or less CONTINUOUSLY applied, thus the need to be a consistent member of a local church or Christian "body". A fiery, "hell and damnation" guilt-ridden sermon from the pulpit once a month, an hour of bible study within the New Testament on sanctification once a week, or other single instances of the so-called peaceful persuasions do not constitute the "necessary chords and orchestration" of a SEQUENCED, continuous, COORDINATED, and carefully selected PROGRAM of surreptitious coercion, as found in the comprehensive program of Christian Coercive Persuasion.

Looking like peaceful persuasion is precisely what makes Christian coercive persuasion less likely to attract attention or to mobilize opposition. It is also part of what makes it such a devastating control technology. Victims of coercive persuasion have: no signs of physical abuse, convincing rationalizations for the radical or abrupt changes in their behavior, a convincing "sincerity", and/or they have been changed so gradually that they don't oppose it because they usually aren't even aware of it.

Deciding if coercive persuasion was used requires case-by-case careful analysis of all the influence techniques used and how they were applied. By focusing on the medium of delivery and process used, not necessarily the message itself, and on the critical differences, not the coincidental similarities, which system was used becomes clear. The Influence Continuum helps make the difference between peaceful persuasion and coercive persuasion easier to distinguish.

VARIABLES

Not all tactics used in a Christian coercive persuasion type environment will always be coercive. Some tactics of an innocuous or cloaking nature will be mixed in.

Not all individuals exposed to Christian coercive persuasion or thought reform programs are effectively coerced or converted into becoming Believers.

How individual suggestibility, psychological and physiological strengths, weakness, and differences react with the degree of severity, continuity, and comprehensiveness in which the various tactics and content of a coercive persuasion program are applied, determine the program's effectiveness and/or the degree of severity of damage caused to its victims.

WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA OF THE CHRISTIAN COERCIVE PERSUASION PROGRAM?

A). Determine if the subject individual held enough knowledge and volitional capacity to make the decision to change his or her ideas or beliefs.

B). Determine whether that individual did, in fact, adopt, affirm, or reject those ideas or beliefs on his own.

C). Then, if necessary, all that should be examined is the behavioral processes used, not ideological content. One needs to examine only the behavioral processes used in their "conversion." Each alleged coercive persuasion situation should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The characteristics of coercive persuasion programs are severe, well-understood, and they are not accidental.

Christian Coercive Persuasion is not a religious practice, it is a control technology. It is not a belief or ideology, it is a technological process.

As a PROCESS, it can be examined by experts on its technology COMPLETELY SEPARATE from any idea or belief content, similar to examining the technical process of hypnotic induction distinct from the meaning or value of the post-hypnotic suggestions.

Examining PROCESSES in this manner can not violate First Amendment religious protections.

Christian Coercive Persuasion is antithetical to the First Amendment. It is the unfair manipulation of other's biological and psychological weaknesses and susceptibilities. It is a psychological FORCE technology, not of a free society, but of a criminal or totalitarian society.

Any organization using coercive persuasion on its members as a CENTRAL practice that also claims to be a religion is turning the SANCTUARY of the First Amendment into a fortress for psychological assault. It is a contradiction of terms and should be "disestablished."

Coercive persuasion is a subtle, compelling psychological force which attacks an even more fundamental and important freedom than our "freedom of religion." ITS REPREHENSIBILITY AND DANGER IS THAT IT ATTACKS OUR SELF-DETERMINISM AND FREE WILL, OUR MOST FUNDAMENTAL CONSTITUTIONAL FREEDOMS.

3/11/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Foolish Christians?

by DagoodS

On occasion the Christian informs us that they expect what they say will appear foolish. As if it was a badge of honor; giving a stamp of approval to the statement by someone being puzzled by it.

I suspect this harkens back to 1 Cor. 2-4 where Paul states that the preaching of Christ crucified is “foolishness,” and Paul himself brags of becoming a “fool” for Christ. 1 Cor. 4:10. And what Christian does not want to be like Paul? Er…I mean what Paul said Jesus would want.

Thus we hear statements prefaced by “This will sound foolish to you…” or “People believe I am a fool when I say...” often followed by some trite quip about faith or prayer.

But then I look at how Christians actually live. They don’t look very foolish to me. No sirree! In fact they look quite clever.

You know what looks foolish to me? Not planning for the future. Spending every dollar in your wallet seems very unwise to me. Common sense tells us we should be aware that things change, and we might need a bit of help from a bank account.

So we plan for retirement by investing, or putting money in a 401(k) or IRA or Mutual Funds. (Sorry this is so Americanized.) We anticipate our children’s futures by having education funds. We have bank accounts, savings accounts, checking accounts, Christmas Clubs. Sometimes more than one.

We keep a little extra cash “just in case.” Stocks, bonds, portfolios and coffee tins with cash hidden in far corner of the garage. Reviewing the history of humanity would indicate this is smart.

I would expect, then, Christians, being foolish, are doing no such thing. I would expect that they do not worry about what to eat, or drink or wear. Only we pagans would be pursing such useless trinkets. Matt. 6:30-32.

The idea of a Christian, who has this “foolish” faith in the creator of the universe caring for them, having a bank account or stock portfolio, would be laughable! They have no need for such things. Can you imagine Paris Hilton worrying about how much money is in her bank account? Christians have so much more power than that to tap into.

But what do I see? Why, they follow the stock market more closely than I do. They have larger homes, retirement funds, education packages, and bank accounts than I would ever dream. What exactly is being so “foolish” about being more worried than I am as to how tomorrow will turn out?

Know what else seems pretty foolish? To not take advantage of the medical advances we have now. If we need treatment, we have doctors, surgery, hospitals, clinics, medications of every stripe, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, mental therapists and even massage therapists. Yes, being a man, I have that foolish tendency to “tough it out” until I am really sick. It is very likely I will be one those that drives themselves to the hospital after having a heart attack.

Even as a Christian, I could not proudly equate that to relying on Christ. I was just being stubborn. (And I hate doctors, surgery, hospitals, clinics, etc.)

I’d think it pretty foolish, rather than having open heart surgery, or chemotherapy, or having an orthopedic doctor set a bone, that the Christian has the elders of their church pray over them, and then never treat again. James 5:13-15. So—is that what we see Christians do?

Nope. They go to the same doctors, sit in the same waiting rooms, and receive the same prescriptions as I do. Oh, sure they add a line item to the Wednesday Night Prayer Sheet. But on Thursday, they are keeping their appointment!

It is with wry amusement we see Christians go to the doctor, have surgery, continue with a course of medication, and then say how God healed them with the power of prayer. Those doctors did not have anything to do with it. *roll eyes*

Oh, no. Christians are not foolish in the least. They take advantage of the bull Stock Market and the newest medication from Johnson & Johnson, just like I do.

Churches have locked doors and alarms.

Think about it.

Luke 6:27-35 clearly states that if someone steals from you, don’t expect it back. “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” O.K. that not only sounds unwise, it sounds dangerous.

Apparently, when a Christian says they are foolish, they would prefer we forget or not read Luke 6. (Hey, I will do ya one better. If you had people at the church 24 hours in order to tend to the needy, feed and shelter the homeless, and be open for those in need at 2 a.m., (Matt. 6:1-4) you wouldn’t have to worry about locks. Odd concept, eh?)

When I am told by a Christian that what they say may appear foolish, I look at their locks, their bank account and their medicine cabinet and inwardly smile. What they do seems to be quite unfoolish indeed!

News Flash to Christians: we can read your Bible, too! We see what Christ says about how you should live, what you should do, and what you should put your trust into. We see how you act (not just what you say) and we are unimpressed with your claim that you “foolishly” believe in this God. You act too wise in the ways of the world to claim being foolish.

Look at the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 5:1-7:23) Go read it. Jesus speaks how Christians should be shining out like a city on a hill. How you should treat people respectfully, and not doing so is the equivalent of Murder. Give to anyone who asks. Love your enemies, not just those that you find worthy to receive your love. Give to the needy. Pray in secret. Fast. Don’t store up treasures on Earth.

Don’t worry about storing up treasures on earth. Don’t worry about clothes, food or the necessities of life. Don’t worry about money. Stop judging, and don’t worry about how you will live, ‘cause God will give you anything you ask for out of Love.

Interestingly, Jesus finishes up these very practical commands with the parable of the two builders. The foolish one built on sand, whereas the wise one built on rock. I think we all know which one was which in the story Jesus was talking about.

Any Christian reading this, please re-read the Sermon on the Mount. It will not even take you five minutes. Which foundation are you building on?

We have philosophical arguments against the Christian God. Historical problems, archeological problems, and severe methodological problems. We have inconsistencies, contradictions and things that simply don’t add up.

But one of the biggest problems, to me, is the pragmatic problem. Christians don’t live as if they really believe it, either. And any argument to the contrary has all the appearance of a hollow shell. We may be “wise” in the ways of the world, but we aren’t stupid. We recognize justification to defend the fact that Christians don’t pragmatically think Jesus really meant what he said.

The story (and possibly urban myth) is told of a time that Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart went into one of the stores in order to buy a fishing reel. The manager of the store, obviously knowing who he was, said to just take it and not worry about it. Mr. Walton insisted on paying for it. (And, I might add, knowing the personality of Mr. Walton, this would be very much in his character.)

Mr. Walton had no worries about whether the fishing reel would be provided.

Christians tell me that they are “foolish” because they believe in a God. A God that is the owner of Wal-Mart, Apple Computers, Microsoft, General Motors, Toyota, Honda, ExxonMobil, Samsung, Yamaha and Sony combined. A God that loves them, and will care for them, and has committed the ultimate sacrifice for them.

And then they stand right next to me in line, worried about having enough money to buy a newspaper.

Foolish? Or very wise indeed; since they, too, pragmatically are convinced there is no such God.