2/27/2009                                                                                       View Comments

And these signs shall follow them that believe…

{{cs| Vzkříšení Lazara}} La résurrection de La...Image via Wikipedia

By Rational Okie

Is Christianity a religion with real power or a fraud? If you listen to fundamentalists they clearly believe that they have “real power” at their fingertips. It’s not hard to understand why they believe this. After his resurrection Jesus stated to his disciples that those who follow him shall perform miracles.

Mark 16:15-20 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”

So, can you handle serpents? If I give you a glass of poison can you drink it and live? When you lay hands on people that are sick do they recover? When Jesus says “And these signs shall follow them that believe;” he’s talking about everyone that claims to “believe”. There is no “out” clause there. You either perform these miracles or you don’t and he makes the outcome certain for those who can’t.

Let’s go over this again. 1) You have to believe to be saved. 2) Those that believe shall perform these signs: take up serpents, cast out ‘devils’, speak in new tongues, drink poison and live, and lay hands on the sick and they recover. If you can’t do the things listed in #2 then you don’t really believe. If you don’t really believe then “he that believeth not shall be damned”. Jesus wasn’t making a list of what he wished his followers could do. He made a very clear statement as to what “real believers” ARE able to do. “And these signs shall follow them that believe… and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them…”. Poison anyone?

I’ll be honest, I haven’t exactly been keeping up with the number of people on planet Earth that can perform these miracles but I propose that such a number is quite low and somewhere in the neighborhood of zero. So, if not one of this god’s subjects can perform these miracles then it’s a fraudulent religion having no power.

Therefore, I have no other choice but to relegate Christianity into a pile with all of the other Pagan myths and superstitions. Don’t like what I’m saying? Want to prove me wrong? Produce me one single Christian willing to drink cyanide and we can settle the argument.

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2/24/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Godless? Come Out and Mess with a Stereotype or Two

By Valerie Tarico

My brother, David, is gay. You can't tell by how he walks or talks or dresses. You wouldn't know who he loves and why unless you know him. The only clue, maybe, is that he happens to be nicer than the rest of my mother's offspring, including me. Several years ago, I said to David: All you have to do to mess with people's stereotypes is be out and be yourself. Whatever the ugly expectation might be: self absorbed, hedonistic, promiscuous, debauched, unable to relate to kids, whatever. . . . David isn't it.

One time my mother was driving my tween-age nephews and their friends home from the Christian school they attended. Like boys often do, they were sneering about fags as a way to deal with their own budding sexuality. After dropping the other kids off, my mom said to my nephews, "You do know your Uncle David is gay, don't you?"

"Yeah."

"But you were just saying you'd never hug a gay or take a gift from them or . . ."

"We didn't mean, David! He's our uncle!"

The boys are older now, and grade-school prejudices haven't survived their repeated contacts with Uncle David.




I'm godless. You can't tell by looking at me. And yet, like David, I belong to one of the most despised and least electable minorities in America. Yes, disbelief is arguably volitional--arguably--in contrast to sexual orientation which is not. But consider the following:

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry . . . today's atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past--they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society.


An Oklahoma court had to sift through jurors to find some who thought they might be able to trust the word of an atheist against a Christian. This is despite the fact that belief is the norm among American criminals but not among scientists who rise to the tops of their fields. Hermant Mehta, on his blog, Friendly Atheist, offers this tongue-in-cheek list: atheists are evil, angry, militant, baby-eating, unfunny, insensitive, immoral. Note: To go with angry and militant, they're also young and male.

Do you think of yourself as an atheist? Agnostic? Freethinker? Humanist? Spiritual Nontheist? Take a look at the links. If you don't fit the stereotypes, you're in luck. Probably all you have to do to start messing with people's categories is:
  1. Find a kind, matter-of-fact way to let people know you are godless.
  2. Be yourself.

If you do fit the stereotypes, please--get some help. And try to take a little break from kicking puppies between now and that first therapy appointment.

Seriously, a key quality of stereotypes is that the more dramatically wrong they are, the easier it is to violate them. When a panhandler says, "Thank you." I make a point to say, "You're welcome. Since I don't believe in gods I think it's important for us to take care of each other." For most of the self-avowed atheists I know, all they need to do is put on a "Friendly Atheist" hat when they take their grandkids out for ice cream.



Valerie Tarico is the author of The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth, and the founder of http://www.wisdomcommons.org/.


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2/22/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Dialogue with a school friend


Singing, originally uploaded by comingstobrazil.

Sent in by Elizabeth

The Following is a snippet of dialogue between adult survivors of a missionary boarding school in Brazil:

MY FRIEND'S LETTER IN ANSWER TO A PREVIOUS DISCUSSION:

"Ok, now I"m finally going to settle down and pick up our earlier interaction. My time at *** was very mixed. You called me self-contained, and that is probably true, in the sense that I don't tend to show what is going on inside of me to the outside world. I think that the boarding school had a lot to do with that. Since then, I have never really confided in many people, and especially not my own family. It is amazing the things my family does not know about me. In my case, I lived a double life until I was about 38, would you believe it? And I had returned to being a missionary during that entire time. I wanted to be a Christian, but I never felt that I measured up. I remember sitting in church on a Sunday night, you know, when they would try to get people to come up to be saved, and I would think: well, no one can be saved here tonight, because I am here, and I am such a bad person, that there is some sort of curse on this room. I was having relationships and doing things that I'm not proud of now, but I sort of got hooked in the sense that I needed them in order to get a sense of 'high', but then I'd be miserable afterward. So, at some point, I decided that I would give up the farce, and call both my Christianity and my missionary life quits. A friend of mine, who I only partially confided in, talked me into seeing a counselor. I agreed, because I wanted to come to the US, and not go to *****, because I didn't want to be around my family. While here in the US, I went back to school, and then things sort of developed from there. (About the age 38 thing). My observations have been that a lot of MKs don't face up to (or maybe don't really understand) the pain of their childhood until they hit 40. I like philosophizing :)."


MY RESPONSE:

LOL Yeah, I'm an armchair philosopher too!!!

This is great! Now I am sure you won't turn away, I can say what I really feel.

It is so very sad to hear that your family would not be able to accept you for what you are. My parents have had to face up to either accepting us or losing us and I am glad to say that they have accepted my choice in life as MINE and therefore not theirs to call. It took a while... I remember finding Christian tracts on the dining room table after their visits, which is funny to me now but was quite off-putting at the time. As if I didn't know all about their faith since childhood!!!

One thing that strikes me is that my parents must experience a great deal of cognitive dissonance, because of the doctrine in Matthew 10:35,36:

35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.


This tells them how they should act if they want to follow Jesus, and that the natural human love for their unbelieving children, they should be denying. Never-the-less, they have not turned against us for being unbelievers, but they are disobeying New Testament scripture. On the other hand they are obeying the Ten Commandments, so maybe that is how they settle it in their conscience!! Too much, too much!! To follow the Bible you have to cherry pick, I guess.

I am very interested in how you managed to stay a missionary whilst all the while not believing you were saved. Maybe that happens more than I realized, and it begs the question, how many of the missionaries I grew up surrounded by could admit the same? Some of them must have had doubts...but I am told that is normal. Perhaps one way to rid oneself of doubt is to launch a campaign to reaffirm the faith - preaching - proselytizing - make it real for others, hoping to confirm that it is real for oneself - etc.

I am also very sorry that you felt so bad about yourself. I can relate to that too, because all my life I was taught that I was unacceptable without Jesus in my life; that I was born that way and only Jesus could make me pure. Of course you probably have guessed by now how disgusting I find that idea. We are learning new things about human development all the time. We now understand that human beings are born without a fully developed brain, they have no thinking processes because the brain is primitive. A baby's brain doubles in size in its first year. It is life experiences which mold their minds and shape their values and gives the ability to make positive choices. To hold a baby responsible at birth for the sins they will inevitably commit in the future is to inflict a kind of child abuse. To claim the doctrine of Original Sin as the work/word of God is heinous. Anyone who cannot see this is just not paying attention. For me, trying to believe in Jesus is like putting a band aid over the gaping wound.

By now you may have understood that I reject the Bible as the Word of God. I don't doubt that there are some great bits in it, but I have to accept that the Koran must also fit the same category, along with every other book which claims this for itself.

Well, for myself, the pain I felt in childhood was a different kind of pain to that I experienced as a result of revisiting it. There are nights I still cry remembering my childhood, but I don't remember crying back then (except the first day at boarding school - when I cried myself to sleep in the lower bunk bed of the room I shared with ******** - only to discover that I had wet the bed - shame and horror) I don't think I gave the right signals to my parents or maybe I didn't shout loudly enough to be heard over the voice of God...

If all this feels to you like I am trying to de-convert you, I can understand why you would feel that way. I have experienced how it feels the other way around and it is not nice, and there are few people I would feel comfortable doing this with. If this exchange is to be valuable to either of us we must both feel free to express our thoughts without fear of causing offense. We are both big girls now and I am looking forward to hearing from you - HIT ME!!!



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2/21/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Harvest the power of religion...

Eliminate your vermin problem with an exciting new product called "Creedocide."

2/20/2009                                                                                       View Comments

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth and scourgeth...

By DocMike

When I was a child, I was taught that the bible-god was loving and caring. All the stories I heard in church and in Sunday School seemed to prove this. But when I got a little older and started reading the myself, I found him to be a very different "person."

The god described in the is angry, vindictive, jealous, and has a lot of other negative human emotions that I would never have attributed to the "" of my childhood. He reminded me of other gods I had learned about from Greek and Egyptian mythology.

Even if he were real, why would anyone want to worship such a sadistic bastard? To me, it was obvious that it was all a farce, that the bible-god was created by men to control other men. I mean, why would the creator of the universe be so "human?" Why would he make mistakes and regret things and change his mind and torture and kill those who wouldn't worship him?

And then I thought, even if he were real, why would anyone want to worship such a sadistic bastard? He was like some crazy, angry, old man who would throw temper tantrums when things didn't go his way. The difference was, he had super powers and could hurt and kill people with a single word. I thought, if my family knew a man like this, they would never let me go near him!

And that was when I became an ...

-DocMike

For more comics, commentary, and more, please visit ByTheBookComics

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2/19/2009                                                                                       View Comments

It's not a religion -- it's a relationship

Fai volare in alto tutto e non temer di non sa...Image by confusedvision via Flickr

By Josh Sullivan

"It's not a religion. It's a relationship.” Has anyone else heard Christians use this argument? It's hard to say when this phrase gained popularity. According to Gregory Kouki of the radio show, Stand to Reason, "this slogan has been a rallying cry of 1970s and 80s evangelicalism.” Whatever the case, the phrase is popular amongst Christians. You can read blog posts on it, watch Christians on YouTube recycling it, you can even buy bumpers stickers proclaiming it. But what bothers me about this phrase is how many things are just wrong with it.

This phrase sets up a classical logical fallacy, called a false dichotomy (more specifically, it's black-and-white thinking, a sub-class of the false dichotomy). The phrase implies that there are two choices. It's either religion, or a relationship. In reality, there are more than just two choices. A possible third choice is closer to the truth: it's religion and a relationship (albeit imaginary). Christianity continues to thrive because of religion. Christians continue thinking that they're developing personal relationships with God because of religion. With a little critical thinking it's obvious that a relationship with God requires the framework of religion to answer basic questions about the nature of relationships with God. It is a religion. Religion propagates the idea of a relationship with a personal God. Religion tells you what the relationship will be like. Religion reinforces the concept that God communicates directly to you. Religion encourages evangelism and indoctrination. A relationship without the framework of religion is meaningless. One begets the other.

Like most specious Christian arguments, the phrase is vague and packed full of equivocation. What is the "it” in this phrase? Which religion is the person talking about? Christianity? If so, which of the +20k denominations within Christianity? What kind of relationship? D. Q. McInerny, author of "Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking” warns against the use of vague and ambiguous words, "not because they have no meaning, but because they are especially rich in meaning”. Though, that doesn't seem to stop Christians from using vague, ambiguous, and equivocal words in their arguments. When Christians say "it's not about religion” they are using the word "religion” equivocally. I suspect that a good number of Christians who use this phrase are defining religion as getting up on Sunday, putting on dress clothes, going to church, singing hymns, and listening to a sermon. Religion certainly contains these activities, but religion is by no mean summed up by these activities. They are, in essence, setting up a false definition of what religion is in order to de-emphasize its importance.

Religion reinforces the concept that God communicates directly to you. Religion encourages evangelism and indoctrination. A relationship without the framework of religion is meaningless. One begets the other. In a strict sense, the two words mean pretty much the same thing. The Oxford American Dictionary defines religion as "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods”. So, religion can be defined as believing in and worshiping a personal God. Kind of sounds like a relationship to me.

It's not a relationship. At least not in the sense that they imply. Moreover, making a statement about the existence of a relationship with God means they need to give evidence of the relationship's existence. And resorting to personal experience (another logical fallacy, called "special pleading”) or using the Bible as a source of evidence doesn't count. Personally, I would love to see evidence that there is a God and that He is a personal God who communicates with us. The moment someone can show this to me I'll gladly believe. John Proctor, a character from Arthur Miller's work, The Crucible, said, "God never spoke in my ear and I can't think of any one else he's done the favor!”.

I'd like to see Christians dump this tired, stupid phrase from their repertoire of one-liners. The statement is false. If it's not about religion, then we can get rid of religion. If it is about religion, which I believe it is, then they should concede that the statement is bunk and that they're playing games with words.

Have any of you experienced Christians using this phrase as if it proves a point? How did you respond? What was it like for you to realize that the relationship Christians are so fond of is completely imaginary?

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Deconstructing Bible stories

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 12:  Pigeons feed on...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

By Sharon

I was an evangelical Christian for 40 years, and I loved the Bible. I studied it intensely and devoutly. I loved the Bible with all of my heart. A necessary part of my de-conversion has been to understand those ancient stories in light of current scientific and medical knowledge. These stories were written by men with superstitious minds. Here is one example:

The story is told of a man possessed with demons whom Jesus met while traveling. This man lived "amongst the tombs" and was naked and cut himself. When asked directly the man said there were many demons "legions." And so the story goes that Jesus cast these demons out, curing the man, and that these demons went into a herd of swine (pigs) who then "ran violently down a steep place into the sea."

Deconstruction of this story involves taking the knowledge we have now and going back in time to explain those events. So here is how the story would read using todays knowledge.

There was a mentally ill man who was homeless. He suffered from a severe mental illness (probably paranoid schizophrenia with comorbidity), hence the man saying "have you come to torment me". Jesus et al apparently got the man some clothes to wear and after "casting out the demons" sat and talked with him probably sharing some food with him. People with mental illness do have lucid moments where they think they are cured. (A common problem in trying to keep those on psychiatric medicine, they think they are no longer mentally ill). Jesus and friends treated this man so nicely he wanted to travel with Jesus and his group. Jesus said no. Told the man to go back to his friends and tell them "how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee." One can only assume this is what the man did.

Scene two. The man tries to reunite with friends (who have been working tending to their farms and businesses) and of course needs employment. He explains how he is cured. They of course are terrified of him, because in ancient understanding demons could transfer residence to you and your family or animals. So where did the demons go? Then they remembered that farmer Benjamin had a herd of swine who violently ran down a steep hill and drowned in the sea! That is where they went! Case solved.

This so frightened the people in this village that they begged Jesus and his group to leave!

So the question is did Jesus "cure" this man, and did "demons" go into those pigs causing them to stampede?

Today we know a few things about mental illness, and what causes herd animals to stampede. We use this knowledge to improve the lives of those we love with mental illness and to maintain order in cattle yards for major food producers (like McDonanlds). We DO NO use superstitious thinking at all in treating mental illness or trying to prevent herd animals (pigs, cattle, sheep) from stampeding.

We know that mental illness is a fluctuating condition, and that on any given day a person can be lucid and very competent. Jesus and his team, would have had contact with this man for a short period of time. Demons did not go out of this man and he was not cured. The "talk therapy" (commonly used today by meeting with a therapist or psychologist) temporarily helped this man. The placebo effect of yelling at the demons to leave, combined with the kindness of clothes and food being provided, alleviated his symptoms for a short period of time. The man did feel better, and act better. But even Jesus did not want to take care of him full time.

As for the animals, many things cause animals to stampede, usually a sudden loud noise or an optical illusion that causes the lead animal to panic. We never associate stampeding with a sudden influx of demons today!

Once again this story shows the ancient mind at work full of superstitions. During a time when there was no TV, radio, Internet, phone, not even letter writing. There was no way to declare this man "cured". They probably never saw him again. During the short time they were with him, he was better. When they left I surmise that this man couldn't find employment, and that the "demons" returned and he remained mentally ill.

Deconversion is a painful process as beloved stories fall apart under critical scrutiny. Rather than using these stories as a way of understanding and living in our time in history, they should be recognized as what they are; stories used by superstitious uneducated ancient people to explain things they had no understanding of. We have better techniques for understanding things today.

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2/18/2009                                                                                       View Comments

A logic based on fantasy

Angry God...Image by santacrewsgirl via Flickr

By KSS

Here I am again, after a frustrating Sunday at church, visiting this site to get some strength.

I can't believe I didn't see what a lot of fantasy we believe at church.

We sit there thinking we are the only Christians, we are the only saved, all other churches are in error. We talk about "the truth" as something we own: the truth about life, the truth about God.

I don't want to invoke God's ire. But I do want to understand the truth. We can't see how pathetic we are: a group of Protestants, mostly white, fat and affluent, with our property and our horrible exclusive theology, and our absurdly closed world-view.

We sing songs during Sunday School, including songs of praise to the Bible, "The Word." Then, during the main service we hear a message of "We should," and, "We ought" - because, despite being saved, we're never quite good enough, are we? Got to remain on the worrying edge of our seats -- keep us down. There's a judgment to come and it's soon. Will we be in the Kingdom? Live for the Kingdom!

Meanwhile, the more I read, the more I find that the Old Testament God seems very vicious, giving himself a license to kill:

"The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their fathers' wickedness". (Exodus 24)


And with that he approves of the massacre of men, women and children. I just can't get past that problem.

While in the New Testament, I find inconsistent views of God, including Paul in Romans (ch9) who says God can do what He likes with those He created, including killing them, because some were born for destruction. Good grief. But Jesus says we should call God "Dad", Our Father, and that He cares for us. God so loved the world that He gave His only son to die for us. And God stood by while that murder happened. God is rather familiar with murder it seems.

Visceral, visceral, visceral.

Trying to cram a nomadic God-narrative into modern heads takes some doing. But we do it, and it hurts. We have to switch off certain things for it to happen.

Someone on this site said, "Take it easy. It takes time to figure it all out." That was helpful advice.

We have a logic based on fantasy. Father Christmas is harmless - kids figure it out. But religion like this is dangerous - the kids don't figure it out ... not without a lot of trouble.

Within the confines of this thing are security and community and family and friends, many great benefits. It is just so strange and terrible that we should have this "fellowship" around these fantas-tic and awful ideas and this book. Is it possible to find goodness and closeness to a group of people without these beliefs?

I don't want to invoke God's ire. But I do want to understand the truth.

For now, I am keeping secret silence. I have to think about my family. But any tips or books on taking it slowly, are appreciated.

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Lost or Found?

Confused mind......................Image by carf via Flickr

By Seage VT

I just needed to tell someone.

I'm not Christian. My family is. My ex-fiance was. My best friend was.

I am not.

But I understand that there are people who need to think that they don't have control over their lives. People who need to bury their heads in the sand, who can't just take what happens as exactly what it is. People who can't accept that death, is death. You just....die.

Jesus was a con-artist and "god" doesn't exist. Religion has weakened us. It's made the human race become a shallow, weak child, hiding our faces from one another. I would say what everyone else would day "Perhaps it is in human nature to hide our heads in the sand, to deny what is," but if that is true, then what of us few who do see? Are we an alienated group of individuals, lost in our own minds? Does it make us crazy for not being like them? Then lock me up, throw the key down into a well of "holy" water, because I know what i see and I refuse to be like the rest. I refuse to blindly follow a work of fiction telling us to resist the most human of urges. I refuse to pray every night to a cruel, invisible "man" who is supposedly listening to every word I say, yet at night I'm suppose to tell him things he "already knows"?

Jesus was a con-artist and "god" doesn't exist.

Religion serves it's purpose, and those of us who do see, the few of us who know the truth... we will survive. We will slip through the shadows, we will whisper in untouched ears, we will twist our "devilish" tongues around the taste of truth, and we will live.

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2/16/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Spare the rod, spoil the child...



Psalm 137:9


“Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

2 Kings 2:23-24


23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

Leviticus 20:9

For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death.

Numbers 31:15-19

And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? ... Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Proverbs 13:24


He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.--

Proverbs 22:15

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Proverbs 23:13-14


Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.

Proverbs 30:17


The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.

Matthew 15:4


God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.

This is only a taste of what can be found in the Christian holy book. Add your Bible verses to the list...

Steps to Recovery

Hello Everyone,

This is a summary outline I've come up with for recovering from authoritarian religions like fundamentalist Christianity. In my years of counseling experience, I've found that for a lot of people (not everyone), the leaving process takes time and has some important steps. This outline is not meant to be a formula or cover the issues in depth, but I hope it is useful for you to think about.

Kind regards,
Marlene Winell

1. Get Real.
Be honest with yourself about whether your religion is working for you. Let go of trying to force it to make sense. Have a look at life and the world AS IT IS, and stop trying to live in a parallel universe. This world might not be perfect but facing reality will help you get your life on track. If you feel guilty, realize that the religion teaches you to feel responsible when it isn’t working and tells you to go back and try harder, just like an abusive relationship.


2. Get a Grip.

Don’t panic. The fear you feel is part of the indoctrination. All those messages about what will happen to you if you leave the religion are a self-serving part of the religion. If you calm down, you’ll be just fine. Many people have been through this.

3. Get Informed.
Do everything you can to educate yourself. You are free to read and expose yourself to all the knowledge in the world – history, philosophy, other religions, mythology, anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, and more. In particular, read about how the Bible was put together and church history. Read authors who have explained why they deconverted. Many websites have deconversion stories and helpful reading lists.

4. Get Help.
Find support in any way you can. Explore online forums to discuss issues with others leaving their religion. Join a supportive group in your area. If necessary, find a therapist who understands or go to a recovery retreat. Do the work to heal the wounds of religious abuse.

5. Get a Life.
Rebuild your life around new values and engage fully with your choices. Develop your identity as you learn to love and trust yourself. Take responsibility and create the life that works for you – in work, family, leisure, social – all the areas of commitment that make a life structure. If you still want a spiritual life, define it for yourself. Venture into the “world” for new experiences and new friends. This will take time but you can do it.

6. Get With the Program.
Welcome to the human race. Accept the idea that Earth is your home and humanity is your true family. If you aren't part of a special group that is leaving, consider what that means for you. You may want to participating in larger concerns to make the world a better place, such as caring for the environment or working for social justice. Let go of expecting God to take care of all the problems. You can begin with knowing your neighbors.

7. Get Your Groove On.
Reclaim enjoyment of sensation and pleasure as you relax with the idea of being an animal like all the others on Earth. Learn to be present here and now. Discover all the ways to appreciate nature. Enjoy and love other people instead of judging. Reclaim your creativity and express yourself any way you like, not just to “glorify God.” Love your body and take care of it. Embrace this life instead of worrying about the next. Sing and dance and laugh for no reason except Being Alive.


Marlene Winell, Ph.D., is a psychologist who works in religious recovery, and the author of
Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. Information about counseling services and weekend retreats can be found at marlenewinell.net.





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2/13/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Darwin and Lincoln: Two Peas in a Pod

A photograph of the March 4, 1861 inauguration...Image via Wikipedia

By Valerie Tarico

What did Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin have in common besides their February 12, 1809 birthday? Both men transcended the self-centered thinking so characteristic of our kind, allowing them to see the unity of life in a new way. By self-centered, I don't mean selfish. I mean our incredible tendency to perceive ourselves as the measure of all that is: My tribe, my religion, my nation-state, my gender, my "race", my species--all else is here to serve us.

Despite its emphasis on service, orthodox Christianity, with its sense of manifest destiny exacerbates this bias. (Both Darwin and Lincoln moved beyond Christianity in their quest to serve truth and love.) But religion isn't all to blame. This bias is totally built in. During my graduate student days, I worked with an industrial organizational psychologist seeking to improve personnel interviews. One problem with interviews is what psychologists call a "similar to me" bias. Someone who is similar to me on completely irrelevant characteristics--same home town, same hair style, same musical tastes, same ethnic heritage--is seen as more competent as a result. Since interviews seek genuine competence, this is a problem, and interviewers are trained to resist it. Unfortunately, the similar-to-me bias shows up in ordinary life, where we often have no idea how powerfully it is shaping who we care about or whose ideas we take seriously.

At a time when many of his compatriots saw dark skinned peoples as less than human, Darwin methodically mapped universal human emotions: surprise, disgust, anger, fear, and happiness. He defined us within a broader web of life that brought into sharp focus our human similarities in a way that old dogmas had not. Why? Because he brought a scientist's mind to the task - a painstaking process of gathering data, obsessing over small details, brooding over what he had found, and following the data where they lead. Lincoln, the politician, looked at those universal human emotions and thought about individuals and society. He brooded, not over details of bone and sinew, but over tensions and ethics: What does our basic humanity imply about how we should live in community with each other?

The scientific mind and the mind of the ethicist/politician are a great pair. We grow best and flourish best with the two informing each other.

The work of Darwin and the work of Lincoln is ever unfinished--each represented a point of consciousness in a broader human endeavor. Even in their own day, they were not alone. Wallace independently discovered the process of natural selection. Wilberforce fought to end slavery in the British Empire. Today, scientists have established that at a genetic level "race" is a falsehood, an artifact of the human mind's tendency to take shades of gray--or in this case brown--and break them into oversimplified categories.

And yet, even today, with a brown man in the White House, the front page of the Seattle Post Intelligencer is dominated by a story of racial violence. Our religions continue to be plagued with self-centered claims of exclusive salvation. Our nation state is plagued by a self-centered mission to rescue our oil from under their sand. Our generation is plagued by a self-centered tendency to spend more than we earn--to borrow against future generations who have no voice or vote. Our citizens are plagued by a self- centered habit of asking what our country can do for us.

The work of Darwin and Lincoln is our work to continue. Only with a thousand points of insight and a thousand bodies living for change, will we get to the point that we can use our knowledge and power for the good of all.

Valerie Tarico is the author of The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth and the founder of http://www.wisdomcommons.org/.


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2/11/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Rules are Rules

By Doc Mike

When confronted with ridiculous rules, often respond the same way, "That was the . Those laws are no longer valid." Well, here's a little story from the that disproves their claim.

In Matthew, chapter 15, is criticized by the Pharisees for not washing his hands before eating. He defends himself by attacking them for not killing disobedient children according to the rule: "He that curseth his father or mother, shall be surely put to death." (Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

So, is that rule still valid or not? How do Christians reconcile their unwillingness to kill their own children for cursing them, with their insistence that the Bible is the inerrant word of God?

Deuteronomy explains it like this:

21:18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all shall hear, and fear.

Pretty clear, huh?



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RECOVERY RETREATS COMING SOON

That's me in the corner...Image by FadderUri via Flickr

Leaving Your Religion?

It's not the end of the world!

Join us for a powerful weekend with others who can understand and support you.

“RELEASE AND RECLAIM” Recovery Retreat
March 13-15, 2009; Amherst, Mass., and more...

This program is for you if you want to let go of toxic, authoritarian beliefs and reclaim your ability to trust your own feelings and think for yourself.

Leaving your faith can create intense confusion, grief, anxiety, and anger. Recovery can be difficult if the issues are not clear and you feel alone in the struggle.

For more detail, comments from previous participants, and videos of retreats, please visit http://marlenewinell.net/page/release-and-reclaim-workshop
WANT TO TALK? If you are unsure, you are welcome to join a conference call to chat with previous retreat participants and others interested. Just send an email to express interest: recoveryfromreligion [AT] gmail [DOT] com, subject line “retreat chat.”
The “Release and Reclaim” weekend is a powerful group experience designed to support you in the process of healing and growth. This includes sharing personal stories, examining key issues, exploring new liberating concepts, and taking part in experiential activities to move beyond intellectual analysis. There will also be time for shared meals, relaxation, and fun. After the retreat, participants are encouraged to join the confidential online group for continued friendship and support.

These retreats are led by Marlene Winell, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. Dr. Winell has a private practice in Berkeley, CA and also consults by telephone. See marlenewinell.net

WHEN and WHERE:
We are pleased to announce several "Release and Reclaim" retreats coming up, including one on the East Coast for a change!

Amherst, Massachusetts: March 13-15, 2009 (very soon!)
Orange County, CA: April 18-20, 2009
San Francisco Bay Area: May 22-24, 2009
Colorado Springs: June, 2009. Exact dates TBA.

All weekends go from Friday at 7 PM until Sunday at 3 PM.

COST:
$320 for workshop, $125 for room and board (all meals included). A $100 deposit will secure a space. $20 discount if paid in full 2 weeks in advance. Financial need considered and options available for financing.

TO REGISTER:
Write to recoveryfromreligion [AT] gmail [DOT] com (subject line “retreat registration”) or call Dr. Winell directly at 510.292.0509 to discuss. You can chat about your situation and consider all the options available for meeting your needs. Retreat space is limited so contact us as soon as possible.

MORE INFORMATION: For more detail, comments from previous participants, and videos of retreats, please visit http://marlenewinell.net/page/release-and-reclaim-workshop

WANT TO TALK?
If you are unsure, you are welcome to join a conference call to chat with previous retreat participants and others interested. Just send an email to express interest: recoveryfromreligion [AT] gmail [DOT] com, subject line “retreat chat.”

Also, if you would like to organize a retreat in your area, we can work with you to do so.

A joyful empowered life is your birthright and you can start now.



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2/10/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Out of the Dark

The Human Condition, 1935Image via Wikipedia

By Mriana

I was born in May 1966, a few months before the Star Trek Original Series came on TV. From the very first episode, my mother watched it, with me on her lap nursing, without knowing or at least not comprehending the Roddenberry’s underlying message, which even Majel confirmed that Gene did use the media to convey a message to the public. I attribute this message as being part of what kept me holding on to some sanity, even though I did not figure out what the philosophy was until I stumbled onto it in my teens. This gift, which I now hold dear, was taken from me, by my mother, even before I had a chance to claim it as my own, but it was not lost forever, even though it became a long journey to make my way back to it again. I guess you could say I grew into their philosophy and they indirectly helped raised me. Maybe I did not better humanity in some manner, but I was struggling to better myself and it was indeed a struggle.

I read Sam Harris’s “End of Faith” and Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion”, but it left me flat and caused me to ask, “But what are alternatives to theism that are fulfilling and satisfying, without dehumanizing the individual?” I know my search is not one size fits all nor would I think to impose it on anyone either, but it helped me and I feel it could give people, who are looking for an alternative philosophy some ideas to shorten their own search for meaning and recovery from Evangelicalism.

If I was ever going to recover from the damage of Evangelicalism, as well as what my elders had done, I had to work on loving myself first, fulfilling my own needs, in an effort to better myself. I am not going to bore people with my long journey out of theism, but rather my path to living life more fully without superstitions. However, I did learn from Bishop Spong to look at the subject of religion in a different way than the one in which I was raised. Even so, I will go from A to C, covering very little, if any, of B, except to say, that I do not agree with everything Spong says, yet he did say some things that caught my attention a few years ago. He made statements such as “theism is dead”, “Living fully, loving wastefully, and being all that we can be,” and that we need to strive to be fully human.

What does that mean? How do we go about learning what it means to be fully human? While some Humanists look towards the religious to find out what it means to be human, I turned to Humanists in order to become fully human. Mind you, I am not there yet and I doubt it is humanly possible to do so completely, because few of us know what it means to be fully human. The thing is Spong said many things, even in his books that sounded like humanism. Therefore, I wrote him one day a few years ago, without even admitting that I had left the Episcopal Church and became a Humanist, to ask him about his statements that sounded very much like humanism. His response to me was, “Mriana, Humanism is not anti-Christian or anti-God. It is through the human that we experience the Holy, the Other. The Divine is the ultimate depth of the human.”

This Christian humanist, or humanistic Christian, was encouraging and his words said to me, that if I had admitted to being a Humanist in the fullest sense of the word, he would not be offended as many other Christians are. However, Spong did say in a different letter, which I complained to him about my mother and her religious views, “Love your mother. She is acting out of the higher she has. What she needs is more love.” Oh, that last is very difficult given her theistic attitudes and dogma, but still, it was through Humanism that I learned to love myself. One has to love themselves before they can love others and in order to that, they sometimes need to recover from what other humans have done to them. In a process of reason, compassion, and education that contributes to bettering themselves and maybe others, of course. I would say science, but for me it goes beyond just science and while therapy helped, it was not until I returned to the philosophy of humanism that I recovered from an eating disorder. No, I would not use the word “cured”. The word ‘cured’ is not an accurate term, but I no longer have the obsessive-compulsive behaviours of one with anorexia. Yet humanism is a non-theistic worldview that helped and it continues to help me to this day. The recovery from an eating disorder was only the beginning, because Humanism is not the end of a long struggle away from religious ideology and dogma, but rather a beginning. It is, for me, a sense of freedom to study religion critically, as well as any other subject that applies to the human condition. It is a freedom to acquire knowledge and to think for oneself, which I seem to crave greatly.

Another thing is Humanism is concerned with life, not the afterlife, which I was not actually living at the time. For me, it changes the focus of life greatly and gives it a richer meaning, without constant struggle to appease others or muddle through the misery that comes with theism. Instead of some deity being the center of things, the human is at the center and no one is forced to believe any ideology, creeds, or dogmas. This is something that is missing from the Christianity I knew, because it denied the “human-being-ness” of the individual. There is no denial of scientific discovery in favour of superstition and one is free to express themselves as long as it does not degrade others or take away human dignity. The last thing, or rather the best thing, is self-fulfilment. Now that is something you will not hear much of in various religious ideology. Instead, there is no god or master to serve or please, but rather one has to please themselves in order to be fully human. This is not to say one does not serve their community or society. On the contrary, humans are social creatures and dehumanizing others does not help anyone reach their full potential. However, there has to be the freedom for everyone to better themselves as well as humanity as a whole, but one has to stand on their own two feet without any reliance on the supernatural, facing the present and future with courage and confidence (see "Humanism: Beliefs and Practices", by Jeaneane Fowler or see: http://humanisteducation.com/index.html RSP100 course).

While perfection is impossible an individual, and humanity itself, should be free to choose goals that are conducive to progress. Thus, humanism is positive, something I need to assist me in reaching my full potential, instead of the negativity of religious dogma. Referring back to Fowler, “the essential element of the human being is ego, that ingredient of the human being that is all “I” centered.” “…for Humanists it is not something to be denied in order to reach some kind of ultimate knowledge and state of equilibrium that transcends the world, as in much eastern thought. Nor is it something that has to be subjected to divine will as in western religious thought.” Something I needed greatly, but Fowler goes on to say much more, including, “But it could be argued that without love and respect of self, how can the human being extend love and respect to others? Self-denial and self-humility are not the ingredients of a balanced person in the eyes of many Humanists. Human consciousness is of necessity egoistic identity, and to operate in life without ego is impossible. It is ego that is bound up in feelings and emotions of individuals and these are essential ingredients of humanity, not disposable ones.” To a person with even a minimal knowledge of psychology, this makes sense and the sense of self-worth was one of many ingredients I did not have. I did not have a sense of self at all for that matter, because I buried my own feelings for so many years and they were coming out in the form of depression and self-starvation. My id and super-ego were well developed, but there was nothing in between to balance the two, so there was a constant struggle between the id and super-ego with no fully developed mediator in between to balance the two.

This is pure Freudian psychology, granted, but recall what I mentioned about one’s development being stunted by abuse in my previous blog? Well, the superego develops between three and six years of age, while the ego is suppose to emerge in early infancy, and the id is found at birth. The ego, the conscious, rational part of the personality ensures the id’s needs, which are biological needs and desires, are satisfied in accordance with reality. The superego, or seat of conscience, contains values of society and is often in conflict with the id’s desires. The superego also develops from interactions with parents, who eventually insist that children control their biological impulses. Once the superego is formed, the ego is faced with the increasingly complex task of reconciling the demands of the id, the external world, and the conscience. In essence, my ego was stunted into pleasing the external social world to avoid harm from others, while my id demanded to be heard, metaphorically of course. My ego could not please the id as it strived to satisfy the superego’s ever-demanding insistence to make sure others were pleased to avoid angering them. Therefore, whatever happened to my own ego was not the norm and it did not develop, as it should. Luckily, our brains have plasticity, even in adulthood, and with effort, we can change our thinking processes.

If I was ever going to recover from the damage of Evangelicalism, as well as what my elders had done, I had to work on loving myself first, fulfilling my own needs, in an effort to better myself. The psychology degree I acquired, after my first divorce and while my sons were toddlers, was not going to do me any good, anywhere, no matter how impressive my grades are, until I worked on my own wellbeing. In a sense, the philosophy I claimed for myself was assisting me to get the mote out of my own eye. It still is for that matter. Something that theism could never do for me. Humanism, for me, is a change in my own cognitive thinking, which I call self-cognitive therapy. It was the final tool, I needed, to break free of the psychological damage that religious dogma and abuse did to my life. However, living in the Bible Belt and having relatives who are Evangelicals, I am not free from religious dogma. I don’t know if moving else where, even if I had the means to do so, would solve that problem, but other places have more Humanists, even Humanist organizations, which could also be beneficial, at least for me.

One could say I exchanged one religion for another, but Humanism is not a religion. It is a philosophy and way of life, which is dependent on reason and compassion, starting with oneself. If I was going to live this one and only life I have, I had to make changes, starting with my thinking. I made a complete overhaul of my own life as threw out those things that appalled me. Oddly enough, the first was following Mother Kathy’s advice. She was one of the Episcopal priests I ranted to about the paganism in Christianity that upset me so badly, such as the crucifixion, Maundy Thursday, the theophagy called communion, and all the other revolting bloody horrors. She did not deny any of my accusations concerning Christianity. Instead, she said, not in a hateful manner, but in a matter of a fact way, “If it upsets you so much, don’t participate.” My response to her was, “But what would other people think?” I was people pleasing again, yet she did not accuse me of that. Instead, she pointed out that not everyone partakes of communion or other rituals. Of course, I eventually took it further than she was suggesting, but since I could not believe any of it nor could I ever tolerate such violent and barbaric rituals, it all went. Religion as a lip service to others was out the door. It had to be my choice as to what I do believe, but no one died for my sins nor did I ever want such a barbaric ritual in the first place. Regardless of my decision, we are still friends today.

Secondly, was the aforementioned overabundance of people pleasing. There is a time and a place for that, but not on a constant basis and as a constant means to avoid people’s anger or any other violent action. It was time to decide what I want in life that would make me happy. Starting with my choice of what I do believe. Humanism is an affirmation of what I believe, instead of what I don’t believe. It is less confrontational than saying, “I don’t believe in the god of religion” or “I do not believe in the barbaric crucifixion or the supernatural zombie resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I’m sure people get the idea and there is a time and a place to express my feelings about religion too. I don’t need to tell liberal Christians that I don’t believe, but sometimes there is that annoying Fundie that just gets your goat. That is when expressing one’s feelings in a manner that is diplomatic can come in handy. Confrontation is not my thing, but I am slowly learning to speak my mind in a manner, which I can hope does not cause more friction, even if it would be easier to just to relocate.

The next steps were focused on human needs, especially my own, and attempt to label what I felt or wanted when needed or I was not going to better myself. I could not place everything outside myself, because it was not out there, but rather it is within me. Every thought, feeling, and desire I had to claim as my own, which included my philosophy. I had to focus on what is human, even acknowledge other humans, in a positive manner even though I was never an unfriendly person, in the process. This meant, I could not allow myself to fear other people’s reactions, which is still sometimes a difficult one. The list goes on and on, but it is all in keeping with Humanism, and I am still learning what it means to be human. I have not stopped learning just because I claimed humanism for myself, without the pressure of others. Eventually, I learned live life, enjoy the only life I have, as well as find meaning and beauty in it.

I also found new meaning in helping others, because I wanted to see them succeed. For example, I am not actually into politics, but during the primaries, our current president gave a speech that acknowledged people, not just some people, but all U.S. citizens. I knew, without a doubt, I wanted him as our president and it was the first time I got involved, by going to door-to-door and making phone calls. I ran into hateful people and was concerned my candidate would lose, but I did not give up and it was not just because of what Obama said, but rather my own desire to better humanity, which I felt Obama could help achieve that goal. In the end, I was part of making history that my sons can share with their children, which I never considered before I saw that he won and I did not get involved because Obama is charismatic, but because I wanted to assist in helping him achieve his goal. Therefore, the philosophy and goals are ideals that one can share with others, even if they are not Humanists, and especially if they are working for the greater good of humanity.

To make a long story short, because there is far more to the subject that could be potentially beneficial for others, once I returned to Humanism and claimed it as mine, it began a course of self-discovery and self-wellbeing, because it began a process of self-psychology without theism, which was very much dead for me. While Humanism was not what lead me out of religious theology and belief, it did become a new beginning and was for me an alternative, one that saved my life and I attribute the Roddenberrys for showing me the way at an early age. I went through a lot in between, but there was still that human drive within myself to keep living in order to find a new philosophy to live by and acquire what I needed in order to become whole. For me, it was a gift the Roddenberrys gave me, over four decades ago; long before they both died, and they left it open for me to choose when I was ready, unlike my Fundamgelical relatives with their brand of Christianity. What greater welcoming gift can one give an infant, knowingly or unknowingly, than to hand them the keys to what it means to be human? I only had to reach out and grab those keys, which I snatched them long before I left theism, but it took time to gain the courage to use them. I know I have the human potential, as well as the courage, to be all that I can be, to love wastefully, live life fully, and become fully human. Along the way, I hope to help others find themselves, regardless of the means one achieve this, and while Humanism may not be for everyone, it could very well be for others who are searching for some alternative that will be meaningful and helpful for them.

Some people find themselves, as well as meaning in life, through Buddhism, while others find themselves via other means. However, atheism, agnosticism, or non-theism alone is not something I find therapeutic for myself and I doubt I am alone in this thinking. Thus, I find books that do not give alternatives to theism rather unfulfilling and do not help to give meaning to an individual. After reading such books, I want to make my voice heard and say, “Suggest alternatives to religion or they will never leave it, even if they want to leave it”. Non-theism, agnosticism, and alike words only state what I do not believe, but Humanism says what I do believe, which is the potential of all human beings to strive to better themselves and others, which brings us back to the old Star Trek mantra, “We strive to better ourselves and work for the greater good of humanity”. What better way to live a fulfilling life or more life affirming than those two basic goals, which are in the Humanist Manifesto?



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2/08/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Jay & Silent Bob Drub Rap and Bible Chat


Jay and Silent Bob are fictional characters portrayed by Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, respectively, in Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse, a fictional universe created and used in most films, comics and television by Kevin Smith, which began in Clerks.

My open campaign against the Christian Right

English–Chinese bilingual traffic sign in Hong...Image via Wikipedia

By Virginia

I submitted an article about quitting Christianity to exchristian.net last August after a 23-year-ambivalent relationship.

This year I took on a special course -- to lead a civic campaign against the religious right in our city.

Our society is recently caught up in arguments because of a proposed amendment and review of two legislations:
  1. One is to extend protection from domestic violence to include divorced couples, non-wed couples, extended families, and of course gay pairs
  2. The other is on the Control of Obscene and Indecent Article Ordinance (COIAO) -- one that classify materials that may depict sex/violence on publications


The Religious Right here demands the extension of COIAO for censoring “speech” or “article” that “instigate and advocate” abortion, prostitution, criminal act and terrorism, etc.

A pamphlet circulated among conservative Christian groups in Hong Kong asks all Christians to support a stricter definition of “offensive” and “obscene” articles by signing up for a one-person, one-letter petition:

- article that contain partial or full nudity of children and youth
- article with sex as its main theme, support or promote sex
- exploit children or youth
- article that contains sexual violence or forces others to participate in sexual act, regardless of the threat to their lives.
- sexual act with dead body
- article that contains urine or feces that humiliate others or draws association with sexual act.
- sex with animal
- article that instigates abortion or miscarriage
- article that advocates or encourages criminal act or terrorism
- article that depicts acts against nature and humanity on ones' body
- information and advertisement on prostitution, brothels and
- pornographic websites and DVDs should be classified as indecent.

A more detailed coverage of the issues can be found here:
http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/01/29/hong-kong-from-censorship-debate-to-critique-of-christian-right/


I now become the co-convener of a Facebook group the swell to over 1000 people in three days.

I will be the spokesperson with the founder of the Facebook group (a senior high school boy) and the group will organize a rally to say "no" to the religious right on 15-Feb-2009 (if all goes well).

I will reply to this articles comment by giving you the Facebook group name.

Towards the end I share with you an animation satire against Christians who banned books describing incest, but their own Bible described incest in explicit details --
http://www.youtube.com/watch?vwbWjhxqHuAI

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2/07/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Why I Am An Atheist

Elephant in the room, part deux.Image by Cody Simms via Flickr

By Jeffrey Amos

The biggest reason I am an atheist is that I grew up evangelical and later rejected evangelical Christianity – that is the topic of my blog and will be overlooked here. But evangelical Christianity rejected doesn't imply atheism; in my case, non-Christian theist to deist to agnostic to atheist took from April '08 until October '08. Here, I will cover my reasons for being an atheist rather than an otherwise undecided non-Christian.

Atheism: What it Means

I need to first clarify what I mean by “atheist.” I don't believe in a God of any kind, or even see the existence of one as plausible, therefore I am an atheist. I don't claim to know for certain, and I can't prove God doesn't exist. I'm not an atheist in an absolute certainty sort of way, which is what some people still use it to mean.

Oftentimes, the definition of a word has a subliminal effect on how we think. Take the word “discipline,” for instance. It can be a verb meaning to punish misbehavior, or it can be an adjective describing one who behaves with great self-control. The subtle implication inside English is the idea that discipline leads to discipline. When we call someone “highly disciplined” this is a claim about their present level of self-control, not about the amount of punishment needed to become like that, but when this is said in English, this implication hides just under the surface regardless of if the implication was desired by the speaker. If this were false, this would be a problem in the English language. (Generally speaking, I agree with the idea subliminally reinforced by this homonym.)

An unfortunate misconception is caused by the word “atheist” meaning one who is absolutely certain there is no God. The problem is that it forces together the concepts of a particular position and absolute certainty. This causes a concept of unjustifiable arrogance to be automatically associated with the idea that God does not exist. A word is needed that merely describes the position and does not contain an implication of certainty. That word is atheism. The word's evolution into not carrying the implication of certainty is a needed linguistic change, but the change is only partially complete, and hence my embracing of the label is at the possible expense of misunderstanding.

Similarly, I am a capitalist. I'm not an expert at economics, I can't refute every socialistic argument ever put forward, and I might be wrong. But I'm still a capitalist, and this is not in tension with my lack of omniscience. I wouldn't want to call myself agnostic on matters of economics just because I might be wrong. I think capitalism works, I think God doesn't exist, I'm certain of neither, and I'm ashamed of neither. Therefore, I am a capitalist and an atheist. Only if the existence of God or the effectiveness of socialism starts seeming plausible to me will I call myself agnostic with regard to either.

One other misunderstanding of atheism is that it necessarily starts with the position that the cosmos is all there is. Some atheists do, but I do not. If I were to map out core presuppositions, conclusions just above those, the next level of conclusions above those, and so on, atheism would be very near the top. That is to say, very little that I believe rests on atheism – atheism rests on those other things that I believe. In particular, atheism is the conclusion that comes from the absence of reasons to believe in God. Richard Dawkins beautifully expressed this idea of atheism as a denial of others' claims, rather than as a positive position:

“We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

Why God's Existence Requires Defense

The one positive statement I will make that defends my atheism is that there are no good reasons to believe in God. I use absolute language not out of arrogance, but so as to have a target for theists (and agnostics) to shoot at. Agnostics have more wiggle room because it's perfectly fine if they feel the pull of several arguments for God's existence but don't think it's quite sufficient to believe. Think of my absolute statement as denying myself wiggle room so as to have an actual position that could be falsified by a fellow mortal.

I don't start with the existence/non-existence of God as a presupposition, and you shouldn't either. If there's an elephant in the living room you shouldn't have to believe in it on faith – if the elephant isn't obvious, it's not there. If it's not there, you shouldn't have to just disbelieve in it because it's too preposterous of a possibility to be worthy of consideration – if it's not there, you should be able to look and see that it's not there. How much more should this be the case with an omnipresent God, especially if he wants us to know him?

However, plenty of Christians do think God is obvious. Paul was among them, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” If I succeed in refuting the arguments for God based on creation, I have not only rebutted positive arguments, but I will also have shown biblical reasoning to be flawed.

The Key Idea

Before I address the particulars, I wish to belabor what I think needs to be the general idea behind “how do you explain X without God” arguments. The same idea will apply to existence, design, meaning, morality, free will, and probably dozens of others. In my opinion, this one idea destroys nearly all arguments for God in a single blow. (This idea does not refute most arguments for Christianity in particular, such as evidential arguments for the Resurrection, etc.)

I don't start with the existence/non-existence of God as a presupposition, and you shouldn't either. If there's an elephant in the living room you shouldn't have to believe in it on faith – if the elephant isn't obvious, it's not there. At face value, the argument from X rests on one claim, namely that atheists haven't figured X out, therefore they aren't looking at a big enough picture, therefore God. I can at least speak for myself in saying that for years I had this misconception. But this is wrong. For these argument to work, they also need to establish that theism doesn't suffer from the same weakness. Weaknesses in atheism are evidence for God only to the extent that theism doesn't have the same weaknesses. This point will come up over and over again, and I intend to repeat it au nausum as it is so often missed.

These arguments all rely for their rhetorical strength on the idea that it is somehow irreverent to try to understand God. I don't allow religion to impose a double standard on the discourse. Arguments for theism often consist of taking a bunch of things in the universe that we don't know, throwing them in a big box labeled “God”, and declaring inspection inside the box to be irreverent. Of course theists think the mysteries of life are not problems for their view! The problems are all hidden in a box that is not to be opened, because that would mean trying to understand God.

Pandora, be damned. I dare to peer inside the box.

Argument from Existence – Why is there something rather than nothing?

But why is there a God instead of nothing? If the existence of the universe demands a creator, why doesn’t the existence of a creator demand someone who created him? The only way to get around this conundrum is to assign to God some made-up property, like “necessary being,” “self-existent,” “not an effect, hence not needing a cause.” However, all these properties could just as easily apply to the universe as a whole. Perhaps this is a necessary universe, a self-existent universe, or the Big Bang was not an effect (there is no “before time”) and hence the Big Bang needs no cause.

Maybe God has one of these properties. But a need for one of them destroys the argument because a weakness in atheism is not evidence for God when theism contains the same weakness hidden in the God-box.

Argument from Design – Where did all this apparent design come from, if not a Designer?

So who designed the designer? A being capable of designing a world this intricate must be even more intricate than the world itself. To the degree that evolution is a good theory, atheism has a better answer than non-evolutionary theism. But even if the validity of evolution were nil, atheism would be on equal ground with theism regarding its ability to explain the existence of design. (Theistic evolution and atheistic evolution are on equal ground as well.)

A weakness in atheism is not evidence for God when theism contains the same weakness hidden in the God-box.

Argument from Meaning – How do our lives have meaning, if not in following God?

First off, the possibility that our lives have no meaning deserves serious consideration if the topic is truth, rather than what we would want to be true. The prevalence of extreme pain in the world gives a strong reason to think that some very harsh realities have to be faced. If the bitter truth is that our lives have no meaning then the argument fails.

In any case, how does God's existence have meaning? According to Christians at least, what we know of God's existence consists of seeking to be loved, seeking to love, and seeking his own glory. All of these are goals that mere mortals can seek for themselves without God. If meaning is to be found in the existence of the sort of God that Christians envision, then I too can create meaning in my life by living life.

A weakness in atheism is not evidence for God when theism contains the same weakness hidden in the God-box.

Furthermore, what is it about existence in heaven that is meaningful? The two perks are hedonistic (streets of gold, etc.) and relational (always being with the Lord/other Christians.) But this is not terribly different from seeking to create meaning in one's life through living life with other people and enjoying whatever time we have. How is being with the Lord meaningful while being with other people is not meaningful? If the problem is that a finite existence is not meaningful, then I am happy to be spared the experience of heaven, as it would then consist of an infinite sequence of meaningless existences.

Argument from Morality – How do we have a concept of “ought” (distinct from “want”) if not from God?

How does God have a concept of morality? If morality proceeds from what God wants, then from God's perspective, there is no right and wrong – only what he wants/conforms to his will. This takes away the possibility of genuine praise – he isn't any better than Satan in an objective sense, he's just on a different side. Also, if “good” equals God's whim, then if he had lied to us about his unchanging nature and ultimately decides to cast all believers into hell this would be every bit as “good” as what Christians think he's really doing. Surely, this idea of “good” has strayed so far from our intuitive concept of good, that our intuitive concept of good is not evidence for the reality of this counterintuitive concept of “good.”

If morality precedes what God wants, then I would like God to answer the Moral Argument: where did God get his concept of morality if not from another Higher God?

Neither side has an answer that results in the sort of transcendent morality that Christians claim to have. Either God has no morals, or the fact that God must have morals that don't come from himself shoots the argument from morality in the foot.

A weakness in atheism is not evidence for God when theism contains the same weakness hidden in the God-box.

Argument from Free Will – How do we have free will if not from God?

How do we know we have free will? As Dawkins recounted:

"'Tell me,' the great twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once asked a friend, 'why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the sun went around the Earth rather than that the Earth was rotating?' His friend replied, 'Well, obviously because it just looks as though the Sun is going around the Earth.' Wittgenstein responded, 'Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?'"

Similarly, I ask what the world would look like if it looked like we had no free will. I freely admit that this wondering challenges my own thinking as much as it challenges theism.

(I'll overlook the quantum physics answer outside this comment. It proves the logical consistency of free will and atheism, but leaves the actual existence of free will unknown. While very interesting, it is not needed to refute the argument.)

I'm sure you see where my second objection is heading by now... How does God have free will? Apparently, the reason a godless universe would have no free will is because such a universe would always follow its natural laws. But God always follows his own nature – so what's the difference? If God has no free will, it makes no sense for him to have the capacity to give the gift of something he lacks. As Calvinists show, even if God has free will, there are many definitions of free will and concepts of Sovereignty where we still don't have it. I will spare you the final repetition of the key idea...

Conclusions

With all of these questions, much more can and should be said. Just because evolution and abiogenesis are not needed to answer the design argument doesn't mean they aren't worthy of study. What is the meaning of life? Is morality absolute? Do the words “free will” even mean anything? All of these are worthy of centuries of analysis by philosophers and scientists. Surely we can do better than “42.” But as arguments for God's existence, I find that little is required to refute them. If you dare to look inside the God-box, you will see that theism fails to answer the questions that justified the idea of God in the first place.

Sometimes humanity does learn things that were previously unknown. Due to evolution, we do have a pretty good idea about the origin of much of the design on the earth. Many theists are working hard to resist these answers so as to keep this treasured piece of ignorance inside the God-box. If part of the question is answered, theists will have to find a smaller box. I'm tired of downsizing my box. I've gotten rid of it entirely and placed what I don't know on a shelf in full display. I would like to think that I could have figured out Thor does not exist even if I lived in a time before scientific descriptions of thunder existed. I wish to do the same with what remains unknown. Therefore, I am an atheist.

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