Bruno

The Three Great Dangers of Religion

I’m the type of person that can sit across the table from a person of any religious background, no matter how fundamentalist they may be, and find a common humanity to build a relationship from – that’s a personal trait I’ve worked hard to hone and that I’m actually quite proud of. Often in doing so I’m asked the question, “so what if it’s not true, what’s the harm in believing?” While the answer to this question can’t be summarily truncated into a single list, I thought it might be a good idea to present the 3 greatest dangers of religion in the more generic sense for the purpose of quick reference and in a way that can be applied to most situations and conversations – so that if you are asked this question in your conversations with the religious you’ll have something to refer back to.  These three examples of the dangers of religion aren’t examples of fundamentalism in and of themselves – but they are fundamental tenets of every major religion alive in the world today, and so they are a constant part of the way the world is viewed by the religious.

1. Religion teaches us to be satisfied with easy answers

How often have you been told that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” in your life?

Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno – Burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for proposing a heliocentric model of the universe and claiming that stars were actually distant “suns” in 1600 .

Giordano Bruno – Burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for proposing a heliocentric model of the universe and claiming that stars were actually distant “suns” in 1600 – Source

 

This principle is fairly common among most of the major religions in the world in that they all, generally, require us to have faith rather than to seek out evidence for that which we believe.  This is dangerous to humanity on a number of levels, in the largest part because it generates a complacency for our curiosity and our yearning to know more.  The religious often confuse their faith with knowledge and believe that their faith satisfies the human need for real understanding of the world and universe around us – but without curious minds, unhindered by this complacency, asking the questions of “what, when, where, and why” modern science wouldn’t exist as we know it today and we’d still be plagued by diseases that have long been cured, we’d still believe that Earth was the center of The Universe, and we’d have never made it to the Moon.

While some of the most brilliant scientific minds of the last 500 years may have indeed been people with faith, they didn’t allow their faith to keep them from asking uncomfortable questions – and letting the answers speak for themselves when the answers were contrary to their faith. They were, ultimately, not satisfied with easy answers.

2. Religion teaches us that we are evil

The fulcrum of nearly every religion that has survived to this day has been that humanity is irrevocably flawed (evil, fallen, or

Albrecht Durer's Fall of Man

Fall of Man by Albrecht Durer, Engraving 1504. Shared among a number of ancient mythologies, man fell after eating a forbidden fruit – the female is depicted giving the fruit to the male figure. This has long solidified the woman’s place in religion as the lesser.

sinful ) and that religion X, Y, or Z has the cure.

A modern equivalent to this is having a vacuum cleaner salesman come to your door, show you how dirty your carpet is, and then explain to you how their vacuum (and only their vacuum) can clean it properly with a demonstration of it’s amazing sucking power!  Had you never met this salesman you would have kept using your old vacuum cleaner, never knowing that it was inadequate or that your carpet was a breeding ground for dust mites – and so you would have been happy, but ignorant.  While this technique of identifying a problem you didn’t know you had and selling you the solution works great for vacuums and other demonstrable devices – it’s absolutely terrible for religion, wherein there are no adequate demonstrations as to the veracity of the claims being made.

The sales aspect aside, how terrible is it that we allow men from stages to tell us that we are vile creatures – destined for one form of punishment or another if we don’t abide by a given set of principles? What terror could this perform on our individual and collective psyche as we, generation after generation, continue to believe that we have something wrong with us that needs to be fixed by god?

“If all this isn’t true, what harm is there?” – well, you should be overjoyed if it isn’t true and you aren’t the scum of the Earth!

3. Religion promises us eternity

Scarcity increases value – we all remember that from our high school economics class right? If you don’t, it’s one of the driving factors behind capitalism and it’s the basic premise that the less of something you have the more valuable that something is. Markets  and commodity prices are driven on the premise of scarcity and demand.

The one thing we all know is that we have a limited number of is days to live, however, nearly every religion in the world promises some extension of life into eternity.  When life is no longer 70-100 years long and is instead infinity long days are no longer scarce – this translates into a lack of value for your own life, the lives of others, and the future of the planet.

Those convinced that they are going to live for eternity or that a great apocalypse is soon to come are far less likely to believe that it’s important to preserve the planet, seek out cures for disease, or spend their limited time on earth doing good for people that don’t believe like they do – instead, they’ll spend their time trying to convince others that they must believe like they do, or else.

 

The Dangers of Religion – Fundamentalism

When we take these three things and combine them into a single person – a person who believes he’s been given all the answers to life’s difficult questions , who believes that although he may be a sinner he’s been saved and sanctified – maybe even chosen by god, and who believes that he’s been promised eternity in exchange for a life devoted to his religion’s message – we get a person who is more than likely to be detached from reality.  The mere existence of religion and the fact that these fundamental elements are necessary in order for religion to exist and to spread make fundamentalism a trait that is frighteningly common in our modern world.

While many good, reasonable, intelligent, and loving Christians and Muslims may exist who are moderates in our society, and while they may even be in the majority of their respective faiths – their respect of these basic fundamentals gives credence to them, which paves the way for more dangerous and more viral forms.

A better society, a truly secular society, must be compelled by evidence to believe, must embrace it’s goodness, and must act today to save tomorrow.

White-Privilege-AMEX

Recognizing my White Privilege

White Privilege – many deny it’s existence, unaware that the leg up they’ve received in their own lives simply because they’ve been born with the right skintone – yet in the wake of Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, 12 year old Tamir Rice’s murder in Cleveland, and Eric Garner’s murder at the hands of police in New York many other whites are still having a hard time recognizing their own white privilege.

While I personally posses a trifecta of privilege – being straight, white, and male – I cannot deny that white privilege has probably been the most beneficial to me throughout my life, and most detrimental to my black counterparts throughout theirs.

Defining White Privilege

“Experts define White privilege as a combination of exclusive standards and opinions that are supported by Whites in a way that continually reinforces social distance between groups on the basis of power, access, advantage, majority status, control, choice, autonomy, authority, possessions, wealth, opportunity, materialistic acquisition, connection, access, preferential treatment, entitlement, and social standing (Hays & Chang, 2003; Manning & Baruth, 2009).”

Vang, C. T. (2010), An educational psychology of methods in multicultural education, New York: Peter Lang, pp. 36 and 37, ISBN 978-1-4331-0790-0

 

 

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Why I’m an Atheist Activist in the Deep South

The Historic Train Depot in Eastman Georgia Copyright jOgdenC 2014 on Flickr

The Historic Train Depot in Eastman Georgia Copyright jOgdenC 2014

 

There are a couple things everyone assumes about the people they meet here in the town of Eastman, Georgia; you probably vote Republican, and you probably self identify as a Christian; whether or not there is any evidence of that identification in your life. Eastman is your typical small town in the deep South, complete with a history of dirty politicsa long one, a ratio of people to churches that makes Vatican City look secular, and a general fear of progressive values which keeps our economy lagging behind larger cities (Like Blue laws which prevent bars and fine dining establishments from opening).

These things aside, I actually like my town – it’s generally quiet and I feel safe here. I like most of the people here and I have a growing business that I’m proud of with a client base ranging from the most affluent individuals and businesses to those individuals you would consider the most in need. I’m well known, both as a business owner and as an outspoken atheist activist that stands up for what he believes in – and despite the latter, I gather that I’m actually fairly well liked. Most of the people here are nice, and even in the things we disagree about they are well meaning in their endeavors and beliefs and most people here aren’t your stereotypical mouth breathing “rednecks” who can’t put together a coherent sentence to save their life. We have incredible teachers in our schools who are dedicated and who break their necks to educate with the resources they have who I believe lend to the “Yankee’s” surprise when they hear us use complex language and ideas.

Regardless of what I believe I’ve always found myself at odds, in some ways, with my community.  Some of my rebellious nature has waned as I’ve aged and matured, but I’ve always felt a need to stand as a representative for some form of social justice and of rightness in the ways that I can – even if those ways were misguided in the past, I’ve never been afraid to say unpopular things in sometimes unpopular ways, though I believe I’ve progressed in the way I present myself over the years and honed my approach toward my community, which has helped me build more good relationships than bad ones.

The question still remains –  why, would I ever become such an outspoken atheist activist in the Deep South knowing full well that it might prevent me from ever finding another job, expanding my business, or becoming any more than a social pariah? Why would I take such a risk.

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Grief and the loss of your faith

Moving Mountains

A poem written while reflecting on the loss of faith and the beginnings of my own personal grief.

This particular post is being written with the ex-christian and ex-believer who has embraced atheism or agnosticism in lieu of their former faith. This is done because this is where my best experience lies, however – for those that leave their faith for another many of these same words will ring true, and so I hope you will still read and take from it what you can – and share with me your own experiences if you are so willing.  I don’t write in this way to alienate anyone and I hope my words don’t do so – my goal is to provide those experiencing these emotions with some feeling of normalcy over what is happening and an understanding that they are not alone.
 
 

A couple days ago Neil Carter over at Patheos’ Godless in Dixie (Which is currently my favorite atheist blog btw) was gracious enough to use one of my posts from 2011 as a guest post on his very popular blog. That post, entitled “It Get’s Better: A Letter to Doubters” has made the round a number of times since I originally published it 4 years ago now and I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to follow up on it in some fashion, if you haven’t read it – I recommend you do. The emails and comments I’ve received since it’s appearance on Godless in Dixie have confirmed that need more than ever – and so today I want to discuss the process of grief and the loss of your faith.

The Death of Faith

Traditionally grief is a process that occurs after the death of a loved one and for many in the ex-christian and ex-believer communities the loss of their faith is very similar to the death of a loved one. I personally believe that just how death-like this process might be depends on how sincere and life consuming one’s faith has been – but even the nominal believer will experience the symptoms of loss when recognizing that he or she no longer holds the same beliefs that once rang true.  In other words – the devotion you have to your god or faith will be directly proportional to the pain you will feel as that faith dies.

This faith death is often spurred by a series of realizations, often the embracing of doubts that have long been quieted by the desire to leave well enough alone. Whether it be a recognition that  your particular holy book doesn’t meet the criteria for evidence and truth that you once thought it did, or  the epiphany that your own cognitive biases have held you in a belief system that new information simply can no longer reconcile. Whatever the reason and however abruptly or agonizingly long this death takes to occur the end result will seem very confusing and difficult to explain – most people say that they feel alone in the world and, despite a sense of data overload that accompanies all the new information coming to you about the faith you no longer hold, a sense of quietness that seems unlike any other that you may have experienced before.

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Debating God In The Bible Belt

Some months ago I was contacted via email by the organizers of the God or No God Debate and issued a challenge to debate the topic of God in the town of Waycross, GA – about 2 hours from my home town. Public forum debate is not a common occurrence around here, this is the buckle of the Bible Belt and that most people believe in God is a foregone conclusion – in fact, the most common question I got for years after coming out as an atheist in my town was whether or not I worshiped Satan (we don’t, by the way).

To say this invitation/challenge came as a surprise was an understatement, but if anyone knows me you know that I’m always up for a discussion or a debate – and so I immediately said yes, and we began settling on a time and a topic.

On Wednesday, September 17th my wife and I traveled to Waycross to meet the organizers at the middle school’s auditorium (It’s a very nice auditorium for plays and school events) and Pastor Rip Snow to debate the topic we decided earlier:  God or No God: Which Explains Reality?

There was a fairly standard format of two 15 minute opening statements, two 10 minute counters, a 15 minute cross-examination period, and two 10 minute closing statements followed by 35 minutes of audience Q & A, all of which is available below. (A few parts had to be removed from the Q & A due to one disruptive participant.)

(Please note:  The audio and video gets better at the 10 minute mark, my apologies)

I’ll probably post my own critique later, both of my own arguments and presentation – and a further critique of things I didn’t have time to deal with of Rip’s arguments. For now, I submit this for your approval, commentary, and for you to critique as much as you like – so long as you do so with as much respect as possible.

The Day I Gave Up My Hindu Faith

Krishna

Today we have another episode of “Your Stories”. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post one of these, but this one comes from a friend of mine who shared this on his Medium account – when I read it I knew I had to share it with my own readers and help them follow the posts he’ll be using to follow up from this one. So please, follow my friend Prashant Patel on Medium so that you can read the next in this series as I’m positive they’ll be informative posts that you can reflect on and identify with. While Prashant is an ex-Hindu turned atheist – people from any religious background should recognize many of the same feelings portrayed here.

This was originally posted on Prashant’s Medium Page Here.

I’m writing this to explain why I moved on from my religion. I have been asked many times about how it happened and I often think about this most when I think of the event that pushed me over the edge. So here’s that event and the context. In the future, I’ll be writing about what effect this has had on my life and what it could mean for you should you also be questioning your own faith.

The Context

So first of all, it didn’t really all happen in one day. For me, it was gradual with some major turning point along the way (I suspect the same is true for many people who change some important viewpoint they hold). My major turning point was September 27, 2003 (11 years ago today).

It all really began a few years before that day. Our temple had youth education known as Balvihar (it’s pretty much like Bible study or Sunday school for Hindus). Younger children were regaled with various religious mythology and how the heroes of history overcame the evils that threatened our world. As we got older, we were moved into a different group where we sat with a respected member of our community and discussed various religious texts we had been assigned to read. Our discussions often focused on why we maintained certain traditions and held certain beliefs. These discussions are what led to my first debates about my faith. I’m purposely not going into details because you already know the problems with major religions and it won’t add anything to this story. Anyhow, these debates were the tremors leading up to the earthquake that was September 27, 2003.

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Four Refutations for Pascal’s Wager

Pascal's Wager Word CloudOne of the most common and over used defenses for the Christian faith, and any faith really, is that of Pacal’s Wager – It’s so common and so overused that I was recently on the receiving end of it at a live formal debate (GodornoGodDebate.com). A lot of people, despite hearing it all the time and despite the obvious logical fallacies employed – still have a difficult time answering it, and so I present to you four refutations for Pascal’s Wager.

Defining Pascal’s Wager

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French child prodigy, mathemetician, and physicist – who invented one of the first mechanical calculators. Toward the end of his short life he turned to Christian philosophy and his most famous contribution is  known today as Pascal’s Wager. I’ll not bother to go into the deeper background of the wager – as no one ever presents it the way Pascal actually did, but I’m going to present the Wager in the same way it’s always been posited to me:

“What if you are wrong?”

or

“If I’m right I go to heaven and you go to hell. If you are right we are both worm food – why wouldn’t you just believe what I believe to be on the safe side?”

These are generally the basic premises presented, with little deviation. Now, what are my refutations for Pascal’s Wager?

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On Abortion

hanger

I go into this subject with some trepidation and great fear – because I believe so strongly in women’s rights and their rights to make decisions about their own bodies I do support a woman’s right to access to abortion and I’ve even counseled close friends of mine to do so.  I do consider myself to be a feminist, after this I may be drug up to a cross and not have any hope of coming down but I have to address this now – I have to talk abortion right now, as a man.

 

Caution: reading beyond this point may be difficult for some readers, and young readers. Please use your own discretion before you click through.

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What You Lose when Losing Your Religion

losing-my-religon-vibe

Neil Carter, over at Godless In Dixie recently wrote a great piece on what he gained when he left his religion which inspired me to consider all that I’ve lost in losing my religion. There are, inherently, a lot of built in benefits to holding to religion and maintaining a religious belief – especially if that belief is the predominant one in your community, country, or family but I find this idea largely unexplored by atheist and ex-christian writers. Losing your religion has lots of pro’s and con’s considering your particular station in life – so, what might you lose?

1: An immediate and supportive community.

Within most religions and Christianity especially there are strong communities built around churches. Stepping away from the faith meant that I was a leper in my former community, where I could call someone for help anytime I needed it and had built in job references from people that had known me for many years. I had people that, so long as what I had to say was approved, would stand behind me and support me.

There are supportive atheist communities  out there, that’s important to note, but they are small and struggling to grow in small towns like mine. It’s just not the same as having hundreds of people in support of one another (again, so long as the message isn’t deviated from) the minute you join a church and become an active member. The effort required to have huge amounts of built in friends is incredibly low – as an atheist in a small town, especially as the type of atheist that is active in the community, it takes a great deal of work and networking to build any sort of clout with people.  (As a small business owner, this is incredibly important.)

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Mailbag – Why Did You Leave the Church?

mailbag

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, that’s largely because I’ve been preparing for a live debate coming up on September 17th between myself and Rip Snow in Waycross, GA. Go to www.GodorNoGoddebate.com for more information on that.

 

I thought I should probably try to push out a little bit of interesting content none-the-less since all of the stuff I’m currently working on is into the 3000+ word area and nowhere near complete (Running a growing business and having a full-time job leaves me with very little time for writing). That said, I thought I’d open up a new section called The Mailbag – where you can submit questions or comments and I’ll respond.

 

To submit something to the mailbag either tweet me @Revoxley using the hashtag #mailbag or submit it through the Contact Me form.


 

Today’s mailbag comes from a Facebook message from Clint W.

Clint W. writes:

 

My question was why did you leave the church, because of who Jesus is or because of who the church is? I can see someone being disillusioned with the church because of people in the church but I have never seen anything Jesus does in scripture to make me even considering leaving the faith. Matter of fact with the words of Christ I have such an understanding of how much we as the church miss the mark. But it also makes me strive to be able to serve him the best I can.

 

Thanks for writing Clint. I get that more often than you might think – and the honest answer to the question is that I left the faith because of who Jesus wasn’t. Or, better yet – because I simply couldn’t believe in who the Bible claimed he was. Don’t get me wrong, I had suffered a great deal of disappointment at the hands of Christians – but I always tried my best not to judge the faith by the faithful. I still do. As I studied and got deeper into an understanding of the Bible I realized that so many of the claims around Jesus were simply unsubstantiated, and I was unable to maintain any faith in him or in God at all.

 
I simply don’t believe that there are any credible accounts for Jesus’ life. So, none of the written accounts are credible enough to believe – and because of that I find it impossible to hold Jesus in the position that I once did. Whether or not the authors of the synoptic gospels believed that Jesus was Lord is irrelevant, because their accounts aren’t trustworthy since they weren’t written down until at least 30 years after his alleged death, so I don’t have a reason to believe the story they tell.

 

Whether or not Jesus was even a real person is a better starting point than whether or not the accepted Christology of Jesus is true today, but we are expected to take the word of scribes who probably never met the man and who had their own agendas to push about who he was.  I also find that the Jesus that Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about is generally different than the Jesus talked about in John and that Paul believed in – the latter being the focal point of Catholic Christology at the Nicene Council and still largely accepted to this day.

 

The fact of the matter is that I truly wanted to believe in Christ more than anything on the planet, most notably while I was losing my faith, but after enough time I just couldn’t and nothing I did – no amount of prayer or study could fix it. I had to eventually become OK with that fact, and I am.

Thanks again, and remember that you can submit something to the mailbag either tweet me @Revoxley using the hashtag #mailbag or submit it through the Contact Me form.  While you’re at it subscribe to my new YouTube channel – I’m working on lots of new content right now.