Bad Reasons for Rejecting Christianity

I make it a habit to read any book that a Christian is willing to purchase and send to me, or at least to give it a shot. A few months ago a local Christian youth pastor gave me a copy of the book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller, I began reading it a couple weeks ago.

I’m only about six chapters into it so far but the first few chapters have left me with a certain notion that perhaps many Christians don’t quite understand why it is that people find themselves capable of rejecting their particular brand of god. These first few chapters contain rebuttals by Mr. Keller to common objections to the faith that he hears at his church in NYC and so far all of these objections have been superficial at best.

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The Appeal of Holy Books

Fred Phelps, the repugnant leader of Westboro Baptist Church and the  “God Hates Fags” protests at fallen soldiers funerals has one thing in common with Martin Luther King Jr., the most important figure in the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s who died in pursuit of equal rights and treatment of all people. That one thing they held in common was that they both believe(d) that the Bible is the Word of God.

There aren’t two people that I can say are more different than these men, yet they are both believers in this supposed “holy” book and consider it the inspiration for their life’s work.  How can two people so unquestionably opposed to one another in every way believe that this book is inspired by their same god?

From the outside looking in it can be rather bizarre for the non-believer to understand why books like the Bible and the Qur’an hold such wide appeal, so much so that they are  the most printed books in the history of print and because so many people have faith in their words they are the most trusted and believed works of all time. What drives people to these books? Is it simply the tradition or do they hold some great advantage over other books to embed themselves into societies?  Most surely it’s a combination of things, but I’d like to examine why it is that the books are so beloved as well as why such seemingly different people can and do adhere to the same texts.

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Book Review: God No! by Penn Jillette

 Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, recently release his new book entitled God No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales that I believe to be a great addition to the atheists library.

I purchased this book because I’ve been a big fan of Penn Jillette, Teller, their show Bullshit!, their magic acts, and Penn Says. Naturally I’m going to be drawn to his writing.  On top of all that, Penn Jillette is my unmistakeable doppelganger. Multiple times every week I get someone coming up to me and saying, “You know you who look like?” and I always say “Yea” – they proceed to tell me that I look like that Penn guy, you know, that Magician from Las Vegas. We’ve got the same hair, same build, similar facial structure, same glasses, same goatee…I swear it was never intentional, it just happened. Honest. We are both very, very sexy men.

God No! initially caught me off guard a bit. I expected philosophical and scientific musings explaining why Penn didn’t believe in a god and why belief in god was outdated and outmoded as a way of life for the human race in the style of Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.  What I got instead was a collection of very personal stories about family, friends, sexual exploits, and freedom all of which conveniently tied into an atheistic interpretation of one or more of the 10 Commandments. Though it wasn’t what I expected, I’m glad that this is how the book was presented and in the end I wouldn’t change anything about it.

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Truth over comfort

Truth over Comfort

Comfortable lies often lead us to faulty beliefs because comfort is valued more than truth. The question is, would you – or I – choose truth over comfort?

My last post talked about the very clear deception that occurs in Charismatic Christian churches, it was the truth but when I began recognizing this truth it was anything but comfortable.

Comfort, in my own words, is when your understanding of the world is something you are OK with. It’s when your way of seeing the world doesn’t have to be changed by anything because it doesn’t conflict with the way you want the world to be. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that a life of faith doesn’t have it’s challenges – what with denying your carnal desires and working to please the man in the sky all of your life – it’s tough for many that care enough to pursue it fully – but the idea of an afterlife of niceties kind of outweighs those cons.

I’ve always valued Truth…so much that I’ve often capitalized it as if the word Truth were just as good as the word God (actually, it’s better), the way I determine what is true has changed dramatically though; as I used to believe that if the Bible said it that it must be Truth. I didn’t even have to question that conclusion, my faith allowed for that to be so…it was comfortable to me and I had no reason to question it.

I remember when I first started feeling my doubts, it was very uncomfortable – kinda like sleeping on a bed of nails uncomfortable, it won’t kill you but it’s not a Serta™. It was at that point that I had to make a decision:  I could hush my doubts and try to forget that they had ever began…I could be comfortable where I was before or I could embrace the standard of evidence that I had been fully aware existed but ignored most of my life – I could pursue Truth despite comfort.  I didn’t know where it would lead me, I never expected to become an atheist but without fully knowing what the consequences would be – I told myself that it was Truth that I wanted, even if it hurt.

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Christian Charismatic: Debunking Experiences with God

People "Slain in the Spirit" at a Pentecostal church service - one of many Christian Charismatic movements

People “Slain in the Spirit” at a Pentecostal church service – one of many Christian Charismatic movements

There seems to be a modern resurgence of the Christian charismatic movement that is focused largely on evangelizing young people, hyper-emotional worship services, and “experiences” with the “Holy Spirit”. The kids these new ministries are reaching out for are largely between the ages of 10 and 18 and tend to take on a very “Jesus Camp” like atmosphere.  Some of the trends I’ve seen in these groups I find rather disturbing because of my own past experience with similar groups.

When I was little (between 6 and 10 if my memory serves correctly),  I attended a Charismatic Pentecostal church – of the  Church of God denomination. There was always the typical fire-breathing and fear mongering but with that was coupled this amazing experience….what I was told to believe was the result of God’s “Holy Spirit”, the third person of the Hypostatic Union – or Trinity that identifies the currently “orthodox” Christian deity.  The experience was amazing, for lack of a better word. I remember this feeling of euphoria as I begged God to bless me with his physical presence – a heat would overwhelm my body,  I shook uncontrollably, cried tears of joy, and sometimes when the pastor or evangelist would pray with me directly lost the ability to stay on my two feet – a phenomena called being “Slain in the Spirit“.  These experiences were magnified when I would attend a yearly summer camp – it was like a week long Christian charismatic church service – kinda like the one in this video except with mostly kids under the age of 12 and in a dark room with a full light show like at a rock concert:

 

*Watch this whole video, an excerpt from Jesus camp – it’s something important for people to see.

These experiences, for many many years, solidified my belief in god – they were physical evidences of spiritual truths that my god had gifted me with the ability to experience.  I still remember them strongly and I still feel that immense “heart tug” when I hear the sort of worship music that was present during those times…if ever an atmosphere was ripe for manipulation of young minds it was this one and I was it’s victim.

Today I’m not really writing to tell my story – I’m writing to try to explain the dangers of experiences like these pose to young people and how some of these youth will ultimately be let down by these experiences and why they, as great as they may seem, are the result of psychosomatic responses to emotional over-stimulation.

 

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Proof and Evidence

I recently witnessed an assertion about proving god’s existence to atheists by a Christian that made the following claim:

Ask 1000 people what proof/demonstration by God it would take to belief in Him and you may get 1000 different responses. At the end of the day each person has different doubts and needs, and their proof of God’s existence will be different to meet their needs.  ~Anonymous

I think statements like these highlight the fundamental difference between a person that talks about evidence and proof, and a person that actually knows what evidence and proof actually are.

Proof and evidence aren’t words that can simply be exchanged for each persons perspective. Something either proves a hypothesis or it doesn’t so if the data analysis from two different people determines that the evidence either proves or doesn’t prove something one or both are incorrectly analyzing the data.

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Religion Founded on Fear

Fear is one of our most base emotional responses that expose the core of our evolutionary survivalist instincts, which is why it is unsurprising to me that it is often one of the most easily manipulated emotions when evangelism occurs or when we try to seek out the things that we will be devoted to in any major way.

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Strange Double Standards

I get witnessed to fairly frequently which is absolutely to be expected as an outspoken atheist here in the South. Generally I don’t mind when someone wants to share with me their version of the gospel. I don’t mind it in the least so long as the individual taking the time to tell me the “Truth” is also willing to listen to what I have to say in regards to that “Truth”.   You see, I believe that if you are willing to share your faith with people (as Jesus commands in Mark 16) that you should also be willing to hear criticisms of that faith. It’s a simple trade really; most Christians are happy to tell me that I’ll go to hell for eternity if I don’t accept their brand of the faith so I should be allowed to criticize the faith that they get those beliefs from.

Even when a young evangelical does his or her best to avoid terms like Hell  and damnation there are certain underlying tones of the Gospel; that I along with everyone ever born am fully depraved and unworthy of salvation, or that there is actually something that I need to be saved from that though not as blatant in their attempt are still just as insulting to the human mind as more confrontational fire and brimstone tactics. Virtually any sort of evangelism being exacted upon myself is grounds for challenge. This should go without saying.

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Competing Definitions of Orthodoxy

With the recent mania surrounding Harold Camping’s failed rapture prophecy, Christianity has been in the media spotlight a little more than normal.  If you somehow missed the media blitz surrounding yet another failed prophecy of Jesus’ glorious (and terrible) return – Harold Camping used his small media/radio empire familyradio.com in order to promote his unquestioning belief that Jesus Christ would return to earth on May 21st, 2011 – he claimed to know this using a strange combination of Numerology and the Bible. He and his followers have spent an excess of 200 Million dollars buying billboards, radio ads, internet ads and other assorted media – many of them selling their homes and depleting their savings accounts in order to pursue the goal of “sounding the warning trumpet”.

Though this event unsurprisingly gained meme status among the atheist crowd, many were surprised to see that a number of Christians also had a tendency to mock Camping and his followers.  As a former Christian, I actually understand this entirely. Like many others, I know that the Bible has many references to man’s inability to know the date of Christ’s alleged return. For the most part, this is an accepted orthodox position.  However, with hindsight comes understanding, and though I likely would have ridiculed Camping as a Christian I now have to look at him and all Christians in a different light.

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Rules of Engagement

I don’t particularly like to use terms of war when I discuss what I call Positive Atheism – or activist atheism if you will. In this case I find it rather difficult to find a better term to use, but to be crystal clear, this post is in no way a call to arms or a declaration of war. This is a discussion about engagement in the form of intellectual and philosophical discussions and debates. (I don’t want there to be ANY confusion here – or any opportunity for the less scrupulous individual to make claims that might hinder reason or falsely indicate a “war mentality” here.)
In a previous post, from what seems like forever ago, I discussed what I felt was a moral obligation on my part to reduce faith and increase understanding. In this post I intend to talk about the Rules of Engagement that I have developed when engaging in these sorts of discussions. These are my personal rules, some may not find these necessary – but for me it draws a line in the sand as to what conversations are worthy of my time and attention, as I have a tendency toward extremes. If at least one of the following criteria are not met, I won’t bother engaging.

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