Tag Archives: atheism

Mmm, smells like scorched earth!

So, there’s a bit of drama going on in atheist circles dubbed “gelatogate.” The Angry Astronomer has a decent, and not very angry, explanation of the deal on his blog; but in brief, here’s the deal:

Christian local businessman pops over to the annual free “Skepticon” conference to see what’s going on. Thinking, understandably so, that it might be all about skepticism on UFOs and ghosts and whatnot (which it somewhat is), he’s treated to a few minutes of Sam Singleton’s parody act of a holy-roller revivalist sermon, not promoting gettin’ saved, but parodying religion and promoting skeptical atheism — and the crowd participating in the parody by, not yelling “amen!,” but rather “goddam!”

So, said Christian businessman runs over to his neighboring gelato and smoothie business and posts a sign reading:

“Skepticon is not welcomed to my Christian business,

where it remains for anywhere between 10 minutes (he says) and two hours (others say), possibly violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The near immediate result? Atheists with access to the Intertubes (purt near ev’rybody), went apoplectic and completely decimated his online rankings on such social media services as Urbanspoon, Yelp, and Google reviews. I mean, decimated. (Although, will taking a store’s ranking down to 1 star, or 5%, or whatever on one of these, really harm a business? Especially in a town that’s not very social media savvy? Meh, doubt it. But it’s still something that would make a struggling businessperson’s stomach turn to water.)

So, he posted an notpology on his Web page: a very thinly veiled “please lay off, m’kay?!” apology. After that made the rounds of critical mockery, he posted an extensive and reasonably sincere-sounding apology over on Reddit, where his infamy across the world was begat. Some atheism/skepticism bigwigs and muckymucks accepted the apology. Others did not. Boy-howdy, did they not. And this is where my opinions on the matter begin….

As this drama played out, plot twist by plot twist, my own views changed somewhat with each new development.

  • Posted the sign: I freaked-the-flip out.
  • I learned he posted it after watching some undeniably inflammatory and reverse-offensive Sam Singleton: I nodded my head sagely and with tee-pee’ed fingers murmuring, “Indeed. Quite understandable, wot!”
  • The notpology: “OMG hes such a lyingjerk!!1!”
  • The full apology: “Ah, good show, old bean!”
  • JT Eberhard’s non-acceptance: “Yeah! Totally! We ride!… whoa… wait a second… Really?”

See, JT Eberhard’s a quickly-growing muckymuck of atheism in his own right. He’s the driving force for the first three years of Skepticon and is a very vocal opponent, and mockerizer, of religion. And nearly all the time I agree with nearly everything he posts (although, I find his frequent use of profanity completely unnecessary and juvanile… but whatchya gonna do). Yet, I’ve decided that in this late stage of this already getting old issue, his approach (the first “non-acceptance” post linked above, and his ironically-titled follow-up: “We Have No Choice But To Invade Gelato Mio” is wrong and likely do to far more harm than good. (But FSM help the person who tries to suggest JT might be wrong about something, unless you already happen to be in his inner-circle of friends. You take your metaphorical life in your hands. But, here goes….)

There is a time and a place and a need for bulldog firebrands. And, in JT’s day job, I rather think his style of take-no-prisoners scorched-earth approach is necessary! As he’s “a campus organizer and high school specialist with the Secular Student Alliance,” I believe he has to work on a daily basis dealing with some absolutely terrible bigotry from people in positions of unquestioned authority toward kids who have little to no defense against the religious intolerance they face. He has to defend students’ rights, legal and ethical, to express their beliefs and even form legally-allowed student clubs and associations which are constantly under attack from school administrators. Atheist students, especially those still in the closet and in much need of vocal and voracious support, need people like JT and his “give no quarter” single-mindedness. And I celebrate him for it!

But, there’s also a need, and a time and a place, for choosing one’s battles, deciding when discretion is the better part of valor, and allowing the “enemy” to slink away with a noggin-bump, instead of nuking them from orbit and then salting the earth for good measure. Yes yes, I know, JT’s actual demands are:

“Tell me bigotry is unacceptable.  Tell me offense is not the same as breathing life into prejudice.  Tell me that punishing somebody for disagreeing with you or thinking your beliefs are silly is immoral.  And tell me you will make a donation that will actually help make the world a better place rather than inviting us to patronize your business for an insignificant discount.”

…and they’re not unreasonable demands, really. (Well, there’s valid debate over whether demanding a struggling small business owner [who is likely in great debt and probably not even paying himself a wage — if the average situation of small business owners is applicable in this guy’s case] make a large personal donation is unreasonable or not. Although, I can see how that 10% discount the guy’s offering might be seen as patronizing and a cynical ploy to simply help his business.)

But it’s not just the demands themselves as much as it’s the inflammatory approach and words JT uses. The demeanor, the tone, the insults, the mockery he uses, feels to me less like a noble battle, and more like curb-stomping the local bully after getting a lucky break and jumping him when his back was turned. And while in the battlefield of protecting students from bigoted school boards and principals and teachers, for the sake of establishing proper laws and rules and making sure they’re enforced, one does not concede the battle until the other side gives unconditional surrender. But in the battlefield of public opinion, media, the general public, that approach does the atheist “movement” far more harm than any possible good.

In the minds of the general public, they see a situation where a local businessman does something, and are shown by the outraged minority that the something was discriminatory and bigoted, we now have the upper hand. We now are seen by many people as having rights and that there is discrimination that goes on, and the general public (including liberal Christians), now have the seed planted in their head that discrimination’s not cool and we’ll call them on it. They themselves may not disagree with the bigotry, but at least they may be thinking about the repercussions of it and may even be questioning the bigotry itself as something they never really thought about before. It’s not a big win, but it’s progress.

Then, the guy apologizes, and the atheist community at-large generally, and publicly, accepts it. What happens? The general public and the liberal Christians have their preconceptions of the angry, religion-hating atheist challenged! We’re shown as reasonable, ethical, diplomatic, and perhaps even calmer and more sane than your average holier-than-thou religious leader and spokesperson who appears on FOX News. Now they’re more willing to listen to what we have to say, to consider our positions, to truly rethink their bigotry and not just the outward acts of discrimination. Now they’re willing to concede issues and work with us in other issues.

But then, what happens when prominent atheist spokespersons demand heads on spikes? (Metaphorically.) The walls redouble in size, the shields go to maximum, and the us-versus-them mentality is reinforced. The general public and the liberal Christian (which, really, by and large, are greatly overlapping Venn Diagram circles), believe their preconceptions are well-founded and continue to ignore our valid complaints and criticisms.

If we let this one bigoted business owner go, probably not having had a real change of heart but just a show of one, what do we really lose? If we accept his sincere-sounding apology and let him off with tail tucked between his legs and a stern “Okay, off with you — but we’ll be watching,” is that really so terrible if it means we gain great PR and the willing and open ear of millions of other people? So he’s not beaten into submission — but will anything we do really, possibly, change his “heart”? Do we seriously think that we can possibly convince this guy he was truly wrong by continuing to berate and insult and bash him and demand things of him? Will that make him, and many like him, watching this, see the light? Have a true conversion?

No, it will not. No amount of continued battle against him will truly change him or others, and will only harden them all to us. But diplomacy, some forgiveness, leniency, will not only be more productive to our cause in the long run and on a wider scale, but may actually do more good in setting this guy on a path to the real and sincere atonement that is currently being demanded at the point of a verbal spear.

*blog post image taken from this lifehacker post: “Venting Frustration Will Only Make Your Anger Worse.”

Response to Deceptive Leafleteers, and Christianity in General

Okay, forget what I previous wrote about Bertrand Russell. In fact, forget everything I’ve written here about religion. One of the best responses I’ve read to evangelicals and their tactics and arguments is this one I came across on Facebook today by a fellow named Conrad Hudson. Below is his post:

Deceptive Campus Leafleteers

Was feeling feisty today so stopped to reprimand some street preachers who were giving out information on Jesus under false pretenses. If your message is that good, you shouldn’t have to deceive to spread it. The first one took his tongue-lashing with dignity and silence. The second one to stop me only wishes he did. You asked for the story, here it is.

 

 

Guy A:  “Would you like a basketball schedule?”

When I turn this over, it looks like a religious document. Why did you offer me a basketball schedule and then give me a religious document?

 

“Because it’s important.”

If it’s so important, why didn’t you offer it to me directly? Why did you try and sneak your message in on the back of something else?

 

“Because then people wouldn’t take it.”

Yes exactly. And yet you have today decided that I don’t have the mental capacity to make my own decisions on what I do and don’t want. You’ve taken position of arrogance that you know so much better than I, what I need, that you’d rather trick me in to chancing upon your information than give me a chance to make my own decision. Can you see why I might find that disrespectful to me and my fellow students?

 

“Uh”

Further, if this message is so important, if it truly is backed up by evidence, if it bears fruit in the lives of those who embrace it, then it should be able to stand up on its own. The message of God shouldn’t need to trojan horse to be considered by his own creation.

 

“Silence”

You’re not here to help give me information about the basketball season, you’re taking advantage of my desire for that information to give me something else, something you want to give me, but haven’t given me an honest proposal which I can decide on. If you were a business that would be called bait-and-switch, and it would be illegal. But you’re not selling anything, so it’s not illegal, it’s just dishonest, and frankly hypocritical for a follower of a diety who commands truthfulness. I think these issues are important, and I like talking about them, but I’m not going to take your information because I don’t appreciate the way you’re approaching my campus.

 

“Ok”

Stay warm, and take care.

 

And I walked off.  Then, this other guy starts making eye contact with me at the other end of the block. I don’t cross the street on my own campus to avoid people, and they were over there anyway.

Guy B: “Hi there, would you like a basketball schedule?”

No, I wouldn’t, and as I explained to your friend, here’s why….lists off an abbreviated version of the above.

 

“Can I show you a scripture that explains why I’m doing this?”

Sure

 

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. – John 5:24 so it says here that God gave us the Bible so that we could have everlasting life.”

Ok, that’s very nice that he said that’s why he wrote the Bible, but if another book also says it was written so I could have everlasting life, how do I know which one is true? What evidence should I base that judgment  on? Isn’t it reasonable to expect evidence to be available in order to decide which book or claim to put faith in? You would probably say that God gave you the ability to reason, so would you agree with Thomas Jefferson who once said, “Question with boldness, “Question with boldness, even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the [the use of] of reason, than that of blind-folded fear” or faith?”

 

“Do you believe in God? How about Heaven or Hell?”

  No

 

“Can I ask how you came to not believe?”

Sure, I found a lot of things that made sense if God existed, it explained a lot of mysteries, but there were some things that didn’t quite fit with the real world too. So I started looking, not for things that I could fit in to the assumption of God’s existence, which there were plenty, but for evidence that implied God did actually exist, specifically and necessarily. I didn’t find any, so I decided that belief was unjustified.

 

“Can I share some more information with you?”

If it’s that evidence that God does exist that I mentioned earlier, I would be most excited to hear it, yes please!

 

Proceeds to try and claim the bible’s internal writing prove it’s divinity. 

Freshly armed with historical facts from Dave Muscato’s talk at SOMA, I proceed to rip each argument apart, and growing weary of countering each argument as it was brought up in response to the previous one’s failure, got him to admit that:

a) The fact that Darth Vader’s rise to power was prophesied by the Jedi does not mean the Star War’s canon is real

b) Harry Potter’s internal consistency and the accuracy of its manuscript to the author’s intent is not good evidence for its reality.

c) The age of the Iliad does not justify using it to create a belief system

d) His evidence was no better than theirs

 

Sooooo, let’s try and get back to the original question, do you have any evidence that I should accept the proposition of God, Heaven, and Hell?

 

Of course he wanted to try more and more approaches instead of admitting he didn’t have any evidence, so I took the opportunity to force him to admit the following, none of which he was happy about but was forced to concede because they were based on his own words and flowed naturally from his attempts to defend the Bible’s contents. 

 

a) God is really emotional sometimes, and his temper get’s away from him and needs to be talked down

 

b) We are more loving than God. The Bible says 1) God is love 2) love is not jealous 3)God is a jealous god. So we are expected to love our fellow human beings more deeply than God loves us, because he embodies only the agape form of love and does not hold the full range of positive feelings toward us that other forms of love require.

 

c) God’s patience with the men, women and children murdered and the virgins raped by the Israelites was slightly less than it currently is with us. A patience that apparently causes him to do absolutely nothing for more than 2000 years despite promising to be basically “right back” (Matthew 16:27-28)

 

d) Jesus was not that worried about keeping families together nor advocating peace. Having previously insisted that not a single thing in the bible was metaphor or figurative, he simply promised to look in to this passage in Mathew 10:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father,  a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

 

e) He would never punish his child with fire, death, or permanent shunning, based on whether or not they choose to obey, even if he had provided a way to avoid it, he would not continue to stoke a fire in his house for the express purpose of irreversable punishment but God is just to do so.

 

f) God created hell, and continues to allow it’s existence for the express purpose of punishing people with it, even though he could create a less horrific option at any time, or simply let someone die and have the absence of heaven be the punishment.

 

g) God killed himself, to satisfy  a debt he owes to himself, because of a contract he made with himself, which being capable of all things he could change at any time since we already established he’s capable of being two contradictory things at the same time. Further unless God is subject to a universal morality outside himself, there is nothing compelling him to use blood in order to alleviate sin,  a crime, punishment, and recompense all defined by himself.

He tried to claim that because God set up this contract before mankind existed it wasn’t immoral. I pointed out that

1) he could have easily chose a less gruesome, more loving option, one that didn’t so coincidently line up with desert tribes animal sacrifice customs, and

2) making a decision before a circumstance presents itself does not alleviate one of moral responsibility, as he readily agreed that making a decision to punch all people wearing red shirts in the face before having noticed he was wearing a red shirt would not absolve me of punching him in the face now that he had violated my rule.

 

h) Jesus did not actually make the greatest sacrifice ever made, since he knew he was going to be resurrected. Even though he would only be resurrected if he was sinless, he was both incapable of sin and fully aware that he would not sin so his sacrifice was less than that of any human who’s ever given up their life for another with no promise of immediate resurrection. (he really didn’t like that one, but wasn’t willing to admit that Jesus could have sinned or been ignorant in order to get out of it)

 

i) That even though his opinion doesn’t matter, and it’s not his judgment  it’s God’s, he does have to agree that it’s justice for a human to suffer in hell for all eternity if they have sex out of wedlock, even if the rest of their life is completely virtuous. He has to hold that belief or contradict God.  (It would actually be more virtous if he was simply afraid of God’s wrath, avoiding a bully’s beatings, but he’d rather be a pious accomplice in this entirely unequitable sentence.)

 

j) He has no actual justification for preferring his translation of the Bible over all the others, besides that it better aligns with the teachings his church believes.

 

k) If his friend owed him a debt and he intended to forgive that debt out of love he would simply forgive it if it was in his power, without setting up a perpetual punishment for failure to comply. But God isn’t getting rid of the debt, namely the death that is the wages of sin and the damnation that follows, he’s demanding obedience in exchange for the debt, if you fail, you get put on a payment plan that never ends.

 

After each of these, I offered to return to my original question of what evidence existed that suggested God is real. Anything that we should look to that is not used by any number of other supernatural claims, that actually implies why his belief is true.

 

Finally he had had enough and I needed to get to class, so he offered to give me information to get in contact with his Pastor to hear more.

I kindly, but honestly explained that thus far he’d failed to offer even a single bit of evidence of what I originally requested, so considering that he represented his church and seemed well versed in it’s teachings, it didn’t suggest that my time would be well spent rehashing this conversation with his pastor. But I gave him a SOMA card and earnestly encouraged him to contact me if they did in fact have any evidence, as I would eagerly accept legitimate evidence for God and Jesus and humbly repent.

 

He didn’t want to do that, he wanted me to call  his pastor because he was a busy guy and it would be better if I called him.

I asked him, do you have any evidence on which to assume that I am in fact less busy than your pastor? He didn’t but wanted to insist that it was me who was ‘checking out’ so I took the opportunity to make him admit one more thing:

 

l) the fact that his pastor wouldn’t call me but would take my call meant that the decision was not in fact mine, but ours, meaning that if his pastor did have convincing evidence to share he was making the decision not to share it with me, and let me burn in hell, since I was most willing to listen.

 

With that he reluctantly took my card, and I encouraged him to call or email me should he come across that evidence we’d been searching for today.

 

Look I’ll give this guy credit, the conversation was incredibly civil and well-intentioned. He knew his pitch well, and knew scriptures by chapter and verse. He stood out in the cold and talked with me for some time, and I thanked him for his sincerity and care but also pointed out that despite all that love and concern he was showing by being out here, he was somehow able to simultaneously believe that I deserved to burn in hell forever if I didn’t sign the license agreement on the Yahweh/Jesus v2.0 software installation, and I found that a disturbing thing for him to think about another human being. Realizing he was simply outmatched today (it didn’t take much, I’m no theologian, these are glaring issues for someone with a critical eye), he agreed that it was simply his belief, he believed it on faith, and didn’t have an external reason for having faith in that instead of something else or nothing at all, he simply thought faith was a good thing to have, and this was the thing to have faith in.

 

We said cordial goodbyes and shook hands.

 

The lesson here is that you shouldn’t debate consumer feedback on your marketing tactics. 

 

*Update*

Here is the website of the church these gentlemen belong to.

http://heritagebaptistchurch.cc

They are building their own little empire right here in Kansas, with mass printing, for sale of course, based on the promise the secret to getting in to heaven. They are contructing a new 700 seat church building and have their own education system from elementry through university where “Degrees offered include pastoral theology, elementary and secondary education, missions, and church ministry.”

 

It looks like it was no fluke that the nice gentlemen I spoke with knew his stuff, Barnabas Smith is the Assistant to the Pastor at  Heritage Baptist Church.

http://heritagebaptistchurch.cc/barnabas-smith-assistant

“Never more than you can handle…”

I’m breaking my embargo on religious criticism for this post, to feature a blog posting that’s one of the most poignant and pointed one I’ve read.
Debunking Christianity has had a lot of posts from its contributors lately on the age-old “question of evil” and the needless existence of suffering and what it means in the context of a supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god.

This post is most striking and personally thought-provoking:

Reasonable Doubt About the Problem of Evil/Needless Suffering As A Test

I want to post quotes from it, but it would do the submission little justice. It’s brief; I encourage anyone reading this to please go read that blog entry and consider.