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31
May

God Only Cures Things Modern Medicine Can Also Cure.

“I believe with all of my heart that God heals sick folks.”

— Pastor Slate, Colonial Baptist Church in Rogers, Arkansas.

Isn’t it strange how Christians still have to go to the doctor in order for God to be able to heal them? God just can’t seem to heal broken bones or regrow limbs right there in the church. He can’t rebuild the homes of Joplin, Missouri within seconds. No, God only seems to want to do what normal people can already do themselves.

Why would I need a God that works through the hands of my doctor? I already have a doctor! He can perform his work just fine on his own. Why do I need a god that rebuilds my home for me by asking me to do it? I can do that just fine on my own! It’s like if my wife asks me if I want a sandwich, and I say, “Sure!”, and she replies, “Great! Now make it yourself.”

I need a God that can do impossible things, like granting me the power of flight. But God won’t do impossible things, because any religion that believed he could would very quickly be proved wrong and begin losing followers. Harold Camping’s sect was only crazy because Camping made a claim that could be proven wrong in a very obvious way. Successful religions must have a plausible excuse for why God won’t do things that nature or science couldn’t by themselves. Something like: “God could do really cool miracles…. he just doesn’t want to.”

30
May

Don’t believe in my God? Then die!

From a post by Dr. Ray Pritchard on the American Family Association Blog:

This morning while reading Deuteronomy 17, I came across a paragraph about how to deal with idolators in the midst of the people of God. Because God ordered that they must be stoned to death (v. 5), he also ordered a key safeguard put in place:

On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness (v. 6).

This protects the innocent from false accusations by those who may hold a grudge against them. And the witness making the accusation must cast the first stone (v. 7), forcing him to have a personal stake in the outcome.

Could a group of troublemakers “game” the system by conspiring together to bring false witness against their neighbor? Yes, but the requirement of multiple witnesses (who themselves would be examined by the town elders) provided a hedge against such collusion. Presumably, wise judges would spot the conspiracy and bring it to light.

For the moment, let’s just take one truth and ponder it. Don’t assume the worst about a friend based on just one phone call or one email or one piece of overheard gossip.

Before you believe a bad report, ask some questions. Seek the truth. Don’t pass along bad news just because you “heard it from a friend.”

Evil must be dealt with (v. 7). But do it God’s way. Wait for all the facts to come out. Don’t be quick to believe the worst.

Wow, God is so clever! That whole witness thing is a great idea. This way, we can kill people from other religions while having peace-of-mind! Seriously, how can you make a whole blog entry about this verse without bringing up the fact that it’s immoral to kill people just because they believe in another God? Doesn’t this violate one of those commandments about not killing? Isn’t it still immoral, even if it doesn’t?

Dr. Pritchard has actually managed to interpret a passage which says “kill people who don’t believe the way you do” so that it actually means “investigate claims critically before passing judgement”. That takes some serious mental gymnastics.

And what does this passage say about the morality of God? Why does he care about being worshipped so much? Does he have an ego problem? Doesn’t God have enough self-confidence without people telling him how great he is all the time? Is he really so sensitive that he feels the need to kill people from other religions?

Link to the passage:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy%2017&version=MSG

27
May

If you criticize others, there’s something wrong with you.

Pastor Miles McPherson of The Rock Church in San Diego preached recently on how everyone who criticizes has something unhappy in their heart. That’s right, if you point out something wrong that someone said or did, you’re messed up inside. You should probably seek help. The lesson here is to never criticize anything, ever.

Pastor McPherson outlines three observations about critics:

1. Critical mouths come from an overflow of a critical heart.

“The bible says the mouth speaks from an overflow of the heart. People who complain, there’s something here [puts hand on heart]. People who encourage, there’s something here. The bible says adulteries, murderers, lies, all come from the heart. Everything you do comes from your heart. So, a lot of times, people who are critical, there’s something unhappy about their life. Something unsatisfied about their life.”

I don’t agree that criticism is a bad thing or is rooted in evil. A good idea doesn’t just come from nothing. It has to be worked over, its bad parts subjected to the knife of criticism so that they may be shaved off. Sometimes, criticism adds something rather than taking it away. Someone may have a suggestion for a better way to do something. You can take that suggestion and meld it with your original idea, making it even better. Great ideas are often forged in the fires of criticism.

What do you get when you avoid criticism? Bad ideas rot and fester, their bad parts laying undiscovered for decades. It’s hard to notice mistakes all by yourself. Sometimes, you need a second or third set of eyes looking to notice it. Your idea never gains the benefit of being merged with other’s ideas. Seeing criticism as inherently evil robs us of this incredibly powerful engine of improvement.

2. Criticism is defined by the critic.

“In other words, when people critize, they do not define you. What defines you is how you respond. […] Anybody can say anything about anybody, it doesn’t make it true.”

I actually like this advice. Don’t take criticism personally, and don’t let people’s negative views of you redefine your view of yourself. I would add something to this, though: always be careful to evaluate criticism without letting your emotions get in the way. Don’t just ignore it! Just because you don’t like what someone is saying saying doesn’t make them wrong. Learning to separate your ego during the evaluation process is an important skill involved in harnessing the power of criticism.

3. If Jesus is criticized, then as His follower you will be, too.

“The more you walk with Christ, the more you will be criticized. The more good you do, the more you will be criticized. But in the same way Jesus’ critics were exposed by their criticisms, so your critics will be exposed by their criticisms.”

More “criticism is evil” nonsense. It’s no wonder many Christians are so dogmatic in their beliefs. They’re told to not listen to criticism before it even happens! Well, since he’s criticizing criticism itself, does that mean I should ignore his advice? I think so.

For the rest of the sermon, the pastor talks about how the Pharisees tried to dismiss Jesus’ miracles, and how dumb that was since they could see the miracles happening with their own eyes. This is how the pastor backs up his claim that you should ignore criticism: quotes from the bible. Seriously, this is pretty weak stuff. What if you have criticisms of the bible itself? “Oh, well, I have this bible quote right here!”

“Attempts to discredit Jesus’ miracles acknowledges that he actually performed miracles. Think about it! Whenever they try to discredit his miracle, they were at the same time acknowledging that he performed a miracle.”

This is true in the context of the Pharisees in the story, but you can’t extrapolate this to real life. If I don’t believe that Jesus walked on water because of a lack of evidence, that doesn’t prove that he actually did it.

Also, it’s just a story. People in the story can’t be used to prove the story. Why would you even think that?

“You can criticize Jesus all you want, but the problem is, he really did it. He really walked on water. He really raised the dead. He really healed the blind, the mute, and the deaf. The crippled. He really cast out demons.”

I’d like to see multiple lines of evidence for this. One source is not enough. You should be able to validate it other ways.

“If Jesus really rose from the dead… and by the way, his tomb is empty, his body can’t be found, people saw him for 40 days, and he rose, and he ascended into heaven. There’s no evidence that he’s still dead. After 2,000+ years.”

I think it’s much more likely that he’s dead than he magically ascended to another plane of existence. The fact that we don’t have his body doesn’t mean much. Everyone who has ever lived has died. We have no evidence at all of anyone ever going to heaven. There no evidence that Ghengis Khan is still dead, either. So what? I think we can assume he did, based on the fact that everyone else eventually dies.

Church is supposed to be this amazing place that you go to become a better person. But here, you have a pastor in a megachurch telling people to ignore criticism. That’s got to be some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard. Don’t listen to this guy. You’ll be a better person for it.

Video Link:

http://www.therocksandiego.org/messages/2011-05-15/

26
May

Tragedy and Belief

The death of a child can cause incredible emotional pain. My deepest sympathies go out to this woman and her husband. My first thought was that I shouldn’t discuss this, because it’s too emotionally painful for the parents. However, I found myself thinking about what the woman said hours later, and that’s usually a good sign that I should post about my thoughts. Also, this is very convincing evidence for a lot of people that God is real and active in our lives. It’s also being used by a church to promote belief in God. So, what the heck.

When doctors keep a baby alive that’s only 25 weeks along, that’s not a miracle. It’s just something really amazing that science did. A miracle would be if Benny Hinn brought Abraham Lincoln back to life. I’m not a doctor, but if this had been a home birth, I doubt the baby would have survived past childbirth. Why? Because doctors wouldn’t have been there to save it. So, here again, we have science doing something and God being credited for it. When will God do something that science or random chance can’t do?

This is made even more strange by the fact that the baby ends up dying. Now, yes, it’s an incredibly horrible thing to happen. It’s possibly the most horrible thing a person can go through. So, why would God perform the “miracle” of saving a baby’s life only to then take its life 4 months later? It doesn’t make any sense. What possible motivation or life lesson could there be from something like this?

The truth is, in a world with no God, really horrible, unthinkable things happen every day. That’s why it’s important to cherish each moment you have alive on this Earth. It’s up to us to make this world a better place. It’s up to us to reduce suffering and raise the level of compassion. There’s no one up there in the skies helping us make it happen. We have to take action to make this world a better place.

If you’d like to take action to help make this world a better place, you could make a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network. Help empower doctors to have the tools they need to do their jobs. It’s a lot more effective that prayer.

25
May

Should doctors prescribe prayer as medicine?

Bryan Fischer on the American Family Association Blog thinks that stopping doctors from proselytizing to their patients constitutes a hate crime. Why? It violates their freedom of religion!

“A hate crime is usually defined by state law as one that involves threats, harassment, or physical harm and is motivated by prejudice against someone’s race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical or mental disability.” – USLegal.com

If facing harassment because others have prejudice against your religion is a hate crime, then Dr. Richard Scott of the U.K. is the latest victim of the P.C. police.

He is facing an official sanction from the professional medical body in England, the General Medical Council (GMC) for having the effrontery to suggest to a patient that nurturing his spiritual life might be one part of a holistic course of treatment.

Maybe you don’t know this, but when a doctor prescribes a treatment, it should be proven to work. We can’t screw around coddling your beliefs when people’s lives are at stake. If you believe in faith healing, great! Just prove that it works through the process outlined in the medical profession, and it can be legal. Yes, that will involve experiments that account for bias.

An article in the Christian Post clarifies this a bit:

Scott explained to The Telegraph, “What I do is I ask people and say ‘there is something extra I can do and discuss with you, would you like to talk about it?’ So I give people an option to talk about something that may be well useful to them should they choose to take it up.”

If people choose to talk about faith, he begins by encouraging people to attend his local church. Out of eight patients he would ask, two would attend his church and one patient’s life would change, he said.

So, he doesn’t technically prescribe prayer. He proselytizes and asks them to attend his church, where they will be told that they need to pray. This is inappropriate because religion does not alleviate people’s illnesses. Doctors are supposed to help people, not fill their head with mindless delusions.

The AMA blogger goes on:

It makes no difference to the Tolerance Nazis that study after study has shown the beneficial health effects of faith in God and prayer, or that Dr. Scott only broached the subject with this patient after a lengthy consultation, and after medical checks had been performed and referrals for further care were arranged.

We’re not tolerance nazis, we’re reality nazis. What studies are you referring to? I’m skeptical, so let’s see them. Prove that it works. Take the treatment through the scientific process. Then it will become reality, not blind faith.

It doesn’t matter whether the patient agrees to it. Patients don’t have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t. It’s the doctor’s responsibility to prescribe the most effective treatment.

It once was said of the Puritans that they were afraid that somebody, somewhere, might be having fun. Well, secular fundamentalists are afraid that someone, somewhere might be exercising his freedom of religion, and they will commit hate crimes to put a stop to that nonsense.

Poisoning people’s minds with your religion is a curious way to have fun. If you want to proselytize, do it outside of the doctor-patient environment. And it’s not a hate-crime. It’s quality control.

Honestly, wishing problems away as a form of treatment? This is sickening.

23
May

Praying for Joplin is a Pointless Waste of Time

If you are praying for Joplin, you are wasting your time. Those that lost their lives are not coming back. The buildings are not going to magically reassemble. The devastation has happened. We cannot turn back the clock. Saying “I’m sending out prayers to Joplin” is as good as doing nothing at all. Actually, it’s worse, because it makes you feel like you’ve done something when you actually haven’t. Any assistance the affected families receive will be because of what we in the community do to help them.

Lots of churches have been using their organizational muscle to form relief efforts. Taking food donations, offering shelter, etc. I applaud this effort. Helping our neighbors is a big part of what our community is all about. But why bother praying if you’re just going to go and fix it yourself? If prayer really worked, shouldn’t you just be able to sit on the couch and fix the problems with your magic? The church communities will also doubtless credit God for the disaster relief they are participating in, even though they are the ones that did it. Why would you think that God is helping in the relief effort? If he really wanted to help, couldn’t he have just stopped the tornadoes in the first place?

We need to have a clear view of what works and what doesn’t. Prayer does not help in the slightest. Donating food does help. Donating money helps. Volunteering helps. Stop talking to yourself, and start taking action. And if you do both, start taking credit for the things you do.

I’ve listed below some criticisms I would expect to hear from people.

Criticisms

  • It does too work!!!

You’re praying for things that might or might not happen. If it happens, you chalk it up to “the power of prayer”, even though there’s a good chance it probably would have happened whether you had prayed or not. If it doesn’t happen, you rationalize that God must not want it to happen, and don’t even give it a second thought. It’s called confirmation bias. Trying praying for something that’s absolutely impossible, like turning a rock into a chicken or teleporting to Japan.

Whenever a double-blind study is put together in order to remove the confirmation bias effect, it shows that prayer has no more effect than random chance. No doubt there will be rationalizations for why this is wrong. They are just that: rationalizations. That’s why the scientific method is important. It’s specifically designed to take human bias out of the equation.

  • Is this really the best time for this argument?

When people take ineffective measures to remedy real-life problems, I think that’s the perfect time to point out the mistake. What better time could there be? When there’s no danger? When no one is listening? Perhaps what you really mean by this is that you don’t want me criticizing it at all.

  • People need prayer because it makes them feel better.

You know what makes me feel better? Having an accurate view of reality. The security of knowing I don’t live in a fantasy land. Knowing that it was me who donated goods and money, not some magical being.

Does Neil Beagley feel better because his parents prayed for him? No, he doesn’t, because he’s fucking dead. Last year, his parents prayed instead of taking him to the hospital. Why? Because the magical power of prayer will heal our son! Because there weren’t doctors there to help him, he died. Because his parents were religious nutjobs, he died.

Now, most religious parents would take their kid to the doctor and pray for them. It’s the doctors that are helping them, not the prayer. I think the above story demonstrates this. Stop wasting your time and snap back to reality.

  • It’s not right to criticize other’s beliefs. You’re just being negative!!

Is making the world a better place by shattering delusions a negative thing? I don’t think so. I think these delusions are harmful to society. It certainly does make people angry when their false hope is questioned. That’s not my goal. I’m trying to show people what’s real and what’s not.

Our actions during a disaster matter. Doing something that has no effect while thinking it’s having an effect is what’s negative. Pointing it out when someone does it is called enlightenment.

  • No one actually prays and does nothing else. They take action, too! You should pray and donate money or volunteer!

What’s the point of the prayer, then? You’re taking action in the world yourself to rectify it. Your own actions will have an effect and the prayer will not. Let’s stop glorifying magic and start crediting our own actions.

23
May

Every smile you fake, Every claim you stake (I’ll be watching you)

According to a sermon given recently by Pastor Galen Pearcy of Radiant Life Church in Bentonville, Arkansas, God is watching you all the time. You’d better watch out!

“Some people, what they want to do is […] when they get to work, you know they clock in? Well, they want to clock out with God. They’re going to leave God in the car. Because they’re things at work they’re gonna do and conversations they’re gonna have that they’d be embarrassed if they took him with them. But he’s there anyway, even if you try to lock him in the car, you’re not gonna
succeed.”

Isn’t the idea of God watching you all the time a little creepy? I mean, does he watch you while you pee? While you’re sleeping? Or while you’re having sex? I mean, if I believed that, I would be totally freaking out all the time. For example, is it possible to get an erection knowing that God is watching you and judging your every move? I’m not sure I could get it up knowing that a deity was staring at me. Then again, maybe some people are into that kinda thing. Kinda like a cosmic version of exhibitionism. Put on a good show for the big guy!

Why do people think they need someone watching them before they want do the right thing? I’ve heard Christians say that if there were no God, they would just start raping, stealing, and murdering. And the reigning opinion is that religious people are more moral than non-religious people! I just don’t see it. Is there something wrong with being good because it’s the right thing to do?

There are a couple of interesting studies on this. This one shows an inverse correlation between religiosity and societal health (measured by homicide rates, childhood mortality, STD’s, life expectancy, and teen abortions and pregnancy). And this study shows a positive correlation between atheism and lots of positive characteristics.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone should run out and be atheists (not in this section, anyway!). Everyone has their own path. I’m just saying you don’t need a big brother watching you in order to be good.

Decisions

“When you are saved, it is a decision you make with your mind. I decide that I’m going to have two scoops of vanilla ice cream. I’ve decided. I made a choice.”

What about the people who aren’t convinced that God exists? I’m not sure I see how they could just “decide” to believe. Could you just “decide” to believe in fairies? That’s sort of the predicament I’m in. It’s not like I can just pretend to believe. I’m not going to fool an omnipotent deity.

Science

“And you say, well, you know, those people who are intellectuals, many times they contradict what the word of God says. Well, it’s true, but, scientists, the more that they discover, the more they come into alignment with the word of God. They may say one thing and as they learn and as they discover more things, they come back and they have to make an adjustment. They go, “Well, we’ve made this new discovery, and so therefore, what we thought wasn’t true about the word, we find it is true. See, as they use their mind, as they use their intelligence, then they’re beginning to confirm what God’s word says.”

Yes, scientists admit when they’re wrong when new evidence comes to light. They change their views. How is this a bad thing? You have two competing views here:

1) Believe with your heart. Your emotions aren’t likely to change, so you’ll believe the same thing forever, no matter what. Maybe if a loved one dies, you might be in trouble, but maybe not! Some people just get stronger in their faith in the face of adversity.

2) Believe only things you have good evidence for. Of course, if new evidence comes to light that contradicts your views, you may have to discard a cherished belief. Oh no! But wait, don’t we want our beliefs to more closely align with reality? In that case, maybe this option is the better one?

As far as science “proving the bible”, no. No, it doesn’t. Yes, you can look up stuff online that says it does. Dig a little further. It always crumbles and falls apart when you really start looking into it. You should probably learn about how science works first, though. That’s a huge stumbling block for a lot of people.

I’d love to refute specific examples here, but the pastor didn’t give any. He just made an assertion and never backed it up. Of course, it’s a church, so what can you expect? There is no accountability for ideas in a church.

Emotion

“And they might say some words. They might repeat some words. But you know, it’s just words. Unless you’re confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart, you’re just saying some words. They’re good words. Pledge of Allegiance is good words, too. It’s not going to save you. So, we have to believe in our heart. There’s free will. And someone might drag you and someone might have you say some words, but that’s not really going to save you.”

“Sometimes it can be confusing, because the preacher says, “Okay, now you’re saved.” See, I don’t think anybody has to tell you you’re saved. Because when you’re saved, you know it. There’s something inside, there’s a transformation that takes place on the inside when Jesus comes in, and then we’ll know that we’re saved. We know that we’ve been free from sin.”

So, if you have been “saved” and you didn’t feel an incredible emotional transformation inside, you should start panicing now. You are one of those dirty “fake” Christians so many pastors preach about.

What’s the criteria though, I wonder? How would you measure your emotional reaction to being saved? What would you compare it against? How could you tell whether that amazing feeling you felt wasn’t just the relief of finally being accepted by your friends and family? Maybe you just did it for selfish reasons and you didn’t really feel Jesus in your heart like those other people did? It seems like without a proper system of measurement, there’s an awful lot of room for doubt here. Is this where some of the guilt in religion comes from? From never knowing if your love for God is enough?

“Real” Christians

“We live in a world that has cheapened God’s love and his grace, and it is an embarrassment. I’m embarrassed. Some people, everybody you know says they’re a Christian. Everybody. They don’t even know what it means! But grandma was one, and I’m part of grandma, so I’m one too. I was born in America, so I’m a Christian. They have no concept of what it means. You know, it’s really talking about being Christ-like. Being Christian is Christ-like. Are we Christ-like, or are we more like the devil? See, a lot of people are saying with their mouth one thing, but they’re living a whole different way. And they’re thinking it’s okay! […] We’ve cheapened God’s love.”

As an atheist, I’ve been told on a pretty regular basis that it is not okay to question someone else’s faith. So, on behalf of my Christian friends, how dare he question someone else’s faith! I mean, come on, he’s comparing Christians he doesn’t like to the devil! Who does he think he is? Well, okay, I guess he is a preacher. His whole job is to whip people back into their faith. But still, why aren’t more Christians upset about this kind of rhetoric? Is Christians looking at each other in a suspicious and disrespectful manner really in their best interest?

And even if he’s right about the whole emotional transformation thing, how does he know what someone feels inside? Maybe some of these people he’s talking about do feel the Holy Spirit in them. Who is he to question their feelings?

“Someone even said several years ago, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” It’s something to think about.”

The scale of the persecution complex here is just staggering. Who the hell is going to arrest someone for being a Christian in America? These people think they’re being persecuted because they can’t force Muslims, Hindus, and Atheists to say Christian prayers in public schools. In their minds, secularism is just one step away from being thrown in jail for going to church.

Audio Link:

http://www.radiantlifechurch.com/components/com_podcast/media/ConfessingandBelieving051511am.mp3

21
May

Praying For Small Things

From a post by Dr. Ray Pritchard on the American Family Association Blog:

This morning when I cleaned off my desk, I found a piece of lined yellow paper on which I had scribbled some notes. It appears to be a page of notes for a talk I gave, but in looking at it I can’t recall the occasion. I did notice that halfway down the page, I jotted down a prayer that I vaguely remember having seen somewhere:

“Lord, do something small.”

[…]

There is a certain wisdom behind the prayer, “Lord, do something small?”

First, it shakes us free of our addiction to bigness as the measure of success.
Second, it focuses us on the next step, not the end result.
Third, it reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways.

Fourthly, it lowers your standards so that you only expect things that could actually happen on their own through random chance. Praying to win $500 million or for someone you know to be raised from the dead isn’t likely to happen. If there were a God, it could happen, of course, but nevermind that.

Fifthly, it changes your expectations so that, rather than expecting a specific thing, you’ll accept anything even slightly unusual. Did a bird fly by? That was the miracle! Did it start raining? It’s a sign!

These are both important qualifications for believing in miracles. Don’t expect too much, and don’t expect anything specific. Widen your criteria as much as possible without actually realizing you’re doing it.

When God starts with something small, he may eventually make it into something big. And by starting small, he gets the credit when big things result.

Right. I almost forgot the last bit. One you start attributing all the random coincidences in your life to miracles, you’ve proven God to yourself right there. It’s then a small leap to start attributing things you know you accomplished yourself to actually having been the works of your deity.

One tiny bad idea slips by. You think it’s harmless. He can’t hurt much. But eventually, an entire skyscraper of completely sound logic ends up being built on top of the little fellow.

20
May

A Response: Why don’t unbelievers like being around Christians?

From a post last year on the Fellowship Bible Church of NW Arkansas blog:

I think that is an extremely interesting and important question. Why don’t sinners like being around us? Could it be that we’ve turned the great love story written to us by God into a moral checklist, which we can then use to count how many items we have checked off? Maybe we’ve turned in our love relationships with Jesus Christ for a simple system of morals. Because then, we can look out of the church and see unbelievers with fewer items checked off of their lists and shout “I’M MORE VALUABLE BECAUSE OF THIS…”

The blog entry I’m quoting here is over a year old now, but I’d still like to respond to it. I can’t speak for anyone in their church, or anyone who knows them, but I can speak from the perspective of an unbeliever. Having attended an atheist meetup group fairly regularly on Fridays for almost 2 years now, I’ve seen quite a few nonbelievers in their natural habitat.

Firstly, I should say that I don’t think this is true. For a lot of people, religion just isn’t that big of an issue. Lots of believers and non-believers are good friends. I have friends who are believers myself. We enjoy each other’s company. Often, we just don’t talk about religion. Most people are happy not to broach the subject, and there are plenty of other subjects to discuss.

In the cases where you’re talking about a strident unbeliever and a fundamentalist Christian, though, I think I may be able to offer some insight. Think about this statement:

Why don’t sinners like being around us?

Did you ever consider that people don’t appreciate being called sinners? That maybe we don’t think we did anything wrong? It’s a little insulting. It’s like saying, “Why don’t these immoral heathens who deserve to burn forever in fire want to be my friends?”

Here are some other factors that might make a non-believer want to spend less time with a fundamentalist Christian.

Easily Offended
We don’t have to watch what we say when we’re around other non-believers. Christians are often offended by the strangest things. It’s like walking through a minefield. There are a number of things you just can’t talk about around a Christian, and it can be exhausting having to navigate around them all the time. Not all Christians are like this, but many are.

Irrational Beliefs.
It’s comforting talking to another non-believer, because you know that when talking to them, even if they have different beliefs that you, it’s okay, because you know they at least have a rational reason for what they believe. No matter how wrong someone is on a subject, be it on gun control, abortion, raising kids, or even morality itself, you can at least talk to them about it if their ideas are based on reason. With a Christian, their beliefs on a wide range of things are so often a matter of faith that there’s no point in talking to them about things.

Here’s an example. This question was posted on KNWA’s Facebook page on Tuesday:

Is marriage obsolete? The Shwarzenegger/Shriver divorce is just the latest high profile marriage to dissolve in front of the public eye and a recent survey shows that 40% of Americans believe marriage is becoming obsolete.

What do you think?

So I think, “Cool. I don’t know where I stand on this. Here’s a great opportunity for some interesting, rational discussion. We could weigh the pros and cons and assess them each for accuracy”. But for some people, this is the perfect time to bring up God:

Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, they take a vow before God and before man tell death do us part.its not obsolete nor will it ever be in the eyes of God. after all He is the one that matters, and eternity is a long time if your not right God.

This is infuriating to an atheist. It feels like you’re taking a perfectly good opportunity for intelligent discussion and just throwing it in the trash. Imagine if this topic had come up in casual conversation between friends. The non-believer brings up the question, and the believer cites what God says about it. Discussion over. Hmm, maybe we could talk about Halo instead?

Proselytization
Having a fundamentalist Christian as a friend is sometimes like hanging out with a used car salesman. They’re always trying to sell you their belief system. It gets really annoying. Sometimes, we just want to hang out and talk without there being an agenda.

Living in Fear
Many non-believers who come to our group can’t tell any of their family or their friends how they feel. They are afraid that they would be ostracized from their community. They often feel that their family would never speak to them again, and think that expressing their opinions simply isn’t worth it. So, they live in secret, never telling anyone how they feel. Eventually, they grow tired of the facade and begin to drop the act. Some friends and family end up cutting off contact with the non-believer, and some don’t. Those that don’t are counted as true friends. But whenever they meet a new Christian, there’s this feeling of, “Oh great, here we go again”. They know what’s coming. Is it worth getting close to a new person, knowing they’re just going to cut you off or judge you if they know that you aren’t a believer?

Emotional Trauma
Some people who have deconverted from religion are emotionally traumatized. When they were religious, they lived a life of guilt and shame and were in constant fear of hellfire. They often relate that when they lost their faith, it was like a huge burden was lifted from their shoulders. It’s not helpful to be reminded that you’re supposed to feel guilty for killing Jesus (as one pastor in Bella Vista recently said) when you’re finally done with all that stuff.

These are just off the top of my head. If anyone sees anything I got wrong or anything that I left off, I trust they’ll add something in the comments.

Link:
http://fsmleadership.com/personal-growth/why-dont-unbelievers-like-being-around-us/

19
May

Hope as a Path to Belief

Today, I’m reviewing a sermon by Pastor Jon Harris of New Life Church. Thanks to Kassi for the link!

“Either Jesus really is who he says he is, and his words are true, and whether Jesus has really done what he claimed, and that is that he’s risen from the dead to validate what he has said, or forget about the whole thing. […] Jesus is either the truth or he’s not. That’s the way he set it up.”

We’re in agreement! I do think it’s interesting that he says the reason Jesus is either true or he’s not is because “That’s the way Jesus set it up”. Do we have a preconceived bias here? Do you think the pastor’s aware than when you have a preconceived bias of what you expect to happen, you only remember the confirming evidence and you completely ignore the conflicting evidence?

“You can live for a few weeks without food. […] And you can live without water, maybe for what? Maybe a few days? […] Okay what about air? If you were to hold your breath right now, what, maybe a few seconds? A couple of minutes at the most? […] But one thing that you really can’t live without is hope. ‘Cause if you don’t have hope, you know what? You’re soul’s gonna die.”

I have a hard time seeing a problem with my soul dying, since I’ve never seen any evidence of a soul. What does it mean for a “soul” to die? Are there studies that show that non-religious people just randomly drop dead?

I used to think I could astrally project into other dimensions. I now realize that was all in my mind. So, I understand why these people feel like there is proof of a soul. But the truth is, the scientific method is the only way we can get around the extremely powerful biases we have than can warp reality in our mind.

Also, what about false hope? Is it good to waste away doing nothing because of your false hope when you could be taking real action to remedy your situation? Hope isn’t everything! Once you get a better perspective on reality, you’ll actually feel empowered to affect your life in more effective ways. You can actually do things instead of praying about them.

“Because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, your faith and hope can be placed confidently in God.”

There’s no good evidence that this actually happened. All we have is the bible, which has been heavily edited and vandalized throughout the 2,000 years that it’s been copied. So, sure! Place all your faith in hope in something that there is absolutely no evidence for!

I’m all for having hope, but it should have some basis in rationality. Having hope is not a justification for living a life believing a bunch of lies.

“Because there’s a difference between hope and optimism. You know, the idea of positive thinking. It has some merit, I guess. But the idea of positive thinking is this idea of self-talk that you can just talk your way into a new reality. And so, a lot of times, optimism can actually deny the facts. So, you can have a situation where you have a diagnosis, and you just kind of deny it.”

I think the similarities between hope and optimism are closer than you think. In fact, I think you’re describing religion perfectly here.

“But what hope does is something much more significant than that. What hope does is it will face the dirty, rotten facts of your life. Because it might be one of the worst days of your life. Just like a guy that I really respect. Well, he’s over 90. And, you know, he just told me this week, the guy’s a deep man of faith, he looked me in my eyes and he says, “Jon, I’ve had the worst day of my life this week”.  And it’s because a spouse that he loved dearly for almost 70 years passed away this week. This is a man of faith. But this is a man of hope. And he’s not saying, “You know, I know tommorrow’s going to be better.” It’s going to be different and tough for a long, long time because of that loss. But he does believe in hope, he does believe in a day after this with Jesus Christ. This is what hope is.”

Good story, but it doesn’t make it true. Don’t you care whether your beliefs are true? Should we only believe things if they sound very promising? Or should we value the truth over hope? Earlier, the pastor said that this stuff was either true or not true. But now, he’s making pleas to emotion. Is this the path to the truth? Is it the best way to measure reality? Through stories?

“And so, there’s this gigantic historical precedent that has taken place that has influenced everything here. And why in the world would that happen? When he was alive, he had very few followers. Did you know that? He had a core group of maybe 100 people. He had a tight core group of maybe 12. And there were tons of other messiahs claiming things at the time. And they were doing all this stuff. How in the world did this backwater guy, carpenter from northern Israel at the time, conquered by the Romans, how in the world did this turn into this gigantic behemoth where we have over 2 billion people this time and this season saying Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? How in the world would that happen? It just almost seems implasible that could ever… it is psychologically disengenous to say, “Well that was delusional, and they just thought up this story because they thought, It’s good, you know, don’t tell people the truth, tell them a story they need to hear. There is no way that could have happened. That is psychologically disengenous to ever think that that could be the case.”

Here’s what I hear from this:

“A bunch of other people believe this is true, so it must be true!”

“It’s old, so it must be true!”

I don’t think those are good arguments for the truth of something. Lots of things are believed by everyone that are nonsense. Did you consider that people might be gullible? That there are fundamental flaws in human reasoning that cause them to be easily fooled? Have you considered all the various cults that have popped up through the ages? What about other religions? What about people’s belief in aliens? Or, dare I say it, the world being flat? Lots of people believe lots of crazy things. Christianity isn’t special in this regard.

There’s also the implication here that if you don’t understand how something could come to be, it’s okay to assume that:

  1. It’s because there’s an all-powerful deity.
  2. That deity listens to your thoughts.
  3. He judges you.
  4. He interferes in human affairs.
  5. He loves to be worshipped!
  6. He can only accept you into heaven if you love Jesus.
  7. The only way he could think of to forgive you is for him to create an avatar and then have it killed.

Now, come on. This is a whole lot of assumptions that you’re just letting slip by into your brain just because you don’t understand something. Each one of these needs to be evaluated on their own, and their own evidence amassed before each one is accepted.

“It’s never too late for a miracle. God could have a miracle for each one of you. Maybe a miracle for you is a miracle from a broken heart? Maybe a miracle for you is that some gal will actually marry you?”

How is that a miracle? I know you’re not supposed to pray to be able to fly or go invisible, but this is ridiculous. Everyone falls in love. If you’re lonely and then you find someone, that’s not a miracle. It’s called life. Miracles are supernatural by definition. Meaning: They can’t be explained by natural laws.

“Do we tend to do that? Can we tend to say, “I’m going to do the God thing, but this is what I expect, God, from you for my life”. And God’s saying, “I have a plan for your life.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, I know, but I have a plan for my life, too. And so, God, I need you to cooperate with me on this.”

This is all just prep work for the rationalization people will need to do when they realize their prayers aren’t coming true. In a real scientific experiment, failures would show that prayer doesn’t work any better than chance. But with the confirmation bias that this preacher is prepping people for right here, they have a good rationalization to pay zero attention to the failures of prayer.

[Talking about the book of John, when Jesus magically appeared to the disciples out of nowhere after he had been resurrected]

“You could call that kind of an old school Star Trek thing. But even quantum physicists would agree that is is very feasible the idea of being able to take molecular mass and take it from here to there. They don’t know how it, but they know theoretically, at least, in our universe, laws of the universe, that is a possibility. So, I don’t know how it happened. I do believe it happened.”

Quantum physics references in supernatural claims is almost becoming a joke at this point. No one understands it, so people think they can just insert it into any magical claim in order to give it scientific credibility. Even if I had a source for an actual quantum physicist who says this, so what? You still need evidence that it happened before you should believe it!

“We are creatures of faith, you’re going to believe something. Even to say you don’t believe nothing is a belief that there’s nothing.”

You know what? Faith isn’t everything. You need to measure your beliefs based on evidence. Otherwise, how do you know if they’re true?

“And so he says this: “Physics proves that you cannot hit a 90-mile-an-hour fastball.” Now, the truth is this, I imagine most of you do not agree with his conclusion. Why? There’s one reason: We have all seen people do it.”

Pastor Harris goes on to warn you of people who will put together packages trying to disprove the resurrection, and how we have a history of people who’s lives have been changed because of the resurrection.

Okay, if physics said something that reality demonstrated to not be true, then physics was wrong. That’s why science is so great. You can measure it’s claims by the evidence. If the evidence shows otherwise, you can adjust your beliefs to more closely align with reality. Faith has nothing like this. If you believe something because of faith, you just believe regardless of whether it’s true or not. You’re not measuring anything.

And the bible isn’t good evidence. But even if it were, it’s only one thing. Good scientists take measurements from lots of different sources to try to determine if something is true. Why not try to match up the claims of the bible with other sources in reality to see if they’re true? That’s the way you determine truth: by checking your beliefs against lots of different aspects of reality.

Audio Link:

http://newlifechurch.com/index.php/messages/archives/category/hoping_for_a_miracle/