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Posts from the ‘Sermons’ Category

4
Feb

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Wrongness

This is part 2 of my response to Jeff Crawford’s sermon on apologetics. You can read part 1 here.

I’m a little annoyed that the church members on the Grand Avenue Baptist Church forums said that I was obviously “searching” for something since I’m listening to sermons. Don’t they know I’m a militant atheist? I am not seeking to understand the mysterious. I am seeking to undermine their faith and improve the image of atheists. So, maybe I’ll be a little tougher this time, to justify my angry atheist stereotype.

Here is Jeff’s response to my first article:

There is never anything wrong with a spirited and civil dialogue. But I fear you might be guilty of missing my point. In no way was I trying to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the God of Christianity. I was merely attempting to prove beyond a “reasonable” doubt (the same standard as a court of law). Of course any one argument or group of arguments can be argued against and no analogy is ever fool proof. And thus becomes the role of faith in order to take the next step.

I’m not arguing for 100% certainty. I never said that. I don’t even think such a thing is possible. But I do expect that you have a reason for believing what you believe. 1 Peter 3:15, anyone?

So, you present a bunch of reasons why you’re not crazy. When I explain that what you said makes no sense, you backpedal and try to say the arguments you made aren’t that important. I don’t even know what “any one argument can be argued against” means. It’s either true or it’s not true. If I’m giving a nonsense rebuttal, I expect to be corrected. Are you really so cruel as to let me walk through life being wrong?

I made some points last time that you didn’t respond to. Are you unwilling to respond, or are you just considering my statements? Do you care whether your beliefs are true? Or do you believe in God because you want to and not because it’s “reasonable”? If it were reasonable, you would be able to defend your beliefs. Do you stand behind your arguments or not? inigo

For the record, here is the definition of the word:

rea·son·a·ble

[ree-zuh-nuh-buhl, reez-nuh-]

adjective

1. agreeable to reason or sound judgment; logical.

There is nothing in there about faith. It says, “reason”.

Now, on to the rest of the sermon!

The Intelligent Design Argument

Because the more we dig in to the science of our world, the more we are just stepping back and looking at it and going, “Wow, this could not have happened by accident.”

This is an argument from ignorance. Just because something is sooooo complicated that you can’t understand it, that doesn’t mean you get to make up an explanation for it. God is not the default answer to everything you don’t understand. You need a better argument than:

  • Wow…. amazing!
  • How does that work?
  • I don’t understand how that came to be.
  • God did it!

Is there something wrong with just admitting you don’t know how something works? Do you really need to make up an answer?

Let’s say that you’re walking in the desert. There’s nothing but sand everywhere you look, and you run across a 2012 year old Cadillac in the middle of the desert. Is your first reaction, “Whoooaah! Evolution!”? I mean, is that what you think? Or, does the presence of a vehicle sitting in the middle of the desert, does that not just scream that somebody put it there? And beyond that, somebody designed it.

We know Cadillacs were designed because we can go to the factories and see them being built. We can talk to the designers. They can explain how they did it. The same things are not true of the universe. So, no, it isn’t the same thing at all. Until I’m able to walk into a universe factory, this argument makes no sense.

And I gotta tell ya, this world is far more complex than a Cadillac. Far more complex. We just somehow believe that given enough time, that the sands of the universe will produce this. And we’re okay with that? We think that’s reasonable? And it’s unreasonable believe in a God?

Again, the fact that we’re incredulous at the amazingness of the universe isn’t any reason to think a supernatural being designed it. It just speaks to our own ignorance. To believe in something, you need a reason. Ignorance is not a good reason.

The human genome is the longest word to ever exist. But every letter has to be in the right place or it doesn’t mean anything. And when you look at that word, you think to yourself, “This doesn’t just happen, because words don’t just happen by themselves.” Words are the product of intelligence. There has to be a God. There has to be!

It’s not a word, it’s code. Language is for communication. DNA is a set of instructions. Anyway, you need to prove that, “DNA doesn’t just happen by itself”. That’s an assertion that you can’t back up. You can’t prove it.

Listen, Christian, it is reasonable to believe in a God! You’re not crazy if you say you believe in God. You’re not nuts or out to lunch or unreasonable. It’s actually a quite reasonable thing to believe in a God.

Keep telling yourself, that, buddy. If your church-members keep repeating it to themselves, they might start believing it, too.

The Koran vs. the Bible

The Koran was written in the year 600-ish A.D. […] So, when you think about the Koran, just very objectively, you’ve got a book that’s about 1400 years old. I gotta tell ya, that’s not ancient history. That’s history, but that’s not ancient.

[…]

Let’s compare that to the bible. The bible had been completely written before the Koran was even thought of. The bible spans history all the way back about 6,000 years.

Who cares how old it is? Age has nothing to do with accuracy. One year is just as good as any other for writing supernatural books. You’re committing a logical fallacy here. You’re saying the bible is right because it’s old. Just because an idea has stuck around for a long time doesn’t make it right. Long ago, people used to think frogs were created out of mud and water. They weren’t right.

I don’t mean to be trite by comparing the bible to frogs. I’m just saying we should decide the truth of an idea based on its merits, not its age.

And the bible was not written down by one man. The bible was written down by multiple authors over a couple thousand years. And here’s what amazing: In the midst of all of that, the antiquity of the book, there’s amazing continuity. It’s almost as if the whole project was overseen by one editor.

You know, multiple people can be wrong. There’s such a thing as shared mythology. Just take a look at snopes.com. It’s very easy for a good story to spread around like wildfire, even if it’s also false.

As far as the continuity being “amazing”, a simple google search shows this to be very wrong.

There are many contradictions in the bible. Could this be because a bunch of different people who didn’t know each other wrote it? I’d say so.

I’ll never forget standing in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast in Israel, and I was looking at a stone relief that had the name “Pontius Pilate” on it. Pontius Pilate, from the bible, referred to as living in Jerusalem. And there is an archeological artifact with his name on it! And this kind of thing happens all the time when it comes to the bible. There is nothing related to the bible that has been disproven archeologically, historically. It continues to hold up to the best of scrutiny.

Ok, well if you accept that logic, then would you also accept this?

  • Spiderman lives in New York.
  • New York is a real place.
  • Spiderman is real!

Or this:

  • The 9/11 conspiracy theory refers to George W. Bush.
  • George W. Bush is a real person.
  • The 9/11 conspiracy theories are real!

My point is: historical characters and real places being in the bible don’t make the supernatural claims true.

Prophecies and Punishment by Proxy

Listen, it’s a prophetic book. It predicts the future. And to date, it has been 100% accurate. Not 99% accurate, 100% accurate!

Please cite a few. I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I hope we’re talking specific predictions, and not vague things that could be interpreted to mean anything.

But when you really study the word of God, and you understand God and his holiness, and you understand Man’s sinfulness, and you understand that there’s a gap, then you understand that there’s got to be something done to close the gap. And the only way that could happen was for God to intervene himself. You see, the fact that the Messiah suffered is proof that he was human. He had to become like us. Experience humanity. The fact that he died is necessary because there has to be a sacrifice. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. It’s the most basic old testament concept of forgiveness. And then here’s the thing: The messiah had to come back to life to prove he was God. It’s so reasonable in God’s economy.

Let me tell you what I believe. I believe people are responsible for their own actions. Evolution shows that Adam and Eve couldn’t have existed. But if they did, I am not responsible for their actions. I reject that notion as immoral. People should accept ownership of their own misdeeds, and your religion undermines this idea.

However, even accepting original sin (which I don’t), Jesus dying on the cross is not the only way it could have been resolved. God is omnipotent, remember? Why could he not just forgive Man’s sins?

Wouldn’t the absurdity of this claim have been just remarkably easy for the Roman government to disprove if they could?

Or maybe their mysterious silence on the matter is more indicative of the fact that it never happened!

I guess the question I have for you today is this: Are you persuaded?

No, I’m not.

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2
Feb

Why Jeff Crawford is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong–Part 1

Ok folks, it’s time for another sermon review. This one is from Jeff Crawford at Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I love this guy. He’s friendly, writes well, and is an excellent speaker. He was even nice enough to give me a gift: A sermon on apologetics. Dude, you shouldn’t have!

Here we go:

As we as a church, as a people of God, endeavor to move out from the walls of our churches and to actually reach a lost and dying world, there are going to be people who will rise up and will think that we are crazy. Crazy! How could anybody believe what we believe? How could a reasonable person really believe in God?

One thing I learned coming out of religion is that people’s expectations strongly drive what they see. We conveniently ignore things that don’t fit our expectations, and we inflate the importance of things that seem to fit our worldview. That’s why the scientific method is so important to science; it prevents your opinions from coloring the results.

Throughout this sermon, Jeff constantly reminds the audience that atheists think Christians are crazy. He then quickly assures them that they are actually very reasonable. This colors the audience’s view of the arguments given in the sermon. They are expected to be indignant. “Pshaw! How dare anyone think I’m crazy?”

This is made worse by the fact that of the arguments stated, none of the common refutations are even mentioned. It is simply stated that atheists think Christians are crazy, and that’s that. People are led to believe that atheists think Christians are crazy for no reason at all other than sheer incredulity. Many famous atheists are quoted, of course. But somehow, Pastor Jeff could only manage to find the offensive quotes from them. You’d think, with all the effort it took to find those quotes, that maybe he might have stumbled past the refutations to the arguments he was giving.

Nope. Refutations to our arguments don’t matter. Christians are only interested in hearing things that reinforce views they already hold.

The Cosmological Argument

After going on about postmodernism and relativism for a while, he finally hits on the Cosmological argument. For those who don’t know, it goes like this:

  1. Everything that exists must have a cause.
  2. If you follow the chain of events backwards through time, it cannot go back infinitely, so eventually you arrive at the first cause.
  3. This cause must, itself, be uncaused.
  4. But nothing can exist without a cause, except for God.
  5. Therefore, God exists.

Of this argument, he says:

And somewhere back there, you gotta have a first. And somewhere back there, you just get to the point where you realize that there has to be, there just has to be something, someone that is outside of everything that just started it all. And it’s God.

And that’s not crazy. That’s just kinda really common sense.

The way you say there has to be a first cause, with such fervor and excitement, it makes me think what you really mean is that you want there to be a first cause. You’re letting your own desires color your view of the evidence. I have yet to hear a single reason why the chain of causation can’t have existed forever. It’s simply stated as fact with no supporting evidence. Why does there have to be a first cause?

Of course, the most common response to this argument is, “Who created God? Where did this God come from? Who created him? Was it another God? If not, then why is God able to be uncaused, but the universe isn’t?” When you say the universe must have a cause, but God doesn’t need one, that’s Special Pleading. Everything must have a cause, except for our God, who has a special exemption.

Also, what makes you think the first cause has to be a God? Maybe it was some sort of special, unintelligent particle. The qualities you’re ascribing to this “first cause” are assumptions that haven’t been justified.

Even though the issues I’m raising with this argument are very commonly known, they aren’t mentioned at all in the sermon. It’s just implied that the atheists’ only response is that the Cosmological argument is “crazy”.

The Moral Argument

The next argument he brings up is the Moral Argument. It says that because people inherently know the difference between right and wrong, that means God must exist. Let’s just step through an example on this one:

People enjoy being alive. They also enjoy the company of their friends and family. Murder causes immense suffering and pain to victim’s loved ones. Since death can’t be undone, it should be chosen very sparingly lest these consequences occur. I don’t want to live in a society where anyone could kill me for any reason. In order for me to ensure others don’t hurt me, I have to agree to not hurt others. It’s part of the contract of living in a civil society. I also care about the well-being of others. I don’t want to see them suffer.

Was that so hard? Maybe people “inherently know” the difference between right and wrong because it’s stupefyingly obvious. I don’t really get why you need to have a supernatural deity to explain it.

Ultimately, though, this comes down to an Argument From Ignorance. Because you don’t personally understand where morals could have come from, you assume God exists. The problem is, that’s a positive assertion which requires evidence. A lack of understanding can’t be used as evidence to support a proposition.

At the end of this, he says:

It’s a pretty complex argument, but that’s the gist of it.

I don’t understand why people keep saying this. No. No, it’s not that complicated. Most of the time, people overthink it.

Man, this stuff takes a long time to write about. I’ll finish up the rest in Part 2. Coming up: Intelligent Design and why the Bible is soooo much better than the Koran.

22
Jan

The Role of Faith in the Abortion Debate

I’ve often said that the pro-life position in the abortion debate is largely fueled by religion. I had my preconceptions cemented last Sunday when the church I went to presented a sermon on abortion. Did you know that 50 million babies have been killed under this terrible law? It’s a tragedy! Everyone has been affected by it! The church needs to stand up for biblical truth!

I particularly liked the pastor’s claim that:

“18% of all abortions are late-term abortions. Now you just stop and think about that for a second.”

Oh my god that’s terrible!!! We’ve got to do something! Hey, wait a minute. Should we google that first, or just take it on faith?

This is from Wikipedia, but the source is the Center for Disease Control:

image

Per the source, 1.4% of abortions occurred at 21 weeks or later. Does this picture look like the pastor had any clue what he was talking about? When people get their facts from the bible instead of from science, it’s no wonder their worldview becomes skewed.

Of course, laced throughout this sermon were the struts that supported the pastor’s argument: bible quotes. Including this one from Jeremiah 1:5:

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

And this one from Luke 1:5:

15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.

The only reason anyone could reasonably believe that life “begins at conception” is if they think that souls are real. That’s religion. The abortion debate is fueled by religion, a worldview based on faith, not facts.

The pastor then went on to present pictures similar to this:

3D ultrasound and newborn baby-771083

He’d declare, “According to the law, the one on the left is a baby, but the one on the right is just a fetus. Ridiculous, huh?? Har har har! The law says it’s okay to kill a fetus and not a baby. But they’re the same thing!” He then went on to show a bunch of different pictures of third-trimester fetuses in the womb. After every picture, he would ominously declare “This is not a life!”

Sir, I have some other pictures you might be interested in:

Sperm-egg

This is not a life.

sperm_egg

This is not a life!

human-embryo

Oh my god, it’s a life! Do you see the arms and little fingers!?!?!? Don’t you just want to give that clump of undifferentiated cells a big hug?

You know, I have no problem with people being against 3rd trimester abortion. I don’t even have a problem with people being against 2nd trimester abortion. But I think it’s time we stopped being dishonest and started defining our terms. Using pictures of 3rd-trimester babies to try to stop women from killing a clump of a few cells that have only been alive for a week is fundamentally dishonest. Just man up and say you think cells can have souls and your only source is the bible.

3
Jan

I’m Not Looking Back, But I Want to Look Around Me Now.

Last Sunday, I took a group of atheists to a Pentecostal church with the goal of critically evaluating the experience. I wrote about it yesterday, but I never did get a chance to cover the sermon itself.

6171907581_53558d27a0

The pastor’s talk was on New Year’s resolutions and the ways that people want to change themselves. He covered the different kinds of resolutions people usually make (losing weight, spending time with family, etc), and also the past worries of Y2K chaos. The pastor related that his hellfire and brimstone church at the time thought that we wouldn’t even be here today, as the rapture would surely be happening soon.

As is the case with most sermons, though, this one was actually about being saved. He explained that there’s no point in trying to improve yourself if you’re not right with God. After all, even if you make yourself a better person, all you’ve done is made yourself a better sinner. So what’s the point? All change that’s actually important, the pastor said, was through God. The message was that we need to focus on our relationship with God and the afterlife, not the world we’re in right now.

Frankly, this philosophy disgusts me. I spent many years focusing all my energy on the afterlife. Now that I realize it’s not true, I feel like I wasted those years. If this life is all we have, then we do need to focus on it. Spending more time with family and improving your health isn’t trivial at all. It’s way more important than praying for an hour a day or fasting for a week. That year we just had? We won’t ever get it back. It’s gone forever. I hope you’re proud of the things you did in 2011, because you’re not going to get an infinite number of years.

It isn’t just people pouring time and emotion into something that isn’t real that upsets me. It’s the casual dismissal of the “things of this world” and flat-out saying they aren’t important. This life is important. You never know when you’ll be gone, so we should be getting as much out of it as we can. Wasting time improving our standing with a fictional person or place is pointless.

Who am I to tell people how to spend their time, though? Do what you want with your life. But if people are spending time on something that isn’t even real, to me that is harmful. It costs us time, the most precious resource we have.

2
Jan

Three Nails Gave Me Liberty

Yesterday morning, I went up to a Pentecostal preacher after he’d spent an hour and a half screaming at the pulpit, shook his hand, and told him I’m a nonbeliever. The look of shock on his face was priceless. It was as if I’d walked up to him holding a can of gasoline and sincerely declared my intention to set myself on fire.

both hands silouette

I was terrified: a militant atheist in a Pentecostal church. Why did I decide to go? I knew I had reasons, but I couldn’t remember what they were. Thankfully, I had three friends with me (also atheists): Mike, Sterling, and Aaron. I remember they actually said it was a “good idea”, an assertion which remains beyond my understanding.

In the first song, people sang the chorus, “Anything is Possible”. I made some inappropriate jokes about people being able to fly. Most people were waving their arms around in the air, looking upwards towards the sky. A couple in front of us were speaking in tongues. Why is everyone looking at the ceiling? Do they know it’s just atmosphere and space up there?

The second song was “Yes You Have” by Leeland:

With Your love you set me free
Three nails gave me liberty
So I’ll sing Your praise
Oh, with Your love
You forgave my sin
Forgot my past
And brought me back again
So I’ll sing Your praise

I glanced behind me. There was a lady with a pained expression on her face. You’d think she’d just lost a child by the look of her. I’m struck by how huge a role music plays in churches. They wouldn’t be experiencing these waves of emotion without the music. Secular music can achieve the same effect, yet people associate these feelings with divinity.

During the sermon, the pastor is screaming at the top of his lungs. Did I mention he’s got a microphone? Is it really necessary to yell when you have a microphone? It’s not a megachurch. There can’t be more than 40 people here. You don’t even need the mic if you’re going to yell like that. Of course, for maximum effect, when he’s ready to tug on your emotions, his voice drops down to a whisper. That’s when you know he’s serious.

The crowd was into it, though. People kept yelling words of encouragement. One guy in front of us would say, “C’mon” in a southern accent every 2-3 minutes or so. After about an hour, I began to wonder if he knew any other words.

In contrast to their parents, the little kids were totally disengaged. It was clear they had no idea why they were there or what was being said. One kid had his face buried in his hands, the double-facepalm maneuver. They weren’t getting anything out of it. Their parents probably think bringing them here will make them good people.

Near the end of the sermon, as the pastors voice drops down low, there’s silence for a bit, and then the soft music kicks in, barely audible. The pastor starts on the spiel about coming up front and giving yourself to “The Lord”. 80% of the crowd goes up front and kneels on the floor. Some are crying and sobbing like they’ve lost a loved one. There’s more talking in tongues.

My friend Mike (a magician) remarked on how the experience is just like a magic trick. In magic, he explained, the magician distracts people with one thing, then does the trick when people aren’t looking. In this case, the ceremony and the preacher’s message are the distraction. The music and the cadence of the pastor’s voice would then be the trick, designed to evoke an emotional experience that seems real.

Some people who aren’t religious will often say that faith is harmless. When I look at church-goers groveling on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably, it’s obvious to me they are going through some powerful emotions. They’ve fallen in love with an invisible friend. They feel worthless and sinful. Their pastor stresses submission and obedience. It’s not right to let people go through this. People who haven’t been through this experience can’t know what it’s like, and they dismiss it as trivial too easily. This is where the disconnect is between accommodationists and confrontationists.

18
Dec

Atheists Attending Church–The Experiment

Donald_and_JesusI actually attended church today. Don’t worry, I haven’t converted. I’m still an atheist! This is part of an experiment to see what would happen if atheists were to go church, mingle with people, discuss ideas, and critically review the experience. Will atheists get met with the same anger and bile they receive online? Is there some aspect to the experience we’re missing by not actually attending? And more importantly, would theists’ opinions of us change just by meeting real, live atheists?

I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I don’t feel right criticizing people on my blog without actually meeting them in person. Even though I’m not great at face-to-face communication, I think it brings an element that’s important in controversial topics like this.

A Joyful Noise

During the service, there was a band on stage playing contemporary/pop style music. My friend Mike (also a nonbeliever) was with me, and he commented on it:

Mike: “Oh, it’s contemporary! I never really like that kind of music.”

Me: “Wait… do you think people choose the church they go to based on the style of music they like?”

Mike: “I know I did. I preferred the Pentecostal music when I went to church. It had a more bluegrass vibe to it. That’s one of the reasons I went there. It made it more fun.”

Here, we have people deciding what church they go to based on the style of music the church plays. Now, if you like a certain kind of music, it can give you great surges of emotion. People attending rock, country, or rap concerts routinely experience vivid emotional sensations. The fact that these emotional experiences can take place in non-religious settings suggests a natural cause for these feelings. And with people self-selecting their churches based on music they like, that gives them a greater chance to have these feelings.

The People

Mike and I had chosen a row where we could sit by ourselves, but this woman comes and stands next to us during the service and starts doing the talking in tongues thing. It was totally strange and awkward to watch. But let’s face it, that’s part of what I came here to see. What a trip. I got the feeling she just wanted to make sure the new people were talked to, which I appreciate. It was also funny to see her constantly have to berate the teenagers standing behind us who kept heckling everything. Those poor kids are most likely forced to be there.

Afterwards, Mike and I talked to the pastor and a medical doctor who was also a creationist. I had problems at first getting enough courage to tell them I’m a nonbeliever. When I finally, did, they were friendly, open, and accepting. I was expecting to be thrown out on the spot, so their friendliness was quite a welcome reaction. Topics included fasting, why believers should be engaged in their church, creationism, alternative medicine (the doctor was against it), and a number of other topics. Mike didn’t hold back. Somehow, he has the ability to be super-friendly while still explaining to someone how completely wrong they are. I wish I had this skill! I laid back and asked questions and listened. I’m much more comfortable refuting someone in the comforting presence of my keyboard. In all, although I was very nervous, I’m quite happy with the experience. Will other churches be as friendly? I’m betting they will be.

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.”

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/

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

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/