Sunday, January 3, 2010

Re-Educating Christians: the Advocatus Atheist Answers another Christian’s Concerns!

My Christian friend Feeno, over at his blog If I Became an Atheist, had some inquiries for atheists. However, since he replied directly to a post I had left, I’ll take these questions as a personal inquiry as to what I think.

First, I have to forewarn that although I will try my hardest to keep my answers limited, often times the questions are so loaded that it’s hard to give one simple explanation. As such, some answers may be long and others may be short, but I’ll try to stay as concise as possible.

Feeno:  This is a perfect point to what I'm trying to prove. I can find credible pieces of information suggesting that the Bible is written by who it's said to be written by (the Dead Sea Scrolls for one). The reason these… writings are so unique is because it was inspired by God.

You can then just say, "well I think they are forgeries” or “they were written years later and that's how they predicted prophecies,” etc.

Advocatus Atheist: Many Christians are under this misapprehension that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the ‘original’ manuscripts written by the “original” authors of the Bible. But this just isn’t so. They are fragments of surviving copies of old texts, some which are pagan, Gnostic, and Hebrew!

Much of the important (for Christians) fragments are written in either Coptic Greek or Koine Greek (common or colloquial Greek).

So the Dead Sea Scrolls aren’t just a collection of the books of the New Testament and Holy Bible alone, but they are a collection of the Christian writings which catalogue a variety of different strands of different competing Christian sects. Then there is the problem of telling which was a genuine Christian article and which was simply pretend? And not only this, if you research the Dead Sea Scrolls, you'll find that most of the fragments are incomplete... and so many of the books of the Bible were pieced together form various fragments, written in different languages, and then translated, spliced together, and made to fit! That's not a divinely inspired book so much as it is a composition arranged and assembled by fallible men.

Have you ever wondered who chose which fragments would be left in and which got chucked? The fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls which got selected for the canon, or the official “books” of the Bible, was not formulated and decided upon until the second council of Nicaea (787 CE) and wouldn’t be finalized until the first council of Trent (16th century).

This means early Christians didn’t have an official religious text with tenets to inform them as to what a Christian ought to be or believe. Instead, they mainly relied on what they themselves wrote down, stories which were passed around, the more popular ones competed against each other for authority--some Gnostic, some Greek, and some Aramaic thrown into the mix--the writings from different cultures and different strands of thought entirely would be mashed together to form the tenets of early Christianity! Eventually only a few of these got picked to be canonized as orthodox doctrines by the early Church; which wouldn’t form until hundreds of years after the events themselves.

In-between those hundreds of years there were many forgeries written! Most of them based off Christian texts, but also many of them plagiarized the Christian texts and then added heretical verses or changed scripture to suit their particular sectarian views. We know all of this for a fact due to Higher Criticism and the wealth of information Biblical Historians have uncovered.
This is how we can be certain many alterations were made to primary texts, and numerous editorship repeatedly, and regularly, occurred to the “Christian” texts, often times changing their core message. Paul’s Epistles have the most forgeries, or are known to be pseudepigraphical, i.e. completely forged documents, of any of the New Testament writings! And I think that says something about the nature of early Christianity.

Feeno: I do owe you all an apology though. I shouldn't have said Atheists are intellectually lazy. I should have said anyone who dismisses the other side’s arguments based solely on prejudices are.

Advocatus Atheist: I fully agree with you. Anyone who simply rejects the other side’s arguments or position based solely on prejudices or preconceived conceptions based on stereotypes are being intellectually lazy. Hopefully we can help avoid being too lazy by engaging in meaningful discourse and looking at the actual evidence!

I would add, however, that once we have accumulated enough evidence, have critically examined it, and then we can balance the evidence and weigh what is valid and dismiss what is implausible and/or irrelevant. After which we can decide on what constitutes an accurate portrayal of the story dependent, not on our personal convictions, but the objective analysis of the texts.

Feeno: Here's my problem, please help if you can?

I've read many arguments for Atheism, many of these arguments are valid. Although they are valid, in order for them to "debunk" God you still have to make big leaps of faith. Here are a few examples:

ATHEIST’S CLAIM: Your faith depends on where you were born.
ME: That's kinda obvious, but how do you make the leap that equals no God?

Advocatus Atheist: Again, I fully agree that this is common sense. But I don’t think it’s obvious for most Christians, and I think you just proved it. Here’s why. All we need do is ask, do Muslims specifically consider themselves Christian? The answer is no. Do Buddhists consider themselves Christian? Again, the answer is no. Do Hindu adherents consider themselves Christian? Of course not.

So let’s reverse the question, and ask, do you (a Christian) believe in Vishnu, Brahma, Buddha, or Allah? If you don’t think any of these Gods are real… then it would seem that where you are raised, and by what specific belief system you are raised in, is very important!

This may not disprove that some sort of God, a deist god perhaps, exists beyond our current understanding; but this does show that all of these gods, as independent and separate entities, all can’t be valid since they are clearly different deities. In this sense, you share a lot more in common with atheists than you might realize. You are an atheist with regards to the rejection of implausible gods such as Zeus, Zoroaster, Vishnu, Mithras, Baal, Dionysus, and so on. Atheists, like me, just go one god further and reject one more unnecessary God.

Now, if you took the time to investigate these other religions and faiths for their validity, then you might change your opinion about them. But I think you are doing what most Christians do and are adhering to a devotional standard of piety which already favors a preconceived bias toward ‘other people’s beliefs’ because  official Christian opinion (Biblical supported of course) is that anything which does not adhere to the orthodox Christian views is heretical. Basically, you are professing that the Christian God is real, and that because you believe he’s real, he should apparently be the authoritative God of all peoples.  But that’s just not going to pass muster.

Feeno says:

ATHEIST CLAIM: There are so many gods out there how do you know yours is right?

ME: Again, pretty obvious, but how do you make the leap there is no God?

Advocatus Atheist: As stated above, if you doubt that Vishnu is equal in every way to the God you believe in, the Christian God, and that he’s just as real, then you have provided the answer to your own question. Presumably, you deny Vishnu’s existence, that he is the color blue, that he holds the universe in one hand and a lotus flower in another, that he issues forth his avatars, that he is all powerful, and so forth, if you don’t buy any of this as the absolute truth then it is because you don’t believe he is a valid God.

Thus, I think it’s safe to say, you reject Vishnu because you don’t find any of the claims of his existence credible. Why? Because at the very least you know this: The Christian God isn’t the color blue. That’s exactly what it is an atheist does when they say the personal God of the Christian faith does not exist. We know because the attributes of God which Christians swear upon are not evident. If they were, then it would be an entirely different ball game. But the fact of the matter is, they are mostly assumed, and then because that’s the kind of God people want to believe in… they profess a belief in the belief of that God without so much as scrutinizing the various attributes and determining whether or not they are trustworthy. For those who have tried, more often than not, they have found them untrustworthy and unreliable, and this is why after some consideration many people do reject the idea of the Christian God.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m agnostic when it comes to whether or not some transcendent deity of some form or another could possibly exist, but I’m about 99.9% certain that the Christian God is untenable.  A god of some sort may likely exist, but the specific Christian God is much like Vishnu, we can be pretty darn certain that he does not exist. It’s not so much a leap of faith, as you put it, so much as it is just plain old obvious, common sense. Where’s the abundance of evidence for God, according to how he is defined in the Bible? I’m not talking about a nebulous deity of Desim, but the very case specific God of the Christians. I do not see *convincing evidence for this God, and so I do not believe in it.

Feeno says:
ATHEIST CLAIM: If there was a god he wouldn't allow... pick any evil thing or natural disaster...

ME: Really, there was a tornado so that means of course that God doesn't exist?

Advocatus Atheist: Again, the problem of theodicy arises because the Christian God is said to be all knowing and all loving. But reason dictates that an all loving God who is omnipotent, i.e. all powerful, would be able to put a stop to an event which would harm or kill the objects of his undying love. Yet a God who does not intervene and allows a catastrophe to wipe us out could not possibly be an all loving God, so it stems to reason that the Christian God negates himself by these contrary set of attributes.

Therefore it is logically impossible for such a contrary being to exist. First, the evidence of the natural disasters and evil events may not prove God is nonexistent per say, but it proves that God cannot be benevolent, or else, no good God exists since the existence of evil would be good evidence against the Christian God. And secondly, the tangible or viewable evidence which can be confirmed, or rather lack thereof, means that God is more likely to be non-existent than duplicitous, since the latter conflicts with what the Christian God is supposed to be.

The third option is that Christians have just misunderstood and miss-portrayed the true nature of God. But then what right do we have to believe Christians when they say God cares for us and wants nothing but the best for us when their own accounts are either incongruous, or pretty much fly-by-night?

Feeno says:
ATHEIST CLAIM: You guys just want to scare children with stories about Hell.
ME: Uh, so that must mean there is no God?

Advocatus Atheist: It’s not that Christians want to scare children, and each other, with the idea of Hell, but rather, that they do! Fire and brimstone preaching still goes on in fundamental and evangelical Churches across the U.S. and is one of the biggest conversion tools of Christian legacy. Using the idea of sin, and the blackmail of Hell as punishment, is how the Church has kept business for the past several millennium. But why the overcompensation? Simply put, because the more converts the Church received, the more wealth the institution could accrue. I mean, have you seen the Vatican? It’s not exactly in tune with the teachings of Christ who said to abandon a life of mammon and follow him. This is not only hypocritical, but obviously is fraud!

Does this mean there is no God? Well, if God was meant to have made hell, and hell turns out to be imaginary, then what does this say about God? I mean, you can believe in hell if you want to, but I would warn you, many people believed whole heartedly in Limbo too, that is, before the Catholic Church renounced the doctrine of Limbo.

Honestly, I find it a little disconcerting that people would still follow an institution that has willing admitted that it has lied and practiced fraud. But if you know anything about the history of the Church, it’s not the concept of hell that little children must fear; it’s the priesthood of the Church itself! And this goes back to the problem of theodicy again, because how an all loving God could allow the suffering of innocent children is beyond me. More than this, how could a benevolent God allow for such cruelty and perverted criminal acts to be inflicted on innocent children by his own emissaries?

I have heard the Christian defense, often the fall back excuse for Christians in denial that such horrors should exist, state that God allows one evil to allow for a greater good. But what greater good comes out of the rape, molestation, mental and physical abuse of defenseless children? In the name of God I sodomize thee! If God was moral, he’d put a stop to that behavior right there and then by smiting such unworthy and self-serving pedophiles with righteous justice. The fact that he doesn’t means he’s enjoying the show, which is sick, or else does not exist.

Besides, an all loving God wouldn’t allow it if he were all powerful… since his power would be unstoppable he could easily bring about the greatest good through is unlimited power! The fact that he doesn’t show his clout, and that he continues to let small children take it up the ass in his name, suggests (again) that he’s either a cruel god or altogether nonexistent.
The thing Hell believing Christians need to fear most is whether or not God turns out to be malevolent, should he exist. For a wicked God, the idea of hell is quite capricious, and so it would seem getting eternal bliss or eternal damnation would be an arbitrary thing if God was not fully good. And this is a big problem Christians brush aside in order to justify the problem of evil. But I would say the problem of evil is satisfactory when you consider that God may be malevolent and capricious. It would give a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Goddamn it all to hell." What if that's his plan all along? Again, I don't think Christians would want this sort of God, and that's why they try so hard to deny that he could be sinister at all, and so the 'problem of evil' remains regardless of whether or not hell exists.

Feeno says:
ATHEIST CLAIM: Christians are mean.
ME: OK, sometimes.

Advocatus Atheist: No argument from me.

Feeno says:
ATHEIST CLAIM: People are starving (to death).
ME: First I must say any time someone says "it's for the kids" I know the next thing out of their mouth is usually self serving. But anyway, and once again they make the leap to that there is no God.

Advocatus Atheist: If child molestation and rape wasn’t bad enough… now God allows this? It’s one thing to suffer so that one may learn to adapt to the situation and come out on top, but when all there is is suffering—and not just suffering but absolute agony and pain and misery with only death to look forward to… it seriously makes one stop to pause. Again, theodicy, answering the problem of evil, and why a benevolent God would allow pain and suffering, is not a small dilemma for Christians. It is up to Christians to explain why an all powerful and all loving God would allow this sort of wretchedness and desolation, but to date I have not heard a satisfactory answer which address the problem and defends God’s worth. As far as I can tell, a God who sits back and does nothing, as he has for most of the human existence, is pretty much worthless.

Feeno says:
ATHEIST CLAIM: We’re just as a good as Christians.
ME: What is with you people, do you have an inferiority complex? OK, I admit it; many of you are just as good as a bunch of us sinners. As always though, another great leap.

Advocatus Atheist: Actually, I think many atheists are saying: we’re nothing like you Christians! And that’s why we’re horrified, because it seems that most Christians are so preoccupied with sin that they forget how to be decent human beings. Atheists are now making a stand against such hypocrisy, and it has been a peculiar thing that—more often than not—Christians don’t take to heart what nonbelievers are saying because, BECAUSE, nonbelievers are not Christian.

There you have it. It’s not about insecurity issues so much as it is that atheists are being forced to defend their honor and correct all the misinformation about them! Christians are deliberately placing atheists into unfair stereotypes and then holding us to unreasonable stipulations, and so it is for this reason that atheists and skeptics have had to repeatedly remind Christians that we’re just as good and decent as the best of them. But in my humble opinion, we are more decent, honest, and upright than the majority who think we’re not. My advice to Christians would be to seriously take a long hard look at moral philosophy and the study of ethics, lest they make bigots of themselves for saying something that is unfounded and untrue.

Feeno says:

Then you got science, did you know that scientists who lived a hundred years ago had a list of things they thought about the Bible that couldn't possibly be true, but as we continue to find new things the Bible is proven to be right. Not that this book tries to do that. It's a book to teach us about God, and those that like God will use it in a way that they think is right. Those that don't like the idea of a god, or the God the Bible speaks of, will have to change their views and outlooks or change and or debunk the Bible?

Advocatus Atheist: I am curious to know which scientists and which theories were trumped by Biblical authority? As far as I can tell, the opposite seems to be true. The more natural knowledge we gain about the world around us, reality, and the physical universe the more is shows the Bible to be a fallible, inaccurate, mesh of myth, fable, folklore, with historical trimmings, all wrapped up in mystique. But I am unaware of any example where the Bible wins out over the advances of science. It seems that science has a tendency to break the monopoly of religion, and denotative thing to do would be to put the Bible back on the bookshelf, alongside Aesop’s Fables and the Bros. Grimm, and get back to researching and utilizing the tools of science and reason to enlighten us.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist