Monday, August 30, 2010

Boy's Philosophy According to C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis once called atheism "a boy's philosophy," basically saying that there was nothing to it. He wrote that it [atheism] was too simplistic, and that real world concerns, adult concerns, were complicated and so required complex answers to meet them adequately. In Lewis' mind, the existence of complexity in the universe requires a more complex maker. Where did all this complexity come from?

For Lewis, the only answer he could see was: It came from God. But this shows a weakness in Lewis' reasoning, who was a great reductionist, highly rational, able to break apart an idea into its basic constituents and then analyze them with a fluidity and eloquence most of us lack. But having read more than just Lewis' work, I have come to find that Lewis was sort of a one-trick pony. At least when it came to philosophy. Unlike Jacques, C.S. Lewis felt there was an outside the box--that being God. Lewis liked the tools that deconstructionism provided. It's like chiseling away the excess, or frivolous, elements to an idea or concept to better make sense of the underlying form. It's no wonder that when Lewis looked inside the box labeled 'atheism' he freaked out--for there was nothing in it! Nothing to categorize, analyze, or wrap one's mind around. It was void.

For Lewis, this ultimately reflected a simplicity too void of thought to be taken seriously. Lewis was a thinker--he tackled questions fearlessly--and atheism seemed, well, rather dull. Nothing to critique, so he trivialized it and set it aside.

Although, this clues us in that Lewis started out with a massive misunderstanding of atheism, which is odd since he claims to have once been one. We find that his mistake was to assume atheis is the equivalent of other fully actualized philosophies. Lewis desperately wants something to deconstruct, take apart, and scrutinize--but atheism doesn't give him that. Religion, however, did give him that. Like boys playing with empty boxes, atheism was "a boys philosophy" to him. Fun for the adolescent, but when real world concerns complicated life, he found solace in the complexity of religion.

I call Lewis a one-trick pony because his apologetics and philosophy is only ever an attempt to deconstruct something. Obviously, he applies this method because it is the way his mind best comes to understand the world, and so he excelled at that train of thought, but Lewis makes another grave error by assuming complex problems always need sophisticated answers. This is simply not true.

The universe is vastly complex, but physics ultimately provides simple theories, models, and equations to make an advancing cosmogony practical. Not because we, with our inferior minds, has deconstructed and simplified the universe--but rather, because the universe, for all its grandeur, is only complex enough that we might understand it. Actually, given entropy, the universe is growing more chaotic, more complex. Initially, however, it seems that the universe may have started out quite simply--along with the laws which govern it. From the simplest state possible--to nothing. From belief in God, to atheism. It seems the natural progression of things. But why should Lewis have doubted that?

Because Lewis, although he pretended to be a philosopher unraveling the mysteries of man and God, he simply put the cart before the horse. All of Lewis' work reflects one thing, he wanted to believe in God. Desperately. So deperately, that even when one reads his atheistic letters, one finds that Lewis never truly gave up the notion in the possibility of God--the possibility for something outside the proverbial box. Personally, I find this shows that Lewis was never an authentic non-believer, he was merely what most Christians are as some point or another in their faith--doubtful, yet ever mindful and optimistic of the possibility. Faith usually wins out against evidence, or the lack thereof, because people make the choice to believe before they have thoroughly vetted the question. Lewis, for all his intellect, was no different.

Of course, in the end, Lewis was right--atheism is rather simple. It consists of the rejection of the theistic claim. At most it is the rejection of belief in God. That's all there is to it. But, just to be clear, atheism is not an equivalent belief system rivaling the complexity (or rather convoluted nature) of Christian theology. It was never meant to be.

Something which bothers me is that many Christians buy into C.S. Lewis' description of atheism, because he is their intellectual champion, and tells them he's been there, done that. He's got 'street cred' in other words. But there's nothing to write home about, I'm afraid.

Indeed, this "I once was an atheist" badge is proudly worn by many religious apologists. The Christian apologists Josh McDowel, Lee Strobel, and the Rabbi David Wolpe (among many others) all claim to have been atheists too. But when I listen to them talk about atheism it becomes abundantly clear that they never were truly atheists--like Lewis, at most they can claim is that they had some doubts, once. That's it. They may have been unbelievers for a short time, but their faith was intact, they just ignored it while they were confused by the cognitive cloud of dissonance that lingered over them in their time of reflection. They, I think it's safe to say, were never genuine Nonbelievers, never really atheists.

I provide this critique fully aware of the danger of making the No True Scottsman fallacy, but I think the volume of these men, and especially C.S. Lewis's work, speaks for itself. There was never any time they stopped believing. There was, however, times when they each found reasons for choosing not to.

Suffice to say, they never jumped into the secular waters, they just dipped their little toes in and quickly retracted from a shiver and the terror of the deep. Or in Lewis' case, the fear of empty boxes.

But during their periods of deep doubt, they themselves felt their faith was lost, and so we can't call them believers, or fakers for that matter. So what were they?

Maybe pseudo-atheists, is a better term. Christians who experience a moment of doubt which lingers when their rational minds get the better of them, only to lose out again to the temptation of religious certainty and the promise of ultimate answers could be deemed psuedo-atheists. If Lewis' work depicts anything... it is a man in search for absolute truths, just think of his preoccupation with absolute morality for example, for which he spent the better part of his life searching for in the confines of Christian theology--a rather limited, and smallish, box if ever there was one. But like his many beloved afternoon strolls, Christian theology was where Lewis liked to stretch his intellectual muscles.

Even though I'll never be half the writer he was, I can't help but wonder, what would he have been capable of writing if he, for just one moment, could have climbed out of the confines of his tight theological box and truly embraced skepticism?

Would the great C.S. Lewis still have been called 'the Apostle of the Skeptics' or would he have simply transcended his skepticism and realized... there is no outside of the box? An empty box with nothing in it and nothing outside it--that's the realization Lewis so adamantly despised. Just a box! My God, it's a terrible realization. What does one do with that? Well, Lewis answer was predictable--turn back toward that ever comforting realm of faith--where one has all the answers provided for them. Indeed, his insecurity with deep philosophical problems is why he set philosophy on the shelf and made a career as a Christian apologist. Which, when you think about it, makes his statement that atheism is "a boys philosophy" sort of ironic.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why are Christians Hung Up on Sin?

Hung Up on Sin

The concept of sin can be broken into two parts. Because many Christians believe God and the Bible are sources of all moral authority, they’ve proceeded to set barely conceivable and quite nearly impossible standards for what it means to sin because they believe in the metaphysical nature of sin—namely anything which is a transgression of God’s perfect law—which itself is subject to interpretation—therefore a “sin” becomes anything which the Christian sees as morally reprehensible within the religious context. Therefore the first part of sin require a metaphysical presumption on the behalf of the believer about what God’s moral law actually implies and also what constitutes a breaking or transgression of that law. However, this is obviously a stretch of the imagination, since to presume to know God’s mind is presumptuous to say the least.

The other part, the second half of sin, is the application of the metaphysical hypothesis as applied to our daily living practices. Christianity has a full theology dedicated to living in a world with sin, because they want to ensure your soul will be spared from the corruptible nature of sin, and its capacity to turn us away from God. Most Christians are told, repeatedly, by their Pastors, Priests, and Preachers that they are innately sinners! In order to safeguard yourself from the corruptibility of sin you must first be baptized, and then accept the Holy Spirit, and then allow Jesus Christ into your heart as the guarantee of salvation from sin.

The old fundamentalist rhetoric is that we are all perishing and are in need of redeeming, and the only way to wash away our sins is to accept Christ as Lord and Savior (as Jesus death on the cross was an expiation, his blood cleansed us of sin in one final atonement).[1] The least we could do is accept this loving act and pay him back in a life of devotion and worship, right? I mean, the standard fare preachcraft espouses, “Jesus death saves us by demonstrating God’s love for us. It’s because of his love that he sent his one and only begotten son to save us, to rid of us our sin, so that we could live eternally by his side!”

Ancesteral Sin is Asinine

Sunday school teachers never forget to remind children, as I once was, that we’re all born sinners because we’re paying for the crimes of Adam and Eve after all—who were beguiled by a devious talking snake—and tricked Eve into tricking Adam to disobey God—never mind that every rational adult knows that it’s just a fable. At any rate, the claim is that sin is ancestral in nature and is inherited by each consecutive generation of mankind is completely spurious. The claim completely lacks a basis for support of any kind whatsoever. Furthermore, when it comes to the Garden of Eden story, and the “fall of man,” bible literalists seem to miss the moral of the story. They’re so hung up on the notion of sin that they forget to ask themselves what the story is even about.[i]

This lame attempt to bamboozle you by assuming we’re all predestined sinners and claiming God’s love caused him to sacrifice his one and only son, because of the crimes of a dubious talking snake and two hapless children at the dawn of time, in order to free humanity from its bondage to sin, makes no more sense than the capacity of a squealing sacrificial she-goat being bled to death supposedly washes away the sins of the ancient Israelites. If you’re a Christian, it may behoove you to ask yourself in all earnestness, did Jesus seriously die for the antics of a talking snake? Before you try to answer this question though, consider the corollary question, why couldn’t an all powerful God have simply zipped the lips of that damn snake? Was the snake more powerful than God?[ii] The whole story of how sin came about is just silly—even if we are to assume it’s only meant as a metaphor—what a ridiculous metaphor it is.

In his book the Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis goes one step further by calling the religious postulation that this ancestral sin obliged the universal “fall of man” is completely erroneous. About the lamentable situation of Adam and Eve, he states, “The Fathers may sometimes say that we are punished for Adam’s sin: but they much more often say that we sinned ‘in Adam’. It may be impossible to find out what they meant by this, or we may decide that what they meant was erroneous.”[iii]

Muslims counter this absurd claim of “original sin” by informing Allah is the master of original forgiveness. Allah is all powerful, Allah does not require measly goat sacrifices as payment to appease him, he pardons who he will when he will. Something about the whole notion of sacrifice to wash away ones sins, blood sacrifice nonetheless, rings primitive and barbaric. I think Muslims have it right. If God is all powerful, why not just forgive and forget? Let bygones be bygones.

Theological Death Trap

Let’s not forget cause and effect. If original sin were real, and Jesus Christs died for the collective sins of mankind other theological problems arise, such as Penal Substitution Theory, in which God punishes an innocent person for the crimes of the guilty, which is an unjust act. What’s more, the Son of Man can’t technically pay for our sins on our behalf without obstructing our sense of moral responsibility. We’d never learn from out mistakes, since like a spoiled brat whose rich parents always pay their deviant son’s bail whenever he gets into too much trouble—Christ’s act of paying our bail, so to speak, would only stunt our moral growth. If sin were real, then it would be our debt to pay.

Even so, I have heard Christians argue that sin was too great a price to pay and that only the Son of God could have paid such a debt. C.S. Lewis argued this view as well, but the problem comes back to the negation of moral obligation by using an unjust method of scapegoating in order to pass the buck. Of course Christians may try and weasel their way out of the problem of Penal Substitution Theory by claiming that the atonement was an act of grace, a voluntary act of mercy on behalf of the Christ, or else the crimes were imputed to Christ, as if he were to blame. But both arguments don’t solve the problem since by grace, if Christ is considered to be truly sinless, then the inflicted punishment of crucifixion was itself an injustice, in which case grace gets equated to injustice, and this is a contradiction. Whereas imputing the crimes onto an innocent man, and punishing him, would be a blatant denial of the truth—it would amount to a case of being falsely accused and wrongfully convicted, like Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, and furthermore it would be a complete disregard for any real justice.

One final problem arises when Christians posit that Jesus was co-eternal with the Father. If this is true (presumably) then Christ would have known beforehand that his death would be unjust and so, being one with God, he would not have died for our sins as he would be incapable of carrying out such a massive injustice. So any which way you choose to look at it Jesus’ expiation could not have been an act of grace. In actuality, it was a symbolic act of blood sacrifice which was not even necessary to begin with.

Why was the blood sacrifice unnecessary in the first place? Well, whatever sin may be, we know it is metaphysical in nature, therefore the spilling of blood could only be symbolic. Needles to say, for those living in the first century blood sacrifice was common place as it was seen as a way to appease a vengeful God by primitive bronzed aged peoples. The same primitive peoples which so often ignore the advice of their own holy books, such as that of Proverbs which says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (15:1). Christ’s blood sacrifice was technically just a last-ditch effort of turning away God’s unbridled wrath. Not exactly civilized—not exactly ethical either.

The same could be said of the dietary laws of the ancient Hebrews too, as kosher observance is a big deal in the Old Testament. Yet these are not the laws of an all knowing God—but of simple minded men belonging to a pre-agricultural nomadic society. If God were real he would have taught his people how to farm, how to irrigate, and how to plant and raise crops to sustain them and then the slaughter of swine, and the problem of procuring the meat without the proper means, wouldn’t have been an issue. Surely an all knowing / loving God could teach his people the science of agriculture over ill-bred herdsmanship and vegetarianism over carnivory and animal cruelty? Yet this is not the sort of God the faiths of Abraham depict. The God of Abraham, it would seem, is just as ignorant and blood thirsty as the uncivilized meat eating, animal sacrificing, herdsmen who wondered the Palestinian desert over two thousand years ago.

Another problem with “original sin” is that if it’s an inherited or “ancesteral” sin, it means God is holding us accountable for the sins of others as well! You’ve sinned, or at least your ancestors did, now worship God—not freely but by necessity. The tree of good and evil doesn’t even come into it—because it was not you or I who ate the fruit—so it’s not our fault; but you shall be punished for it none-the-less. Therefore God is being unjust by holding us accountable for crimes we did not commit. The Fall of Man, if we are to consider the fable a literal event, was not our fault. So why frame us?

No Need to be so Literal: Sin is just a Metaphor

Ancestoral sin is obvliously fake, because as an inherited trait, reason dictates that it would have to be passed on through our DNA. And although genetics and evolutionary biology can explain humanity’s altruistic behavior, as proved by the evolutionary theorist George Price in 1970, there is no reason to suppose that sin is in anyway an inherited evil. Even Charles Darwin, a once devout believer, came to find the Christian claims absurd. In his autobiography he states, “I had gradually come by this time to see the Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc. etc. and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos or the beliefs of any barbarian.”[iv]

Furthermore, a curious question arises: if we come ready made as sinners, only to have no option but to turn to God to free our perishing souls, and by necessity enter into a contract which ensures our eternal salvation—then why invent sin in the first place? Why not just skip that part, and go straight on to designing us as cogs in the worship machine? Sin accompanies with it the notion that, at the very least, we have the ability to defy God, to make the choice to reject him, using free will.[2] Free will gives us the ability to choose a different option than the preselected one. It allows us the choice of individual sovereignty over theocratic and theocentric dominion.

Cake or Death?

Free choice complicates things even further since if God was merely offering two options, one good and one bad, and knowing he’d punish us for choosing the wrong one, then such an ‘either or appeal’ smacks of sinister intent. In the back of my mind I can’t help but think of comedian Eddy Izzard’s lampooning remark, “Cake or death?” In actuality such a scenario does not denote free will at all, because ultimately there is only one rational choice.

Bizarre as it seems to a reasonable person, many don’t see that Jehovah is acting the role of an insane terrorist and is holding the loaded pistol in one hand and the cake in the other only to offer you the choice, “Would you like some cake or death?” Then before you’ve even had time to wrap your mind around the situation he immediately shoots his own son in the face! BLAM!! It’s almost as if he was daring you to doubt him. Now that you’re terrified that he’s goading you to tempt his resolve, you know that you have but only one choice, as bitter as it is, you find no other option but to muster up a nervous smile and a cheerful, “Pass me the cake, please.” Then you share a slice over the dead body of Christ—who paid for your hesitation and doubt to fess up to some ancestral obligation to write off somebody else’s sins—with his life. Indeed, the more you pause to think about how insane it really is the more convoluted the concept of original sin becomes. But whatever you do—don’t you dare say no to the God-father because he’ll hang you out to dry (or fry).

Cross the God-father and he’ll take you to the cleaners. Any trifling offense will do, such as stealing a bite of forbidden fruit, or just not believing in him enough, questioning him, speaking a blasphemy in his name, besmirching a popular prophet’s exalted name, or anything which dares to trample God’s immense pride even just a little bit is reason enough to damn people to hell. Traditionally, the monotheistic deity of Judeo-Christian religious tradition, and equally Allah of Islam, have exhibited a mobster mentality so insanely capricious that we can’t help but feel rationally inclined to question the inordinate disparity between finite offenses and infinite punishment. 

By way of this observation we can call into question the nature of a God who consigns his own creations to hell, presumably, to enjoy everlasting torment simply for the lack of belief or any other infinitesimally obscure crime such as eating a pork chop sandwich or picking up a stick on the weekend. The biblical God’s cruel hearted capriciousness is what caused Darwin to have doubts in Christianity as a whole. In his autobiography Darwin writes about his loss of faith, candidly recounting, “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine….”[v]

As for picking up sticks on the Sabbath (a crime punishable only by death according to God’s law), we have a different dilemma. What if a blast of wind blew over a heavy tree which toppled onto your home and fell onto your hapless child? Wouldn’t it be nobler, more virtuous, and even compulsory to save your own child than to worry whether or not God would punish you for it? And if you didn’t save your child, wouldn’t you, in essence, be breaking God’s other commandment to be fruitful and rear children? Obviously, it’s a lose-lose-situation. You’re stuck in the quagmire of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But low and behold, knowing you’re going to betray him and sin anyway (never mind it’s a set up) the God-father offers you an out and gives you but one of two choices, eternal bliss or eternal damnation, “cake or death?”

But like Bertrand Russell, I too, “…really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.”[vi] Least of all an all loving God—since a God who loved us would not be so needlessly cruel. It seems to me the concept of sin is rather convoluted precisely because it’s simply not a matter of black and white, “good vs. evil.” When questions of morality are at stake, such as ethical conduct and behavior, or what it means to be good or bad at all, there is a full gray scale to be considered. And to make it a black and white issue about the choice between obedience and rebellion, sin and salvation, cake or death, is simply to offer a false dichotomy and is an unfair ultimatum. 

The Problem with Original Sin

Knowing that we can discern that original sin is an unfair ultimatum and by reason we can reveal it to be a false dichotomy raises the obvious concern: could the initial status of original sin even be allowed for by an omniscient and benevolent God? The answer is clearly no. Even if, as many theologians have attempted to argued, God wanted to allow sin as a means to teach us moral responsibility—or to bring about a greater good by allowing a small evil—such a capacity would be abscent in an all loving God to begin with. And since a loving God could not possibly have allowed for the sequence of events leading to original sin in the first place, we know that the only way to allow for such a theory is to posit a God which is not entirely loving, and which may be altogether capricious or malevotlent.

Introducing free will in order to get over the hump of the rest of the theological problems which arise, by supposing it was in our choosing to obey the self rather than obey God which spurred forth the initial act of defiance, e.g. original sin, does not save God from being crule as it presupposes there could only be two choices—a right one and a wrong one—cake or death—and again we come back to the problem of it being an unfair ultimatuam. The idea of original sin, for all intents and purposes, is impossible if an all loving God does exist. In fact, it is a faulty premise which only complicates matters because it does the opposite, working against the theist’s claims, by proving that God is not loving but ominous. I think C.S. Lewis was right to hint at the fact that the concept of original sin might be erroneous, because, quite frankly, it is.

My question would be why are Christians still hung up on this sin business anyway? I’ll tell you why, basically because it is exactly that—a business scheme. It’s the salvation racket. Without the idea of sin, they’d have nothing to bargain with. Without the promise of heaven they’d have nothing to entice you with. Max Weber’s elective affinity[vii] does apply, because without a system of revenue the Church would have no choice but to shut down its business practice. In this case the system is a barter system—where the value is not placed on currency but the worth of your soul. If you agree to give it over to the Christ, trade your soul for their promise that the Church will keep you sin free and keep your soul safe in a lock box for you when the Final Judgement arrives, so that when that time comes and God checks your credit, you’ll be covered and will be able to cash out and get the sweet lot in Heaven.

Without the threat of punishment, torture, and everlasting pain in an imaginary hell, however, the Christian oligarchy would have nothing to blackmail you with—and the scheme fails. But for it to work, they first must to sell you the concept of sin. As the Jewel song says, “In order to believe in forgiveness, you must first believe in sin.” If you buy into that, the rest is easy. 

The Born-Again Experience

In order for the person of faith to feel vindicated in believing what they do, they have to be part of a community of believers, since if they were the only person of faith on the planet there would be no mass religious movements or religious institutions. Thus maintaining the level of faith among God believers is the utmost interest of the Church organization. After all, the Church cannot survive without any followers.

Evangelical Christianity teaches that everyone is born into sin, and in the mind of the believer this causes a pressing feeling of insufficiency, self- deficiency, even helplessness, but then they are offered salvation and their crippling shame doesn’t matter anymore. Now they can turn to God, and in the denial of the self they can say the “sinner’s prayer” ask for forgiveness, accept Jesus, and be “saved” thus be transformed into a born-again Christian! They can gain acceptance into a community of believers.

As a consequence of believing in the literal nature of sin, however, the born-again believer can only view their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, and acquaintances they meet on the street as people who are perishing and are in dire need of “saving.” Therefore evangelism, missionary work, discipleship and converting others (i.e. convincing people of the benefits of joining the club) become necessary in reinforcing and maintaining the faith. The Evangelical system is set up like a pyramid scheme, that way the born-agains can spend all their energy prosylatizing while the priestly elite can sit around and write sermons. And this notion that one needs to save others strengthens his faith by making him feel like the power of God is working through him. Even if he doesn’t succeed he can still consider it a victory for the lessons he learned in how to better go about converting the next person he runs into. Coincidentally this also breeds fanaticism—which is prominent within Evangelical movements—in turn lending to the revivalism which spurs on the growth of Christian Evangelism and is probably why it has been so successful.

The late great Eric Hoffer had this to say on proselytizing:

The missionary zeal seems rather an expression of some deep misgiving, some pressing feeling of insufficiency at the center. Proselytizing is more a passionate search for something not yet found than a desire to bestow upon the world something we already have. It is a search for final and irrefutable demonstration that our absolute truth is indeed the one and only truth. The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others.[viii]

            Evangelical Christianity relies on the doctrine of original sin as the mechanism to convert others, but in order to be born-again you must first debase yourself and grovel like an abject slave, and in losing faith in yourself place all faith in God and be saved. Evangelical Christaintiy says sin is stronger than you—but I say bullocks. Nobody has ever proved the metaphysical claim of sin to be anything more than a metaphysical supposition. Still, that hasn’t stopped religious fanatics from using it as a tool for proselytization.

Sin or no sin, metaphysical claims notwithstanding, even if you do consider yourself a sinner, odds are, if you are a mentally healthy individual then you are almost certainly doing more good than bad each day. So what causes us to be weak and to do bad things you wonder? Suffice to say, we’re not perfect! We’re each of us fallible, imperfect, and prone to make mistakes. Apparently some more than others, depending on our circumstances, how we were raised, cultural upbringing, economics, our individual temperament, and numerous other conditions and factors. Our so called “sinful” natures are just one of the stamps of our lowly animal imperfection—our biological weakness as mere primates—welcome to the human race!

[1] This is known as moral influence theory.
[2] See: Free Will and the Dilemma of Determinism.

[i] Most Christians believe the Garden of Eden fable to be a tale of obedience to God and a metaphor to explain the emergence of sin. But this is an apologetic reading of the text which seeks to find a rationalization for the theological riddle of the problem of evil. Christians often overlook the fact that the story of Adam and Eve is a coming of age fable which represents the necessity to grow up and become wise and responsible individuals independent from our parents. Modern Chrisitian exegesis seems to be bound to the fundamentalist tendency to constantly harmonize the Bible, and diminish the discrepancies which arise from the conflict of metaphisyca assumptions, and at the same time seems to represent an undying wish for security by remaining under the care and provision of a supreme parental figure.

The Sunday school version of the story makes it appear that the human specieis is forever begging a heavenly father to let us back into his home after he’s disowned us—and the message to always heed one’s parents and obey them, or face the consequences and punishment, is taught to small children to frighten them into honoring their parents. But like any parent concerned with our futures, God shues us from the nest forcing us to have to learn to fly on our own—all part of growing pains. Granted you can read the story both ways, it seems odd to me that Christians so desperately want to be dependent upon God and seek to revert into the infantile children in the garden—the message they project into their reading of the story—when all the mythical imagery, i.e. trees of knowledge and animal guides, suggests the opposite—it’s an enlightenment fable which has nothing to do with obedience toward God or metaphysical assumptions about the nature of sin.

[ii] Some have claimed the snake was actually Satan in disguise. To the contrary, the Bible never says this, nor is such an inference supported anywhere in the scriptures, thus the claim is discernibly false.
[iii] C.S. Lewis, Problem of Pain, p.64

[iv] Barlow Nora, The Autobiography of Darwin Charles, 1809-1882, WW Norton & Company, New Yoerk 1958, p. 85

[v] Ibid. p. 87

[vi] From “Why I am not a Christian,” The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, p.594.  Allen & Unwin, 1961.

[vii] Elective affinity is a term used by Weber to describe the match between aspects of Protestantism and those of the ethos of capitalism. The one provides the soil in which the other can flourish.

[viii] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (New York: Harper & Row, 1951), p. 108.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fear to Anger, Anger to Hate, Hate Leads to the Dark Side

As an advocate for reason, clear headedness, and critical thinking I must warn you that this post is going to be a bit of a gripe.

The Dilemma
Social gathering networks… what are they good for? Mostly a headache and a big fat waste of time, if you ask me. Still, since I live away from home it’s one of the easiest ways to keep in contact with friends and family members back stateside. Yet sometimes a friend of a friend, or somebody who I thought was a friend, will write the most god-awful diatribe—spouting off at the mouth as if their opinion was god’s gift to mankind—and going on and on about politics or religion—without actually having a inkling of a clue about what they are talking about. Although I try and ignore such self conceitedness, every once in a while there is a real doozy of a comment that I can’t just turn a blind eye to—because it’s so damn ignorant that it bleeds offensiveness.

Just the other day I saw a post which horrified me. It was full of anger, rage, and all of it irrational to the core. Ramblings of a madwoman, and it made me sick to my stomach that there could be somebody so daft. I could scarcely believe how cruel and vindictive she was. It literally sounded as if a sociopath had written it. Her post amounted to little more than some tired out diatribe about how President Barack Obama supports the building of the Islamic Mosque near ground zero. She included a link to an article on just such a topic, which I thought she was responding to. Her blurb went on to talk about how the President is “pissing all over the U.S. Constitution,” that he’s a canard, and that anyone who supported him needed to, in her exact words, “…get the fuck off my friends list…”

So I clicked on the link which accompanied her rant and I read the article for myself (which you can read HERE). This article, of course, was in reference to one published by the Associated Press earlier (which you can read HERE). Although the first article was just segue into the second, to my surprise I found the latter to be a rather good discussion on the mosque debate. As it is, the article never mentions the President actually saying he supports the building of the Muslim mosque at that particular location, it does mention he questions the “wisdom” of such a decision.

President Obama has no authority in such matters as they lie entirely out of his jurisdiction, that at least the Constitution ensures, but he was cornered by the press, and so he made a public statement about the right of ALL Americans to practice religion freely, whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Christian, Mormon, or even Scientologist, etc. Meanwhile, reading the article we find that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg states about Obama’s White House speech that is was a “clarion of defense of the freedom of religion.”

Now feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but at least in response to the aforementioned article(s), there was no explicit endorsement for the building of any such religious structure by the President. President Obama didn’t come out and say, “I fully support the building of this Muslim mosque here…” again—that’s distinctly what he did not say. In fact, he questions the “wisdom” behind it—which hints as a subtle disapproval. Yet it’s clear to me that the President merely supports the right for Americans to believe what they will and practice their religion freely.

Florida governor Charlie Crist, a republican, stated about Obama’s comments that, “I think he’s right—I mean you know we’re a country that in my view stands for freedom of religion and respect for others,” and continued on to say, “I know there are sensitivities and I understand them. This is a place where you’re supposed to be able to practice your religion without the government telling you you can’t.” It just so happens that Muslims are simply practicing their religion, and subsequently will be building a place of worship (e.g. a mosque) near ground zero (Park Place Manhattan to be exact), and the President supports their right to practice their religion freely. That’s what I took from the article—without reading too much into the subtext of the debate.

A Headache Growing into a Migraine
Being an advocate for reason, and feeling pained at the level of credulity of the girl’s comments, but not wanting to start a comments war on Facebook, I wrote her a personal message asking if she had actually read the article in full—even though it was apparent that she had not. I wanted her to go back and read, or at least “re-read” it and then give me her opinion. So I sent her the link to the article and the one it was referring to as well, so she could have all the available information, and suggested, ever so politely, that instead of being divisive and telling people what to believe or else to, again in her words, “go fuck off…” that maybe, just maybe, she might want to write up a criticism expressing why it is she finds it so miserable an idea. What’s more, I added, if she was totally convincing she might get others to come over to her side.

Maybe I crossed a line… but I saw it drawn in the sand and I couldn’t resist the urge. Even so, I didn’t berate her opinion, I didn’t say she was wrong, I simply offered some wholesome advice, I feel, as it would help vindicate her position—but only if she wanted to. She could remain ignorant, for all anyone else cares, but I was hoping to at least have her stop telling everyone who reads her Facebook to “fuck off” simply for finding her disagreeable in the utmost sense of the term. In fact, I went out of my way not to criticize her or call her on her irrational, uninformed, idiocy. But low and behold, she told me to “fuck off” anyway. Classy lady, eh?

Full Blown Migraine
Certainly I too post links on my Facebook page from time to time which contain a political and/or religious content, but I leave it up to people to check them out for themselves. Typically I try and leave religious and political comments off… even as I will post YouTube videos of good religious debates and the like, again, I’m not telling people what to think—I leave that up to them.

When reading friend’s updates, while trying to catch up on what’s going on with everyone—you know—trying to stay in the loop, sometimes a personal opinion will get out there that’s just so backwards that it is undeniably offensive. I particularly found everything about her hate filled diatribe offensive, and not only that, I personally think she should have just kept her comments to herself. Nobody wants to read ‘If you don’t agree with me then fuck off’ plastered all over a message forum they check daily to catch up on what their family and friends are doing. Even as I tried to ignore it, I just couldn’t let it go… it got under my skin like a bad sunburn, and I had to scratch the itch or go insane trying to suppress it. I thought my sincere issue to re-consider the information was a fair one. Maybe she thought I had no right contending her opinion—but then why write on a public forum for everyone to see if you’re automatically going to preclude any other opinion but your own? On the other hand, if she genuinely believes that she is entitled the right to her ignorant opinion but everyone else should shut the hell up, well then, I’d be inclined to tell her to shut her pie hole—and precisely where to shove it.

Where this story takes a turn for the worst, however, is when I received her reply to my letter—a response which was hysterically irrational. Normally I’d just let bygones be bygones, but she got way too personal for my taste, and as such, was absolutely begging for a proper rebuttal. Instead of wasting my breath on her though, a person who is obviously unable to listen to reason, I thought I would make a public record of her verbal assault on me. First to expose her lies, but also, to defend my integrity when I wasn’t even talking about much of what she accuses me of. In fact, how I became the issue of the debate, and not the building of the mosque in New York, escapes me at the moment. It’s curious to say the least.

A Turn for the Worst: Her Unruly Reply
I know I probably shouldn’t have said anything in the first place, but come on! If someone is being this rude, spiteful, and disgusting in public, on a bus or on the street, in a restaurant perhaps, then somebody would at least feel compelled to say something, right? I mean, I hope somebody would say something. And because she was saying such appalling things in a public forum, for all-the-world-to-see, and nobody was questioning her profanity, prejudice, and hate filled words I thought I would at least challenge her contemptible position. Advocate for reason speaking… but I’ll let you decide what’s reasonable and what isn’t.

She begins her reply by stating, “Yes, I did read the article and he refers to the constitution in this [sic] as the reason the Muslims can build the mosque.” First off, the first article only interviews correspondents who quote the President. The only quote of the President’s is to be found in the Associated Press article which the first is reporting. In the AP article the President states that “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

The President then goes on to remind the press that his comment wasn’t in regard to the “wisdom” of building a mosque near ground zero, which he questions, but explicitly states that, “I was commenting specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding… my intention was simply to let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion.” It’s clear to me that the President is defending the principle of religious freedom—and other than using the word “mosque” in a sentence he does not endorse the building of any religious establishment. He simply allows for what is constitutionally allowed—which is all we can expect from a good President.

The fact that this girl actually thinks the President wants to build a mosque, and what’s more states that he said as much when he clearly did not, tips me off that not only did she not read the article, but she has conveniently lied about it (twice). Obviously she took the rhetorical bait hook line and sinker, and having bit into it, has developed some sort of preconceived bias about the President. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was one of those people who believe the President is a secret closet Muslim who is building a socialistic army so that he can overthrow the U.S. Government and reign as an Islamist overlord (this is seriously what some conservative Christian groups are saying—and it seems, at least to me, that her information is tinged with such a bias). Secondly, Obama is right! The U.S. constitution is the reason why Muslim’s religious freedom is protected—including building places of worship—cry freedom—queue the Star-spangle Banner—end of debate.

Mundane Ramblings of a Mediocre Mind
Regardless, she seems to miss the President’s point altogether, and goes on to state that President Obama “…has ignored everything about the constitution until it serves his purpose.” Although she doesn’t clarify what this might even mean. I can only guess that she is referring to the social healthcare reform. It seems that she thinks universal healthcare for all Americans is unconstitutional. However, since she doesn’t clarify what she is referring to, I could be entirely mistaken. She might have something else in mind but I honestly don’t see what it could possibly be. But in her jumbled up mind President Obama is just trampling all over our constitutional liberties left and right, and bending it to suit his diabolical purposes, whatever they may be. Your guess is as good as mine.

Directly after this complaint she peppers her statement with the follow up criticism that “We have in office a man who does not believe in the very principles that this country was built on.” Again I can’t pretend to know what she might possibly mean, since Obama explicitly upheld these principles by saying what he did, but taking a blind guess, I think we can bet she is referring to a “Christian nation.” Which would explain why she’s so perturbed by the President’s defense of religious freedom—it’s not her religious freedom he’s defending—it’s not Christianity—it’s everyone else’s rights to believe in whatever they want (and for some reason she takes this liberty for granted), at which point she lets her profane tongue rip, “Fuck him!” Yes, she said that about the President—who is upholding the very thing she denies herself. Just to be fair though, I don’t think she even knows what she’s on about at this point. I don’t think she is aware that in her worn out rant she is, essentially, calling for a ban of her own individual liberties. We’re talking the epitome of ignorance here, but that’s not all, the email gets better folks.

Sooo Many Contradictions: My Head is About to Explode!
About the mosque being built near ground zero she states that “It is a slap in the face to the people who lost their lives and to the families that lost loved ones to have a mosque near that area.” I’m not aware that she had any family members who went through that horrible experience, whereas I did. I could be wrong, but if so, her point is lost on me. Is it a slap in the face to have a Christian Church anywhere near a hospital knowing how they continue to kill abortion doctors? Is it a slap in the face of our civil liberties to have a Church anywhere near a free citizen since they put in motion bigoted laws to strip homosexuals of their unalienable rights? I’ll tell you what a slap in the face is… being so ignorant as to actually think two couples loving one another is… somehow… wrong. So she’s using an unfair double standard here… and the fact that she just doesn’t see it should cause us concern.

The Mosque is being built three blocks away, behind several rows of buildings. Manhattan is a small island, I’ve been there numerous times, visited my brother frequently when he lived there (both before and after 9/11), and for anyone who has been to the Big Apple you’ll know that everything is three blocks away from everything else. So my question would be, is it a slap in the face for Muslims to believe what they want and practice their faith accordingly the same as you? Granted, I’m not debating the quality of those beliefs or practices, many of which I find downright despicable, but when it comes to the question of our freedom and the separation of Church and State, wouldn’t you prefer such freedom to complete theocracy? Denying everyone’s freedom’s but your own is not a Democracy—it’s an oppressive fascist regime where you glorify yourself and to hell with all the rest. The fact that she doesn’t want anyone to call her on her anti-democratic opinions is proof of how corrupt her mind really is.

As for the President, who represents all American citizens, who stands up and protects their constitutional rights is a slap in the face… how? What she neglects to see is that the President is not the one building the mosque, but she accuses him of it none-the-less. Yet whether her agenda is to tear down the President, or else just push on us her ultra-conservative views, I cannot tell. Her ramblings are unclear. But in her opinion, building a mosque is insensitive and should not be done. In other words, little Miss Stalin feels that Muslims should not have a right to practice their faith freely—because it would hurt her pride as a take it all for granted American.

Following up this comment she quickly changes her tone, informing, “I have no problem with a mosque being built or Muslims or anyone else practicing their religion.” Wait just a darn minute! Didn’t she just say she had a problem with that? As I recall her exact words were, “It is a slap in the face to the people who lost their lives and to the families that lost loved ones to have a mosque near that area.” So how many blocks away does a mosque need to be before it becomes okay for Muslims to practice their faith? Four blocks, five blocks, upper Manhattan, New Jersey? Maybe she wants everyone who thinks different than her to all get out of her “Christian” nation? Obviously she does have a problem, and not just with a perverse sense of Zionism and a mosque being built or with Muslims practicing their religion either.

A Flurry of Ad Hominems
By this time I was laughing out loud as I read, because it was all just senseless outpourings of unintelligible gibberish, and it was painfully laughable. Quickly afterward, she launched into a soliloquy about how great America is and why she loves it, and then she dispensed with a series of uncalled for ad hominems, attacking me personally. Can't forget to assault the atheist just for good measure! Whether it was for challenging her absurdly distasteful comments or simply for catching her mid-lie and calling her on it, I don’t rightly know. Again, your guess is as good as mine.

Now normally, I don’t like to mix my religion and politics. That’s just a principle I abide by. And this blog was never meant to be saturated with rants about others, something I find petty, but if I’m viciously attacked by a neurotic lunatic, I think I at least have the right to defend myself. I do have a sense of integrity after all, and I'm not built out of steel and Novocaine. I can get offended. So although I typically would never deliberately expose someone’s weaknesses publicly, without good reason, when I get attacked for no reason whatsoever, then I understand quite clearly—the glove has been slapped in my face. The rules are plain as day—and the challenge shall be met.

Now it gets personal, because she makes it personal, first by putting words into my mouth, saying, “You won’t agree with any of what I am saying because you don’t think any [sic] is right but you. There is a reason I don’t talk with you and I don’t want to start now.” This is news to me, because I thought I knew everything I think, with what I do and don’t agree with, because I’m the one who thinks it. Apparently she has insights into my mind which could make a mind-reader envious. Brilliant display of intellectual prowess, we’re dealing with here. Additionally, considering that I’ve only talked to this person about three times about non-topic issues, it seems weird that she suddenly informs me that she has a reason for not talking to me. As far as I was concerned we just didn’t chit chat due to the fact that we are acquaintances and not buddy old chums. But she’s got her reasons, she does!

At any rate, she continued on talking (even as she just stated she wasn’t going to the sentence before), “If you don’t like what I have to say [sic] don’t read it. I really don’t think you have any room to talk since you haven’t lived in this country for how many years?” As if living in another country a few years causes you to stop being a native to the culture you were born and raised, and somehow voids your citizenship. Maybe she thinks I naturalized? Nah, that couldn’t be it, that would be a rational supposition. Her reasoning is the epitome of blinkered, un-thinking, idiocy. But apparently her opinion matters, but mine don’t, because I am currently living in a foreign country. Say what? However, I’d like to take the time to remind this crazy broad (and that’s putting it mildly) that I still pay taxes, and that I love my country more than she could ever comprehend. So she can check her attitude at the door, it doesn’t impress me much.

Next she goes on to say, “I am not ultra conservative, you know nothing about me so don’t pretend to act like you are doing me a favor by challenging me to think outside of the box.” Well consider me re-educated! Actually, I think here she is referring to my previous letter, which was merely asking her to re-read the article which she merely pretended to read. Whatever she means, ultra-conservativism is a sociopolitical term… if she doesn’t want to be labeled ultra-conservative then the first thing to do would be to stop spouting a laissez-faire ideology of untrammeled individualism (as per her political and religious comments). Simple as that. Although I’m sorry to say: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck… then it’s probably a duck.

Adding Insult to Injury
Finally, she closes with a barrage of scathing insults, the stamp of a petty individual with unresolved issues, and spitefully adds, “You are a pompous, narcissistic asshole that I won’t cross the street to spit on if you were on fire. Plug that into your atheist formula, fuck off, never write me again and have a nice day.”

What could she possibly mean, I wonder?

Needless to say I laughed it off and then promptly emailed her back telling her how funny she was. Maybe she’ll go mental, which would actually be more sad than anything really. In truth, I really don’t need to be told what to think, say, or do—thank you very much. I’m a sensible adult. Key word being: sensible. I can make my own decisions and I don’t need anyone to hold my hand, and if she doesn’t want to talk to me, fine, but why spend three pages berating my country, disparaging me, and then goading me into giving a defensive rebuttal when she explicitly says she doesn’t want to hear from me again? Wouldn’t it have made more sense just for her to block me and dispense with the pleasantries? Maybe she thought by insulting me I would tuck my tail between my legs and whimper home? It’s sort of like a hysterical hyena barking up the wrong tree—thinking the lion wouldn’t turn around and defend his pride? Yet such a hyena is doomed to its own conceitedness. Moreover, I would like to point out, that she’s the one who brought up atheism—not I. In fact, I hadn’t mentioned anything about that. And since she’s the one who brought it up, she invited the Advocatus Atheist to speak his mind. Thanks for the invitation.

I predict she’ll probably block me for having replied to her at all… but big flippin’ loss. She acts like a school bully who says to another kid on the playground, “You’re a pompous, narcissistic, doody-head—I hate your guts for no apparent reason—so fuck off” to which the other kid replies “Nuht-uh!” I really could care less of what people like this think of me, but what is offensive, is that there are people who think like this at all… and more over… they think it’s perfectly fine. Well, it’s not. Nobody is entitled to their ignorance—that’s just defeatist. Her words were, of course meant to rile me up even more, in which case she probably would feel better about having defeated that goddamn atheist… well tough luck. The atheist turned out to be that lion… and he dared to turn around and face the laughing heyena nose to nose.

When people are overtly offensive, rude, divisive, petty, and hurtful—just because they can be—then I’m short on patience and I simply can’t just abide by it. I don’t care who she’s married to. Yes, the frightening thing is that she’s related through family. But using her logic, maybe this doesn’t count either because… I live in a different country? Oh well, I just had to get that off my chest. There’s really only so much inane ranting, asinine running off at the mouth, inept manners, rude conduct, vulgar language, unsympathetic, intolerant, madness a person can take before they get as mad as hell.

Now, if you’ve managed to read through this outburst, I’d like to get your responses. Should I have not said anything and simply bit my tongue? Should such impertinent behavior and discourteous attitudes simply be tolerated at the sake of social solidarity? Or was I within my right to contend such ill-mannered public displays? I’ve written professionally on proper Netiquette, so I feel I’m within the proper guidelines of public discourse to say what I did. Whether you agree or disagree, I’m certainly looking forward to hearing your insights.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist