Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ignosticism: Possibly the Best Argument Against God Ever

Although I am extremely busy at the moment, I just had to relay this really excellent conversation I am having on Ignosticism.

Borrowing from rabbi Sherwin Wine, who coined the term Ignosticism, I  define Ignosticism as:

Ignosticism is the theological position that every other theological position assumes too much about the concept of God.

Ignosticism holds two interrelated views about God. They are as follows:

1) The view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of god can be meaningfully discussed.

2) If the definition provided is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God is meaningless.

In other words, a) a definition which is incoherent can’t be about anything, and b) a definition which isn’t about anything cannot be said to be meaningful.

A theist reader wrote in and argued that:

Your first view in Ignosticism is impossible to satisfy. How can a finite being provide a "coherent definition" of an infinite being? We are not capable of it.

My response was that

All you have done, it seems, is semantically twist the definition of God to mean that which is incomprehensible. In which case you void any and all puported experiences of God because you couldn't comprehend them. This is exactly what ignosticism concerns itself with.

He denied the observation and claimed:

No, that's not what I've done at all. I can certainly have valid experiences with an infinite God; while I might have difficulty articulating such an experience, I cannot and never would claim to be able to define Him, confine Him to my limited view or know more than an infinitesimal fraction of who or what God is.
What I can do is be humble in the face of God - not an attitude I find in many atheists (or in your case, ignosticists?).

To which I offered up a smart Alec reply, the main points of which was:

I would say any experience which you could not learn from is probably an unintelligible experience. In which case, the question would be, is it really God that you believe you are experiencing? How would you know? In a sense you are admitting to know God, or certain attributes of God, via his interaction with you. But this places the burden on you to define God as something coherent, otherwise your entire experience of God proves to be meaningless.

Or do you just like the idea of belief in God so much that you are willing to obscure his very Entity by claiming your experiences, albeit real, simply cannot be understood because whatever God is, and however he chooses to reveal himself, is as mysterious as he is transcendent? Well, then, if that's how you wish to define God, then there is simply nothing to talk about.

But if you wish to start talking about the experiences, and how God reveals himself to you, then you are dealing with experiences which can be cognitively understood, thereby revealing aspects of God which are, by definition of the experience, comprehensible. But you can't have it both ways.

A seriously thoughtful person, asked this:

So, basically the problem of defining God as incomprehensible is that it makes God incoherent by definition?
I guess one could ask the theist how they know God is incomprehensible...if he is truly incomprehensible, how would we even figure that out? If the theist doesn't know what they're worshiping, then they are just as agnostic as any skeptic.

The only objection I can really think of is to say that if a truly infinite God existed in reality, it would be incomprehensible to us, with our limited minds. Therefore the theist would say that it is arrogant of us to assume we need to define God, since we can never know what he is. What do you think of this line of argument?

His main point bears repeating.

"So, basically the problem of defining God as incomprehensible is that it makes God incoherent by definition?"


Yes, exactly. That is the first claim of ignosticism. 

If God is incoherent then the experiences believers attribute to God are by extension unintelligible and therefore meaningless.This happens because to claim God is incomprehensible, since we have finite minds, is to deny our cognitive ability to understand complex minds. I do not see any evidence to suggest finite minds cannot detect infinite minds. 

Understanding, of course, would be a different matter entirely. That is where most theists get hung up. Like the first theist, they assume our minds are capable of detecting the infinite mind of God, thereby recognizing the experience as tangible, but then, in the same breath, they turn around and say whatever that experience contains in terms of information cannot be understood finitely due to God's incomprehensible nature. 

The claim that God is incomprehensible to us therefore voids the experience of God. Since, as our thoughtful reader brought up, there is no proper way to test what we are experiencing would be God, or something from our imaginations that we, in our inferior state of mind, mistook for God. Or something else entirely.

Here is where ignosticism comes in. When the purported experience of God is assumed real, as theists so often profess, we are faced with the challenge of describing that experience, which according to the theist is impossible because that would require us to give a definition of God, but as the sophist theologians love to harp, we cannot pretend to understand God--he is beyond our understanding. 

So in order to first communicate the experience of God, you have to know what God is, or at least describe God, in coherent terms which are comprehensible otherwise you cannot talk of having an experience of "God."

Hence, whenever a theists resorts to terms like: infinite, transcendent, being outside of space and time, all they are doing is obscuring God into a meaningless concept which is deliberately incoherent. God is safeguarded from any further criticism. A sly tactic which then forces the person of faith to ignore any and all evidence and accept on faith that God is real. Here is where the second part of ignosticism comes in.

Having established that the theist has failed to properly define God or give any adequate coherent description of God, thus has created a term which is meaningless. Therefore God is not a term we can talk about. Until a coherent definition of God can be supplied, it is meaningless to talk about God or any experience related to God, since we cannot know what God means or describe the experiences coherently. Now, assuming God is real, all this means is that his existence is meaningless, because we could never, not even in a million years, understand it.

On the other hand, it is also highly suggestive that God is a fancy conjured up by human imagination, in which case, it would be equally meaningless to talk about God as anything other than a crude human invention. 

Finally, the ONLY real objection to the ignostic position, as our thoughtful friend rightly observed,  is that we should not be so quick to try to define God (should he exist in the complex and incomprehensible way that theists like to proclaim). 

The only problem is this automatically results in a reversion back to the default position of agnosticism. As such, no theist could claim a warranted belief in God. This is what the first theist failed to understand, but our friend understood by taking the time to think about it more carefully.

Which is why ignosticism is merely the philosophical engine behind my atheism. Most God definitions prove meaningless either by contradiction, negation, or by having to take the recourse and admit incomprehensibility which defeats the purpose of a revealed interpersonal relationship with God. This is why I think ignosticism is the single strongest argument against the concept of God--indeed all gods. 

It would be remiss if I did not say that ignosticism (and likewise theological non-cognitivism) is not the only argument against God which has merit. Ignosticism is merely one of the strongest. Taken in tangent with other objections to God, I believe there is nothing in the way of a proof or proofs which can overcome the devastating series of disproofs. Which only strengthens the atheistic position, because the burden is forever on the theist to find an adequate answer to what they claim they are experiencing when they purport to experience God--which, ironically, they claim they cannot do due to their finite minds. This is what is called an end game check-mate! 

Belief in God being meaningless, what alternative is left?


Personal Update

I am gearing up to publish 3 books this year. I have my first deadline in April, so you will likely see me go off the blog radar until after the book is complete.

My other two books are being edited as I write, and I should get them back sometime in late April early May. From there I will do some final edits and then send the final file to the press.

This year is looking to be a good year. Of course I will keep you posted on all my writing endeavors, but if you are interested, feel free to visit to learn more.

Until then, live well and be wise.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Atheism X Agnosticism X Ignosticism

According to The Oxford Dictionary of English (2005):

Agnosticism - n. a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God. [from a- 'not' + gnostic.]

Atheism - mn. the theory or belief that God does not exist.  [from Greek atheos, from a- 'without' + theos 'god'.]

The question we often hear is can an atheist be an agnostic? The answer is yes. An atheist can freely lack a belief in a specific god such as Vishnu, Thor, or Yahwey yet still be open to the possibility that a Deistic entity may or mayn't exist.

The reason for this is two fold.

First, with personal gods come personal attributes. Believers usually define their chosen [G]od's attributes in terms which are testable, meaning, the claims they make about the nature of their god are either verifiable or falsifiable. When looking for the evidence of these claims, one can either rule or belief or form belief based on the reliability of these claims. If the claims are weak claims, then one may disregard the belief in the god on the basis that the claims do not have adequate support and are not likely to be true.

Second, atheism deals with belief, or the lack thereof, predicated on whether or not the belief can be established. Gnosticism deals with the question of knowledge. What do we know about the god in question, and do we know enough to formulate something more than a philosophical construct? Usually the answer is no, but in cases where there just isn't enough evidence to rule out the god, then belief does not automatically follow.

When you don't have enough information to make an affirmative claim, the default position is simply not knowing.

Typically theists will make the mistake of making a Kirgardian leap of faith, taking them from the default position of agnosticism into belief. Meanwhile, atheists simply make the proposition that since none of the claims have been met, then it appears as if there is no god and therefore no reason to believe is justified.

As a proposition atheism does fall into the belief category. But it's not a positive claim because it only arises as a response to theism. If there was no theism then there would be no atheism, as atheism would be the default position. It would simply be called reality.

Although I call myself a firm atheist, and I am agnostic with regard to the general question of the possibility of god, I actually would consider myself Ignostic.

Ignosticism is the theological position that every other theological position assumes too much about the concept of God.

Ignosticism holds two interrelated views about God. They are as follows:

  • 1) The view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of god can be meaningfully discussed.

  • 2) If the definition provide is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God is meaningless.

In other words, a) a definition which is incoherent can’t be about anything, and b) a definition which isn’t about anything cannot be said to be meaningful.

Additionally, Ignosticism is not merely concerned with definitions by themselves, but rather, is concerned with competing definitions which are all attempting to define the same referent.

Referent: Definitions refer to things. A thing in the world that words and phrases are about is called a referent.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Could a Horse Fly? Might a Snake Talk?

A regular reader, who I have been debating about scientific and philosophical issues, threw out an interesting question. Honestly, I don't know where he was going with the question itself, but I had fun answering it. 

"Just a question for you; are talking snakes, and flying horses impossible? If so, why?"

I am sorry to say, both are scientifically impossible.

A flying horse is not possible. Neither is a talking snake.

An average full size E. ferus, or common horse, weighs anywhere from 840 to 1,200 lbs. (380 to 550 kilograms). The largest flying dinosaur ever recorded is called a Quetzalcoatlus, which weighed around 100 kilograms and needed a 15 meter wingspan just to keep it in the air.
As such a flying horse would need a wingspan larger than a modern jumbo jet to keep it up in the air.

Where, exactly, those mighty wings would fold up to is beyond me. This is assuming we are talking about terrestrial horses who live on earth or a planet with similar atmospheric conditions.

Additionally, the horses skeletal frame just wouldn't be able to handle the added weight of such a massive wingspan. Basically, the horse would crush itself beneath the weight of its own wings. It seems that aviation for E. ferus is just not scientifically feasible.


Meanwhile, snakes lack vocal chords, so no, they cannot speak--they never have and never will. At least not with their voices. That's a different question than a communicating and highly intelligent snake, however.

Snakes are highly sensitive to smell, vibration, and many species are known to be able to detect the infrared spectrum! Something humans cannot do naturally. The snake's sensory organs are so highly developed, that it is feasible that given an adequate evolutionary time scale for development, their tiny brains could possibly develop densely packed neuropathways, that lead to a highly intelligent snake, which would likely communicate with other intelligent snakes via something like pheromone based telepathy. At least, such a snake is theoretically possible.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Abortion, Feminism, Sexism, and Not Being Critical Enough

Some of you may have seen this image floating around the World Wide Web. 

Now I am all for feminism. In fact, my Japanese history degree is specifically about feminism in Japan and the diversity of feminism globally as well as multiculturally. Of course my interest in Japanese women's rights should come as no surprise to those who know me, since I am married to a brilliant, beautiful, and highly sophisticated Japanese woman.  

The thing is, people are often extremely opinionated about things related to gender and identity. The reason I tend not to talk about such subjects here is not that I am disinterested but that people usually like to pull out the ad hominems and attack you when your opinion differs with theirs. Nobody seems able to simply agree to disagree. Instead of taking the time to write out a well reasoned criticism, like a civil person, they would rather call you sexist, racist, and so on. Usually, I find this juvenile behavior aggravating as it ends the conversation before it ever has a chance to begin.

A good example of this is when I recently wrote about the lack of female atheist authors. I theorized that the long tradition of male ownership of publishing companies along with the masculine biological trait to tend to be domineering, all contributes to part of the reason why men want to dominate the philosophical discourse (maybe even the religious discourse overall). 

It may come as no surprise that when I initially posted the article on Reddit, I was labeled sexist. The boards lit up with complaints. Guys were saying that when men get labeled as the oppressors of women they just stop listening--obviously ignoring the historical context my theory was in reference to. The women were equally provoked, saying that I obviously don't read enough female authors. I can assure you neither of these complaints are anywhere near accurate.

They missed the point of the critique. It is a historical fact which nobody can deny that in Western culture the publishing industry has typically been owned and run by a long patriarchal tradition. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but mine was a general observation.

Moreover, there is nothing sexist in the hypothesis that the male dominant trait exhibited in the human species has biological reasons which influence male behavior. As I posited this was just a theory, based on what I observe, I noted that more research needed to be done to see whether this dominant trait really did factor in to how men tend to want to argue the loudest and dominate the discourse.

That's not to say there aren't equally loud women activists, as some people wrongly assumed--for some reason. I was merely theorizing that if our behavior to dominate, much like a dog's behavior to hump your leg, is affected by biology, then this may bare relation to why patriarchy (instead of matriarchy) has been so prolific throughout human history.

Now this brings me back to the above picture, which I find makes a really good point but then tarnishes that point by throwing racist and sexist slurs on top of everything else.

I support feminism as long as it is about gaining equal treatment and rights for women. I do not support women who are out to attack men or who wish to sponsor a New World Order. I do not believe women would rule the world any better than men have. It is the destructive and misguided desire for power which leads one to think this way in the first place. Genuine equality, fairness, and peace can only come after we learn to mutually respect one another, not always trying to one up the other.

Many readers have asked about my opinions on abortion. Which, admittedly, is something I typically shy away from. Not because I haven't formulated an educated opinion on the subject, but that I frankly do not believe it is my place to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.

To speak of the moral implications of abortion is to assume you know what is right and wrong for the woman and the control she has over herself, her body, and her decision making. That's before you ever get to the philosophical question of whether or not a zygote can constitute a (human) life, and whether or not science bares this out. I feel that for me to voice my opinion about abortion would merely fall into the category of male dominion over the female. 

The fact of the matter is, when it comes to abortion, a medical procedure that directly impacts the woman's body, that's the woman's personal and private business and none of mine, or anyone else's, bees wax. Unless the woman is my partner specifically, or the one I am involved with, only then would I feel I had the right to chime in with my opinion with regard to the pros and cons of abortion.

This is what I like about the above picture when it states, "No man, no group of men, and no institution holds dominion over me, my mind, or my body, my life, my choices, my vagina, or my uterus."

That's exactly how I feel too. Exactly.

As William Wallace once purportedly proclaimed, "Freeedooommm!

I agree with the second part about it being wrong to restrict women's access to proper health care, including, but not limited to, things like birth control and contraceptives. 

Again, I agree with the third part about men not having the authority to speak on behalf of women for those women. They can speak for themselves. I would make a distinction between talking on behalf of the women versus advocating women's rights for women. Talking on behalf of women often leaves us placing our words and opinions into their mouths. While advocating women's rights usually is saying something along the lines of "I believe women deserve equal treatment and have the right to govern themselves."

Where this feminist's messages goes horribly wrong, and becomes nothing more than a sexist diatribe, is when she brings up the age of old white men being at an end. Maybe she is right, but it is rather an obtuse statement. Nearly two billion Chinese citizens have been ruled by an age of old yellow men for just as long, if not longer (yes, it is racist and sexist to bring up both gender and ethnicity in the same slur). So, it seems to me, her complaint is overly ethnocentric on top of being an obvious racial slur and sexist remark. Personally, I feel the message would be better received without denigrating men in such a way.  

Remember, feminism isn't about hating men, it's about helping to gain and safeguard the basic equality and rights of women. 

In many cultures, however, women's suffrage movements are much more difficult to come by due to many social and/or cultural barriers. In Japan, for example, social and cultural norms make it nearly impossible for women to mobilize or even just plain ole communicate. This lack of communication, impedes their basic ability to form support groups, find relief in like mindedness, and is the main reason for why the patriarchal model Japan is currently under hasn't changed in nearly three thousand years.

In America, two hundred and fifty years young, where women are not only free to communicate openly, but can also form various organizations, enjoy a much greater means of getting their voices heard and building adequate support groups to fund and carry on fighting for their collective rights. If they couldn't do that, then they would have to find alternative methods of gaining the same rights as men.

Even then, there are other cultural factors which may interfere with or retard the progress of women's equality. Since I have studied Japan quite thoroughly, I will sight one such example.

Serving tea is a custom of Japanese people. Strangely, however, it is traditionally only women who serve tea. Even now, in 2012, when a guest arrives at the school or office or place of work a woman scurries to get the tea ready. She then comes out, gets on her knees, pours the tea very daintily, then serves everyone. In half a decade of living in Japan I have only seen a man do this chore once, and that was specifically because all the women were out of the office at that moment. 

I once commented that the tradition of strictly women serving tea seemed rather sexist from my Western point of view. One of the women teachers cut in and protested, "No, no. This is a Japanese custom!"

I asked her, "Is it a Japanese custom that only women should serve the tea?"

She looked at me, as if she was offended.

I then asked, "Why don't the men and women take turns serving the tea? We could make a schedule with a rotation, and take turns. At least then it wouldn't be sexist."

She then responded, "You don't understand. It's a Japanese tradition that women serve the tea!"

I sighed sadly, and went back to grading my papers. In her eyes it wasn't sexist as long as it was the cultural norm. I couldn't convince her otherwise. She viewed my criticism of a sexist custom as a criticism of her culture. I only found out later that she was offended and had to apologize. I informed her that I had no problem with the Japanese custom of serving tea. I quite like it myself. But that it is the expectation which accompanies it which offends.

One of the problems I realized we were running into, besides the cultural differences, was the fact that I am privileged enough to enjoy a broader worldview. I don't say that lightly. I have been to seven different countries around the world. I have viewed various cultures and witnessed first hand the interactions of their people. She did not, unfortunately, have the luxury to say the same. She only knew her one culture, and in her culture, women served tea. This was the norm. End of discussion.

Such barriers can often prove to be a frustrating challenge. Which makes the anger of the above message, in the photo, seem somewhat misguided if not inappropriate. Is she really angry at men for suppressing her so severely? Or is she more angry at the idea of being oppressed? Has she ever had to get down on her knees and serve a bunch of sweaty businessmen green tea, who because of the expectation that this is the woman's duty, never even say thanks?

This is what I consider not being critical enough with one's opinion. Sure, none of us are perfectly self reflective all of the time, and certainly we still have a long ways to go before equality reigns. But there are women who have it far worse. I mentioned a mild example. But I also have a Muslim friend who lives in a predominately tribal minded Middle Eastern society who cannot speak openly to men on the street for fear of being mistaken for a whore, and then being stoned to death for it. I can understand my Muslim friend being angered for the inequality and iniquity she experiences due to her religious culture. I can see Japanese women, who like my wife, have been abroad and visited other countries and seen first hand other cultures being outraged when asked to serve tea. 

In fact, you may be pleased to learn, my wife flat out refuses to do it to the horror of her work colleagues. My wife even marched into the city mayor's office one day to ask why, after having worked their for several months, she was still serving tea to the rookie salary men with low ranking position who only recently started? The answer she received, "It's tradition." She stormed off angry and the mayor was left confused. He had absolutely no perspective. I support my wife fully when she does things like this. It's one of the many reasons I love her so much. However, I fail to see why this above girl is so angry with men. 

Maybe it's a failure on my behalf, but I can't see this girl being so worked up about being so wealthy and privileged that she enjoys being part of that 80% buying power she is so proud of. Maybe it's a matter of perspective. Maybe if she new there were better causes worth her time and energy she would write less diatribes against men and start working toward helping women who are worse off than herself. That doesn't mean she has to quit fighting for her rights, but disenfranchising males is not the way to gain their confidence or support. 

It is my belief that we are in this together, and instead of placing the finger of blame, we would better serve our purpose to let bygones be and move forward with the struggle together

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Quote of the Day: G.W. Foote

"The Atheist and the Agnostic confess their inability to fathom the universe and profess doubts as to the ability of others. Yet they are called dogmatic, arrogant, and self-conceited. On the other hand, the theologians claim the power of seeing through nature up to nature's God. Yet they, forsooth, must be accounted modest, humble, and retiring." --G.W. Foot (Arrows of Freethought)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quote of the Day: Robert G. Ingersoll

"In his day Christ was an Infidel, and made himself unpopular by denouncing the church as it then existed. He called them liars, hypocrites, thieves, vipers, whited sepulchres and fools. From the description given of the church in that day, I am afraid that should he come again, he would be provoked into using similar language." --Robert G. Ingersoll

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Earthquake Mom Chain Letter Myth Debunked!

You may have seen on your Facebook feed, or elsewhere online, the above picture and following story.

This is a true story of Mother’s Sacrifice during the Japan Earthquake.

After the Earthquake had subsided, when the rescuers reached the ruins of a young woman’s house, they saw her dead body through the cracks. But her pose was somehow strange that she knelt on her knees like a person was worshiping; her body was leaning forward, and her two hands were supporting by an object. The collapsed house had crashed her back and her head.

With so many difficulties, the leader of the rescuer team put his hand through a narrow gap on the wall to reach the woman’s body. He was hoping that this woman could be still alive. However, the cold and stiff body told him that she had passed away for sure.

He and the rest of the team left this house and were going to search the next collapsed building. For some reasons, the team leader was driven by a compelling force to go back to the ruin house of the dead woman. Again, he knelt down and used his had through the narrow cracks to search the little space under the dead body. Suddenly, he screamed with excitement,” A child! There is a child! “

The whole team worked together; carefully they removed the piles of ruined objects around the dead woman. There was a 3 months old little boy wrapped in a flowery blanket under his mother’s dead body. Obviously, the woman had made an ultimate sacrifice for saving her son. When her house was falling, she used her body to make a cover to protect her son. The little boy was still sleeping peacefully when the team leader picked him up.

The medical doctor came quickly to exam the little boy. After he opened the blanket, he saw a cell phone inside the blanket. There was a text message on the screen. It said,” If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.” This cell phone was passing around from one hand to another. Every body that read the message wept. ” If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.” Such is the mother’s love for her child!! 

Sentimental. Yes. Moving. Sure. But true? Not so much. As it happens, it's completely bogus. It's all bunk. 

A shout out to my old college roommate Colin Rennie, a true humanitarian aid worker working in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, with his non-profit organization called the Mud Project. He is doing great things to help the people of Japan in anyway possible--but mainly by digging the mud out of people's homes, helping clean up all the rubble, rebuilding homes--and basically doing all the dirty grunt work, so to speak. Having witnessed the devastating aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami first hand, he has this to say about the chain letter:

This is a true story! Share! Once upon a time in 2008, some Chinese firefighters dug two bodies out of the debris of the earthquake in Sichuan (remember that? 68,000 people died, 4.8 Million were left homeless). Then in 2011 and again in 2012, someone made up a story about a mother dying to save her kid and everyone on the internet had a sentimental moment and shared the made up story with all their friends... then went back to checking their news feed.

There are plenty of REAL touching, heart breaking, inspirational stories here on the east coast of Japan, and in disaster afflicted areas around the world. So go ahead, love your mother, and do something to DIRECTLY help other people. Could be across the world, or they could need help next door.

At the end of the made up story, it said: "Dont forget to click the share button.."
It starts with a Share, but it doesn't end there. Don't forget to DO something. — at INJM Headquarters, ishinomaki, Japan.

There you have it folks, the myth of the Earthquake Mother debunked! Although the fiction is heart wrenching and emotionally touching, it's just completely untrue. Yet it managed to spread like wildfire. If a modern myth can spread so fast, what about ancient ones? 

Myths which people had no means of checking, mostly because they couldn't read, but also because they didn't have the powerful tools that we do today, such as books or the Internet and the ability to fact check. Yeah, I am looking at you Jesus of Nazareth! I am pretty certain that if the Internet existed in the 1st Century, the Jesus Resurrection myth would have been debunked just as quickly as this one was.

At any rate, I found this a good example of how a myth can get mistaken for truth almost overnight. But more importantly, I wanted to recognize the great humanitarian work my friend Colin is doing here in Japan. If you feel so compelled, you can click on the link and head over to the Mud Project page to lean more about what's going on and how you might be able to help. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Conversations with Christians: All You Need is Faith?

[Disclaimer: The following is a reconstruction taken from actual conversations I've had with real Christians. The names have been left out to protect the stupid... egos... of those who would be cast in a bad light. P.S. Feel free to read my part in the sophisticated voice of Brian, the atheist dog from The Family Guy. Believe me when I say, you won't regret it.]

"Just have faith in God," said the Christian. "All you need is faith."

"I thought all we needed was... love?" I replied with a hint of sarcasm. 

Not getting the joke, the Christian continued on in all seriousness, "No, you're missing the point. If you believe in God with all of your heart, he will give you proof of his existence! You will begin to see Him working in your life."

"I don't think that's necessarily true," I replied (the stereotypical atheist). "Job believed in his god but, for his piety, got nothing but suffering, anguish, and turmoil encrusted with his own blood and tears in return."

"That's just it though," retorted the Christian. "Job was a man of faith! He kept his faith through the worst of it. He is the example all believers ought to emulate!"

"Really?" I asked. "Job? He's your role model? He's the one you think all believers should aspire to?"

"Yes! Job's faith never faltered, never failed, it was true faith all the way until the end!"

"First of all, Job was a pawn in Satan's cruel game of chess. Besides this, Job's own so-called loving God threw down the wager of the game, and the two of them toyed with Job as he his life had no intrinsic value or meaning, and they literally ruined him in their little depraved chess game."

"You're just saying that because you're an atheist, and you have it out for God."

"No, I'm saying that because I have read the book of Job, and that's what happens. You'd *know this if you actually read it."

"Oh, I've read it!" said the Christian, somewhat defensively.


"Of course!"

"Well then, I have to admit, I am a little troubled by you trying to pry out a moral from the story of Job. It's total and utter degrading humiliation as a bumbling servant before a cruel master who wants to prove his greatness by showing that his authority has the power to keep even is most wretched subjects in line. A fine myth, but as far as weening morals from a story, there are a thousand better ones to choose from. Any of Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, for example."

"No, you're obviously taking the moral of the story out of context."

"Oh, yeah? How so?"

"Job was the epitome of faithfulness!"

"Yeah, I get that, and that's what you keep saying, but to me that only shows how gullible Job was."

"That's because you're an atheist, and you think all faith is stupid."

"There you go making unfounded accusations again. You don't know whether or not I actually think all faith is stupid. I am pretty okay with Jainism. I admire aspects of secular Buddhism and Taoism. I have no problem with these. It's the retarded beliefs of revealed religion that I have problems with."

"So what are you saying? That the Bible is retarded or that Job is a retarded story?"

"No! To the contrary, I love the story of Job. I just don't read Job for the 'moral' of the story as I used to, when I was a believer like yourself. But I now read it for its historical remnants of early Hebrew myth, when the religion was still a Polytheism."

"What?! The Hebrews believe in the God of Abraham and Moses, they believe in YAHWEH! They were never polytheistic."

"Actually, yeah, they were. If you recall, one of the great problems with the Old Testament is that God's rival is Baal, and he continually chastises the Hebrews for paying undue homage to Baal. Baal was obviously thought of by YAHWEH as a real God."

"But YAHWEH calls Baal a false god! So you see, YAHWEH was merely instructing his people not to worship or follow false gods."

"You may want to look at the context of those Bible verses a little bit closer. Moses states in Deuteronomy that, 'The LORD your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the LORD your God are still alive today.' Moses, and apparently YAHWEH, do not merely view Baal as a imagined god, but a real threat! A real God with power over the Israelites. Those who choose Baal over the Israelite God must be vanquished. If Baal was just a false god, a pagan myth, then why is YAHWEH so bent on destroying something that doesn't even exist? Instead, in one of his exemplary shows of compassion, YAHWEH puts his own people out of their misery by sentencing them to death for the mere thought crime of believing in Baal! Mind you, this doesn't say anything as to whether or not they ceased believing in YAHWEH during that time, because, remember, they were polytheists! The Bible even says so."

"Yes, but they were worshiping false gods."

"When the early Hebrews, both Israelite and Canaan, worshiped El and Ashera, were they merely paying homage to false gods? Or did they not believe these gods to be real? I find it hard to believe that anybody would worship something they explicitly knew was imaginary. That's just not conceivable. But my point is the Bible isn't making a distinction between imaginary gods or real ones, it is talking about an allegiance to God vs. an allegiance to Baal. For all intents and purposes, the OT views Baal as real, as the opposition to YAHWEH."

"I'm not exactly sure what you are trying to prove here. I know that the early Israelites worshiped Baal, and other gods, and Moses admonished them for it. They were even inventing false idols such as the golden calf. But there is only one true God."

"What I am trying to say is, the belief in one true god is a later invention. But even the book of Job makes reference to Baal! In fact, it has many insights (historically speaking) as to the sorts of beliefs some of the early Hebrews held when they still held the belief in Ashera and the Leviathan as part of their pantheon of worshiped deities. The historian in me just finds it all so fascinating, partly due to the fact that it helps show how the faith has evolved. But most people don't read the story with any knowledge of ancient Hebrew mythology so they can't make the proper connections."

"Are you saying Christians are stupid?"

"No, I'm not saying that. That's merely an assumption Christians make when they feel their knowledge is inadequate when compared to that of someone with superior knowledge. But being smarter doesn't make you better. It just makes you better informed. Christians seem to take it personally because they despise the idea of other people knowing more about their religion and their bible than they do."

"Or, it could be that atheists are just stuck up and think they're better than every one else."

"I am not denying that there are many atheists like that, but then again, many of the atheists I know tend to actually know the Bible fairly well. In fact, many of them are atheist precisely because they know the Bible too well!" 

"They may know some about the Bible, but they always take it too literally. They're just as bad as radical Fundamentalist Christians. Not every Christian takes every verse literally all of the time."

"I hear that a lot, and I understand Christians want to distance themselves from the bad habits and abuses of other Christians, but I don't think it's about making the case for or against Biblical liberalism so much as it is learning to understand which parts of the Bible are being literal and which parts aren't. I would argue that many of the Fundamentalist Christians are staying true to the original meaning of the Bible while more moderate or liberal Christians are going far afield, often times cherry-picking the text to death. There are certainly layers to the text of any story, but Christians often complain we atheists are taking parts out of context when in actuality we aren't. We're reading it according to how it is written, and interpreting it based on that reading alone. What many Christians seem to be doing is prying out other meanings by forcing the Bible stories into different contexts, or else superimposing interpolations onto the story, which suit the Christians need to have the Bible conform to their theological concerns."

"I think we're getting off topic."

"Yes, I was merely following the tangent you started. At any rate, getting back to Job. You may or may not find this interesting. But in ancient Hebrew lore, after YAHWEH defeats his father EL, and takes ASHERA as his wife, he then conquers the Leviathan. Once he tames his pet, according to the Hebrew myth, YAHWEH places the giant serpent in his garden, as a protector...

"If this serpent in the garden myth-theme sounds familiar, it should. The Adam and Eve fable, as a Jewish story, contains the same symbolic serpent. The apparent rivalry between the serpent and God is something due to the Kingly Adam story being grafted onto the myth--or maybe the other way around. I'm not entirely sure...

"At any rate, It's not until thousands of years later that Christians mistakenly superimpose 
Satan, incorrectly I might add (due to an bizarre interpolation from the book of Revelation--never mind how they managed to get away with it), onto the pre-existing serpent symbolism. I find this relevant, because being fond of the book of Job, you will recall one of Yahweh's admonishments to Job was to ask if Job had the power to defeat the mighty Leviathan? As you can tell, I really do have a deep love and passion for these stories."

"Yeah, I see that. I think I'm gonna go now."

"I'm sorry, I know this conversation has turned into a history lecture. But I think we both learned something."

"You mean, I learned something, right? Because I'm obviously too stupid to know anything. So I'm going now. Goodnight."

"You needn't to take it personally. I'm not attacking your beliefs. I'm just filling you in on some very fascinating information that isn't contained in the Bible, even as there are distinct hints of what I am talking about. If you want to know the truth, you actually have to go outside of the Bible and discover it for yourself!"

"Thanks for the thought. But if you don't get it, just move along. I'm done talking. Goodbye."

[Christian logs off angry.]

See, this is why Christianity hates genuine knowledge. Knowledge brings understanding. If you knew that your religion was predicated on absurd myths, you'd likely get angry too. And if one's religion is absurd, what does that make their faith? 

But then again, one might get angry enough to go back and really dig into the material, and also search outside of the material, in an attempt to gain a genuine understanding of their faith, rather than a superficial one which consists of nothing more than convictions reinforced by what you were told by others. I know, because that's what happened to me. However, learning something on your own is hard, time consuming work, and it's definitely not easy.

The way I see it, when it comes to learning, understanding, and truth there are two kinds of people in this word. Those who want to discover the truth and those who are too afraid to for fear of what they might find. The only question you need to ask yourself, is which pill do you take? The blue or the red?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Religion In My Facebook Feed! Oh, God, No!

A Christian friend of mine wrote some words of wisdom today for all to see.

"The key to overcoming fear, then, is total and complete trust in God. Trusting God is a refusal to give in to fear. It is a turning to God even in the darkest times and trusting Him to make things right. This trust comes from knowing God and knowing that He is good."

I was left so speechless by these, how shall I put it, profound words, that I could not give a proper response.

Instead, I shall let G.W. Foote, the great English Freethinker, respond for me.

"Why should God help a few of his children and neglect all the others? Explosions happen in mines, and scores of honest industrious men, doing the rough work of the world and winning bread for wife and child, are blown to atoms or hurled into shapeless death. God does not help them, and tears moisten the dry bread of half-starved widows and orphans. Sailors on the mighty deep go down with uplifted hands, or slowly gaze their life away on the merciless heavens. The mother bends over her dying child, the first flower of her wedded love, the sweetest hope of her life. She is rigid with despair, and in her hot tearless eyes there dwells a dumb misery that would touch a heart of stone. But God does not help, the death-curtain falls, and darkness reigns where all was light." (Arrows of Freethought)

But... He is good.

I think, maybe, Christians are confused about what the word "good" actually means.

Granted this post was about fear, not the Problem of Evil. It just seems to me, that the greatest thing any religious person truly has to fear, is the constant and undying negligence, oversight, and indifference of their god.

If I believed, I would be more afraid of a god who simply didn't care, as appears to be the case, than whether or not God could be classified as good.

But... Oh, well.

Quote of the Day: G.W. Foote

"In matters of science, after investigation and discussion, the world comes to an agreement; in matters of theology the world grows more and more at variance... And to our mind the explanation is very simple. In matters of science men deal with facts, while in those other matters they deal with fancies, and the more freedom you give them the greater will be the variety of their preferences." --G.W. Foote (Flowers of Freethought)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Faith vs. Religion (If not the same thing)

Many people do not make a distinction between faith and religion. Millions of Muslims, for example, believe that Faith is the submission to the will of God. In other words, it is obedience to the religion of Islam. Other people to make a distinction. Numerous Christians, for example, claim they dislike organized religion but practice faith.

But for me faith and religion are inseparably wed together.

One might object that I have simply defined faith and religion differently than they have--and all are valid descriptions of the same sort of spiritual experience, more or less. I am going to argue that semantics, although highly important to clarify our subject matter, is besides the point in this case. Allow me to explain.

Logically speaking, faith is the byproduct of religion. It's not a semantics issue so much as a pragmatic issue. Without any religious beliefs there simply could be no faith to be had in these beliefs to begin with.

A reader recently asked me, "Faith is religion enacted? Hmmm.... I've always thought of it as the reverse. Faith is what's in the head, religion is the outward behaviours associated with it, isn't it?"

She's not wrong, mind you, but she is only seeing half of the picture.

I find this to be a really good question, because it highlights the confusion many people have with regard to faith. Lots of people are confusing generic faith, i.e. the faith that I will wake up in the morning, or that the sun will continue to rise, or that the weather forecast will be accurate with the more specialized form of religious faith.

The thing about generic faith is that, on occasion, you can be mistaken. Perhaps you will have a heart attack in your sleep, or you wake up to a rare instance of a solar eclipse, or the weather forecast turns out to be wrong--as it so often does. This sort of faith is *not the kind of Faith religious people are prescribing to when they claim to have faith in some supernatural entity, such as God, or some religious claim. 

For the religious person, Faith is more of a profession of piety, the loyal unquestioning devotional acceptance of a religious proposition, ideology, creed, practice, or tenet. 

Needless to say, religious Faith is not the same as every day mundane faith. I am not implying that's what our reader meant. She merely assumed that faith was the belief (or sum of beliefs) one holds, and religion is the behavior compelled by the total framework of that belief system. I would say, yes, this is accurate. But there is another aspect to faith we can't ignore. Faith based acts are predicated on religious propositions as much as holding the religious beliefs in the first place is predicated on one's willingness to accept them as true.

I guess the way I go about it is by asking the question how, in the first place, could one possibly have faith in something if there were not prior beliefs about that something to believe in? 

In otherwords, what is it one is professing faith in, if not specific beliefs based on the claims of their particular religion? Basically, beliefs about one's religion equate to religious faith. But I do not think we can say that faith is simply believing; it is also doing

For example, Christians profess faith in the belief that Jesus is the begotten Son of God, that he came to earth to atone for the sins of mankind, that he was sentenced to death upon the cross, and that three days after his death he rose again in a glorious resurrection. These are the basic beliefs one must prescribe to, and believe as true, in order to accurately call oneself a believer in Christ. 

This helps paint the picture of what Christians are actually professing faith in. They are professing faith in the acceptance of the premise that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died and resurrected, and that through his sacrifice and shedding of blood he washed away the sins of mankind. Moreover, they are accepting the belief that the religion requires them to think, act, and behave in a certain way. In other words, we discover that faith is the unquestioning acceptance of these beliefs.

But then the question becomes, where do we get these beliefs from in the first place? After all, you don't start with faith and then generate beliefs. You first need the belief to have faith in. 

Well, it seems to me these beliefs are found in the tenets, creeds, principles, and practices of religion. Religion is a complex human construct. It involves philosophical ideas, various traditions, and highly ritualized practices which are all inseparably tied to human culture, psychology, and experience. Many people form their very identities based on their religions. Many more choose to live their lives according to their religious beliefs. This is what I call Faith. It is religion followed out in devotional acts of faithful adherence to the aforesaid tenets, creeds, principles, and practices contained within religion.  

Therefore, it stems to reason that the religion is the bedrock for faith. Religion has to exist before it can give rise to faith based beliefs and rituals. Just as you cannot have belief in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior without the Bible, without the tenets, creeds, and established traditions of Christianity as a guideline of what to believe and what manner to conduct oneself as Christian, so too must faith come out of religion. 

But to call oneself a Christian one must accept certain claims about moral conduct, follow certain practices such as baptism, and must live life according to the teachings of Christ. A person could believe in Christ all they wanted to, but believing alone isn't enough, you have to follow the teachings as well. 

Genuine faith asks you to accept a specific set of beliefs derived from the religious realm. Many of these beliefs are supernatural propositions. That is, in the absence of any evidence to support the religious claim, you have to take it on faith that these supernatural claims are true. 

When a believer prays to God, they are practicing a religious act based on the religious claim that God hears, and occasionally, answers their prayers. If you believed in prayer, however, but never prayed--then could you really say with honesty that you thought prayer was valid? How would you separate your faith from atheism? An atheist doesn't believe in prayer so that's why they refrain from the practice. No, I think it is rather quite clear why people pray. Life sucks. God, according to their religion, promises them a little something better if only they pray hard enough and believe deeply enough. Therefore the believer is called upon to put their religious beliefs, their faith, into practice.

So you see, faith is religion enacted.

Here we discover an important chronological order we must take into consideration when discussing the issue of religious faith. To picture it another way, religion is like a tree, and faith is like a branch on that tree. Many religions spawn numerous faiths, but the faiths might differ slightly in what religious propositions they accept as true and which religious doctrines they emphasize as most important to abide by and obey. A Calvinist believes something slightly different than a Lutheran and a Catholic believes in a slightly different variation of the religion still. But these various branches of faith all sprout from the same tree. 


I'd like to note, as an aside, that religion, indeed all religions, are derived from the human tendency to formulate supernatural explanations/beliefs for that which we don't fully understand. 

This is in part due to how human brains are wired and how our basic psychology causes us to be pattern seekers. So to be entirely pedantic, religion requires one to be prone to a certain level of supernatural thinking before religious beliefs can be properly generated and, likewise, faith can come out of the religion. 

As such, I view religious faith as a type of supernatural belief, not a rational or pragmatic one. Many theologians claim that faith can be had rationally, but I do not see how this is possible, unless one relinquishes all faith in supernatural claims in the first place. But if one did this, then religion couldn't arise and there would be no faith. 

Rational inquiry and skepticism seem to kill off the tendency we have to take supernatural claims for granted--because it asks us to be critical of anything that is lacking in evidence or doesn't line up with the facts. Since religion relies on the supernatural, so too faith. A supernatural claim cannot be entertained rationally apart from any valid support to establish the belief as reliable. This usually requires evidence, and supernatural claims usually fail to support themselves with evidence. So faith, in my opinion, will always suffer from a certain level of irrationality which is built into it due to its reliance on supernatural religious propositions which ask you to believe minus any trustworthy empirical understanding.

I only mention this as an aside, since it goes a long way to help explain why so many religious beliefs and practices are bat-shit insane. If religion relies on the supernatural, and the supernatural cannot be completely rational, then faith is bound to be irrational more often than not. Thus all the practices and customs derived from religious faith risk suffering from the same sort of irrationality.

It's was makes people entertain the absurd notion that God cares whether or not they masturbate, whether or not they take birth control, whether or not they eat pork, whether or not women may attend religious service when they are menstruation, whether or not one covers their head or takes of their shoes in church, whether or not one prays kneeling toward the East or with palms pressed together and heads bowed slightly, it is what makes people think Holy Communion is real and that circumcision is a good idea. It is why so many believers write horribly stupid things on Facebook--such as the endless thanks and praise of God for, you know, curing their cancer, or not getting cancer, or getting an A on a report card, or scoring the winning touch down. 

Yet all of these religious practices and beliefs prove to be entirely irrational in response to events which can all be understood rationally. There is not a single shred of evidence, apart from the sheer willingness to accept these fantastic religious claims unconditionally, that they constitute any sort of supernatural intervention on the believer's behalf.  They are merely the peculiar, irrational, religious beliefs leading to peculiar, often irrational, demonstrations of faith.

Although people aren't fully rational all of the time, I think the case can be made that religion often asks highly rational people to be less than rational in favor of slightly irrational supernatural propositions. 

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist