Tag Archives: Christianity

More Reasons Why Free Will Still Isn’t A Good Apologetic

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

Last week, I talked about how libertarian free will is not only a ridiculous concept, but the belief in it leads us to hold attitudes and perform actions that end up being discriminatory and antithetical to human rights. Add it to one more items in the stack of Christian beliefs that lead to poor actions being carried out.

Strangely enough, free will doesn’t fall within the purview of Christianity because of what the Bible says or by the decrees of church official. There’s not really much said about free will in the Bible (go ahead and look!). The reason Christians rely on the tenet of free will so much is primarily because it works well in Christian apologetics and caulks up a few holes in the theology. Largely, free will is useful when solving the problem of evil, as well as explaining why the lord doesn’t reveal himself.

The problem of evil isn’t a particularly strong counterapologetic for atheism in general, but it’s sometimes useful for addressing Christianity. After all, if we have an all-powerful being who cares about what’s best for us, why does this being allow us to suffer? The usual answer is that due to the fall in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were able to gain the knowledge of good and evil at the expense of creating a fallen world. After this, every bit of suffering is ultimately a result of the actions of Adam and Eve in the garden.

Holocaust? Free will.

9/11? Free will.

Duck Dynasty? Free will.

When asking why the Christian god allows for people to perpetuate horrendous acts, people are able to bring up “free will” as the excuse, as people are allowed to decide to do monstrous things of their own volition*. The problem is that free will doesn’t even account for all the variables here.

Take a horrendous human act, such as the Sandy Hook Shooting. Let’s assume that the perpetrator does have free will granted to him by some almighty force. He is perfectly capable of carrying out his deeds however he wants. But an omnipotent force could easily prevent suffering without restraining his free will. Why doesn’t the lord dissolve the bullets into thin air as the shooter pumps them out? Why can’t the lord redirect the bullets as they fly towards innocent children? Why can’t the bullets magically pass through people? All these could happen and they would impact the shooter’s free will in no way. He is still carrying out the action entirely of his own volition, it’s just that the physical laws (which I assume the Christian deity is in control of) have been manipulated such that they don’t cause unnecessary. In this case, evil has been freely chosen, yet this choice has been made without unnecessary suffering.

It’s not like it’s out of character for the Christian god to do something like this. In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar throws Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace for not worshipping his golden statue, yet they come out of the furnace unscathed for staying loyal to the Lord. While the king certainly was able to perpetuate an evil act of his own volition, there was no suffering or death.**

Of course, free will doesn’t just come up when discussing the problem of evil. In many lay arguments, it pops up when a theist wants to defend why their god doesn’t provide clear evidence that they exist (or more bluntly, why they don’t show their self). After all, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). The apologetic is that if the Christian god were to reveal himself, he would violate our free will and force us to believe in him. It’s apparently necessary to our eternal fates to believe in an omnipotent deity on faith over evidence. While my tactic of choice in this situation would be to question why faith is valuable in the first place, can we take some time to examine how ridiculous this logic is?

Apparently the idea is that if the Christian god were to appear right in front of me, it would force me to accept his existence, thus making my free will to believe in him irrelevant. Setting aside the fact that we don’t choose our beliefs, why does this type of thinking stop at observing the lord? After all, as I type at this computer, I am observing my screen fill with the words I type and I feel the resistance of the keyboard against my fingertips. As a result of this, I am forced to accept the existence of my computer. When I look up at the night sky, I have no choice to observe the bright dots among a black background. To make a big picture statement, the mere fact that I observe anything about the world around me means that I am forced to believe at the very least that the universe exists. The lord not showing up to me is just selectively providing evidence to me, and selectively forcing me to believe in different things.

Hell, if the Christian god were to exist, then he would be violating my free will just by making me be born. At some point, to interact with the world I am forced to accept certain things outside my own control. As the supposed creator of these certain things, he is the ultimate reason why I believe them, and thus he has violated my free will since I have no choice but to believe them.

Libertarian free will has problems no matter how you slice it. In my last post about free will (see link in the first line), I talked about how libertarian free will is an incoherent concept, as well as how it inherently prevents us from treating humans in the best way we can. In this post I discussed how it is an insufficient apologetic for the problem of evil and divine hiddenness. Not only that, but it’s effectively impossible for a universe creator to avoid violating our free will, since we are forced to confront the universe in some way. You could also make the case that even the Bible shows that the god of the Bible violates free will (such as when the Pharaoh’s heart was hardened during the ten plagues). Free will seems like a coherent concept and a good way to support basic Christian apologetics, but as soon as you take some close looks at it and turn it around in your head, cracks in its foundation start to emerge. Once it’s fully explored, it reveals itself as yet another flimsy excuse for a philosophical concept propped up by ancient armchair-level theology and ultimately conceptually empty. Libertarian free will belongs in the dumpster pile of bad ideas from the rest of theistic apologetics, and if we want to make the world a better place we will be better off abandoning it altogether.


*While there are apologetics addressing why “natural evils” like natural disasters exist and cause suffering, I’m only going to focus on ones where free will is relevant.

**Also, if you claim that in that case that Nebuchadnezzar’s free will had been violated, then you can’t make the case that the Christian god can’t violate free will.

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If You’re a Fundamentalist Christian, then Why Did You Vote?

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

Just so the readers know, I’m not ready to stop making political posts. They’ll be religion and skepticism related for sure, and I’m definitely going to make non-political posts in the future. But ever since the nation I lived in decided that a nationalistic pomegranate who doesn’t think climate change exists would be a good thing to decide supreme court justices that could affect the rest of my life, I’ve been a bit miffed.

One of the causes of our pumpkin-in-chief, of course, is the white evangelical vote. Exit poll data showed that 81% of white evangelical/born-again voters cast a vote for him. It’s easy to point and laugh at how he obviously doesn’t belong in that camp, since he’s divorced four times and can’t even read a Bible correctly. But it’s shouldn’t be surprising, as on his campaign trail, he claimed to represent their interests. He promised bigly that he would support the repeal of the Johnson Amendment and that he would overturn Roe v. Wade (somehow). He promised to choose a supreme court justice like Scalia, who ruled in favor of evangelical interests in a thoroughly activist manner. No politician is perfect, so they decided that they might as well pick the candidate that would give them a favorable outcome.

The thing is, why do they care about that particular favorable outcome?

To Biblical literalists, the aim of the game is to become saved and end up going to Heaven. With any fundamentalist you run into, the only requirement for getting into Heaven is accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.* It doesn’t matter how many women you keep in their place in the home. It doesn’t matter how many Ten Commandments monuments you get at courthouses around the nation. It doesn’t matter how many guns are legalized or how much you can lower taxes or how many queers you discriminate against. As long as you can ascend to Heaven.

Atheist activists are well aware that with the presence of an eternal afterlife, any life on Earth is meaningless. Sure, you still have to get saved, but once you’re in, you’re in. It doesn’t matter how you compare your time on Earth if there’s an infinity after that. It’s completely negligible. Therefore, all your time on Earth better damn well be focused on getting into Heaven, otherwise you’re not taking your faith seriously enough.

time-on-earth

[Image: Equation, showing that a ratio of time during time on Earth to eternal life is completely negligible]

On a related note, does anyone know somebody who can whip me and nail me to a cross? Sure, it’ll suck, but I hear doing so allows you to be the king of the universe for all eternity. So a small investment of a weekend of torture gives me infinite gain.

The point is, according to the fundamentalist worldview, no form of political activism actually matters. In fact, they may be hurting the cause of winning more souls for Jesus. If they subscribe to the idea that all aborted fetuses go to Heaven, then trying to reduce abortions simply increases the chance that some people will go to Hell. Furthermore, a significant portion of nones left the religion they were born into because they viewed organized religion as harmful. By making the world a demonstrably worse place by legislating against queers, trans folk, and women, they are playing a hand in driving people away from eternal paradise. Of course, apparently Jesus gets the credit when someone gets saved but when someone walks away from their faith it’s their individual free will.

Contrast that with me. I’m almost twenty-five years old. Statistically I have about two-thirds of my life to live out. And since I don’t have a reason to believe there’s an afterlife, my best guess is that’s all I have.

A supreme court appointment could last thirty years, and by the looks of it they’re either supremely activist judges or severely unqualified. This is the next third of my life. If Trump gets to pick three during his first term, then around half of my remaining lifetime will have a wing of the government that thinks it’s ok for companies to deny women’s healthcare, or thinks that corporations should have the same rights as people. When my trans friends want equal access to society, the court is far more likely to accept that they deserve it.

Furthermore, with a Republican-majority congress and a leader of the EPA who is currently suing the EPA, any hope of meaningful action on climate change is incredibly bleak. We are at a point in time where we’re already pumping so much carbon dioxide into the air that we are reaching tipping points where temperature increase is inevitable. Do I want to have children if they’re going to live to see the last days of humanity?

This is not trivial. This gets down to the core of my moral behavior. As a humanist, I have no reason to think that I will have anything other than my current life I am experiencing. This also goes for everyone else. What matters is here and now. There’s no Heaven I can help someone get to, but while we are here I can try and make their life better. If I can make them laugh, or if I can teach them something new, or if I can simply make them feel loved now, then that is what matters. I see no externally-imposed purpose on my life, so I don’t have to waste time in prayer. Instead, I can define my own purpose, and I can choose to spend time during my only life making the lives of others better. Even if I can improve someone else’s brief experience in the universe for one second, then I have fulfilled my purpose. Every heartbeat is precious, and I choose not to waste mine.

The Christian pre-afterlife, comparatively, is nothing. Yet here they are, imposing their non-evidence-based values on the lives on every single American. I feel like my existence has been hijacked by people who couldn’t care less about it. They have held my life at gunpoint, all for something that is Biblically meaningless. Find me the verse that says people need to vote. Find me the verse that tells us which bathroom we must use. Find me the Bible verse that condemns abortion. I submit that you will find nothing.

What’s even more frustrating is that Christianity used to be an entirely apolitical position. It wasn’t until Jerry Falwell and other conservatives began pressing their Moral Majority movement to get Christians actively involved in the political process. If only that were true now.

I feel at the very least, if the fundamentalists can’t be bothered to critically examine their beliefs, they should at least leave us alone to have our brief time in the sun while they prepare for their eternal salvation. Apparently, that is too much to ask.

 


*If other Christians think that works are required, that’s fine. I don’t write to debate theologies and belief systems I think are complete bullshit. But we can’t deny that most evangelicals accept that only way into Heaven is through Jesus.

Fighting Against the Trump Presidency: Religious Freedom

While I tend to focus on general topics on this blog, I’m trying to post resources this week on how to focus your dollars, activism, and efforts on reducing the harm from this year’s election. This will be a multi-part series of short entries, focusing on a variety of causes that you can get involved in to mitigate some harm.


 

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

In his own terminology, Donald Trump would be an absolute disaster for Religious Freedom. His words seem to imply otherwise as he claims to champion religious freedom, but only superficially. He courted evangelicals by stating that he values religious freedom, and that he wants to do that by repealing the Johnson Amendment, which earned him 81% of evangelicals who voted.

However, this actually is a distortion of religious freedom. The Johnson Amendment actually maintains the First Amendment by holding all tax-exempt organizations to the same standard. We give tax breaks to nonprofits, while stating that they can’t utilize their special status for political purposes. If religious organizations are allowed to make political pronouncements, then this gives their speech special status.

In reality, Donald Trump only appears to selectively support certain religious beliefs, while completely opposing others. He has built a campaign on anti-Muslim bigotry and fear, and threatens to eradicate freedom of religion by marginalizing religious minorities.

He has proposed a ban from all Muslims entering the United States.

He has called for surveillance targeted at Mosques in America.

Trump has called for a database on refugees, and “did not rule out” a database or registry of Muslims. His position is unclear on whether or not he actually wants to target citizens based on belief.

He spread misinformation on the Orlando Shooter, as well as Syrian Refugees as an excuse for extreme vetting.

While he has specifically built his campaign platform on xenophobia targeted against Muslims, his proposals are threatening the religious freedoms of anyone who is not a Christian. He is transparently ignorant about Christianity, but he continues to pander to evangelicals. As with all candidates, his religious beliefs don’t matter, but his honesty absolutely does.

Secular Coalition For America gives him an F on secular values, threatening our secular constitution.

His pandering to evangelicals occurred at the Values Voter Summit, a conference of religious anti-LGBTQ and anti-women hate groups. Trump met with many of these leaders.

Trump has picked Betsy Devos as the Secretary of Education, who is a voucher advocate, which tends to lead to funding of religious schools.

Jerry Fallwell Jr., president of Liberty University, has also been considered by Trump to have a hand in the Department of Education.

Trump has stated that he will (somehow) make everyone say Merry Christmas again, which certainly is against the First Amendment.

Not to mention, Mike Pence would be bad at this as well. He opposes stem cell research, doesn’t accept evolution, and as I’ve covered is terrible on LGBTQ issues, all as a function of his theocratic tendencies.

All these threaten our secular constitutional republic, which is founded on religious freedom, such that us and our freedoms aren’t subject to the religious beliefs of others.

What can I do to help?

Again, I would suggest that you can support the ACLU, who will fight for your rights if you are discriminated based on religious identity.

You can also support and take action with the Anti-Defamation league, which will legally fight against religious bigotry, and also has actions you can participate in to combat this bigotry.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation will combat any overreach of religious action into government, including public schools. The American Humanist Association will also fight these legal battles, but also major human rights projects you can be involved with.

Also, take the time to meet people whose religious beliefs are not your own. If you feel like it, inform yourself on the religious practices and beliefs who are not your own, and not just the bad stuff. Be willing to challenge bigotry of this type if you see it.

Please feel free to share this piece with others who are concerned with relevant issues.

What Obama’s Conversation With Bill Maher Says About Privilege

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

Recently, our current president Barack Obama held an interview with Bill Maher to discuss a range of topics, from smoking to the nuke-happy carrot with corn hair that is running for president. Among the things brought up by Maher, an outspoken and famous atheist, were the rights of atheists and agnostics in America. He mentioned some of the current statistics on atheists in congress, and how we deserve more representation. As a supporter of Obama, the president’s response somewhat disappointed me.

“You know, I guess — my question would be whether there is active persecution of atheists. I think that there is certain… well, I think for a candidate… I think you’re right, that there are certain occupations — probably, most prominently, politics — where there would be a bias against somebody who’s Agnostic or atheist in running for office. I think that’s still true. Outside of that arena, though? You seem to have done alright with your TV show… I mean, I don’t get a sense… to the extent that they’re boycotting you, it’s because of your other wacky views rather than your particular views on religion…

…I think the average American, if they go to the workplace, somebody’s next to ’em, they’re not poking around trying to figure out what their religious beliefs are.”

This is an excerpt. You can read and watch the entire exchange on the topic here, it’s well worth your time. Obama definitely advocates some good ideas regarding religious culture and how we should curtail it. It’s just that… I’m disappointed with this particular statement.

obamaatheism

[Image: Barack Obama and Bill Maher have a conversation seated next to each other]

Obama certainly had good reason to acknowledge that at the very least there is some discrimination against atheists in the political arena. Maher’s statistics aside, discrimination against atheist politicians hit the mainstream this year when it was revealed that a member the Democratic National Convention had conspired to out Bernie Sanders as an atheist. It’s clear that merely being a member of the “atheist” category in politics is perceived as smear-worthy. In fact, according to Gallup, atheists are a religious category (within the categories polled in the survey) that the least amount of people would vote for in America. 40% of respondents stated that they would not vote for an atheist, which was a higher rate of disapproval than Muslims, gays/lesbians, and women (38%, 24%, and 8%, respectively). The only group that had it worse than atheists was the socialist category, which 50% of respondents said they would not vote for.

Political statistics aside, the rest of Barack Obama’s statement leaves a sour taste in my mouth. He comes across as dismissive to the concerns of nonbelievers, and the best evidence he has to support what he says is merely Maher’s success. I find this to be a remarkably empty response. This is almost to say, “Well, atheists can’t have it so bad, since you did so well!” This is incredibly ironic, coming from a president of African descent. I live in his country where people on the right will often state that there is no more racism in America since, after all, we have a black president. This is a terrible argument for anyone who thinks about it for more than a second, and it’s disheartening to hear it not only used against me, but it’s also disheartening to hear it from the first person I voted for president.

Obama’s words here lack substance in the same way that there is faux-skepticism regarding how other marginalized groups are treated. Like the laypeople who insist that racism no longer exists, there are those who will flat-out assert that there’s no discrimination against women anymore. In August, the Pew Research Center released a poll asking people whether they thought women still had obstacles for achieving equal access to society. 63% of women polled stated that they felt that there were still obstacles, while only 34% of men agreed. Such is often the case when members outside of a marginalized group are blind to the everyday sub-par treatment of those who are in that group.

In fact, it’s not hard to find evidence of discrimination against atheists in society, even outside of the political sphere. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) regularly protests violations of  the first Amendment’s separation of religion and government, and a large proportion of these violations are within public schools. Looking just at the examples FFRF provides, this includes prayer by school boards, disallowing freethought clubs while allowing religious clubs, the teaching of creationism, Bible distributions, Church meetings at public schools, prayers at graduation, forcing children to state the pledge of allegiance, mandatory prayer, overtly religious music in schools, religious fliers being sent home, “See You at the Pole” gatherings, and promotion of religious baccalaureate services. In every one of these cases, teachers in public schools across America overwhelmingly tend to side with those who are religious over those who are not. And for those nonbelievers who do challenge these violations, they face severe social consequences. Such was the case when in 2012 high school student Jessica Ahquist challenged a poster hanging in her public school making explicit references to a “heavenly father”. She was subsequently bullied by her school and her hometown, to the point of receiving death threats.

Atheists are judged as untrustworthy and immoral in general. It has been demonstrated through multiple studies that atheists are frequently viewed as people who would engage in immoral acts. Another Pew Study finds that in the United States a majority of people believe that someone has to believe in a god to be moral, which  is not true of any of the other developed nations within the study. A study by psychologists at the University of British Columbia and University of Oregon found that atheists are one of America’s most mistrusted groups, and in certain situations are roughly as trustworthy as rapists. Is it any wonder that there are atheists that are afraid to be out, particularly within the Bible Belt?

These are a couple of examples, but I could go on. I could talk about young atheists getting kicked out of their parents’ homes for expressing nonbelief, which Dogma Debate has set up a fund for. I could talk about atheists losing custody of their children. I could talk about how atheists aren’t trusted to do charity, such as when a soup kitchen turned down atheist volunteers or when a Children’s Home refused to accept over $28,000 from an atheist. I could talk about atheist advertisements getting turned down from billboard companies. I could talk about the atheist leaders I’ve watched who have had difficulty getting the right job because they were public figures associated with atheism. These and more forms of discrimination happen regularly in the United States. As someone who keeps up on religion based news regularly, I see this a lot. But as a Christian who is keeping his mind busy by running a country, Barack Obama is likely completely unaware.

In that case, could we attribute Obama’s ignorance on this issue to his privilege as a religious person? To be clear, while he certainly lacks white privilege (unlike me), he has the distinction of being a Christian just like 75% of the country he leads. No matter where he goes in America, people will value his faith*. He will never be discriminated against for having the “wrong” religion. While people will say terrible, awful things about him and threaten to have him assassinated, it will never ever be because he is a Christian. Were he a middle-class worker in America, he would never be treated poorly in the office because he’s a Christian, and in a job interview his faith would likely be seen as a bonus if he were to bring it up. He would never feel the fear that I and many other atheists have felt in disclosing their nonbelief in the office environment.

Privilege is sometimes hard to recognize if you have it, and it’s not a problem that only Obama has. It’s difficult to recognize that you may have unearned advantages in society, especially if despite these advantages you have everyday difficulties. If you aren’t part of a group that is marginalized, you don’t see the effects your privilege has on everyday life. Even if you are someone who is willing to recognize that you have privilege, it’s hard to know where that privilege lies unless someone brings it to your attention. I suspect this is the case with Barack Obama. It’s hard for me to blame him when he has the entire country on his mind, but his ignorance still exists, and that’s still a problem.

Barack Obama is not going to read this blog post, and that’s fine. The people who will read this blog post, however, are atheists, and they are likely aware of these many forms of discrimination they could potentially face. I would like them to consider how dismissed they felt when Obama said these things. If his words bother you, then maybe this is a chance to look at yourself in relation to other marginalized groups and how you view them. If you’re white, consider what it means to a black person when someone says “Black people have equality now, we have a black president.” If you’re male, consider how meaningless it is when someone says “there’s more women in college than men.” If you’re an atheist who is aware of the discrimination and bias we face everyday, then you should be more sensitive to the disadvantages of others, not less.**

Part of being a humanist and a skeptic is recognizing our human biases, and correcting them. If you can recognize Obama’s ignorance in his statement, then you should recognize that you likely have similar ignorance for other issues as well. I’m frequently appalled at how terrible many atheists are about speaking up for other marginalized groups, considering that atheists as a group also lack certain privileges. Perhaps Obama’s mistakes here can help inform us. From there we can move forward.

While I have been very critical of this one mistake that my president made talking to Maher, this was one problem in an overall positive message. In the rest of the segment, Obama did emphasize that we should not value people because of their religious beliefs or the lack thereof.  Not only does our president speak well of the separation of the church from the state, he makes it clear that in America that people of no religion at all should be treated as equals in social situations, not just legal ones. I appreciate that he mentions that here, and I’m happy that he has mentioned us in past speeches to the nation when he wasn’t talking directly to a left-leaning figurehead. I thank him for that. And because of that, I will end this piece on what I think he did get right.

“We should foster a culture in which people’s private religious beliefs, including atheists and Agnostics, are respected. And that’s the kind of culture that I think allows all of us, then, to believe what we want. That’s freedom of conscience. That’s what our Constitution guarantees. And where we get into problems, typically, is when our personal religious faith, or the community of faith that we participate in, tips into a sort of fundamentalist extremism, in which it’s not enough for us to believe what we believe, but we start feeling obligated to, you know, hit you over the head because you don’t believe the same thing. Or to treat you as somebody who’s less than I am.”

 


*Granted, not the conspiracy theorists who still think he’s a Muslim from Kenya.

**Keep in mind, the struggles of atheists are not the same as those of women or people of color. There are certain aspects that we can compare and contrast, and we can learn from each others’ struggles, but to draw equivalence between them would be a mistake.

What is More Foundational: The Bible, or Faith?

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

I try not to get hung up on theology with fellow atheists. That is, I don’t really enjoy arguing with other atheists over which doctrines were more theologically correct than others, such as Catholicism versus the teachings of the Southern Baptists, for example. After all, we already agree that the religious beliefs are wrong. It doesn’t seem to make sense which of the beliefs are the correct wrong beliefs. I could see the appeal some people have in it, much like how Star Wars fans might argue over canonical differences in the Expanded Universe or which superhero film adaptation was closer to the original comics. But for me, I have other things to think about.

That being said, I’ve also pushed against the idea of holding all Christians to Biblical literalism. Atheists will often make the assumption that a Christian must take every word in the Bible literally. This is not always the case, as there’s a wide variety of beliefs between denominations. Plenty of the more liberal denominations (as well as Catholicism) do not adhere to things like Young-Earth Creationism, for example.

Really, it appears that all Christians pick-and-choose to some extent what teachings of the book they value. It’s obvious throughout the Bible that it is not a good thing to be rich, yet there are plenty of prominent politicians, millionaires, and televangelists who claim to hold strongly to their faith. Nobody today follows the Old Testament teachings such as bans on shrimp and mixed fibers. And really, sometimes Christians are forced to pick and choose as there are teachings that appear to conflict with each other. The important part, though, is that any given religion is not simply just what the Holy Book says. Besides holy books, religions are made up of doctrines, rituals, church hierarchies, teachings, and traditions that didn’t originate anywhere in the text.

cross-1560345_1280

[Image: a wooden crucifix lays upon the pages of a Bible]

However, I’m biased. I didn’t come out of a fundamentalist background as many of my peers did. They were taught that every part of the Bible happened literally as it was stated, keeping in mind that some parts are obviously poetry or parable, and should be treated as such. Each command in the book should be followed to the letter. I hold a fantastic admiration for my fellow atheists who got out of the fundamentalist mentality, where they were taught that they couldn’t question a single word of the book. I cannot put myself in their position, and I can’t say for certain that I would have been able to escape from the effects of their indoctrination had I been born in their situation.

However, I could not ever merely take the Bible at face value, and I definitely held some parts as certainly false. People tell me that I was being more intellectually dishonest at the time, and I hope to get into that in a future post, but I don’t think I was. I knew as a child that dinosaurs had existed 65 million years ago, and there was a big bang event that “started off” the universe long before that. I could not take the words of the Bible at face value, at least in Genesis, based on my knowledge. From a very young age I began to see the early parts of the Bible as either folk tales from early tribes that would eventually become Jews, or as records of laws that these ancient people attributed to their god (whether it actually came from a god or not). I simply couldn’t reconcile the history of the Bible with the natural history of the universe, nor could I take seriously many of the laws against people such as gay folk and women, I could not agree that they were moral in any sense.

This is puzzling for my ex-fundamentalist atheist friends, as well as never-Christians who make the assumption that whatever the Bible says goes for every Christian. After all, Christians must have a foundational source for the beliefs that they hold. It’s necessary for Christians to believe the gospel stories, so what justification should they have for accepting that part of the Bible but nothing else? Christians rely on the word of their god, which apparently manifests in the form of the holy book. After all, “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Furthermore, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). While it may be circular, the Bible supports inerrancy, since “the words of the Lord are flawless” (Psalm 12:6) and “Every word of God proves true.” (Proverbs 30:5). It wouldn’t be very coherent for a Christian to accept certain parts and reject others, therefore it makes sense that the Bible is the foundation of Christianity.

This has problems, though. How can Christians justify following the Bible in the first place? What reason do Christians have for accepting that the Bible is the true word of their god?

There are a few approaches that Christians often take to justify the Bible as foundational. One approach is through evidential means. They will often try and tie the Bible to historical events, and though many of their claims are questionable, there are of course some historically accurate people, places, and events to be found within the holy pages. Another form of this appeal to evidence is claiming that prophecies in the Bible came true. They will look at prophecies found in the Old Testament and claim that they came true in the New Testament even though the books were by different authors. Both of these are used as an attempt to show that the Bible has been accurate in certain areas, and therefore we can extrapolate to assume it’s accurate in general. This is poor epistemology, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make right now. What’s important is that if an apologist tries to verify the Bible’s accuracy by these means, then their worldview is not based entirely on the Bible. Rather, they are basing their worldview on evidence from the world around them, or at least they are attempting to do so. If that’s the case, then the Bible cannot be the foundation of their Christian beliefs.

A Christian could also appeal to personal experience. They’ve gone to Church and “felt the presence of God”. Or they’ve witnessed a miracle. Or they’ve heard a voice speak to them. Or perhaps they went the intellectually rigorous route of Francis Collins and saw a frozen waterfall that was super duper pretty (and therefore, God). While this is weak justification, it is still justification. And if this demonstrates why the Bible is important, then this is the foundation of their beliefs, and not the Bible.

What I suspect is most often the case, though I cannot possibly speak on behalf of any Christian, is that it is not the Bible that is truly the foundation of the Christian’s belief. Rather, it is their faith. They have been taught the Biblical stories from Birth, and know in their heart of hearts that Jesus Christ died for their sins. They know when they pray that their god is there for them. Even when they are apparently being tested through a trial in their lives, or when a doctrine doesn’t make sense to them, or the Bible seems nonsensical, they can rectify it through faith.

This was certainly the case for me. I had plenty of skeptical tendencies even as a Christian, and I knew that I should have a good reason for my beliefs. I knew that I simply couldn’t justify the Old Testament stories of the Bible, as they didn’t match historical and scientific evidence. Furthermore, I know that my good feelings from prayer and singing at Church weren’t very good reasons for justifying the existence of my god. For me, I would struggle trying to come up with good evidence for my religious position, and I would be disappointed when my reasons were weak. However, without fail, I would eventually remind myself, “that’s why they call it faith.” Since I had been raised to believe that faith was a virtue, this was satisfactory enough for me. My thoughts were always able to quickly move on to something else once I came to that conclusion.

However, I recognize that to many people, we know we have faith because of the Bible. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

For many Christians, faith is also acceptance that Jesus Christ died for their sins and gave them salvation:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

 

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

 

“Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

Under this model, faith is a gift from the god of Christianity, and is given once the Christian accepts Jesus’ gift. You cannot have this faith unless you accept the words of The Bible, since this is the word that tells us of Jesus’ gift of dying on the cross for our sins. Therefore, since many fundagelicals adhere to this worldview, it is actually faith that is based on the Bible, not the other way around.

While some of this may be perfectly coherent for some Christians, it will be completely backwards for others. That’s fine by me. I don’t claim to be a theologian or a Christian scholar, and I reject it altogether anyway no matter the details of the doctrine. As I stated from the beginning, I don’t care to argue over which belief is the “correct” wrong belief. The Christians are still welcome to share the ultimate foundations of their worldview in the comments below, and make their case for why it’s a good foundation.

However, I’d simply like to urge my fellow atheists to not make so many assumptions about what a Christian believes. If you’re having a conversation about their beliefs system, making assumptions hinders a productive conversation, and you should ask on a case-by-case basis. While it may be far easier to lump all Christians into the category of anyone believes the Bible literally and word-for-word, that’s not how the world works. There’s a whole spectrum of Christianity. There are even people who believe in Jesus who don’t really accept much else of the Bible, and as atheists we don’t have any ground for saying that they’re not true Christians. We are not Christians, so we don’t get to decide what a Christian is. Therefore, we can’t know what someone’s “true” justifications are for their worldview. Instead of assuming their justifications, ask about their justifications and how they go about navigating their beliefs.

literal-bible

[Image: A meme featuring a person in a black shirt stating, “I’m an Atheist. Debate me”. The meme caption states, “Makes fun of people who take the Bible literally. Takes the Bible literally.”]

Perhaps this will lead to less confusion in the future. I remember one episode of the podcast where all four hosts were talking to dear friend of the show and Episcopal Reverend Alex Moreschi, who is about as far from a fundamentalist Christian you can get. His form of theology quite mapped quite closely to my former beliefs, and his beliefs seemed just as viable to me as any other form of Christianity (though, obviously, I hadn’t dedicated my education to those beliefs like he did). However, the other three hosts of the show come from a thoroughly fundamendalist evangelical background, and as such it didn’t make sense to them that a Christian could hold certain passages as non-literal. It was frustrating for them, because while Alex held the Bible as true, he didn’t appear to accept that it was literally true. They’d ask him about parts of the Bible that when I was a Christian I never would have accepted, such as the creation story, and become more and more baffled when Alex didn’t hold too much credence in them either. My other three cohosts left the episode entirely confused, but my experience of the ordeal was fairly routine, and I was just hearing yet another perspective on the Christian faith.

Were I to have that conversation again, I would like to ask Alex what he believed and why, rather than holding him to a preconceived model. Instead of asking him what he felt about evolution or Creationism, I would like to ask him what was important to him. From there, I would follow up based on what he says, and learn about his worldview based on him. I would love to have another recorded conversation to ask him about the foundations of his faith, and why he holds those foundations, instead of assuming a foundation and sticking to it the whole time, regardless of his position.

At the moment, I don’t know his foundations, and I don’t know the foundations for the beliefs of almost any other Christian. Is it faith, or is it The Bible? Or is it something else? The answer is going to be different from person to person, and that’s just how humans work. Let’s take the time to ask, and really listen, as we learn about each other.

Consent is One of the Best Things Secular Humanism Offers, and We Need to Emphasize That

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

CN: Sexual Assault, Abusive Language, Homophobia

At this point, Trump’s “October Surprise” is old news. I have no interest in rehashing what he said on this post, but anyone reading this likely knows about his comment about openly sexually assaulting women. This post isn’t about that.

Rather, it’s about the response to some of his people that publically decided to defend what he said. When Trump’s tape of him bragging about sexual assaulting women broke the internet, it cost him a lot of followers and supporters. However, there were a lot of people who thought this claim was trivial, and something that “men just say to other men”, like the motherfucking former mayor of New York, for example. Trump later gave a non-pology for his actions, claiming in an apology message and at his second debate that it was just “locker room talk”. Dissappointment-to-millennials-everywhere Tomi Lahren berated Trump abandoners, acting as if it was completely normal for men to behave that way.

I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed that people want to continue to defend the manchild cantaloupe in a wig. However, I’m most disappointed in those who think that people are just outraged because Donald used some sexually explicit language. For example, Tea Party blogger Mark Meckler thought it was hypocritical for the left to be upset about Trump’s comments while being supportive of Beyonce, who writes about wanting to be fucked and then taken to Red Lobster in her song, “Formation”. He couldn’t tell that Beyonce outwardly expressing her sexual desires was not the same thing as assaulting someone.

For a more high-profile case, Rush Limbaugh attempted to whine about the left by trying to make fun of the mere concept of consent.

“You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.”

This rant is equal parts hilarious, sad, and enlightening. It’s hilarious, because he more or less hit the nail on the head about what leftists and liberals value when it comes to sexual behavior* and he doesn’t even realize it. It’s sad, again, because he doesn’t realize it. But it’s enlightening, because it underlines the true problem we have in these discussions amidst the culture wars.

At some level, all of these defenses ignore the importance of consent. Sometimes they don’t factor it in, or in Limbaugh’s case they actively mock it. This does a lot of damage and dismissal to the amount of trauma that can go into unwanted physical contact, sexual or otherwise. But it’s all too clear at this point that conservatives have a fundamental problem grasping consent. They can’t tell the difference between a rape situation on television or a depraved sex scene, because it’s all just explicit content with naked bodies going at each other. To them, it’s all immoral.

Cultural conservatives largely base their morality off of religious narratives. If we look at their source material, the Bible, we can why their understanding of consent is so lacking. Frankly, the Bible doesn’t appear to give two shits about consent. Not only does it not give any credence to the important of consent, at times it completely dismisses consent altogether. If you’re curious, take a peek at what the Bible has to say about being sexually immoral.

Corinthians 7:1-4 dismisses any sex outside of marriage as “sexual immorality”. But it doesn’t stop there. Within the context of a married couple, one spouse is not capable of withholding sex from the other. They own each others’ bodies, so if one person wants to have sex, the other must comply.

“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.”  But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.  The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”

At least it’s equally terrible for women and men in this passage?

The Old Testament laws don’t so much as give lip service to consent. In fact, they are fairly content with simply listing things that they find immoral, and saying it’s immoral “for I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19 is a particularly rife offender, and we can take a look at some of what it has to say in verses 19-23.

“You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. You shall not have sexual relations with your kinsman’s wife, and defile yourself with her. You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.  You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.  You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.”

The book lists off a bunch of acts it characterizes as immoral, but gives very flimsy justifications why it gives those labels. It’s immoral to sleep with the wife of your relative simply because it would defile you to do so. It’s not immoral to sacrifice children to another god because it violates their right autonomy and life, it’s immoral because it profanes the name of their god. The reason you’re not allowed to have gay sex is just cause “it is an abomination”. There’s no justification for why it is an abomination. It just is.

The foundations of sexual ethics are on shaky ground for the fundie Christian. When your foundation for ethics are simply based on what a book says or what your pastor says is immoral, it warps and poisons your worldview and causes serious damage to clear critical inquiry about what causes harm to others. It makes people focus on the acts that are labeled immoral, instead of why they’re immoral in the first place.

One of my formative experiences of becoming a humanist was arguing at my university with Sister Cindy “tampon lady” Smock, the wife of hellfire fetishist and college campus nuisance Brother Jed. She was happy to bring up the story of Lot to demonstrate that her god wanted to destroy people who engaged in homosexual behavior. I told her that the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah weren’t wrong because they were gay, but because they were rapists. They wanted to have sex with the angels in the story, and the angels did not comply. Cindy replied with, “they were gay rapists!” She was completely unable to divorce the immorality from the type of sexual behavior displayed. There was no consideration of the angels’ desires (or the desires Lot’s daughters, who were offered up for sex from the supposed most immoral man in the city). She was stuck behind a wall because she had been taught that gay sex was bad, and due to conformation bias anything that remotely mentioned sexual contact between men verified that she was correct.

Humanists don’t have this barrier to overcome. Humanists ground themselves in compassion, understanding, and evidence. We are able to discern the right thing based on the needs of other humans. We know that if someone doesn’t reciprocate our sexual advances, that we should stop immediately. We know that if someone doesn’t give us a “yes” when we ask if they want to fool around with them, then that isn’t a yes and we aren’t given the go-ahead. We know that if someone is incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, then they don’t have the best judgment to consent, and that we shouldn’t take advantage of them in that state. Deviation from this behavior is sexual behavior without consent of one of the parties, or in other words, rape.

This is something that society at large is largely ignorant of, and you don’t need my examples to demonstrate that. I know that in my sex ed classes in junior high that I was never taught to value the consent of my sexual partner. I was taught about the bodily effects of puberty, contraceptives and their failure rates, and STDs, but not so much as a mention that unless both parties have informed consent, that is rape. In fact, the idea of consent between two parties wasn’t even introduced to me until college, and I was introduced to it via my peers. Young humans are going to seek out sexual fulfillment behind their parents’ backs, and if they are going to do so without recognizing the value of the autonomy of other humans then it is going to lead to some pretty big messes. This becomes a major problem when they turn into adults without even considering the consent of another person as they seek out sex.

While humanists are still fighting for recognition from society, consent is possibly the best thing we have to demonstrate our values. It is possibly the most triumphant example of humanist behavior, and it shows off our compassion for humans and the importance we give to individual bodily autonomy. It embodies the platinum rule, stating that we should “treat others the way that they want to be treated”, giving us a leg up over those stuck on the rule’s golden counterpart. If humanists were to make their voices heard under the banner of consent, and make the concepts of humanism and consent inseparable in most peoples’ eyes, then it’s one of the best things we could do to make atheists and nonbelievers accepted. To a layperson observing the culture war, they may see people on one side championing one sexual ethic based on an ancient book, and others championing an ethic based on the needs and boundaries of every individual involved. Who do you think will win out for the outsider?

By pushing a culture of consent, we mitigate the risk of violating boundaries of others. We aren’t met with the confusion of why the Trump Tape was bad, thinking that he did something bad just because it involved sex organs and married women. We recognize that it is bad because Trump violated someone’s body without her allowing it, and whether or not she was married had fuck all to do with it.**

Consent culture gives us a more robust toolset for our sexual ethic, whereas deciding what is and isn’t allowed based on what a book says is like memorizing multiplication tables without understanding what multiplication actually is. Sure you can know that six times seven is 42, but you won’t understand why. Once you come to a problem that goes beyond what you have memorized, you won’t have a clue what to do. If you’ve memorized the multiplication tables all the way up to twelve, then you won’t really know what to do when you have to multiply twenty-four by nineteen.

Sexual ethics are the same way. If a fundamentalist religious person comes across a sexual situation that the Bible or their pastor have said nothing about, they won’t have a robust tool for them to use in that situation. For example, maybe their partner wants to try butt stuff, and the Bible says nothing about butt stuff (I’ve checked). They are clueless as to what the right thing to do is. However, the humanist has everything to work with. They are able take into account the sexual needs of their partner. They are also able to look at the evidence to find out if it can be done safely and how. Once they communicate with their partner, then they are able to make a rational, informed decision that doesn’t violate any boundaries. Not only do they avoid harm, but they may actually make each others’ lives better as a result of trying something new in their sex life.

How is anyone able to argue against this? Arguing against a culture of consent is essentially arguing that it should be ok to treat others however we want no matter what the other person says. You aren’t able to say consent is wrong without implicitly stating that you’re ok with someone violating you.

Furthermore, while I’ve spent this post focusing on sexual consent, everything good about consent can be applied to other areas of life. Informed consent ties into assisted suicide, organ donation, and other medical decisions. It ties into reproductive rights, and how much we value the bodily autonomy of individuals. It ties into substance use, and why we’re okay with people temporarily harming their bodies. Furthermore, it ties into the laws that we establish based around these issues. If we look at these issues from a perspective of establishing consent of all parties involved, then this gives more legal freedom and autonomy to individuals, and establish legal areas where more information is necessary for the individuals. Who can argue against that?

Pushing a culture of consent should, then, be one of our top priorities as secular humanists. As our ultimate goal, we can create a culture where people value the autonomy of others, and learn how to respect each others’ bodies in a way where everyone is happy. It will create a world where people are more willing to seek out fulfillment, sexual or otherwise, and less fearful of being taken advantage of.

Until that culture arrives, it remains possibly the best example that we can give outsiders for why secular humanism is such a powerful force for good. Perhaps they won’t understand why we care so much about critical thinking and evidence, it’s not within their paradigm of values. They may not understand the causes we fight for, such as gender equality or LGBTQ rights, and that’s unfortunate. But if we are going to give people a starting point, consent is such a beautiful, perfect idea that we can provide for them. If you are a compassionate, ethical person, you can’t argue against it. So, as humanists, let’s make sure we keep pushing consent as part of our platform. It’s one of the best things we can do for both our movement and the world around us.


*The only addition I’d add is that it should be informed consent. This means that since minors don’t have the maturity to be truly informed, for example, sex acts with minor shouldn’t be condoned even if they attempt to give a go-ahead.

**Though if she did want to have sex with Trump for some reason then it would be good to communicate that with her partner.

Local Churchgoers Preach Eternal Hellfire, But In A More Loving Way

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

CN: Homophobia

BOULDER, CO – In an effort to show a much kinder, gentler face of Christianity, members of the local Third Baptist Church of South Boulder have started to shift their message of eternal torture to be  more loving and accepting. For the longest time, these evangelicals only pushed the message that everyone is inevitably born as a loathsome sinner, and as a result they are destined to go to Hell unless they repent for their sins and follow the Bible. Upon realizing that this approach was largely unsuccessful, they have decided to deliver this message in a kinder, gentler, and more loving way. The church’s preacher, Stephen Handerson, was invited to speak on the matter. He said to our team of reporters, “While atheists and other people who do not accept Jesus Christ as their lord and Savior are destined to have their bodies seared and singed over and over and over, and their organs punctured pitchforks, and they will have sulfur and lava poured down their throats for the rest of eternity, it’s important that we spread this message while telling them that Jesus loves them.”

church-old-people

[Image: Churchgoers in pews]

When asked why a god that loves him would create a universe with such a fate for nonbelievers, Handerson responded, “It’s all a part of his loving, caring message. God created each and every one of us to be special, with unique gifts and talents. He made you and I to spread love throughout the world, and God is so happy with you and he loves you very much. Which is why he will damn you to eternal hellfire and torture and suffering if you don’t love him back.”

Members of the church wanted to emphasize that they weren’t just spreading this message to nonbelievers. Rather, they are also working towards having a more inclusive message. They want to spread their loving message of eternal punishment towards wicked, irredeemable, worthless sinners of all shapes and sizes. This is exemplified of their street preaching they brought out at Denver Pride this past summer. Their message was clear, that God only created marriage between one man and one woman, and that everything outside of this construct was outside of his plan. Therefore, at the pride event, this group set up a booth with literature letting them know that homosexuality was an abomination, and that the Lord detests all sorts of immoral sexual behavior, and anyone who acts upon their same-sex attraction deserves to be thrown into a lake of fire, have their tongues burned apart, and have their skin ripped off of their flesh for infinite time. But the booth also gave everyone free homemade cookies, so that the queer folk passing by knew that they were loved.

One church member thinks this approach has been shown to be more effective at gaining converts. Kristen Wick, one of the women who attends Third Baptist Church regularly, spoke to us about her experience at the pride event. “They came up to us very eagerly once we talked to them about Christ’s love! We had so many great conversations with the attendees! We were able to teach them that they were very special to our Lord, and he has a special plan for each one of them. And his love is infinite, which he will share for us when we get to spend eternity with him in Heaven.”

Wick went on to say, “Of course, we still had problems as usual when discussing the ever-looming threat of damnation. Of course, we had to let them know they were faggots and reprobates, and they needed to change that immediately. Because if they don’t stop their immoral behavior, the lord will righteously punish them for their transgressions, and send them to an infinite life of agony. For whatever reason, once we brought this up, they began walking away or they would stop listening. I guess they aren’t interested in Christ’s love!”

The church also made sure to make changes when spreading their message to their children. Third Baptist Church holds Sunday School for the younger attendees, and they have been teaching children for decades that they are born as wicked, vile sinners who deserve to be tortured forever. The church realizes that this message is not sufficient. Sunday School leaders state that now they make sure to teach the children these lessons, but now they deliver the message through fun skits and hand puppets. These methods allow the Sunday School teachers to tell the children that they are the scum of the Earth in a much more loving and inviting tone.

The Church also wanted to emphasize that this in no way invalidates the teachings of the scriptures. According to Third Baptist, the only way to truly be saved is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. Anything short of that, and you will be damned to Hell for all eternity. This is simply a better way of spreading the message. That way, the Church can speak to even more vile, irredeemable blasphemers and repugnant, contemptible degenerates, and share their love.

 

[Note: The above article was satire. All persons listed above are fictional, and any similarities to actual persons, living or dead, are hilarious but also kind of sad]

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