Tag Archives: atheists

Advantage Atheists?

As my post a few days ago makes clear, I see parallels often between fundamentalist Christians (or any religion’s fundies, really, I guess) and hardcore atheists.

Let’s face it: Both groups have their aggressive and argumentative evangelists, and are every bit as annoying as their mirror-image dogma-pushers.

Looking more broadly, rank-and-file Christians and rank-and-file atheists (that is, the ones who just aren’t that into converting folks or really fretting about differences in thinking) generally don’t care about their “opposite number.” Really, the average atheist can get along fine with the average Christian and vice-versa.

Yet, I have to admit that the advantage may go to atheists in one respect. Specifically, in that group of people who are serious about their beliefs (religious or non-religious) and like to espouse their opinions but aren’t trying to convert anyone. They’re the people who are just trying to prove to everyone else they’re right and looking for as much validation as they can from like-minded folks and don’t care whether you convert to their side. In fact, many of them would prefer that you didn’t because they want to continue to dislike you.

Because in that subset of Christians and atheists, they are often trying to explain things and defend positions about things like morality, environmental issues and the like. And frankly, the people who take the Bible too seriously are way more annoying and off-the-rails wrong about issues like those than are atheists using science and logic as their foundation.

Not that this realization makes atheism in any way enticing to me. Why would it? I already have made peace between faith and reason in my life. Between spirituality and logic. Between the ethereal and the carnal. But it does make me wish I could do more to shut up the embarrassing folks who keep trying to justify so many wrong attitudes in life with the Bible, citing damn near every part of it except for Jesus’ teachings.

Common Ground

I welcome spirited debate at times (and like to passively watch it occur at times) with conservative Christians and with atheists.

Lord knows, I’ve pissed off both groups, which in my mind tells me I’m doing something right.

But it occurs to me lately that both groups share some similar problems in their approach (which often makes it impossible for me to talk intelligently with some of them): Problems of context and translation.

That is, when they either go on about the inerrant nature of the Bible or the ridiculousness of its teachings, they often pay no mind to that fact that the words that they either uplift or denigrate are not always what they think they are.

Translations are sometimes not accurate, owing to a lack of precise words to capture the original meaning in English or other languages…as well as to the fact that English itself has changed since the days of the first King James Bible. Also, context is key. Teachings in the Bible were often designed for the society of the times, and it does no one any good to either shoehorn them into doing something they aren’t meant to do or can no longer achieve…nor is it good to act like they were never meant to adapt to realities of a changing world.

But hey, on the bright side, at least the most obnoxious fundies and the most aggressive atheists are working from some common falacies.

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Getting Off Track, Part 2

As is so often the case, I went negative on my “own kind” first by pointing out some serious flaws in many Christian mind-sets (see “Getting Off Track, Part 1“) before I decided to go pointing fingers at the non-Christians. But now, it’s time for some people on¬†the other side to get¬†their share.

I saw a bumper sticker a few days ago: Jesus, Protect Me From Your Followers.

I got a chuckle out of that, because it is true than many Christians make Christianity an easy target due to their actions (and not because there’s anything inherently bad in the tenets of Christianity itself). Frankly, a lot of Christians scare me, and I’m a¬†faithful (if inconsistent) follower of Jesus.

But at the same time, when people get in my face (literally or figuratively) about how arrogant I am that I would say Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, I can only ponder this: “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”

Why the rancor toward Jesus and the faith centered on him? I mean, this is one of the most progressive guys of ancient history. I’m still waiting to see agnostics and atheists pile onto the Jews or Buddhists or anyone else and call them arrogant for believing their paths are the right paths and probably the only legitimate paths.

And please, don’t start with the “Well, Christianity has done more damage than…” It’s a bullshit argument that half the time isn’t even accurate and generally has little to do with Christianity itself, and I’m tired of people arguing that most of the world doesn’t really even know about Jesus, much less believe in him, and thus I should shut the hell up…and yet somehow my faith is doing these people such harm. You can’t have it both ways. Is Christianity abusing them, or are they ignorant of Jesus? Kind of hard to believe both things.

Maybe I’ll start¬†a path toward accepting¬†the argument that having a set of strong beliefs makes me arrogant when more people around me start saying, “Gee, representative democracies in capitlalist nations sure do seem to do a lot of damage to the world! We’d better abandon capitalism and democracy right now!”

It is not arrogance for me to say that Jesus is the right path. It’s my belief, and you are welcome to think otherwise and to disagree with me. But it still doesn’t make me arrogant.

You see, God has an easy way, and a hard way. But it all comes down to Jesus the Christ in the end.

I give Little Girl Blue as much freedom and latitude as I can. I allow her, even at just shy of four years old, to disagree with me strenuously if she likes. But in the end, if something needs to be done a certain way (i.e. Daddy says so), then it will get done my way in the end. Not because I’m a tyrant but because that’s the way it needs to be, for her health, safety, and general well-being and proper growth.

Now, Little Girl Blue can say, “Daddy, I don’t want to” and then do it anyway because I’ve asked her nicely and explained why it’s necessary. That’s the easy way. (Note, I don’t expect the easy way to be to just obey me without question; not even God really expects that of us…He knows us too well). Or, she can throw a tantrum or ignore me repeatedly and do other things that will cause me to raise my voice and possibly snap one of her favorite DVDs in half and throw it out (should she push things that far).

She has options. But eventually, it comes down to me or to mommy and what we’ve laid down as law.

You can give Jesus some serious consideration now (and hopefully come to see that he is the way, the truth and the life), or you can just keep shouting that it’s arrogant to believe such things. But I wonder, when your heart beats its last, and you see Jesus, and he gives you an amused little smile, a shrug of his shoulders and says, “You know, Deac and Big Man and a lot of those other folks¬†pretty much had a lot of it right. So, why don’t we talk about the choice you want to make now”…what are you going to do?

Are you going to say, “Oh, well, I guess we should talk then. I guess I was off track there.”

Or will you say, “Fine, I’m here, you arrogant messianic asshole. You think I’m going to bend my knee now?”

Hard way, easy way…and even a semi-hard way right in between the two, I believe…but hell, it’s your choice, and I’m¬†devout in my conviction that you have every right to make any of those choices. Your right. Your free will. It doesn’t affect me in the end. I wish you well, I hope you do well in this life and the next, and I respect your rights.

If that’s the new definition of arrogance, then I’m happily arrogant.

Taking the Leap

No surprise to regular readers that I have semi-regular discussions with atheists and agnostics on this blog and at others. I don’t try to covert them, because I’m not clinically insane nor masochistic, but I think it’s great to make sure we all understand each other. Much better than one side calling the other a bunch of superstitious idiots, while the other side is calling them narrow-minded secularists.

In fact, TitforTat and The Word of Me have probably been my most frequent foils lately (and I mean that in the nicest recreational fencing/dueling way possible). In terms of longer dialogs, though, TWOM had a conversation with me here with regard to a Mrs. Blue post here, and I’m trading thoughts with him over at one of his postsover at his blog right now.

It’s good stuff, and I like the conversations. As long as no one gets to calling me an out-of-touch looney-toon, all’s good (that hasn’t happened often, and most of those people I don’t even try to engage again). But I have been thinking a lot lately about what divides a spiritual believer from a non-believer, and it strikes me that as much as we intellectually can appreciate each other, it is hard to truly explain ourselves to each other. For both sides, it seems self-evident that our position is the correct one, and it troubles us on some level that the other side hasn’t broken through to our way of thinking.

This struck me in particular when TWOM recently posted in one of his comments something to the effect of “I’ve read the Bible and I’ve tried to understand it and believe.” I’m probably misquoting him a bit, but that was the gist as I recall. And it’s been said to me before by other agnostics and atheists that they have tried to read the Bible with an¬†open mind and “just don’t get it.”

And this is precisely where the rubber meets the road: Faith vs. concrete facts. Intellect vs. surrender.

This is not to say that the faithful lack intellect nor that the doubters and atheists lack any kind of “spiritual” or moral core. Far from it. But here is the best example I can come up with as a person of faith:

Imagine a person who decides to go skydiving. There are a few likely scenarios.

She completely freaks out with fear and doesn’t go to the skydiving takeoff point at all. This would analogous, I believe, to someone who says “Yes, I’ll consider your points and/or read that Bible thing” but never really tries.

She goes to the site, freaks out, and just cannot get on the plane, or she gets on the plane but cannot get herself out of that seat until it lands again. She never jumps, but she at least went to where it would all start. I liken this to the person who does give some consideration to it, but never really turns off the literal/concrete parts of their brain. I mean, I personally enjoy and respect (and use) critical thinking, but you cannot think your way to faith.

She makes it to the door of the plane while it is in midair, but she cannot make the jump. She sees all that open sky beneath her and feels the excitement and fear in her gut. She has a visceral and emotional reaction, but making the leap is just too much. She goes back to her seat. Here we have a person who has managed to open their heart and might see a glimpse of what the faith believer sees, but on some level, the thought of letting go is too much. Whether because of fear that it might be true, and a desire not to find out and have to consider answering to a higher power, or whether fear that faith will lessen them somehow; reduce their intellect or spin them too far away from provable reality perhaps.

She jumps out of the plane and goes for the ride. This would be the person who does make the leap from purely temporal and rational thought to faith. It is a wild and scary ride sometimes, and the person might regret it in some ways. The person might even decide one day to reverse course and deny that faith she tasted or decide not to embrace it fully, but the leap was indeed made, whether for a short time or a lifetime.

None of this is to suggest that atheists or agnostics are cowards. Fear isn’t altogether a bad thing. And they, in turn, could accuse someone of me of being fearful of considering that there isn’t anything beyond this life; that there isn’t any intelligence guiding the universe. They would argue that I am afraid to let go of a comfortable superstition.

Myself, I don’t feel fear at the possibility there might not be a God. I have considered it. Hell, I spent most of my life ignoring spiritual things and the church and might as well have been an agnostic or even atheist, despite having been a baptized Catholic who occasionally went to church. I still find myself at a crossroads at times when I ask, “Am I spiritually delusional?” In the end analysis, having made the leap and feeling the swell of my spirit and sensing things beyond the physical and intellectual, I simply cannot conceive of there not being a God.

It is, to me, as clear and as unassailable as the existence of gravity. That doesn’t mean I don’t doubt some of the specifics of the Bible or wonder if my spiritual path is the right one. But for me, taking the leap wasn’t simply a transient thing. I live in a world where God exists, and I can no more deny Him than I can deny myself.

So It’s An Uneven Field by Miz Pink

I know Deke keeps an even head most of the time and a sunny disposition with people who think people who believe in God are nutter-butters. He doesn’t let it get to him much but I do see times when he clearly gets a little miffed (even if he tries to hide it) that his faith somehow puts him in a category of not being “in touch with reality” or not being a “critical thinker.”

So as I see things here at this blog in the comments sometimes and stalk him around some of the other blogs he posts at I can almost see him getting a twitch in the corner of his eye and balling his fists at times. Not often but enough.

I understand it because I get irritated when I see some of that too. As much as I don’t like Christians who brow-beat everyone else and slam them with “your going to hell” when they disagree and crap…I also don’t like atheists and agnostics who act like people of faith are simple-minded folks who are holding onto fairy tales.

But you know what? I’m not going to get irritated anymore, and I’m gonna encourage Deke not to either.

Jesus told us we would catch flack for our beliefs and for lifting him up. He told us we would have tribulations and trials and he told us to turn the other cheek.

People who are opposed to faith-led beliefs are sometimes going to be irritating and even insulting at times. They are going to be in many cases dismissive. I accept that. And as hard as it makes my job or Deke’s. As much as it might hurt to not get the same consideration that we give to them (I’m not lumping everyone into this boat…there are atheists and agnostics who are respectful but some are just jerks) well…we just need to accept that they are going to want an uneven playing field.

They are going to want to throw science into our faces and remind us that we can’t prove the existence of God, then rub salt into the wound by telling us that we shouldn’t even¬†be trying to use science or archeology or anything else either because the Bible tells us faith is enough. They will continue to tell us it’s silly to believe in a God that always existed but refuse to explain how that’s sillier than the fact we live in a universe thats clearly always existed or came from nothing at some point…just like God.

It’s not worth getting upset about. And after this post, I probably shouldn’t even point out this mindset again…because it’s not something we should let get to us. As believers in Christ, it isn’t our right to expect a level playing field in discussions about faith with ANYONE. We might get level fields. Sometimes we might get the high ground in a debate and have the advantage. But we shouldn’t expect anything to be “fair” and we shouldn’t let that stop us. We should just be ready to take the heat and turn the cheek and keep on going.

Two-fer Tuesday: Spiritual Healing by Deacon Blue

As Miz Pink pointed out a few days ago, I had a small issue with some comments some folks were making at Deus Ex Malcontent. No flame war or anything like that. Not much¬†brawling. No hard feelings (at least not that I’ve noticed so far, though I think there is some lightly gnawing irritation among certain parties); in fact, I think the discussion that was sparked was a good one on both sides of the issue. But as I thought about the whole affair and the comments back and forth about whether religious folks just “haven’t grown up and joined the 21st century,” I started to realize where there is a major gap between the atheists and the theists.

I mean, other than that God guy…which of course is the primary gap between us.

Now, I’m going to confine myself to atheism vs. Christianity specifically, partly because Christianity is predicated on God’s plan to save souls from damnation, and because this ties into today’s topic on spiritual healing, at least for my¬†take on the topic. (No, as much as you might have thought otherwise from the title, I won’t be posting on faith healing or¬†anything like that.) And I realize that some folks, like Votar, who has been vocal in the discussion I noted above at Deus Ex Malcontent, don’t necessarily think of themselves as atheist. Humor me. I’m already about to use a metaphor, so let me deal in extremes, too. And don’t jostle me. This is volatile stuff and I don’t want it blowing my head off.

Basically, I see a large part of the atheism vs. Christianity debate like this: We see the problem of making people (and the world at large) healthier a lot differently.

Being Christian doesn’t necessarily make you a good person. There are some real losers, assholes and arrogant folks within the Christian ranks. But what gets Christians knocked by atheists almost as much as the hyprocrisy we often show as a group is our desire to “save” other people spiritually and to keep focusing on spiritual right and wrong.

This is, I think, part of why atheists often want to write off Christians as being stuck in a 2,000-year old program of supersition. The atheists don’t like the idea that Christians think they need saving. They feel (or so I think) that we are labelling them as deficient. And so the reflex is to label us as deficient for believing in the “invisible man in the sky.” And it works the same way in reverse: Christians don’t like being made to feel like fairy-tale-believing rubes, so they often¬†label atheists as inherently arrogant, mean and tunnel-visioned.

As I see it, though, we’re both often missing the big picture. When trying to make people healthy, there are two major things a truly great physician will do: Relieve the symptoms and locate and treat the main underlying problem that lead to the ill health to begin with. (See, finally I get to my spiritual healing theme and my metaphor)

Problem is, atheists and Chrisitians don’t see the disease state the same way when it comes to human nature and human dealings.

To atheists, we Christians are ignoring the problems of this world.¬†They think that we are only focused on souls and praying for deliverance¬†to the exclusion of trying to¬†fix economic, social and geopolitical problems¬†(and¬†many of us really do behave this way, frankly, so they aren’t all wrong in their belief).

To Christians, atheists are ignoring their souls and their eternal salvation by being so focused on believing only what can be proven that they don’t even consider the possibility that there is a spiritual realm as well.

The truth is (coming from the Christian perspective which is, of course, my own) that the real disease is sin. The basic underlying problem is our sin nature and our rejection of God’s way. And the result of that disease is some nasty consequences in the afterlife and some here on Earth too. So what Christians try to do is to get people to realize their sin nature and deal with it so that they are set for eternity.

Problem is that we sometimes forget that there are very real wordly problems that also need to be dealt with. We forget that we need to be good stewards of the planet. We look toward the bye-and-bye and the fact that all our problems will be solved when we leave the planet and kind of fuck around too much while we’re still in the flesh.

And so, in focusing only on the core disease, too many of us Christians forget to alleviate the symptoms and just go for trying to administer the painful cure. We also forget to treat the “co-morbid” conditions that were either created by the sin nature or that were exacerabated by it. In trying to get to the heart of the problem, we leave the patients still suffering a host of other ailments that we refuse to acknolwedge and we give them no pain relief. In other words, we may save the patient, but at what cost? Certainly, it puts our bed-side manner in question, if not our basic human decency.

Atheists, on the other hand (again, in my humble opinion) are so focused on the most obvious and visible diseases and in relieving the painful symptoms that they ignore and fail to recognize the core problem (sin) and leave the biggest disease untreated. And so the biggest threat is left unresolved, but the physician and patient think they’ve dealt with all the problems. Folks feel better, but are still sick.

Metaphors are always an inexact science of course, and leave out many subtleties. So this post is hardly going to put any nails in the atheism vs. Christianity debate. Just some thoughts, though, in terms of ways to view our respective persectives, by using the medical model, with which I am well acquainted as a healthcare and medical journalist for a number of years.

Of course, I also thought my post on atheism as a religion was harmless, and look what trouble that got me into…Lord only knows what this one might spawn.

(Miz Pink’s post on today’s topic is here.)

Hypocrisy hell, part 3

spacey.jpgI used to hang out on some atheist discussion boards. No, not as an annoying troll. These were places that had discussion areas about religion that welcomed Christians and people of other faiths to discuss why they believe what they believe.

By and large, the discussions were civil and even enlightening. But I never could understand why I had to explain how my God could have always existed and not come from somewhere, yet atheists didn’t have to explain how the Big Bang could have created the universe and where it came from.

For some reason, I was constantly assailed by the argument that the universe was here and obviously existed and therefore they didn’t have to prove anything. The burden was on me.

But I never argued the existence of the universe, just the fact that the Big Bang is as unprovable as God. Yeah, I know the universe seems to be radiating from a central point, moving outward, but that doesn’t prove a Big Bang anymore than it disproves God. Maybe the universe is radiating outward because Heaven is in the center of the universe (that’s just for the sake of argument;¬†not an assertion of “gospel truth”)¬†and (a) God wanted everything¬†moving out from that point or (b) the war in Heaven created shockwaves that carried creation along them.

All I’m saying is that the theory of the Big Bang assumes that there was a bunch of matter/energy mashed together that exploded into our current universe. How is that any more viable a theory than an intelligent God who existed before creation did?

Atheists argue, “Where did God come from?” Well, where did the damn material for the universe come from? Six of one, half dozen of the other…and equally improbable and unprovable if you come from a purely logical perspective.

Given the complexity of the universe and how nicely things tie together, I’m still in favor of some kind of intelligence behind it all. To me, that makes a lot more sense than random chance.

(Image from www.freeimages.co.uk)

Hypocrisy Hell, part 1  |  Hypocrisy Hell, part 2