Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Christian trump card

Unanswered prayers. Contradictions in the bible.  A bizarre system of original sin and salvation through a human sacrifice.  It doesn't matter what objection or question is brought forth, the Christians have a single answer to it all: The Lord works in mysterious ways.

This pearl of apologetics comes from Isaiah 55:9 which states "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts".  It's an easy out for anything that can't be explained rationally.  It's the answer for every "Why did god do that?" and every "Why didn't he do it this way?"

Christians will often accuse anyone who points out the lack of logic and the inconsistencies in god's plan as described in the bible of trying to put god in a box, or trying to understand the mind of an infinite god with our flawed and limited human perspective.  It's quite ingenious, really.  It's an escape route from any possible argument that effectively shuts down any questions and sounds profound, even though it's just another way for the Christian to say "I have no idea!".  It's like a parent telling a child "you're too young to understand," when they really don't have a good explanation for their actions.  As effective as it is at making non-believers throw up their arms and walk away in exasperation, it works even better for believers to quell any of those pesky doubts that crop up from time to time.  Anytime things don't make sense, or god's "plan" isn't obvious, they just remind themselves that god is smarter than them and knows what he's doing.  Just trust in his higher ways and higher thoughts.  Simple. Problem solved.

But to me, an argument that amounts to "you're too stupid to get it, so stop asking," is condescending in the way a bully who's had one too many concussions is when he calls the smartest kid in class stupid for winning the science fair.  A leader who resorts to "because I said so," as justification for everything is no leader at all.  I may not be the smartest person to ever live, but I'm smart enough to know that if god expects even little children to be able to understand his message, he should be smart enough to have a better answer for questions that even children ask than "you wouldn't understand."  An omniscient god would know how we think and what questions we would ask and - if he actually cared - would have a better answer.  Oh wait... his thoughts are higher, so we can't understand why he's being such a dick about not explaining things in a way that we might understand.  I should have known that was the answer to my objections!  My bad.

Monday, 27 February 2012

My dog is better than Jesus

It came to me last night, as I was cuddling with my dogs.  Christians often post about Jesus with descriptions that sound an awful lot like one would describe a loyal pet.  He walks beside me.  He loves me unconditionally.  I can lean on him and he supports me through the tough times.  He is my best friend.

My dogs do all that (I have 2, but I'll talk here in the singular so the comparison makes more sense).  But they are also undeniably real and far more dependable than a relationship with an imaginary friend.  I don't need to read a book, pray or attend a service to know my dog loves me.  He shows me his love constantly - sometimes too much!  When my dog doesn't do what I ask him to do, I don't have to ignore his actions or defend them by claiming he works in mysterious ways - even though I don't always understand his behavior.  When my dog does do what I ask, I will "praise" him with a "good boy", but no actual worship is required.  His love may not be "eternal", but it as real as it gets and I can trust in that love absolutely.    All my dog asks of me is that I love him, feed him, walk him and play with him. 
Sure, he doesn't promise me eternal life, but he gives me far more and better "spiritual fulfillment" than I ever received from Jesus in the years I spent being a devoted Christian.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Abraham: The Delusional Father of 3 Faiths. Part 2

When we last saw Abraham in Part 1, he has just gained a new name and lost his 100 year-old foreskin.  Now, sitting in front of his tent, he gets a visit from Yahweh in the form of three men - or maybe it's Yahweh and his bodyguard angels.  It's really not clear.  Abe is, of course, not the least bit surprised to see Yahweh's Avatar in triplicate - perfectly natural, no explanation required or given.  Christians - at least those who believe in the Trinity - will see this as foreshadowing - or maybe Jesus and the Holy Spirit have separate avatars here?  Whatever the case, Yahweh and the other two are pretty hungry.  Abe and Sarah rush around getting their slaves to make up something yummy, and they've got to wash Yahweh's feet, of course.  Even gods get their feet dirty in the desert..
While Abe is eating with them, Sarah is eaves-dropping in on their conversation.  Yahweh predicts - again - that Sarah will have a child.  For some reason, even though Yahweh already made this prediction to Abraham before, Sarah is surprised and laughs, saying how can I have a child now that I'm old?  She must be getting senile, since she has apparently not only forgot about the previous predictions, but also that she's been barren her whole life - a good thing or she's have a bunch of pharaoh's babies! - since she's now wondering how a post-menopausal woman with a withered up old hubby will get pregnant as if that's the only thing stopping her from getting knocked-up.  Yahweh says to Abraham, "why did Sarah laugh?" and he quotes what she just said.  Why does he ask Abraham instead of Sarah?  Maybe he thinks Abraham can read Sarah's mind?  Maybe it's impolite to address a woman directly, because she's just a woman after all.  Anyway, Yahweh says "is there anything too difficult for me?" (well, apparently yes, judging by the next paragraph, and his need to murder his son before he can forgive people instead of just forgiving them, and apparently getting his people to write a book that actually makes and isn't full of contradictions is also too difficult, and... well, I'd better stop there or we'll never get to the rest of the story..). 
Sarah is  afraid, but apparently not afraid enough to stop her from piping up and lying about what she just said to this stranger that her hubby is treating like he's god or something.  "I did not laugh!"
Yahweh says "yes, you did laugh.".
Unfortunately, they cut the story off there without going into the rest of the argument which I imagine went something like this:
Sarah: "Did not"
Yahweh: "Did too"
Sarah:  "Did not"
Yahweh:  "Did so.  I heard you.  I was right here and you were just a few feet away behind the tent flap, which isn't exactly sound-proof and I have super-hearing."
Sarah:  "That wasn't me."
Yahweh:  "It was so.  Do you you even know who you're talking to?"
Sarah:  "No, you're just three strangers who think they can make me pregnant!  Wait a minute... Abraham, what are you planning???"
Abraham:  "Actually dear, this is Yahweh.  You know... our god."
Sarah:  "Oh... my bad."

Then Yahweh x3, (or Yahweh and bodyguards or whatever they are), and Abraham walk together and Yahweh looks down the hill at Sodom and Gomorrah and says "Hmmmm, should I hide my plans from Abraham?  Well, he is going to be the father of my chosen people, because I promised him he would, so why not tell him... Hey Abe, I've heard there's some really nasty stuff going on down there so I'm going to go check it out and see what's up."  Apparently Yahweh hadn't yet gotten the omniscience power.  I think he has to level up a few times before that, 'cause you know, it's one thing to create the universe, but to see what's going on in a city a few miles away... that takes some real power!  So the two bodyguards head down to the cities and the main Yahweh avatar stays with Abe.  Abraham apparently has a better moral compass than Yahweh and probably also remembers his nephew lives in Sodom, so he says, "Ummm, Yahweh, are you really going to kill everyone down there, good guys and bad guys?  What if there's like, 50 good guys?  C'mon, you're the judge of all the earth, man, do the right thing!"
And Yahweh says, "OK, if there's 50 good guys, I'll spare the city."
Then Abraham, smart guy that he is, starts negotiating and knows it's best to suck up first.  So he says, "now that I've been so bold as to question you even though I'm just dust and ashes, what if there's only 45 good guys."    
Yahweh, "OK 45."
Abraham:  "What about 40?"
Yahweh:  "Ok, I'll spare the cities for 40 good guys."
Abe: "Don't get angry, please...what about 30?
Yahweh: "oh for the love of!... Fine... I won't blow the cities to smithereens if there are 30."
Abraham:  "Now that I've been so bold as to speak - "
Yahweh:  "You said that already, like 3 sentences ago.  You're just repeating yourself now."
Abraham:  "Oh, sorry, ummm... what about 20?"
Yahweh:  "Fine, 20."
Abraham:  "Ok, don't be angry -"
Yahweh : "If you keep repeating yourself like this I WILL get angry you little twerp!"
Abraham: "What about 10?"
Yahweh:  "For the sake of 10, I will not destroy it."
Then, negotiation apparently concluded, Abe goes home. (Gen 18)

Chapter 19 doesn't have Abraham in it, so I'll save the long version of that story for another post.  It's the one where the two angels (they may be the bodyguards who were with Yahweh earlier - again, it's not actually explained anywhere) go to Sodom and find Lot, the righteous guy who offers up his daughters for gang-rape.  Apparently he's the only righteous dude in Sodom, so they save him and his family, and Yahweh turns the party cities into Chernobyl.

Then the action shifts back to Abraham in chapter 20.
Abraham, having been so successful with his "she's my sister" con job in Egypt, decides to try it again.  He moves into an area called Negev and again lies about Sarah being his sister.  The king, Abimelek, is apparently tired of all the hot young chicks he has and decides he wants the hot nonagenarian (that means she's in her 90s), Sarah, so he sends for her and Abraham graciously pimps her out again.
Yahweh once again plays his part in the con and [pretends it's all Abimelek's fault.  He shows up to Abimelek in a dream - guess his avatar is reserved for VIPs like Abraham - and says "you're as good as dead because of this woman you've taken."
Abimelek said, "Whoa, how was I supposed to know she was married?  That Abe guy told me she was his sister, and she told me he was her brother.  Besides, I haven't touched her yet.  My conscience is clean."
Yahweh, as usual, takes the credit and says, "oh right, I knew that.  Yeah, it was me who stopped you from sleeping with her so you wouldn't, you know, offend me or something.  Now give her back to Abraham because he's a prophet, and he'll pray for you and I'll listen to him and spare your life.  But if you decide to keep her... I'll kill you and and all who belong to you.  Because, you know, it's your slaves' fault if you sleep with my pimp prophet's wife, so I'll kill them, too."

Abimelek wakes up.  Like any reasonable man, he realizes that his dream was a visitation from a god - it couldn't be just a dream or anything like that.  So he summons his officials and tells them about his dream and they get scared.  Then he summons Abraham and asks him, "What are you doing to me?  What did I do to piss you off?"
Abraham: "Well I came here and I figured since you guys were a bunch of evil heathens that aren't afraid of my awesome god Yahweh, you'd probably kill me to get your hands on my hot wife, so I told a little fib about her being my sister,  Besides, it wasn't a total lie, she's actually my half-sister.  And after I married her I told her, this is the deal, Yahweh tells me where to go, and I'll pimp you out by pretending you're my sister.  That's how you can show how much you love me!"

Even though Abraham has pretty much just explained to Abimelek that he's been conned, the "my god will kick your ass" threat does it's job and Abimelek gives Abraham a pile of money, livestock and land to make up for his "offense."
Then Abraham prayed to Yahweh who then healed Abimelek and all his slaves so they could have children again.  Yeah, I'm confused too, since there was no mention of Yahweh making them infertile in the first place, but apparently he did because of the great sin of having unknowingly taken in a married woman.

To be continued in Part 3.  Stay tuned to hear about how the morally upstanding Abraham hog ties his own child and puts a knife to his throat.  It's the bestest kid's bible story, ever!  (well, except for that one where Yahweh drowns the entire planet except for the old drunk guy and a bunch of stuffed animals.)

Monday, 20 February 2012

Abraham: The Delusional Father of 3 Faiths. Part 1

Abram, whom Yahweh renamed Abraham.  He's the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Without him - whether he's historical or mythical, and the evidence points to him being an entirely fictional character - the three monotheistic faiths that came to dominate the Western World would not exist.  The stories about him in Genesis are the foundational myths for the Jewish and Islamic faiths and both claim him as an ancestor.  His story is seen by Christians as foreshadowing Jesus.

Now, for the sake of discussion and because it's what the majority of religious people believe, let's assume that Abraham was a historical person and that he really was the father of the blood-lines of the Jews and Arabs.  First off - having a man who was obviously mentally ill and morally corrupt contribute the genetic blueprint for your races is not something to proud of... but let's not go down that potentially racist road.  Let's look at the legacy of his story, instead.  We'll go through the Genesis account, first.
Abraham was one of three brothers.  One of his brothers married his own niece, by the way... totally not creepy in those days.  Abraham started having his one-on-one chat sessions with Yahweh at about age 75.  Now, remember, people lived a long time in those days; Abram's father Terah lived to 205.  Basically Yahweh told him where to go and what to do.  It doesn't say whether he was either hearing voices in his head or Yahweh was booming an audible voice out of thin air, or appearing as some spectral ghost or something.  Whatever the case, I guess that was considered normal back then - either that or they edited out the accounts of his family members questioning him about his imaginary friend.  Then again, maybe he was just the kind of head of household no one dared question, despite all the crazy stunts he pulled.  The only one who actually calls him on his shit is the pharaoh (ever notice that the bible never actually names any of the various pharaohs it vilified?).  Abram heads to Egypt with his wife, Sarai, who, despite being in her late 60s, is apparently so hot that Abram thinks anyone who sees her will kill him to get their hands on her.  So he devises a plan to keep himself safe: he tells the Egyptians she is his sister and pimps her out to the Pharaoh in exchange for wealth and influence.  Yeah, no moral qualms here - you know, she's just a woman, go ahead and have her.  Yahweh objects for reasons that aren't explained, but instead of just telling Abram, or punishing him for being an ass,  he decides to instead inflict plagues on the innocent Pharaoh. I think he just has a thing for sending plagues on poor Egypt.  Pharaoh comes to the obvious conclusion that the plagues are from Yahweh because he's doing the nasty with Abram's wife, and kicks Abram out of the country, but let's him keep all his riches. (Genesis 12:10-20).

Abram got filthy rich from pimping out his wife by the time he left Egypt.  So rich that he and his nephew Lot, who were traveling together, realized their respective households were too huge to have both of them living off the same land - so they split up.  In a typical delusion of grandeur, Abram has another chat with Yahweh who tells him that not only will he father whole nations, but hey, all this land you see, it's yours.  Go and take it.

Then there's some fighting between a bunch of Kings of different cities who just can't seem to get along.   Abram's nephew Lot get's kidnapped by one side, so Abram takes a war party and rescues him.  A priest comes and says some nice things to Abram, so Abram gives him a tenth of everything he owns (yep, that's that whole foreshadowing thing going on!)  Since he defeated the other kings, the King of Sodom is happy with Abram.  But for no apparent reason, Abram doesn't like the King of Sodom (that city isn't yet know as the birthplace of gay sex).  The King says let me have the people you rescued, but you take all the loot.  Abram refuses to take anything from him because he doesn't want anybody to say he got rich from the King of Sodom.  Nope, better to be known as the guy who got rich pimping his wife out to the Pharaoh of Egypt by lying to him, that's much more honorable than accepting a freely given gift of loot that you earned in a fair fight. (Gen 13)

The next chapter has Abram whining to Yahweh about not having a son, and more promises from Yahweh, including a prophecy about exiling his people for four hundred years.  Then again, prophecy might be the wrong word here, perhaps historical revisionism might be more accurate. (Gen 14)

Now starts the really fun parts.  First, Abram's super hot wife is apparently sterile - it can't be Abram, since the Pharaoh didn't knock her up either - so she suggests Abram should try impregnating one of the slaves.  Like any sane man, Abram thinks it's a good idea to get it on with the Egyptian slave girl and isn't about to say no to his wife.  So, he makes her his wife - like she has any choice in the matter - then he gets her pregnant.  Now, remember, we get morality from god's eternal law and it was acceptable then to own slaves and sleep with them, and have more than one wife so... ummm... why is that not OK now?  I don't remember Yahweh ever saying "thou shalt not have a sex-slave" or "thou shalt have only one wife".  Anyway, so, sex-slave Hagar becomes pregnant, and I guess she thinks that makes her something special so she starts being a bitch to Abram's first wife - her owner - Sarai.  Sarai gets pissed about it and Abram says hey, she's your slave, you deal with it.  So Sarai dials the bitch knob up to 11 and Hagar runs away.
Yahweh appears to Hagar and says go back and obey your mistress like a good little slave and I'll make your son and all his descendants a bunch of blood-thirsty barbarians that will be perpetually at war for centuries.  Hagar thinks the idea of having a "wild-donkey of a man" as a son is a good deal, so she obeys.  This kid is born and named Ishmael - no, not the guy from Moby Dick, that came later. (Gen 16)
Fast forward thirteen years.  Abram, now 99 years young, is having one of his chats with Yahweh, who tells him he wants him  to slice off his foreskin and then do the same to every man in his household, and then every one of his descendents should do it at the age of eight days old.  Yahweh also tells him that his wife will conceive and bear a son.  Abram proves he is completely insane by making his first question how is my 90 year old wife going to get pregnant instead of you want me to do what with my penis? Actually, he never questions the whole circumcision command at all, and neither does anyone else!  Imagine 13 year-old Ishmael as wrinkly old dad comes home, pulls out a knife and say "C'mere boy! Our god told me to chop of the tip of your wee-wee."  I think, in his place, I might protest just a bit!  If I was one of the slaves, that would be the time to make a break for it!  But nope.  Not a word of protest from anyone is recorded.  I guess they all just lined up and whipped it out for this surgery to be performed - without any anesthetic, antibiotics to prevent infection, and no choice in the matter.  Great idea, Yahweh!  Dude, no wonder you're a god!  What wisdom to come up with such a great idea!
Oh, Yahweh also told Abram to change his name to Abraham at this point, and Sarai to become Sarah.  Thankfully he didn't get some weird symbol as a new name or they would have called him The-Patriarch-Formerly-Known-As-Abram.

To be continued in Part 2.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Battle Hymn of the Republicans

I'm not really one to comment on specific political parties, so this is quite a departure for me.  I'm not even American.  I'm a Canadian - though I do live only about 10 miles from Northern Idaho and visit there and NE Washington frequently.
But I'm an atheist and a secularist, and I admire the principles of separation of Church and State that are embodied in the constitution of my neighboring nation.  So when I see how the politics of the most powerful nation on earth, and the Republican party in particular, have become subservient to Evangelical Christianity, it scared the bejeezus out of me! 

A few lines of Battle Hymn popped into my head with this twisted lyrics and I just couldn't shake the muse - so I went with it.  This is a parody, but since the song is now in the public domain and was itself a rip-off of an earlier song, I doubt it matters.  If anyone wants to make a music video using these lyrics for YouTube, please contact me.  I'd be happy to collaborate.

To the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic"

Battle hymn of the Republicans

Mine eyes have seen the glory of us coming out in first
We will trample out the rights of all the gays and dykes and whores;
We will topple all the Mosques with bombs and guns and war:
Our campaign is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our Campaign is marching on.

We will disprove evolution with intelligent design
We will pray in all the schools, now that would be divine
Abstinence is it, you know, and here’s the pledge to sign
Our way is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our way is marching on.

Read the constitution, no - it’s such a total bore!
The damned old treaty of Tripoli is something we’ll ignore;
This wall of separation needs a great big door!
Our Church is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our way is marching on

This is a Christian Nation, there isn’t any doubt
The Ten Commandments in the court clearly spell that out
All we want is the Jesus vote, for some added clout
Our Nation marches on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our Nation marches on!

Why bother with environment? The second coming’s soon,
We hope we’ll still get raptured when we’re based up on the moon,
Global warming is BS, unless the Bible says it’s true
Our Faith is Marching on!
Our Faith is Marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our Faith is Marching on!

A Christian in the Whitehouse! Nothing else will do!
And not just any Christian, just the kind that’s True,
We mean Evangelical, none of those Liberal fools!
Our vote  marches on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our vote  marches on!


I'm sure you've seen it, it's everywhere: the COEXIST bumper sticker with the letters made of religious symbols.  The message is simple: we should all get along regardless of what we believe.  It's a nice sentiment, and certainly peaceful coexistence among people is a laudable goal. But coexistence of religions is a condescending idea based on willful ignorance. 
You see, the message is that religions should tolerate or even respect one another.  But - at least for the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam - tolerating other faiths is contrary to their scriptures and their theology.  So what the coexist crowd is asking is for religious people to put the secular notion of religious freedom and religious tolerance over and above "god's law".  To anyone who takes their religion seriously, that's a very condescending position.
Christ commanded that Christians go and preach to all nations.  He never said anything about respecting other people's beliefs, and especially not the pagans (such as Wiccans, whose symbol is included in the bumper sticker.)  The New Testament is full of nasty things about pagans.  The Jewish scriptures quite clearly state that anyone who believes in other gods should be stoned to death, and specifically singles out witches (like the Wiccans, and those use astrology and the like - New Agers, for example).  Islam commands the beheading of "infidels," and making war against those of other faiths  I can't speak for the Taoists, since I find what little I know about Taoism fairly baffling from my Western frame of reference, yet I do know that its teachings are anathema to the monotheistic religions.

One case in point is this version of the sticker which has Christian commentary added to it and demonstrates that religion's attitide towards the others (well, one version of Christianity, anyway). Note how it directs criticism at the others and then concludes with the blatantly false "Christianity is who this is directed at, but Christianity poses no threat to others."

Granted, in secular nations, most of the adherents of these and other faiths have, in fact, either placed such commands below the comparatively new secular principles of religious tolerance and mutual respect.  Why?  Well, they are perhaps ignorant of the teachings of their own religions.  I know from experience that this kind of ignorance is widespread among Christians.  Perhaps they have bought into the idea that religion is something private - another secular idea that no religion actually promotes in its scriptures.  Some have become ashamed of the intolerant elements of their faith and have discarded them from either their personal beliefs or the teachings of their particular denomination or sect (though they rarely if ever remove these hateful passages from their scriptures.  They still carry around books filled with hate-speech.). Looking at Christianity in particular, as a former devout Christian, I find the idea of keeping quiet to be stupid, anti-Christian, and selfish.  If you truly believe that the fate of people's eternal souls hangs in the balance and you just keep quiet and not try to convert everyone you meet, then not only are you disobeying the commands of Jesus, but you are being extremely selfish.  If someone was taking poison, I wouldn't sit back and be quiet in the name of tolerance and respect, I would stop them from drinking the poison!  If a Christian truly believed people would go to hell without the salvation of Christ, shouldn't they be trying to save everyone, all the time?  Christ and his apostles certainly seemed to think so, but many modern Christians find the idea of evangelizing to be downright distasteful and will actually criticize other Christians who engage in it!

Orthodox Jews will follow many of their laws so closely that they won't even flick a light switch on the sabbath, yet none of them seem to follow god's commands to stone those Jews who work on the Sabbath.  In fact, I cannot recall any news stories at all about Jews enforcing any of the many, many commands of Yahweh that involve stoning people or hacking off hands, or how to own and beat slaves.

Islam, being the youngest of the Abrahamic religions, and still being the majority religion in many countries and even forming theocratic governments, is the only one of the three that still actively practices (or at least does not condemn) the statements in its scriptures that command violence against those of different faiths, or those of its own who disobey or who attempt to leave.  In nations where Islam is a minority, they have generally accepted the secular doctrine of coexistence.

There are other variations on this sticker that have symbols for Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions.  However, none that I have seen ever include atheists, agnostics and humanists.  Odd, isn't it?

Aside from the hypocrisy of the religious believing in the secular doctrine of coexistence, tolerance and respect, there are reasons why the non-religious should take issue with this generic promotion of all faiths as equally good.  Even if they aren't shoving it in people's faces, the magical thinking and belief in supernatural, accepting things on faith etc. have enormous detrimental impacts on society as a whole.   Our society seems to put in a protective box, shielded from criticism, anything that someone believes as long as they put it in the category of personal conviction or religion.  Look around and you will see everywhere people believing whatever they like based on nothing more than how it makes them feel.  We are teaching people that you need not look critically at the truthfulness of anything.  As long as you call it religion, it's all good.  We are teaching people that gullibility and irrationality are virtues, that completely contradictory beliefs can be compatible and equally relevant.  This leaves people open to manipulation and fraud in all areas of their life, and greatly impedes rational discussion and the advancement of society.

Religion is a main source of conflict now as it has been throughout history.  Even in secular nations where "coexist" is almost a state doctrine, we still see the religious trying to impose their values on others such as their attempts to include creationism in classrooms, quash gay-rights, restrict and de-fund important scientific research, and elect religious politicians who will subject everyone to their faith-based social agendas.

As long as religions continue to indoctrinate children, they harm society. The young have religion taught to them as children - they never choose it themselves.  Even if they switch to a different one later, most wouldn't do so if they didn't already have a foundation of magical thinking taught to them in childhood, and the continued societal acceptance of religion as inherently good for it's own sake.  People raised to value skepticism and rationality rarely later choose religion or other forms of magical thinking as a means of finding meaning in their lives.    

On a person to person basis, the idea of coexisting peacefully is most certainly a wonderful thing. People should learn to live peacefully. But promoting that by promoting religion, and then asking these mutually exclusive theologies that condemn each other to get along, is a bit like encouraging racism in a mixed race society.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Dear Mom and Dad

This is the "coming out" letter I sent to my parents a while back.  It was partially well received.  The were of course upset, and my Mom seems to think I've joined some sort of cult and is worried I will try to convert my siblings (even though none of them are really believers, anyway).  But, at the very least, they sort of understand where I'm coming from.  They acknowledge I have the right to make my own choices.  And most importantly, they still love me.  I can't really ask for any more than that!

Dear Mom and Dad,

You may have heard through the grapevine that I’ve been posting on Facebook about being an atheist, and about my rejection and criticism of religion.  As my parents, whom I love dearly, I felt it right that I tell you myself where I’m coming from.  I’m using a letter instead of a phone call so I can express myself as clearly as possible since I’ve been composing it in my head and working on it for weeks now.  Also because I think I might chicken out if I tried to do this over the phone.  I am writing this admittedly long winded letter, on a subject many families find difficult to talk about, because you deserve to know why the child you raised in the faith has chosen to leave it.  I hope you will receive it with a spirit of openness and love.  I in no way want to hurt or offend you.  Though I realize I will probably do both, it’s not my intent.   

I’ve been agnostic for years and atheist for some time now, but only just recently did I publicly “come out of the closet” as an atheist.  I know your first question will be why.

Let me assure you I am not angry at god, running away from god or hiding from god.  I am also not rebelling against my upbringing or you in any way.  In fact, I did not come to this conclusion based on any emotional reason or any event provoking a crisis of faith, but through long years of reflection and searching fervently and honestly for truth.

I left the church long ago.  First it was just difficult to attend with babies, so we went to mass less and less frequently.  But that distance of not having my faith constantly reinforced let me take a step back and actually ask the tough questions and examine the doubts my faith had for so long held at bay.  When I was a true believer, there were things that bothered me and questions I couldn’t answer about my faith such as the horrific atrocities, the contradictions and the historical inaccuracies in the bible.  I was troubled by the “problem of evil” as it is called in philosophy - if god is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, then why is there evil, suffering etc in the world?  Free will and human action can only account for some small part of it.  Much more suffering comes from nature; illness, natural disasters, famine, etc.  How can we thank god for answering our prayers and giving us the things we have and reconcile that with the unanswered prayers of so many who go hungry, who suffer disease, pestilence and war?  How can there be any one universal truth when there are literally tens of thousands of religions, each saying different and mutually exclusive things and the single most important factor that determines which “truth” you end up accepting is simply where and when you are born?  How could god really expect any mere human to sort through that conflicting mass of messages and correctly identify his one true message?  These and many, many other concerns were always there in the background.  I accepted the answers I was given by the church and its apologists, but they didn’t sit well.  It was easy to suppress these doubts when I was always having my faith reinforced at church, by Christian friends, by books, etc.  But without that reinforcement, I started to re-examine my faith, and I realized I wasn’t being honest with myself by not really truly asking these hard questions.  For a long time I was in limbo – wandering the desert, so to speak.

I spent years searching for a god I could believe in.  I wanted to believe in god, in some eternal objective truth I could look to.  I explored the other Abrahamic monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Islam, Ba’hai and their offshoots.  I looked to the ancient monotheistic religions, reasoning that perhaps the real truth was revealed early on.  So I explored Atenism, Zoroastrianism, etc.  I even explored polytheistic and non-theistic religions.  Then I searched for a religion based on reason instead of revelation.  The closest answer would be deism, which is a useless religion.  Nothing rang true.

What does feel true and right to me, and was the only conclusion that could stand up to reason, was a naturalistic worldview grounded in science.  I marvel at the vast immensity of the universe and how small we are in it.  The idea that out of all the billions of galaxies in the universe, and all the trillions of stars and who knows how many millions of planets – and the odds are high that many of these as yet unknown worlds may very well also have life on them – that our tiny insignificant planet, and our very brief time on it relative to its incredibly long natural history is not only the object of divine attention, but that our very thoughts would be important to one who created all this immensity seems incredibly ridiculous.  The idea that a being we conceive of as all knowing and all seeing would choose to communicate with us only through archaic books he would surely have known could be twisted and misunderstood, misinterpreted, used as a pretext for every sort of war and conflict, and which were written by prophets whose visions would be classified as schizophrenic or drug induced hallucinations were they to occur today, seems even more ridiculous.  The idea that we must choose between eternal damnation or belief in an improbable story of which we are only aware because of poorly written and conflicting accounts of a Jewish prophet which were then interpreted by Saul/Paul, seems to be grossly unfair and unworthy of the being we conceive of as god.  The inescapable conclusion, to my thinking, is that all religion is man-made.  If there is some force that created the universe, that we might call god, it is impersonal and beyond our knowing. 

I have found freedom of thought; freedom to question everything, examine evidence and change my thinking based on that evidence.  I am a skeptic and a humanist.  I am still a good and moral person.  I love and respect others because I choose to, rather than for any hope of heaven or fear of hell.  I learned from your example to be loving, caring, honest and generous.  For that I am so very grateful to you!  I have met many people who have told me what their own parents were like, and I have realized just how lucky I am to have had you to raise me.  You were, and still are, very good parents. 

Niqi and I each followed our own journey separately and quietly.  We rarely talked to each other about religion until recently, but we both ended up coming to the same conclusions on our own.  We are teaching the girls our values.  They do like to attend church occasionally because they like to sing, and that the old people admire them and compliment them.  But they are not believers.  They are free to explore as they wish and think freely, and we help them in their explorations to think critically and always search after truth and examine the available evidence.

I know this might upset you, and I am truly sorry for any hurt it causes you.  I do not want to hurt you, or offend you in any way.  But I must be honest with myself and seek always after the truth, no matter where it takes me.  I also cannot, in good conscience, selfishly keep this knowledge to myself in the name of misguided tolerance or a fear of offending others.  To me, knowing that we need not follow the edicts of an invisible master, but can be free to truly think and be ourselves, is good news that needs to be spread.  To me, knowing that many of the values humanity holds most dear such as the abolition of slavery, equality of races, women’s rights, animal rights, freedom of expression, tolerance of different ideas and religions, pursuit of technological advancement and scientific research and many more come not from the bible or any other divine or supernatural revelation, but from the rational and intellectual maturity that civilization has gained and continues to gain since the enlightenment, is good news to be celebrated.  I am, as I have always been, drawn to knowledge and to sharing it.  When I was a Christian I stood up for what I believed in, even when it annoyed or offended others, because I believed I had the truth and that it was worth sharing.  I cannot do any differently now as an atheist and humanist with a much more mature and knowledgeable worldview.  It’s who I am.       

I am happier and freer than I have ever been and my spirit is at peace.  I am no longer burdened by doubt or guilt.  Thank you for being such good parents and teaching me how to be a good and loving person.  Thank you for encouraging in me my love of knowledge and of learning.  I love you and respect you very much.  But I cannot share your faith anymore.  I ask that you would respect that.  I am more than willing to discuss things, answer your questions, and I will not be offended if you pray for me.  In fact, I would really love to sit with Mom and have a long talk like we used to when I was a teen.  I miss that.  We would really love if you two would come and visit us sometime.  We don’t see you often enough and it’s hard for all four of us to get out to Manitoba, or Texas.  We would like the girls to be able to spend more time getting to know you, and we want you to be able to experience the wonderful people they are.  I hope very much that our rejection of religion will not push us away from you.  We love you very much and we miss you.

Your loving son,

Oct-Nov, 2011