Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ten Sound Reasons for Christian Apostasy

Although Dr. Sam Harris’ "Letter to a Christian Nation" is only about 100 pages in length, I would argue it is even more persuasive than his much-acclaimed "The End Of Faith." Although Dr. Harris, once again, sinks deep into the morality morass, he nevertheless presents an irrefutable argument for apostasy from the primitive Christian mythology. I, myself, am an apostate, having left Catholicism several years ago. [I became an atheist after studying anthropology, biology, philosophy, Darwin’s theory of evolution and cosmology, among other academic endeavors.] This piece presents ten sound reasons to abandon the Christian faith. Dr. Harris’ book inspired this discussion, and the various bullet-points often will contain quotes from his text. After my concise rundown, I shall share five choice Bible passages, which should make apostasy even more natural.

1. Christianity—in all its obnoxious denominations—is illogical, irrational, unreasonable and, of greatest import, unscientific. From mammalian parthenogenesis to talking nonhuman animals, from repeated corpse resurrection to impossible human longevity, this particular brand of mythology is unscientific to its core. Various absurdities, found in both the Old and New Testaments, simply cannot be reconciled with science-based reality and natural principles.

2. The Bible, in the not-too-distant past, reasonably has been interpreted to permit—or even condone—“witch” burnings, slavery, torture, female subservience and all manner of detestable horror. True, some passages in the Good Book speak about love, charity, forgiveness and solidarity. However, other passages—equally numerous if not more—prescribe stoning people to death for fictitious offenses such as gathering sticks on the Sabbath. In short, the very same tome that pious people clutch in church on Sundays was in the bloodstained hands of murderous primitives inflicting the thumbscrew on innocents guilty only of non-conformity in a Christofascist, pre-scientific world.

3. James Ussher's Bible-based dating of Creation—that it took place nightfall before October 23, 4004 BCE—is egregiously, laughably fictitious. As Dr. Harris snickers, “This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue.” A 6000-year-old Earth is so absurdly in conflict with the evidence as to make the proposition strictly comical and unworthy of scholarly attention. In contrast to the Bible’s small and young (and non-existent) universe, cosmologists have discovered that there are more than one hundred billion (10^11) galaxies in our universe, each featuring hundreds of billions of stars. The sun—the center of our solar system—is merely an ordinary star, in an ordinary galaxy. Our universe is roughly 13.7 billion years old. And, who knows if we might live in some sort of grand cosmic multiverse, of which our universe is merely an insignificant speck.

4. Atheism is the only consistent position with respect to faith-based religious mythology. Christians, for example, are non-believers with respect to every faith except Christianity. Christians are utterly atheistic about every deity (of the infinitely many which could be conceived) except Yahweh. How oddly inconsistent. Muslims, too, reject every world religion save for Islam, which, to them, has a monopoly on absolute Truth. How is it reasonable to reject 10,000 faith-based religions, yet cling to the absolute authority of one? The only reasonable method by which to choose one religion over another would be hard evidence—something all modern religions lack equally. Absent hard evidence, isn't faith in Yahweh equal to faith in Enlil (or any other fantastical imagining)?

5. Historic “heroes” of Christianity are worthy neither of respect nor reverence. Dr. Harris writes, “It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed outright (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews and witches.” Here, once again, we return to severe punishments prescribed for fictitious offenses. The Christofascist societies of centuries past (ruled over by the same Bible one finds at Sunday Services) bear a frightening resemblance to the modern-day Islamofascist Middle East, into which we have butted our collective nose.

6. Yahweh is woefully unworthy of worship. As portrayed in the Old Testament, he is the very embodiment of human frailty: vicious, vengeful, jealous, egotistical, insecure and, most frighteningly, endlessly murderous. Yahweh also seems to have difficulty separating the important from the insignificant, as evidenced by the Ten Commandments. Dr. Harris writes, “And what are we to make of the fact that, in bringing his treatise to a close, the creator of our universe could think of no human concerns more pressing and durable than the coveting of servants and livestock?” Yahweh’s special list of ten alternates between self-aggrandizement, statements of the obvious, pronouncements of the silly and declarations of the trivial.

7. No God, the Christian character or otherwise, should be worshipped given the results with which we live. If Yahweh is real, then cancer, smallpox, AIDS, malaria and aphasia are all products of his cloud-enshrouded laboratory. “Acts of God” such as Hurricane Katrina and the devastating tsunami of a few years ago are exactly that—the life-extinguishing playthings of the creator of the cosmos. Then there are starvation, homelessness, birth defects, genetic disease….

8. Piety can directly result in mass death. Dr. Harris writes, “Christian missionaries have been known to preach the sinfulness of condom use in villages where no other information about condoms is available. This kind of piety is genocidal.” He continues, in a note, “If you can believe it, the Vatican is currently opposed to condom use even to prevent the spread of HIV from one married partner to another.” This is truly sickening, folks. In the fundamentalist mind, agonizing death is preferable to the imagined sin of sex aided by contraceptive.

9. Virulent Christian anti-Semitism helped create the environment in which the Holocaust took place. Dr. Harris writes, “…the anti-Semitism that built the Nazi death camps was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity. For centuries, Christian Europeans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. While the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominantly secular way, its roots were religious, and the explicitly religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued throughout the period. The Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914. And both Catholic and Protestant churches have a shameful record of complicity with the Nazi genocide.”

10. Let us turn, for just a moment, to the admirable "Atheist Universe" by David Mills: “The Church angrily denounced the introduction of medicines, antibiotics, anesthesia, surgery, blood transfusions, birth control, transplants, in vitro fertilization and most forms of pain killers. Supposedly, these scientific tools interfered with nature and were therefore against God’s will.” The Church’s modern-day anti-science positions, obviously, should come as no shock. Diminishing human suffering never has been a high-level concern. After all, in a mind deranged by religion, there is another life to which to look forward. The earthly is merely ephemeral and, thus, suffering is a-ok.

A Supplement: Five “Classic” Bible Passages

And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.

And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.

And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.

And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.

And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.

Numbers 15:32-36

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;

Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;

Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:

But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.

And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.

Deuteronomy 13:6-11

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Numbers 31:17-18

And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt:

And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.

And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.

Exodus 11:4-6

And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.

And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

Exodus 32:27-28

Baptism is merely a meaningless incantation and a splash of water. One must not let oneself live a life of blind faith, when the evidence—and our species’ innate moral imperative—so obviously guide us away from the Bible.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Unsolvable Paradox

This paradox springs from merely two premises that, in my view, nearly all Christians (and other monotheists) consider valid.

Premise One: God is omnipotent (all-powerful, or a being than which none more powerful can be conceived).

Premise Two: Sin is definable as “acts which violate God’s will.” In short, God hates sin, and sinful acts, by definition, represent violation of God’s will.

This question unleashes the paradox: Can God’s will be violated by man?

If one answers Yes, then God is not all-powerful—not a being than which none more powerful can be conceived. Indeed, I can conceive of a being that possesses all God’s qualities but, beyond those, also possesses the power to ensure its will never is violated. If the answer is Yes, then God is not omnipotent after all.

If one answers No, then sin does not exist. If humans cannot violate the will of God, then all human behaviors are executions of God’s will. Every behavior I have displayed, and all behaviors everyone ever will display, are simply the carrying out of God’s will—never violations of it. As indicated by this answer, God’s will is inviolable.

I can envisage no genuine escape from this paradox. But, of course, some do try....

Nearly every time I read a would-be refutation, it is related in some way to the concept of human “free will.” Free will, indeed, is the magical elixir with which Christians think they can defeat sound arguments such as the above. Although I realize the free will debate has been done to death on the internet and elsewhere, I believe it continues to warrant thoughtful consideration. Before returning to the paradox, I shall provide some general concerns about free will in a Christian world.

The first problem with free will relates to God’s alleged omniscience. When God is in the process of creating a new human, he, being omniscient, immediately knows every single act and deed that human eventually will do. For example, when God fashioned Ted Bundy, God instantly had comprehensive knowledge of every act Bundy ever would commit. In what sense, then, does Bundy really have free will, since his deeds elaborately were mapped out before he even was birthed? Could Bundy have used his free will to disprove God’s own foreknowledge? If not, then in what sense could Bundy have been considered free?

I shall relate an associated point: God fashions each of us with certain preferences and tastes, certain compulsions and fetishes. Most psychologists and doctors agree: Serial killing is an innate compulsion in some people. If that is the case, then the source of that innate compulsion only could be our creator—God. How could God—an omnibenevolent being in the minds of many—implant sinful compulsions into his “children” and then punish them for following the very compulsions with which he, himself, saddled us? An analogy I have used is apt: God is a deranged toymaker who makes faulty toys and then blames the toys for being faulty.

Returning more explicitly to would-be refutations of the paradox, the main free will “explanation” with which I have been confronted is the following: God is omnipotent—able to make everybody follow his will all the time—but he sometimes chooses to let people violate his will. Ergo, God is omnipotent, but humans can violate his will and, thus, sin does exist. Of course, this is closely linked to the idea that God does not want people to follow him because they are forced, but rather because they genuinely want to. Sin exists so man can embrace God voluntarily.

Before showing why this does not solve our paradox, I submit a related objection: Why would God place more value on human free will than on the elimination of hellfire-caused human agony? In the world’s current incarnation, according to many Christians, a large percentage of our fellow humans will spend eternity being burned, tortured, speared, crushed, annihilated and skewered in Hell. Why does Yahweh find this more desirable than a world of God-loving Christian humanoids, none of whom ever will taste hellfire? Preferring human agony to human determinism seems rather sadistic, on the part of the Lord.

In any event, the free-will-worshipping God does not solve the paradox because such a deity is less powerful than a God whose will cannot ever be violated. A being than which none more powerful can be conceived accurately can be defined as a being who always gets its way—always. Our definition is antithetical to any type of will violation. In any case, the free-will-worshipping deity is internally inconsistent. According to proponents, this deity is omnipotent, but uses that omnipotence to allow humans to violate its own will (because it loves human freedom). But is that very act not an execution of the deity’s will? This invites the question: Can that will (the will that humans can violate the deity’s will) also be violated, or is it somehow inviolable? Such brain-melting gibberish is the result of primitive theology confronted by contemporary rationality
the intellectual equivalent of a messy car wreck.

Before wrapping this up, I want to provide the Christian God—if he exists—with a great solution to his long-pondered problem: Preserving free will while still saving every soul.

Say there are 1000 potential humans in God's queue at some particular moment in time. God, being omniscient, already knows how each one's life would turn out.

Of the 1000, 200 would be atheists and never accept God. So, God aborts those creations-in-waiting.

Of the remaining 800, 550 would follow religions other than Christianity. So, God aborts them, too.

Of the remaining 250, 200 would be Christians in name, but live sinful lives that would displease God. So, he summarily aborts them.

Finally, we have 50 viable potential creations. These 50 people-to-be enthusiastically would embrace Yahweh and Christianity of their own free will and under no divine force.

I conclude with a question to which I hope you’ll give thought: Why is God not a cosmic abortionist—only “letting through” those people-to-be who happily would embrace Christianity of their own free will? With this, God would have neither Christian humanoids nor crowded pits of hellfire agony.

This simple solution
—no omniscience was required to reach it—continually escapes Yahweh. A curious occurrence, indeed.