Friday, February 29, 2008

Everybody Leap!

It's leap day again, the time when science has shown that we need to add an extra calendar day so that the Christians can worship Jesus on his "real birthday". Right? Wouldn't want to be late or anything...


But seriously, since today is all about jumping, I wanted to focus on the "leaps of faith" that a lot of believers make in order to justify the conclusions they reach. [Note: we'll get back to Fallacy Friday next week!]

ACA, Praise Be To Ye
Before I start, I need to plug the Atheist Community of Austin (TX) and the Atheist-Experience, the local TV show they sponsor. Even though the show is local, each episode gets a podcast and Google video, and they've heard from literally all over the world. I'm a huge fan of the show and can honestly say that I have the host, Matt Dillahunty, and the other co-hosts to thank for helping me to understand what atheism is. They helped me de-convert!

The reason I'm mentioning them is not just for the plug. One of the talks that co-host Don Baker gave in an episode last year is where I will draw the main meat of this post from. Don should be credited for the idea of this.

The Mathematics of Belief
When Christians and other theists talk about "faith", generally mean it as "believing something that you have no evidence for". It's basically an uneducated guess and therefore the likelihood of it being correct is extremely small. If you start stacking these guesses one atop the other, that chance of being right gets multiplied. The combined effect of all these assumptions is that you end up with an almost 0% chance of being 100% right.

Don counted around thirty of these "leaps of faith", jumping from one unfounded belief to another--from atheism (no god belief) to theism (the batshit crazy kind). That's like taking thirty wild guesses, each depending upon the previous, and arriving at a true conclusion. I won't go through them all; you can check out the video here.

Jump for Jesus
So believers, hopefully you'll understand why I don't believe the things you do, and why I think you're crazy for believing them.
  • Leap #1: A god exists.
    Woah, that's an enormous leap right outta the gate! You'd have to back up that big-ass claim with some serious evidence if you're gonna convince a skeptic. Because faith doesn't require evidence, this main leap is justified in the believer's mind.
  • Leap #2: There exists only one God.
    This narrowing of belief shuts out any belief other than the monotheistic sort. I've capitalized the word "God" to formalize it with the Abrahamic Big-Three. It can be argued that a polytheist pantheon of gods makes more sense from a practical standpoint than one god, but I'm not going to brabble about it right now. Again the non-believer asks, but how do you know that?
  • Leap #3: God is intelligent.
    This starts to define God, yet it starts open up a whole can of worms, so to speak. Intelligence implies a physical brain and the limitations inherent in the definition of a "being". As a skeptic, I'd ask what level of intelligence does this god have? How is it measured? I assume it's "more than us". Again, how do you know that? (Note: This will be a caveat that each "leap" must cross.)
  • Leap #4: God is all-powerful.
    Great...more logical problems. The issue of omnipotence also encompasses the free will problems as well (like if humans have free will, then they effectively have power that God doesn't have). Another issue is the "omnipotent paradox", something I hope to be covering in upcoming videos.
  • Leap #5: God is self-creating.
    This gets into First Cause arguments and an infinite regress problem, but it's needed for the sake of "theistic logic".
  • Leap #6: God decided to create the universe.
    A conscious decision to do something is completely at odds with the idea of God being perfect. If this god is complete, there is no need to create the universe. If you're perfect, you can't want anything.
  • Leap #7: God created the universe and everything in it
    This jump has the same problems with Leap #5. There's also the logical catch of an all-powerful God wanting to create a universe, but that the universe already existed.

At this point we're pretty much in the realm of Deism. The further leaps of faith narrow down into Judaism and then onto Christianity. There's probably different leaps, and more of them, depending on the specific belief that you hold.

I hope you can see how each of these statements (each being a shot in the dark with no proof for any of it) multiplied together leaves you almost dizzy. If not, consider an experiment: like in Office Space, make your own "jump to conclusions" pad, or "leaps of faith" pad. Mark out squares on the ground big enough to physically jump to. Space each square out, and name each one based on your own personal beliefs. Try to scale it to how hard you really feel each square should be to mentally leap to as best you can (I wouldn't be able to actually do this, as I don't think there's enough surface area on the planet for the space between Leap #1 and the starting square). Remember, the space represents the "faith" required to reach the next platform. If you had actual evidence, then you should just be able to walk across the squares.

I guess one could argue that if you accept Leap #1, making the jump to the rest is a breeze. Hell, if you're willing to accept that fuchsia space gnomes are holding the planet up by the strands of their pubic hair, I guess accepting that they're all named "Merry Sunshine" isn't that hard!


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Unequally Yoked

This post is for believers and non-believers. I'm curious about what it's like to be in a relationship when someone who holds opposite beliefs from you.

All the relationships I've ever had, the person generally believed the same as I did. When I was a Christian, I had a Christian girlfriend. Now I have a wife who is as non-believing as I am.

I know it's possible, and some people make it work. I've heard about many people, including guests on Reggie's show, who are "unequally yoked" as the bible puts it and yet still manage to get along extremely well with their contrary significant other. Reggie himself has said that when he met his wife, he changed her mind as he was "having none of that".

I guess it all depends on how close the relationship is, and how strong a person is in their faith. Personally, I'd probably find it difficult to get along with someone in a close relationship if I knew they were highly neurotic.



Monday, February 25, 2008

Moderately Nuts

I'm with Penn Jillette on this one...

28% Believer
Moderate Christians piss me off. I'm tired of them; I'm sorry, but I am. I don't care what you believe, just as long as you believe it 100%. None of this wishy-washy, flip-flopping kind of belief. I'm talking about the real deal!

I'm just fed up with these "so-called" believers who like to keep it on the down-low. Know what I mean? They don't tell anyone what they believe, just assuming that everyone is a Christian like them (same believes and all).

Their own bibles instruct them to judge people, preach to them, and give reasons why they believe.

Yet how many lightweights do you see every day who want to just live and let live? That's not the way it should be at all! It's like believing in Santa Claus, but just that he's a nice old man who gives what he can to kids in his area for Christmas.

Tell It Like (You Think) It Is
I say get out there, you fradycat fence-walkers! Start telling your sister, your son, your grandma, your mailman, your defense attorney, and your Wal-Mart greeter that you worship Jesus H. Fucking Christ, and let them know that if they don't accept his gift of true love, their eternal souls burn forever in a pit of fire when they croak!

Or maybe you're a cherry-picking Muslim? Maybe you think that women shouldn't be submissive, or that you should just get along with your Hindu neighbor friend. You'd better read the rulebook a little closer. Same goes for every other nut-job belief system.

You see what I'm getting at here, people? If you're gonna believe something, you should believe in it whole-heartedly.

It'll be easier to spot the crazy that way.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Satan is a Team-Killer

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, but I've been a bit under the weather. The Devil is trying to shut down my efforts.

Trials and Tribulations
I had a thought today that I thought I'd share. As some of my readers know, I was once a Christian. I believed all of it: talking snakes, divine tongues, flying zombie kings; all of it. I believed that our congregation could heal broken bones and cast out demons. I thought that I was chosen to do great work as part of God's divine plan.

But sometimes, I got sick. At times, I did poorly work in school, or lost money, or had car trouble, or just had "bad days". I was a "Good Christian", of course, but not perfect. Still, I knew I had God's angles to protect me, and the Holy Spirit to help me find my car keys if only I'd ask.

Funny thing is, now that I don't believe in God, angles, devils, unicorns, talking donkeys, or flying zombie kings, these "bad" things still happen to me. I've noticed that I still have the same trials and tribulations that I did as a believer. I see no increase or decrease in anything. Well, except one thing...

Rhyme and Reason
I'm much happier now. I'm not worried that some scary creature is out to get me whenever I spill my milkshake all over my lap. I understand now that there is no magic man in the sky who's controlling everything and who might decide to "test" me or strike me dead. It's easier to cope with life, I think, when you finally understand that things happen, not for a reason, but just because. At the start of this post, I joked that the Devil is out to get me. This is something that ex-Christians will identify with, because when you're a theist, you tell other believers that because you're doing God's work, Satan is trying to usurp you.

Satan must be trying to kill me, even though I'm on his team (according to Christians)!

::cough, cough::


Monday, February 11, 2008

Day in the Life: I Wanna Go To Heaven

I stopped at a local fast-food restaurant for lunch yesterday. I was alone and as I sat eating, the song on the restaurant's radio caught my attention. While I can't recall the lyrics, the hook was clear: "I want to go to Heaven".

The singer was obviously talking about the Christian Heaven, with the ideas of happiness and joy, seeing all your family and friends, and "good weather" being present in the lyrics.

On High
First, let me say that I did not take offense at the song being played. I didn't storm up to the front, angrily asking the employees why they would allow a religious song to be played while I -- an ATHEIST! -- dined at their fine establishment.

Of course not, that would be silly and pretentious.

Second, understand that this post isn't about my objection to the song at all. Just because a person sings a song doesn't mean that it is true, or that they think it is true. I can sing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" without believing it.

My argument is with the idea put forth by the song, or more rightfully, by the religion.

What's So Good About Heaven?
I'll assume that you know the story of the Christian Heaven, the magical place where God lives and only the people who love Jesus can go there when they die. It's full of golden streets and angels with harps and sunbathing saints on a bed of puffy clouds. For the purposes of this post, I'll ignore the fact that none of this is provable, including the existence of the "soul" that apparently will represent you while in Heaven. We'll hit that some other time.

For now, I want to simply ask the question (presuming it's true), what's so great about Heaven? I suppose you could narrow the common answers down to the following:
  • Being in the presence of God
    That may sound like the ultimate dream-come-true for your average Christian, but if the Christian God did exist, I wouldn't want to be in his presence. As Professor Dawkins stated, that god is a controlling, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

  • Life after Death
    A wonderful idea, isn't it? Just think about it right now, just for a second. No matter what your beliefs regarding an afterlife are, just for a moment entertain the idea that you can survive your own death. More specifically, you will never really "lose" anyone you care about. Your family and friends will all be there with you, or at least they'll come soon, and you'll all live happily forever-after.

    Aside from the scientific logistics of this idea, the thing that bothers me the most of about it is its implications with life. I mean, if you'll have all the time in the after-world to do the things you could have or say the things you should have when you were alive, then you'll end up not saying and doing those things while you're wasting the only one life you know for sure that you do get.

  • There is only joy
    One of these doctrines is the idea that there is no sorrow, sickness, or pain in Heaven. I mean, you're right next to God, for Christ's sake! If your tummy hurts, go tell God and he'll fix it. He'd have to; he's right there!

    One could argue, however, that you need sorrow to know joy. You can't have cold without hot, otherwise what would cold even mean? Of course, this is getting too technical and philosophical for my purposes. But a utopia with no more loss or pain would be a wonderful thing, I think.

  • It isn't Hell
    If you don't let Jesus write your name in his special book, you'll be turned away from the Pearly Gates when you expire, and since the Catholics did away with Purgatory, the only other place you could go is to Hell. Hell is the complete opposite of Heaven, they say. A total separation from God, it's supposedly a place of never-ending pain and anguish (brought to you by your all-loving creator!).

Aside from being a comforting thought (i.e., there's no need to fear death, because it's not really "the end"), the Christian canon describes this fantastic story with specific stipulations that, to me, do not seem that appealing.

It Won't Be Me
For one thing, how could I "enjoy" Heaven when I know that, for example, my unbelieving wife is down there, roasting in Hell forever? I've asked this question to several believers, and the general response I receive is shocking. God, they say, will alter my memories, or change my "being" so that I will have no recollection of those in eternal torment.

Alter my memories?! Overlooking the fact that memories are a function of the brain, something that goes nowhere when you die, my response is clear: No! I don't want my mind erased just to live in ignorant bliss! My memories and thoughts are part of me...they're what make me, me! If any of them were purposefully taken away from me, whatever's left won't be me.

Unlike the singer, I don't wanna go to Heaven. Sure, I'd like to know that I'll live forever even after I die, and that all my family and friends will too. But there is just no reason to think that that is anything more than a fantasy, no matter how sweet it sounds. I need to do what's right, right now. I need to tell those around me how I feel, right now. I need to live my life the best way I know how, and right the wrongs I have made or will make in this life and not wait around to do it after I'm dead.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Fallacy Friday: Red Herring

This week's short fallacy is simply "distracting with an irrelevancy", and it's called the Red Herring.

Something Smells Fishy

How often are you talking with someone about one thing, then they bring up something else under the guise of the current discussion, and suddenly the conversation has shifted to their topic? This is an example of a red herring fallacy, a logical error that you may have heard of, if not only in name, which comes from the sport of fox hunting. Strong-smelling smoked herrings are used to throw off the scent of the fox and lead its pursuers down a different path.

The essence of this practice translates to logical argument: if your opponent brings up an irrelevant point and you follow it, then you've just been duped by his red herring.
This fallacy of irrelevance may also be found in conjunction with the Straw Man fallacy. The two diversionary tactics snag the interest of a debater and can lead off in a completely different direction. Be wary of a smoke-screen argument that makes you say, "That's beside the point..."

An example of a red herring is this notion of "absolute knowledge". Proselytizers will usually say something like "How you do know there is no faeries/leprechauns/God? You'd have to know everything about everything, etc." No one can have absolute knowledge about anything, and it's a distraction to chase that trail. To the extent that we can know of these things, we can reasonably say "There is no faeries/leprechauns/God".


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Monday, February 4, 2008

Jesus Thinks I'm Hot

I saw a tee-shirt last week that said something like “Jesus Thinks I’m a Hottie”. The teenage girl it was wrapped around seemed like your typical, average Southern middle-class Jesus-freak teen. But what drew my attention was not the girl, of course, but the style of the message.

It seems that some Christians have found that young girls are attracted to the “boy-band” image, and they have managed to tailor their picture of Jesus to this model. He’s the kind of guy the chicks dig, and the kind of hunk that likes the ladies. He’s compassionate, understanding, and his eyes are soooooo dreamy!

Personal Jesus
Practically any person can have their own, personal Jesus. Conservatives have the holier-than-thou, take-no-shit, obey-or-burn Jesus; the hippies have the shaggy, peace-and-love Jesus; and now the teens and ‘tweens have the boy-band Jesus.

Of course this all misses the point entirely: that no matter what the style, it doesn’t *make* Jesus real.

There is no record of this “Jesus” outside of the New Testament – which seems pretty strange considering all of the things he supposedly did. Walking on water, healing sick, talking to thousands of people (without a microphone, mind you), and raising the dead people of Jerusalem, who then roamed around for a while. And none of this was recorded by anyone?! With all the enemies he supposedly had, none of them kept any sort of record of him either. The Romans had lots of enemies whom they wrote about and kept watch over, but no mention of this “King of the Jews” who vexed them so?

Man or Myth?
There are no ye-witnesses to any Jesus, even in the bible. The authors who wrote the Gospels set pen at least 40 years after his alleged death. Even Paul of Tarsus, the man to whom we can credit Christianity, never met Jesus.

There were historians at the supposed time of Jesus, and none of them mention him either. There is a mention in a document by Flavius Josephus, but it is a known forgery (some Christian followers went in long after he had written, and stuck in some drivel about everyone worshiping Jesus). There are only a few other first-century historians (Tacitus, Thallus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger), but they don’t say anything about “Jesus”, but instead mention “the Christ”, and there were several people running around in that time calling them selves “the Christ”. These historians’ writings provide no independent confirmation of the events of the New Testament. At the very most, they provide evidence of Christians living in first-century Rome.

Perhaps Jesus really did exist; perhaps he is an amalgamation of many different idealistic individuals and stories, passed down by word-of-mouth for generations, growing as legends do. Either way, believers today envision what the want when they conjure up images of their god.

My Kind of Christ
And selling a specially-suited form of a fairy tale to a child doesn’t somehow make it real. It might make it real for the child, but so does the tale of Santa Claus—who, by the way, also takes on many different forms depending on who’s doing the telling. Sometimes he’s a short, fat elf; sometimes he’s a normal sized, daddy-ish old man. Some see him as very old; others think he’s your average middle-aged Caucasian. And that’s just in America! Go overseas to any other country that has a Santa myth, and you’ll get a very different Claus.

So, if you’re sad and lonely, we have a kind, comforting Jesus to be there for you. If you like to party big, there’s a Christ to fit right in (and he’ll even keep the wine flowing!).

Be honest with yourself: when you think of Jesus, are you not imagining what *you* want him to be? I guess you’d have to, since there’s no proof of him even existing at all.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

STA Movie Review - The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal is an award-winning 1957 Swedish film by director Ingmar Bergman. I got a chance to watch it over the weekend while my internet connection was out, and I really enjoined the experience.

Silence in Heaven
The movie revolves around a knight and his squire returning from the Crusades to medieval Europe. The plague is in full effect, and the film makes wonderful use of a personified Death coming for the knight. The knight wishes to buy some time, so he challenges Death to a game of chess. The title of the film comes from Revelation 8:1 "And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour".

The game allows the knight to continue to travel to his castle home and to his wife, whom he left for the Holy Lands ten years ago. It is obvious in his dialog that the knights faith has been tried and he is beginning to falter. In one scene, the knight makes confession about doubting the existence of God. He also mentions the game with Death, and reveals his strategy to beat him, only to be horrified when he discovers that he had been talking to Death all along.

As the knight and his squire (a cynic who treats death as a bitter and hopeless joke) venture toward the castle, they meet a party of traveling actors. The actors symbolically represent the Holy family, and contrast with the atheistic and cynical squire and knight.

Medieval Masterpiece
By the end of the film, just as the knight reaches his castle, Death comes for them all. While the knight and his followers are led away over the hills in a medieval dance of death, the young family live to continue their journey.

The film depicts several themes and events common to the medieval setting, including a group of flagellants, who try to gain mercy from God by whipping themselves, and a witch-burning.

In one powerful scene, a witch is being burned for having caused the plague. The squire asks the knight to look into the young girl's eyes and say if he sees "God" or a void. Despite his growing doubts, the knight refuses to acknowledge the vacancy of a heavenly, loving father, wishing rather to hold onto belief and doubt than to recognize life without meaning.

Through the use of the knight, the squire, and his depiction of the clergymen, who profit from the atmosphere of terror engendered by the plague, Bergman revealed his own character while creating an arguable masterpiece. The black-and-white film shows the director's suburb command of composition, lighting, and direction. At least, it is critically acclaimed to. I don't know that much about composition or film making, but I nevertheless loved the movie.