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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Every now and then I think it’s a good idea to rehash the reasons why I write, and why I am “open” about my lack of theistic beliefs. Just why do I run The Skeptical Magician Blog, and what is my end goal? What do I hope to accomplish in my writing, and what do I expect or want people to take away from reading it?

It might be a good idea to start with why I am open about my lack of belief in the existence of gods. First and foremost, I am open because it is relatively safe for me to be open. For some people this is not the case. History as well as present day is filled with examples of individuals who have lost their families, their livelihoods, and their lives because they did not fit within what was considered by many to be the expected religious framework of society. Now, I’ve had my share of headaches and hassles from time to time as a result of what amounts to being honest with people, but these are all storms that I am able to weather relatively well. As a member of the non-theistic community, one becomes quickly aware of how this is not the case for many who have endured mental, emotional, and physical abuse as a result of them making known (or it being discovered) that they do not share the religious beliefs of friends or family. My being open about my lack of belief makes it easier for others to be open about their lack of belief, and it helps them to realize they are not alone in their doubts. It is also important for me to be open about my lack of belief so that others can see that skeptics/agnostics/atheists/non-theists/etc. are not the boogeymen that they were warned about in church. We don’t worship Satan (we don’t believe in him either), we don’t eat babies, and we’re not evil. We are simply people who disagree with others when it comes to metaphysical claims.

So, what do I hope to accomplish with my writing? Well, I would have to say that I have a couple of goals/reasons for writing. The first is that it was only a little over 2.5 years ago that I really started to critically examine my (Christian) beliefs, and as I began to examine my doubts I found myself thinking, “Am I the only person who’s ever considered this?” when I considered one thing or another. After compiling a pretty good list of these issues I went in search online, and of course discovered that I was far from original in my questions/observations (with a couple of exceptions). However, if those doubters hadn’t bothered to share their ideas, then questioners like me would have felt even more in the wilderness than what I did. Instead I discovered that I wasn’t alone, and not feeling alone is important, which is why it’s important for me to write. That way I can be one more voice among many saying, “Yep. We were in your shoes once too, and while the journey isn’t easy – it is far richer, and far more rewarding when you take the time to critically examine your beliefs and think freely without the fear of divine punishment to stifle your questions.” My second reason is to hopefully get people to think a little more critically about their beliefs and the positions they hold. I’m under no illusion that someone is going to read one blog post and instantly change their mind, but I at least hope to get them to think, “Wow – I never considered that before. I’m going to need to think on this a little further.”

Sometimes people mistakenly think that atheists like myself are “cramming our lack of belief” down the throats of others, and this really isn’t the case. I don’t go knocking on doors on a Saturday afternoon spreading the “good news of atheism” door-to-door. However, I do have thoughts and positions on issues that I make known from time-to-time here, or on Facebook, or wherever else, and if people really don’t want to know what I think, then they obviously don’t have to read what I write. What can be frustrating at times for me, however, is when someone states something in a public forum and I ask some challenging questions and suddenly become the bad guy when they are not able to defend what they’ve written. I freely welcome critique to that which I put forward, and while it would be nice if others felt the same way, this seems to seldom be the case. I’m of the mindset that one of the best ways for me to discover if I’m wrong is to have a good conversation with someone I disagree with.

I think that will about wrap it up. If I keep at it I just might actually get back on some sort of regular blogging schedule now that I’m done with school. Maybe that will be my next blog post: An atheist graduates from a Catholic university. Yeah, that might be a good one to tackle. 🙂

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A few weeks back my wife and I received a letter from someone in the mail who we don’t know personally, but who knows someone else we know. Apparently this individual became aware that my wife and I were “not saved” and felt compelled to send us a letter. She asked that we read it to the end (which we did), and that if we got nothing from it we should wad it up and throw it away. I’ll say this – we certainly got something from the letter – but I’m sure it wasn’t what she was hoping we would get. What follows is the letter, though I’ve made an effort to conceal the identity of the person by changing names, places, jobs, etc. I’ve included the letter in its entirety to show that my comments that follow after it are not mischaracterizing or misconstruing what she had written.

You don’t know me but I know Mark and Carol. My name is Margaret Smith and I am sending this letter to share a little of my story with you for no other reason. All I ask is that you read it to the end… after that wad it up and throw it away if you get nothing from it.

My husband and I raised our children as most couples do. We tried very hard to teach children respect for themselves and others and to take pride in working hard and being honest. Our kids were in 4-H and, as parents, John and I were very involved. We served on the 4-H council, we were administrative leaders for our club and I was a co-superintendent for the pig project at the county fair. Our kids also played hockey and we spent many weekends in hotels and on the road to games and tournaments. We had a small flock of goats and raised a few lamas, pigs, and chickens. The kids worked hard taking care of them, and we have some wonderful memories. Our lives were pretty much centered on raising our children to become responsible productive adults and we thought we did a pretty good job.

Both John and I worked 40+ hours per week and we were able to provide for our family fairly well. Time went by and our children graduated from high school and proceeded on to college. For reasons that you will understand later I’m going to concentrate mostly on Tommy [their son] from this point on.

Tommy attended the lawful citizen academy before he graduated from high school and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an auxiliary EMS and a member of the Army National Guard. He worked with a small township ambulance company for around 4 years. He attended college and received his associates degree  before transferring to a large university. He graduated with honors in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. When he returned home he became a full-time police officer with the city department. Tommy had a heart of gold and never met a stranger. He worked very hard and had his whole life ahead of him. He was engaged to his high school sweetheart and they were set to be married in August of 2002.

All of his plans changed on May 15, 2001. The spring of 2001 had been very warm. One of his friends from the police department decided to put their dock in early and Tommy and a few others took the day to help him. They had spent the majority of that day working on the dock and drinking. Tommy fell asleep at the wheel on the way home that night and crossed over the center line. He hit another car head on and he and the 2 teenagers in the other care were killed instantly. Our life fell apart. As hard as it was to go on without Tommy, there was one thing that was even harder. You see, Tommy had never been baptized and I did not know whether or not he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. When they came to our door that night to tell us that Tommy would never be coming home again the first thing that I thought was, “is he going to go to heaven?” We thought we had done a wonderful job raising our children but we had neglected to do the ONE thing that would make the most difference in their lives. Although we had sporadically attended a church here and there, and I had talked to them a little about God, we had not properly introduced them to our Savior Jesus Christ and taught them HIS word. And for Tommy, it was too late! It has been 12 years and for those 12 years I have been filled with regret. There is nothing I can do to change it now.

Local Community Church and all of my wonderful brothers and sisters in Chist have helped me understand that God loves me and I am forgiven through the blood that Jesus Christ shed for me on the cross, but what about Tommy? All I can do is pray that God will not hold my mistake against my son and that somewhere along the road he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior and asked for forgiveness for his sins.

I just wanted to share this with you. I pray that you never suffer the loss of a child, but more importantly, I pray that if you do you will never have to struggle with regret about whether or not they were saved. God put it on my heart that I send this to you. You may throw it away and never think of it again or do whatever you wish with it. I just felt the need to share my story with you. May God bless ou and your family.

Love in Christ, Margaret Smith

Poison.

Christianity is a poison to this woman and she calls it a medicine, and encourages my wife and I to drink it down too. Not only that, but she wants me to feed it to my children. Now, I’ve been accused of being an emotionless scientific robot before, but I’m going to have a bit of an emotional response here… I would have to be completely out of my fricking mind to teach my children to embrace a system of belief that has lead to this woman being filled with that sort of regret for the last 12 years of her life!!!

Why in the heck would I indoctrinate my kids to believe something that brings about a constant state of emotional and mental turmoil for this woman??? She raises her children to to be honest, respectful, hard-working individuals – and by her account her son was this – and the god she said she loves and serves is going to toss him into a burning lake of fire because he didn’t believe the right thing, or say the right magical prayer of repentance before he died??? What’s the harm in Christianity???? It’s right here!!!! It’s bad enough this poor woman loses her son, but now she gets to spend the rest of her life tormented by the thought of her son burning in hell forever, and if she’s right – watching him burn in hell forever!!!! Jesus – “the god who loves you so much that he made hell just in case you don’t love him back!”

I pity this woman more than you can know. I feel so terribly bad for her – both for losing her son – and for having to endure the constant feelings of guilt because she didn’t teach him to love the cosmic Hitler that she believes has tossed him into an oven that never stops burning. I’m glad that all of the evidence points to that god as not existing, but if he did, he’d be one more monstrous dictator worth standing up to and fighting against.

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The ruling dictator of a county cooks people in an oven for a relatively short amount of time and people call him a monster. The purported ruling dictator of the Universe cooks people in an oven forever – and people call for his praise and adoration, demanding that he be worshiped. It’s interesting how ramping torture up to a cosmic level suddenly makes it virtuous.

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I got into a discussion on Facebook the other day on the topic of control, and I thought it might be worthwhile to share it here. The individual I was discussing this with seemed to have a focus on the AR-15, though handguns were also a part of the discussion. I had expressed that I had seen a lot of poor arguments for pro-gun ownership online, and so they asked me what I thought a good reason was.

They had posted this initially: “people would be seriously stirred up if the same attacks were coming from the government toward free religion or free speech or voting or any of our other pre-existing, fundamental, God-given rights.”

Building off that statement – I made my case:

Well, let’s look at a potential bad reason…

You seem to indicate with your statement that gun ownership – like freedom of religion, speech, or the right to vote – is a “God-given right.” Firearms of course aren’t listed anywhere in the Bible, and the example in the character of Jesus – who reportedly said, “turn the other cheek,” did so, and then died at the hands of the ruling authorities rather than retaliate – is lifted up as the model a Christian should live their life after. 

Following up after Jesus you have Paul, who is reported as saying, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2). He is also reported as saying, “Follow my example as I follow Christ’s,” and Christian tradition holds that he did so by dying at the hand of the ruling authorities rather than retaliating just as his example had done. 

So, as a Christian, looking at Jesus and Paul – how does one declare that guns are a “God-given right,” and that guns should be kept if the need to overthrow a tyrannical government should arise – when overthrowing the tyrannical government amounts to “rebelling against what God has instituted” and supposedly brings judgement upon oneself? How does one get to the place of gun ownership being a God-given right? Unless we’re talking about a God other than the one in the Bible. 

For me the gun argument stands as a completely secular issue. People on the political left are correct – if we had a complete ban on all guns like the UK, Japan, and other western developed nations – we would have fewer gun deaths in the United States. The data is clear on that. However, to do the same in the US would violate individual freedom and liberty. We already put certain restrictions on the 2nd amendment, which in all honesty has outlived the purpose of why it was created. [Name withheld] is right that it was put in so the people could revolt against a tyrannical government, and when the government was fighting with muskets and bayonets it made a lot of sense, but we’re well beyond that now. We kill people in the Middle-East with the push of a button on a remote controlled flying device, and they never see death coming. If we’re really talking about a tyrannical government, there’s nothing that would stop that same thing happening to a bunch of hunkered down hillbillies in the foothills of Alabama. An AR-15 would be more useful as toilet paper than an instrument of rebellion against an armored, air-powered, bunker-busting, smart-bombing, industrialized death steam roller. So, yeah – “the 2nd Amendment isn’t for hunting,” but it might as well be for fishing as effective as it would be in both practice for a Coup d’état, and as an argument for the rights of gun owners. 

The only argument for gun ownership, with reasonable checks and balances – is for home and self-defense. Police response time is not adequate to protect yourself from and armed intruder, and a lawful weapon is what provides you the potential added protection until officers can respond.

It’s been over 10 days since I posted that, and I’ve yet to hear a response. I doubt I will.

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Comedian Andrew Maxwell takes five British creationists to the west coast of America to try to convince them that evolution rather than creationism explains how we all got here. Stuck on a bus across 2,000 miles of dustbowl roads with these passionate believers, Maxwell tackles some firmly held beliefs – could the Earth be only 6,000 years old, and did humans and T-Rex really live side by side? It’s a bumpy ride as he’s confronted with some lively debates along the way, but by the end could he possibly win over any of these believers with what he regards as hard scientific fact? [BBC]

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Election time is once again drawing near, and soon we will be headed to the polls to elect or re-elect our public officials, as well as approve or reject various ballot proposals and initiatives. They say the two things you’re never supposed to talk about at work is religion and politics, but each election cycle these two topics seem to get more and more intertwined with one another. So, while I won’t be breaking any workplace taboos by discussing these topics here, I’d say chances are pretty good that someone is going to read what I have to say and get pissed off. Feel free to leave a comment.

A little over a week ago, Billy Graham appeared in this full page ad in the Wall Street Journal and USA today…

Do you hear that America? Billy Graham says that you need to vote for leaders that will stand on Biblical principles, and presumably they will ensure that the legislation they enact forces your fellow Americans to live by those same standards. It might be worth noting that if the issues the Rev. Graham issued were done so in order of importance, then according to him the most important issue America needs to deal with is gays and lesbians. This would especially be the case in the state of Washington where approval of Referendum 74 would legalize gay marriage in the state.

Many Christians seem to think that voting for candidates and proposals that ensure biblical values are forced upon the populace as a whole is a good thing, but they do themselves more harm than they realize. When Christians try to use the power of government to force others to live according to biblical standards – it is a public admission that their Gospel, their Holy Spirit, and their Christ – is impotent and powerless. First Corinthians 2:4 says that lives are transformed by a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, but many Christians today seem content to attempt to transform lives by checking a box on a ballot. Of course, when you don’t really have the power of a supernatural being residing inside you, forcing others to live the way you want them to is probably easier than convincing them of the validity of your message and the way you live your life.

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As promised, I’m following up on my previous blog post where I revealed the first video I’ve produced here at TheSkepticalMagician.com – “Genesis Creation Visualized – Scientifically.”  I put a considerable amount of thought and energy into creating this video, and I wanted to give you a behind the scenes look into the reasons why I made it the way I did.

Why re-write Genesis?

A common response one gets when talking to Christians about the origins of the Universe and the lack of specificity and accuracy of the Genesis account — is that the complex laws of physics would have been lost on bronze age peoples, so God had to dumb it down so humans could comprehend all that he had done.  In other words, the divine creator had to be vague, and not quite as accurate because the concepts were not there to explain it fully.  This seems to make a lot of intuitive sense to believers, and it is something that enables them to continue believing what they want to believe, so they don’t take that next crucial step that everyone should take when determining whether or not something they believe is true… They don’t try to prove themselves wrong!  And just like a scientist who submits something for peer review without first trying to disprove their ideas, if they don’t do it — someone else will.  By re-writing the Genesis account as I did (and I could have been far more detailed were it not for my time limits), I was able to show that one could give a scientifically accurate portrayal of the evolution of the Cosmos that a bronze age human could understand, while still maintaining certain poetic liberties.  Had the first 18 verses of Genesis been something similar to what I created, we in present day would have to stop and ask, “How in the heck did these bronze age illiterates know about things like fusion and the forging of the elements within stars?”  “How did they know the Earth orbits the Sun, and how did they know it rolls upon the fabric of space like it does?”  Instead of having to answer difficult questions like these, we’re left with undeniable evidence that the Genesis account of creation is just one more in a long line of creation myths.

Now, I fully admit that the Genesis account as currently written could have happened just like the Bible says, and I say as much in the video.  There is no way for me to disprove this, though I don’t think most Christians would be comfortable with what this would tell us about the creator.  If the Genesis account of the Bible is a literal, historical account of the creation of the Universe, then the creator is a deceiver.  He’s a trickster.  He’s a hoaxer.  In order for the Genesis account to be true, it would mean that creator would have had to intentionally alter time and space itself to make it look like things had occurred completely different than they actually had.  In essence,  that God is one who not only tricks people, but tricks people into not believing in him, or in his written text, which plainly goes against the idea in 2 Peter 3:9 that God is “…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

A track that many liberal Christians take is that the Genesis account is not a literal history of creation, but that it’s a symbolic or metaphoric account of man’s relationship with his creator etc, etc, etc.  Again, I can’t disprove that either, though I don’t think people who follow that line of thinking consider the greater negative theological implications for the Christian faith later on down the line.  Without a literal Genesis, or a literal Adam and Eve – there is no basis or necessity for a literal 2nd Adam (i.e. Jesus) to undo what they did in Genesis.  For these types, much of the Bible is looked at as metaphorical or symbolic, and these issues aren’t of any great concern to them, and they are happy to believe just the same.  Again, trying to disprove their perspective is a bit like trying to nail jello to a wall, and there are so many ad hoc fallacies, and so much special pleading injected into the conversation that one can find themselves quickly frustrated.  In general, these types of believers aren’t usually trying to get Biblical creation crammed into science classrooms, and are often times just as against their fundamentalist brethren in that regard as secularists are.  So while I don’t agree with their conclusions, and can no more disprove their claims than I can disprove Russell’s teapot, I can at least respect their ability to accept the clear evidence of origins instead of dogmatically clinging to ideas that are either false (my position), or the product of an omnipotent trickster. (more…)

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