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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

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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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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Ever the glutton for punishment, I was listening to a sermon not too long ago, and the pastor had these words to say to their congregation:

“What I see in front of me might contradict everything he [Jesus] has said, but I believe in the end he’ll be born out to be true.”

This type of attitude is very disturbing, and in essence says, “Look, you can show me all the evidence you want to, and it can be the most solid evidence ever, and I’m still not going to accept it.” There are few things to be pitied more than a person who says their mind cannot be changed no matter what evidence is provided. Such a person is a prisoner in their own mind, who when handed the key to set themselves free, gouges out their eyes with it lest they find the lock.

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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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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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Brian introduces us to his new best friend — and his hobby. 

 

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If you visit my blog often, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve had the same two books in my “Currently Reading” section of the sidebar for quite a while.  Now that my schedule has smoothed out a little bit, I was able to finish reading both of them, and have finally gotten around to writing my review of Dr. Darrel Ray’s new book, Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality.

Back in January of 2011, my wife and I had the pleasure of participating in Dr. Ray’s Sex and Secularism Survey, which sought to explore how people’s sex lives changed after coming out of religion.  Some of the research from that survey went into the book, but you can also download the results of the survey in a PDF report here.

The book is broken up into 5 different sections (Religion in Perspective, Follow the Biology, Follow the Culture, The Psychology of Religion and Sex, and Program Yourself for a Change) with a total of 26 chapters spit up among the sections.  Despite it taking me a while to get through the book, most should find this to be a quick read.  I’ll state at the beginning that the only real negative thing I have to say about the book is that it was repetitious at times, but that was a minor issue, and does not detract from the book or the subject matter at hand.  Others have criticized the Sex and Secularism Survey because of the self-selected sample, but there’s really no getting around that when you’re dealing with the topic of sex.  If you disagree, head down to the local shopping mall and approach random people with a clipboard, and tell them you’re going to talk to them about their sex lives.  Be sure to report back to me afterward to let me know how that went for you.

Religious people are really hung up on the idea of sex.  Whether it’s heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, bisexual sex, oral sex, anal sex, self-sex (masturbation), and everything here, there, and everywhere pertaining to human sexuality – you can bet your sweet bippy that religion is going to have it’s fingers in the pie.  The reason for this, as Dr. Ray so eloquently reasons in the book, is because sex is common to everyone, and if the various religions can make you feel guilty about it, then you’re going to have to return to that religion to get forgiveness or alleviate the guilt that has been imposed on you by that religion.  Because people are sexual creatures, this guilt cycle is very successful in keeping people coming back to their respective religions.  How many successful large-scale religions do you see that are sexually permissive?  None, and I would argue one of the reasons is that guilt is a powerful motivator and tool to keep people locked into a religion.

From the Christian perspective, people are often sold this idea that if you just wait until you’re married, you’re going to have this awesome sex life that God is going to bless because you waited.   From a strictly anecdotal point of view — I call bullshit, and would venture to say that’s why you see so many Christian marriages ending in divorce, and why you have so many Christians who are disillusioned with their faith.  Whether Christians like it or not — no matter how often you speak of sex as God’s gift in the context of marriage, having such a negative view of human sexuality coupled with the guilt heaped on over the years for any potential sexual thought or action is going to create problems in the bedroom for a great number of people even after they are married.  It’s amazing how many people I’ve known over the years, both as a pastor and just as a friend, where the sexual relationship within the marriage was far from what people had been promised.  Rich Lyons, a former Pentecostal preacher for 20 years, only had sex with his wife about 12 times during his marriage of 21 years!  Research from the conservative Schafer Institute matches with the experience of pastors like Rich, and the numbers are not in the favor of the Christian perspective of God’s blessing on sex within the confines of Christian marriage:

  • Of the 1,050 (100%) of pastors surveyed, every one had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church or from a moral failure.
  • 808 (77%) of the pastors surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage.
  • 399 (38%) of the pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • 315 (30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
  • Almost 40% said they had had an extramarital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fought depression.

It doesn’t take long for people to start thinking thoughts like: “My religion told me my sex life would be great in my marriage.”  “My sex life in my marriage sucks.”  “If my religion is wrong about sex, what else is it wrong about?”

One of the most fascinating aspects of Sex & God, was the anthropological exploration of the Hadza, Mangaians, and Na cultures, which differ immensely from the traditional western views of human sexuality.  These cultures have a vastly different perspective on sex, which has not been influenced by any of the major monotheistic religions.  As a result, it provides an interesting perspective into what things looked like before our transition from hunter gatherer to agrarian societies.  If there’s a holy spirit that is universally convicting people of their sin, including their sexual sin, he apparently decided to skip the Hadza, Mangaians, and the Na, because the sexual do’s and don’ts that accompany western religions like Christianity simply do not exist within these cultures, and the people feel no guilt concerning the natural expression of their sexuality.

The 26 chapters of the book are chocked full of information, and I can really only scratch the surface in this review.  There are over 7 billion people on this planet, and they all got here the same way.  Ignoring or distorting human sexuality is useful to no one, and it is only through studying the topic in a scientific manner, instead of relying on bronze aged texts, that we can hope to understand what makes humans tick sexually.  I highly recommend Dr. Darrel Ray’s, Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality as a useful resource in understanding the topic of human sexuality, as well in helping people to heal from having a warped perspective on their sexuality as they come out of religion.  The book is available in both paperback and ebook formats.

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