Monthly Archives: September 2011

Beware of Fear Mongering

Listening to the republican debates, there’s non-stop talk of the dangers of living in this country. They talk about how the country is getting away from its “founding principals”, or how it’s getting so much more evil, or how our children will be without benefits such as social security.

Whenever anyone argues that taxes shouldn’t be cut, the argument also falls inevitably on the “dangers” of less funding for whatever is getting cut. This is also the argument made in defense of the environment or our country – it always falls back on fear mongering, an attempt to scare people towards action.

In my opinion, you should not be guided to a belief or opinion based on emotional blackmail, terrorism, double binds, bullying, shaming, and other forms of psychological or physical coercion. Your beliefs and opinions should be based on balancing available tested evidence and going with the more heavily weighted (lacking bias, peer-reviewed, within scientific scope, etc.).

I think that we all agree that our opinions shouldn’t be formed through these methods – so why are we imposing them on others? Would you like to believe that your knowledge on a subject came by propaganda? Would you like to think that your opinions were formed through brainwashing? So why are we trying to push ideas on others through these methods? If an idea can’t be demonstrated with fact then why believe it? And if it is backed with fact, then it doesn’t require anything more than explanation and citing – there’s no need for any manipulation.

To sell an honest product, a person needs only to show how their product will fill its obvious need (cleaning products often run television advertisements that show the product being used on a mess). To sell a dishonest product, a person needs to create a need and then show how they fill it (cosmetic companies must first convince you that having normal-colored lips or short lashes are a deficiency). To sell a truly dishonest product, a person needs to manipulate you with psychology – such as the notorious video that explains how the US economy is going to collapse and the only solution is to invest in silver.

I pick on fear mongering because I hear that one more than any other. I was sitting at my parents’ table a week ago listening to my father talk to my sister-in-law about homeschooling, but he was selling it on fear of her kid being taught evolution, biology, moral relativism, and acceptance of gays. I threw in the evidence for homeschooling, mainly how it gives children a personal tutor that can give them the most possible attention. It was clear that my input wasn’t important, and she agreed with my father.

My father and sister-in-law are Christian, as I was at one time. And I know they’re Christian for the same reason I was – fear mongering. They’re scared by Hell. I know, because I was there. And I’m not alone. Does any Christian ever find God through evidence? If so, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to comment below about how you found Christianity even though you weren’t told about the danger of Hell.

 

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Life is Not Worthless

One of the common misconceptions about atheism is that it equates to existential nihilism, the belief that “life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value”. If there’s no God in my life, how can it have any meaning? That strikes me as a silly question, as I will try to persuade you that life has greater meaning without a belief in an afterlife.

I do not believe in an afterlife, so if my life has any meaning, it is to be found in my current life. I love my daughter and value my relationship with her, and hope that I can make her life better through my parenting. I love my family and friends and hope that their lives are better off for having me in them. I will try to make scientific and philosophical contributions to humankind in the future, although that means a lot of learning in the present. I may also leave a legacy when I die, but I personally don’t care what is thought about me after death, because I don’t believe that I will be around to care.

Let’s compare this belief with that of someone who thinks there is an afterlife. When defining afterlife in this context, we’re going to assume it’s eternal, as all known forms of afterlife except reincarnation are eternal. This type of person believes that life is infinitesimally short compared to their afterlife. So naturally the biggest part of their existence will be invested in their afterlife.

To get a sense of the word “value”, let’s imagine the afterlife as a party. You’ve been invited, but you merely need to give the correct password at the door to get in. Anyone who’s familiar with any of the monotheistic traditions can understand the similarities between this and the entrance to an afterlife. Life in this context can be seen as everything in between the invitation and the entrance. If the whole importance of this situation is getting in to the party (and I don’t think anyone will disagree with the value placed on entrance into this eternal party), then the value of life is similar to the value of coming up with the correct password at the door.

Now you may place emphasis on the value of your trip to the party. Sure, you want to make sure you spread this password to all the people you love, and you need to feel certain that you have the right password. But in the complete analogy, the person inviting people to the party (God) is actually the one responsible for all of this. If we are to assume that all of these things are going to be done by Him with or without your help (after all, you’re just the “tools” that He uses to make His will happen) then your responsibility is simply to get to the party with the right password. Life’s value is equal to that of a doormat, just a stopping place on the way to your ‘real’ existence.

Now maybe you don’t believe that God will fulfill these responsibilities without your help. In that case, any time spent not spreading the password (preaching to the unsaved) is valueless. You’re wasting your life.

In either case, you may place value in those things that I place my value in, the betterment of lives outside of your own. As I don’t require a God for those values, then neither do you. With that in mind, I truly wonder why this objection to an atheist’s life having value keeps coming up over and over and over. I’ve heard it from everyone I’ve debated the existence of God with – no exceptions (not that it’s evidence for God’s existence being true, but rather evidence for why God’s existence would be desirable).

I don’t see life as merely an entrance exam to paradise. Life is what I put into it, and therefore it has as much value as I want it to have. If you’re living to appease a God who doesn’t exist, and to teach a false doctrine, and to lead others down a path that leads nowhere, then what value does your life have? It has the same value as mine… with undue emphasis on the aspects of your life that actually gain you nothing.


Is That Really in the Bible? Part 2

Some more tales from the bible that are hard to swallow, this time from the New Testament…

Jesus is Forgetful

A man approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to be saved. I’m sure that my Christian readers know that faith, not works, will get a person to heaven. However, Jesus tells him that it is works, and he recites the 10 commandments… sorta….

1. Thou shalt not murder
2. Thou shalt not bear false witness
3. Thou shalt not steal
4. Thou shalt not commit adultery
5. Honor thy father and thy mother
6. Love thy neighbor as thyself

Number 6 is a bonus, not found among the 10 commandments but still an important one, as he also tells another man that it is the second greatest commandment of them all (why is the greatest, love thy God, not listed as an important command here?) but somehow he fails to mention the other 5 commandments. Why? If you’re an average American, you won’t even come up with this many of them, but it’s quite likely that these are the ones you’ll know. These are commandments that even Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists agree on.

After failing to quote the ten commandments, the man says that he has already kept these commandments. Jesus still doesn’t mention anything about belief, which as Christians know, is more important than keeping any command. Instead he tells the man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. Why the sudden change of heart? Job, David, and Solomon are among a few that God blessed with riches, so it’s
obvious that God doesn’t feel that believers have to remain poor. This was a perfect opportunity for him to mention that “love of money is the root of all evil”, but instead he passes on the idea that having money is wrong, and multiplies the confusion with an analogy… a rich man getting into heaven is like a camel passing through the eye of a needle. It’s impossible for a camel to pass through a needle (obviously). Therefore it’s impossible for rich people to go to heaven, right? Jesus explains “all things are possible with God”. In other words, “impossible” as a word is meaningless and so is his analogy.

Jesus Loses His Cool

We all know the tale about Jesus losing his cool in the temple and driving out the people selling animals. I’m sure we rationalize it, picturing Jesus swinging a whip but never actually striking anybody with it (vigilante justice in the form of deadly assault is pretty immoral in any given
situation). But how about the story of Jesus encountering a fig tree with no fruit?

Jesus and his disciples were hungry, so when they spotted a fig tree they approached it. They found no figs (picked clean, or it just wasn’t the season for figs, or perhaps it hadn’t blossomed the way it was supposed to). Jesus immediately cursed the tree and it withered, never to bear fruit again (as if it had been full of fruit before his curse).

Take a moment to consider the tree. Trees are incapable of committing evil. They don’t have free will, and can’t “choose” to sprout figs or not. This tantrum of Jesus was against an inanimate object, much like kicking your car because it doesn’t start in the morning. Jesus, fully capable of producing figs from thin air or making figs appear on the tree, instead curses the tree so it will never produce fruit again.

It has been suggested that this was an object lesson, and that this tree was merely symbolic. However, Jesus had done that before with parables and no trees were harmed in those lessons. Also, he never tells his disciples that it is purely symbolic, and so it would be logical if they (and you, the bible reader) thought that emulating his actions here was permissible.

Jesus Protects the Guilty

Jesus has the potential to call down wrath on sinners, but one has to wonder what standard he uses to pick and choose these battles, though.

I’ve already discussed the many absurdities of protecting the adulteress caught in the act, but what about the occasion where a mob tried to push Jesus off a cliff? His response was to “pass through the crowd”, probably a magical walk into another dimension. The mob was clearly trying to murder an innocent man, and yet the bible doesn’t mention any harm or punishment coming to them. How about the prostitute that emptied a vase of fine perfume on his feet and then wiped his feet with her hair? Her sins were forgiven for this favor, but Simon – the host that had kindly invited Jesus into his home – is rebuked for not cleaning his feet. Don’t you think Jesus could forgive him, too?

The strangest story of Jesus protecting sinners is when Jesus is seized by the elders to be tried and later crucified. When they come upon Jesus and Peter, Peter cuts off a man’s ear. It’s pretty clear this was attempted murder, or even if he his intention was just to get the ear (this fisherman was the first Zorro?), a dangerous act that could have ended in manslaughter. And yet Jesus just repairs the ear and rebukes Peter, who was nearly a murderer. It doesn’t seem that this act changes Jesus’ mind about building a church via Peter.

I’m sure we all enjoy the picture of a meek, merciful Jesus who doesn’t wish that any harm should come to anyone. So why did he feel that murderers and whores get a pass but merchants in the temple (and trees without fruit) don’t?