Saturday, December 8, 2012

Church Sucks

This is not an atheist rant. I've held this position as a Christian before, and I stand by it now as an atheist. Church sucks regardless of whether or not its teachings are true, and here's why:

Imagine a Venn diagram of a church. Each bubble represents the beliefs of a member of the church. It's a messy diagram, with hundreds of bubbles, and right in the center there's just a tiny speck where all the bubbles overlap. That sad speck represents the pastor's entire repertoire, the range of ideas that can safely be discussed in church. Step outside of it, and someone gets offended.

This is why sermons are boring.

Sermons are boring because they have no substance. They are vacuous and redundant because the pastor is not allowed to tell his congregation anything they don't already know or believe. Though it is never explicitly stated, learning is basically forbidden in church. That is, if you define "learning" as the acquisition of new knowledge and ideas.

So what's up with all that talk about learning? We have Bible studies and classes and workshops. There are Christian bookstores loaded with books about the bible: study guides, concordances, valley girl translations, you name it. But there's no real information in them, just a million reiterations of a couple of ideas. We spend hours and hours scouring the scriptures for some tiny morsel of truth and always come away empty handed, but never admitting this even to ourselves. If we're bored or confused or if we can't even remember what the lesson was about, we assume it's our own fault. Chalk it up to ADD. Next time concentrate harder and maybe you'll learn something.

So we pile on more books and seminars and study groups, hoping to figure out what the Bible really means. We try in vain to discover the true nature of God, but there are just no solid answers to be had, at least nothing that fits within the confines of the speck. It's a mountain laboring to produce a mouse.

And what for? In the unlikely scenario that anything new is produced, it is immediately dismissed as heresy.

All new ideas are dismissed solely on the basis that they are new and unfamiliar. So why do we pretend to be learning if we're really against it? Do we just want the respect and credibility that comes with the appearance of being intellectual, without actually doing anything intellectual? There is no learning in church for anyone but the newest of Christians who haven't already heard the parable of the sower or the story of David and Goliath a thousand times. For the veteran church attendee there is nothing to look forward to but the continued repetition, reiteration, and repackaging of the same tired old lessons. This will never change until the church overcomes its fear of new ideas and its fear of offending people.

"I'm offended." With those magic words, any dimwit can shut down an idea and ban it from ever being uttered again, and they can do this without bothering to provide a rebuttal. The real problem however is that everyone else jumps when they hear those words. We're all supposed to drop what we're doing and rush to see what the matter is. The offending idea is then exorcised, never to be uttered again. By tolerating this, we have effectively surrendered control to the lowest common denominator. The most hypersensitive dullards in a church community have absolute veto power.

This is not an environment conducive to learning. Learning can only occur where there is freedom to explore and consider new viewpoints. You won't find that in church. Instead you'll find a stifling, suffocating atmosphere of censorship smothered in superficial politeness. It's an intellectually stagnant pit of boredom.

I stopped going to church long before I became an atheist, and if for any bizarre reason I ever become "born again" you still wouldn't find me there. If there is a God, the last place you're likely to find him is in a church.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to Define God

The only rational way to define something is to first observe it. Please note that by "observe" I mean in a broad sense, directly or indirectly. We've never directly observed an atom but we have observed evidence that atoms exist. One cannot provide an accurate definition of a thing, nor even establish its existence, unless it has been observed somehow.

For example, if a naturalist encounters a new species of wildlife, he/she then studies that species and comes up with a definition for it. No sane naturalist ever wakes up in the morning, invents a new species from imagination, and then goes looking for it. Instead, they explore with an open mind and simply accept the existence of whatever they find.

We must first observe, and then define, specifically in that order. It must be in that order because the definition needs to be based on what we observed. Attempting to perform this operation in reverse is called "making shit up."

Now this goes for both atheists and theists: When we talk about the existence of God, we keep getting this backwards.

Theists simply assert a definition of God at the start of an argument to prove his existence, which is circular. For example, the ontological argument basically states that God must exist by definition, according to a definition they just made up.

Atheists also confuse the issue, saying they "can't prove or disprove something until it has been clearly defined." That's true, but we're still approaching this backwards. You can't even define something until it has been observed. And if we could observe it, then we wouldn't need to prove or disprove it because it would already be proven by the fact that we just observed it. It's not so much that we can't disprove something that hasn't been defined; it's that we can't define something that hasn't been proven to exist in the first place. A definition must be based on what we observe about the thing that is being defined.
Confused? Let me simplify. Here's how to define God:

Step One: Find God.

Step Two: Observe God to determine his/her features, qualities, and behaviors.

Step Three: Define God based on the data you gathered in step two.

Currently we're at step zero. Good luck theists. Find me a god, whatever you think that is, and show it to me. Until then, I'm not interested in arguments about the definition of God. Sure, we can define a hypothetical God for the sake of discussion, or just for the hell of it, but please remember that doing so is nothing more than an exercise of the imagination.

[Feedback is appreciated. Please leave a comment below.]

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Evolution: Not a Philosophy

The theory of evolution doesn't imply eugenics any more than the theory of gravity implies trickle down economics. let's be clear: evolution is a fact, a theory, and an observation of reality, but not a philosophy. To derive a philosophy from it would be insane. Ironicaly, the same demographic (repubicans) who are against the teaching of evolution because it might lead to social darwinism, seem to hold a political ideology based on survival of the fittest. Don't have health insurance? Should've worked harder. Why is it that the only people who believe in darwinism are those who don't believe in evolution? Perhaps if they understood survival of the fittest they would recognise it in their own ideological rantings.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Do Atheists Hate God?

"If you don't believe in God, why are you so angry at him?"
Every atheist has probably heard this question in some form or another. The usual knee-jerk response is to scoff and say that the question is absurd. Personally, however, I think it's a legitimate question that deserves an answer. As an ex-Christian myself, I can understand the confusion.
First of all, it is possible to feel animosity towards a fictional character. You know what I mean if you've ever watched a movie with a particularly egregious villain. Although atheists by definition don't believe in God, they can certainly become bitter towards the idea of God, especially the Biblical one. There is a deeper issue here though. Why do only atheists hate God, while believers unanimously love him?
If the Christian God were really a good and perfect god, then any objective atheist would be content to say that the fictional character of Jehovah is a great guy, but sadly nonexistent. This is not the atheist's usual position, however. Instead, we take it a step further and say that if Jehovah did exist, he would be an evil god. Why? Why not simply say that Jehovah is fictional and leave it at that? Why back the car up and run him over again by adding that he is evil?
More importantly, why is it that everyone who believes Jehovah exists think he is good, while those who don't think he exists think he is evil? One would expect to find a few atheists who say that Jehovah is good, but nonexistent. Or if God is as bad as atheists say he is, then we should expect to find a few believers who say that Jehovah exists, but is evil. Yet no one seems to hold either of those positions, or at least I haven't met anyone like that. It's safe to say, there is a strong correlation between belief and a positive view of God.
Christians are keen to observe this correlation ask why our views are polarized in such a way. Why is it that those who think Jehovah is evil and those who think Jehovah doesn't exist happen to be the same group of people? Could it be that atheists secretly believe in God and just deny his existence out of spite? Or do they really lack belief and just trash talk Christianity, out of sheer bias? Or has the Devil twisted their minds against God? There must be an explanation. Setting aside the question of God's existence, we cannot both be right about his character either. Someone must be biased.
I propose that there is a very good reason for Christians to be biased, and the reason is contained in the very doctrines that they are biased towards. Specifically, I'm referring to what I call the "believe or burn" doctrine: the idea that denial or rejection of God is the ultimate crime, punishable by eternal torture. One cannot be objective when one is being coerced under threat of torture to hold certain beliefs.
Whenever I hear a Christian say they love Jesus, I see a pitiful sight. I see an invisible man holding a gun to their head. "Love me or die," he says. "Love me with all your strength, all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul, or burn forever in brutal agony." Out of fear of hell, Christians will desperately find ways to immunize their belief, even if it means defeating their own intellect. Since God can read their minds, it's not enough to pretend to love God; they have to believe it sincerely to get into heaven. So they try to convince themselves that they really do love God, and over time they begin to believe their own ruse. It works, I've done it myself. For a few years I actually thought I loved God, and it felt pretty good. In the back of my mind though, I always knew I had an ulterior motive: to avoid going to hell.
Not only are Christians required to believe and love God, they must also agree with every one of his policies. Much like Abraham when he was told to sacrifice his son, Christians think they don't have the right to disagree with God's commands, no matter how absurd. They will even rationalize the fact that God is forcing them to love him, by saying that he's giving them the freedom of choice. It's not much of a choice though, when the only other option is eternal torment.
Over time, fear of God can lead to a sort of Stockholm syndrome, or battered spouse syndrome, where the constant need to appease their oppressor turns into a genuine feeling of love and affection. After a while, the fear of hell may even fade away, replaced by that genuine love, now self-affirmed by a kind of circular logic: if God is good, then everything he does must be good, and if everything he does is good, then that's how we know God is good.
Under the spell of this circular reasoning, there is literally nothing their god can do to gain their disapproval. God could hypothetically commit any crime, including infanticide, genocide, torture, rape, and slavery, and not one of his believers would ever judge him negatively. In fact, he does perform or command all of the above crimes in the Bible. Yet every act of God must necessarily be good, even if the reasons for it are mysterious. This is how Christians can, for instance, tell the story of Noah's ark to their children as a bedtime story and not see how horrible it is. Untold numbers of people, including children and infants, were supposedly drowned, under the justification that they were evil. It's the same excuse that every dictator in history has used to commit genocide, but if God did it then he must have had a good reason.
Never in this religion are we challenged to judge God objectively, to step off of that carousel of circular logic and ask from an impartial starting position if God is good or bad. Never are we encouraged to judge God from a clean slate, without presupposing that he is good in the first place. We are either taught that we don't have the right to judge God, or if we can judge him, we do not have the right to judge him negatively. Unfortunately, when an omnipotent being is on trial, the jury is as good as rigged.
To say that Christians are biased would be a vast understatement. They are actually required, under threat of hellfire, to believe that God exists and that he is good. They must arrive at this conclusion no matter where the evidence points. They do not have the option to think otherwise. For this reason, they cannot possibly be objective critics of their own religion. Without the ability to criticize it, the religion can spiral out of control and lead to any random set of dogmatically enforced rules, even barbaric bronze-age nonsense. This is why Christianity is so dangerous, as it has proven itself to be throughout history, and it continues to harm societies in various ways across the world.
Only when we stop believing does the fear of hell subside, and only when the fear subsides can we finally judge God without bias. When ex-Christians lose their faith and look back at the character of Jehovah from an objective perspective without fear of retribution, we are unanimously shocked and repulsed by what we see. We see a jealous, wrathful, capricious, and savage god of war. Yet Christians believe their god is a god of love, and they cannot imagine why anyone would see things differently.
Yes, I do hate the Biblical god. Whether he exists or not, I hate everything about him, and if he did exist I would absolutely reject him.
If I'm wrong, and if a God of love does exist, then by his nature he will forgive me for misjudging him. If God is love, then there is no reason to fear him. Only after discarding my belief could I realize this obvious truth.
If there is a God, and he is all-knowing, then he knows why I am an atheist. If he is all-wise, then he understands why I am an atheist. If he is all-loving, then he does not wish to send me to hell. If he is all-powerful, then he will find a way not to. And if he will send me to hell regardless, then he is a bastard unworthy of praise.