Tag Archives: Atheist

The Christian Label

The label of Christian is of little value when seeking to understand what it means about the person taking on that label. It doesn’t tell us what that persons moral values or outlook are nor does it really tell us what they believe.

The label itself is an umbrella term or superset of a wide variety of beliefs. Take some examples to highlight this.

Fred Phelps, that hateful bigot of the Westbro Baptist Church who spends his days spewing his hatred of gay people and anyone else who can think of in the name of a tyrant god. This man represents everything that is twisted and cruel about modern Christianity. Is he a Christian? Of course.

John Shelby Spong is a liberal theologian, an academic who talks of compassion and reform. He seeks a move away from theism and an embrace of a shared system of values across all faiths and none. His religion is a hope rather than a certainty and, as far as I know, he doesn’t use his Christianity as the blunt tool to bludgeon others into supporting it. Is he a Christian? Of course.

Joseph Alois Ratzinger, Bishop of Rome and current Pope is another academic. While Spong is liberal and open, Ratzinger is conservative and insular. The recent child rape scandals that have rocked Catholicism have turned his policies into protection of the church. In my view he is a criminal responsible for the continued protection of child molesters from secular justice and he should be tried in a court of human rights. Is he a Christian? Of course.

Rowan Williams is Archbishop of Canterbury and is currently presiding over a near schism within the Church of England. He seems to be a decent enough fellow with liberal views regarding the ordination of women and with the open acceptance of gay clergy but he plays a game of internal politics against other bishops who want the opposite. He is undoubtedly intelligent and articulate and he believes in a literal God rather than Spong’s conceptual god. Is he a Christian? Of course.

When someone announces that they are a Christian which of these models do we most closely associate with them? Are they liberal or conservative? Are they pro-gay or anti-gay? Are they feminist or misogynist? Are they pro-life or pro-choice? Are they hateful bigots or compassionate advocates for equality? Who knows? All we can tell about them from the label is that they believe in some sort of god in a loosely Christians tradition. We don’t know anything more about them than that.

So when someone introduces themselves as a Christian it tells us very little about their views and so cannot, in all fairness, be judged on those views because we don’t know what they are.

The same applies for those who judge atheists based on nothing more than pre-conceived notions.

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Reasons Part 3 – Necessity

I had no need of that hypothesis. (“Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là”, as a reply to Napoleon, who had asked why he hadn’t mentioned God in his book on astronomy.)

– Pierre-Simon Laplace

Leading on from last week where I tried to provide an explanation for a lack of belief due to a lack of compelling evidence, this week it is a lack of necessity.

I’m sure that anyone who has kicked around religious debates for more than a few months will be familiar with William of Occam and his eponymous razor.  The principle of Occam’s Razor is to explain a phenomena with as few assumptions as possible and to remove those elements that make no difference to the explanation.  “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” is one of his ideas.

So, when we examine a phenomena, we do not count God in the hypothesis.  Not because God is or is not there but because the presence or absence of God makes no difference to our examination. It has been said that you cannot put God in a test tube but the nature of an infinite being is that you cannot keep God out of a test tube either.  By not counting God into hypotheses we are left to other devices to explain them.  An atheist like me extends the idea and discounts God from all things as unnecessary.

Perhaps one day I will be confronted with a question that needs God to explain it.  Science is such a satisfactory way of explaining things in the universe that it has no need for God and I am happy to accept that sometimes I don’t have enough information to provide an answer.  Yet, since we can explain so much with the tools of science then we don’t need to call on God to explain things.

Does this prove God doesn’t exist?  Not at all.  What it shows is that the assumption that God exists isn’t needed.  If the assumption isn’t needed then why not abandon it?

William of Occam, a Franciscan monk, would not agree.  The presumption of God was the very best way of explaining the universe in the 14th century.  In the 21st century we have other tools at our disposal.  Tools that make the God hypothesis unnecessary.

Whenever you have more than one hypothesis, only one is necessary. You could always throw the others out on that basis as ‘unnecessary’. The question is, how do you decide which to throw out and which to keep?

The god hypothesis involves more assumptions.

However a) fewer assumptions aren’t necessarily correct even though William of Occam preferred them and b) theists disagree that my assumptions that make God unnecessary are better/fewer/more tenable than their assumption of God which make my alternate assumptions and ‘no God hypothesis’ unnecessary.

That is where the null hypothesis comes in.  The alternative hypothesis is that god(s) exist and the null hypothesis is that the alternative hypothesis is false.  Unless sufficiently compelling evidence and reason exists to support the alternative hypothesis then the null hypothesis is preferred.

I originally wrote this for Off The Map – Atheist in 2009 as part of a series explaining why I lacked belief in gods.

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Good vs Evil

I’ve taken this from a comment by Quesita on a forum that I frequent and changed a few minor things so that it sits well better in isolation.
 
I am genuinely baffled by the concept that a belief in a deity would help me better distinguish between good and evil, and whatever falls in between. I really spent a great deal of time last night and today thinking about this very question, and trying to make sense of the concept.
 
I mean no disrespect, but I would really appreciate it if you theists could walk me through one, specific historical example, and help me understand some questions:  “If God doesn’t exists, what is good and what is evil? Who decides them?
 
Dozens of interesting examples come to mind, but let’s just pick one, and take slavery in the US. 
 
A mere 15 decades ago, many adherent Christians in the US believed that kidnapping, torturing, and raping people, in order to exploit their labour for financial gain, was completely consistent with the teachings of the Bible. Now maybe it is because I am a heathen atheist who does not really understand good and evil, but for me, kidnapping, torturing, and raping in order to benefit financially really sort of falls into the evil category. In fact, if we were to have a scale of good and evil, I’d put that sort of behavior pretty far down on the evil side.
 
So help me understand. I know that there was slavery in the Bible. Do Christians really believe that kidnapping, raping, torturing and then benefiting financially is consistent with the teachings of the Bible? Did Jesus forgive those kidnapping, raping, torturing folks because they accepted him as their savior, and therefore had a better understanding of good and evil than I do? Did Jesus let those kidnapping, raping, torturing folks into heaven because they vocally proclaimed that Jesus was the best deity ever? And did Jesus subsequently condemn my beloved parents to an eternity of hellfire because they were too busy helping humanity to sing Jesus’ praise? 
 
Is it possible that slavery was ok then, but isn’t ok any more because Christianity’s understanding of the concept of “good” has, for lack of a better word, evolved?
 
Or is Jesus the kind of deity who buys into “the end justifies the means” as a reason to turn a blind eye to some sins? Was Jesus really a bit put off by the all the nasty stuff that went along with enslaving millions of human beings for so many generations, but decided it was ok because many of those slaves, (and an overwhelming number of their decedents), ended up being Christian? 
 
Or did those kidnapping, raping and torturing folks who called themselves Christians, really misread the scriptures? And if so, why did God write scriptures that are so easily misunderstood? I mean, there are a bunch of references to slavery in the Bible. I can see how they might have gotten it all wrong. And if they were really so seriously misreading the scriptures, how do you know that you and your pastor are not seriously misreading the scriptures as well? 
 
You see, for me, kidnapping, raping, torturing and enslaving other human beings for financial profit is evil, under any circumstances. But I am not a Christian, so I don’t really understand good and evil in the Christian way. So when I work my way through the above example, without the help of a skilled Christian to help me really understand it, these are the possible conclusions that I draw:
 
Kidnapping, raping, torturing and enslaving other human beings for financial profit;
A) Is ok and consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil.
 
B) Was ok in the past, but isn’t ok anymore because Christianity changes with the times. 
 
C) Is ok and consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil if the people being kidnapped, raped, tortured and enslaved end up learning about the Bible. 
 
D) Isn’t really ok and consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil, but folks who engaged in those practices get to go to heaven anyway because they accepted Jesus. (Sort of like the way that people who say “God damn it” when they stub their toes get to go to heaven because, after all, we are all sinners but if we accept Jesus our sins get forgiven.) 
 
E) Is not ok and is not consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil, and the folks who engaged in those practices in the name of Jesus already went to hell for all of eternity because they misunderstood God’s confusing scriptures as they apply to slavery.
 
F) Another explanation which I am missing because I don’t understand good and evil and because I don’t have Jesus to guide me and help me understand.
 
I would really, really appreciate clarification from some of our Christians friends.
 

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Are you a hardcore atheist?

Stolen from Hemant.

  1. Participated in the Blasphemy Challenge.
  2. Met at least one of the “Four Horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) in person.
  3. Created an atheist blog.
  4. Used the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a religious debate with someone.
  5. Gotten offended when someone called you an agnostic.
  6. Been unable to watch Growing Pains reruns because of Kirk Cameron.
  7. Own more Bibles than most Christians you know.
  8. Have at least one Bible with your personal annotations regarding contradictions, disturbing parts, etc.
  9. Have come out as an atheist to your family.
  10. Attended a campus or off-campus atheist gathering.
  11. Are a member of an organized atheist/Humanist/etc. organization.
  12. Had a Humanist wedding ceremony.
  13. Donated money to an atheist organization.
  14. Have a bookshelf dedicated solely to Richard Dawkins.
  15. Lost the friendship of someone you know because of your non-theism.
  16. Tried to argue or have a discussion with someone who stopped you on the street to proselytize.
  17. Hid your atheist beliefs on a first date because you didn’t want to scare him/her away.
  18. Own a stockpile of atheist paraphernalia (bumper stickers, buttons, shirts, etc).
  19. Attended a protest that involved religion.
  20. Attended an atheist conference.
  21. Subscribe to Pat Condell’s YouTube channel.
  22. Started an atheist group in your area or school.
  23. Successfully “de-converted” someone to atheism.
  24. Have already made plans to donate your body to science after you die.
  25. Told someone you’re an atheist only because you wanted to see the person’s reaction.
  26. Had to think twice before screaming “Oh God!” during sex. Or you said something else in its place.
  27. Lost a job because of your atheism.
  28. Formed a bond with someone specifically because of your mutual atheism (meeting this person at a local gathering or conference doesn’t count).
  29. Have crossed “In God We Trust” off of — or put a pro-church-state-separation stamp on — dollar bills.
  30. Refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
  31. Said “Gesundheit!” (or nothing at all) after someone sneezed because you didn’t want to say “Bless you!”
  32. Have ever chosen not to clasp your hands together out of fear someone might think you’re praying.
  33. Have turned on Christian TV because you need something entertaining to watch.
  34. Are a 2nd or 3rd (or more) generation atheist.
  35. Have “atheism” listed on your Facebook or dating profile — and not a euphemistic variant.
  36. Attended an atheist’s funeral (i.e. a non-religious service).
  37. Subscribe to an freethought magazine (e.g. Free Inquiry, Skeptic)
  38. Have been interviewed by a reporter because of your atheism.
  39. Written a letter-to-the-editor about an issue related to your non-belief in God.
  40. Gave a friend or acquaintance a New Atheist book as a gift.
  41. Wear pro-atheist clothing in public.
  42. Have invited Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses into your house specifically because you wanted to argue with them.
  43. Have been physically threatened (or beaten up) because you didn’t believe in God.
  44. Receive Google Alerts on “atheism” (or variants).
  45. Received fewer Christmas presents than expected because people assumed you didn’t celebrate it.
  46. Visited The Creation Museum or saw Ben Stein’s Expelled just so you could keep tabs on the “enemy.”
  47. Refuse to tell anyone what your “sign” is… because it doesn’t matter at all.
  48. Are on a mailing list for a Christian organization just so you can see what they’re up to…
  49. Have kept your eyes open while you watched others around you pray.
  50. Avoid even Unitarian churches because they’re too close to religion for you.

Only 21.  Tsk, I’m barely atheist at all.  Of course I blame the high number of USA specific questions for my low score.  Dollars indeed.  Flipping monopoly money, English ten pound notes have Charles Darwin on them, that’s hardcore.

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