This will be an illustration of the most pointless and useless conversation it is possible to have: that between the superstitiously infected and those with immunity.
I realized the ultimate impotence of this kind of debate many years ago, and although I hold to the opinion that there is no other set of beliefs human minds are capable of holding that are as brutal, destructive, and immoral as religious believing, it is an intellectual struggle without end or possible resolution. I have adopted the sensible policy of simply staying out of the way of believers when they get wound up, because they are likely to come after you with one of those terrible swift swords they like to chant about.
But every once in a while I find that an old friend has fallen under the influence and in friendship make at least one good faith effort to see if there might be any critical thinking threads left connected and functioning in the mind. One of these friends, a friendship long held, asked to see the twenty questions I wished each religious believer (regardless of which brand) would make an honest effort to answer without relying on that greatest of all debate-enders: it’s a matter of faith. Which, of course, means it is not amiable to reason or rational discourse. The end.
Since my friend is a professed Christian, I will limit myself here to that particular sect, although these questions ought to be considered by religious believers of any variety,type, or kind.
It seems self-evident that a faithful Christian believes these things to be true: There is a god (and only one of them), the Bible is the direct and true word of said god, that the man known as Jesus Christ is the one and only true son of that god, and he was born from a virgin who was immaculately inseminated with the seed of that god (Lida and the Swan sound familiar?), and believing these things must compel you to believe that other versions of this story, as in other faiths, cannot be true, they are wrong; by the very nature of such beliefs, if contradictions to what you believe might hold out the possibility of being true, then what you believe must hold out the possibility of being false. You do not maintain these beliefs just because you are too chicken to tempt eternal fate, or because you like going to churches and listening to the music — you believe these things because you know them to be true. In order to be a Christian, one believes such things, or if not, one is something else; maybe Christian-Lite. It is from these beliefs my questions arise.
How can you know that the god you believe is more true or real than the Greeks of antiquity believing in Zeus? (Especially when you consider that many of these older “mythologies” significantly predate and also duplicate much of the contemporary Christian belief system. In other words, there is sure a lot of plagiarism in the Bible.)
Why is believing that if you cling to the faith and follow the dictates of the Bible that you will be rewarded in heaven with visitations by your friends and neighbors any different from a martyring Muslim believing that if he follows the dictates of the Koran that he will do directly to paradise where 72 virgins await him? (It still isn’t clear what female martyrs get.) Isn’t Limbo abolished now? So now every unbeliever, or heretic, or poor uneducated villager a missionary hasn’t yet found, goes straight to eternal horrors. That’s what happens when you tick off a jealous god.
Do you believe that the origin of our species derives from dirt, and a divine breath, in a garden that has apple trees and talking snakes, and a really, really pissed off god, about 6000 years ago? Did complex organisms on earth develop over billions of years from simpler organisms, or did god just toss together some dirt and call it man?
Do you believe that wayward children should be beaten with a rod? (You do if you believe that Proverbs 13:34, 20:30, and 23-13-14 are the divine orders from god.) Or that if children talk back to their parents they should be killed? (You do if you believe that Leviticus 20:9, and a long list of other Biblical proclamations are true.) Do you believe people should be stoned to death for a wide variety of infractions, including adultery, homosexuality, laboring on Sunday -or whatever day your group designates, worshipping some image other than that of your god, heresy? (You do if you believe the Bible is the inerrant word of god.)
What do you make of the historical fact that virtually every benevolent teaching of Jesus Christ as reported some years later in the Bible are virtually the same teachings and prescriptions offered centuries before Jesus’s appearance? (For example in teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Epictetus. It would appear that god is quite the prolific author.)
Do you agree with the teachings of Christian saints like Augustine and Aquinas that heretics should be tortured or killed? (Not just heretics, but including Jews and witches, of course.)
Are you in favor of slavery? Would you support selling our daughters into sexual slavery? The Bible condones and promotes both. (Leviticus, Exodus, Ephesians, 1st Tim. Jesus also supported slavery. Ephesians and 1st Timmy. It’s a good thing for black folks that Lincoln – an atheist – ignored those particular Biblical laws.)
What do you make of the 10 Commandments, the only time on record that god his very own self did the writing? Do you find it odd that the first four of the ten are only about vanity and jealousy? Or that the rest are more or less common sense that anybody living in society understands, with or without any of the varieties of superstitions in support.
And speaking of god. What do you think of the problem of theodicy? Do you believe that god is benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent? (If not, we can stop now, because any god short of that, even old Zeus himself, isn’t worth the name.) So how do you reconcile this astonishing dilemma? Evil exists. If god is as described, then either he can do nothing to prevent evil, or he isn’t interested in preventing evil. In the first case god is not as described. In the second, god is malevolent. Ah, I see, but of course god’s ways are not ours to know. You are beyond hope if that is your only recourse to explain this problem.
I’m losing count. But there are literally as many questions as there are contradictions, whether ten, twenty, or thousands.
There are two choices we face in both debate and general conversation. Either both sides when going about considering truth, especially the truth of statements or propositions, are employing an honest consideration of all the evidence and utilizing logical arguments, or they are not. That is why these kinds of discussions are doomed to failure. One side is and one side isn’t. In virtually all areas of human life, strong beliefs held without a shred of evidence mark the person as insane (at least a bit wacko) or an idiot, except in this one area. When it comes to clinging to superstitious belief systems, truth does not require a relationship with evidence, and somehow believing without a shred of evidence, which one does in no other area, makes a person wise and good, in this single system of beliefs.
This matters. It is worth noting in this regard that the least religious nations — representing the cream of the 21st century’s developed world — are also, by every measure, the happiest, wealthiest, most moral (especially in the state’s behavior toward all its citizens), healthiest, most educated, most equal, less murderous nations on the planet. (I refer in particular to the Scandinavian countries, almost all of northwestern Europe, the UK, Switzerland, the Benelux region, Japan, Australia, even volcanic Iceland.) By stark contrast, the most religious nations on the planet, and this includes near the top the United States, nearly all the Islamic nations, and a good part of Africa, are the most violent, unequal, most immoral, least healthy, and easily the most murderous and selfish peoples on earth . Accident?
It is because of the profound harm done to both humans and creatures in the name of this or that god, this or that set of superstitious and insupportable beliefs that I have taken the time to do this. If a person believes this kind of thing as a psychological self-protective device as the result of inconsolable sadness or tragedy and this is what it takes to feel better, then fine with me. Just keep it to yourself and don’t start mixing up a need to feel better or coming up with pat answers to impossible contradictory questions, with something truthful about the universe.
I am an atheist, but I agree with Sam Harris that it is a useless term, no different from saying I am a non-alchemist … “Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”
What I do believe is that the single tortured death of a child suffering from cancer or mutilated by a mad man is all the reason I will ever need to know that no such thing as the Christian notion of god could possibly exist.
But if it makes you feel better … .
This pretty much sums it up for me, and thanks to Court for providing the link.