Monday, August 23, 2010

We Don't Need No Stinking Mosque

Enough already! I’m sick of hearing about the proposed mosque and community center that will occupy a new 13-story building only two blocks from Ground Zero. Do people really have nothing better to do than to go protest for or against the building of this mosque? So what if they build it? The sky is not going to fall.

Sure it is disrespectful to those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attack. I understand that. I also understand that it is disrespectful to Muslims to protest their building a mosque. There’s enough disrespect to go around.

But when it comes down to it, I do not think the mosque should be built there. And I think that not because of anything to do with 9/11; I just don’t think a mosque should be built anywhere, ever again. We don’t need any more stinking mosques.

And before you call me an Islamophobe, let me quickly add that I also don’t think we should build any more churches or cathedrals anywhere. I also don’t think any more synagogues should be built. What this country does not need is another place of worship.

Churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques are some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring works of architecture on the planet. And none of them add anything at all to the tax base. Unlike factories, stores, and people’s homes, places of worship do not have to pay into the tax stream. They get a pass because they are non-profit. I wish I were as non-profit as some of the churches out there. I could retire early, in style.

Throughout history some of the most awesome works of art, some of the most beautiful music, and some of the greatest architecture have been produced to honor a myth or a legend. And if that fact were relegated to history it would be sad enough, but it’s still happening in the twenty-first century. If we were ever actually visited by space aliens who were looking to develop a relationship with a race of beings in the process of development, they may very well pass us by when they find out that most of the population on earth still worships mythical creatures and wastes big bucks building monuments to them.

Every story in the bible is demonstrably false. Every story in the Koran is demonstrably false. And yet billions of dollars are spent every year in support of these myths as though they were fact. It’s astounding to everyone who has not already fallen for these myths.

There are Christians out there who realize that the bible stories are not literal. There are Christians out there who admit that they do not know the mind of God. They believe in God and they see Jesus as someone who was somehow in touch with God on a personal level. But mostly they see Jesus as a guiding influence to lead a decent life. These are the true Christians.

The fundamentalist Christians, as well as the fundamentalists of any religion, are the true danger to America. They are the deluded. They are the ones who indoctrinate our children into mindless cult-like sects. They are the ones who threaten science and education. They are the ones who want to take away the freedoms and liberties of anyone who does not subscribe to the same delusion that they do. If people have so much free time that they can go protest a meaningless mosque, they might do better to turn their ire toward the real threat to our nation – fundamentalism.

I would certainly join that kind of protest.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making Excuses for God

One of the biggest challenges to my understanding of the religious mind is that so many believers continually insist on making up excuses for their god when things go badly. For example, the quintessential excuse used when prayers seem to go unanswered is, “God answers prayer in his own way and in his own time.” So, in other words, either God is behaving capriciously or God is not answering prayers at all. Christians are all too eager to continue praying to a seemingly capricious god, because the other choice is not an option for them. (Muslims, Jews, and other religious people are as guilty as Christians, but I come from a Christian background so my focus is on that branch of religion.)

And then there is always the excuse, “God knows what’s best for us and answers prayer accordingly.” Again, either God knows what’s best for us and hasn’t let us in on his little secret, or prayer only seems to be answered or not answered randomly, as if God didn’t exist.

What about all those suffering extreme burdens or hardships, many of them devout Christians? Why doesn’t God help them out? The excuse given is, “God does not put any more on us than we can handle.” Really? Maybe he does sometimes. Maybe that’s why people commit suicide, because they can’t handle the pain or stress. Why didn’t God see that one coming? Some people suffer heart attacks or strokes because the stress of life has become overwhelming. So how can the Christian excuses explain those instances?

What about all the hardship and suffering in general? How can that be explained if there is an all-powerful and all-benevolent god? The excuse Christians give for God’s seemingly total lack of compassion is, “God allows us to suffer for our own sakes, because suffering makes us stronger and builds character.” Really? How does it build the character of a baby who is born with so many birth defects that it suffers and then dies after a few days or weeks of life? Maybe it was a lesson for the parents? So God creates horrible suffering for an innocent child in order to teach the parents a lesson? Maybe that idea should be sent to M. Knight Shyamalan so he can use it to write a sequel to Signs.

Suffering has always been God’s biggest problem. It has even spawned a whole area of theological study called theodicy. Theodicy has never been able to successfully explain how a good god can allow suffering. Of course, that doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but it does pretty much seal the deal on the existence of an all-loving and all-powerful god; such a god is incompatible with so much suffering. There can be no real excuse for it all.

That, of course, doesn’t stop Christians from making up excuses. “God works in mysterious ways.” “God is punishing us for our sins by causing us to suffer.” “The devil causes us to suffer and God allows it because it is all part of his divine plan.”

If a child came up with excuses so lame for his poor behavior, the parent wouldn’t buy it for a second. But God gets a pass. Why? It’s because everybody wants God to exist, and they want him to be all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. But to be all those things, and still allow suffering is not possible, not even for God. There really is no excuse.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No-Guilt Sex should be the Norm

I was reading a blog the other day in which the author claimed that people in America were becoming less religious and, as a result, this country was becoming less moral. The post lamented that morality was quickly becoming a casualty of ecumenicalism.

But when Christians talk about morality, what they are really talking about is sex. Nobody disputes the fact that things like theft, rape, and murder are immoral. If it’s a felony, it is probably also immoral. But most Christians will also add premarital sex and homosexuality in as immoral behavior. They may also even toss in masturbation and lusting in one’s mind as sins worthy of the immoral label.

I was struck with the notion that the blog I was reading took it as a given that sexual promiscuity of any kind was a behavior that everybody agrees is sinful. After all, the bible is clearly anti-sex, (except for parts of the Old Testament where raping your drunk father is perfectly fine).

I take issue with that assumption. Sex is normal and natural. Although parents are well advised to caution their teenagers about having unsafe and promiscuous sex for reasons of their immaturity, once you reach a certain age (whether it be 17 or 22, depending on one’s maturity level) having sex is fine and should be practiced without the religious baggage of guilt.

There is nothing wrong with having sex before marriage, if that’s what you choose to do. There is nothing wrong with having sex with someone you care about, or even having sex with someone you don’t. There’s nothing wrong with having sex just because it’s fun. As long as you take precautions against unwanted pregnancy and STDs, a person should have all the sex they want without stigma attached.

And, if by chance a pregnancy does result, despite having taken precautions, there should be absolutely no guilt about having that pregnancy terminated as soon as possible. Obviously, it is the woman’s choice, but too many people make a bigger deal out of it than it should be. If birth control didn’t work, try the morning after pill. Or if you find out later, just go in for an abortion without drama or guilt. Early-term abortion shouldn’t be any bigger deal than birth control, except for the expense. It certainly should cause no guilt or consternation.

We need to slough off the puritanical baggage in this country. Things like nudity and casual sex are practiced often here, but there is still a lot of stigma attached to it and many people do it but then feel cheap or guilty. There should be no more guilt associated with having casual sex than there is about having a bowel movement. You don’t necessarily want to do it in public, but it’s just a natural bodily function, so there should be no stigma attached to it.

My point here is that, notwithstanding the Christian blogs that lament the loss of morality in this country, nothing bad can come of having protected sex if both parties are consenting. It’s not a sin, because sin is a made-up concept of Christianity which should carry no weight in making decisions. If God exists, I’m fairly confident that he doesn’t care how often you have sex or with whom you have it.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

How to Convert Me to Christianity

Most Christian apologists think that atheism is as much a religion as Christianity because atheists seem to show just as much devotion to the idea of their being no god as Christians show to their god. While, admittedly, some atheists are zealous in their non-belief, many go about their daily lives quietly not believing in a deity, not saying anything about it to anyone. They are either closet atheists or they simply don’t think religion, or lack thereof, is all that important in their lives.

I’m one of the more zealous types, but there is still something fundamental that separates even the most enthusiastic atheist from his believer counterpart. Atheists are open to being convinced that God exists. Devout believers cannot be convinced that their religion is simply ancient mythology.

So, how do you convert an atheist to Christianity? It’s simple really. Here is a list of dos and don’ts that, if used properly, will convince the vast majority of atheists, including this one, to become one of you, a devout Christian. First, the don’ts. Don’t try to sway us with any of these methods or you’re doomed to failure from the start:

1. Don’t quote from the bible. If we believed that the bible was anything more than ancient fiction, we would already be Christians. To us, the bible not only lacks evidence that God exists, it is evidence that he does not. With all the God-approved violence, wars, genocide, rape, slavery, lust, misogyny, and child murder going on throughout its pages, how could anyone believe it was written (or dictated) by a loving, all-caring god? Not to mention the fact that it is full of inconsistencies and outright falsehoods. A real god could have done much better.

2. Don’t have pity on us or say you’re going to pray for our salvation. That just pisses us off. If we don’t believe in a god, why would we believe in prayer? And why do you think your meager effort at prayer is in anyway helpful? It’s demeaning and shows you as the self-righteous, holier-than-thou egotist that you are.

3. Don’t tell us we are going to hell if we don’t change our ways. Since we do not subscribe to the concept of Christianity, or any religion, we certainly don’t believe in one of its inventions. Hell was never mentioned in the Old Testament and Jesus mentioned it in the New Testament as a metaphor. Hell is Gehenna, a real place in ancient Jerusalem which was used as a constantly-burning garbage dump. If we do not believe in hell, then how in hell are we supposed to fear going there?

4. Don’t tell us that God must exist because of all the beauty in the world: The miracle of child birth, the beauty of a rose, the magnificent detail in a flake of snow. Yes, we all agree with you that nature is beautiful and intricate. We also know for a fact why it is true. We know that nature follows its own rules, the laws of physics. Things are the way they are because chemicals behave like chemicals; they can do nothing but. The laws of classical physics and quantum mechanics can describe and explain wonderfully why things are the way they are; there is no need to invoke a god. God was invented to explain the unexplainable before we knew enough to explain it. There is no need for God anymore.

5. Finally, don’t tell us that we need God as a moral foundation. That’s just plain nonsense. The most atheistic countries in the world have the lowest levels of crime, divorce, and teen pregnancy. In America, the most conservative states in the Bible Belt have the highest divorce rates, crime rates, and teen pregnancy rates. There is exactly an inverse relationship between religiosity and moral fiber as measured by the statistics. Ethical treatment among humans is innate. We evolved that way because we are a social species and being ethical strengthens society. If you go by the morality of the bible, we would still own slaves, stone adulterous women to death, and crucify people for blasphemy.

So those are the things you should not do, ever, if you want to help us see the light and become Christian. Now, here are some things that you should do. If you avoid the above and can show us the following, I promise most of us will at least listen to reason to your proselytizing efforts.

1. Show us any historically-verifiable evidence that any of the miracles that you claimed Jesus performed really happened. For example, show us an entry in a Roman journal or registry that Jesus was resurrected. Show us a copy of his death certificate. Show us any secular document whatsoever that was written during the lifetime of Jesus that tells anything at all about what he did. And no, we won’t accept hearsay evidence that you heard about this document or that document that exists somewhere in Rome or in the Holy Lands that proves Jesus performed a miracle. If you haven’t seen it and if you can’t show it to us so we can go look for ourselves to verify its authenticity, then we’re not interested.

2. Show us a legitimate miracle of healing that cannot have a natural explanation. In other words, show us a medically-documented case of a person re-growing a severed limb after being prayed over. There are people who claim to have been cured by prayer or by faith. But that happens in any culture and in every religion, even voodoo. And, yes, even the occasional terminally-ill atheist will get better inexplicably. It happens. Just because science can’t explain how it happens yet doesn’t mean that it was caused by God. That is the God of the Gaps again. You invoke God to explain things that science can’t, instead of just being patient until science can.

3. God could reveal himself to us in an unmistakable fashion. In other words, if we could be witness to a bona fide, personal miracle then we would certainly take notice. Of course, we would have to be able to rule out fraud or deception; after all, magicians seem to perform miracles all the time. We would also have to rule out hallucinations. Some hallucinations can appear quite real. Now, this is listed in the “dos” column, but I don’t think there is anything you can actively do to cause this to happen, other than pray, I guess. But if a true revelation happened to us, we would consider believing in a divine being. Keep in mind, though, atheists are skeptics. We would have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that what happened to us was truly a miracle.

That’s about it. Do any one of the latter three things and we will treat you seriously. Do any two of them and we are well on our way to conversion. Do all three and you’ve pretty much won us over. All we’re asking for is evidence, the kind of evidence that would be admissible in a court of law, not hearsay or anecdotes.

That’s all we ask, as atheists, for you to do or not do in order to bring us into the fold. Now, what can we do to convince you that you are deluding yourselves with your religious mysticism?

I didn’t think so.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Family Values are Stronger in the Blue States

During the George W. Bush era, they were called the Red States. They are states filled with conservative Republican voters who espouse Christian values. These states are filled with church-going people who believe that the bible is the literal Word of God, who generally do not believe in evolution (The Creation Museum was built in one of these states, Kentucky.), and who believe that homosexuals are perverts who are going to hell.

Obviously, not everybody in the Red States believes everything in the above paragraph. Some are even atheists. And, believe it or not, as a percentage of the population, there are just as many homosexuals in the Red States as in the Blue States. But the Red States are red for a reason: The majority of the population in these states is very conservative. And that means they cling to their family values and to God.

It also means that there is far less crime, especially violent crime in the Red States, right?

No. Just the opposite is true. According to FBI crime statistics the overall crime rate is much higher in southern states than the national average. Louisiana, for example, has a murder rate that is 130 percent above the national average. Between 1988 and 2008, twenty years in a row, Louisiana had the highest homicide rate of any state. In addition to Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee have crime rates that are much higher than the national average.

Compare that to the Blue States of New England and the Pacific Northwest. These states have overall crime rates and violent crime rates that are far below the national average. These are the states where people tend not to have a problem of acceptance for homosexuals or for those of diverse backgrounds. The so-called Blue States are more liberal, go to church less often, and have a much higher percentage of people who do not believe in God.

But at least conservative states, which tout their superior family values, can boast a more stable, long-term family life, right?

Wrong again. The divorce rate in Red States is much higher than in the Blue States. A Barna Research Group survey showed that divorce rates among born-again Christians were significantly higher than among non-believers. George Barna, president and founder of Barna Research Group, made this comment: "While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing.”

So how about teen pregnancy? Surely the teenage girls of God-fearing conservative parents are less slutty than their non-believing counterparts. Again, the answer is a resounding no. The rate for teen pregnancy in conservative, religious Red-State America is much higher than in the liberal Blue States.

So what’s going on here? Why are the statistics upside down? Some people will claim that poverty plays a role, maybe the majority role. The Red States, especially in the South, have a much higher poverty rate than the national average. And while it is true that poverty is correlated with higher crime rates and higher teen birth rates, it also is correlated with a higher degree of faith in God.

Is poverty the causative factor for fundamentalist beliefs and for higher incidence of crime and teen pregnancy? Although causation is not proven, it is often assumed. An argument could be made that a lack of education can lead not only to poverty but also to fundamentalist beliefs. Poverty, poor education, fundamentalism, crime, and a distressed family life are coexistent factors. It is an irony that fundamentalism, which espouses positive family values, is linked directly or indirectly to the opposite behavior, crime, promiscuity, and divorce.

Fundamentalism may not be the causative factor, but that does not excuse the fact that fundamentalist, conservative beliefs cannot negate or even mitigate high crime rates and distressed family life. It’s all lip service. There is no positive correlation between belief in God and a higher moral fiber. If anything, there is a negative correlation. So much for the Christians’ claim that the bible is the moral foundation for America.