Why Do We Care?

“I’m unsure where I really stand on this book or the ideas in it, but would really love to know your true motives for writing the review. It seems so obvious, but if you actually believed (or didn’t believe) what you claim, you would spend your energy elsewhere. Why do you care?”
–from a recent feedback received on Ebon Musings

“Doubt, like faith, has to be learned. It is a skill. But the curious thing about skepticism is that its adherents, ancient and modern, have so often been proselytizers. In reading them, I’ve often wanted to ask, ‘Why do you care?’ Their skepticism offers no good answer to that question. And I don’t have one for myself.”
–Mark Lilla, “Getting Religion”, The New York Times Magazine, 18 September 2005

“This is the disturbing India of the Hindu widow, a woman traditionally shunned as bad luck and forced to live in destitution on the edge of society. Her husband’s death is considered her fault, and she has to shave her head, shun hot food and sweets and never remarry. In the pre-independence India of the 1930′s, the tradition applied even to child brides of 5 or 6 who had been betrothed for the future by their families but had never laid eyes on their husbands…

Ms. Mehta said she got the idea for “Water” a decade ago, when she was in Varanasi… One morning on the ghats she was horrified to see a widow scampering on all fours searching for her glasses. When the widow couldn’t find them, she sat down on her haunches to cry, completely ignored by the people around her.”
–Elisabeth Bumiller, “Film Ignites the Wrath of Hindu Fundamentalists”, The New York Times, 3 May 2006

Why do we atheists care what others believe? I am regularly asked this by theists who apparently think it will stump me, and Lilla, a self-proclaimed skeptic of faith, poses this question if it were a weighty and profound mystery. It is no such thing, and he should have known better. The answer is self-evident to anyone who takes the time to think about it: We care because superstition hurts people. When irrational beliefs take precedence over conscience and morality, when societies cling to delusion and dogma, real people suffer. We care because we want to prevent that.

Skeptics are often stereotyped as cynics, embittered and lacking in human concern. But if that were the case, why would we bother to expend the effort to debunk every new popular delusion? Surely a true cynic would not bother; such a person would take the attitude that the gullible deserve whatever they get. But that is not my attitude, nor the attitude of any other skeptic I know. When we see people being taken advantage of, or when we see people being led astray, conscience rouses us to take action, to try to help them by pointing out that they are being deceived and that there is a better way. We care about skepticism because we care about people.

The harm done by irrational belief manifests in a wide variety of ways. When the sick seek out faith healers and “alternative” doctors who encourage them to forego evidence-based medicine in favor of unproven and implausible treatments, they throw away what may be their best chance to get better, exchanging it for much needless suffering and, sometimes, a premature and unnecessary death. When the bereaved seek the help of fraudulent “psychics” who take their money and exploit their grief for personal gain, they receive nothing in exchange but lies and bland platitudes. When snake-oil salesmen and smooth-talking con artists offer ludicrously easy solutions to our society’s problems, people may be less motivated to take the difficult but necessary action needed to solve them.

But most insidious of all, because it is so widespread, is the harm done by religion – to men as well, but especially to women. Whether it is the Christian groups who try to punish women for having sex, or the Hindu groups that expect a widow to live the rest of her life in poverty and loneliness, or Muslim societies that consign women to lives of slavery and enforced isolation under suffocating veils of cloth, women have always been the greatest victims of religious dogma taking precedence over human rights and happiness. But we must not forget the endless holy wars waged by believers against “infidels” of other faiths, the endless money spent on propping up corrupt church hierarchies, the endless prejudice and bigotry defended by appealing to God’s will, and all the other outrages wrought in the name of religion throughout humanity’s long history and still ongoing. It is concern for all innocent people everywhere that prompts us to speak out against injustices such as these and to call for an end to the beliefs that cause them.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” We skeptics can offer a similar explanation for why we care. There is only so much mind space, only so many things that a person can care about, and everything people care about that is not really true or that does not really matter takes away from the things that do. Every newspaper astrology column, every cold-reading psychic pretender with his own TV show, every homeopath and chiropractor railing against the medical establishment, every political demagogue that whips the masses into a frenzy with veiled appeals to prejudice and sentiment, every church that tells its parishioners God will bless them if they only donate generously to support the luxuriant lifestyle of the head pastor, every creationist group lobbying to undermine the teaching of science in public schools – every such eruption of credulity and unreason takes away attention and resources that could have been used by real people doing the hard work needed to find out how this magnificent, complex cosmos we live in really works and to use that knowledge to improve the lives of everyone.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://endless-rambling.blogspot.com BlackWizardMagus

    Wait; chiropractors? I find them to be prefectly legitimate medical practitioners, and the only complaints I hear from them is usually that THEY are the ones being margianalized. We do need to be careful to differentiate between the truly damaging, like some parts of most religions, and things that are simply not mainstream.

    Overall though, I agree with you. I just always seem to start ona negative note.

  • Azkyroth

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that chiropractors help some people, but my impression is that they’re rather like physical therapists (what my mother describes certainly sounds that way), and as a result there is severe potential harm in going to them instead of to physicians. Do I win anything?

  • Mike K

    I’ve never considered chiropractors very highly but what concerns me most is the increasing tendency for many of them to target young children for spinal manipulation virtually from birth. Surely this is child abuse. Sadly, many mothers who don’t know any better take their children from a few weeks old to undergo this monstrous practice.

  • Jeff T

    We should care because people like Ann Coulter are actively manipulating people through whatever means works at the time. I find the cover of her new book to be a compliment rather than the insult she intends, although I am sure that many will accept her views as divinely inspired or something. After reading the concern, respect, and geniune reflections of this atheistic blog, give me a godless liberal church anytime! Thanks Ann, for proving so many points with just a title.

  • Azkyroth

    That’s appalling, I agree. On what grounds? The reason my mother’s going to one is that she was in a car accident, and what she’s described sounds like physical therapy to me. *ponders* I’ll have to read up on this.

  • Azkyroth

    Incidentally, I printed this out to try and explain my position to my wife, who shares most of my views on religious matters but doesn’t understand, and “isn’t understanding” about, my vocal opposition to religion in general. It occurred to me that liberal religion could, in this context, be characterized as being analogous to AIDS, in that it gets people in the habit of believing what they’re told or what makes them feel better, rather than what the evidence supports, weakening the mind’s “immune system” of critical thought and rendering the person vulnerable to memeopathogens that are more directly harmful.

  • Philip Thomas

    I would have thought the answer is simpler: people value truth and they seek to spread truth, and this is normal behaviour, well at least it is within the usual limits. I know several atheists who don’t proselytise, indeed it has been the standard position of atheists in my experience: evangelists are a small but vocal minority. Of course, non-prozelytisers are often quite vigorous in defence of atheism if challenged, which contrasts with non-prozelytising theists, to a degree.

  • andrea

    I “care” because I don’t want anyone else to waste their time on something that has little value and much harm, in my opinion. Pretty simple, eh?

    As a side note, chiropractors believe that the nervous system, especially as related to the spine and its supposed misalignments, is responsible for nearly every malady, everything from back pain to asthma to allergies (the wikipedia article is pretty good as an overview). They often also do regular physical therapy, often by hiring physical therapists. IMO, this is generally because many insurance plans do not cover chiropractic care but do cover physical therapy. I used to work at a health insurance company in their claims review unit. There were indications that procedures were being claimed to be one thing and were really another to get past plan limitations. I like the wholistic approach, but the metaphysical aspects (no better than the Christian Scientists, IMO) and the questionable ethics bother me.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    As far as I’m informed, chiropractic medicine works perfectly well for most kinds of back and spinal problems. As Andrea and others said, the problem is the quack chiropractors who believe that undetectable “subluxations” of the spine are responsible for literally every single type of physical problem. I’ve seen chiropractic manipulation touted as the cure for conditions from asthma to carpal tunnel syndrome to bed-wetting. Wikipedia says that “straight [i.e., quack] chiropractors view the diagnosis of patient complaints as unnecessary and avoid it if possible”. And there is a risk that forceful spinal manipulation can cause serious complications such as vertebral fractures and strokes, especially among the very old and the very young. I actually had an exchange with a reporter from my local newspaper about this sort of quackery, which I intend to post about later this month. You might want to find out, Azkyroth, which type of chiropractor is treating your mother and for what.

    It occurred to me that liberal religion could, in this context, be characterized as being analogous to AIDS, in that it gets people in the habit of believing what they’re told or what makes them feel better, rather than what the evidence supports, weakening the mind’s “immune system” of critical thought and rendering the person vulnerable to memeopathogens that are more directly harmful.

    Well said. Sam Harris makes the same point in The End of Faith, and I’ve come to agree with him. Although I have no objections to liberal theology’s teaching about morality and compassion, the fundamental problem with all kinds of religion is that it encourages people to believe that blind faith, rather than evidence and reason, is an acceptable way of reaching a conclusion. This sort of thinking, when widely adopted, creates an atmosphere in which the more poisonous brands of fundamentalist can breathe.

  • http://eternalrevolution.com Chad

    Ebonmuse said: “…the fundamental problem with all kinds of religion is that it encourages people to believe that blind faith, rather than evidence and reason, is an acceptable way of reaching a conclusion.”

    I don’t agree with this statement as it relates to Christianity. Jesus Christ was a historical figure who claimed to be God throughout his life here on earth and whose followers claimed he rose from the dead. We’re not talking about a vision in a cave that must be believed on blind faith, but about a human being making some of the most outlandish claims imaginable. It begs to be tested and contemplated. The story should have been debunked long ago were there no truth to it.

    Going back in time to the point when Jesus was crucified, his followers were discouraged and depressed…The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks. Then, after a short period of time, we see them abandoning their occupations, regathering, and committing themselves to spreading a very specific message – that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of God who died on a cross, returned to life, and was seen alive by them.

    And they were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without any payoff from a human point of view…They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned. And finally, most of them were executed in torturous ways.

    For what? For good intentions? No, because they were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had seen Jesus Christ alive from the dead.

    While I would not suggest that my belief in Christ can be proven (otherwise it would preclude the need for faith itself), I do believe that the Christian version is every bit as plausible as any other theory ever offered. And, while it requires faith, it is not by any means “blind”. But rather, it is a faith – firmly grounded in history – that has withstood rigorous examination with both eyes wide open.

  • Tycho the Dog

    My understanding of chiropracters is that they can be quite effective with specific back problems using standard spinal manipulation techniques (SMT) – techniques which are also used by osteopaths, physiotherapists and physicians. The problems occur when they attempt to ‘cure’ other, non-musculo-skeletal conditions, based on the diagnosis and correction of so-called ‘subluxations’ – a largely dispoved concept. For example, many chiropractors reject the germ theory of disease, which is one of the most important and well-proven medical discoveries of all time.

  • Mary

    Ditto. I care because I am a caring human being: I care about the truth and I care about people. Even more so because I was among the deceived, and I want everyone to know the lies for what they are.

    Chad, you’ve obviously read and believed a Christian pamphlet or two. Honestly though, I don’t think you’ve done any/much personal research into the matter.

    If you’re really interested in knowing the truth, one way or another, there is a wealth of solid, accurate information available (for free on the net, but also to purchase in book form) that pokes holes in the various presuppositions, not backed by historical fact, which you’ve accepted on faith (i.e: faith that whomever supplied you with your info actually knows what they’re talking about, etc).

    Just for starters, I’d recommend, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False?

  • http://www.stopthatcrow.blogspot.com Jeff G

    I care what other people believe because in a democracy how other people vote directly effects me A LOT, and what they believe influences how they vote. It’s as simple as that.

  • Philip Thomas

    “faith that whomever supplied with your info actually knows what they’re tallking about” is kind of unavoidable about most things: all you are doing, Mary, is saying “My suppliers of info are better than yours”. Not that that’s bad- we want people to be informed about things and read several points of view and make a judgement- but at the end of the day the judgement is going to be made without all the information available (to speak nothing of the information that is not).

    As for the claims of Christianity, I need to do a lot more research on this before I can come up with an answer that satisfies me, so I won’t try to produce one that satisfies anyone else!

  • Shawn Smith

    … Jesus Christ was a historical figure who claimed to be God throughout his life here on earth and whose followers claimed he rose from the dead…

    Evidence, please? I need something more convincing than the contradictory words of the Gospels written no earlier than thirty years after the fact and forgeries of Josephus inserted two hundred years after the fact. You can see Adam’s good survey of the position here.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Hello Chad,

    I’m glad to see you here – I appreciate your taking the time to leave some thoughts, and it’s always good to hear from people with different opinions. It removes a lot of the risk of my site simply becoming an echo chamber. I do hope you’ll do us the favor of answering a few questions I have about your comment.

    Jesus Christ was a historical figure who claimed to be God throughout his life here on earth and whose followers claimed he rose from the dead. We’re not talking about a vision in a cave that must be believed on blind faith, but about a human being making some of the most outlandish claims imaginable. It begs to be tested and contemplated.

    Really? Christianity begs to be tested? It’s very heartening to me to see you say that, but don’t you think it’s contradicted by passages from your own Bible? I thought Jesus said that we’re not supposed to put God to the test, and that people who believe without evidence are blessed, and that God has hidden the truth from the wise. And visions that must be believed on blind faith are a very common mode of God’s revealing himself in the Bible.

    The story should have been debunked long ago were there no truth to it.

    Would that human beings were such rational creatures. What would you, Chad, say to a Mormon who told you that Joseph Smith claimed to have received a revelation from God and a set of golden tablets containing the text of the Book of Mormon, and that his followers backed him up on this? In the case of Mormonism, we’re likewise not just talking about a vision in a cave, but a set of very specific and definite claims about the history of North America that can be tested by archaeology and genetic studies. Shouldn’t this story have been debunked long ago if there was no truth to it? Why are there still so many Mormons if it’s false?

    Going back in time to the point when Jesus was crucified, his followers were discouraged and depressed…The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks. Then, after a short period of time, we see them abandoning their occupations, regathering, and committing themselves to spreading a very specific message – that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of God who died on a cross, returned to life, and was seen alive by them.

    According to whom? No, I’m serious; how do you know any of this? What are the sources of this information?

    While I would not suggest that my belief in Christ can be proven (otherwise it would preclude the need for faith itself), I do believe that the Christian version is every bit as plausible as any other theory ever offered. And, while it requires faith, it is not by any means “blind”. But rather, it is a faith – firmly grounded in history – that has withstood rigorous examination with both eyes wide open.

    I’m glad to hear that your faith has withstood rigorous examination, and is in no way simply a result of it being the dominant belief system in the society where you live. I’m equally glad to hear it when Muslims from the Middle East, Mormons from Utah, Buddhists from Thailand, Jews from Israel, and Roman Catholics from Italy say the same thing.

    However, I must say I’d be interested to know what sort of rigorous examination you had in mind. For one thing, an investigation into the truth of a claim can hardly be called rigorous if only one side is allowed to present a case. Before becoming a Christian, did you seek out and read the writings of atheists, for example? Did you read books and websites that criticize Christianity? Did you contact an atheist and ask them to put forth their best case to you? Please do enlighten us.

  • Philip Thomas

    Yeah, the problem is everyone comes in with so much cultural baggage. If we could get some intelligent people who had never heard of Christianity to consider the evidence carefully (any ancient sources that anyone claims are relevant, to start with), I wonder what they might say. I guess you can say the same about most religions, but most people in the West already have some vague knowledge of the Christian teachings, which confuses matters. The Mormons are also interesting: I have been told that they believe Josiah Smith found a tablet in a strange language, and an angel appeared to him and gave him special glasses to read the tablet, and it turned out to be a document from a Christian Native American tribe that had been wiped out by the other Native Americans.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know if that is their belief, since my source isn’t a mormon and might have misunderstood. As it stands it isn’t particularly earth-shattering even if it is true…

    My source also says the evidence for Rastafarianism is on a par with that for the Mormons and for Christianity. But I haven’t pressed him on that…

  • http://eternalrevolution.com Chad

    Mary,

    The difference between your attitude and mine is that I do not presume you are an uninformed ignoramus strictly because of the views you espouse. What would give you the impression I’ve only read “a Christian pamphlet or two”? How much Aquinas or Assisi or Chesterton have you read? Or are these men too far beneath you intellectually? I’ll readily admit there are lots of Christians who are lacking in intellectual curiousity and it is frustrating to me as well, but it is hardly wise to assume such intellectual superiority.

  • http://eternalrevolution.com Chad

    Ebonmuse,

    I don’t know that I can answer all of your questions right now, but I’ll hone in on one in particular. You questioned the sources of information that would support followers of Christ being persecuted. There are historical dates and records for these events outside of the Bible. For one, you could check out John Foxe’s “Book of Matyrs”. The specific events include (and I’ll try to exclude any broad sorts of estimates or statements):

    Circa 34 A.D., one year after the crucifixion of Jesus, Stephen was thrown out of Jerusalem and stoned to death. About 10 years later, James, the son of Zebedee and the elder brother of John, was killed when Herod Agrippa arrived as governor of Judea. Around 54 A.D., Philip, a disciple from Bethsaida, in Galilee, suffered martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified. About six years later, Matthew, the tax-collector from Nazareth who wrote one of the Gospels, was preaching in Ethiopia when he suffered martyrdom by the sword. James, the brother of Jesus, administered the early church in Jerusalem and was the author of a biblical text by his name. At age 94, he was beat and stoned, and finally had his brains bashed out with a fuller’s club.

    Matthias was the apostle who filled the vacant place of Judas. He was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded. Andrew was the brother of Peter who preached throughout Asia. On his arrival at Edessa, he was arrested and crucified on a cross, the two ends of which were fixed transversely in the ground (this is where we get the term, St. Andrew’s Cross). Mark was converted to Christianity by Peter, and then transcribed Peter’s account of Jesus in his Gospel. Mark was dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria in front of Serapis, their pagan idol. Paul suffered in the first persecution under Nero. Paul’s faith was so dramatic in the face of martyrdom, that the authorities removed him to a private place for execution by the sword.

    In about 72 A.D., Jude, the brother of James who was commonly called Thaddeus, was crucified at Edessa. Bartholomew preached in several countries and translated the Gospel of Matthew into the language of India. He was cruelly beaten and then crucified by idolaters there. Thomas, called Didymus, preached in Parthia and India, where he was thrust through with a spear by a group of pagan priests. Luke was the author of the Gospel under his name. He traveled with Paul through various countries and is supposed to have been hanged on an olive tree by idolatrous priests in Greece. Barnabas, of Cyprus, was killed without many known facts in about 73 A.D. Simon, surnamed Zelotes, preached in Mauritania, Africa, and even in Britain, where he was crucified in about 74 A.D. John, the “beloved disciple,” was the brother of James. From Ephesus he was ordered to Rome, where he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. He escaped by miracle, without injury. Domitian afterwards banished him to the Isle of Patmos, where John wrote the last book of the Bible, Revelation. He was the only apostle who escaped a violent death.

    I suppose you could argue somehow that this has all been fabricated. All of these men were either made up and never really existed or they really just died on a beach somewhere and these stories were created as part of a vast conspiracy to pedddle these lies. Which to me begs the question of what type of evidence you would need to believe ANY ancient history. Assuming at least some followers of Christ were indeed persecuted, I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer as to WHY this early followers of Christ were so willing to die for a lie?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I suppose you could argue somehow that this has all been fabricated. All of these men were either made up and never really existed or they really just died on a beach somewhere and these stories were created as part of a vast conspiracy to pedddle these lies.

    I see no need to go that far just yet, but I’d still like some more information. You’ve gone into some detail about what Christians believe about the deaths of the apostles. My question, however, was more concerned with how they came to believe that. You said there were historical records of these events outside the Bible. What records are those? Are you simply referring to Foxe’s book or is there earlier documentation?

    Assuming at least some followers of Christ were indeed persecuted, I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer as to WHY this early followers of Christ were so willing to die for a lie?

    I don’t believe that the early Christians were willing to die for what they knew to be a lie, and I’ve never heard any other atheist say so either. Rather, I believe that the early generations of Christians who were persecuted and killed died for what they believed to be the truth. Whether those beliefs were in accord with what today’s Christians believe is an entirely different story.

    Interestingly, several close associates of Joseph Smith signed sworn statements claiming that they saw the golden tablets given to Smith by the angel Moroni. Some of these people were later excommunicated, while others were savagely persecuted and even killed for this; yet none of them ever recanted their testimony. If they were lying, why would they die for a lie, do you think?

  • http://www.gibsonian.blogspot.com Ian B Gibson

    I think there’s a certain tension – I want people to know the truth, think for themselves and see falsehoods for what they are, of course, but (being merely human) I also have to admit that part of me wants as many people on my side as possible, right or wrong.

    Intellectually, it’s all very high-minded and noble to be an impartial seeker after truth, and to withhold judgement when the lack of evidence warrants it, but even the most conscientious of us fall short of this ideal, and get a visceral satisfaction simply from winning people over.

    So, I think there are conflicting motivations.

  • Philip Thomas

    Its nice to see a Christian making an intellectual case for Christianity instead of “Jesus loves you and if you don’t believe you’ll burn in hell!”.

  • andrea

    God is to be tested, or at least he doesn’t mind it. There a story in the bible where one of the important people says they’ll do something (I think a battle) if the dew forms on the animal skin, and to be real sure, he asks God to make the dew not fall on the animal skin the next night. And Lot, well, he’s asked and asked again for just how many people God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah for. It’s either God was lying to begin with or that he wanted to be asked/tested for what he really wanted.

    and people are always ready to die for what they think is the truth. Chad, I’m sure you believe that Muslims martyrs don’t get 72 virgins in Paradise. However, they do. Therefore, they are dying for a “truth” that you don’t believe.

  • Philip Thomas

    andrea, Chad means that people don’t die unbless they think what they are dying for is the truth, not that they don’t die unless he thinks what they are dying for is the truth.
    Although many rude things are said (rightly) about Muslim ‘martyrs’, seldom is it said they don’t believe what they are dying for.

  • Philip Thomas

    I’m sure many of us have read Straining the Camel, in which Adam sets out a theory that there was no such person as Jesus of Nazereth. I understand that this article is just a shortened version of more lengthy work. I hope that is why its discussion of the epistles seems one-sided. One of the points of the theory is that Paul and the other epistle writers didn’t believe in an actual historical physical figure called Jesus of Nazereth. Adam quotes at length those parts of the Epistles which can support such a view- and he says there are plenty more. However, he doesn’t give any problematic quotes- quotes from the epistles which seem to suggest there was such a figure. This isn’t because there are no such quotes- I have found several on a casual reading. First Corinthinas 11.23-25, 1 Thessalonians 2 14-15, 1 Timothy 6.13, Hebrews 5.7-8 are some of the most obvious examples.

    I don’t doubt that it is possible to explain these verses away under the theory Adam espouses. Indeed the overall point about the suprising paucity of references to Jesus is well made. Still I think he should let his audience see those verses, since I’m sure he would be quick to crtiticise similar practises in the work of apologists.

    If the verses I have quoted are spurious or late, I apologise: I have not studied the Scriptures much.

  • andrea

    let me try to clear myself up. People die for the truth. Just because it isn’t the truth doesn’t mean someone is stupid enough to do it. And just because you don’t agre with that definition of the “truth” doesn’t make it false to anyone else. Chad doesn’t seem to see how the bombers and Christians are very much the same. Each has their own truth. And each could be very very wrong.

  • http://eternalrevolution.com Chad

    I’m not saying that just because followers of Christ believed the story and were willing to die for it, that it had to have been true. However, if the rebuttal is that the followers of Christ were brainwashed, similar to various cult followers, how do you explain the subsequent “conversions” of former skeptics such as Jesus’ own brother, James, and the apostle Paul? Afterall, Paul had previously so despised Christians that he had routinely tortured and killed them. Then, all of a sudden, voila!, he’s a follower. His entire life, previous belief system, and convictions are turned on their head because of…what, exactly? It does give the impression that some major event had happened and I don’t think it should be so casually refuted.

    Also, it’s only part of a bigger picture. Looking at it in conjunction with a myriad of Old Testament scriptures written some 800 years prior to the birth of Jesus that prophetically describe the plight of a future messiah whose story just happens to mirror Christ’s own life and, it begins to look quite plausible that a) Christ was God in the flesh and b) He rose from the dead.

    Isaiah 7: …Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call him Immanuel.

    Isaiah 53: …He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities…And by his stripes we are healed…He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth…

    Psalm 22: …All my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax: It has melted within me…They pierced my hands and feet…

    Plus the missing bodily remains… It should be pretty easy to refute a story that someone rose from the dead – there is a body to be found. Christ was persecuted and ultimately killed for usurping the power of the authorities and for having divine powers. That was the reason guards were there specifically to watch over the tomb and block it with a very large stone. But, yet, still the body disappears on them?

    Now, can you explain away any one of these single arguments? Sure. But, when taken together, I would argue that the story of Christ’s resurrection is a difficult one to refute. And at the very least – getting back to the original point – it is certainly NOT one that need be based solely on “blind faith”.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    We’re beginning to drift from the topic here, and you’ve yet to answer any of my questions, Chad. I’ll address your latest comments, but if you’re going to continue to post to this thread, I must insist that you respond to at least some of the points I’ve made so far.

    I’m not saying that just because followers of Christ believed the story and were willing to die for it, that it had to have been true. However, if the rebuttal is that the followers of Christ were brainwashed, similar to various cult followers, how do you explain the subsequent “conversions” of former skeptics such as Jesus’ own brother, James, and the apostle Paul? Afterall, Paul had previously so despised Christians that he had routinely tortured and killed them.

    Again, what is your evidence? I’ve read the Bible and I’m not aware of a single verse, either in Acts or in Paul’s own letters, that says Paul tortured or killed even a single Christian, much less that he did so “routinely”. Where are you getting this from?

    Also, it’s only part of a bigger picture. Looking at it in conjunction with a myriad of Old Testament scriptures written some 800 years prior to the birth of Jesus that prophetically describe the plight of a future messiah whose story just happens to mirror Christ’s own life…

    It’s true that there are many Old Testament verses that show parallels with Jesus’ life as described by the gospels. However, as you yourself admitted, the Old Testament came first and was widely known. Do you think it’s at all possible that the authors of the New Testament simply read the Old Testament and wrote their story to conform to those verses?

    Isaiah 7: …Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call him Immanuel.

    Come on, Chad, you should know better than this. Read the whole chapter, for truth’s sake. Isaiah 7:14 has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus: it was a prophecy that Isaiah spoke to Ahaz, the king of Judah, who was at the time besieged by the kings of Syria and Israel. The birth of the child Isaiah describes was to be a sign to Ahaz, as is abundantly clear if you read the following verses: “For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.”

    It should be pretty easy to refute a story that someone rose from the dead – there is a body to be found. Christ was persecuted and ultimately killed for usurping the power of the authorities and for having divine powers. That was the reason guards were there specifically to watch over the tomb and block it with a very large stone. But, yet, still the body disappears on them?

    Again, this assumes that the gospel accounts are basically historical and that what Christians today believe about Jesus was the same thing that early Christians believed about Jesus. I do not accept either of those assumptions. I recommend my essay on Ebon Musings, “Choking on the Camel“.

    To Philip: For commentary on the epistle verses you mentioned, I recommend this page from Earl Doherty’s website: The Sound of Silence: 20 Arguable References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles.

  • Philip Thomas

    Ebon: thankyou for the link. Might you consider mentioning this link in your article?

  • Philip Thomas

    On the Mormons- apparently all the original witnesses to the golden tablets subsequently left the Mormon faith? (apart from Josiah Smith). They didn’t explicitly say the golden tablets were wrong- but implicitly…

  • Philip Thomas

    In Choking on the Camel, the writings of Minucius Felix are described as the “smoking gun” (one of so many that it seems tradtional Christianity has been executed by firing squad). Minucius is the alleged author of a dialogue between a Christian and a Pagan. His Christian is said to make no reference to Jesus or to the Logos, and, most tellingly of all, when accused of preaching a criminal crucified, he denies the charge entirely!

    However, there is a problem with this: a problem which is rooted in “Choking on the Camel’s” own version of the evolution of Christianity. The problem is that the Early Church, as exemplified in the Letters of St.Paul, believed in the Logos, and preached Christ crucified (possibly a Heavenly Christ, but definitely a crucified Christ). So Minucius’ silence about the Logos is puzzling, and his failure to respond to the accusation of preaching about crucifixion by saying “We teach Christ was crucified, yes, but not as a criminal on earth”, is downright bizarre…

    The easiest resolution to this would be to question Minucius’ grasp of Christianity. I do not know the context of the sourcr, so cannot judge this claim on any grounds but the text itself- but it seems a promising avenue from that alone.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    The problem is that the Early Church, as exemplified in the Letters of St.Paul, believed in the Logos, and preached Christ crucified (possibly a Heavenly Christ, but definitely a crucified Christ).

    This assumes that there was such a thing as “the early church”, in the sense of a unified body teaching a common doctrine. I do not agree with that. As the early Christian writers and even the New Testament epistles themselves say, early Christianity was a riotously diverse phenomenon encompassing many different strands of thought and philosophy. (That is why Paul cautions his readers numerous times about accepting a gospel different from his own.) Pre-Nicea, there was nothing like a central organization, nothing like a single body that could set doctrine for all believers everywhere.

    Out of all these threads, some believed, as Paul did, in a crucified Redeemer whose sacrificial death brought humanity salvation. Others, to judge from the historical evidence, believed in a gnostic Revealer who brings salvation not by dying and rising, but by teaching humanity the secret wisdom of God. Many of the second-century apologists I quote in my article seem to have believed this, which explains their lack of emphasis on the crucifixion. Either they did not believe it at all, or they did believe it but considered it unimportant to their soteriology.

    The point is that believers in a historical Jesus should find this very peculiar. How did it happen that this great profusion of sects, all teaching different things about Jesus’ nature, attributes and mission, was in existence so soon after his death? Indeed, if we judge by the epistles, these sects were already in existence during the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Jesus, and some of them were already teaching that he was a spiritual being only. (1 John 4:2-3: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God.”) How did all this heresy spring up so fast? How was it possible that the Christian world forgot so quickly not just what Jesus had taught, but the very fact of his human existence?

    I daresay this is very difficult, if not impossible, to explain under a standard historicist conception. But under a mythicist view, it is only natural that there would be so many different views at the beginning. They did not diverge from an initial single source because there was none; on the contrary, their existence was an example of the flourishing of diverse understandings and teachings that always appears in the founding generations of a religion before doctrine is formalized.

  • Philip Thomas

    Ok, so Minucius was a member of a sect that denied a crucified Christ. He defines his sect’s views as true Christianity: which is presumably why he doesn’t point out that the crucifixion story is taught by other, erroneus, sects. He denies an earthly crucifixion: this is evidence that some people affirmed it. However, he does not deny (or even discuss) a heavenly crucifixion. This isn’t suprising if there was no such doctine held , because the idea is inherently ridiculous. But if there was such a doctrine: if it was the doctrine of Paul, then he might have mentioned it. Case unproven.

    As for the general situation you paint, there are very few explicit references to heresy in the Epistles. 1 John can just as well be read as an affirmation of Christianity against Judaism and other religions.
    The message of Christianity is both powerful and complex and it is natural that there should arise disagreement over it: the epistles show this disagreement as focusing initially on the question of circumcision. A curious focus if the debate was wide open. Gnosticism is generally traced to the 2nd century, though I don’t doubt it was rooted in earlier traditions.

    I’m not saying that Christianity is true. I’m just suggesting that the theory presented in Choking the Camel has some flaws.

  • Padishah.

    My source also says the evidence for Rastafarianism is on a par with that for the Mormons and for Christianity.

    No he doesn’t. The latter two at least possess doubt in evidentiary terms (though less is available for the Mormons). Selassie repeatedly and specifically denied divinity, and the events took place in a setting where proper scientific experimentation would have been possible, with proper records kept etc. Rastafarianism is better compared to Scientology IMO.

    How did all this heresy spring up so fast? How was it possible that the Christian world forgot so quickly not just what Jesus had taught, but the very fact of his human existence?

    It is very easy to develop a vague metaphorical interpretation of a set of factual events. Some group thinks they can see the ‘true meaning’ of the words, some creative interpretation and bam, instant heresy. And of course its practically impossible to refute a mysticist religious view…

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    However, he does not deny (or even discuss) a heavenly crucifixion. This isn’t suprising if there was no such doctine held , because the idea is inherently ridiculous.

    It sounds ridiculous to modern minds, but it was not at all ridiculous to ancient thinking. Many theologians and philosophers in the ancient world held a Platonic view of existence, dividing reality into a lower, earthly plane and a higher, heavenly plane. Events in the lower plane were assumed to be imperfect reflections of processes in the heavens. The Epistle to the Hebrews, for example, takes this view, arguing that the sacrifices of the Jewish high priests on Earth were an imperfect mirror of Jesus’ better, purer sacrifice, which took place in Heaven. This is the source of Hebrews’ startling assertion that “if Jesus were on earth” he would have had nothing to do, because the “job” of offering sacrifices to God was already taken here – again, something that fits very well with a mythicist conception.

    As for the general situation you paint, there are very few explicit references to heresy in the Epistles.

    There are enough for purposes of this argument, such as 2 Corinthians 11:4 where Paul warns against accepting those who preach “another Jesus”.

    1 John can just as well be read as an affirmation of Christianity against Judaism and other religions.

    If that is the case, why would the writer have felt the need to require confessing that Jesus had come “in the flesh” as a test of orthodoxy? That is not something a Jew would have denied; they denied that he was divine, not that he was flesh. This passage only makes sense if some people were saying that Jesus had not come in flesh.

  • Philip Thomas

    Sorry Dave, I was a little broad with your words there.

    Wait, so the writer of 1 John believed Jesus came “in the flesh”?

  • Jon Howard

    The reason to show an interest and take a deal of care around the beliefs of others is purely that they always impact upon you. To offer an absurd yet nonetheless telling example:

    I’m cruising towards a green light at 40mph. Unbeknownst to me a driver approaching the same junction thinks his light is green when it is actually red. Consequently as I scoot across it I’m then promptly hit by the diver who misread the signal. In the process my wife and my children are killed and I’m paralysed. I finally awake in hospital and discover that I’m to spend the rest of my life being fed biscuits softened with milk and mixed with vitamins. The End.

    What other people believe is of primary importance, particularly in a climate where hostages are having their heads slowly sawn-off on video by Islamic militants, while a religious buffoon in The White House prays for guidance each evening. The beliefs of others are therefore a very real danger, and I think that I’ll continue to pay close attention in vetting the opinions of my neighbour, just in case his informed (or lack of and other-than) choices have some potential of impacting on my life.

    Likewise, I will continue to post copies of every book by Richard Dawkins to the people who live around me as a kind of protective community service :)

  • Becky

    As an ex-fundamental christian, I care because I know the religion I came out from really teaches every war and battle is bringing closer the ‘rapture’ for them. They have no concern for this planet and it’s future. To them there is no peace until Jesus comes for them. They are so self-centered in their beliefs they cannot see a glimmer of truth. The worse things get, the happier they are. They say it is all just prophecy being fulfilled! I care because I hate living in a world with so many who are praying for destruction and bloodshed, in the name of their hateful god. I care because I don’t want my children living in a world being poisoned by radiation and all sorts of deadly chemicals. I care because I love this planet and want to enjoy it as much as possible. To those fanatics I would love to say, I wish something would come and take you all away so the rest of us could live in peace. We could begin to repair our planet and make it strong and beautiful for the future generations. You have no right to put the rest of the world in the middle of your personal end-times carnage.

  • theistscientist

    In for a dime,in for a dollar. I suppose I am curious as to the motivations of atheists who spend most of their resources fighting Christianity. From even a neutral operations research point of view it would seem that atheist resources are misplaced. In the hierarchy of “evils” ,(arguendo only) modern Western Christianity seems far far doen the list of the parade of horribles(arguendo).1.illiteracy 2.global hunger 3. lack of orphanges for orphans 4. insufficient hospitals and medical clinics, especially in the third world. 5.insufficent well digging equipment,water contamination in htird world,etc ect. A Barna study showed there were extraordinarily few atheist physicians that dedicate their practices to third world volunteer medical work. Almost all of the physican residents who listed they were going into full time poverty medicine were theists.Even in the secular organization “Dr’s without Borders” there is not a single atheist physician on their roster, and they require a detailed biography because they have to be careful of sending jewish/islamic/physicans to certain places. Instead of shadow boxing against the believers in a supposedly non-existant God it would seem that those atheist resources would do far more real world good in feeding the hungry, healing the sick and comforting widows and orphans. Acta non Verba. And this advice applies to theists as much as atheists. My own church wastes a fair amount of resources too. We could really use your help atheists.I am sincere in this. Atheists and theists, join the real battle, run to the sound of the guns!

  • Mrnaglfar

    Theistscientist,

    I perfer to think of what I go against more a fight against faith, that is the acceptance of things in lack of or in spite of evidence. Faith doesn’t just happen in religions, it happens in all sorts of aspects of life, from the personal and up. It’s this irrational thinking that is the cause of large parts of the world’s problems, and what needs to be dealt with, pipe dream as it may be.

  • lpetrich

    theistscientist, I respect your concern for your pet causes, but there are plenty of other causes that are worth supporting.

    Like women’s rights and feminism in general. Where have your beloved churches been in that one, theistscientist? The Bible is blatantly sexist from beginning to end, the only Xian churches with lots of female pastors are relatively liberal ones, and those ones got lots of female pastors only in recent decades. As Susan Jacoby has noted in her book “Freethinkers”, feminism has mostly been a secular movement.

    And science and technology and medical stuff like evolution and stem-cell research and abortion and birth control — which churches support all these?

    theistscientist, I suggest that you clean up your own house first and look at such blatant pseudoscience as your beloved God of the gaps.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    No, I won’t be. We went over this with another visitor last November, and I and others presented extensive lists showing that most of the more influential Enlightenment figures were atheists, freethinkers, or deists. Relatively few were orthodox Christians.

  • theistscientist

    Why is it then, Ipetrich, that the Christian West is the far and away progressive leader in woman’s suffrage, women being allowed to own property, enter the professions, serve on juries, being taught to read, allowed universl free public education, allowed to be general and flag officers in the military,etc?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    A Barna study showed there were extraordinarily few atheist physicians that dedicate their practices to third world volunteer medical work.

    Yes, well, Barna is an evangelical Christian group whose surveys are explicitly done to support their particular religious viewpoint. I’d recommend taking them with a grain of salt, particularly since that opinion is contradicted by other studies which found that atheist physicians were just as likely to provide free care for the poor as religious ones.

    Even in the secular organization “Dr’s without Borders” there is not a single atheist physician on their roster…

    What on earth is your evidence for this? I’m not even aware that Doctors Without Borders publishes a comprehensive public list of every physician member, much less that it publishes such a list which includes its members’ religious affiliations.

    We could really use your help atheists.I am sincere in this.

    What makes you think that atheists aren’t already helping? It’s just that, unlike many religious organizations, we don’t feel the need to explicitly play up the link between nonbelief and charitable activity. In addition, unlike religious groups, we don’t couple the help we provide with misleading superstitious advice that worsens the very problems we’re trying to treat. For example, the Catholic church and many Protestant denominations still strongly oppose comprehensive sex education and the distribution of contraception, thus worsening the very problems of overpopulation and STDs we’re trying to alleviate.

    Why is it then, Ipetrich, that the Christian West is the far and away progressive leader in woman’s suffrage…

    Because the Enlightenment forced Christian religious leaders to accept a more equal role for women against their will. That position certainly cannot be justified by the Bible, which repeatedly styles women the inferior of men in every respect. Do you realize how many Christian denominations there are that still deny women leadership roles and teach that they are to be obedient and submissive to men?

  • theistscientist

    Mr. Ebon, can you name the top 100 change agent “UBER leaders” of the enlightenment? You will be very very surprised at their religious backgrounds.

  • Tomas S

    Theistscientist,

    Speaking only for myself, I tend to go in waves. This summer, I was all over a board about building trailers. Six months before that, I was really into a bbs for GMRS radio systems. I’m in a Daylight Atheism phase right now.

    I considered your words. I even started feeling a little silly. Then, as I was driving to work it hit me — a real “duh” moment. The reason I care is that I personaly face real prejudice and discrimination as an Atheist. The causes you mention might be worthy, but so is being able to be open about who you are without worrying about organized counter-attacks.

  • theistscientist

    Mr. ebonmouse, I am getting my threads confused, I may have posted my answer to you on the wrong thread.Anyway, I wanted to compliment you on the extraordinarily professional and polite blog you have running here. Leadership flows from the top down. Perhaps you should be running IIDB and they would go back to being a first rate forum. Also, I read your material on the enlightenment and learned some things I didnt know. I may have underestimated the freethinker contribution to the enlightenment. I will study this some more and respond in the future.

  • lpetrich

    There have been advocates of more-or-less feminist opinions over the centuries, all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. But a big feminist movement only got started in the US, the UK, and elsewhere in the 1850′s and lasted until the 1920′s; this first wave of feminism faded from view then. The second wave got started some decades later, in the 1960′s, and has continued to this day, though some people distinguish a third wave which had emerged from the second one in the 1980′s.

    In any case, over most of that time, the clergy have not exactly been bra-burning feminists. It must be said that the most feminist religious groups at present are various New Agers and neopagans and Unitarians and the like — not the more traditionalist Xians.

    And although atheism and freethought in general have no necessary connection with feminism, atheists/freethinkers have tended to be relatively feminist. This goes back to the 19th cy., where Elizabeth Cady Stanton had written the feminist classic on Biblical sexism, The Woman’s Bible.

  • http://mx.myspace.com/EdSG EdSG

    I’m wondering around the site as a new-found source of enlightenment for the atheist perspective, which I wholeheartedly share.
    In this post in particular, I just want to point out a new site launched a few months ago which nails down why we should care: What’s The Harm?.
    This is a summary account of some of the dangers one is exposed to when failing to think critically, or when being subject of abuse by those who don’t care about it. That’s another reason why we care.

  • nihilist

    I almost always feel very alone being an atheist who doesn’t want to convert. Does it occur to anyone else here that eventually we will go extinct, and nothing we do will matter? Anyone who has been religious at some point in their lives cannot claim that they were never happy or that they felt no comfort believing that a god would solve their personal problems. At least for me (I can’t speak for others), I can claim that I felt alone and defeated the day I realized that life is meaningless happenstance, nothing but mindless chemicals copying themselves by accident with the most efficient copiers spreading without purpose. As atheists, we suspect (and are supported by recent scientific advances) that religon is the result of certain genes and certain brain structures. We also know from common experience that simply convincing someone that they have a mental disorder or a chemical imbalance does not fix the disorder or the imbalance. As such, I don’t believe that we can overcome our instinct to convert opponents simply because we are aware that we have such an instinct. Is it so difficult to believe that we try to preach to the religious simply because we are beholden to the same genes and brain structures that make the religious evangelical? That our preaching is as pointless and selfish as any other? I don’t claim that I’ve never had an argument about religion, but I do claim that I’ve never felt afterward that there was any higher purpose than instinctive self-defense driving me to argue. While I don’t believe that all atheists preach from the good of their hearts, I do believe that in 100,000,000 years, no human emotion, achievement, belief, or understanding will have the slightest impact on the state of the universe (or even of the earth). As such, I ask, as an atheist: Why do we care?

  • jemand

    @nihilist,

    Because now is just as real as 100,000,000 years. In a comprehensive theory of time and space time is as much a location as space, that NOW exists is not diminished just because 100,000,000 years from now ALSO exists.