Maybe Jesus Will Save Us After All

By Sarah Braasch

I think I destroyed someone’s faith yesterday. Or, in truth, I think I may have struck the definitive blow. This doesn’t bother me. Unlike what many atheists espouse, for fear of being labeled evangelical proselytizers of disbelief, I actively seek the de-conversion of humanity. I actively seek to destroy religion. Not spirituality, but organized religion. I believe that if we do not destroy it, it will destroy us.

And, when I say de-conversion I mean just that. I mean de-conversion, not conversion to an atheist creed or dogma or doctrine, because none exists. Atheism is simply the absence of faith. It is not a similarly blind faith in science or logic or reason or philosophy or individualism or liberal constitutional democracy or anything.

But, I admit, I am feeling some qualms since yesterday. I am struggling through some pangs of conscience since egging on a crisis of conscience.

In order to protect the innocent, I have altered all identifying characteristics.

Amina is a beautiful black French Muslim girl. She is a French citizen, but her family hails from Guinea in West Africa – a former French colony. She speaks Mandinka. She is Mandinka. She also speaks fluent French, decent Arabic, and very little English. She is very proud. She is very religious. She is also very sweet and loving. She would never wish to hurt anyone’s feelings, but she does not hesitate to defend her faith, even from the mildest of chastisements. She does not wear the hijab or headscarf. She looks like a typical French teenager in her blue-jeans and t-shirts.

Amina was struggling with the burqa question. She supports women’s rights, but she feels the possible ban in France as an attack on her religion and her culture. She doesn’t want to think about Islam as inherently misogynistic. She still believes that Islam is God’s (Allah’s) final revelation to man. She still believes that the Quran is the infallible word of Allah. If Islam is inherently misogynistic, then that means that Allah hates her, because she is a woman. She cannot cope with the dissonance that this creates in her head. She asserts that women absolutely do freely choose to don both the niqab and the burqa as expressions of their love for Allah. She avers that women absolutely do freely choose to fulfill their God given roles as women in Islam according to the Quran.

She asked me what I thought about the potential burqa ban in France. I paused and sighed deeply. She said that it is a difficult question. I agreed.

I told her many things. I told her that I am an atheist. I told her that I abhor all religions as the sexual slavery of women and the psychological torture of children. I told her that I do not believe any of them to be true. I told her that I have read all of the so-called holy books, and that I was not convinced that any of them could have been divinely inspired or dictated. Not in the least. I told her that I think religion must be destroyed in order for humanity to survive.

She told me many things. She told me that she does not think that religion is the problem. She told me that she thinks men pervert and misapply and manipulate religion for their own aims, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly, and sometimes disingenuously.

We looked upon one another with the same vaguely supercilious, rather patronizing pity. We felt sorry for one another. I pitied her ignorance and inculcation, and she pitied my ignorance and inculcation. The difference being that I had escaped the iron grasp of a cult through years of struggle and effort. I could fully demonstrate my knowing choice to be free of dogma and superstition.

She told me that she had not read the Bible, but that when she reads the Quran, she knows that she is reading the words of Allah. She spoke of so many of the same arguments one hears by Christians defending the Bible. The alleged way-ahead-of-its-time science in the Quran, including something about salty seawater and fresh ground water, and something about the earth being round, and something about embryology. She spoke of the evil and dissolution of the surrounding societies during Mohammed’s time and how Mohammed introduced an as yet unheard of morality. And, she spoke of women’s rights. She told me that the Quran lists right after right for women. She told me about the entire chapter on Mary, the mother of Jesus. She told me that men pervert the message of the Quran, but that the Quran itself is perfect.

Needless to say, I was hardly won over by these arguments.

And, even after having told me that she had never read the Bible, she began to compare the Quran to the Bible and disparage the biblical text. Of course, this is neither here nor there to me, as I find both texts equally unconvincing.

She told me that the Bible contradicts itself and is incoherent. I agreed. She then told me that the Quran has a single, singular and coherent message from beginning to end. I was silent.

She told me that the Bible was written and assembled by the clergy. This is why there are so many perversions and errors and mistranslations of God’s intended revelation. She told me that there is no clergy in Islam to muddy the waters of the direct conduit between Allah and man, as, originally, there were no intermediaries between Allah and Mohammed (save Gabriel). She proudly proclaimed Mohammed’s illiteracy as ostensible proof of the Quran’s greater authenticity.

This claim has always left me perplexed. First of all, there is most assuredly a clergy class in Islam. It just isn’t referred to as such. (Much in the same way that Muslims do in fact worship Mohammed; they just say that they don’t.) In fact I have seen very little evidence of the vaunted ijtihad in Islam, which is individual study and reflection and interpretation. In my opinion, Islamic scholars have a stranglehold on Quranic exegesis and doctrinal interpretation, including the hadiths, Sharia and issuing fatwas. Second of all, the fact that the Quran is allegedly the secondhand account of a series of direct revelations to an illiterate peasant doesn’t seem to be much of an improvement over the Bible’s divinely inspired theory.

But, I agreed with her arguments regarding the Bible. I saw an opening. I lambasted the Bible and Christianity mercilessly and, in particular, the divinity of Jesus.

I told her that the Bible is ridiculous. She nodded fervently. I told her that the Bible contradicts itself relentlessly. She nodded and smiled assiduously. I told her that the Bible excludes many apocryphal texts, which were left out for this or that reason by men. She nodded and smirked avidly. I told her that the Bible was obviously written by and for men in the pursuit of their earthly preoccupations, namely conquering lands and raping and enslaving women. She nodded forcefully. She beamed. I understood.

I moved on to Jesus. I spoke of the seemingly limitless number of almost identical Sun God myths floating around the Mediterranean and the Middle East for thousands of years before Jesus Christ showed up. She concurred. I spoke of all of the ways in which Jesus’ story matches these other Sun God tales of virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection. She agreed.

I rattled on about the Nicene Creed and the Council of Nicaea and Constantine and the Roman Empire. I spoke of Constantine’s desire to unify his empire under a single Christian creed. I spoke of how the divinity of Jesus was brought to a vote at the Council of Nicaea, along with other doctrinal elements of this new religion. And she nodded approvingly and encouraged me.

I spoke about how the gospels were written at the very least 3 or 4 decades after the supposed death of Jesus Christ. How they conflict with one another. How they are plagiarisms of one another. I spoke about how Paul and the other earlier, but still not contemporaneous, biblical authors, wrote not of an earthly man who had been born, lived, performed miracles, preached, and died, but of the same Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Sun God as heavenly archetype as everyone else had done.

Then, I hit her with the punch line. Given all of this information, all of these facts, many, not all, but many scholars do not believe that there is any evidence at all that anyone by the name of Jesus, as described in the Christian Bible, ever existed. Jesus was an archetype. He was an amalgamation of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Sun God myths. Not a single contemporaneous historian ever speaks a word about anyone named Jesus who even comes close to matching the Jesus in the Christian Bible. First century Palestine is a very well documented era and geographic location. Had someone actually been walking around performing miracles, causing turmoil for the Jewish and Roman leadership, been crucified, and, finally, been resurrected, in front of eyewitnesses, someone would have recorded it. Someone. Anyone. But, no one ever did. He never existed at all. No man. No rabbi. No preacher. No traveling salesman. No prophet. No farmer. No leader. There was no Jesus. No one at all.

Her beautiful, proud eyes that had flickered with the fire of her religious conviction fell into a momentary downward glance as she grappled with a fleeting spasm of doubt. I read the doubt on her face, clear as day.

She caught herself after just a moment, just as she was about to fall off the edge of her flat earth. One of her flailing hands caught a shrub, and she was able to pull herself back up to a more secure footing. She became an automaton. She fell back into her rote, prepared spiel. She said, “Me, I believe that he existed. But, he was just a man. I do not believe that he was the Son of God. He was a great teacher.”

But the hairline crack of doubt remained in the slight, barely visible furrow of her brow.

I decided to lessen some of her pain. I explained to her that, for the most part, the scholars who believe that there might have been an actual Jesus believe so for a single reason. This reason is the great labors and pains taken to match Jesus’ personal history with the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. If there hadn’t been an actual Jesus, there would not have been any need to go to such arduous lengths to get him to Bethlehem, for instance, and into the house of David.

I suddenly felt a spasm of guilt. What had I done? Had I tricked her? I knew what I was doing. I had manipulated her. I argued my point in such a way as to lure her into a boxed-in corner. I wasn’t upset, because I had caused her to doubt her faith. On the contrary, that was a victory. But, I was upset, because of my methods. I felt slimy and smarmy and unctuous. I felt like a Jehovah’s Witness. I was reminded of all of my childhood witnessing tricks of the trade – the specious and disingenuous arguments, the rhetoric gymnastics of semantics and semiotics, the fatuous and fallacious non-logic. I was a little bit disgusted with myself.

But, I hadn’t said anything untrue. My only sin was the fact that I knew where my argument was heading, and she did not. Predestination in microcosm. I think I just empathized with her emotional pain. I know it. I knew it. Leaving one’s faith can feel like tearing one’s self in two.

Then, something occurred to me, which I am sure is no great revelation to anyone else, but it was a tremendous personal revelation.

Jesus is the key. Jesus is the key to destroying the three great monotheisms. Judaism is out of luck. The Messianic ship has sailed. No one in their right mind could ever be made to believe that someone yet to come is the Messiah. Anyone from here on out claiming to be the Anointed One will be sent straight to the loony bin. Unless, of course, some as yet unknown alien civilization attempts to take advantage of our credulity and shows up in a space ship more advanced than our wildest sci-fi fantasies. Islam is a very poorly cobbled together plagiarism of both Judaism and Christianity. Despite their seeming antipathy for one another, Islam is wholly reliant upon the other two. Islam is discredited the second that either or both Christianity and Judaism are discredited. Jesus’ existence is the easiest to discredit. There isn’t a shred of evidence that he ever existed at all, while there is a mountain of evidence that he was merely a knock off Egyptian Osiris. While Mohammed may have been a bloodthirsty pedophile warlord, he was also an actual flesh and blood human being who managed to hold sway over the minds of thousands upon thousands of credulous souls. But Jesus probably didn’t exist at all. Muslims want desperately to concur with all of the criticisms of Jesus, every single one, right up to the point where you say that he didn’t exist at all, not even as a lowly man. And, the Quran lives and dies with Jesus. Every word of the Quran is supposedly the infallible word of Allah. The Quran is all about Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Thank you Jesus.

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://amunium.dk Slater

    Heh. When I read the excerpt of the post in FeedDemon, the first line just read as “By Sarah Braasch I think I destroyed someone’s faith yesterday.”
    - I caught myself thinking for a second, that “By Sarah Braasch” was the new atheist version of “By God”.

  • SamMack

    Revelation!
    This is an awesome post, what a great point of view.

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    These face-to-face discussions are often tricky, partly because it’s not an open-book test. I feel I need as much additional insight into how to approach them as possible. So thanks for that.

  • keddaw

    While Mohammed may have been a bloodthirsty pedophile warlord

    Typical, taking your 21st century Americal morals and placing them on a 9th century man. If the median life expectancy of a woman is 20-30 years and the most dangerous period is childbirth then why wouldn’t men want a wife as soon as she was physically able to bear children?

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com Sabio Lantz

    I do seek to improve people’s lives and do tend to seek to destroy irrational destructive beliefs. If someone’s religion (or atheism) crashes in the process, that is fine too.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Phew! Sarah, I so wish you’d had and written about this experience a few weeks ago. I was in Slovenia with a Muslim colleage, a well educated and articulate engineer. Stuck in a not too interesting hotel we started discussing religion and, although I knew he was a practising Muslim I was still amazed that he actually believed in literal creation, the perfection of the Quran (a tedious tome if ever there was one)and it being the final revelation from God. I really wish I had thought of the Jesus argument. Hmm.. guilt? Don’t feel guilty, making a person question received wisdom, whatever it is, is the greatest gift you can give them. She may decide as my colleage obviously has that although all the physical evidence suggests otherwise, the Quran is nevertheless true because it is, well, the Quran. On the other hand she may be at the beginning of an interesting journey. Never be put off making somebody think and definitely don’t lose any sleep over it.

  • The Vicar

    Typical, taking your 21st century Americal morals and placing them on a 9th century man. If the median life expectancy of a woman is 20-30 years and the most dangerous period is childbirth then why wouldn’t men want a wife as soon as she was physically able to bear children?

    If someone is held up as an example to which we should aspire, then it is entirely fair to judge them by modern standards. By modern standards, Mohammed was indeed a bloodthirsty pedophile warlord.

    Of course, if you’re willing to admit that nobody should behave like Mohammed because times have changed and left him behind, then sure, he was no better and no worse than one could expect of a leader of his times.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    If the median life expectancy of a woman is 20-30 years and the most dangerous period is childbirth then why wouldn’t men want a wife as soon as she was physically able to bear children?

    Even in 19th century Britain the average age for onset of Menarche was around 16-17 yrs, it has fallen dramatically in this century to around 13. Although 9 or 10 is not unknown in the modern west the idea that Aisha would have been in childbearing condition in the 9th century is laughable.

  • http://friendlyhumanist.blogspot.com Timothy Mills

    Tremendous story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Sarah,
    I see no reason for you to feel any sort of guilt. The plain fact is that the religious argument can’t hold up to scrutiny, so engaging in any sort of argument is going to seem unfair in the sense that the deck is stacked in your favor. That doesn’t mean it actually is unfair.

  • keddaw

    Even in 19th century Britain the average age for onset of Menarche was around 16-17 yrs, it has fallen dramatically in this century to around 13. Although 9 or 10 is not unknown in the modern west the idea that Aisha would have been in childbearing condition in the 9th century is laughable.

    Typical, bringing your 21st Century science to a 9th century story.

    Why don’t you take your morality and place it onto the Ancient Greeks who saw young boy and young girls (but mainly young boys) as great before you go slating the morality of a great warlord and leader of people who brought Allah’s inerrant Word and infinite morality, wisdom and greatness to us unworthy sinners.

  • http://www.wayofthemind.org/ Pedro Timóteo

    Typical, taking your 21st century Americal morals and placing them on a 9th century man. If the median life expectancy of a woman is 20-30 years and the most dangerous period is childbirth then why wouldn’t men want a wife as soon as she was physically able to bear children?

    I really hope this is a Poe.

  • keddaw

    I really hope this is a Poe.

    Irony dear boy, irony.

    And what’s a Poe?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF
  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Actually, Mohammed was late 6th to early 7th century.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Actually, Mohammed was late 6th to early 7th century.

    Typical, applying your 21st century book learning to an off-topic debate about Mohammed’s 9 year old wife. (Sorry Keddaw :)

  • keddaw

    Thanks OMGF, I like to learn something new each day and that was it for today.

    At least it didn’t succumb to Godwin’s Law.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    (Sorry Keddaw :)
    – Steve Bowen

    Typical, applying your all-growed-up apologies to a playground comeback war. (It’s cool, I’m the same way! And so’s your old man! Hoo-ha!)

    @ Sarah Braasch: Yeah, so I kinda kept picking away at one of your previous essays because I had some issues with it that I seemed to take perhaps a bit too seriously, and I just wanted to say how friggin’ awesome I think this one is. I’m totally with you on the idea that tearing down faith cuts both ways. I see it as kicking the crutch out from someone who’s been using it for far too long. “I can’t walk without it,” he insists, and then I say, “Wanna bet,” and do my very best sweep kick.

    Beautiful sweep kick – you set her up with an excellent feint, then went right in for the kill. The key moral difference is, as you pointed out, the fact that you’re deconverting by getting her to apply her own critical thinking skills to her own cherished beliefs, a conflict that many seem to blithely avoid at all costs. As long as you believe that uncomfortable truths should be accepted because they’re true (and, conversely, that the discomfort is immaterial), then I think you’re behaving in a principled and rational way. Way to preach the good news, sister!

  • Lynet

    I know how you feel, Sarah. I find myself hesitating to try to precipitate any major change in a person’s life structure, whether it be in religion, or in softer matters like the lies we tell ourselves about our relative importance in the world and so forth. Sure, there are some people out there who seem to need a good kicking, but even so, it seems such a major thing to change in too dramatic or sudden a way a person’s sense of pride, or the values by which they live, or indeed their religion.

    The simple fact of the matter is that major life changes hurt.

    This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change people. It doesn’t mean that teaching people hard lessons can’t make the world a better place. Yet I think, too, that a little respect for people’s life structures is warranted. If such things are worth attacking, then they are worth attacking despite the role they play in propping up people’s lives. So perhaps the right way to see this is to acknowledge how profoundly held our deepest beliefs can be, and how important they are to the holder, and to weigh this in our understanding of how to deal with religion among other things. If religion truly deserves to be attacked despite this, then such an acknowledgment does not require us to cease criticism, but perhaps the extra compassion will help us to offer honest support in the confusion that can follow as people work their own way along.

  • Stephen P

    While Mohammed may have been a bloodthirsty pedophile warlord, he was also an actual flesh and blood human being …

    Not necessarily, if you follow what Muhammed Kalisch has to say. (Links to German PDF.) Or see a background article in English.

    I’m not qualified to judge his work, but it is certainly interesting. Shades of David Friedrich Strauss?

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    It’s worthy of judo – applying their own argument against them. Very good!

  • anti_supernaturalist

    confused? –

    You’re welcome to your own beliefs, but not your own truths.
    You’re welcome to your own faith, but not your own knowledge.
    You may not impose your sincerely held cultural fictions on anyone.

    the anti_supernaturalist

  • Sarah Braasch

    Stephen P,

    Thank you so much for that. I honestly didn’t know that Mohammed’s historicity was in question.

    Very interesting stuff.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Lynet,
    Maybe I’m nit-picking, but I’m not sure what you mean by “respect” when you say that we should respect other people’s life structures. If you just mean, “don’t wreck ‘em without a good reason,” then yeah, I totally agree with you; but not all life structures are created equal, and so I do not think that they are categorically worthy of respect qua admiration.

    The reason I think I might be nit-picking is because the rest of your comment echoes rather deeply with my own sentiments. Have you read Peter Railton’s Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality? If you haven’t, I strongly recommend it. It’s relevant to the discussion at hand insofar as Railton argues (effectively, I think) that sometimes a little alienation is good for you, which helps to clarify what’s “really going on” in these sorts of situations.

  • Lynet

    D,
    Mm, yes, I knew I was cutting close to the line :) When I say ‘respect’ I certainly don’t mean admiration. “Don’t wreck ‘em without good reason” covers a large part of what I’m saying. Even when we do have good reason, though, I still think ‘respect’ means something, although defining it can be hard. To give one concrete example of how I think ‘respect’ might change my behavior towards religious people, I would try to give people space to remove themselves from a debate if they need time to think things over. That sort of thing. I guess I sort of try to treat people the way I would like to be treated if I had a deeply held but false and ultimately harmful belief — and I do so with full humility about my probable ability to handle such situations!

    The one thing I do not mean is that we should tiptoe around stating the truth or standing up for ourselves as atheists. Since people do use ‘respect for religion’ to mean much stronger ideas like that, I’m aware that I’m employing a dangerous word! But I think we’re basically in agreement.

    Thanks for the article recommendation — I hadn’t seen that before and will read it when I have time.

  • http://www.time4rebellion.blogspot.com Mavricky

    Nicely written essay that reads well, if perhaps a little out of date as the historicity of Jesus is accepted by almost all theological scholars and classical historians. In fact over 25 years ago, Professor James Dunn of Durham University described the theory of a mythical Jesus as a ‘thoroughly dead thesis’.

  • jemand

    @mavricky, but is it really a thoroughly dead thesis? quoting one person is nice… but… hardly proof. I mean… we have the evolution of cargo cults, entirely new religions in the 20th century with videocameras and high literacy rates etc. etc. and we don’t even know if John Frum WAS a person or not. And we’re trying to determine if there was a similarly mythically important person in the 1st century AD? And trying to figure out if it was based on a flesh and blood real man? Good luck.

  • Aceral

    My own research and reading of academic New Testament works have led me to believe that there was a historical Jesus and that he was known for doing some pretty amazing things.

    These same scholars also point out many of the problems with the historicity of the specifics of the biblical account. However, I found these things to be pretty well agreed upon by the scholarship, which is what I tend to base my opinion on now days. A good book I read on the topic recently was “The Resurrection” by Geza Vermes.

  • Boz

    THe jesus-myth position seems pretty farfetched to me. Se Tim O’Neill in this thread

    http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=93849

  • Caiphen

    I have no time for religion and the more ‘fierce’ we can be against it, the better.
    I understand the prophecies of the OT and how the idea of Jesus was used to fulfill its forecasts. This nonsense is fooling billions all over the world. It’s the greatest con humanity has ever seen.

    There may have been an historical Jesus, but this story is fooling more people than what there are atheists in the world. Remember, there are 2.1 billion of them and only, at the most, 1.1 billion of us!

  • Gary

    <blockquote cite=

    Is there a website or book somewhere that cites ancient literature to show that these sun gods were believed to have traits matching those of the biblical Jesus?

  • Sarah Braasch

    While I have no doubt that many eminent academics believe fervently in the historicity of Jesus, I remain unconvinced by their purported evidence. I took a look at that thread on the Richard Dawkins website, and it seems to be more of the same old, same old — i.e. Josephus and James.

    Their evidence can be boiled down to: We just think it’s reasonable to conclude that there was a historical Jesus.

    Well, I just think it’s reasonable to conclude that there wasn’t a historical Jesus.

    A debate isn’t dead just because one side declares it to be so. Sorry.

  • http://www.time4rebellion.blogspot.com Mavricky

    @Caiphen,
    The ethos you subscribe to, that being a type of “fierce” quest against the religion of Jesus (Christianity) in the hope of a united atheist majority as you say, “there are 2.1 billion of them and only, at the most, 1.1 billion of us!” is an drastically oversimplified and fundamentally flawed principle. For even the different denominations and traditions of Christianity have not displayed an overarching unity, and in cases have descended to being bitter enemies. How much more then will a sect based on the “absence of a particular belief” fall into factious schism.
    When trying to envisage such a united atheist front the warning of G.K. Chesterton comes to mind: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything”.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    G.K. Chesterton comes to mind: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything”.

    Yes, but one of his less perceptive statements I think. For a start “nothing” and “anything” are a false dichotomy even assuming that believing in a god prevents people believing in other things as well. That being said atheists are no more united philosophically or politically than theists, we’re just more united theologically.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    It just occurs to me that in the New testement we have what is essentially a compilation of biographies of Jesus, but no direct revelation; It’s all hearsay. With Mohammed we have the revelation but no biography. Not sure where this is taking me but…

  • CybrgnX

    Sarah! you are a goddess! What an argument! I stand in awe at your verbal judo!
    No need to feel guilty though. Would you feel bad about helping a teenager learn and go to adulthood? Of course not. The same is true for the ‘religious’ they are nothing more then little child afraid of the dark (thinking for themselves) who wants daddy (g0d) to tell them what to do (BuyBull, Koran, etc) and help them across the street (die well) to get back home safely (heaven). You just helped someone grow closer to adulthood. Good work!!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    In fact over 25 years ago, Professor James Dunn of Durham University described the theory of a mythical Jesus as a ‘thoroughly dead thesis’.

    Now how can we possibly dispute an argument from authority as persuasive as that?

    It’s not surprising that most “theological scholars” (i.e., Christians) believe that Jesus was a historical human being, but the evidence for that conclusion is lacking. Basically, it rests on an obviously forged passage in Josephus and a few other late, vague references.

    By contrast, the mythicist theory of Christian origins explains a whole range of puzzling facts that the traditional historicist alternative deals with poorly or not at all. It’s not based primarily on negative arguments from silence – although the lack of strong historical evidence is certainly a factor – but on positive statements in the New Testament and in the writings of the church fathers which imply that Christianity began with belief in a purely mythological, heavenly savior figure who was only gradually transmuted into a human being who lived in history.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    How much more then will a sect based on the “absence of a particular belief” fall into factious schism.
    – Mavricky, #33

    From the top: atheism is not a sect of some more general theological belief, it is simply the explicitly-stated lack of theological belief. Even the community here includes theists and atheists of varying backgrounds and beliefs, so we’re not even unified on that. It’s more like a cult of personality, except that we don’t worship the central figure, we just gather and speak our minds and bounce our ideas off each other. In other words, we’re all here because we either enjoy Ebon’s writing, or we enjoy the company (or both!) – the lack of theism isn’t nearly as important as the reaction of us reasoning, intelligent persons against the irrational stupidities that religion carries out in the world. Quite simply, there is no doctrine or dogma upon which such factious schisms may get started, so we can’t split into factions.

    For example, I disagree vehemently with our host on how we should view and analyze the issue of free will – we agree almost entirely on the descriptive account of the world, but while Ebon calls himself a compatibilist, I think that his definition of compatibilism robs the libertarian position of the ability to define its own terms in its own way. By almost exactly the same token, my perspective on the argument robs Ebon of the very same ability; I just think that my perspective came “first” and so should enjoy a historical primacy (in terms of how we define certain key words, at any rate). If we were popes from back before the Great Schism, we’d be excommunicating each other; if we were imams, we’d be issuing fatwas against each other; but we’re humanists, so we can get along with each other despite the fact that neither of us is getting our way.

    In other words, we just don’t organize like the religious do. Nobody should. Trying to form a community on shared beliefs is good for the in-group, but detrimental to all those who are then out-grouped as a necessary consequence. We humans can no longer afford to out-group each other on any basis, though, which means that we must be as inclusive as possible and tolerate dissent. What room is there for factious schism when all the world is kin and ideas cannot divide us?

  • Sarah Braasch

    First — D, I love you.

    Second — I haven’t read any Geza Vermes, but I did just read a whole bunch of reviews of his work, both pro and con. Geza is a former Xtian and reverted Jew who is trying to reclaim Jesus for Judaism. He is a Jew for Jesus for Jews.

    He begins his work with the premise that Jesus was a historical figure. End of story. Not debatable. Oh, but he offers no evidence of this “fact.” But, people like to point to him to support this stance, because he is brilliant and accomplished and learned and successful. And, apparently, a really nice guy.

    He shoots himself entirely in the foot. He claims that Paul’s heavenly Jesus (the Son of God) was crap, even though Paul was writing a mere 25 years after Jesus’ supposed crucifixion, but that the more removed and the more tenuous and the more obviously literary gospels are true — at least partially — but, and here’s the good news — we’ll need Geza’s detective work to decipher which parts are true and which fiction. It works out nicely for Judaism — Geza learns through his struggle that all the parts about the resurrection and the passion and other tidbits that point to Jesus being the Son of God are false, and all the parts that point to him being an earthly man are true.

    He also says that the whole temple melee a week before Passover that landed Jesus on Pontius Pilate’s rod actually happened. That there could have been no historical record of this occurrence is pretty awe inspiring.

    Here’s an interesting con review of Vermes’ work. I would have to say that I am in accord with this reviewer.

    Not impressed exactly with Mr Vermes. Of course, he is blinded by science, I mean faith, I mean detective work, I mean literary exegesis and philology.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/anwilson/3556252/Jesus-is-ill-served-by-this-literary-detective.html#at

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com Sara

    I don’t really think you should feel guilty about leading her on: this is a fairly typical discourse strategy, and we do this all the time, although mostly not about things people are so emotionally invested in.

    I must admit though, I don’t really understand why you’re so convinced we (atheists) should proselytise, too. I’m not asking out of concern-troll concern; I’m seriously interested. Personally, while I do of course believe religion is silly, and sometimes downright evil (well, I wouldn’t be an atheist otherwise, duh), I don’t think it’s inherently so; if you’re a decent person, you’re going to be a decent religious person, and the other way round.
    Why do you think religion will destroy us? Isn’t it a bit essentialist? I mean, of course it’s intellectually dishonest to tell oneself that (insert deity)-the-Imaginary-Friend exists despite the overwhelimg evidence pointing to the contrary, but as long as nobody gets hurt, does it really matter that much?

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Why do you think religion will destroy us? Isn’t it a bit essentialist? I mean, of course it’s intellectually dishonest to tell oneself that (insert deity)-the-Imaginary-Friend exists despite the overwhelimg evidence pointing to the contrary, but as long as nobody gets hurt, does it really matter that much?

    Individual religious belief is not in itself evil, but religious belief en masse can be very dangerous indeed. Fundementalism cannot exist without a bedrock of moderate believers and fundementalists in power can erode civil liberty, stall progress and stultify society. As an atheist I will always engage those theists I know in debate if they want to have the discussion, if not I will avoid the subject.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Sara,
    The only way atheists could meaningfully be said to proselytize is by way of spreading the skill of critical thinking, which naturally erodes belief in the supernatural. We atheists do not have faith, we do not have doctrine, we do not share a singular cause, and we do not have a political party. As Sarah Braasch pointed out above, our aim is not to convert but to deconvert – we do not wish to replace one faith with another, but to excise all faith. A “faith-ectomy,” if you will. We hope and work for a future full of independent-minded critical thinkers, where no one rallies or cowers behind backwards ideas of “Authority.”

    I see it this way: what legitimate comforts religion can (and does) provide are better obtained by other means; what unique comforts religion offers (“salvation,” eternal life, etc.) are false hopes and we’d be better off facing reality; what place religion enjoys on Earth is robbed from more worthy ideas; what status religious ideas confer is but vanity and vexation of spirit; and what protection religion gives to its adherents and their actions is nothing more than vacuous pretense. Religion is drag on civilization, and should be done away with because it simply does no real good; to sit idly by as real people while away their real lives on primitive superstitions is perhaps the greatest disservice we can do to the cause of preparing our descendants to deal with reality.

    Does that help convey a sense of urgency?

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com Sara

    Individual religious belief is not in itself evil, but religious belief en masse can be very dangerous indeed.

    Yes, but the same can be said about any other powerful and numerous group. This is all about power, and has very little to do with religion, hasn’t it?

    Fundementalism cannot exist without a bedrock of moderate believers and fundementalists in power can erode civil liberty, stall progress and stultify society.

    Yes, but on the other hand, fundamentalists usually hate the religious moderates as much as they hate people from different religions and atheists. This again has in my opinion very little to do with the actual religion itself. Think about it that way: despite the constant religious indoctrination, children from fundamentalist families learn stuff from their families, and from their environment loong before they will actually learn about the supposed tenets of their religion anyway. So their interpretation of the tenets – which results in divides such as “fundamentalists” and “moderates” – will be influenced by what those children learned from the people in their environment in the first place. This is why some people think that Leviticus answers all questions about gayness that could be asked ever, and some people say that “God is love” based on the same (quite incoherent) text.
    So wouldn’t it be better to fight against organised religion and its unduly privileged place in public discourse anyway? Because, becoming an atheist doesn’t mean you’ll be magically a better person.

    As an atheist I will always engage those theists I know in debate if they want to have the discussion, if not I will avoid the subject.

    But Sarah said she will “actively seek the de-conversion of humanity”. I obviously think we would be better off with more deconversions, too, but should we really seriously go after people like that? I mean, this might be partly cultural differences, but I haven’t got a clue as to what religion most of my friends are. This is their private business, you just don’t talk about that.
    I guess that’s why it would bother me a little. Forget ebol proselytisers of disbelief (this is btw a very nice phrase :D), I’m just not comfortable talking about stuff people consider private and usually don’t talk about.

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com Sara

    @ D
    Well, it’s not that I don’t agree on the part that world without religion is better.
    On the other hand, rejecting a set of irrational beliefs, such as religion, doesn’t make you automatically reject other irrational beliefs, which makes it sort of meaningless.
    Two months ago, there was an atheist pride march in Poland. I was living in Japan at the time anyway, so in the end I didn’t even see that many photos, but well. The organisers of the march said to the press that “just because we’re atheists, it doesn’t mean we have some outrageous ideas about things, such as being pro-euthanasia or pro-gay-marriage”. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, really.

    Wouldn’t it be better just to educate people about stuff instead of just focusing on religious dogma and how wrong it is?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Sara,
    You hit the nail right on the head! You said, “On the other hand, rejecting a set of irrational beliefs, such as religion, doesn’t make you automatically reject other irrational beliefs,” and here I would interject that that’s exactly the point – we want to get people to reject all irrational beliefs (or at least I do!). Religion just so happens to be one such thing, and it is the most organized and immanent threat that I am able to identify (though other forms of woo may simply rise to take its place). I wholeheartedly agree that education is the answer, not only to religion but to a great many things. Yet many obstinately compartmentalize their religion, protecting it from the rest of their thoughts – this tactic seems to require special treatment, don’t you think?

  • http://www.time4rebellion.blogspot.com Mavricky

    @D,
    You say atheism can’t split into factions, and yet you give two very opposed atheists views, those of compatibilism vs libertarianism – (these polar opposite views are arguably much greater than the differences between Catholic-Christians and Protestant-Christians, yet look at the schism this caused!). Then you suggest that these opposing views are no big deal because you say you are all united as “humanists”. This is where you have really shot yourself in the foot, because humanism itself is no guarantee of unity. In fact humanism has already split into various the factions of religious humanism, secular humanism and indeed it is declared by certain humanists that being an atheist does not automatically make one a humanist. So in fact, your only unifying thread that’s looking promising is the rather flimsily defined “cult of personality”, hmmm, but I have a personality so maybe I can join?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Mavricky,
    Yes, Catholic doctrine is very pro-free-will, whereas Calvinist doctrine is very pro-determinism, and this has indeed caused a schism in their churches. Yet how can my linguistic disagreement with Ebonmuse be construed as anything even remotely similar? This is not a doctrinal dispute between church factions, this is merely a disagreement in emphasis between individuals. He and I do not define ourselves or our communities by these beliefs; Catholics and Calvinists demonstrably do. What’s more, they think that believing the right or wrong thing will determine one’s eternal fate, and that those who believe the right things are good while those who believe the wrong things are evil, and such horseshit seems to be what fuels the enmity they so childishly embrace. I seek not to eliminate my enemies, but instead to eliminate enmity.

    Also, I did not say that we were “united as ‘humanists’,” and I did not shoot myself in the foot. We are not united, but we share common ground. There is a very important difference between the two, and Ebon and I choose to focus on the commonalities between us and learn from our differences rather than try to stamp them out (well, I do, anyway – I can’t really speak for him, but his behavior is consistent with this principle as far as I can tell). We are most definitely not “united” or “unified,” insofar as we cherish dissent, diversity, and difference. And I said that the community here was “more like” a cult of personality, not “actually is” a cult of personality (for the simple reason that it’s not a cult!). As for joining – you already have! Welcome to the party!

    It’s been said that trying to organize a community of atheists is like trying to herd kittens. There is no unifying thread that runs between all who comment here, except that they comment here, and even this is done along wildly varying gradients of quality and quantity. Similarly, there is no unifying thread that runs between all who lack belief in deities, except that they lack such beliefs (and such a lack may itself vary in its reasons and intensity). How can we divide into sub-factions if we never unite as a faction in the first place? In “Relativism is for the Birds,” you touched on a very similar point when you noted that, “…for us to be free adults there is the requirement for us to have beliefs which do not follow the waves of today’s fashions or the latest novelties.” This is the attitude that I seek to engender in individuals: an attitude of not lining up behind anything, but rather of being free and independent-minded adults; a herd of sociable-yet-independently-minded kittens, so to speak. Does that make more sense?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    I suddenly felt a spasm of guilt. What had I done? Had I tricked her? I knew what I was doing. I had manipulated her. I argued my point in such a way as to lure her into a boxed-in corner. I wasn’t upset, because I had caused her to doubt her faith. On the contrary, that was a victory. But, I was upset, because of my methods. I felt slimy and smarmy and unctuous. I felt like a Jehovah’s Witness. I was reminded of all of my childhood witnessing tricks of the trade – the specious and disingenuous arguments, the rhetoric gymnastics of semantics and semiotics, the fatuous and fallacious non-logic. I was a little bit disgusted with myself.

    But, I hadn’t said anything untrue.

    Actually, you don’t know whether you said anything untrue or not, yet you proceeded under the pretense of such knowledge despite borderline vicious criticism of those who do the same. None of us know if Jesus existed or not, so in the final analysis your ~faith seems no more or no less justified than this girl’s faith you tried to destroy, I’m afraid. To boot, this whole “desire to deconvert the world” nonsense is also a bit worrisome. It’s the same vigor which Fundamentalists pursue the proliferation of their own POV. Like Sara said, “..if you’re a decent person, you’re going to be a decent religious person, and the other way round,” so why not just live and let live?

    D,

    It’s one thing to hold our own opinions about stuff; yet, if atheists don’t like believers attempting to convert people, then why would an atheist seek to de-convert people? It’s the same damn impulse, just redressed in Scarlet Red.

    You’ve got your work cut out for you if you want to convince me that something besides what motivates Fundamentalism is motivating Sarah here, and what motivates Fundamentalism is the unswerving conviction that one is right. Yes, some people with religious beliefs hold and/or express them irrationally. There are atheists, agnostics and all sorts of other people who do the same. Neither of these things make religion, atheism or agnosticism inherently “irrational” such that would justify your broad categorization of “religion” with “irrationality.” I can understand your desire to interject some reason into those who typically do not espouse it, but in your attempts to label all religion as “irrational” you get right back to square one with people like me who do not commit the intellectual atrocities you rightly criticize.

    Also, if religion is the biggest threat you’ve identified in modern times, I say look harder. Much harder.

  • XPK

    “you get right back to square one with people like me who, ACCORDING TO MYSELF, do not commit the intellectual atrocities you rightly criticize”

    cl, I fixed that for you.

    Do you have a positive argument for what is the biggest threat in modern times, then?

  • John Nernoff

    I didn’t read all the comments here, but regarding the misogynistic Islamic patriarchy over women, the males have a good thing going; women are like little pets, afraid, subject to all forms of demeaning overrule and sexual plundering. Why wouldn’t they give up this Playboy’s wildest dream?

  • XPK

    cl, my first sentence after the quote should have had a smiley after it. :-) So mentally insert that smiley up there.

    My last question is genuine as I can tie religion to many problems facing the globe at this time. However, I realize this may be my own personal bias.

  • Jeff T.

    I have mixed feelings about this subject. I quit the ‘American Atheists’ because I felt that they were a bit too fanatical and in-your-face. I found ‘The Council for Secular Humanism’ to be more suited toward my outlook on life.

    I am comfortable with the knowledge that there is no god. I don’t like to tell people what to believe, and yet I don’t want blasphemy laws or Sharia law forced upon me either. Religion seems hell-bent on spreading itself. I for one am staying out of its way, lest I get burned. Have you not noticed that most people don’t seem to like us just because we don’t believe?

    I think Sharia law will eventually be established worldwide. And I know without a doubt that when that day comes, I will be kneeling and chanting to Mecca. If they want, I will probably wear a burka and grow pork-chop sideburns. Praise Allah, Praise Jesus, Praise FSM. Whatever.

  • Caiphen

    Mavericky

    There is a particular beauty in talking to other atheists. I can mention something that others disagree on and that will be the end of it. No factious schisms formed.

    We realise more than any other group of people that life is too hard for that kind of nonsense. To quote one of the greatest atheists of all, Katharine Hepburn- ‘Life is hard. After all, it kills you.’

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    @ cl: First, I’d like to address the point about living and letting live. Beliefs have psychological and behavioral consequences, as I think you’ll agree. For example, if you believe that no car is coming your way, you may try to cross the street; if I see you about to cross the street and see a car coming, I’ll do my very best to convince you that that car is a threat. Conversely, if I believe that Hell exists, I’ll do almost anything I believe will help me to avoid it – but if you honestly think that Hell is not a threat, then I would also want you to try to explain that to me, because I might be wasting a whole lot of time, effort, and emotional investment. But ultimately, I will agree with you about living and letting live. It’s more important to get along than to get our way, after all – but this means that not even the most cherished of religious beliefs can get in the way of that. I value freedom of conscience even above my own commitment to rationality as I see it.

    OK, that said, let me make an analogy. Let us suppose that I decided to start murdering people, but I couldn’t decide whether to do it with a gun, or a knife, or my bare hands. First, as a straight-up yes or no, do you think that there is a moral difference between a person who tries to advise me on the best way to murder others, and a person who tries to advise me not to murder at all? Now, I want to make it abundantly clear here that I do not think that religious belief in and of itself is even in the same county as murder, let alone the same ballpark; however, murder is by definition the wrongful killing of a person, and I think that a person who honestly believes a religious belief can absolve them of such an act is doubly contemptible. At any rate, the point is that there is in fact a difference between attempting to convert a person to holding different religious beliefs, and attempting to de-convert a person to holding zero religious beliefs.

    As for my work being cut out for me… You have implied that you believe Sarah is motivated by the same thing as motivates Fundamentalism, which according to you is “the unswerving conviction that one is right.” Fundamentalists time and again display this unswerving conviction by stooping to all manner of despicable act in the name of their gods. It’s for the Authority, so we can’t go wrong, right guys? Notice Sarah’s pang of remorse, how she felt regret at what she thought she had done, and second-guessed herself. Sarah was clearly worried that she had done wrong not by telling falsehoods to her friend, not by undermining the edifice of Amina’s faith, but merely by not playing with all her cards on the table. This is not the mark of Fundamentalism, this is not the behavior of a person operating on unswerving conviction. This is the behavior of a skeptic, of a thoughtful person who doubts even her own most deeply held convictions out of concern for her fellow human being. And a person for whom doubt is no sin is, for lack of that unswerving conviction you so helpfully identified as your necessary and sufficient condition, no Fundamentalist. QED.

    Religion’s the biggest threat quite simply because it’s got its tentacles into every social evil: murder, rape, bigotry, censorship; if you can name it, someone’s tried to do it in the name of their religion. They don’t always get away with it, to be sure, but let’s take the Catholic Church for one. Here is an organization that rapes, beats, intimidates, and otherwise abuses a whole mess o’ kids; the offenders are shuffled and re-shuffled to avoid prosecution, and serious corrective action is directly prevented by the automatic deference enjoyed by religion in most of society. And that’s just what’s come up during the last century! I would say that such an institution easily qualifies for “Worst Organization EVAR,” and furthermore that any social mechanism in the way of such an organization’s immediate dissolution is a threat for abetting it. What more despicable, longer-term, or more insidious threat can you identify, and what makes it worse?

  • Caiphen

    D

    I don’t want to get too far off the topic but to add to what you say about Catholicism. A direct quote below.

    In addition to these cases, whoever obstinately rejects a teaching that the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops, exercising the authentic Magisterium, have set forth to be held definitively, or who affirms what they have condemned as erroneous, and does not retract after having been legitimately warned, is to be punished with an appropriate penalty.
    Canon 1436
    APOSTOLIC LETTER MOTU PROPRIO
    SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II
    ON MAY 28, 1998

    This sounds like it comes from the dark ages to me. But it doesn’t, it’s from 1998. This is the future if this form of christianity ever gets its power back.

  • Caiphen

    Actually guys. Please delete my last post. It may be too offensive and I don’t want to seem like a conspiracy theorist.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I think the argument that if it wasn’t religion, it would be something else wielded by the evil ones to gain power, so we should probably just let them hang onto religion, because this is an evil we know, is a fear based argument. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown.

    I say — I’d really like to at least try to eradicate religion. Give ourselves a fighting chance. I really do think religion may very well be the cause of our demise as a species. It’s that serious. Religion is that divisive. Religion is that destructive.

    It allows an individual or a group to justify any action, without evidence, no matter how devastating that action might be to the well being of one or many or all, and it demands reverence and obedience without question. Without even doubt. That is a recipe for disaster. We can only be better off without it.

    I am not advocating for the criminalization of religion. Not at all. Even though the religious are constantly trying to impose their beliefs and myths upon others via the legal and political system.

    I am arguing for its defeat through public discourse. This is a fight that the religious know they can’t win. Thus, the push for laws criminalizing free speech and the defamation of religion.

    Sara said: Wouldn’t it be better just to educate people about stuff instead of just focusing on religious dogma and how wrong it is?

    And, Sara also said we should attack religion’s privileged place in public discourse, but not necessarily religion itself.

    Exactly. But, that’s the problem isn’t it?

    Attacking religion’s privileged position is attacking religion. It is attacking religious dogma. Religion’s privileged position in the public discourse is its raison-d’etre. That’s what dogma is. A belief that may not be challenged.

    Educating people about something that is contrary to their religious dogma is attacking religious dogma.

    In the eyes of the religious it sure is. That is why they try so hard to criminalize it.

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com Sara

    I say — I’d really like to at least try to eradicate religion. Give ourselves a fighting chance. I really do think religion may very well be the cause of our demise as a species. It’s that serious. Religion is that divisive. Religion is that destructive.

    Oh, please. This is just pure fear-mongering. I don’t know what sort of experiences you might have with religious people, but the evil religious people aren’t evil because of religion as such, but because of the way they choose to interpret it. Religion isn’t inherently, essentially evil. You’re doing the opposite of what religious people do (well, *some* of them), here: they say that atheists are evil, and if the were no god, people would just kill each other indiscriminately. You’re saying that religious people are intrinsically evil, irrational and violent *because* of religion, and not because *they are evil*.
    It certainly is true that religion makes people do horrible things, but the *reason* they believe those things are right may well have to do very little with religion at all.

    It allows an individual or a group to justify any action, without evidence, no matter how devastating that action might be to the well being of one or many or all, and it demands reverence and obedience without question. Without even doubt. That is a recipe for disaster. We can only be better off without it.

    These are, however, not essantial, inherent characteristics of all religions ever, and not of all religious people. What you’re describing is an absolutist fundamentalist monotheism.

    I am not advocating for the criminalization of religion. Not at all. Even though the religious are constantly trying to impose their beliefs and myths upon others via the legal and political system.

    I don’t think anybody accused you of that. That the idea occurs though, is a bit disturbing.

    Attacking religion’s privileged position is attacking religion. It is attacking religious dogma. Religion’s privileged position in the public discourse is its raison-d’etre. That’s what dogma is. A belief that may not be challenged.

    Educating people about something that is contrary to their religious dogma is attacking religious dogma.

    In the eyes of the religious it sure is. That is why they try so hard to criminalize it.

    Um, what? Really? Please tell me which religion has “we must have a privileged position in the public discourse” as a part of their *dogma*. There’s a difference between “we deserve to have a place in the public discourse as does everybody else” and “so let’s start a theocracy”. Really.

    Also, this is the reason I’m quite puzzled that you would want to de-convert a nice, harmless, as you say, charming girl like Amina. Obviously, I don’t know all the backstory; and maybe she said something like “there’s no morality without Allah”, in which case the best course of action would be to explain to her how very wrong she is and why she is so wrong. Just randomly going after *nice* people who are *normal* and as you say, support the women’s rights movement, and are generally not hurting anybody with their belief seems completely wrong to me.
    Unless she asked you about stuff, in which case, duh, she had it coming.

  • Pingback: Boy, someone’s gonna say I’m going soft on the theists… « 梅雨眠中

  • Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Daylight Atheism > Maybe Jesus Will Save Us After All [daylightatheism.org] on Topsy.com

  • http://jessicasideways.com/ Jessica Sideways

    I really hope that you do not feel bad any longer. Getting someone out of Christianity is no different than getting them out of Islam or Scientology. They believe a dogma that helps them to contribute to many social problems.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Sara,

    At first I thought you wanted to have your cake and eat it too — attack religion without saying that you are indeed attacking religion, but now I think you are taking a laissez-faire stance on religion.

    I do have to say that I think you are working with some peculiar concepts of religion and dogma and Islam. I will point out that I made it clear at the beginning of the piece that I mean to destroy organized religion, not spirituality (or at least give it the college try). Also, I addressed the distinction between legal and public advocacy, because I wished to make myself clear. This is an important distinction. Infer what you will.

    I know that there are many atheists who take a position similar to yours. I think it is a naive position. At least I hope it is merely naivete.

    I have nothing but contempt for this laissez-faire, apologetic, relativistic attitude towards religion.

    But, the marketplace of ideas will take its course. I refuse to show any deference or respect to religion.

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com Sara

    I do have to say that I think you are working with some peculiar concepts of religion and dogma and Islam.

    My concepts of religion are reality-based, thank you.It would perhaps be a good idea if you read a couple of anthropological studies on religion, and perhaps my favourite book ever, Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explaned, which explains how religion works, and how irrational concepts come about, and why religious people and religious guilds behave the way they behave. The author is an atheist, and engages in no ridiculous religious apologetics, of which you accuse me – which could suggest that you don’t understand half of what I wrote.

    I will point out that I made it clear at the beginning of the piece that I mean to destroy organized religion, not spirituality (or at least give it the college try).

    Um, and what would be the spirituality you speak of?

    I know that there are many atheists who take a position similar to yours. I think it is a naive position. At least I hope it is merely naivete.

    I have nothing but contempt for this laissez-faire, apologetic, relativistic attitude towards religion.

    So what, I’m Karen Armstrong now?
    Could you maybe address the points I made instead of making pretty rhetorical saltos that ultimately mean very little? You say that “religion may well be the cause of our demise as a species”. Do you have any reasons to claim that? Because you don’t give any, you say it is as if it were self-evident. It is not. Any scientific studies? Links? Satistics? Anything besides your own opinion based on your own personal experience, or whatever, which is completely meaningless (ever heard of “anecdotal evidence”?) when you start making general statements?
    Yeah, I didn’t think so.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Sara,

    I feel like maybe I should let you cool down before I write this. Oh, what the hell, I’ll give it a shot.

    My intent was not to upset you. I did not mean what I said as a personal attack. You were obviously deeply offended, and I apologize.

    Having said that, I am also a very well educated and well read and well traveled person. I can throw out as many treatises and academics as you can. But, nonetheless, thanks for the tip. I’m quite intrigued and would love to read it.

    I’m going to be totally honest with you. I was completely confused by your posts.

    You seemed like a newbie atheist looking for guidance.

    And, then I was thrown by what (and let’s be honest) seemed like a pretty barbed post after I merely commented that educating people about something that stands in direct contradiction to their religious beliefs is attacking their religious beliefs. And, that you can’t very well attack a religion’s privileged position in the public discourse without attacking the religion.

    The same thing above: what is the difference between trying to de-convert Amina and telling her that what she believes (that there is no morality without Allah) is very wrong and explaining why it is wrong.

    We’re not seeing eye to eye. You seem to be supporting my position and attacking my position at the same time.

    Again (and this one really made no sense to me) — you say that religion makes people do horrible things. Then you say that the reason why people believe those things to be right (those things that religion is making them do) might have nothing to do with religion. ???

    I’m going to be honest with you. My intent is not to upset you. I really want to get to the bottom of what exactly your position is. You seem to be looking for some kind of reasoning or logic that makes sense of what you’re thinking. You’re trying to sort it out, I think.

    So, what is it exactly that you’re trying to say, because, and you’re right, I can’t make heads or tails out of it.

    Or do I need to read that treatise first? ;)

  • Sarah Braasch

    Yeah, I just read your blog post about this blog post.

    We don’t agree. And, we probably aren’t going to. But, that’s cool.

    Forgive me, but I just don’t think that stance is based in reality — the stance that no one can ever say what religion is or what a specific religion’s tenets are, because religion is in the eye of the beholder.

    That’s why your posts here seemed so convoluted. If a concept can define everything then it defines nothing.

    I’ve never quite understood that stance — that religious people are the least qualified to determine what it is exactly that they believe.

    Again — I never meant to attack you personally. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    Since you’re already an atheist, I have to focus my energies on the as yet un-de-converted. ;)

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com Sara

    @ Sarah

    I’m not upset at all. I just sound like a complete arsehole most of the time (sorry!). I’m not a newbie (I was raised in a Buddhist family, don’t even remember the last time I participated in any sort of religious activity). I’m not trying to say you’re not educated or something, for real. I was just recommending a book I think every atheist should read to get some perspective beyond the religion they got out from. I was, however, indeed unclear on what I wanted to say, so:

    1. I don’t see how “religion may well cause the demise of humanity”. There’s simply no evidence for claims like that.
    Unless it was just a rhetorical exaggeration on your part.

    2. There *is* a difference between trying to deconvert people for the sake of deconversion and explaining to them where they’re wrong.
    This is because you can peacefully coexist with people who are theists, but do not think that people have to be religious in order to be moral, but you cannot coexist with a person who thinks you are one step from eating kittens and clubbing babies because you’re “godless”. And so on.
    So I believe we should educate people about stuff that is just factually wrong first; like their claims about morality. When I said that I don’t think we should be attacking *dogma* it wasn’t because I think it will offend people (oh my, seriously, I’m usually the offending party, so, um, no), but because they can always tell you stuff like “but this is metaphorical, wah wah wah”, so it’s better to stick to the facts, and not their fairytales (= dogma).

    3. I seriously do not think that Islam or any other religion is INHERENTLY evil. Very few things are INHERENTLY evil. Seriously: you learn stuff about what is right and wrong from your parents first. THEN you learn about religion. How you will interpret religion WILL be influenced about what you learned before from your parents, and from your teachers, and from your friends.
    This is *not* relativism. There simply is no one way to interpret holy books. They are old, and have been written and edited by many people with multiple agendas over a long period of time. The Bible, for instance, has *two* versions of a thing as important as the creation myth. Every religion is like that. It all depends on interpretation, really. Therefore, no religion os inherently anything (well, maybe Scientology, and Mormonism, a bit, because they’re gigantic intentional hoaxes).

    4. I said that religion makes people do horrible things, but it might not be the reason why those people thought those things were OK to do in the first place.
    Think about it that way: a homophobic guy *thinks* that being gay is a sin, because that’s what people in his social milieu generally think to be right. However, when it comes to doing horrible things, he might be more motivated to act upon his hatred when a religion will prompt him to act with rewards or fear-mongering or something like that.
    You would be the first to say people’s morality is not based on religion – after all, yours isn’t. Why then do you argue that religious people’s morality is based on religion?

    5. Also, we should remember that we are the oppressed group here, and the theists are privileged in all ways that count. We have less resources than they have. We can’t waste them all on trying to deconvert every person ever, because this is simply unfeasible. Somewhere, there will a person saying something that is terribly wrong all the time, and because I didn’t know the backstory, it seemed like you just picked Amina for no reason at all. If she started on the “no morality without insert deity” schtick, then, by Darwin, were you right to smack her down!

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com Sara

    I’ve never quite understood that stance — that religious people are the least qualified to determine what it is exactly that they believe.

    Huh? I’m rather sure I never said that. Unless you mean that when religious people say one thing, and do another, we should take them at face value. I don’t think we should.
    I think we should apply the scientific method to find out why they say one thing, and do another, which is precisely what Pascal Boyer does (nudge nudge, wink wink).
    (And in the way, they are the least qualified: they would always want to appear better than they really are to outsiders, don’t you agree?)

    But hey, it’s cool, though. We don’t have to agree on everything. Atheism is not a cult, yay! I don’t think you attacked me personally; I just think essentialism is wrong, because empirically you end up making too many mistakes in the end.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Not quite hippie consensus, but it’ll do. I’m off. Take care, Sara. Have a good night.

  • Bryce

    I really enjoyed the article but I had a few questions. I live in Nebraska and am surrounded by Christians. I am always finding myself in tough conversations with these Christians and need some help. I understand this was written with a focus on Islam, but you said that your arguments can topple all three monotheisms. Here are my problems:

    I think you’re right when you say, ‘Jesus is the key,’ but how do you convince Christians he never existed? I do not know much about religion, but it seems like both Islam and Judaism don’t really like Jesus to begin with. That makes convincing them that Jesus is a fraud much easier. On the other hand, the Christians I have talked to are not so easily swayed. Jesus is the foundation of their belief system. Simply saying that Jesus is an, ‘amalgamation of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Sun God myths,’ doesn’t offer much proof to discredit their religion. I just don’t think that offering evidence that the ‘Jesus story’ was not the first ‘virgin birth – risen from the dead’ story is a solid attack to prove he never existed. For example, we can all agree that Abraham Lincoln existed. If I said Abraham Lincoln never lived, and my proof for his non-existence were previous examples in history of virtuous leaders freeing the oppressed, I don’t think that argument would convince many people that Abraham Lincoln was not real. Proving there were other Jesus-like stories before Jesus does not prove he did not exist. As crazy as it may be, Christians believe Jesus is as real as Abraham Lincoln. Your next argument about Jesus not existing because, ‘Not a single contemporaneous historian ever speaks a word about anyone named Jesus who even comes close to matching the Jesus in the Christian Bible,’ is a stronger argument, but still hard to prove. Christians usually refute with two things.

    First, since the time of Jesus, people from around the world have agreed that a person named Jesus lived. They may not all agree about who he was or what he did, but most people believe he existed. So should I believe you (Jesus didn’t exist) or should I believe the majority of everyone else who has ever lived on earth?

    And second, the bible is proof he lived. They say that the bible is often discredited for its historical value because of the religion in it. People believe the historical value of books like Homer’s Iliad even though it has various translations and was passed on by oral tradition for centuries before it was written down. They say the bible was only written 30 to 40 years after Jesus and by eye witnesses. Yet many still doubt the bible’s accuracy. How do you argue against that?

    Needless to say my attempts to disprove Jesus often end in the same way; faith. I cannot ultimately prove that Jesus never existed, and they cannot ultimately prove that he did. Both sides fall back on their faith and deep down believe they are right. The argument ends with agreeing to disagree.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    So should I believe you (Jesus didn’t exist) or should I believe the majority of everyone else who has ever lived on earth?

    At some point a majority of people also believed that the sun goes around the Earth. This is an argument from popularity and not valid. Just because something is popular doesn’t make it right.

    They say the bible was only written 30 to 40 years after Jesus and by eye witnesses. Yet many still doubt the bible’s accuracy. How do you argue against that?

    Have them read a book like “Misquoting Jesus” for starters.

    Needless to say my attempts to disprove Jesus often end in the same way; faith. I cannot ultimately prove that Jesus never existed, and they cannot ultimately prove that he did. Both sides fall back on their faith and deep down believe they are right. The argument ends with agreeing to disagree.

    It is not a faith position to state (rightly) that the evidence isn’t as strong for the historicity of Jesus as people like to claim it is. It is faith to believe he did in spite of the lack of evidence. It is not faith to point out that the evidence is lacking and remain skeptical of his existence until such evidence can be presented. The two positions are not equal.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    And second, the bible is proof he lived. They say that the bible is often discredited for its historical value because of the religion in it. People believe the historical value of books like Homer’s Iliad even though it has various translations and was passed on by oral tradition for centuries before it was written down. They say the bible was only written 30 to 40 years after Jesus and by eye witnesses. Yet many still doubt the bible’s accuracy. How do you argue against that?

    By pointing out their circular reasoning and asking for another source.

    Whether he existed or not may not be so important as whther he was divine. That is, after all, the entire crux of the religion.

  • Bryce

    Thanks for the responses!

  • Pingback: The five-click meme « 梅雨眠中

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Regarding the claim that the New Testament was “only written 30 to 40 years after Jesus”, see my essay Dating the Good News.

  • DJ

    Sarah, hello! Fascinating and definitely thought provoking article, ironic ending, good stuff you write very well. I have a lengthy reply that simply will not fit in this box. Please send me an email at djanossy@gmail.com so that I can send it to you. If not, I thank you for generating some great thought on my behalf. I am US military and an agnostic contemplating aetherism [sic]. Again, great thought and I appreciate your efforts!

  • Sarah Braasch

    Sorry, but just to let everyone know: I probably won’t respond to requests like this.

    I don’t want anyone to feel bad if I don’t friend you on facebook or hand out my email address.

    I’ve had a lot of problems with people harassing me — that’s why.

    It’s too bad that people have to be like that, but that’s the way it is.

  • Archimedez

    Sarah,

    Good idea re challenging the claims about Jesus’ existence, as pertaining to Islam. I hadn’t considered this before in my discussions/debates with Muslims, but next time I have an opportunity I might try to raise the issue.

    Re trying to convince a Muslim to lose belief in Islam, I think it’s excellent that you are doing this, and I hope you continue doing this. That said, I must add a note of caution. As you may know, some hard-core traditional Muslims view the intentional act of encouraging a Muslim toward apostasy as worthy of the same penalties as apostasy. While Amina sounds pretty moderate, others may not be.

    Re guilt: I don’t think you should feel guilty, anymore than you should feel guilty for trying to convince someone to change from one political party to another, or to change from one philosophical view to another.

  • Pingback: Friday Links (6-Nov-09) -- a Nadder!

  • keddaw

    One thing the author completely misses here is that it is possible that all the contemporary evidence for the existence of Jesus was co-opted into the Bible. There are plenty of mentions of Jesus in the New Testament.

    It is also possible that all mentions of Jesus were removed from all existing literature, other than the Bible, by a very powerful Catholic Church who thought any mention of Jesus outside the Bible to be blasphemous.

    Just saying…

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I don’t want anyone to feel bad if I don’t friend you on facebook

    Just as an off topic aside…when did “friend” become a verb? I must have missed it. Oh and Sarah if it’s a verb in French is it regular or irregular (J’ami…, T’ami…, Vous ami…)?? :)

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Steve, it was June 24th, 2003.

  • Sarah Braasch

    You guys are funny. You too, keddaw.

  • Gavin

    Very good article. In order for humanity to see any gains, religion should be eliminated. However, I have to side with the Protestant And Confucian Ethic (Weber), in that religion is so engrained into economic systems that its removal would mean societal unraveling. Emphasis should be placed on equal treatment as humans instead of what particular group you identify with, be it gender, class, race, etc. There is room for faith in the cognitive world because it develops our brains differently. Not a single intellectual has been 100% right in their field. I don’t believe that Jesus ever lived but the ideas that he stood for were for a better world. Religion was created and is shaped by people that aren’t always right. Science shares this characteristic. Both sides could stand to learn something from another.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Both sides could stand to learn something from another.

    This is a false equation of these worldviews. Of course scientists are imperfect humans, just like religious leaders. This doesn’t mean that the two positions are epistemologically [someone shoot me, please] equal. I’ve learned much from religion as well as science; however, the lessons I’ve learned from religion tend to be negative — how not to behave, or investigate, or whatnot.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I don’t believe that Jesus ever lived but the ideas that he stood for were for a better world.

    Huh?

  • Scotlyn

    Sarah, thanks for this post (I’m late getting to it, but doing a bit of catch-up). I agree entirely with the point you highlighted in the post, and in several follow-up comments, that religion is highly dangerous for us. And I think the nub of that danger is as follows. Religion acts like a fifth column in any society it inhabits, alienating people’s loyalty, love and care away from their own real communities, their families, their own lives. You referred to it very movingly in another post when you spoke about your own mother’s loyalty having been stolen/perverted/alienated away from you by her JW faith. In my upbringing this was seen as a virtue – “we are to be in the world, but not of the world.” When I left my faith, I suddenly realised that this “virtue” was a dangerous vice. Now that this world is the only one I have, I am 100% committed to love it, to care for it, to do my best by it, to leave it behind me in as good a shape as I can for those who will come after. And what I have learned is that I cannot trust any religious person (of whatever stripe) to care about this world as I do – if they have a real faith, then they are just as likely to be investing their best hope, effort and loyalty to some otherworldly kingdom, to the detriment of this one.

    Keep on writing – you’re both a passionate and a clear thinker.

  • Arch

    Atheism is simply the absence of faith.

    This is false. Some atheists have all kinds of faith, though not directly in God; rather in what God has created. Atheists have faith that God does not exist. Many atheists have faith that life has meaning, though without God. Many atheists have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow, though again without God. And some atheists have faith that Jesus did not exist. While every single one of these issues is a massive mountain, and that I believe are false assertions, they do demonstrate that many atheists have faith in things they do not know for certain.

    And while I am not going to here write a refutation of the argument against Jesus’ existence presented in this thread, which would be worthy of much more than a blog post, I will say that it was not much of an argument, but rather a “strawman” assertion. For just a few examples… It discounts all written and spoken sources of the life of Jesus, by the authors of Scripture and historians such as Josephus alike. It discounts many practical matters regarding how and when history was recorded in the time period. It discounts the growth of the early Church and the conversion of thousands who encountered Christ in Palestine, events which would not have been recorded by common, uninvolved historians.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    It discounts all written and spoken sources of the life of Jesus, by the authors of Scripture and historians such as Josephus alike.

    So “all written accounts” essentially boil down to two; The Bible which we have to discount as it is the question begging and Josephus whose sparse references are either fake or really refer to someone else entirely. Ebonmuse has dealt with this quite well here.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    This is false.

    It is not false in the context of what she wrote. Can atheists have faith in things? Yes. But, in the context of having any religious faith, atheism is simply the lack of it.

    Atheists have faith that God does not exist.

    Wrong. You have faith that god exists, I do not share that faith. That does not mean that I have a positive faith position on the non-existence of god. IOW, rejecting your faith does not necessarily entail that I have a faith of my own. I feel like we’ve been over this before.

    Many atheists have faith that life has meaning, though without God.

    How does one need to have faith if we decide that our lives have meaning and act accordingly? This is not a faith position. Attributing it to god, however, is a faith position.

    Many atheists have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow, though again without God.

    We have tons of empirical evidence that the sun will rise tomorrow. If this is your idea of “faith” then the word has lost all meaning. Attributing it to god, however, is a faith position.

    And some atheists have faith that Jesus did not exist.

    Once again, rejecting your assertions does not imply a faith position. That I am skeptical of the existence of Jesus does not mean that I have taken it on faith that he didn’t exist. To use the scant historical evidence that we do have and conclude that Jesus did exist, as you do, is, however, a faith position.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Atheists have faith that God does not exist.

    Translated: “I’m rubber and you’re glue.”

  • Arch

    A definition of faith: firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

    Yes, that would include the professions that the universe came to be without God or that the universe is eternal, that life can have meaning, and that Christ is a mythological figure.
    Once again, atheists have faith and have just as much demand to explain their beliefs as a theist does. No copping out with the statement, “you, the theist, are the only one with a responsibility to defend your beliefs. Since I profess a lack of belief, I am exempt from that.”–not true.

    How does one need to have faith if we decide that our lives have meaning and act accordingly?

    If WE decide… This statement is blatantly relativistic, and therefore the meaning of life would be arbitrary… that contradicts the very nature of the meaning of life. A self-promulgated meaning of life can only contain any true meaning in so far as it shares in the objective meaning of life which we can know because God has created us with a desire for true fulfillment and love. If we are trying to make up our own meanings for life, we will never find true fulfillment in them.

  • ildi

    Once again, atheists have faith and have just as much demand to explain their beliefs as a theist does.

    How’s that belief in Thor and Quetzalcoatl coming along?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    A definition of faith: firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

    Yes, that would include the professions that the universe came to be without God or that the universe is eternal, that life can have meaning, and that Christ is a mythological figure.

    No. We went over this in another thread. The difference between, say, cosmology and theology is as follows: In cosmology, practitioners collect, oh, what is it? Oh yeah. Evidence. In theology, they don’t.

    Once again, atheists have faith and have just as much demand to explain their beliefs as a theist does.

    I don’t mind explaining my atheism to you, if you’re curious. It is simple. I see insufficient evidence of any deities. If you’re possessed of some, let’s hear it. Better yet, publish, and collect your Nobel.

    No copping out with the statement, “you, the theist, are the only one with a responsibility to defend your beliefs. Since I profess a lack of belief, I am exempt from that.”–not true.

    I’ll very happily defend my lack of belief. It makes sense, and corresponds with the lack of evidence in this particular matter. Furthermore, as Hitchens has noted, claims advanced without evidence may be discarded without evidence.

    If WE decide… This statement is blatantly relativistic, and therefore the meaning of life would be arbitrary… that contradicts the very nature of the meaning of life.

    Since you seem to be in possession of the secret of the meaning of life, kindly educate me: what is it? I mean, I know what I think my meaning is, but I’d prefer to be right. So learn me.

    A self-promulgated meaning of life can only contain any true meaning in so far as it shares in the objective meaning of life which we can know because God has created us with a desire for true fulfillment and love. If we are trying to make up our own meanings for life, we will never find true fulfillment in them.

    Pseudo-intellectual claptrap filled with baseless assertions and claimed, but not presented, knowledge. Furthermore, love is no means of learning. If you doubt that, ask an abused child. They rarely learn to un-love their abuser.

    And personally, I wish you’d not try and tell me my own personal level of fulfillment, when you don’t know me from Adam’s housecat. Honestly, when you speak out of ignorance in one matter, it undermines your credibility in all.

  • Caiphen

    ‘Atheists have faith that God does not exist.’

    Do you have faith that Pixies exist? We don’t accept faith but only clear evidence.

    Do you have faith that God exists? Again we don’t accept faith but only clear evidence.

    Why should the idea of there being a God be any different to the idea of there being Pixies? Both ideas come from authors who wrote books. Why should the bible be esteemed any higher than a book on Pixies? Both are scientifically baseless. Is a belief in God just as ridiculous as a belief in Pixies? I think so.

    On the other hand atheists have the most comprehensively proven theory in all of human history- Evolution. There’s no faith in a belief of it. Vain attempts at harmonising science with the bible like a belief in Pixies is baseless. Can you show me evidence that I’m wrong? Since evolution contradicts scripture isn’t the bible falsified? Again, I think so.

    There’s is no faith in Atheism. Not a shred.

    Religion makes a fool of the best of us. Don’t waste your life on it.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Yes, that would include the professions that [...] Christ is a mythological figure.

    Of course in Sarah’s O.P the Muslim girl was happy to buy into the same assumptions, until it trapped her into undermining the veracity of the Quran. We are all guilty of believing things that fit with our world view in the absence of evidence to the contrary and there is very little evidence to the contrary in this case. Personally I am ambivalent about the existence of the man Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph (well son of Mary anyway, apparently paternity is disputed), it is the divinity bestowed upon him that requires more evidence than is available outside of the scriptures themselves.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Arch,
    If we used your idea of burden of proof, then people would be guilty until proven innocent. I mean, isn’t a defendant making a positive claim of not guilty? Therefore the defendant must prove that she is not guilty or else we’re justified in locking her up, right?

    Luckily most other people understand this concept a lot better than you. The one making the positive claim is the one who bears the burden of proof. In the court example, the prosecutor bears the burden of proof (sans positive defense strategies like insanity) and we understand that one is innocent until proven guilty. It’s much the same with your religious ideas. You are the one putting forth the positive claim, i.e. that god exists. Like the defendant, I don’t need to disprove god as I don’t hold the burden of proof. You hold the burden of proof to support your position. When you can’t do so, I’m completely justified in disbelieving your positive assertions. This does not mean that I’m asserting anything positively myself. If you think otherwise, then perhaps you should disprove unicorns, leprechauns, and faeries for us.

    If WE decide… This statement is blatantly relativistic, and therefore the meaning of life would be arbitrary… that contradicts the very nature of the meaning of life. A self-promulgated meaning of life can only contain any true meaning in so far as it shares in the objective meaning of life which we can know because God has created us with a desire for true fulfillment and love. If we are trying to make up our own meanings for life, we will never find true fulfillment in them.

    There is an element of subjectivity, that’s true, but who are you to say that our meaning must be objective or else it’s false. And, how does the belief in god make anything objective in that regard? If god decides how you live your life, then it’s no more objective than if I decide.

  • Arch

    These are just a few of the many, many positive assertions an atheist might make:

    The universe is eternal. God is equivalent to a mythological being. Jesus is mythological. Matter can cause its own existence. Matter can be eternal. The world simply came to be. I am correct. Darwin is a credible individual. The theory of evolution is nearly flawless. I can create my own, valid meaning of life. And on, and on, and on…

    You are making all kinds of positive claims, and in your own words, you therefore bear the burden of proof. Stop dancing around the many issues you profess without certainty–and if you are academically true, you will also stop accusing theists of being unique or unacademic by believing in things they cannot prove.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    The universe is eternal. God is equivalent to a mythological being. Jesus is mythological. Matter can cause its own existence. Matter can be eternal. The world simply came to be. I am correct. Darwin is a credible individual. The theory of evolution is nearly flawless. I can create my own, valid meaning of life. And on, and on, and on…

    Sigh! None of the above would be categorical assertions by any materialist, they would all however be reasonable hypotheses or theories given the available evidence. The alternatives (collectively: Goddidit!)stumble at the first epistemological hurdle. No freakin’ evidence whatsoever.

  • Arch

    The evidence for God may begin with necessity, and the fact that nothing can cause its own existence, will its own existence, cause time to begin, etc… and please do not think the epistomological hurldes of atheist assertions are just easily hopped over. There are many, and they are mammoth.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Sigh is right.

    Arch, I’m afraid I’m going to need some “proof” that nothing can will its own existence.

    Exactly.

  • Arch

    Please prove that matter does will its own existence.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I’m going to give this one last shot, and then I’m out:

    I never made that claim (that matter does will its own existence).

    My refuting your claims on lack of evidence is NOT the same thing as me claiming the inverse (or converse– or whichever is the correct philosophy / logic term).

    Me saying that you do not have adequate evidence to claim something is NOT me saying that I have adequate evidence to claim the opposite.

    If you don’t agree, then there is really no where to take this conversation, because it has become nonsensical.

  • ildi

    The evidence for God Apsu may begin with necessity…

    Fixed that for you, Arch. Now, please provide evidence for the positive claim that Apsu does not exist. After all, the Enuma Elish says it’s true, and it’s obvious (sic) that the world didn’t create isself, so it must have been Apsu.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    The evidence for God may begin with necessity, and the fact that nothing can cause its own existence, will its own existence, cause time to begin, etc…

    Hmm! Maybe you’ve got something there, maybe you could say it again, several times in fact (perhaps with a little paraphrasing here and there) and I could be pursuaded you actually know what you are talking about &lt/irony&gt

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Damn! &lt works in preview

  • Mishmuf

    …and the fact that nothing can cause its own existence, will its own existence, cause time to begin, etc…

    So how does God get there?

  • Arch

    That is not an argument. Apsu simply shows the diffference between a human creation and truth, namely, God.

    Apsu=a human creation of a mythical being made of fresh water.

    God=that than which nothing greater can be conceived. Eternal, omnipotent, not a material being. Not dependent on humans or anyone/anything for definition or existence.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    God = a human synthesis of two “pagan” deities El and Yahweh

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    p.s bored now!

  • Sarah Braasch

    But, Arch, you’re a theist, not a deist, right?

    Or, are you a deist?

  • ildi

    God = a human creation of a mythical being made of hot air.

    There you go! I’m presenting as much evidence for the non-existence of God as you did for the non-existence of Apsu.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Arch,
    Simply repeating yourself from thread to thread doesn’t make you any more right. As Sarah correctly points out, rejecting your claim doesn’t mean a claim of the opposite. I think you need to deal with that.

    Secondly, the last time you brought your whole, “Nothing can’t create something all by itself” shtick, you were corrected about the fact that virtual particles do come into existence all on their own, that you have no idea whether there was “nothing” that became “something,” and that you have no cause to point to a personal creator instead of an impersonal force. You have yet to deal with those objections, yet here you are simply repeating your previous claims as if no one has raised any objections or shown why your claims are wrong. You need to deal with those objections instead of simply trying to re-assert the same crap over and over.

  • Arch

    Ildi–please note the descriptors I gave to help explain God’s nature, one of which was that God is not a material being.

    Sarah–I would agree with a deist that God is recognizable through creation by means of us considering the universe and our own existence (natural revelation)… but I also absolutely assent to divine revelation, that God has directly revealed truths to us that we can understand through our human faculties.

  • Peter N

    Arch,

    Let me pick out just one of your rich assortment of staw man assertions:

    Many atheists have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow, though again without God

    A fine example for further reflection.

    The ancients might indeed have hoped and prayed that the sun would rise each day and end the darkness. Maybe it would have seemed risky to disbelieve the hand of God and hope that the sun would rise nevertheless. To be on the safe side, they might have sacrificed some captured enemy soldiers on the high altar at Tikal.

    I trust you will agree that we have achieved a somewhat deeper understanding of what is really going on. It turned out that for practical purposes, the sun is stationary — we’re the ones in motion, as the earth turns on its axis. “Sunrise” is a continuous process, that has been going on for billions of years, thanks to the inertia of the spinning earth. We can be quite sure that sun isn’t going to get stuck in the middle of the night, and leave us in perpetual darkness, if we don’t say the right prayers. You and I therefore know perfectly well that “the sun will come up tomorrow…without God.”

    That is, of course, an easy one — Aristarchus of Samos had if figured out in 270 BC. But the rest of your “hard questions for atheists” — concerning the origin of the universe, human morals and ethics, the historicity of Jesus — can and will be answered reliably and usefully by examining the evidence and applying logic. Saying “Goddunnit!” is no answer at all.

  • Sarah Braasch

    But, with a veritable smorgasbord of divine revelations to choose from, how does one begin to make such a choice?

    Because, as I understand the divine revelation buffet, it’s all you can eat for eternity, but only one item.

    Or, did God reveal himself to you personally?

    I thought you were a deist, and I got all excited to talk to you, but now I’m not.

    Unless God revealed himself to you personally, and then I’ll be excited again.

  • ildi

    God is not a material being

    This is not evidence fo Apsu’s non-existence. Why do you hate Apsu? Apsu loves you and wants you worship him! Otherwise…

  • Arch

    ildi,
    That is not academia but silliness. That was far from engaging the points that I made. I will ignore any posts like that from now on.

    But the rest of your “hard questions for atheists can and will be answered reliably and usefully by examining the evidence and applying logic.

    Theists do not assert that God exists with no prior thought as some state. It is the intellect and logic that leads one to say that existence of its own accord does not make sense, and then to consider the possibility of an intelligent designer.

    Sarah,
    I firmly believe that God has revealed truth for all to know. I think that it takes an open heart to legitimately dialogue about that. I would be happy to write with you or any who so care to.

    Finally, to briefly touch on virtual particles… just because that certain particles may come into the realm of human observation without a definitive explanation (at least yet), that by no means is justification to say that something can create or will its own existence. Those particles are coming into observation amidst a realm of the universe, many of which are not observable, in which other realities are already present. And it is a leap of no credulity to take such an aspect of reality and to assert it as proof that the universe could have always been, or that matter somehow has authority of its own accord.

    One more….

    We can be quite sure that sun isn’t going to get stuck in the middle of the night, and leave us in perpetual darkness, if we don’t say the right prayers. You and I therefore know perfectly well that “the sun will come up tomorrow…without God.”

    This is a demonstration of faith on your part… faith in science of some sort. But without God the sun would not be here in the first place, nor would it come up tomorrow. There would be no existence. How does the “continuous process” of sunrise have any authority? How or why did it start? Before you accuse me of God of the gaps, I would like to hear many explanations of time and eternity apart from God. Because though many here do not want to admit it, a theist is not automatically a “God of the gaps” philosopher by any stretch, but one who has assented to faith through the intellect and the will.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    And it is a leap of no credulity to take such an aspect of reality and to assert it as proof that the universe could have always been, or that matter somehow has authority of its own accord.

    I introduced that to rebut your obviously incorrect claim that nothing is causeless. I made no claim that it proved anything beyond you being wrong, which claim I renew.

  • ildi

    Well, Arch, my points are as silly as your assertion that God exists because he is not a material being. You assume default value that your God exists and everyone else’s God is a mythical human creation? Just because you say “God exists” does not make it so. I assert that your God is a mythical human creation, and the burden is on you to provide evidence otherwise.

    without Aten the sun would not be here in the first place, nor would it come up tomorrow.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Theists do not assert that God exists with no prior thought as some state.

    Oh, I’m sure there’s some thought process, it’s whether that thought process is rational or not is the question.

    It is the intellect and logic that leads one to say that existence of its own accord does not make sense, and then to consider the possibility of an intelligent designer.

    And bad logic at that, for all the reasons we’ve been telling you that you’ve ignored time and again.

    Finally, to briefly touch on virtual particles… just because that certain particles may come into the realm of human observation without a definitive explanation (at least yet), that by no means is justification to say that something can create or will its own existence.

    As Thump points out, it was in response to a specific claim you made which is in error. Why do you persist in throwing up these strawmen? I thought you were about logic and reason? If you are, then why do you rely so on logical fallacy?

    This is a demonstration of faith on your part… faith in science of some sort.

    If using empirical evidence and well-known laws/theorems of science is “faith,” then the word has lost all meaning.

    But without God the sun would not be here in the first place, nor would it come up tomorrow. There would be no existence.

    So you keep asserting and failing to support.

    Before you accuse me of God of the gaps, I would like to hear many explanations of time and eternity apart from God.

    No you don’t. We’ve already given you quite a few and you simply ignore them and claim that godmustadoneit. And, BTW, you are engaging in god of the gaps.

    …but one who has assented to faith through the intellect and the will.

    Meaning you have evidence? Let’s see it? And, no, making illogical arguments that don’t hold up about how the universe had to be created (mostly because you know jack about cosmology or probability or what current big bang theory entails) doesn’t cut it.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Furthermore, the idea that one may arrive at an accurate approximation of the nature of reality by exercising logic alone is silly beyond belief. Hypotheses, predictions, and tests may be suggested by logic, but absent the crucible of comparison, logic says precious little of the Universe at large.

    Additionally, as you’ve shown so well with your posts, correct conclusions are dependent on correct premises, and the latter is never guaranteed.

  • Joffan

    Arch:

    just because that certain particles may come into the realm of human observation without a definitive explanation (at least yet), that by no means is justification to say that something can create or will its own existence.

    This challenge of yours applies with immensely greater force to this God you keep describing.

  • Caiphen

    I have a headache reading all these comments. Reading about Nero would be more fun. The idea of there being a God twists and turns us like no other blinking subject. Arch, if she does exist don’t you reckon we would have even a little bit of evidence? After all, humanity has laboured over this for our whole damn existence.

  • Peter N

    Theists do not assert that God exists with no prior thought as some state. It is the intellect and logic that leads one to say that existence of its own accord does not make sense, and then to consider the possibility of an intelligent designer.

    An “intelligent designer”? Sure, that’s possible. Now would that be your deity, or an aboriginal Australian nature spirit, or maybe one of the classical Greek gods, or some combination of untold thousand others? All of these ideas, and an infinite number of others, fit the evidence equally well — how would you figure out what really happened? Maybe our universe is a project from the equivalent of a junior high science class in another dimension. Maybe it was created by our own distant descendants, billions of years in the future, who will travel back in time to start it all, in order eventually to give rise to themselves. Without evidence, there is no way to prove or disprove even a far-fetched hypothesis — no way even to know which ones might be more likely than the rest (although knowing a thing or two about the state of knowledge of nature by people of the bronze age, I’m not putting my money on any of their myths). For now, I have no plans to go to church to pray to any of those explanations, until the rest have been ruled out.

    We can be quite sure that sun isn’t going to get stuck in the middle of the night, and leave us in perpetual darkness, if we don’t say the right prayers. You and I therefore know perfectly well that “the sun will come up tomorrow…without God.”

    This is a demonstration of faith on your part… faith in science of some sort. But without God the sun would not be here in the first place, nor would it come up tomorrow.

    First of all, do you agree that the movement of the sun in the sky is an illusion caused by the rotation of the earth, that the earth will continue rotating as long as it exists, and therefore expecting the “sunrise” is not a matter of faith? Second, I see someone moved the goalposts while I wasn’t looking. First the atheist had to expect the sunrise “on faith”, and now it’s the existence of the sun. Arch, there is a sun, believe it or disbelieve it. Faith not required.

    Before you accuse me of God of the gaps, I would like to hear many explanations of time and eternity apart from God. Because though many here do not want to admit it, a theist is not automatically a “God of the gaps” philosopher by any stretch, but one who has assented to faith through the intellect and the will.

    I do accuse you of appealing to the “God of the Gaps” fallacy. You say there is something we don’t understand (gap), therefore, God (or rather, God is a plausible explanation). And I won’t explain time and eternity first. In fact, I openly proclaim that I don’t understand them — I offer no explanation whatsoever.

    This does not mean I have to accept that YHWH of the Old Testament is a viable alternative explanation. Greta Christina put it extremely well: “In human history, supernatural explanations of phenomena have been replaced by natural explanations thousands upon thousands of times. Natural explanations have been replaced by supernatural ones exactly never. So why would we assume that any given unexplained phenomenon is probably supernatural?”

    To take that idea further, as long as we stick with a supernatural explanation of anything in nature, we won’t actually learn anything (not to mention that what we think we know is almost certainly wrong). Only searching for a naturalistic (scientific, if you will) explanation will get us dependable, useful information.

    Saying “Goddunnit!” is no answer at all.

  • Charles

    Comment #31 by: Gary

    Is there a website or book somewhere that cites ancient literature to show that these sun gods were believed to have traits matching those of the biblical Jesus?

    Check out Unspoken Bible. He has information on Biblical Astrology and sun gods. No idea if it is accurate or not.

    One of his links has a number of Biblical Astrology References.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X