Religions Continue to Diverge—What Does that Tell Us?

Religions Continue to Diverge—What Does that Tell Us? December 16, 2015

Suppose supernatural truths exist, but we could only dimly perceive them. What would this look like? How could we tell that we lived in such a world?

We might see a Babel of religions because of our imperfect understanding, but we’d also see convergence. As the disparate religious groups compared notes, common supernatural truths would become apparent. We’d see positive feedback as we matched our tentative consensus against that rudimentary understanding of the Divine. And if that supernatural Divine wanted us to understand, it would nudge us in the right direction so Humanity would gradually cobble together an accurate understanding.

Of course, in the Christian example where God is eager for each of us to have a relationship with him, we should see not a nudge or a vague hint of the celestial truth but overwhelming and unmistakable evidence that he exists.

Follow the evidence

What we see is neither overwhelming evidence nor even dimly perceived evidence. Humanity sees no common truth that pushes religions toward a single consensus view—there isn’t even any agreement on the number of gods or their names, let alone what it takes to please him/them. Religion’s fragmentation is bad and getting worse. For example, Christianity has 45,000 denominations now, and that is expected to grow to 70,000 by 2050.

Important new denominations within Christianity including Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarian Universalist Church, Salvation Army, Assemblies of God, Messianic Judaism, Shakers, Mormonism, and Pentecostalism. Outside of Christianity we find new religions such as Rastafari, Church of Satan, Cargo cults, Theosophical Society, Transcendental Meditation movement, Wicca, Neopaganism, and UFO cults such as Raëlism, Heaven’s Gate, Nation of Islam, and Scientology. Dozens of new religious movements spring up each year just in the United States.

The unstoppable growth of religious diversity is shown by the tree of world religions and the map of world religions.

If there is a supernatural truth out there and if beliefs are steered by reality (instead of wishful thinking, say), you’d think that religious claims would be tested and either kept or dropped based on how well they matched reality. With this view, we’d see humankind gradually converge on a single religious story. And yet we see the opposite because the assumption that beliefs are measured against the evidence is wrong. Evidence doesn’t drive the search for religious truth.

Christian response

What then explains the popular Christian apologists who weave elaborate intellectual arguments for the strength of the Christian position? They’re simply supporting conclusions already made, and they get their support from Christians who want a pat on the head and assurance that there’s scholarly backing for beliefs they hold for no more substantial reason than that they were part of their environment growing up.

(Yes, adults do switch religions, but this is rare. Believers adopt a religion, not because it is the truth, but because it’s the religion of their culture. Only one percent of believers switch in as adults.)

The Christian response is often to emphasize Christianity’s unique aspects. “Okay, maybe Christianity wasn’t the first to celebrate a virgin birth or have a dying-and-rising god,” they admit, “but look at its unique features!” Sure, Christianity is unique. Every religion is unique. But the problem remains: if your correct religion looks like yet another manmade religion, why would we think it’s correct? Why pick it over the rest? Since it looks like nothing more than a manmade religion, it should be rejected just like the rest.

Another popular response is to argue that the one true God could have his reasons for not making clear the correct path. We simply don’t understand them. Yes, this is possible, but this is the “Aha—you haven’t proven me wrong!” gambit, which again is no justification for belief. You don’t hold beliefs because they haven’t been proven wrong; you hold them because there’s evidence that they’re right. We follow the evidence, and it doesn’t point to Christianity.

Where does this leave Christianity?

Christians agree that people invent religions. That’s how they explain all those other religions. But in explaining away these other religions, they’ve explained away their own. Christianity looks like just one more manmade religion.

Religion is controlled by human imagination and emotions, evolving as conditions change with no immutable truth to constrain it. There is no loving god desiring a relationship who would make his existence known to us, and Christians must celebrate faith to paper over this embarrassing fact. There’s not even a cosmic truth “seen through a glass, darkly” (that is, seen in a mirror, dimly). The glass isn’t dark; it’s black. There is no external truth nudging us in the right direction.

Christians, drop the pretense that this is an intellectual project. Admit, at least to yourselves, that your belief is cultural and built on nothing more solid than tradition.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something
when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
— Upton Sinclair

Photo credit: Mike Mozart, flickr, CC

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • MNb

    In short: there is no method to separate correct claims about a supposed supernatural reality from incorrect ones. Anything goes.
    Totally useless.

    • Agreed. This seems so obvious. But how do we get the believers to reconsider their position? Let me know if you have the silver bullet.

      • MNb

        Sorry, I’m not very interested in finding that silver bullet.

      • Taneli Huuskonen

        I have a silver bullet that works perfectly, but I refuse to demonstrate its power.

        • Well, heck–that’s good enough for me.

        • RichardSRussell

          So it’s true. The Lone Ranger DOES ride again!

        • Greg G.

          I have a spare tire but I refuse to use it because, then, I wouldn’t have a spare.

        • wtfwjtd

          How about keeping a can or two of Fix-a-flat in the trunk? Now you’re covered for all scenarios, and you a have a spare for your spare!

  • Not only can we not prove them wrong, we can’t prove them wrong in principle. When a new field in science is established, there are often several theories or hypotheses that are correct. That is they are different (as are religions, or they would be the same, duh) but also they are falsifiable in principle. Eventually, in short order, some are discarded because they are incompatible with the evidence, and eventually one theory with minor variants is established. Scientific models converge because they are focused on verifiable evidence.

    Because religions are limited only by imagination (and social factors like profit, founder charisma, etc.) they inevitably diverge. They are periodically reduced in number not by evidential findings, but by cultural dominance, often a result of war.

    Religious creation myths are pseudo explanatory. They are shaped somewhat like an explanation (“God set up rainbows as a reminder that he was merciful and spared 8 people out of millions, etc.”). But when evidence contraindicates this (“There was no global flood, the evidence proves it!”) the explanation is that the creator god created contrafactual false facts as a miracle. He miraculously made it look as though it wasn’t true. All such “explanations” are variants ion one theme: the universe is an illusion. The problem for the True believer is, of course, that if it is all an illusion, why should he, or his holy books, or even the world around us, be trusted? The rocks lie, and those holy books are lies, but my holy books are true?

    Ask the deep theologian to explain the difference among these scenarios:
    1. We are all subroutines in Sims v. 46, and God is the avatar for Norbert the Nerd, who lives in his mom’s basement and can’t get a date, but he can scatter the stars in the (our) sky with a wave of his hand.
    2. You are a brain in a tank, with false sensory input fed into your brain.
    3. God is Yahweh, and the universe is a few thousand years old, but he made it to look as if it were billions.
    4. All of this (gestures with hand) is the dream of Brahma, there is nothing else. Gods, demons, people, ants, cows, are all different aspects of Brahma’s dream, and ultimately it is our goal to remember this.

    The most reasonable explanation is just to accept the world as what it seems to be. If it is faked, there would be no way for us to tell, anyway. As for Pascal’s wager, you have as much to lose or gain by serving Norbert as you do Yahweh.

    • FaithIsGlorifiedDelusion

      Reminds me of this brilliant video by TheraminTrees that compliments your comment nicely 🙂

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZpJ7yUPwdU

      • Jack Baynes

        That’s awesome.

      • MNb

        I dispute “there is an infinity of infintely happy life to gain”.

        • Jack Baynes

          Once you get to heaven, Free Will is abolished, so God can MAKE you infinitely happy for eternity.

        • adam

          Even psychopaths NEED friends apparently, even if they have to be FORCED

        • You’re sad because Uncle Phil is roasting in hell forever? A little permanent amnesia will fix that.

          Christians demand conditions here on earth as essential (free will, keeping your personality, etc.), and yet one wonders if they can tolerate them in heaven.

        • Kodie

          I feel like their concept of heaven is that they’ll still have personal free will, but it’s heaven, so everyone else will behave like you want them to. It’s like, if you want to listen to music really loud in your apartment (or mansion, ’cause it’s heaven), instead of complaining, people will come and tell you they love that song and compliment your taste in music. Likewise, if you hated loud neighbors on earth, heaven will only have quiet people. Whatever you like, it’s like, all the time. Everyone behaves according to your preferences, they find you interesting, they’re game for whatever you want to do, they don’t hate anything you want to do or behave like, or they leave you alone if that’s what you want. Everyone gets along because it’s your heaven, there’s no hate, violence, or resentment, because everything is perfected to your own specs.

          I think this is the most common cultural representation of heaven, too – kind of like permanent retirement, leisure, restored youth and ability, and all your favorite things to do, eat, etc. without worrying about being considerate or saving money or making choices, since infinite time, you can do anything you want now and another thing later.

        • I suppose then that in each of our heavens, we’re the only one who actually exists, and the other trillion people are projections of some sort. And we’re back to brains in vats.

          Christians seem to imagine the everyone-getting-along bit, except that somehow there’s only one heaven. Maybe everyone takes Soma (from Brave New World) so that the quiet people don’t mind the partiers and vice versa.

    • RichardSRussell

      You write When a new field in science is established, there are often several theories or hypotheses that are correct.

      I believe what you meant to refer to was “several hypotheses that could explain the then-available evidence”, since it would be premature at that point to refer to any of them as “correct”.

    • Pofarmer

      “As for Pascal’s wager, you have as much to lose or gain by serving Norbert as you do Yahweh.”

      Actually your chances aren’t nearly that good.

    • Kodie

      Because religions are limited only by imagination (and social factors
      like profit, founder charisma, etc.) they inevitably diverge. They are
      periodically reduced in number not by evidential findings, but by
      cultural dominance, often a result of war.

      I wanted to add “feelings” although that can be imagination. It seems, often enough, a religion can change because someone doesn’t like their religion. Instead of accepting the harsher “truth” of those who proclaim a certain religion, many will adapt it to their personal feelings. We argue often with Christians who tell us we don’t really understand their faith when we point out the horrors instructed by god. Rather than accept the bible literally, they will find some way to make god such a good guy anyway. He’s a good guy who loves you and loves me and sometimes people are wicked and deserve to be violently oppressed and murdered. Sometimes, god has to send a message to straighten out and turn your land over to the chosen people, or otherwise they will forcefully take it. Some people don’t like how all their friends or some relatives will end up in eternal hell, so they make it seem no worse than a doctor’s waiting room, magazines to read, small talk with strangers, have to look at all their wallet pictures of grandchildren and hear about the amazing story of the accident that killed them, and the doctor never comes out and calls you in to be examined. Tedious, boring, socially awkward, uncomfortable chairs, outdated, limited reading material, but not fire, no, that’s much too harsh. You’re just apart from Jesus with nothing to do and no way out, no place to sprawl out and get a good nap to break it up a little. This also includes evolution-accepting Christians, who find so many parts of the bible clearly written by a culture of superstitious storytellers – a man rising up from the dead, whose death gives you eternal life if you believe in it, just doesn’t stick out as also made up?

      The moderates, to me, are the worst. They get along better, but changing everything around the way they can still accept and believe it is the creation of religion, period. You read the bible, it says certain things in it you don’t like or which aren’t true, but cling to it anyway, find a way to modify it yourself so it doesn’t make you an atheist! Fundamentalists would call these people wrong and hellbound, but moderates are looking for a more socially acceptable account, one that won’t bind them to these “fringe” morons and haters, and are vigilant about being mistaken for one. If you really understood what the bible means Y when it says X, you’d believe in Jesus the Christ too and be saved!

  • candide

    Why do you bother? Religion is not a rational thing but an emotional thing. People adopt religions for a variety of non-rational reasons. Many find meaning in various myths and beliefs. The only test should be: does a particular religion make people better or worse, happier or more depressed, etc. You cannot persuade a happy believer that he is wrong, nor a depressed non-believer that he should adopt your faith.

    • Greg G.

      A person’s right to swing his fist ends at the next guy’s nose. A person’s religious freedom ends when they try to practice it on other people.

      If religions minded their own business and didn’t try to impose itself on society, there would be no problem. But we live in a democracy where people vote according to their irrational beliefs because they are afraid of what will happen to them when they are dead. They can’t vote unless it is for who an imaginary god approves of. They care about other people’s sex because their god might get mad. They attack people with different faiths.

      Happy believers often convince themselves that their faith is groundless when they try to explain why it is not to people who question those beliefs. That is why polls show that atheists know more about religion that most religious people.

      That’s why we bother.

    • Kevin R. Cross

      Because it’s not JUST emotion. Most believers rope in their intellects to support their already-desired outcome and result.
      Take the intellectual argument away or show it to be wrong, and suddenly the chair has only three legs. You can still sit on a three legged chair, but it takes more effort, and increases the likelihood of either falling off or going and finding a more stable chair.

      • Shermer’s Law: “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

        • Kevin R. Cross

          That’s a good one, I hadn’t encountered that before.

        • A smart Christian can cobble together a pretty good argument for just about any position. They harness their substantial intellect to support the position they hold for no more substantial reason than that they were raised in it as a child.

        • Gideon Waxfarb

          This goes far beyond Christians though. I’ve seen atheists with beliefs, albeit not related to religion, that make me do a Picard-style facepalm.

        • Valid point. Atheists, in my experience, don’t have any belief as far-fetched as religion, but we’re all susceptible to fooling ourselves. I remember hearing Dawkins asked about Creationism in the UK. He said that it wasn’t much of a problem, but the vacuum left by religion let other nutty beliefs–homeopathy, New Age, etc.–move in to fill the gap.

        • RichardSRussell

          Yup. As I often point out, the largest clutch of atheists on the planet is about a billion Chinese. They meet the sole requirement of atheism — no belief in gods per se — but many of them fall for all sorts of other nonsense, like ancestor veneration, traditional Chinese “medicine”, numerology, Communism, feng shui, chakras, and so on. While most rationalists are atheists, the reverse is by no means true.

        • Pofarmer

          William Lane Craig and Edward Feser are two prime examples.

        • Pofarmer

          Shermer in “Why People believe Weird things. ” Pretty good book.

        • epicurus

          Over the years I’ve seen some smart Christians easily blow apart the logic of other religions, but when it comes back to their own, well, they just can’t see it.

        • Eo Raptor

          Sorry, I’m most unlikely to ever quote anything Shermer has to say. While his vile actions and views don’t necessarily logically undermine his message, he is so nauseating his message is lost.

        • RichardSRussell

          I’m unfamiliar with Michael Shermer’s supposed vile actions and views. Every time I’ve had the chance to read his stuff, hear him speak, or engage him in conversation, he’s been informative and entertaining. I’m not sure where the nausea comes from, as I’ve never experienced it.

          Besides, the quality of an idea isn’t at all dependent on the nature of its source.

    • That works for me. The problem is that many Christians declare that their belief is firmly based on evidence and good reasoning. If they’d say, like you, that this mindset/worldview simply makes them happier, say, I’d be fine with that.

      It’s the empty claim that this is evidence based that bothers me.

      • epicurus

        And it gets worse when some of those Christians want to get politically active and enforce/legislate “God’s Law” that they think think they have good evidence for believing.

        • If they’d only be content to believing their stuff and leaving it at that.

        • Pofarmer

          But God TELLS EM to spread it.

        • adam

          And Propaganda like manure, works best when well spread

        • RichardSRussell

          Cops sometimes do, too, right after “up against the wall”.

    • MNb

      Oh, if religious folks admit that it’s just a emotional think I’m done immediately. There is nothing to discuss anymore. Unfortunately lots of religious folks claim religion is a rational thing. Or fortunately (for me), because I enjoy such discussions.

      • Pofarmer

        Wholeheartedly agree here.

      • wtfwjtd

        You know, that’s a good angle to work. The next time I have a friend or neighbor insist on discussing religion, I’m going to ask them this very thing–Is their faith based on emotion or reason?

        • Thought2Much

          They will, I can almost guarantee, tell you that their faith is based on reason, because they don’t want to look stupid.

          However, when you press them on the issue and they realize they can’t actually provide anything based on reason, they will retreat to “But God has given me feelings! I’ve had experiences! I just know he exists, and you can’t tell me otherwise!”

        • And indeed that’s what Wm. Lane Craig does. We can’t have 100% confidence in any evidence claim. Science is always provisional. Why would he let that trump the “self-authenticating witness of God’s Spirit”?

        • Pofarmer

          Exactly. And so often if you question religious beliefs, you’re a hater. “Why do you hate so much!” I’ll even give an example, where I didn’t even question a “religious” belief.

          So, This one gal from my kids school is a religious nut, but sometimes she gives some decent information. But , she posts some of the most egregious religious nonsense. Posts from Bishop Robert Barron about Demons running out during the Eucharist, stuff like that. So, the other day she posts a Nativity scene picture with the Meme “Facebook is trying to ban these, everybody post one…….blah, blah.” My response was “Don’t be gullible, and a link to the Snopes entry debunking this meme.” Whe responds back. “Why are you so full of hate, I just wanted a picture of a nativity scene on my wall.” I responded back. “But, that Nativity scene is attached to a meme, that is simply not true, aren’t we worried about the truth, here.?”

          Click, unfriended. Don’t question the nonsense, then you’re “persecuting” them. They get their entire self worth wrapped up in it.

        • Different standards of politeness seem to apply. When we don’t agree on the things that are off limits, these conflicts are inevitable.

          Christian entitlement is the problem IMO, but they’ll disagree.

        • Pofarmer

          I’ll admit “Don’t be gullible” probably wasn’t the most polite thing I could have said. But, still.

        • wtfwjtd

          I’m not sure that what you say or not matters that much with these kinds of things Po. My wife has sent debunking links to a few of these falsehoods that show up in her FB feed, without comment, with much the same results as you experience. Some people are determined to be persecuted and offended no matter what, and truth isn’t important to them.

        • Pofarmer

          I just can’t wait to go to Christmas at my wifes nutso family. They have all been “praying for me.” I am half expecting some sort of intervention.

        • wtfwjtd

          Holidays are the worst for this stuff, aren’t they? Hopefully your kids will enjoy it, that’s the main thing. I can tolerate a lot of awkward and uncomfortable, if I think that my child will ultimately benefit from it.
          My wife has always been kind of an outsider with her family, since she wasn’t their favorite child anyway. But going to those family gatherings, and having to be careful about what topics are brought up, and how you approach them–yeah, I can feel the awkward just thinking about it. Ugh.

        • Pofarmer

          The two older boys feel the same way I do.

        • wtfwjtd

          I completely understand why there are new movie releases on days like Thanksgiving and Christmas. After being cooped up in a house full of relatives for a few hours, there are plenty of people who just want to get the heck out of there, and a new movie release is a good excuse for doing so. It’s among the theater’s busiest days, for good reason.

        • Pofarmer

          Never thought of it like that. That’s one nice thing, my wife’s family will all bundle off to church, and I have a chance to kick back while they all pray for me.

        • wtfwjtd

          As long as they don’t lay hands on you, you should be all right.

        • Pofarmer

          LOL. Ya know what though? They’re good people, but my MIL is crazier than a pet coon. Anxiety issues, self esteem issues, depression. And the kids KNOW it, and yet, they think this is the person who’s religious beliefs they want to emulate. I mentioned to my wife one time that maybe, just maybe, her religious beliefs were part of the problem That didn’t go over well.

        • Greg G.

          Always remember that carrots are good for your eyes but booze will double your vision.

        • Greg G.

          Use the Force, Po’!

        • Pofarmer

          Ya know, I find one thing interesting. Believers seldom talk other believers down. Was anybody trying to talk sense to the San Bernadino shooters? Probably not, they were really good Muslims. Let me give another example, also from my kids school. There is one family that is so “Catholic” even the other students make fun of them. For instance, the boy who is in my youngest sons class, won’t do Yoga because it might lead to the Hindu religion. They won’t play competitive sports because they consider it a “Sin” for some reason. And yet, I don’t know of any Priest, or other Adult, that says “Ya know what, don’t you think some of those beliefs are maybe a little extreme?” Why? I think because then that starts them doubting THEIR faith, and isn’t MORE faith always a good thing?

        • If you pick at it, it unravels like a sweater.

        • Greg G.

          You stirred up her cognitive dissonance. Religious people hate that.

        • Pofarmer

          Certainly stirred up her persecuted inner religious asshole.

        • wtfwjtd

          I see that, like me, you’ve been down this road a few times. To the Christian’s response that of course their faith is based on reason and solid evidence, my response would be “give me your best arguments and unambiguous evidence”. To this, I’ll likely get a story of a private miracle or experience–totally evidence-free, of course–or, depending on how apologetically inclined our Christian friend is, one of the many debunked-a-thousand-times cosmological, teleological, or other related nonsense arguments. Because those weak-as-water arguments totally point to the Christian god as “the one”, and that’s what totally convinced them, and not the fact that they were indoctrinated since birth. Yeah, right.

    • RichardSRussell

      “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact than a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

      —George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Irish writer

      • Eo Raptor

        And no evidence that either the skeptic or the sober man are not happy.

    • Pofarmer

      “nor a depressed non-believer that he should adopt your faith.”

      Oh, hell yes you can. In fact, that’s exactly when the religious vultures normally strike.

      • wtfwjtd

        Religion specializes on abusing and taking advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable. Funeral service, anyone?

        • Kodie

          Salvation Army, rehab, etc., etc.

    • Eo Raptor

      No, the test needs to go beyond your simple test. Within each religion, and within each individual, some believed — but unseen — things make some people better and some worse. When, however, a largish mob of individuals believe a particular credo, and have the wherewithal to force that credo on others who think differently, then only the bad prevails. Being coerced is rarely a good thing.

  • Jack Baynes

    God doesn’t have time to tell us which religion comes closest to his initial ideas. He has lots of sporting events to fix.

    • Greg G.

      Yes, and do you know how hard it is to find a good parking space for every believer, even from heaven? That’s labor intensive even for the omniscient.

  • wtfwjtd

    Another interesting facet of religion was pointed out to me by a speaker at a recent Skepticon that I attended: Have you ever noticed how religions over time tend to layer upon one another? For example, let’s start with Judaism, which assumes one god, a place where that god lives (heaven), and a few other basic assumptions on a similar theme. Sure, all unlikely, but still, pretty restrained, considering. Then, along comes Christianity, takes most of the basic assumptions of Judaism, and adds a bunch more of its own–virgin birth, 3+ gods instead of one, expanding the concept of heaven to include a bunch more stuff, the creation of hell, and so on. And then, along comes Mormonism, which takes Christianity and throws in magic rocks(or hats, I forget which), migrations to continents, space ships, the ruling of planets, and on and on.
    I think this emphasizes your point nicely–religion is just a man-made creation, that evolves over time, and changes to adapt to cultures. Exactly what we would expect from a made-up story–it just keeps evolving and diverging.

    • Pofarmer

      “and throws in magic rocks(or hats, I forget which)”

      Actually both.

  • candide

    Have you noticed that religious people need to be around other religious people all the time? Why? Because the rational basis of their faith is so weak that they to see other people with faith to shore up their own. Perhaps atheists also need other atheists around for a similar reason. I am a believer but unlike most I am put off by too much contact with other believers. When they speak their faith I realize the weakness of the foundation of their faith. I prefer my own ideosyncratic belief system to their allegedly obviously correct belief system.

    • Pofarmer

      I get some criticism from my religious spouse for being on these blogs being “hateful” to Christians, mainly. But, she goes to church probably at least 4 times a week. She works at a Catholic Hospital with religious proclamations everywhere and literally a crucifix on every wall. Every room in our house except my office has religious paraphernalia in it. Religious people absolutely do not believed how surrounded they are by it. I didn’t realize it until I deconverted. It’s nearly inescapable. Hell, it’s in our language.

      • RichardSRussell

        I know that the Christian clergy, apologists, and sycophants are really big on the idea that the only way anybody could possibly disagree with their dogma is because they’re motivated by hate, but what would they say about someone who hollered at a kid staring at his cell phone and getting set to step out into traffic? That hollering at him constitutes hate speech? You’re just trying to do the kid a favor, that’s all. Hate has nothing to do with it.

        • Pofarmer

          I got unfriended on Facebook the other day because I pointed out a false meme associated with a picture of a Nativity Scene. Apparently truth must not really matter all,that,much.

        • RichardSRussell

          And yet these are the same bozos who purport that The Truth is what they not only seek but believe they’ve found. They even go so far as to personify their attitude in fish form.

      • Eo Raptor

        I have to tell this story (yes, somebody’s holding a gun to my head, in my head). My wife recently had emergency brain surgery at a 7th Day Adventist hospital. Prominently displayed in several places throughout the hospital, including post-op and ICU, is a painting of an OR. Doctors and nurses are all in their scrubs, up to their armpits in a life-or-death procedure, the room sterile and spotless, a draped patient laying on the table. Standing beside the surgeon is a completely non-sterile Jesus (I guess he’s too holy to contaminate the field), in his shepard’s robe, his long hair and beard hanging over the operating table. His left hand is reassuringly on the surgeon’s shoulder while his right hand points to the gaping incision.

        I think the message is supposed to be that his Jesusness is guiding the people and all will be well. My take, however, is since he’s standing there, why doesn’t he just fucking fix it?

        • wtfwjtd

          Isn’t it odd, how that bearded Jesus-looking fellow apparently had no interest in surgically fixing people until man developed and perfected surgical procedures? I find this very suspicious…almost like this Jesus character really doesn’t care much about people at all; almost like he just wants to take the credit for surgically fixing people, while a trained physician does all the real work.

        • Pofarmer

          Mark Twain says it best in “Letters From Earth.” Nothing happens without the action of man. Nothing. Man does all the work, God gets all the credit. A most curious State of affairs. Man gets Hookworm because, well apparently, God puts them there. Man eradicate Hookworm. Praise God! What?

        • wtfwjtd

          As Betty Bowers (America’s BEST Christian, of course) says, it’s like thanking your abuser for not hitting you today, or praising God that the serial killer wiped out the family next door and not you. Twisted logic at its finest.

        • adam

          “Twisted logic at its finest.”

          Indeed

        • Eo Raptor

          Letters from The Earth should be required reading in every public school in America. Should I hold my breath until that happens?

        • Pofarmer

          No holding breath. Both my older boys have read it.

        • If he just fixes it, then we wouldn’t have that pleasure that comes from a near miss, would we?

        • Stolen from the internet(s): “Could you move over? You’re in my light.”

          http://www.drpaulose.com/wp-content/uploads/jesusOT-150×150.jpg

      • wtfwjtd

        That sounds like a real downer, it’s too bad you have to have that crap shoved in your face all the time.
        Related to your last point, there was a class at a Skepticon that I attended called “how to swear secular-ly.” As you rightly point out, it takes some practice. While the class was great fun (our teen-age daughter thought it was a hoot), it did demonstrate a valid and often over-looked issue for those of us who have de-converted.

        • Greg G.

          Examples? I like to expand my vocabulary, especially with cuss words.

        • wtfwjtd

          Sorry Greg, the class actually struggled with the topic, and wasn’t able to formulate much in the way of new “swear” words. There were plenty of funny anecdotes, and some not-too-religious-referenced phrases like “holy crap on a cracker” and “Oh, balls” were advanced for secular usage.
          The main take-away was that “fuck” is your friend, and one needs to get creative in making compound words with it. For-examples that were advanced were “fuck-face” or “fucktard”, as well as phrases such as “holy fucking shit-balls” or “holy fucking Christ-child.” Of course, the “holy” is optional in the phrase use, as it gets back to quasi-religious referencing again, but as always personal taste and discretion should prevail, as well as actual circumstances wherein the phrase or word was prompted for use.

        • Greg G.

          I don’t always swear but when I do, I put the MF as Jesus’ middle name. Trinitarians may not like it but they can’t say it is inaccurate.

        • wtfwjtd

          I’ve kinda grown bored with the “swearing” thing, although I find other people’s twists on the topic to be mildly to moderately amusing. After we became non-believers we liked to swear often around here, because such a huge deal was made of it when we were younger and we just thought it funny–for a while. We still use colorful metaphors aplenty when we need to, don’t get me wrong, but we try to be a little more judicious in their use so that they still carry a little extra expression of emotion when you use them.

        • Greg G.

          I worked with a woman for ten years and even played softball on the same team for a couple of seasons but she was surprised when I said “shit” once. She thought I was a good Christian because I never swore. She was really surprised when I told her I was an atheist and had been since long before we met.

        • MNb

          I indeed have the same experience – but I don’t swear that much for another reason. I think it loses it’s power when you do it too much, so I save it for appropriate occasions.

        • adam

          “I don’t always swear but when I do, I put the MF as Jesus’ middle name.Trinitarians may not like it but they can’t say it is inaccurate.”

          You owe me a keyboard…………lol

        • Greg G.

          I knew you would catch that.

        • Adam
        • Brilliant!

        • MNb

          Ah, this is where you could learn a few things from Dutch.

          http://hetnieuwevloeken.nl

          Have fun finding translations! I’ll give you one: “brulaap” translates as “yelling monkey”.
          When it comes to pure swearing though the secular Dutch prefer English and especially fuck and shit. A typical Dutch one is “krijg nou de kanker”, ie “just get some cancer now”. Replace it with any disease you prefer.
          Another option is to go creative. Try something like “all eggheads impaled on a kebab stick.”

      • MNb

        “It’s nearly inescapable.”
        Oh, you could emigrate (sorry, couldn’t resist this bad joke).

        “Hell, it’s in our language.”
        Yes. It has taken me quite some effort to reshape the language (and I mean Dutch, not English) I use.

    • Greg G.

      Perhaps atheists also need other atheists around for a similar reason.

      Have you arrived at that conclusion by going to places where atheists meet and generalize or have you checked with all the atheists who don’t meet up with others? How about all the atheists who still go to church and act faithful but go along to get along?

      I was an atheist for many years and never had a need to converse with other atheists. Then a creationist at work began to preach at me a lot. I went to talk.origins to get the facts on his misinformed mantras. I continue to learn from others. It is gratifying to meet others who have realized that their faith was nothing but illusion and that it is not unusual to be happier after religion.

      • Pofarmer

        IT is also fun and interesting to learn various things about the former faith, and, it turns out, you can learn a lot of interesting things from-atheists. They don’t have a dog in the hunt, so are looking for facts instead of apologetics.

        • Greg G.

          It’s easier to be objective when not dealing with invented fears.

        • Pofarmer

          Oh, hell yes

        • wtfwjtd

          And the non-believer will give it ALL to you–including the bat-shit crazy stuff, since they no longer have anything to be embarrassed about.

      • candide

        I don’t need to go to atheist covens. I can rationally predict how they think. In any case, it is my belief that a very large a percentage of Christians, lay and clergy, are deep down very agnostic. I don’t say atheist because i don’t believe there is any justification for atheism; there is plenty for agnosticism. I don’t know what percentage of Christians are agnostics but the more they shout and scream the more I am convinced their faith is rather tepid if at all there.

        • adam

          “I don’t say atheist because i don’t believe there is any justification for atheism;”

          It is called ‘disbelief’

        • FaithIsGlorifiedDelusion

          I don’t say atheist because i don’t believe there is any justification for atheism…

          Sure you do. Here’s what you do:

          Think of all the “gods” worshiped in today’s non-christian religions and the past religions.

          Do you believe these “gods” ever existed?

          If the answer is “No” then great! You’re just like me who too does not believe in the existence of those “gods”.

          You are an atheist minus one “god”, and I am an atheist of all “gods”.

        • Clover and Boxer

          “I don’t know what percentage of Christians are agnostics but the more they shout and scream the more I am convinced their faith is rather tepid if at all there.”

          Sorry, but I disagree from my personal experience. I was very proud of my conservative Christianity and not afraid to “defend the faith.” I was absolutely convinced that God existed, the bible was inerrant, etc., etc. I think other vocal Christians feel the same–that’s what indoctrination does to you.

          Also, notice what you’re doing. Remember how lots of Christians like to say that non-believers secretly know deep down that God exists? That’s what you’re doing except the reverse.

        • candide

          Perhaps. But I am certain that many Christians would not go to their death for a faith they hardly believe in.

        • Greg G.

          I don’t need to go to atheist covens. I can rationally predict how they think.

          No, you need to talk to atheists who do not go to covens or blogs before you can extrapolate from atheists who converse in blogs to predict how atheists in general think.

          We have a term for stamp collectors to differentiate them from the great majority of people who do not collect stamps. For now, in our society, there is a need for a term for people who do not have sufficient evidence to think there is a deity.

          Have you heard of The Clergy Project? It is for pastors and priests who have lost their faith but are not in a position to get a new job because they have a family to support and no marketable skills for the real world.

        • candide

          The truth is we cannot know whether there is or is not a God. And frankly it really doesn’t much matter.

        • Pofarmer

          Absolutely it matters. because it matters in how people treat one another and wish to control one another using “God” as a lever.

        • Greg G.

          What else do you believe in that you can’t know whether it exists that doesn’t matter?

        • MNb

          Depends on what you mean with “know”.
          I equally can maintain that we cannot know anything, because you can’t disprove solipsism.

          http://www.iep.utm.edu/solipsis/

        • Doesn’t matter whether there’s a god? But I thought you were a believer.

        • wtfwjtd

          Hey, how about “Non-stamp collector?” Oh, wait…

        • Pofarmer

          candide is the True Christian. C’mon dude.

        • MNb

          ” I can rationally predict how they think.”
          Yeah – no need to talk to atheists then. How could you ever fail?

        • I don’t need to go to atheist covens.

          You’re missing out. Roasted baby is tastier than you might think.

          I can rationally predict how they think.

          If you never hang out with atheists, perhaps you overestimate your predictive powers.

          i don’t believe there is any justification for atheism

          What does “atheism” mean?

        • Kodie

          You’re the only true believer.

    • Kodie

      Sure, they will tell you you’re wrong and you don’t want to hear that. You prefer your own invention to theirs, and you don’t have enough other people to form a church.

  • RichardSRussell

    Christians must celebrate faith to paper over this embarrassing fact.

    I’ve often noted that religion isn’t itself the root cause of so many of the awfulnesses usually laid at its feet. Indeed, religion is merely a symptom of the real cause, which is firm adherence to ideas for which there isn’t a shred of evidence (and frequently abundant evidence to the contrary) — in other words, faith.

    Faith — and its undeservedly high reputation — is the mindset responsible not only for religion but also climate-change denial, conspiracy theories, creationism, pseudoscience, quackery, ufology, racism, and a host of other brainwasters. The time, money, and energy wasted because of faith-based beliefs is staggeringly monumental. Indeed, religion probably isn’t even the half of it. And that’s without even getting into the overt destruction they provoke.

    Faith is the last, least, and lowest of the 8 major decision-making techniques. (I’ve blogged about it here and here.)

    Furthermore, as Bob notes, faith is kind of like a stalking horse for religion. The priest class gets you to buy into faith (which they invariably conflate with more reliable decision-making techniques like trust and hope) and use that buy-in to slip you their shoddy goods under the gaudy but flimsy and untrustworthy wrapping paper of faith.

    Well, both parties can play at that game. I recommend that atheists broaden their rhetoric to criticize faith in general, rather than religion in particular, and to show how the same terrible decision-making techniques that lead to irrational nonsense like water dowsing, vampires, palmistry, and mind reading also give us Scientology, Heaven’s Gate, Rastafarianism, Islam, and Christianity.

  • busterggi

    More gods born every day?