Monday, April 28, 2014

Why I became an atheist instead of a liberal Christian.

While I usually find myself addressing the more fundamentalist/evangelical Christians on my blog and elsewhere online, I also often find myself discussing religion with liberal Christians. While in the conversations I often find myself confronted with the question of why I rejected ALL religion instead of rejecting my particular fundamentalist brand and embracing a more liberal religious outlook. To be honest I’m only occasionally asked this question directly by liberal Christians, but it seems to undergird a lot more of conversations with out being asked directly, perhaps because the person in question can’t think of a way to ask the question that doesn’t seem impolite, even though I can’t imagine I would take offense at the question as long as it was asked with a genuine desire for an answer.

I actually wish more of them would ask this question because I think, given their own experiences, their confusion is reasonable, but I do have an answer for them. As for the reason for said confusion I would start out by pointing out that many liberal Christians and I have quite a bit in common. Many of them, just like me, were either raised in more conservative religious homes or have at least had quite a bit of experience dealing with fundamentalist view points. They understand why I rejected much of the ideas in those groups because many of them went through a very similar experience of disillusionment with fundamentalist/evangelical religious teachings.

Indeed, if you look back on the experience I had leaving Christianity my first points of disagreement were over things like biblical inerrancy, and the treatment of women and LGTB people within the church, which are all points that many liberal Christians would agree with me on. For instance, most of my liberal theology professors in school recounted similar stories of disillusionment when they were younger. So when it comes to these experiences we have a commonality that allows us to understand one another to some extent.

So I think that often the confusion they have with me removing myself from the conversation entirely is largely due to the fact that they were able to make both their belief in Christianity and their new found support of things like Feminism and gay rights fit together. We discuss those issues and find ourselves largely in agreement so they wonder why I could not make that same compromise work as well. Occasionally some will be obnoxious about this disagreement, and simply assume that the people who made the transition to atheism instead of liberal Christianity just didn’t understand liberal theological ideas, but most of the time it’s simply a matter of not understanding what caused the transition in the first place. They might well understand a person who was raised without religion not finding anything particularly valuable there, but have trouble understanding how someone who previously valued religion could become one of its loudest critics.

The answer to this confusion is complicated and requires us to look at several things. First off, while my rejection of fundamentalism started in a fairly similar place to that of many liberal Christians, they stopped at issues, that while important, are to some extent surface issues, and landed in a set of ideals that I personally find logically contradictory. Take as an example the notion of biblical inerrancy, most liberal Christians would join me in rejecting this concept, yet they still believe in things like salvation. I spent some time as a liberal believer on my way out and one of the issues that repeatedly bothered me was that without inerrancy I could find no way to sensibly justify a belief in Jesus as savior any more than I could justify an anti-gay marriage stance. Yes the first idea is more emotionally palatable, but that was not a justifiable reason to believe something. I had rejected theological claims like inerrancy because they were not supportable by facts and reason, rejecting those ideas but then continuing to hold other beliefs for reasons just as flimsy seemed hypocritical to me.

Further, it should be noted that I’ve studied a good deal of liberal theology, and can’t shake the feeling that a lot of it seems based upon word games and semantic tricks, and many of the more liberal biblical scholars I’ve read, like Elaine Pagles, have often engaged in the exact same sort of “just so” justifications for various interpretations of biblical passages and theological ideas that fundamentalist engage it, except that they serve a different goal. The fact that I find the goal more agreeable doesn’t make the argument they use to reach it any better. Which brings me to my last point.

It’s not enough that I just don’t believe, I’m an activist for the notion of dismantling religious ideas at their root, which I think further confuses liberal believers. They understand why I would oppose fundamentalism, they often do as well after all, but why would religion as a whole be a problem since many religious people, like themselves, often hold very similar views on a variety of social issues as I do. To understand my problem here lets imagine we put a liberal Christian and a fundamentalist one in a room to discuss a controversial topic like gay marriage. The fundamentalist would likely start by quoting Leviticus 18 or 20 or perhaps Romans 1, the liberal Christian would counter that the fundamentalist has improperly interpreted those passages and bring up passages about love and acceptance, maybe the passage where Paul says we are all the same in Christ.

If you notice that this conversation does not seem to ever reference any gay people and how they feel about this they you start to understand my issue here. Both groups are defining “the good” in terms of what god wants for us. They don’t agree on what that is, but both think it is of paramount importance. The liberal Christian has taken a position that I’m more likely to agree with, but it’s based upon a rational which I totally reject. A rational which, by the way, differs very little from that of the fundamentalist. Both are still appealing to an extrinsic source to understand things like meaning and ethics. I not only think this is wrong, I think it is incredibly harmful to a real and productive discussion of these things. A few years ago, after I had already become an atheist I started thinking about these questions and came to the conclusion that religion, by trying to find meaning in extrinsic sources, was selling us short and hampering real progress on these issues. I couldn’t leave this alone because while it’s important that we believe the right things it is even more important that we believe them for the right reasons. Which is ultimately why I became an atheist rather than a liberal Christian. I didn’t just reject the fundamentalist position on gay marriage, I rejected the entire system of ethics and ontology that they used to reach those conclusions in the first place.

You can read more about my de-conversion in the following links.

My life story, Part I, My life story, Part II, My life story, Part 33 and 1/3.....err....I mean Part 3

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Writer for Townhall claims that atheists will take over the Democrats within 10 years.

I ran across this article by Kurt Schlichter

By 2024, The Democrats Will Be An Atheist Party

I know that is not exactly the most reputable source of information on politics, but this article seems bad even by their standards. I mean, first we have to acknowledge that currently there are exactly zero members of congress from either party who are openly atheist. Of course some may be unbelievers secretly but the very fact that such people would feel it is necessary to keep their beliefs private should let people know how silly this idea is. In any case, the article starts its argument thusly

Democrats are delighting in their opportunity to burden, harass and humiliate the believing. They use Obamacare to try to force the faithful to breach their consciences. They demand that believers be silent or lose their livelihoods. Their liberal academic flunkies do everything possible to marginalize those of us who feel that life must mean more than dreary obedience to liberal orthodoxy.

First off I’d point out that one can disagree with their interpretations of religious freedom without being an atheist, and I personally find a lot of conservative orthodoxy to be rather dreary too, but none of this proves either position right or wrong. As far as people loosing their livelihoods I can only assume they are referring to the Christian couple who’s bakery went out of business after they refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. How exactly was this the governments fault? Last I checked they went out of business because local customers choose to take their business elsewhere after they found out about these people’s beliefs. Was the government suppose to compel people to shop there against their will? Isn’t this just capitalism at work? What they really seem to object to here is the fact that they no longer hold a majority view on this issue and they are feeling social pressure to conform. The governments job is to make sure everyone's right to hold unpopular views is legally protected, but they cannot protect people from non legal consequences like people choosing to spend their money elsewhere.

They are getting closer to outright admitting what we all know they really think. Part of it is fashion – boutique atheism is trendy. Part of it is snobbery – the same people who think socialism is a viable system like to look down on others for believing in “fantasies.” But mostly, liberals worship Government and don’t like the competition.

First off the notion that atheism is “trendy” is just nonsense, but yes I do think religion is untrue. As far as their critique of socialism, while I don’t embrace socialist ideas in total, I think anyone who believes that lassie-faire capitalism is a viable system also believes in a type of fantasy. Liberals, by and large, don’t worship government. Most of them are well aware of government excesses and are quite critical of the government in a number of ways. They just don’t buy into the libertine argument that less government is a magic bullet to fix these problems, and thus advocate for better government instead of less of it.

It's important to distinguish between regular atheists and the militant liberal atheists. There are plenty of conservative atheists who don't feel a connection to God but share conservative values. The Democrats are militant atheists. They are atheists because they imagine they are smarter and wiser than people like Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, and about 85% of the rest of America.

Ok, first off a person who doesn’t feel a “connection” to god is not the same as someone who doesn’t believe in god. I’ll happily acknowledge that there are conservative atheists out there, though I have trouble understanding how any of them vote Republican given the stark reality that said party overtly operates against our political interests by advocating for more religion in government. However, if you are a conservative atheist you must also believe your position on god’s existence is more rational than that of Newton. Though this does not imply we think Newton was stupid. He was quite smart, and he added much to the field of physics. One the other hand, he also spent years studding alchemy which we now know to be absolute rubbish. We have to examine each claim on it’s own merits regardless of the person presenting the claim. Newton was smart, but so was Nietzsche, and Hume. The fact that I think every single religious person was wrong about this important fact does not mean I think they are all stupid.

They are proud believers in “Science.” That’s different from science. Science is the one where you take evidence and draw conclusions from it. “Science” is the one where you figure out what gives liberals the most power and shriek at anyone who dissents. This explains how the “Science” is settled that cold weather proves global warming.

Also known as the, “I know you are but what am I” argument. The fact that this author sums up his understanding of global warming in this way leads me to believe I have little to fear from their scientific knowledge. I don’t deny that from time to time democrats have taken scientific claims out of context or overstated them to try to make a political point. I’m generally against the over-politicization of science but what world must you live in to not see the egregious misuse and politicization of science done by republicans. Just take global warming, in just the last few years it was discovered the anti global warming group Heartland Institute has taken donations from large oil companies including ExxonMobil. Isn’t there any conservative out there willing to admit that this could constitute a conflict of interest? During the 60’s people paid by cigarette companies published studies saying there was nothing dangerous about smoking. What are the chances that 50 years from now groups like Heartland Institute will be views as oblivious and anti-science as the groups that published those cigarette studies?

The Democrat Party’s changing composition makes it possible to be openly anti-God. It’s now made up of a very rich urban elite and the poor. The urban elite despises God. They aren’t even lapsed faithful – you had to have faith once to have it lapse and most of them grew up in the secular world of elite universities and liberal coastal enclaves where you’re more likely to encounter some feminist babbling about Gaia than someone who has attended mass non-ironically.

Well I can’t speak for every liberal out there but I’m neither rich nor am I someone who never had religion. I was an evangelical Christian for a number of years. I don’t despise god, a non existent being, but I am, at times, angry with his supposed followers for their ridiculous caricatures of me. I live in the bay area, which one of those “liberal coastal enclaves” he is talking about. I’ve never heard any feminists babbling about Gaia. However, wait a minute, I thought he was criticizing the democrats for being atheists but now he is complaining about them buying into new age ideas? I personally find both Christianity and new age beliefs to be equally wrong, but I’m not going to make fun of people for having beliefs I don’t agree with. This guy, on the other hand, has no problem making fun of religious beliefs he finds wrong yet wants us atheists to respect his beliefs.

Plus, being God-free lets liberals take advantage of the moral ambiguity of situational ethics. It provides them with the kind of wiggle room they need to do exactly what they want without any annoying principles obstructing them.

Trotting out the “atheists have no morals” argument. Though he doesn’t even do a good job of formatting the argument which leads me to believe he knows as little about ethics as he does science. Situation ethics is not the same as relative ethics, and there are many atheists, like myself, who believe ethics are objective, and thus are not using our lack of belief to get out of some moral duty.

It will be interesting to see whether they choose God or Mammon when their party rulers come out and say what they really think – that the religious are suckers and freedom of religion only applies if it doesn’t interfere with progressive prerogatives.

This argument only means anything if you truly believe that religious freedom is absolute. If you place ANY limits on religious freedom, say outlawing human sacrifice, then you have already acknowledged that the government CAN place reasonable limits on religious freedom when that exercise of religious freedom affects other people. The question instead becomes which limits are reasonable. Unfortunately the people who write for town hall would rather sell the notion that they have a fundamentally different ethos rather than just acknowledge that they merely differ on interpretation and scope.

Sure, we occasionally see a few liberal evangelicals get trotted out by the mainstream media to tut-tut believers who actually believe in something more than free money for the lazy. Their ideology is just socialism with a thin veneer of Jesus. And it’s a Jesus who appears nowhere in the Bible, a gutless hippie who runs from fights and thinks that the Gospel requires you to keep fishing while giving away your catch to the dude kicking back on the beach because he doesn’t feel like casting his own net.

No one trots anyone out, liberal Christians have just as much of a right to their views as you have to yours, and they think it’s you who have fundamentally misunderstood the person of Jesus. Personally I couldn’t care less about the internal squabbles of doctrine you guys have, at least that is what I would say if your internal squabbles weren’t having an effect on the, supposedly secular, law. I think the liberals may have much more of a point than he is willing to admit though. Jesus actually DID tell his followers to give anything that was asked of them and not to try to get it back. (Luke 6:30) Now I actually think this is bad advice. The ironic thing is that conservatives think it’s bad advice too, but rather than acknowledge Jesus wasn’t the perfect moral teacher they imagine they simply ignore the parts they don’t like.

The larger point here, however, is that liberals just believe in free money to lazy people. This is an absurd caricature of the goals of Democrats, and is insulting to every poor person who has ever needed government assistance. Not everyone is some listless drug user who wants a free ride, in fact very few of them are. Truth is, most people on some form of government assistance are actually working, sometimes more than one job.

Europeans are leading the way to progressive extinction. When your society believes in nothing beyond the next statutory six-week paid vacation and your guaranteed pension at age 42, you don't have much incentive to invest in the future of mankind. Accordingly, you don't make babies. The thing is, though, societies tend to belong to those who reproduce. So get out there and make more babies, American conservatives.

Almost the end of the article and the author finally actually makes some fact based claims. Namely that some country, in Europe, guarantees it’s citizen 6 weeks of vacation and gives them pensions at age 42. The 6 weeks of vacation might be true, but doesn’t strike me as much of a problem. I’ve had some pretty crappy jobs that gave me 3 weeks of vacation. Now, giving people pensions at 42, if this were happening I’d actually take this guys side for once. People are living longer these days and so it is likely that few countries could afford to pension people off when they could easily live another 40 years, particularly when that means they would only work for about 20 years. Unfortunately for this author I think this piece of data is totally made up. I did a web search and came up with exactly zero European countries that pension off citizens at 42. The U.K. sets retirement age at 68, Italy, age 66, France, 62, Germany, 67, Greece, 65. Sweden is the lowest I found at age 61. This seems like an outright fabrication by Schlichter, or at least an example of his ignorance of European law. It’s possible that I simply missed the country he was referring to, but if that is the case why wouldn’t he have named the country? It seems more likely that he just said whatever he felt like knowing that the typical townhall reader would simply accept his claim without examination because it fits their preferred narrative.

Next, he offers a rather simplistic explanation for why some countries have low birth rates. Our birth rates have fallen in the last hundred years along with most of Europe but most of this seems to be due to a sharp decline in infant mortality. Further, new groups of immigrants like the Muslims he mentions almost always have a higher birth rate than the general population, often because they are coming from countries that still have high infant mortality. It would be true that Muslims would over take the rest of the population in Europe in several hundred years except for two facts that Schlichter misses. First, those rates of higher reproduction rarely continue past the first generation of immigrants because their children acclimate to the new culture’s way of doing things. Second, the children and grandchildren of these immigrants usually liberalize to some extent, abandoning the more strict rules of their forefathers culture. This notion that conservatives can take back the nation by having more children is ridiculous, since children aren’t automatons that always follow their parents will. My parents want me to be a conservative evangelical Christian, and you can see for yourself how well that worked out for them.

It’s only a matter of time before the Democrat Party comes out and proudly admits to being what it inarguably is today, the party of hopelessness, the party of no future, the party of “Just give me money until this whole thing called life ends in oblivion.”

So now we are all nihilists? Look, I’ll be the first to point out that the Democrats do some bone headed things now and again. I am no where near their biggest proponent, but their actions don’t speak to a nihilistic world view, they speak to an attempt to improve the world we live in. As an atheist, who does not believe there is some better world for us after we die, this appeals to my sensibilities since I want to do what I can to improve the lot of humans in the here and now. I don’t always agree with HOW they go about trying to improve things but at least they make an effort. which is unfortunately more than I can say for Schlichter.

We'll soon find out how the allegedly religious react to a party that loves their votes but think they are fools for believing. We will soon know where their faith really lies, in government checks or the word of God.

Well, as an atheist, I obviously have no faith in the word of God. Though personally I don’t think the Democrats are terribly irreligious on the whole. They just don’t do quite as much to alienate non-religious voters as the Republicans so it isn’t surprising that many of us tend to congregate in the Democratic party.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I get bizarre spam.

Every once in a while I the spam filter catches a really odd comment on one of my posts.

I got this one a few days ago.

Agree to this message and we will help save an made up dog!
Check out my homepage; Inner Wealth Secrets Review

Whew, I was worried we were going to save a real dog, luckily we are just saving a made up one.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Millennials aren’t really leaving evangelicalism says minister.


I ran across this today. This evangelical minister is arguing that the current trend towards no religious beliefs isn’t a problem for evangelical Christianity. 

Millennials and the false 'gospel of nice'

So it is a fact that the number of people in the US who identify as non religious is on the rise. Various theories exist to explain this trend but whatever the cause it is happening. What he responds to in the article seems to be voices internal to Christianity who are arguing that evangelicals should be less political and more compassionate.

He sums up their arguments in two points.

• Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace.
• The real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity.

I can’t speak much to the second point since I don’t think there IS an orthodox (I.E. correct) version of Christianity. I can’t treat it as much more than an intellectual curiosity when two different versions of the same religion try to hash out which version is the “orthodox” one.

On the first point he simply denies that this is even happening. First he tries to claim that there is no exodus of believers at all, though the data simply doesn’t support that. It may not support the “disaster narrative” that more moderate believers are warning the evangelicals of, but it certainly isn’t non-existent. He claims that all of those leaving religion are actually from more moderate denominations and not the evangelical ones. This one is, at least, not entirely true. I came from a evangelical background and I know many other atheists who come from similar backgrounds. It’s true I don’t know the exact numbers leaving these organizations, but it’s not like this pastor gives us any indication he knows any real statistics on this issue either. There may not even BE any good numbers given the slightly muddled definition of “evangelical” and the fact that many churches do not keep very accurate roles of attendance, or properly remove people from their roles when they stop attending. Let’s take a look at a couple of his arguments though.

For the last several years, some Southern Baptist leaders have voiced concern about the decline in baptisms and membership.

But nobody is suggesting that orthodoxy is the reason for decline.

If anything, leaders are pointing to a lack of faithful evangelical preaching and intentional gospel witness as the culprit. Church history doesn’t bear out evidence that a mushy, heterodox movement is the cure for stagnation.

Typical avoidance. I’m quite sure no Baptists pastors are suggesting that orthodoxy is the reason for their decline. This says nothing about whether it is or not though. His reference to church history is both irrelevant to the current situation and highly biased. He fails to recognize that to many of his theological opponents it is HIS theology not theirs that is unorthodox.

Progressive hand-wringers are missing the point, in my view. If history teaches us anything, it is that what dies is malleable, un-rooted faith and not 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy.

Translation: what you really need to do is never change your mind about ANYTHING. That is the way to survive. Also this is a simply bizarre and overly simplistic interpretation of history. First off the notion that Christian teachings have not changed at all in 2,000 years is false on the face of it. Last time I checked Baptist evangelicals actually have a pretty big issue with the churches that had control for those first 1500 years. Christian faith has been (often reluctantly) malleable on a number of issues thorough the last 2,000 years. 

All this doubling down on the need to be extra “orthodox” in order to survive reminds me of the reactions of some conservatives during the 2012 election. Many had convinced themselves they would win the presidency despite the figures saying that this was unlikely. After the loss there were more moderate Republicans saying that they needed to change their stances on certain issues in order to win elections, but the far right in the party essentially said “no, the problem is we weren’t conservative enough.” The fear of change was so strong that they would rather rationalize digging their heels in even further.

Instead of asking any tough questions the author continues by brining up quotes from Jesus.

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”

“If anyone does not hate his father or mother, he cannot be my disciple.”

“If any man will be my disciple, let me him take up his cross and follow me.”

This is one of the main problems I have with evangelicalism. It lacks capacity for self correction because when others disagree it just convinces them even more that they are right. Much like a conspiracy theorist who takes evidence against their position as just more proof of the conspiracy. It’s an echo chamber in which any voice of dissent, even that of a fellow believe, is not taken seriously. There is little to no reflection on whether or not this criticism is legitimate when it can simply be dismissed as people just hating them for being so right about everything.

He then goes on to claim that it is Christian dedication to orthodox beliefs that makes them so good at public service, even claiming:

Faithful Christians are not the only ones in the trenches, relieving human need - but they make up a large percentage.

I really wish he had presented some actual figures to back up this claim, as it is I have trouble taking it seriously. I’m not sure why these articles have to go to places like this anyway. I often see theists claim to do more social work, often defined in a very narrow way, and then use this claim to prop of the legitimacy of their religious views. It’s insulting and does nothing to address the very real problems we have with their treatment of people.

I’ll be in Arizona this weekend.

I’ll be at the ASU origins project on Violence this weekend among other things so if you are there maybe I’ll see you.