Do you know the mind of God if you study the bible?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

If you study the word of God long enough and studiously enough, you might imagine that you know God pretty well. You might even become proficient at pontificating on the mind of God while maintaining a straight face. And if you insulate yourself within a community of like-minded people, you might all commiserate on the mind of God and hone your God-speak into an art form.

But if you come to me, pontificating on the Mind of God, don't expect me to nod knowingly and maintain a straight face while you beg my indulgence of your hubris.

Nobody knows the mind of God. They might know scripture but not the mind of God (assuming he even exists). It's unsettling and sad to witness people lost in the delusion of God-speak. It makes me want to shake them until they snap out of it.

Do you know the mind of God if you study the bible?


Hypothetically, if a Pope declared that homosexuality is no longer a sin, what would be the response?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

A pope CAN'T declare such a thing because it's a docrirnal matter. Papal infallibility prevents it. There are multiple (and infallible) papal bulls against homosexuality. Changing course on homosexuality means contradicting existing papal bulls — which contradicts the doctrine of papal infallibility —  which would undermine the authority, and thus, the legitimacy of the church.

Such a move would be unthinkable. The church is stuck with homophobia.

Hypothetically, if a Pope declared that homosexuality is no longer a sin, what would be the response?

How do atheists solve the problem of phenomenology?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

Yes, in the strictest sense, one can't absolutely prove anything. Everything is built on assumptions. However, I think René Descartes had it right: 'Cogito ergo sum' (I think, therefore I am). If you're thinking, you must exist. Consciousness is the most irreducible 'fact' we know of.

But we don't typically indulge epistemological and ontological circle-jerking in daily life: that's a good way to paralyze thinking altogether. Rather, we accept that our substrate of assumptions work pretty well. I assume that what is red to me is red to you too (if you're not color-blind): that redness is objective, not subjective. In practice we normally regard evidence, proof, facts, reality and truth, to be those things which are 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent' (nod to Stephen Jay Gould). That's the litmus test I use to declare something 'objective': objective reason, objective fact, objective support, etc.

I know it's discomforting to accept that perceived reality is an illusion but it should help to know that it's not a wild illusion. Human perception and interpretation of objective reality is pretty damn reliable despite the limited scope of our senses. Our understanding is 'close enough' to spectacularly advance science and technology. The regularities in nature that we call 'the laws of physics' are consistent and persistent enough to take men to the moon and back (and scramble to solve unanticipated emergencies), safe and sound. It's consistent and persistent enough to allow the functioning of this thing called the Internet . . . and rovers on Mars . . . and probes in the Oort cloud. I call the level of understanding necessary to pull these things off  pretty damn reliable.

People throughout history have experienced the foreboding, awesome, transcendent, grandeur of spiritual experiences. I know I have. Maybe you have too. In the past, this subjective phenomenon has been one of the strongest personal arguments for the numinous: not because the experience is so powerful but, rather, because so many people experience it. There's something definitely going on.

But now we have growing evidence that it's actually just a neurological phenomenon. To me, phenomenology is not a problem for atheism. It's just a post-modernist spin on apologetics.

Phenomenology has been separately developed in philosophy, psychology and religion. I'm addressing only the phenomenology of religion.

How do atheists solve the problem of phenomenology?

What is the difference between Jesus and Christianity, Buddha and Buddhism, teachings of sages and holy books that people have written?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

First and foremost, everybody interprets scripture (or holy text) subjectively. What George Bernard Shaw noted about the Bible applies to virtually every religious text: “No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means.

People will take away from religion whatever they want to take away from (or read into) it. And with a world full of every imaginable type of person, the full spectrum of potential interpretations will occur. There will be liberal and conservative interpretations; apathetic and extremist interpretations; hawks and doves; and everything in between.

This is why scripture should never glorify war or prescribe punishments or condone the subjugation of our fellow human beings (i.e. women and slaves). By doing so, they give divine license for man's inhumanity to man.

As to differences in the teachings of religion's revered "sages", the biggest difference is whether they preach peace or violence, tolerance or intolerance. Of course, it is obligatory for religion to include peace, love and intolerance: they all, to varying degrees, do so. The question is: "How do religions manifest in their adherents?"

Until fairly recently, it could be said that nobody ever died in the name of Buddha. Unfortunately, that's no longer true. Buddhists have, on several occasions, attacked Muslims and mosques in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Hindus have also been attacking Muslims. I haven't followed these stories closely enough to know what justifications there were, if any. The point is that, even "peaceful" religions my have adherents who don't wholly subscribe to peace.

The Abrahamic religions, of course, are known for violent histories. Judaism and Christianity have enjoyed reforms that render them relatively benign in comparison to the unreformed religion of Islam. Recently, while Israel and Palestine were engaged in war, many times more Muslim deaths were occurring at the hands of other Muslims around the world . . . unspeakable atrocities: beheadings, mass executions and sadistic torture. World news has been dominated by Muslim violence for decades. Islam's adherents are getting a black eye from the mindless bloodlust of their extremists. Will the moderate majority (if it truly exists) ever police their own adherents and take control of their religion? It doesn't look promising, does it?

Buddhism and Hinduism have much more peaceful histories and traditions of tolerance. They're not monotheistic religions. And that is one of the many reasons for their non-violent reputations.

Monotheistic religions all claim exclusive ownership of God and truth. I think we can all see how this would inevitably lead to conflict between them. Monotheism, is inherently intolerant and totalitarian. It can be fairly asserted that the Abrahamic religions have been THE most persistently divisive influence in human history.

What is the difference between Jesus and Christianity, Buddha and Buddhism, teachings of sages and holy books that people have written?

Should atheism have an ethical component?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

All of humanity has the same ethical components. They're part of the human condition.

Experience plus empathy equals ethics/morality.

We learn, from experience, what hurts us.

With empathy, we understand that what hurts us is likely to hurt others as well.

Bingo! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule emerges from the combination of our experience and our DNA.

The wonderful thing is: because ethics is informed by experience, it (hopefully) matures as we mature.

  • “The word morality, if we met it in the Bible, would surprise us as much as the word telephone or motor car.” ~George Bernard Shaw
  • “One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion.” ~Arthur C. Clarke
  • “Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you’re told. Religion is doing what you’re told, no matter what is right.” ~Unknown
  • “I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.” ~Bertrand Russell
  • Morality is of the highest importance. But for us, not for God.” ~Albert Einstein
  • “The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Should atheism have an ethical component?

What is the meaning of life?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

Thanks for the A2A, Frat Quintero!

Well, there's the old cliche answer: "The meaning of life is a life of meaning." And, maybe, that's as good an answer as any other. To me, meaning and purpose, in the context of your OP question, are synonymous.

Living a long life is not the purpose of life. Longevity is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It's quality, not quantity, that matters.

So, what qualities gives life meaning?

Well, I think the answer is found in consciousness. Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. Consciousness is the one thing we can be certain of. It's an irreducible biological phenomenon without which there would be no meaning.

But consciousness itself is not meaningful without experience. So I think the purpose of life is experience. But it's quality, not quantity that matters. It's not the number of experiences but, rather, the depth and breadth of those experiences that matter.

You could sleep as little as possible and spend every waking moment engaging your mind with reading and mass media or whatever else interests you. You could stuff your brain with knowledge. But would that be meaningful? Would your knowledge make a dent in what's knowable? Relative knowledge, like longevity, is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The some goes for other quantitative approaches to life. You could try to maximize hedonistic pleasure, popularity, professional achievement, accumulation of wealth or power . . . but no quantitative measure of life will ever fulfill you.

No. It's not the number of experiences we have that matters. It's the depth and breadth of those experiences that matter. So how do you pursue quality over quantity?

You share consciousness. You cooperate, collaborate and participate with others in ways that make you and others happy. Love is a natural outgrowth of shared consciousness and the pursuit of quality experiences.

Who do you love most? Your children? Your parents? Your significant other? Aren't they the ones you share consciousness with the most? Aren't they the ones you cooperate, collaborate and participate with the most? Well, make everybody a part of your family. Spread love wherever you go and happiness will follow in your path.

But this is easier said than done in 'normal' life. Not everybody wants to share in your consciousness or experience your love. Which is why some people seek out charity or missionary work. Unless you're gifted with a great skill, it's easier to make a difference if you join like-minded people and take your love to those who need it most. If you're not gifted, be the gift.

What is the meaning of life?

Is Islam undergoing a reformation?

I don’t believe Islam can be reformed unless the moderate majority unites behind the cause of reform. As I see it, reform will require outright criminalization of religious violence: at least, in jihad – and, preferably, repeal of whipping, caning, stoning, amputations, etc. in sharia law as well. The idea here is to distance Islam from ALL forms of violence. Islamic countries will need to prosecute all instances of religious violence. They could start with a blanket amnesty then crack down on subsequent violations. This means shutting down terrorist camps and outlawing radical teachings in madāris and mosques or anywhere else for that matter. Needless to say, this will require unity of will within the ummah of Islam – which will not be easy to accomplish because the Quran insists that it is perfect: infallible, immutable, clear and complete. We can’t revise the Quran, so Muslims will have to reform Islam the same way Christians reformed Christianity: by emphasizing positive verses over less positive ones. Some (most?) already do this, of course, but now they must stand up publicly and be counted.

To accomplish reform, Muslims will need to admit that literal interpretations and implementations of Islam is no longer viable in the modern age. Many (most?) Muslims will insist that there’s nothing wrong with the Quran. But that’s simply not true. There’s direct linkage between religious violence and the Quran. ISIS – who pride themselves on their literal implementation of the Quran – is clear and present evidence of that linkage. They may misinterpret some suwar but not all of them.

Criticism of Islam stirs an emotional response in most Muslims. Yet, reform will require these same Muslims to be critical of Islam. Most criticism of Islam is a criticism of ideologies and beliefs and their disastrous consequences – amply demonstrated all over the planet every day. Invariably, apologists for Islam respond by conflating criticisms of ideologies with intolerance of adherents. Their intent is obvious: intolerance of Muslims is racist (even though Islam is not a race) but criticism of their ideology is not; so they need to shift emphasis from ideologies to adherents before they can label their critics as racist. The charge of racism has become obligatory: a procedural appeal to the politically correct crowd. It’s dishonest but it’s smart. For some, the mere mention of racism will taint anything a critic has to say.

In contrast to the charge of racism, apologists for Islam do have at least one very valid point: that there are courageous moderate Muslims, like Maajid Nawaz, who condemn Islamic violence and advocate reforms that embrace freedom and human rights. And I totally agree. I admire their bravery and integrity. But what these apologists for Islam don’t seem to realize is that they are making my case for me. Vocal, moderate, Muslim, critics of Islam put themselves in the same precarious position as their infidel counterparts: specifically, they’re painting targets on their backs. By now, even the most ardent apologists for Islam know that vocal criticism of Islam can be dangerous to one’s health. It takes a certain disconnect to assert with one breath that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance then invoke ‘courageous’ moderate Muslims with the next breath. Don’t you think?

The point is that, if Muslims are to reform their religion, they have to admit it has problems . . . not deny those problems. They have to quit making excuses before they can start making changes for the better.

In many ways, Muslims aren’t much different than Christians. Most are just people who want to get through life with as little unnecessary drama as possible. Adherents from both religions cherry-pick scripture for what they choose to believe and practice. The vast majority of them cherry-pick positive verses. However, unlike Christianity, Islam has not yet enjoyed a reformation of its ideology. It’s just as fundamentalist as it ever was. And, without reform, fundamentalists are more likely to cherry-pick negative verses: ayat that emphasize militant jihad and a xenophobic us-versus-them mentality. To them, Islam is more of an ideology than a religion. That’s a bit simplistic but I think this distinction between the religious and the ideological is an important one. To me, it’s the difference between a Muslim and an Islamist.

The peaceful, religious, Muslim majority has allowed the radical, ideological, minority to dominate their religion. The word, Islam, is Arabic for submission to Allah. But, sometimes, it seems that, to the majority of Muslims, it means submission to the vocal minority. It’s time for the Muslim majority to reject dominance from the minority. Until they take control of their religion, their influence is irrelevant. Moderate Muslims need to unite and shun religious violence. And that includes Islamist doctrines that promote militant jihad and martyrdom – as well as sharia laws that (potentially) punish blasphemy, heresy and apostasy with death.

Those who can’t recognize the harm done by jihad, martyrdom and the criminalization of non-Muslim beliefs – but cry out against the ‘extremism’ of ISIS – apparently feel no sense of cognitive dissonance. ISIS, like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, prides itself on its literal interpretation and implementation of the Quran. Condemnation of ISIS is also condemnation of the literal interpretation and implementation of the Quran. Muslims need to admit this if they want to reform Islam. They must choose to be selective Muslims. I admit, this seems like a tall order but, if ISIS prevails, perhaps the ummah of Islam will agree that something needs to be done.

The Quran insists it should be taken literally. So take literally the positive, peaceful, suwar and ignore the negative, militaristic ones. Violence in the Quran needs to be rejected because it gives license to the small percentage among us who are susceptible to radicalization. If only 1% of the world’s 1.55 billion Muslims are radically inclined, they represent a pool of 15.5 million Muslims who can be persuaded to: finance jihad; or be recruited as jihadis or terrorists; or fill other roles in support of jihad. ISIS is a relatively new organization, yet they have no problem recruiting jihadis from around the world or securing financing (often by robbing banks and taxing their captive subjects). Whether or not ISIS jihadis are ‘true Muslims’, their implementation of jihad and Islamic doctrines clearly inspire and give license for violence to many Muslim recruits honored to fight and die for ISIS. The ummah of Islam doesn’t want an ISIS caliphate and have united to renounce and discredit them. This is the perfect opportunity to begin reform of Islam and, hopefully, do away with jihad.

Both Muslims and infidels will read this answer. Both sets of readers know, without doubt, that we could intentionally stir up a world-wide hornet’s nest of murderous rampage and riot by using our freedom of expression to symbolically protest Islamist extremism. By, ‘symbolically protest’, I mean burning Qurans or effigies of Muhammad or something similar. Such symbolic protests are legitimate methods of free expression in a democracy. And protest of Islamic extremism is certainly a worthy cause. But some European governments have outlawed such protests because they lead to rampage, riot and death around the world. I take issue with that. The problem is not freedom of expression: the problem is intimidation and extortion by religious violence. Just as we wouldn’t encourage inappropriate behavior from our children by rewarding it, neither should we encourage or reward religious violence. I’m not a Muslim. And I’ll be damned if I’ll be intimidated or extorted into acquiescing to Islam in any way, shape or form.

In the name of Allah, Islamists kill both infidels and Muslims in prodigious numbers, mounting into the hundreds and thousands, every month. Muslims killing Muslims; executions of apostates; murderous Muslim riots and rampages; the subjugation of women; child brides . . . these have nothing to do with western imperialism. They’re purely manifestations of Islam. Jihadis and terrorists don’t merely shoot people or blow them up . . . they crucify, torture, rape, behead and bury them alive. It’s sadistic and barbaric! Why don’t Muslims riot and rampage over these sickening atrocities? Aren’t they far worse to Allah than a cartoon of Muhammad?

How many murderous riots and rampages have we seen from the ummah of Islam for ‘disrespecting’ the Quran or Muhammad? We’re not Muslims, yet these protesters expect us to behave like Muslims. No, wait, that’s not accurate enough: they insist that we behave like Muslims . . . and they will resort to violence around the world to make sure we comply. The religion of peace and tolerance is quick to intimidate, extort, rampage, riot and kill if you don’t conform to their expectations. It’s always been that way. This is one of the first things that need to change.

Liberal, progressive, ideals like human rights and equal rights are the cornerstone of democratic freedom. The human desire to include and accommodate is normally laudable: but it has its limits. Freedom may be nonnegotiable but it’s all too easily compromised. For instance, if you support human rights but make excuses for the subjugation of Muslim women, then your hypocrisy compromises the ideal of freedom. More to the point, you’re a racist. By treating Muslims with lower expectations, you’re tacitly treating them as inferior. That’s racism. Human rights are for all humans: not just western ones. And freedom of expression? Well, is it essential to democracy or not? If we censor ourselves, we are allowing intolerance and intimidation to compromise our freedom – and that exceeds the acceptable limits of liberal inclusion and accommodation. Not only do we need to hold fast to our freedom: we need to represent it with integrity and consistency.

The central conflict is not a ‘clash of civilizations’: it’s a clash between the free and the unfree. Western civilization can’t expect Islamic civilization to reform itself if we’re not ready and willing to reform ourselves as well. We can’t advance freedom abroad if we abandon it at home.