Category Archives: Christian

Sin and Morality

I was born this way

In an online discussion about morality, one participant wrote this:

“maybe i misunderstand morality but as i define it, it’s to feel remorse when no strings are attached”

The following was my reply.

That’s not morality: it’s guilt. It’s not uncommon for Christians to confuse the two. If you are a Christian, then I think the biblical focus on sin might be confusing your concept of morality. No matter what our positions on faith, we all know Christians are just as imperfect as anybody else: just as virtuous; just as venal; just as caring; just as petty . . . just as human.

Dictionary.com defines morality as “conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct” and it defines sin as “transgression of divine law: the sin of Adam”. Morality is a human construct. Sin is a biblical construct. Morality is affirmative. Sin is negative. The point of morality is self-improvement. The point of sin is guilt.

The human condition is all about our potentials. Good and bad, right and wrong, greatness and mediocrity. Morality can’t deny reality and remain valid. It MUST recognize the human condition. I look around and see that people are imperfect. Most of us are basically good but make mistakes. As we mature and learn, we try to improve. But we’re humans — not saints or angels. We’ll never be perfect: we’ll never stop making mistakes. All we can do is be honest with ourselves and strive to improve.

But that’s not what the Bible (and the religions it has spawned) teaches, is it? No sirree! We’re all wretched sinners unworthy of salvation unless we do (depending on the doctrine of your faith) one or more of the following . . .

  1. Love and profess Jesus Christ
  2. Get baptized (receive the Holy Spirit)
  3. Obey God’s word (revealed in scripture)
  4. Seek pardon from sin (through prayer or confession) when you fail

Some doctrines preach Original Sin: others don’t. The ones that do are adhering faithfully to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. Regardless, we’re born imperfect humans unworthy of eternal life because of our God-given nature. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Genesis says God created Adam and Eve perfectly sinless. Well, duh! How can you sin before you’re created? If our nature is God-given, then he created us imperfect: doomed to fail. If God were a more ergonomic designer, he would have created us with fig leaves permanently affixed over our genitalia.

Other than stupidity, what else, but indoctrination, can explain how oblivious so many people are to this heads-I-win-tails-you-lose sham? God made us imperfect humans, then immediately punishes all humanity with death – by revoking our immortality — the very first time one of us was imperfect.

Even if you view this myth as a symbolic moral tale, what exactly is the moral of the tale? The inescapable lesson is a negative one: we should be ashamed of ourselves. We are guilty for our very nature – as if we had some choice in the matter.

And speaking of choice . . . if God endowed us with free will, then you don’t need to be omniscient to know that there’s only one way for us to be perfect but an infinite number of ways to incur God’s devastating, knee-jerk, wrath. If we could only preserve our immortality by obedience to God, we clearly never had a real choice: we never had free will in the first place. Not that it matters. After all, our immortality went down the drain with Adam and Eve – as if we had some choice in the matter.

Biblical sin is the ultimate con: a damn sham and scam. What purpose could it possibly serve for God to place us in opposition to ourselves? Why, by default, are we wretched sinners instead of basically good people who sometimes make mistakes?

What else?

Control.

Now, contrast biblical morality with secular morality: the morality of reason. Is it better to make choices based on the promise of heaven and threat of hell – of is it better to make choices based on logic and reason? It’s true that objective morality can only come from a perfectly objective source, such as (allegedly) God. But which God? The intolerant, genocidal, war-monger of the Bible? What’s that you say? That’s the Old Testament? So what!! Old Testament . . . New Testament . . . he’s allegedly the same God. Besides, Jesus demonstrated an appalling lack of concern for the subjugation of women and slaves. How perfectly objective is that? Do we need that kind of New Covenant in our world?

Morality tainted and twisted by biblical sin is inherently self-loathing. All you have to do is take the primitive spirituality of ancient, superstitious, ignorant, people and apply just enough pretzel logic to hopelessly confuse them. Voilà . . . spiritual entrapment: mission accomplished. As Friedrich Nietzsche once observed: “Morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose.”


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eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com

 

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My Quest and LSD

Neo slimed

 

I don’t remember it, of course, but I was baptized when just a baby. My parents were Baptists: or at least my father was – I think my mother (being Japanese and raised Buddhist) was just along for the ride. They weren’t very religious; attending church only on occasion. I always hated the sheer boredom of church services and was lucky I didn’t have to attend very often.

When I was in 5th grade, our family moved into an apartment across the alley from a church in Lawton, Oklahoma; to stay while my Dad served the Army in Viet Nam. The front of our apartment building faced the back of the church. I awoke every Sunday morning to the God-awful, off-pitch, singing of hymns. It was while living there that the powerful ideas of Christianity first grabbed hold of me. Not because of that church or its tone-deaf congregation but because of a group of older boys I happened to run across in the neighborhood. They were passionately discussing Jesus and salvation. The concepts involved were a thunderbolt to my young mind. It was my first intellectual awakening: powerful, exciting and moving.

The following Sunday, I decide to attend the sermon at the church next door. I dragged my younger brother (a year younger, in the 4th grade) along with me. The preacher was charismatic. He was much more interesting than the stuffy preachers I’d experienced before. He got everybody excited. The interaction between the preacher and the congregation had an energy of its own. As he neared the end of his sermon, he invited all sinners who wanted redemption to come forward.

That’s when I noticed the tears in my brother’s eyes. He got up. I grabbed his arm but he jerked it away and headed down the aisle to join the others gathering in front of the preacher. I was shocked. How come my younger brother was so moved when he had never shown the least interest in, or awareness of, God? And how come I was not moved despite having been so powerfully moved just a few days earlier with those older neighborhood boys?

And that’s how it was for me all the years afterward until finally turning, slowly, to disbelief. I always wanted desperately to embrace faith: I just couldn’t make the leap! I believed up to the brink of faith but could never runneth over my cup.

In the years that followed, my interest in God and religion waxed and waned. Sometimes I would explore the Bible and, if I had friends who attended a local church, I might go to services with them. I could have remained in this spiritual limbo, indefinitely, were it not for LSD.

At the age of 17, I had already been smoking pot for over a year, when a friend offered me some ‘Orange Barrel’ acid (LSD). I took it and proceeded to receive my second intellectual thunderbolt.

‘Experience’ is the word to use to describe something we can’t describe. There is no way to convey the experience of tripping on acid. Entire worlds opened up before me in quick succession. I saw things in ways I had never imagined and had ideas that never would have otherwise occurred to me. It’s as if the barrier between my conscious and subconscious came crashing down and the two were allowed to intermingle until homogenous, making me super-aware of everything.

And I saw God. Listened to Him. Felt Him. Feared Him.

The experience was so intense, so real, my young, teen-aged, mind was powerless to deny it. That is, until I awoke the following day. Then I realized that I’d better not tell anybody I had seen God while tripping on acid. Obviously, I had seen no such thing . . . and I couldn’t wait to repeat the delusion: it was great!

That initial acid trip changed me permanently. I became obsessed with my quest for the truth. I knew that acid could never provide real answers but, at least, it opened my mind to the questions. Before that first acid trip, I always skipped classes to go smoke pot with the other pot-heads at school. I wasn’t very curious. I was just focused on fun and partying.

Afterwards, I wanted to understand myself and humanity. I read a lot about Greek mythology, and read many literary classics; especially those by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I wanted a deeper understanding of the human condition. I read the Bible cover to cover. I read about Buddhism and Islam. I read all of Ayn Rand’s books. I subscribed to Psychology Today. I began collecting short, insightful, quotes. Then science grabbed a hold of me, especially cosmology and physics. I may have been a poor, unskilled young man from a poor family but, by God, I was voraciously curious. I couldn’t afford to go to college but, fortunately, the library was free.

I gained confidence as I gained knowledge. Religion was the last thing on my mind. I was beginning to realize that, if I applied myself, I could learn whatever I wanted: do whatever I wanted. But I knew I was disadvantaged in the job market because of my lack of a college degree. I figured the thing to do was to plumb a new professional field in high demand so that employers would overlook my lack of a degree. In those days, computer programming was very much in demand. It was at this time when, finally, my parents lucked into a modest fortune. I borrowed money from them to go to I.T.T. Technical Institute, in Seattle, to get certified in computer programming. It was a half-year course and I was tops in my class. I was recruited, at the school, by Nordstrom (the high-end department store), before graduating and began employment with them upon receiving my computer programming certification.

After that, I never looked back. Whenever my profession became less ‘hot’, I studied and got certified in a new, high-demand, specialty. By staying reasonably close to the bleeding edge of computer technology, I was able to contract my services and make a much higher salary (though, without benefit plans) than I could as an employee. My wife held a regular job as an executive secretary, so her health insurance compensated for my lack of the same. And as we secured our family and home, my thoughts turned, once again, to God. After all, He had blessed me with many blessings: a great career, my wife and children, our home and all the modern amenities of suburban life.

But wait. Where was He when my family and I were poor? Were my parent’s blessings, and my own, the whim of God? Well, he may not have pulled strings for us but he did give us our talents. Right?

Not!

In the grand scheme of things, our talents were not exceptional. It was determination and hard work and, yes, a little luck, that improved our circumstances. But wait . . . isn’t it hubris to think that? To think we control our own fate is arrogance. Isn’t it? God is in control. Right?

I looked back on my life. I saw how God and the Bible always had a depressing effect on me. But life was engaging and rewarding whenever I focused on myself and my family. The correlation was undeniable: God was no good for me. But dare I trust only in myself?

Well, relying on myself had worked pretty well thus far. I couldn’t argue with success, could I?

Nonetheless, I couldn’t give up on God just yet. Instead, I blamed religion. I became anti-religious. I convinced myself that religions were an unnecessary and corrupting intermediary between God and me. I had the Bible as my guide, surely there was no higher authority than the word of God Himself!

I read the Bible again. This time, it seemed like a completely different book. I felt tempted to go buy another Bible in case the one I had was a mocked-up forgery. What’s up with this God guy? He’s got serious problems! The more I read, the more I wondered what those stories of incest, vengeance and scorched-earth battlefield atrocities were doing in a ‘holy’ book – and why I didn’t notice how perverse they were the first time I read them. Is this really God’s idea of right and wrong? Of morality? Surely these are the words of uncivilized, ancient, ignorant, men . . . not a timeless and perfect God!?!

For me, that was the last nail in God’s coffin. Throughout history, the Bible has created more atheists than any other book. It takes an intentional act of self-deception to ignore the immorality and impossible claims of a tribe of uncivilized, ancient, ignorant, men and pretend it’s some sort of glorious, immutable, truth. Faith is the suspension of disbelief. What, exactly, would require me to suspend disbelief? The obvious answer is: a lie.

If I trust myself and face facts, the biblical God becomes a joke. A very sad, sick, painful, joke. Religion is its predictable punchline. I just hope, in the end, humanity has the last laugh.

 


© Copyright 2013 AtheistExile.com
eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com


 

Flip the Blame: The Devil Made Me Do It

Flip Wilson

Historically, religion has been a fundamental component of cultures throughout the world. The influence of religion is so pernicious that even steadfast atheists can exhibit vestiges of it. Of these religions, I’m most familiar with the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) so, for the record, I’ll be limiting my comments to them.

How many of you remember Flip Wilson? He was a very famous and popular comedian back in the early 1970s. He even had his own television show. Here’s a video, from YouTube, of Flip on the Ed Sullivan show . . .

. . . he popularized the phrase, “The Devil made me do it!”. It was a national catchphrase in the U.S.

I was reminded of Flip, recently, by a blogger featured on the WordPress “Freshly Pressed” webpage (which highlights WordPress bloggers). The blogger is Gary Mondejar, a chemical engineer and aspiring writer. I have no idea if he’s religious, indifferent or an atheist. He seems like a nice enough guy and his writing is usually pleasant to read. His featured post is titled “Good Riddance, Facebook”. It stood out, to me, as a glaring example of the-Devil-made-me-do-it attitude. But in this case, Facebook is substituted for the Devil. In all fairness, I know that projecting one’s own faults and foibles onto some other person, entity or thing need not be a religious impulse but I do believe it’s a tendency nurtured by religion; particularly Christianity. After all, Jesus Christ is a scapegoat on steroids. Is there a greater scapegoat than Jesus?

Well, if there is, it has to be the Devil.

Gary crafted this post as a letter to an ex-lover: Facebook. Here’s some quotes from his post that clearly reveal an attempt to blame Facebook for his own faults:

• you are sucking all my time
• you’re making me into someone I am not
• you make me hate myself
• altering wall posts and minor adjustments in statuses have become a staple part of our complicated relationship dynamics
• You’ve always made me feel like I needed to make my posts and stories more interesting than they really are
• you’re way too generous, to the point that I’m really having a hard time receiving all the stuff you so generously shower upon me
• I feel like our relationship has become a little more than a superficial facade, a carefully altered representation of myself
• It has been totally unexpected that with the ease you provide in communicating with “friends”, my relationships with my “friends” are increasingly becoming shallower

In every one of these instances, Gary is transferring blame from himself to Facebook. Is Facebook twisting his arm? Is there some nefarious mind-control going on here?

Perhaps I’m being too critical. Perhaps it’s excusable to project our insecurities away from ourselves. Or, perhaps, in our culture, we turn a blind eye when others claim “The Devil made me do it.”


© Copyright 2013 AtheistExile.com
eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com


Even Stevens Mock Abrahamic Religions

This hilarious video, featuring Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart as, respectively, a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew, really hones in on the ridiculous dogmas and apologia of the Abrahamic religions.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell

 

Atheism, Agnosticism and Absolutism

Absolute Certainty
.

 

  • “A belief which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief; it is a superstition.” ~José Bergamín
  • “The educated in [the critical habit of thought] are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain.” ~William Graham Sumner
  • “Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.” ~Bertrand Russell
  • “Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain.” ~Richard Feynman
  • “Doubt is not a pleasant state of mind, but certainty is absurd.” ~Voltaire
  • “Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith; tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous.” ~Will Durant
  • “Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.” ~Bertrand Russell
  • “I have approximate answers and possible beliefs in different degrees of certainty about different things but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and of many things I don’t know anything about. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things: by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose . . . which is the way it really is as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.” ~Richard Feynman
  • “One reason why mathematics enjoys special esteem, above all other sciences, is that its laws are absolutely certain and indisputable, while those of other sciences are to some extent debatable and in constant danger of being overthrown by newly discovered facts.” ~Albert Einstein

The quotes, above, are for those who claim absolute certainty of God’s existence or nonexistence. Think about them.

No matter which freethinker discussion group I visit, it seems there’s always a thread debating agnosticism versus atheism. There’s always divergent views about the meanings of these two words. To me, the apparent confusion stems from ambiguous word usage. It should be noted that dictionaries don’t define words for us: they merely reflect how we use words. Lexicographers write dictionary definitions according to the actual usage of words. So, if they are ambiguous in actual usage, dictionaries will reflect this ambiguity. But what is NOT ambiguous is the etymology of these two words. The root of the word, ‘agnosticism’, means ‘knowledge’. The root of the word, ‘atheism’, means ‘belief’. By adhering to what we know, unambiguously, about these two words (their etymologies), we can more easily and clearly distinguish them.

Etymologically, agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive. One can be both. In fact, I’d dare say most atheists are ‘agnostic atheists’.

Atheism claims a lack of belief in God. That’s all. It’s about belief . Belief involves subjective claims and opinions.

Agnosticism claims a lack of knowledge of God. That’s all. It’s about knowledge. Knowledge involves objective facts and conclusions.

Atheism is a subjective (belief) claim. Agnosticism is an objective (knowledge) claim. I lack knowledge of God and I lack belief in God. I am atheist by subjective opinion. I am agnostic by objective conclusion.

I would happily believe in God if solid evidence for him ever surfaced but I think the odds of that ever happening are vanishingly remote. Until physical evidence of God’s existence or nonexistence surfaces, rational integrity dictates that I have no logical basis for certainty either way. So my agnosticism is absolute but my atheism isn’t: I am 100% certain I lack knowledge of God but my lack of belief is only 99.99% certain. Personally, I lack belief in God because all evidence points to natural – NOT supernatural – causes.

God, as a concept, is a meme that can’t be proved or disproved: there simply is no substantive information from which to draw an informed conclusion – much less, certainty.

Addendum:

Technically, we really should first clarify what we mean by the word ‘God’. In the West, we usually mean the personal, revealed, monotheistic, God of Abraham. The Abrahamic God is the god of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Alternatively, we might mean the impersonal, absentee, cosmic, god of deists or pantheists. The Abrahamic God is (allegedly) revealed through divinely inspired scripture: the Hebrew Bible; the Christian Bible; and the Quran. For their respective religions, these scripture are the inerrant, immutable, Word of God. The cosmic god of deists and pantheists, on the other hand, is amorphous. We don’t really know anything about him. He has no scripture to inform us of him.

If, for the sake of argument, we pretend that God is truly revealed by his scripture(s), then we can easily conclude that the God of scripture is absolutely false: contradictory and incoherent. This is virtually as good as proving he does not exist. But the amorphous god of deists and pantheists is another matter entirely. Without any information to go on, we can’t reach a conclusion about him: much less, an absolute one.

So, for me, when I think of agnosticism and atheism, I’m thinking of the amorphous god of deists and pantheists: NOT the revealed god of theists, who, on the authority of his own scripture, CAN’T be real . . . so, logically, I must discount him.

 

© Copyright 2012 AtheistExile.com

eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com


 

Oldie but Goodie: Why I Am an Unbeliever

Carl Clinton Van Doren (1885 – 1950) was a long-time distinguished professor of English at Columbia University and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer (1938) of Benjamin Franklin. I’m a big fan of his essay, “Why I Am an Unbeliever”. He eloquently covers the main points with a disarming style that persuades convincingly. A quick Google search of Carl Van Doren revealed that his brother, Mark Van Doren, was also a Pulitzer Prize winner, for poetry. Interestingly, Mark Van Doren’s son, Charles Van Doren, is famous for his central role in the quiz show (Twenty One) scandal of 1959. He confessed before the United States Congress that he had been given the correct answers by the producers of the show, Twenty One. The story of the quiz show scandal and Van Doren’s role in it is depicted in the film Quiz Show (1994; he was portrayed by British actor Ralph Fiennes), produced and directed by Robert Redford and written by Paul Attanasio. Follow the links to learn more.

Without further ado, here is . . .

Why I Am an Unbeliever

by Carl Van Doren

Let us be honest. There have always been men and women without the gift of faith. They lack it, do not desire it, and would not know what to do with it if they had it. They are apparently no less intelligent than the faithful, and apparently no less virtuous. How great the number of them is it would be difficult to say, but they exist in all communities and are most numerous where there is most enlightenment. As they have no organization and no creed, they can of course have no official spokesman. Nevertheless, any one of them who speaks out can be trusted to speak, in a way, for all of them. Like the mystics, the unbelievers, wherever found, are essentially of one spirit and one language. I cannot, however, pretend to represent more than a single complexion of unbelief.

The very terms which I am forced to use put me at the outset in a trying position. Belief, being first in the field, naturally took a positive term for itself and gave a negative term to unbelief. As an unbeliever, I am therefore obliged to seem merely to dissent from the believers, no matter how much more I may do. Actually I do more. What they call unbelief, I call belief. Doubtless I was born to it, but I have tested it with reading and speculation, and I hold it firmly What I have referred to as the gift of faith I do not, to be exact, regard as a gift. I regard it, rather, as a survival from an earlier stage of thinking and feeling: in short, as a form of superstition. It, and not the thing I am forced to name unbelief, seems to me negative. It denies the reason. It denies the evidences in the case, in the sense that it insists upon introducing elements which come not from the facts as shown but from the imaginations and wishes of mortals. Unbelief does not deny the reason and it sticks as closely as it can to the evidences.

I shall have to be more explicit. When I say I am an unbeliever, I do not mean merely that I am no Mormon or no Methodist, or even that I am no Christian or no Buddhist. These seem to me relatively unimportant divisions and subdivisions of belief. I mean that I do not believe in any god that has ever been devised, in any doctrine that has ever claimed to be revealed, in any scheme of immortality that has ever been expounded.

As to gods, they have been, I find, countless, but even the names of most of them lie in the deep compost which is known as civilization, and the memories of few of them are green. There does not seem to me to be good reason for holding that some of them are false and some of them, or one of them, true. Each was created by the imaginations and wishes of men who could not account for the behavior of the universe in any other satisfactory way. But no god has satisfied his worshipers forever. Sooner or later they have realized that the attributes once ascribed to him, such as selfishness or lustfulness or vengefulness, are unworthy of the moral systems which men have evolved among themselves. Thereupon follows the gradual doom of the god, however long certain of the faithful may cling to his cult. In the case of the god who still survives in the loyalty of men after centuries of scrutiny, it can always be noted that little besides his name has endured. His attributes will have been so revised that he is really another god. Nor is this objection met by the argument that the concept of the god has been purified while the essence of him survived. In the concept alone can he be studied; the essence eludes the grasp of the human mind. I may prefer among the various gods that god who seems to me most thoroughly purged of what I regard as undivine elements, but I make my choice, obviously, upon principles which come from observation of the conduct of men. Whether a god has been created in the image of gross desires or of pure desires does not greatly matter. The difference proves merely that different men have desired gods and have furnished themselves with the gods they were able to conceive. Behind all their conceptions still lies the abyss of ignorance. There is no trustworthy evi­dence as to a gods absolute existence.

Nor does the thing called revelation, as I see it, carry the proof further. All the prophets swear that a god speaks through them, and yet they prophesy contradictions. Once more, men must choose in accordance with their own principles. That a revelation was announced long ago makes it difficult to examine, but does not otherwise attest its soundness. That some revealed doctrine has lasted for ages and has met the needs of many generations proves that it is the kind of doctrine which endures and satisfies, but not that it is divine. Secular doctrines which turned out to be perfectly false have also endured and sat­isfied. If belief in a god has to proceed from the assumption that he exists, belief in revelation has first to proceed from the assumption that a god exists and then to go further to the assumption that he com­municates his will to certain men. But both are mere assumptions. Neither is, in the present state of knowledge, at all capable of proof. Suppose a god did exist, and suppose he did communicate his will to any of his creatures. What man among them could comprehend that language? What man could take that dictation? And what man could overwhelmingly persuade his fellows that he had been selected and that they must accept him as authentic? The best they could do would be to have faith in two assumptions and to test the revealed will by its correspondence to their imaginations and wishes. At this point it may be contended that revelation must be real because it arouses so much response in so many human bosoms. This does not follow without a leap of the reason into the realm of hypothesis. Nothing is proved by this general response except that men are everywhere very much alike. They have the same members, the same organs, the same glands, in varying degrees of activity. Being so much alike, they tend to agree upon a few primary desires. Physical and social conditions brings about a general similarity in prophecies.

One desire by which the human mind is often teased is the desire to live after death. It is not difficult to explain. Men live so briefly that their plans far outrun their ability to execute them. They see themselves cut off before their will to live is exhausted. Naturally enough, they wish to survive, and, being men, believe in their chances for survival. But their wishes afford no possible proof. Life covers the earth with wishes, as it covers the earth with plants and animals. No wish, however, is evidence of anything beyond itself. Let millions hold it, and it is still only a wish. Let each separate race exhibit it, and it is still only a wish. Let the wisest hold it as strongly as the foolishest, and it is still only a wish. Whoever says he knows that immortality is a fact is merely hoping that it is. And whoever argues, as men often do, that life would be meaningless without immortality because it alone brings justice into human fate, must first argue, as no man has ever quite convincingly done, that life has an unmistakable meaning and that it is just. I, at least, am convinced on neither of these two points. Though I am, I believe, familiar with all the arguments, I do not find any of them notably better than the others. All I see is that the wish for immortality is widespread, that certain schemes of immortality imagined from it have here or there proved more agreeable than rival schemes, and that they have been more generally accepted. The religions which provide these successful schemes I can credit with keener insight into human wishes than other religions have had, but I cannot credit them with greater authority as regards the truth. They are all guesswork.

That I think thus about gods, revelation, and immortality ought to be sufficient answer to the question why I am an unbeliever. It would be if the question were always reasonably asked, but it is not. There is also an emotional aspect to be considered. Many believers, I am told, have the same doubts, and yet have the knack of putting their doubts to sleep and entering ardently into the communion of the faithful. The process is incomprehensible to me. So far as I understand it, such believers are moved by their desires to the extent of letting them rule not only their conduct but their thoughts. An unbelievers desires have, apparently, less power over his reason. Perhaps this is only another way of saying that his strongest desire is to be as reasonable as he can. However the condition be interpreted, the consequence is the same. An honest unbeliever can no more make himself believe against his reason than he can make himself free of the pull of gravitation. For myself, I feel no obligation whatever to believe. I might once have felt it prudent to keep silence, for I perceive that the race of men, while sheep in credulity, are wolves for conformity; but just now, happily, in this breathing-spell of toleration, there are so many varieties of belief that even an unbeliever may speak out.

In so doing I must answer certain secondary questions which unbelievers are often asked. Does it not persuade me, one question runs, to realize that many learned men have pondered upon supernatural matters and have been won over to belief? I answer, not in the least. With respect to the gods, revelation, and immortality no man is enough more learned than his fellows to have the right to insist that they follow him into the regions about which all men are ignorant. I am not a particle more impressed by some good old mans conviction that he is in the confidence of the gods than I am by any boys conviction that there are fish in the horse-pond from which no fish has ever been taken. Does it not impress me to see some good old woman serene in the faith of a blessed immortality? No more than it impresses me to see a little girl full of trust in the universal munificence of a Christmas saint. Am I not moved by the spectacle of a great tradition of worship which has broadened out over continents and which brings all its worshipers punctually together in the observance of noble and dignified rites? Yes, but I am moved precisely by that as I am moved by the spectacle of men everywhere putting their seed seasonably in the ground, tending its increase, and patiently gathering in their harvests.

Finally, do I never suspect in myself some moral obliquity, or do I not at least regret the bleak outlook of unbelief? On these points I am, in my own mind, as secure as I know how to be. There is no moral obligation to believe what is unbelievable, any more than there is a moral obligation to do what is undoable. Even in religion, honesty is a virtue. Obliquity, I should say, shows itself rather in prudent pretense or in voluntary self-delusion. Furthermore, the unbelievers have, as I read history, done less harm to the world than the believers. They have not filled it with savage wars or snarled casuistries, with crusades or persecutions, with complacency or ignorance. They have, instead, done what they could to fill it with knowledge and beauty, with temperance and justice, with manners and laughter. They have numbered among themselves some of the most distinguished specimens of mankind. And when they have been undistinguished, they have surely not been inferior to the believers in the fine art of minding their own affairs and so of enlarging the territories of peace.

Nor is the outlook of unbelief, to my way of thinking, a bleak one. It is merely rooted in courage and not in fear. Belief is still in the plight of those ancient races who out of a lack of knowledge peopled the forest with satyrs and the sea with ominous monsters and the ends of the earth with misshapen anthropophagi. So the pessimists among believers have peopled the void with witches and devils, and the opti­mists among them have peopled it with angels and gods. Both alike have been afraid to furnish the house of life simply. They have cluttered it with the furniture of faith. Much of this furniture, the most reasonable unbeliever would never think of denying, is very beautiful. There are breathing myths, there are comforting legends, there are consoling hopes. But they have, as the unbeliever sees them, no authority beyond that of poetry. That is, they may captivate if they can, but they have no right to insist upon conquering. Beliefs, like tastes, may differ. The unbelievers taste and belief are austere. In the wilderness of worlds he does not yield to the temptation to belittle the others by magnifying his own. Among the dangers of chance he does not look for safety to any watchful providence whose special concern he imagines he is. Though he knows that knowledge is imperfect, he trusts it alone. He takes, therefore, the less delight in metaphysics, he takes the more in physics. Each discovery of a new truth brings him a vivid joy. He builds himself up, so far as he can, upon truth, and barricades himself with it. Thus doing, he never sags into superstition, but grows steadily more robust and blithe in his courage. However many fears he may prove unable to escape, he does not multiply them in his imagination and then combat them with his wishes. Austerity may be simplicity and not bleakness.

Does the unbeliever lack certain of the gentler virtues of the believer, the quiet confidence, the unquestioning obedience? He may, yet it must always be remembered that the greatest believers are the greatest tyrants. If the freedom rather than the tyranny of faith is to better the world, then the betterment lies in the hands, I think, of the unbelievers. At any rate, I take my stand with them.

Overcoming Childhood Indoctrination

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Let’s see: people who are centuries old; immaculate conception; resurrection after 3 days; transubstantiation; efficacy of prayer; miracles . . . need one be stupid to believe these impossible things? Hmmmm. It sure as hell can’t hurt! Statistically, it’s more likely to believe these things because you were ignorant — just a child — when you were spoon-fed these lies. Either way, you weren’t born believing impossible things. You had to have been taught, indoctrinated, brainwashed. Children readily believe these kinds of things. Especially when people they trust tell them it’s the truth. They then believe it, without ever evaluating it. It gets internalized as a normal, accepted, part of their identity. Later, as we reach intellectual maturity, the dissonance between fact and fiction prompts many of us to finally examine those unexamined ‘truths’. Many of us manage to sort out the lies. But, apparently, many more of us don’t.

Since we’re basically talking about THINKING here, what could account for the relatively low percentage of us who figure out what the lies were?

Is a lot of intelligence required to sift out the lies? I don’t think so. I think confidence in one’s own relative intelligence is more important. If you think yourself intellectually weak or stupid, how can you dare have the hubris to say all your friends and family and 2 billion other people are wrong?

And that’s exactly what the anti-intellectual scriptures of the Abrahamic religions want you to think. In the Garden of Eden, curiosity cost us our immortality. God comes down hard and decisively against using the brains he ‘blessed’ us with. God is threatened by human understanding, so it won’t do to have us thinking for ourselves and taking credit for our own accomplishments. All praise goes to God. None goes to man. It’s self-reinforced brainwashing. These religions would never have survived if people had confidence in themselves. They want you on your knees and supplicant — not standing upright and proud, thinking for yourself. Excessive pride is vanity but contrary to what the Bible would have you believe, pride is not a sin. Pride is a natural, human, emotion that recognizes achievement in ourselves and those we love.

We’re only human; we have limits. But that doesn’t mean you should accept that ‘born into sin’ crap. If you believe you’re an unworthy wretch, you probably will be. The fact is, people make mistakes. But they’re just mistakes — not ‘sins’. We can learn from our mistakes and correct them. That’s how we improve and grow as human beings. You can’t improve by offloading accountability onto anyone or anything else. You’re responsible for, and accountable to, yourself.

René Descartes is famous for his quote: “Cogito ergo sum” — I think, therefore I am. The most real thing you can possibly believe in is yourself. The most unreal thing you can possibly believe in is the impossible. Believe in yourself . . . not in impossible things! Don’t let religion twist things around. You can do it.

There is no God higher than truth.

 


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