Childlike Faith

Why is it acceptable to have childlike faith when it comes to Christianity, but we are expected to evaluate other religions with critical thinking skills?

Recently I’ve had a couple of conversations with theist bloggers that have really left a sour taste in my mouth in regards to this idea of childlike faith.

The first was a gentleman who was actively trying to proselytize to me. So I asked him “why should I believe your god and not someone else’s”  to which he would respond that Jesus was the only God to die to save the world. This of course is not accurate statement of world religions, but setting that aside, even if he was that isn’t a reason to believe Christianity over another religion. Right off the bat Islam and Judaism are going to counter that claim, so I pushed again “why should I believe Christianity over Islam.” He had two suggestions for me, first that I needed to diligently seek after (his) God, and if I did I would find him. And second that I needed to just believe, and that answers would come later.

Now I live in a major US city and work for a large university. I encounter many people of differing religious beliefs on a daily basis. If I treated every religion the way this individual wanted me to treat Christianity, basically sans any critical thinking skills, I would be changing my religion more than a freshman changed majors. Somehow I don’t think he would be supportive if I “just accepted” Christianity today and “just accepted” Islam tomorrow.

So this whole concept of “childlike faith” seems, well childish. But apparently you can’t get into heaven without it according to Matthew 18:3. I don’t understand why this doesn’t offend more Christians. After all, we convince children that a fat man in a red suit can fly around the world in a single night delivering toys created by elves in a workshop at the North Pole, squeezing down non existent chimneys all along the way. Children are, in effect, stupid. No disparagement is meant, they just lack the critical thinking skills to evaluate information effectively.  And this is how Jesus wants you to be or you can’t go to heaven. This seems incredibly insulting to me, does anyone else feel this way?

The Blood of Christ

Not getting into whether or not the figure known as Jesus Christ is an actual, real, historical figure or not. Has anybody wondered what would have happened if the Romans had chosen to strangle, drown, suffocate, or otherwise kill Jesus without any blood letting, would his death still have “washed” the sins of the world? Or was literal blood spilling necessary? 

The Great and Powerful Oz

I am always amazed and the sheer number of Christians who do not believe in an All-Powerful God. In my experience this is actually all of Christianity, no seriously, I’m not generalizing here. Naturally Christians will of course pay lip-service to their Omnipotent God, their God who is so powerful he created the universe out of nothing, but if you engage with any Christian for longer than five minutes on some of the stickier issues of Christianity, they always reduce God to no more than a man standing behind a curtain. Let me explain by looking at a few common arguments I hear when I am engaging with Christians.

Slavery

First up is a favorite topic of mine, Old Testament slavery. Now most reasonable people agree the slavery is a bad things, even Bible believing Christians will profess to believe that. But where do Christians come by that belief since slavery is clearly approved throughout the OT, to the point of being regulated and even encouraged by their God who can do no wrong? The argument from Christians here is that of course the Great and Powerful Oz would never ever approve of slavery and genocide, but the man behind the current was limited by the reality of the culture of the time. And they will actually say “God was limited” so that should be a major red flag. This is the God who created the universe from nothing, but he can’t forbid his chosen people from engaging in owning other human beings because it is a reality of the culture of the time?  On its face this is absurd because starting in the OT and continuing to Christians today, followers of the Biblical God are constantly being told not to be like the cultures around them. In the OT it deal particularly with what gods they worship (obviously) how they worship God, not engaging in human sacrifices, what foods they can eat and so on. So I don’t see why an all-powerful God can’t make not owning slaves just another way the Israelites are supposed to be different from the cultures around them Probably the most common follow up I hear is “God knew the Israelites wouldn’t be able to follow a no slaves policy so he regulated it to make it less harsh then how the surrounding cultures treated their slaves.” First off, that is just categorically false and if you spent any time reading OT slavery laws you would see that. Second, the way I understand it, as Christians will point out every and anytime an atheist brings up the OT that the whole purpose of the OT laws were to show the Israelites they could not follow all of the laws, so what is one more law that the Israelites would break? Finally (although this is by no means an exhaustive list), that perhaps there were economic reasons as to why it was necessary for God to allow slavery. They of course believe this is the same God who fed 2-3 million people with literal bread from heaven for forty years, so I’m confident that he could have shielded his chosen people from any negative impact  resulting from a non existent slave trade. And this is all of course without mentioning that an omniscient God could have superseded culture by giving laws before their was a culture, like when he created the first man and woman, or when he saved only seven people from a global flood. Or that he didn’t seem to be limited by culture when he destroyed the whole world in a flood or wiped Sodom and Gomorrah off the face of the planet. So this line of thinking doesn’t track. Christians either need to come to terms that their God is totally okay with something they believe to be morally repugnant, or that God is in fact not all-powerful enough to even outlaw it from his own people.

Hell

The concept of Hell has plagued Christians for centuries and so many will try to argue away eternal torture as a necessity. But of course with an all powerful God nothing is a necessity, everything is a conscious choice. Christians will say that God is too Holy and to Pure for anything that is not pure and holy to exist in his presence, therefore our immortal souls have to spend eternity somewhere. There are, as you would expect, a number of problems with this line of thinking in consideration of an all-powerful deity. For starters if God is all-powerful than he can, in fact, allow a sinful person into his presence without affecting his holiness or pureness. Also if God is omnipresent as Christians claim than sinful people are constantly in his presence because he is present everywhere, in fact God will even be present in Hell, that is what omnipresent means. Furthermore, in the first chapter of Job we see Satan presenting himself in the Lord’s presence, so so much for that theory. Also immortal souls don’t have to spend eternity anywhere, If God can blink them into existence, he can blink them out of existence just as easily, so an all-powerful God could have created heaven without needing a hell. Even if Hell the location is necessary, which is isn’t, the fire, brimstone, and eternal torture are aesthetic choices God has intentionally made, and keep in mind this is torture not punishment, punishment is designed to modify/correct future behavior, Hell is, by intentional design, continuous and eternal, there is no getting out of it once you are there. So here, Christians have to come to terms with either God somehow finds burning people for eternity pleasing and good, or he is not all-powerful enough to stop it.

The Crucifixion

The argument here is the world has grown so wicked that the only way to “save” it was for God to send his son (by impregnating a thirteen-year-old girl, also totally unnecessary), in order to die by crucifixion so that his blood could wash away the sins of the world, but only if you ask for it. This is of course replacing the atonement in the OT by slaughtering animals. It seems this “all-powerful” deity has an unhealthy reliance on blood-magic to actually be able to accomplish anything. An all-powerful deity could of course just forgive the sins of those who asked (or even if they didn’t), no blood magic necessary. And that is really the kicker with Christianity, the central component to the faith, the so-called necessary death and resurrection of the savior Jesus Christ, even if it really truly did happen, it is just completely unnecessary theater. Here Christians need to come to terms that either God is reliant on blood-magic to accomplish his goals, or the death and resurrection of Jesus was a marketing ploy to make Christianity more appealing.

So those were a few instances where Christians have indicated to me that they don’t actually believe in an all-powerful God as they keep trying to limit his power. I encourage you to push back anytime you hear a Christian claim it was necessary for God to, God had to, or God was limited by, and see if they believe that God really is all-powerful or not.

I Don’t Want Christianity to be True

The biggest understatement of the year is my mother and I do not see eye to eye on religion or politics and I would be lying if I said my “sudden” switch from liberal albeit non-practicing Christian to vocal capitol A Atheist has not strained our relationship. For the most part we do our best not to discuss the issue and instead focus on my five-month-old son, because nothing brings families closer together than cute babies. However there are times when I wish we would or could talk. It has been about a year since I proudly embraced the Atheist label (just before Christmas, admittedly my timing could have been better), and since that time I have noticed an uptick in Facebook “likes” on posts detailing what Atheists think, or more accurately what Christians think Atheists think. This frustrates me in general, but in particular with my mother because if she wants to know what an atheist thinks perhaps she should ask her son. Go ahead and take a second to watch the Frank Turek video that graced my Facebook feed the other day courtesy of my mother.

Did you catch all that?

“They have a moral issue, an emotional issue. They have an accountability issue maybe… People don’t want Christianity to be true. Why? Because they don’t want there to be God, they want to be God. They want to go their own way. They don’t want to have a moral authority above them. In fact most people are not on a truth quest they are on a happiness quest, whatever is going to make them happy they are going to believe.”

Its a wonder I haven’t left my wife and son to go marauding and pillaging, and
I have to ask myself, is this what my mother really thinks about me? And even if I did leave Christianity so I could go live an immoral life and not be accountable to God why on earth would I become a capital A Atheist as opposed to a little A atheist? Why would I proudly embrace the label of one of the most disliked groups in the country? For that matter why would I even leave the comfort and privilege of the Christian community? Look at how the evangelical community has rallied around Donald Trump, I assert there is zero reason to leave the Christian community in order to live an immoral life accountable to no one. My act might not fool “God” of course, but certainly would fool Christians. For seven years I lived as a non-practicing Christian, a little A atheist for all intents and purposes, and so long as I occasionally professed a belief in God no one questioned my morality, then one day I embrace the atheist label and somehow with absolutely no change in lifestyle suddenly my mother believes I am an hedonist. And I have to ask, what part of alienating  my family does she think is fun for me? It makes no sense to become a capital A Atheist for moral or accountability reasons as Frank Turek describes them, I can do that just as easily while still being plugged into the Christian community without the added stress of being an Atheist. No there must be something more, like the complete and utter lack of evidence for the two most foundational events of Christianity, the Exodus and the Resurrection, for starters.

But I must confess I am guilty of Frank Turek’s accusations. I don’t want Christianity to be true, also if Christianity were true I wouldn’t become a Christian but not because of moral or accountability issues as Turek spouts off. No if Christianity were true that would mean God actually did kill the slaves of the people he was mad at for owning slaves. It would mean God actually did save the life of a man who offered to let a depraved mob rape his two virgin daughters (probably around 13-years-old) but murdered his wife for looking over her shoulder at the wrong time. It would mean there is a God who exists that thinks picking up sticks on the wrong day is a worse offense than beating someone with a rod. A God who cares more about the appropriate way to boil a baby goat (not in its mother’s milk) than he cares about slavery, polygamy, and rape (often all at the same time). Exactly which part of that does Turek think should be appealing to me?

I wouldn’t become a Christian because why would I join an organization that has zero respect for other faiths and cultures, that oppresses women, and discriminates against the LGBT community for the privilege of worshiping a deity who did all of the above? I wouldn’t become a Christian because being commanded to say “I love you” to someone pointing the gun of hellfire at your head means nothing at all and I won’t degrade myself by saying it. I wouldn’t become a Christian because my principles would never allow me to praise someone who made that the choice in the first place.

On second though I did leave Christianity for moral reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Read that Wrong

 

Ken Ham

Earlier today Ken Ham decided to grace Facebook with his presence to defend the inerrancy of the Bible. And for whatever reason it appeared on my Facebook page. I should probably just follow him and get it over with, but something about being “friends” with Ken Ham makes my skin crawl.

As usual the thing that really annoys me is Ken Ham claims that secularists start off with the assumption that the bible has errors. This ignores the fact that many secularists were once adamant believers who only became secularists when they could no longer ignore the gross contradictions within the Bible.

The truth is apologists, pastors and priests love all of the contradictions and ambiguities in the Bible, and the same is true the further up the church hierarchy you go. If the Bible wasn’t full of contradictions, they would all be out of a job. Imagine being able to open a Bible and being able to easily and clearly ascertain the author’s meaning. No need for someone like Ken Ham to teach you how to “correctly” read the Bible. Because of course if someone comes to a different conclusion about the Bible, they obviously are just not reading it correctly.

Think about it, the Catholic Church didn’t stop conducting mass in Latin until 1965. That keeps those who are unlearned, the common folk, if you will, dependent on the church hierarchy for their connection to God. Ken Ham is making the same power play today. Everyone can examine the text for themselves but for some reason it is still necessary for people like Ken Ham to help all the common folk navigate and explain away all of these “supposed” contradictions. No “True Christian” ever wants to read the bible incorrectly obviously.

Google “biblical contradictions” and you will find lists that will continue for what seems like an impossibly long time. My personal favorite is when God brags about freeing the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery in Exodus 20, and then in Exodus 21 God lays down laws for slave ownership (apparently slavery is only bad when it happens to Jews). Even if there are satisfactory answers for every contradiction (I am not very satisfied with this Jewish slavery exception), the sheer amount of ambiguity should be proof against any sort of divine inspiration. It is the editor’s job to make sure that contradictions and ambiguity don’t make it to the final print, so the author’s message isn’t muddled. If the Bible were written today God would be fired as the editor.  The Bible is a perfect example of why it is always good practice to have a second set of eyes to review a text before publication (I don’t do this, which is why days later after I post a blog I’m still finding typos).

The ultimate goal of the God/the Bible is to save as many souls as possible (unless of course it isn’t). How many people have left the faith at least partially due to the contradictions found in the Bible? God, the most perfect editor, had an opportunity to create the most perfect text and without question he failed. For proof look at John 17:20-21, which depicts Jesus praying that all those who read the Bible (who come to believe through the word of the apostles) “be one.” Consider there are over 40 denominations of Christianity today. Some differences between denominations are minor, other denominations handle rattlesnakes. In terms of results this is an example of one of the worst prayers in the Bible. And if God can’t even get a “yes” to his own prayer, about his own church, what hope does anybody else have?

*Edit– I meant to use the above paragraph to highlight that the 40 different denominations all have different views on how to “correctly” interpret the bible. This is an unacceptable outcome for an editor who clearly wanted to produce a clear, unified message as John 17:20-21 states.–Edit*

Do you want more proof? Let’s play a game. Who was at the tomb when Jesus’s body was discovered missing?

Was it a young man sitting in the tomb dressed in a white robe as it is in Mark?

Was it an angel who descended from heaven and rolled the stone back in the presence of the women then sitting on the stone as it is in Matthew?

Was it two men standing inside the tomb in dazzling apparel after the tomb had been discovered empty as it is in Luke?

Was it two angels in white sitting inside the tomb after they had already discovered the tomb empty, left, and came back again with more witnesses, and then after those witnesses left as it is in John?

Perhaps some of the confusion comes from in Mark, Mary Magdalene, Jesus’s mother, and Salome discover the tomb empty, while in Matthew it is just Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.” In Luke it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and “other women.” And finally in John it was Mary Magdalene on her own.

I personally think the confusion comes from Mark 16:8 “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Even supposing the details got muddled in the 40 years before they were written down, any moderately competent human editor compiling this anthology would be able to get the number of angels consistent from story to story, let alone the recurring characters, and they would know that the author couldn’t report information that hadn’t actually been told to anybody.

In terms of consistency and clarity, by any standard of writing, the Bible is far from perfect. But perhaps we should give God some slack, at least in terms of the resurrection story. After all, the whole point is he wasn’t there.