Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Things Your Mother Never Told You About Atheism parts 2 & 3

Things your Mother never told you about Atheism
and several other reasons why God doesn't exist.

* * *

Part II - Poor reasons sometimes used to reject religion.

1 - Inquisition, the Crusades, and violence in general.

As far as I can see, this pretty much consists of finger pointing and points-scoring and, once we start playing that game then all hell breaks loose. There are plenty of stupid people who have made stupid decisions all throughout history on all side of all camps in anything remotely to do with religion. I don’t even want to BEGIN tallying who is to blame for who killed whoever-they-killed way back when, and whether they REALLY were atheist or really were a Christian or really were actually a communist. Let’s just put that fight to bed. Some people are idiots now and there were idiots then, let’s move on.

2 - Israel/Pakistan, Northern Ireland, & other divisions.

No matter what one believes, prominent people on both sides of the debate will admit that if people weren’t killing each other over religion then it would be over some other in-group/out-group, tribalistic, social division or economic reasoning.
People fight wars for all sorts of reasons and when you take away one reason (like religion) then they’ll find another reason to keep on fighting the good fight. Again, the most sophisticated arguments are speculative at best, and if you want to keep debating in a speculative battle then don’t talk to me about it.

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Part III - Poor reasons sometimes used to become an atheist.

1 - The theodicy a.k.a. the argument from suffering.
This little philosophical gem is as old as it is flawed. Why do you think it is so great to teach in Philosophy 101? It is because stupid ideas that you can formulate into tasty syllogisms are interesting. These days, nobody who sits down to get meaty answers to this dilemma ever walks away thinking it is valid. Purely materialistic philosophers don’t think it holds water, theologians don’t think it holds water. If you want more, go Wikipedia it or ask your local theologian.
Because the argument from suffering is important to so many people, I will at least add this: it is true that the argument from suffering may critique a particular formula of beliefs about God, but overall there are logically, internally consistent Christian formulations of the way God may be that provide a positive answer for how suffering can coexist alongside God. In short, the argument from suffering alone is not a sufficient counter-example to disprove the existence of God.

 If one is to universally challenge religion and theism, then it isn't enough just to disprove a single, limited formulation of a god; larger brush strokes are required.

2 - Being angry or disappointed at God.
This one is a doozy; how can you be angry at a God you don’t believe exists? Either you’re angry at God who you believe is there, or you don’t believe god is there and therefore you can’t be angry at God. No path to atheism here, folks.


Coming up next:
Part IV - Poor reasons used to criticise atheism.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Things Your Mother Never Told You About Atheism part 1

I wrote the beginning of this a fair while ago. I consider this a first draft. I'm still writing the end of it, this is how long it is taking me to get around to doing it. I have decided to release it in portions for ease of reading, accessibility, and section-relevant commenting.


(old foreword I had planned for the blog:)

Time to get a bit serious now.

I'm feeling good, high in energy levels generally, and my blogging seems to have picked up again (as Scott mentioned when I randomly talked to him today at the Art Centre Markets).

Around a few months ago, I happened to be going through a particularly intense patch of thinking around my Christian faith. I began to really rummage through my past, trying to decipher whether I had 'really' seen signs of the existence of God (and, consequently, the truth of my Christian experience). I also managed to collect quite a few interesting books in the process.

Being the reading/writing/thinking/talking type, I began to collect a few of my thoughts, feelings, and intellectual discoveries on my laptop. Being of a calmer frame of mind recently, I now feel it about time to share some of these with my thought-community: you.

My thoughts were entitled, partly for the humour/shock value, Things your Mother never told you about Atheism - and several other reasons why God doesn't exist. The title expressed the feeling that had begun to grow inside me that the non-Christian worldview (atheist in particular), and the opinions of particular authors, had been sorely misrepresented to me across my lifetime; I put this down to a combination of worldview-biases and an us/them mentality in those various people who had taught me about the world. This doesn’t make those educators incorrect, per se, but I certainly feel slightly short-changed by my education until now.

Take it as my rabid journaling, take it as angry polemic, or take it as an attempt to figure out my beliefs: take it any way you will. I include it here now because I would love to hear anyone's opinion on any of the points I raise. I hope that you will find it easy for anyone to engage with this, regardless of belief, worldview or presuppositions.

These notes, like me, are still very much a work in progress. I have fleshed out my points for the first time, here, for you all:

Things your Mother never told you about Atheism
and several other reasons why God doesn't exist.

* * *

Part I - Theological reasons to take the questioning process seriously.

1 - God 'holds all the keys' (e.g. Matt 11:25-27)
Epistemologically, as well as theologically, this seems to be true. Logically speaking we can’t make God do anything that God doesn’t want to do. In any interaction, God is the 600lb gorilla who can sit – or do – what he likes. This includes divine self-revelation.

Matthew 11:25-27 says,
25At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
27"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

2a - God resists the proud
The book of Job (although that is NEVER a good book to quote, given that it is intentionally filled with bad advice from Job’s associates) says that God, ‘frustrates the plotting of the shrewd … by day they meet with darkness, and grope at noon as in the night’ (Job 5:12,14) and also, ‘He does not regard any who are wise of heart’ (Job 37:24b).

The theme here, and it is certainly echoed by living disciples of Christianity here on earth, is that God almost enjoys thwarting those who think they are clever; “it doesn’t matter what you think, say, or have read, Mr Smarmy-Atheist-Type-Person, because God (see section above) can do what He wants and will turn all of your formidable cleverness on its head!”

2b - God may possibly reject disingenuous seekers.
This is a warning that – in my quest for truth – I have received in various forms, directly or indirectly, by various people who possibly haven’t all meant well by it. It almost always comes up after a brief conversation wherein I interject a few deeply unsettling questions about God, religion, or Christianity. I suppose the risk assumed by them is that if I ask doubting questions a little bit too zealously (rather than doubt in the safe, ‘we all have doubts sometimes,’ way) then I’ll annoy Mr Deity and he will smite me or otherwise dole out a bad destiny to me. For why this is a problem, see point 1.

The biblical basis to this theme is empowered by favourite Sunday school stories such as, ‘When the Lord Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart’ and St. Paul’s interesting trick of handing a wayward brother over to Satan. If this is correct, then presumably that makes all such individuals royally screwed (like Judas?).

3 - God promises to respond to those who seek after relationship.
It does seem to me that God DOES take some mitigating steps to lighten the fact of point 1, and that is self-binding promises found in scripture. Self-limitations and promises by God in no way threaten God’s sovereignty, meaning that God can make godself in some way contingent on other (lesser) things without creating a giant, theological mess and scaring all the Calvinists.
This seems to be backed up by encouraging ideas like, ‘seek and you shall find’, and, ‘call upon the name of the Lord and be saved’. It also seems to create a foothold in Jesus, being not just the way, the truth, and the life, but also as the tangible person in whom the ‘fullness of God’ is revealed (naturally, this presumes the truth of the Jesus-story).

4 - The God paradigm re-imagines a different form of 'wisdom' than the common concept of what is wise.
In a similar way to section 2a, the bible seems to promise that God turns things on their heads. This includes what we even think of wisdom in the first place. What I find wise, prudent, and rational might in fact be blatant stupidity in the eyes of God who seems to suggest the ‘fear of the Lord’ ranks pretty highly on his Smart-O-Meter. As well as avoiding naughty prostitutes who will take us in to their houses and have their way with us, biblical Wisdom seems to comprise knowing an awful lot of God’s laws, recognising God as the top dog, and to make sure that we teach others about God. This probably doesn’t include reading any of the books on my list above (which may be a problem according to point 2b).

* * *

So, does that sound fair so far?

A new approach

I'm in the process of updating my blog, links, and so forth.

Let me know what you think of the new look.

I also designed this swanky new banner using Fireworks (I have re-installed Studio 8 on my new Mac and am re-familiarising myself with flash and web design).