Monday, June 1, 2020
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Stacking the Odds for Getting into Heaven


Bert wrote a nice little piece on heaven the other day. It inspired me to write something about this. Pertinently, he said:

The quote above suggests that getting into Heaven is pretty damned hard to do.  But, according to Christian doctrine anybody can be forgiven all of their sins if they repent…and believe in Jesus, of course. The Bible says repeatedly that the only unforgiveable sin is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” What does that mean? Here’s one definition I found on an evangelical site:

“When one receives Christ, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. If one doesn’t receive Christ, then they do not receive the Holy Spirit, which is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, nonbelief is the only unforgiveable sin. Everything else, including murder, torture, rape, incest, you name it, is forgivable. All a believing Christian has to do is repent all the awful stuff they have done, and they get a free pass through the Pearly Gates.

We have an interesting scenario where, if the Bible can be trusted at all, it is far more difficult to get into heaven than not. If life and existence is something of a test, then the test is ridiculously hard to pass and this is a test that God has designed. But it’s bigger than that because God also designed and created the people who are due to take the test and the universe or environment in which their experience, that will qualify them for the test, is set.

Not only this, but there were huge numbers of people who existed before Jesus was even born, and these people couldn’t be saved in the way the Bible now seems to intend. Of course, theologians such as William Lane Craig have contrived answers for this, such as God front-loading all of the people who would have rejected Jesus into existing before Jesus. This is a problem in itself that pretty much admits determinism, since there appears nothing that these people could do to be saved, and so God front-loads these damned people into existing before he could put a salvation mechanism in place.

God is setting up such a difficult scenario for humans that you can’t help but think that God doesn’t like human beings much at all.

If I had a class of students, my initial wish would be for all of them to pass whatever test I would be setting them because I would want them to have the requisite knowledge and be able to express it. In the same way, surely God would want as many people as humanly possible to be saved, to come into loving union with him?

Divine foreknowledge is highly problematic anyway, as I have countlessly pointed out. Quite why God would bother creating at all if he knew all of the answers in advance is baffling. Testing people is for the tester to find out what the students know. If God is testing us, then he is trying to find out who would pass and who would not. But if he already knew this, then the test becomes impotent and pointless; it becomes merely an excuse for condemning people to hell or annihilation for eternity.

I talk about all of this and more on my sections on heaven and hell in The Little Book of Unholy Questions (UK) – presently on offer in paperback on Amazon.com:


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2020 Election Statewide Predictions & Nonreligious Trump Voters


I’m a big fan of the YouTube channel Political Forecast – Election Predictions. In his latest video, as ever, he takes you through a state by state analysis of the election, putting Biden and Trump head to head. It comes out more favourably for Biden than it has in the past, given some shifting sands of political opinion. Give it a watch.

Now, I know this isn’t about philosophy of religion. So here’s my link: I want to know, in the comments, from explicitly nonreligious US voters who are going to vote Trump, why they will be doing so.

We often her form religious Trump supporters but not often from nonreligious ones. The old-school small c conservatives, I fear, have moved away from Trump’s new Republican dictatorship – people like Frum and Ziegler, the Lincoln Project and so on.

So, are you out there, nonreligious Trump voters? What are your arguments? How do you align your vote with what is a continued assault on constitutional secularism as offered and delivered by such Republicanism?

 


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Eastern Orthodox Church: Shared-Spoon Ritual Provides “Medicine of Immortality” | Terry Firma | Friendly Atheist


Normally when I share press reports of religious matters on this blog, I select just a few paragraphs that seem especially worthy of comment. Not to put too fine a point on it: I usually quote the crazy shit.

In this AP article, it’s almost all crazy shit. Eleven hundred words of unadulterated WTF.

The piece begins with a church scene in Athens, Greece.

The priest dips a spoon into the chalice of bread and wine, which the faithful believe is the body and blood of Christ, and puts it into the mouth of the first person in line. Then, with a move that would alarm an epidemiologist, he dips the spoon back into the chalice and then into the next person’s mouth. Again and again, through the entire congregation.

Contrary to what science says, the Greek Orthodox Church insists it is impossible for any disease — including the coronavirus — to be transmitted through Communion. “In the holy chalice, it isn’t bread and wine. It is the body and blood of Christ,” said the Rev. Georgios Milkas, a theologian in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “And there is not a shred of suspicion of transmitting this virus, this disease, as in the holy chalice there is the Son and the Word of God.” This is proven, he said, through “the experience of centuries.”

From there, the reporters do a little hopscotch across the map. First Cyprus, where the Church authorities have turned the bluster up to 11.

“Regarding the issue that is unjustifiably raised from time to time about the supposed dangers, which in these blasphemous views are said to lurk in the life-giving Mystery of Holy Communion, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece expresses its bitterness, deep sorrow and diametrical opposition,” [the Church of Cyprus]  said in a May 13 circular on social distancing measures in churches.

The Synod “underlines one more time to all those who, either due to ignorance or conscious faithlessness, brutally insult all that is holy and sacred, the dogmas and the sacred rules of our faith, that Holy Communion is ‘the medicine of immortality, antidote to not dying, but to living according to the teachings of Jesus Christ forever.’”

Taking the “antidote to not dying” means you’re, um, dying. The priests’ grammar is about as good as their science knowledge.

Next stop, Russia:

In mid-March, the Russian Orthodox Church released instructions on adjusting the sacrament during the pandemic. Priests were told to wear gloves when handing out the bread, to disinfect the spoon and to use disposable cups for the wine.

Oh. OK. Better.

But in Ethiopia, which has the biggest Orthodox-Christian faith body outside Europe,

the ritual is unchanged,

… and the same is true for the Orthodox Church in Georgia.

In response to public pressure against using a common spoon, the Georgian church noted the tradition is thousands of years old.

Ancient custom good. Modern science bad.

“Throughout these years, there have been many cases of life-threatening infections, during which Orthodox believers did not fear but strived even harder to get Communion through a common chalice and a common spoon,” [the Church] said in a statement.

Back in Greece, Dr. Gkikas Magiorkinis, assistant professor of hygiene and epidemiology at the University of Athens, appears to be struggling to stay polite.

Changing the minds of the faithful is “very difficult,” he said. “It’s a matter that can only be solved through discussion, and theological discussion rather than scientific discussion. Scientific discussion never helped, and it might have even worse results.”

Next time Christians try to tell you that religion and science are “compatible” or “complementary,” send ’em the link to the AP piece.

(Screenshot via YouTube)





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Merchy Merch Merch



Due to big life decisions in the pipeline and all sorts, I have decided to put Friday to some use and create a merchandise line for the blog. I will add to this with memey sort of quotes and whatnot. Shoot me some ideas! Either way, here is some merchandise if you have a spare […]



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The One Unforgiveable Sin | Bert Bigelow


Matthew 7:13-14 English Standard Version (ESV)

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

The quote above suggests that getting into Heaven is pretty damned hard to do.  But, according to Christian doctrine anybody can be forgiven all of their sins if they repent…and believe in Jesus, of course. The Bible says repeatedly that the only unforgiveable sin is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” What does that mean? Here’s one definition I found on an evangelical site:

“When one receives Christ, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. If one doesn’t receive Christ, then they do not receive the Holy Spirit, which is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, nonbelief is the only unforgiveable sin. Everything else, including murder, torture, rape, incest, you name it, is forgivable. All a believing Christian has to do is repent all the awful stuff they have done, and they get a free pass through the Pearly Gates.

Apparently, most Christians believe this is true. According to a Pew Research poll conducted in 2015, 72% of American Christians believe in Heaven, and 58% believe in Hell.[i] Another poll showed that virtually all Christians are sure they are going to Heaven, and since the majority of Americans describe themselves as Christians, that narrow road is gonna be crowded!

Now I am certainly not perfect, but I don’t think I have done anything really terrible in my life. Some of the foolish things I did when I was young, I regret. Is that repentance? If so, I pass that test. But the second part, believing in the Big Daddy in the Sky would be more than just hard for me. It would be impossible. I have been a nonbeliever all my life, and I cannot think of anything short of Jesus walking up to me that would convince me to change my mind. And even then, I would be skeptical, and would demand to see his driver’s license and Social Security card. So, I’m afraid I fail that test and am doomed to Hellfire. (not)

I am sure that a lot of people who describe themselves as believing Christians are at least as intelligent as I am. How the Hell do they do it? Okay, they were brainwashed as children, but now they are thinking adults. Surely, they must have some serious doubts. And maybe some of them don’t honestly repent some of the bad stuff they’ve done. But still, most of them say they’re headed for Heaven. Are they being honest with us…and with themselves?. They know that God knows what they are thinking. They can’t hide their thoughts from Him. If they’re faking it, they’re toast. Literally.

So maybe that Bible quote at the beginning is right. Very few of those who think they will make it…or say they think they will make it…will trod that narrow road.

But if you share my view, then we agree that the whole thing is much ado about nothing.

[i] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/10/most-americans-believe-in-heaven-and-hell/



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Why Did God Send the Virus? Like Millions Before Her, a Pastor Comes Up Short. | Terry Firma | Friendly Atheist


The Reverend Valerie Gittings, who ministers at the First Baptist Church of Fairmont, West Virginia, isn’t bereft of common sense. She ends her article in a local newspaper with “for God’s sake, wear a mask.”

It’s the part that comes earlier that I have questions about.

The pandemic, she says,

…certainly might raise the unsettling specter of doubt in our hearts and minds. It might cause us to ask, as we so often do when misfortune comes, the age-old question, “Why?”

It’s an excellent one. Of all the journalist’s Ws — what, when, where, who, why — why has always been the most interesting to me.

So what does Gittings think is going on? Why did God unleash the virus? She takes a little detour first.

When a tornado hit Piedmont, Alabama on Palm Sunday, 1994, and struck the Goshen United Methodist Church, it killed 20 people, including six children. One of them was the four-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor, Rev. Kelly Clem.

Think about that. Clem and her husband had dedicated their lives to the Lord, but He didn’t spare them. On the contrary. He took their church, their friends, and six children, including their daughter. How damning is that, if you’re a Christian who wants, or is asked for, proof of God’s existence? I’ll tell you: it’s so damning that in recounting her story, other pastors lied by omission, neglecting to mention that any children had died, or that Clem’s four-year-old was among them.

The way Gittings tells it,

A member of [Clem’s] congregation said at the time, “We are trained from birth not to question God. But why? Why a church? Why those little children? Why?” … Pastor Clem replied: “We do not know why. I don’t think ‘why?’ is the question right now. We just have to help each other through it.”

Unsurprisingly, Gittings comes up with the exact same answer for the question about the corona-crisis.

We definitely have some “Why?” questions about this pandemic. Why would God allow so much suffering? Why does the virus take so many lives? Why does it cause so much pain and physical damage even to survivors? The answer to our “Why” questions is the same as that given by Pastor Clem after the tornado in Alabama: “We do not know why. I don’t think ‘why?’ is the question right now. We just have to help each other through it.”

Is it ever the right time?

Pastor Gittings’ non-answer to “why does God do this” is the functional equivalent of “I have no effing clue.” The kindest thing I can say about it is that I like it better than “because of gay people.”

It’s good that “why” is apparently on believers’ minds again these days. I hope they find Epicurus.

And speaking of the ancient Greeks, I’ve often thought that the question of suffering and evil is the Achilles heel of the Christian faith. On reflection, I was wrong. It’s more of an Achilles torso — with a bullseye painted on both sides.

(Image via Shutterstock)





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Facing Death Without Faith | Atheist Revolution


Death_of_Marat_by_David.jpg

I don’t write many posts without knowing whether I’ll actually put them up on the blog. This is one of them. I wrote an early version of this post in 2010 after hearing about Mojoey’s (Deep Thoughts) loss of his father and followed it up with another later that year. At the time, I found myself thinking that death is a subject that needs far more attention in the West. We don’t like to think about it, and we rarely discuss it. I cannot help thinking that this reluctance has many adverse effects. Since religious belief often seems to be driven by fear of death, perhaps atheists ought to be involved in this discussion. In 2020, I decided to consolidate those two prior posts into the one you are reading now.

Thinking About Death

At the outset, I have to acknowledge that I’m every bit as guilty as anyone in not wanting to think about death. I know I’ll die, and I know everyone close to me will die. But I tend to sweep thoughts like that aside. No point dwelling on something so unpleasant, I tell myself. I’ve still got some living to do, and I don’t want to get bogged down with such thoughts. Even if I think there might be some benefits to doing so, I’d prefer not to think about such things.

But in the back of my mind, there is an awareness that I am not doing myself any favors by pushing thoughts of death away. It means I’ll be less prepared when I inevitably lose more people close to me. It will likely make my subsequent grief worse. And it probably doesn’t help with my approach to my own demise in a rational way.

As an atheist, I understand that death is a natural process and that it represents not a transition to another plane of existence but an end. The living person ceases to live, ceases to be a person at all. There is no afterlife, except for the survivors. There is no next chapter, except for those left behind. It is we who survive the deceased who have the transition, and it can be an extremely difficult transition because we are the ones who have lost someone.

If I was a religious person who truly believed in some sort of afterlife, I might be justified in refusing to think about death. But as an atheist, I must recognize that the temporary nature of our time here has implications for how we should live our lives.

The Fear of Death

Assuming we do not do a great job of talking about death and dying in the West and that we might be able to overcome some of our many hang-ups on the subject if we learned how to do so, what might that look like? How could that benefit is? Perhaps fewer people would have a need for organized religion. If that was the case, that could benefit all of us in many ways.

If atheists view death as an ending of the self, the termination of everything we call “I,” does this mean it is something to be feared? For some of us, the idea of returning to nothingness might provoke fear. Others find the idea of nothingness too abstract to elicit strong emotion. And still others, including me, lost our fear of nothingness somewhere along the way even as we developed new fears.

I was recently asked about my views of death and the degree to which I feared my own death. In composing my response, I was struck by how much my views have changed over the course of my life. As a child and well into my teen years, the prospect of death terrified me. And yet, I found myself somewhat less afraid once I threw off the shackles of religious belief and begin to explore the writings of my fellow atheists. Don’t get me wrong – I was still afraid, just not as much as I had been previously.

fear of death

But shouldn’t atheism be associated with greater fear because it involves the recognition that there is no afterlife? I have heard that argument, and it does make some sense to me on an intellectual level. It just doesn’t ring true in an emotional way. That is, I see why others might feel that way, but that has not been my experience. Honestly, I attribute the pre- to post-atheism decline in fear of death more to maturity than to anything specific to atheism. But it is true that abandoning thoughts of hell reduced my fear to some degree.

The more time has passed since my teen years, the less I find myself fearing my own death. I have little trouble viewing death as a deep sleep from which one never awakes and in which there are no dreams. I see it more as an inevitable conclusion than as something to be feared. In fact, I have days when it almost seems welcome. There is, however, one aspect of death that I do still fear: the process of dying as it often unfolds in modern America. Like most strong fears, this one is irrational. And like most strong fears, knowing that it is irrational makes little difference.

So what exactly is it that I fear? I fear being confined to hospitals and nursing homes. I fear the indignity of being poked and prodded by medical staff. I fear the sort of cognitive decline that occurs in many older adults. And maybe most of all, I fear becoming dependent on others. Collectively, this all scares the hell out of me. In fact, it scares me so much that I’d prefer to avoid it all, even if it means suicide.

Moving Past the Fear of Death

Religious believers move past their fear of death by denying it altogether. That does not strike this atheist as a viable option. And this is what brings me back to the notion that thinking about death more often and being willing to openly discuss it with others might have some benefits.

We might acknowledge, for example, that some atheists do fear death. This does not make them [insert ridiculous Twitter insult of your choice here], and it certainly does not make anyone any less of an atheist. Those of us who don’t fear death might be of some value to those who do, but this is unlikely if we elevate ourselves above them. We might also acknowledge that not talking about death probably makes some of our fears worse. I think this includes the tendency some of us have to proclaim that it is our awareness of death that gives our lives meaning and then demand that others go enjoy their lives.

Not everybody enjoys their lives. Not everybody is healthy enough, physically or psychologically, to live the sort of life they might want. Some have major limitations that others often fail to consider. And so, telling someone who is seriously ill or struggling with many limitations to “be happy” and “go live every moment as if it was your last” may be rather hollow. The challenge of death, much like the challenge of life, may be that each of us has the task of defining its meaning for ourselves.



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To Golf Or Not To Golf, Trump Is in Question


I could pick any topic to discuss in this sort of manner, but golf it is. There is an eclectic mix of commenters here and I wanted a definite answer from a group of them, namely the fervent and immutable Trump supporters.

First, let me give you Trump’s own words before I hit you with Trump’s own behaviour.

He was then recorded on FOX saying:

“When you’re president, you sort of say, like, ‘I’m gonna give it up for a few years and I’m gonna really focus on the job’. There are times to play and there are times that you can’t play and it sends the wrong signal.”

And so on. Trump was very critical of Obama playing golf as POTUS.

Ebola killed two people in America.

2.

Two.

Coronavirus has killed northwards of 100,000 Americans.

Don’t forget, Trump claimed in February that the fifteen cases of COVID-19 in the US “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

Trump also said, as the sort of thing he often says (he’s the best in the world at [insert skill here]): “Golf is a great game; nobody likes it more than me.”

This much appears to be true, at least in how much he does it compared to Obama and how much it is costing the US taxpayer. According to HuffPo’s “Trump’s 29th Trip To Mar-a-Lago Brings Golf Tab To 334 Years Of Presidential Salary“, his golf hobby has now cost taxpayers $133.8 million.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, Trump frequently claimed he was playing golf too much and at too great an expense to taxpayers.

“I play golf to relax. My company is in great shape. @BarackObama plays golf to escape work while America goes down the drain,” Trump tweeted in December 2011.

“Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter,” he wrote three years later.

As he began his own run for the White House, candidate Trump repeatedly promised that golf would never make it onto a President Trump’s schedule. “I love golf, but if I were in the White House, I don’t think I’d ever see Turnberry again. I don’t think I’d ever see Doral again,” he told a rally audience in February 2016, referring to his courses in Scotland and Miami. “I don’t ever think I’d see anything. I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off.”

Yet after three years in office, Trump has spent two-and-a-half times as many days on a golf course as Obama had done at the same point in his first term. If Trump plays golf both Saturday and Sunday, he will have played 248 times. Obama by his 1,123rd day in office had played 92 times.

Let that all sink in. Trump has spent two-and-a-half times as many days on a golf course as Obama at the same stage in the presidency, and that’s with Trump taking three months off! If he had played at the same rate over the three months, he probably would have clocked something like playing almost once every four days…

Trump’s defence for playing golf was “exercise”, over which he has the most bizarre theory:

“Other than golf, he considers exercise misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy,” writes Evan Osnos in a piece entitled “How Trump Could Get Fired” that appears in the May 8, edition of the New Yorker.

That’s far from the first time we’ve heard that Trump and exercise aren’t friends. This, from a February 6 piece in Axios: “The only workout Trump gets is an occasional round of golf. Even then, he mostly travels by cart. On the campaign trail he viewed his rallies as his form of exercise.”

At best, he special pleads driving around in a cart and occasionally swinging at balls as the only exercise that constitutes “exercise”. Whoever is advising Trump right now needs their head checking.

So, for our resident Trumpistas, I wonder how they square this circle.

 

Here are the rules. They are not allowed to talk about anything other than golf, Trump and Obama. No other people will suffice in attempted whataboutery.

Let’s build it up logically:

  1. Trump harangued then POTUS for playing too much golf and for playing during a virus outbreak (that killed 2).
  2. Trump has played 2.5 x the amount of golf Obama did, and that’s taking 3 months off. He played during a global pandemic at the point where the death toll was 100,000 people, 50,000 x worse than Obama’s situation.
  3. Trump is either lying in 1) or a massive hypocrite. Or both.

We could also throw in the challenge that playing at Mar-a-Lago and having all of the expenditure there for all his staff has for the Emoluments Clause.

There is no shortage of Twitter ammunition with which Trump can be hoist by his own petard, but we’ll leave it here with golf.

The guy’s an absolute joke, an embarrassment to his country.

 


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Using Common Sense to Not See God: Christianity Cannot Be Deduced from Nature


Bob Seidensticker, of Cross Examined here at Patheos, contributed a chapter to the recent book Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century. In his piece, he joins a few of us in the first section who look to philosophically dismantle the notion of God. The book is set into three sections.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, here, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

Please click on the link above or the cover to grab yourself a copy (UK link here).

I posted the first part of Bob’s chapter the other day, and then the second part here, the third part here, and the next part of the chapter is here excerpted:

Christianity Can’t Be Deduced from Nature

Albert Einstein once said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Suppose Einstein’s catastrophic World War III happens and civilization is destroyed. A thousand years pass, and civilization returns to roughly our level of scientific awareness. After losing all knowledge of optics and thermodynamics and gravity, this naive society has re-discovered it—the very same laws of optics and thermodynamics and gravity that we have now. Ditto for Relativity, or e = mc2 or f = ma, or any other scientific law or theory.

Obviously, these post-apocalyptic humans would have different terms and ways of representing things—consider how mathematical symbols, numbers, punctuation, paragraph breaks, and even spaces have evolved over the centuries. But whatever notation they invent would be synonymous with our own since they would simply be descriptions of the same natural phenomena.

Now imagine that all knowledge of Christianity was also lost. A new generation might make up something to replace it, since humans seem determined to find supernatural agency in the world, but they wouldn’t recreate the same thing. There is no specific evidence of the Christian god around us today. You can’t deduce Christianity from reality, and the only evidence of God in our world is tradition and the Bible. Eliminate those, and Christianity would be lost forever.

There would be nothing that would let this future society recreate Christianity—no miracles, no God speaking to people, no prayers answered, no divine appearances (unless God decided to act more overtly than he does today). Sure, there would be beauty to wonder at, great complexity in the interwoven structure of nature, frightening things like death and disease for which they would need comfort, riddles within nature, and odd coincidences. People then, like they do now, would likely grope for supernatural explanations, but starting from scratch you could invent lots of religions to respond to these things. There is no evidence or observation that would guide future societies to any specific supernatural dogma that we have today, except by coincidence.

Christians today come to their beliefs because someone initially told them of Christianity. If no one told you, you couldn’t figure out Christianity on your own, which is quite the opposite from how science works.

The Bible comments on our thought experiment. It claims:

“Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:18–20).

And yet, without God informing humanity of his existence, Christianity would never be recreated. Worship of some sort of supernatural, sure, but not Christianity. This means that there is nothing inherent about our world that supports the claims of Christianity. We have just the Bible and tradition, both works of Man.

Here’s a variation on this thought experiment. Imagine the future post-Christian society comes across a library from our day in which they find information about twenty religions that are popular today. This information spreads, and civilization gradually adopts these new religious options. What is the likelihood that Christianity would come out on top again?

Let’s acknowledge that Christianity is sticky. If its message were a dud—that is, if it didn’t give people what they were looking for—it would have faded away. But now we’ve turned away from the question of truth and find ourselves squarely in the domain of marketing, considering which features of religion satisfy people’s emotional needs and which are turn-offs.

This is religion as breakfast cereal. Some new cereal brands last for a few months and are then withdrawn, while others remain appealing (often adapting to changes within society) for decades. Christianity is simply the Cheerios of religion. Like any successful brand in the marketplace, Christianity has spun off many variants—as if Lutheranism were the equivalent of Honey Nut Cheerios, Mormonism as MultiGrain Cheerios, and Pentecostalism as Cinnamon Burst Cheerios.

What can you say about a religion that cannot be recreated from evidence at hand today? About a religion whose god is knowable only through tradition? You can say what applies to all religions: we can’t prove that it is manmade, but it gives every indication of being so.

Highlighting Christianity’s Exponentially Increasing Claims

To grasp the enormity of the Christian claim, let us see it as part of a series of exponentially increasing claims. (This is my variation on an argument put forward by historian Richard Carrier.[1])

Suppose that each step in a series exceeds its predecessor simply in degree. For example, “I have a yellow car” is a more specific claim than “I have a car.” It is different in degree simply because there are fewer yellow cars than cars of any color. Let’s call this a linear progression.

More dramatic are steps that are different in kind, an exponential progression of steps. This is admittedly a sloppy use of “exponential” and “linear,” but it suggests the magnitude of difference between changes in degree and the more dramatic changes in kind.

Here are five steps in an exponential progression. Claims at each step become increasingly unlikely.

  1. Claims that are common such as, “I own a car.” In parts of the world where car ownership is common, this is not a surprising claim.
  1. Claims that are uncommon such as, “I own a third-century Christian manuscript.” This is very uncommon—there might be just a handful of individuals who can make this claim rather than the hundreds of millions who could claim car ownership—but it’s plausible.
  1. Claims that are unprecedented such as, “I own a 400-foot-long nuclear-powered submarine.” Such submarines do exist and no new science would be needed for this to be a true statement. Nevertheless, the facts that (1) there is no record of a person owning such a thing, (2) they are very difficult to steal, and (3) they are enormously expensive to build, makes this claim very implausible.
  1. Claims that are inconceivable today (but perhaps reasonable tomorrow) such as, “I own a time machine.” These machines do not exist today. New science and technology would be needed to build one, if it could be built at all. On the other hand, uncovering new science and inventing new technology is what humanity does. A claim in this category might become possible in the future.
  2. Claims that have no basis in reality such as, “A supernatural being created everything and interacts with humans on earth today.” While this claim is popular, it is built on nothing. No one offers sufficient evidence to support it (witness the lack of scientific consensus for any religious claim), and it’s no more respectable than astrology. There is no objective evidence of any supernatural being, let alone one that created the universe.

Big submarines do exist, so someone might own one someday. Technology does exist, so time machines might be built in the future, and then someone might own one. But science recognizes no supernatural claims, and there’s no reason to imagine that they will become more plausible in the future. No future developments in science or technology will help God make himself more available. Perhaps only outsiders to religion can fully appreciate the enormity (and lack of precedent) for the Christian claim.

Of course, billions of people today believe in some variation of this supernatural claim, but because these many claims are mutually contradictory they do more to argue that humans invent religions than that god(s) exist. The Christians who eagerly point to the billions of people who believe in the supernatural will turn around and undercut their claim by rejecting an all-roads-lead-to-God theology.

In response to a scientific puzzle such as “How did life originate?” or “What came before the Big Bang?” Christian apologists advance “God did it!” but they ignore how far-fetched the supernatural claim is. They confuse familiarity with plausibility, and on this exponential scale, God as a category 5 claim isn’t remotely plausible.

Let’s review this counter-apologetics arsenal.

  1. The map of world religions reveals the emptiness of Christians’ claims to have the correct answers to life’s Big Questions.
  2. The Bible can be turned against itself. The first Commandment—”Have no other gods before me”—admits that the god of the Old Testament was just one of many gods.
  3. Christians might claim that they hold their beliefs because of evidence, but why then don’t they adopt Mormonism since its historical record is far stronger?
  4. The Monty Hall problem, when extended to the version with hundreds of doors for all religions, highlights the unlikelihood of any religion being correct.
  5. The Monopoly Plus game has its object (accepting Jesus) completely disconnected from the mechanics of playing the game. It is an illustration of Christianity’s inverted view of reality, where the ups and downs of our daily activities are dismissed as meaningless in the big picture.
  6. If we imagine an apocalyptic world war such that humanity had to recreate civilization, they could successfully recreate our science. But Christianity isn’t derived from reality; it’s all manmade. This post-apocalyptic civilization might recreate religion but not Christianity.
  7. The supernatural claim made by Christianity is the culmination of a series of ever more preposterous claims. Its familiarity makes us forget how insanely extraordinary it is.

Christianity was an explanation for reality when there was nothing better. Today, however, science’s confident statements about reality, backed up by evidence rather than faith, make Pierre-Simon Laplace’s 200-year-old dismissal of God all the more appropriate: “I have no need of that hypothesis.”

[1] Carrier, Richard (2011), Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith (CreateSpace) pages 35–9.

 


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Maybe Pigs Do Fly: Austrian Catholic Bishops Advocate For Same-Sex Relationships | Terry Firma | Friendly Atheist


Rather than the Catholic Church changing LGBT people, LGBT people are changing the Catholic Church.

Maybe.

The bishops of the Catholic Archdiocese of Salzburg in Austria have commissioned a book to teach that gay love comes from God, and reveals God’s “goodness and humanity.”

The book, titled The Benediction of Same Sex Partnerships, calls on the global Catholic church to change its teachings on homosexuality.

Good of them to join us here in the third millennium. Seriously. It’s a start.

But it’s going to be an uphill battle for these activist bishops. Changing the catechism of the Catholic Church — the central articles of the Catholic faith — is no easy matter. The last time it happened, in 2018, Pope Francis introduced the rule that the death penalty is inadmissible. Most Catholics went along without clamor because opposition to capital punishment flows naturally from the Church’s position that all life is precious. Sanctifying same-sex relationships is another matter entirely, with a much greater potential to rankle both the prelates and the hoi polloi.

The catechism of the Catholic church states that same-sex relationships are “acts of great depravity,” and adds: “Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

That leaves no room to maneuver.

I can sort of understand why a catechism change OK-ing same-sex unions is a big deal to conservative Catholics. Looking at it from their side, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. With every passing year, the current Catholic prohibition on LGBT relationships will seem more out of step with the seismic changes in the real world, where, to my delight, countries are increasingly enshrining marriage equality in the law (currently, 29 nations). This lack of modernity will drive down Catholic recruitment.

On the other hand, changing the catechism would show that it doesn’t reflect eternal truths after all, and exposes the rules to be a collection of arbitrary-seeming, man-made guidelines that can be altered according to the moral winds of the time.

But liturgical scholar Father Ewald Vollger, who contributed to the book, said that changing Church’s teaching on homosexuality “can be not only discussed, but also demanded.” In an interview with… the diocesan newspaper of Linz, Vollger said that providing official blessings to same-sex couples would “of course” require a change to the catechism.

He said: “There has been movement in the topic. The teaching of the church is receiving less and less resonance in society and within the church, and moral theology in particular is in favor of new approaches to evaluating same-sex relationships.”

I’m happy to hear him speak the language of equality, especially if it’s truly heartfelt and it isn’t just a ploy to stanch the slow, quiet exit of the faithful.

“Just as marriage between a man and a woman is an image of God’s creative love, so is a same-sex relationship an image of God’s attention to human beings. If partners live the gift of mutual love in faithfulness to one another and live their lives with the spiritual gifts of God such as kindness, forbearance, patience, reconciliation, etc, their relationship is also an image of God’s goodness and humanity.”

It’s still all bullshit, but with the bigotry removed. I’ll take it.

(Image via Shutterstock)





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