On Islam/Muslims

My last post regarding the Orlando shooting garnered a fair bit of negative feedback.  Not my most controversial post, but would probably make the Top 5.  One of the biggest push-backs that I received stemmed from the fact that I focused on Evangelicals, and said little about  Islam or Muslims.  Most of the comments were something to the effect of, “This was a Muslim problem!  Christians had nothing to do with it!”  I dealt with the second part of this claim in my post.  The first part of the claim is questionable.  There’s conflicting reports about how devout the shooter was to Islam, but it seems certain that he had no real ties to any terrorist organizations and was not well studied in Islamic texts and traditions.

But, since the topic came up, I thought I would briefly share my views on Islam, and why I don’t spend much time talking about it here or on social media in general.

First off, my view of Islam is the same as Christianity – they are both ancient , man-made religions, based on supernatural beliefs and a pre-science ignorance of the world.  Both have a dangerous and harmful devotion to their holy book, which they both consider “God’s Word”, and both religions have caused immeasurable harm throughout history and in the present day.  

Christianity doesn’t get a special pass, as much as the majority of it’s devoted followers think it should.  Most Christians will claim that their religion is the only TRUE RELIGION, the Bible is the one true WORD OF GOD, and Jesus is the ONE TRUE SAVIOR.  If you were to talk to ask a Muslim from the Middle East about Islam, they would say the exact same thing about Islam, the Koran, and the Prophet Muhammad.  What religion one belongs to is almost always a matter of geography and culture, not the validity of its truth-claims.  Neither one is in “better” or “truer” than the other.

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Some like to argue that the more extreme factions of Islam, such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, are proof that it is a violent and “evil” religion.  They seem to forget Christianity’s long, dark history of bloodshed, including the Crusades, Inquisitions, and slavery.  Some are also unaware of the many modern day Christian terrorist organizations that, while not making the headlines, are nonetheless spreading fear and violence in many parts of the world.  Both the Koran and the Bible contain horrible acts of violence carried out in the name of God, and both are used to justify violence today.

My lack of writing on Islam is not because I think it is a better religion, nor is it because I’m trying to be politically correct.  I have a couple reasons for not covering Islam more:

First – I’ve never been a Muslim.  I grew up in a Christian home, surrounded by Christian friends and relatives, was home-schooled through elementary and middle school using a Christian curriculum, went to a Christian college and was a devout Evangelical for many years.  Christianity is what I know and what I feel the most  qualified to speak on.

I’ve read the Koran, as well as several books on Islam, its history, central tenets and practices.  I’ve also had hundreds of conversations with the Muslims that I work with.  While this certainly puts me ahead of the general population in terms of how much I understand Islam, it doesn’t make me qualified to speak on it with any kind of authority.

Second – at present, Islam is of no real threat to the American way of life (despite what the right-wing media would like you to believe).  Yes, there are the occasional terrorist attacks, but none of these have resulted in Muslims gaining any real power and influence in the US.

There are somewhere around 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the US, or about 1 percent of the total U.S. population.  They have no real power or influence in government or in society.  Most are content to just live in peace and go about their normal lives.

When it comes to democracy, conservative Christians are a far bigger threat than Islam, which is why I speak on it so frequently.  If or when I start seeing the same from Islam, I’ll be happy to include them into the conversation.  As of now, I have bigger fish to fry, as they say.  It’s not that I’m “picking on Christians” while ignoring Islam – I just see Christianity as a much more pressing issue right in our country.

Hopefully this helps clear some things up.  I may discuss Islam more in the future, but the main focus of this blog will always be Christianity.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

  

Evangelicals’ Reaction to Orlando: Too Little, Too Late

Like everyone else, I was shocked and appalled at what has become the largest mass shooting in recent US history.  A single gunman carrying an assault rifle opened fire in a crowded Orlando night club, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others.  The night club, Pulse, was known as one of the largest LGBT-friendly bars in the area, and all evidence points towards this being a hate crime against LGBTs.

As news spread about the incident, a public outpouring of sympathy came from across the globe.  People were desperate for answers, and when news came out that the shooter was an ISIS sympathizer, it was quickly labeled as an “act of terror” and dismissed by many as yet another sign of the growing problem of Islam in America.

Most shocking to me and many others was the outpouring of grief from Evangelical Christians.  Social media was filled with the same useless platitudes of “thoughts and prayers” being offered for the victims of Orlando.  (Some couldn’t even bring themselves to do that, so entranced in their homophobia, they instead prayed for the doctors of the Orlando hospitals instead.)  The same group of people who have been solely responsible for the horrible treatment of LGBTs in the US for the last several decades are now, of all times, suddenly shocked over the persecution of LGBTs.

Well, I have a few things to say about that.

Evangelicals have spent the last several decades doing everything in their power to marginalize and oppress LGBTs.

Christians spent millions opposing same-sex marriage.

In 2015, more than 115 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in at least 31 states.

This year has seen a wave of anti-trans “bathroom bills” sweeping across the country.

American Evangelicals initiated and spent millions of dollars trying to pass Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” bill that would have made homosexuality punishable by death.

Evangelicals and other Christians continue to send kids to “pray the gay away” camps which are not only ineffective (and illegal in many states), but often leave permanent psychological damage.

So, when Evangelicals try to feign innocence in what has become one of the most tragic examples of persecution against LGBTs, you can see why I’m throwing the bullshit flag.  Every major Christian media site is trying to play this of as a problem of “radical Islam” and completely ignoring their own history of “radical Christian” discrimination against LGBTs.  Evangelicals don’t get to sweep this incident under the rug as a “Muslim problem” – this is a hate problem; and Evangelicals are just as culpable as anyone else for spreading hatred and intolerance towards LGBTs.   I have no doubt that if the shooter had been a Christian, it wouldn’t have made any difference; Evangelicals would simply claim that “he wasn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN!”.  This crime is a result of hatred for a minority group that has long been victimized by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, yet suddenly they want to pretend that this incident has nothing to do with them and claim innocence.  Like an abusive husband being concerned when his wife gets in an accident, they want to suddenly pretend that have a heart for the LGBT community.

Well, I’m not buying it.

The only reason we are suddenly seeing an outpouring of sympathy and prayers is because of how public and brutal this attack was.  LGBTs have been dying for decades as a result of hate and discrimination, but it’s only now that people are paying attention.

I didn’t hear Evangelicals lamenting over the 1,500 LGBTs that commit suicide last year.

I don’t hear them lamenting over the all the hate crimes committed against LGBTs every year here in America.

I don’t hear them lamenting over the thousands of LGBTs killed in Africa as a result of the hate brought there by American pastors and missionaries.

Many people have deluded themselves into pretending that their level of discrimination is somehow better than what happened in Orlando, because “at least we’re not going around shooting gay people!”  That’s because Evangelicals don’t have to go on shooting rampages – they just make life so fucking miserable for LGBTs that they take their own lives.  Evangelicals don’t get to denounce the Koran/Islam and its teachings while pretending their views are any less deplorable.  As Benjamin Corey puts it: “Yes, they are correct to denounce the evil that led to such a horrific massacre. But no, they don’t have a moral or ideological alternative that gives them a moral high ground that’s perched high enough to pretend their religious views are all that better.”

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Coming from an unlikely source, Jen Hatmaker sums it up perfectly (emphasis mine):

It is very difficult to accept the Christian lament for LGBTQ folks in their deaths when we’ve done such a brutal job of honoring them in their lives. It kind of feels like:

“We don’t like you, we don’t support you, we think you are a mess, we don’t agree with you, we don’t welcome you, we don’t approve of you, we don’t listen to you, we don’t affirm you. But please accept our comfort and kind words this week.”

Anti-LGBTQ sentiment has paved a long runway to hate crimes. When the gay community is denied civil liberties and respect and dignity, when we make gay jokes, when we say ‘that’s so gay’, when we turn our noses up or down, when we qualify every solitary statement of love with a caveat of disapproval, when we consistently disavow everything about the LGBTQ community, we create a culture ripe for hate. We are complicit.

We cannot with any integrity honor in death those we failed to honor in life.

Can you see why the Christian outpouring of compassion toward Orlando feels so disingenuous? It seems like the only harm toward the LGBTQ community that will overcome Christian disapproval is a mass murder. We grieve not publicly for your dehumanization, suicide rates (individual deaths have failed to move us), excommunications, denial of liberties, hate crimes against you, religious exclusion, constant shame beatdown.

Christian love has yet to outpace Christian disdain.

Perhaps instead of saying “we’re sad” this week, we should begin with “we’re sorry.”

Not: We’re sorry but…
Not: We’re sorry if…
Not: We’re sorry as long as…

Just: We’re sorry. Full stop.

Someone on Facebook was upset that I was “dragging Christians” into this.  Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t be needing to write any of this if Christians, by and large, had had actually shown some genuine care and concern for the LGBT population.  If they hadn’t spent years doing everything short of gunning down gays in a club to show how much they hate and revile anyone whose sexual orientation isn’t 100% straight.  If they had actually been allies; in their corner, as they fought for equal rights instead of being the ones they had to fight against.

If Christians truly care, and are horrified by what happened in Orlando, then STOP with all this bullshit about homosexuality being a “sin.” Stop treating LGBTs as people who are “broken” and need to be made straight.  Stop supporting “religious freedom” bills.  Stop standing in the way of anti-discrimination laws.  Stop pretending you are innocent in all this, and just admit that you were wrong. 

And then start treating LGBTs as normal human beings.

I truly hope that this will be a wake up call to this country that all of this anti-LGBT bullshit needs to stop – that beliefs lead to actions, often with disastrous results.  I hope that “Remember Orlando!” becomes a rally cry anytime some Bigot-for-Jesus takes to the media to de-humanize LGBTs, or some Republican tries passing yet another anti-LGBT bill.

Yeah, you’re damn right I’m pissed off…

 

 

Mythbusters: De-conversion (Pt 2)

This is going to be an extension of a previous post I wrote addressing some of the common misunderstandings and stereotypes people have about those who leave religion.  The first post was more personal in nature, but this one is going to be a bit more universal and is going to address some of the common reactions one gets from Christians when they de-convert.

This post came about because a good friend of mine “came out” as an atheist on Facebook.  Some people were supportive, but like most people here in the Midwest, a good percentage his friends and acquaintances are Christian.  Their reactions to his decision were as predictable and infuriating as one can expect, and that is what we will be discussing here

Before we get into it, I want to talk about a common theme one sees with Christians* when faced with an alternate view point.  It’s what is known as the false-consensus effect: a cognitive bias whereby people tend to overestimate the extent to which their opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are normal and typical of those of others (i.e., that others also think the same way that they do). This cognitive bias tends to lead to the perception of a consensus that does not exist; a “false consensus”.

Captain Cassidy gets even more specific with this bias and how it relates to Christianity and their beliefs regarding atheists.  She likes to call it “The Law of Conservation of Worship” – for every action and belief Christians hold, their enemies and sales targets must also have an equal and opposite reactionary action and belief.  Spiritual practices are neither created nor destroyed; as beliefs change, they simply transfer to another method of expression.

We’ll see this theme of false-consensus popping up throughout these common myths, so I thought we’d get it out of way before we got started.  So let’s get into some of the common things one hears when they come out as an atheist:

“This is just a phase /you’ll be back”

I’ve heard parents use this same phrase when their kids come out to them as gay.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction caused by cognitive dissonance sent into overload.  It’s simple denial – some people just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that other people can leave the religion they hold in such high regard.  Regardless of what denomination you belong to, when you go to church you are lead to believe that Christianity is the “One True Religion” and God/Jesus are supposed to be your #1 priority.  To see someone not only walk away from that, but denounce it as false comes as a big blow to some.  Rather then accept it, they would rather just hope that it isn’t really true.

Let’s clear things up a bit.  No one becomes an atheist overnight.  It is not a decision one takes lightly and is typically the cumulative result of months, if not years, of careful and deliberate research and thought.  It is not “just a phase” and I’ve never met anyone who has gone through the de-conversion process only to go back to religion.  Once you find out that religion is demonstrably false, there is little chance you are going to decide one day that it is “true” and go back to it.  Those of us who have broken rank from Christianity know too much about its history and where it came from, how fallible the Bible really is, and how useless and counter-productive Christianity’s culture and practices are.  Why would we go back to that?

“It’s religion you have a problem with, not God”

This one plays out in a number of ways.  People either assume that you have been personally hurt by the Church or have become fed up with the negative and harmful behavior of some Christians.

While Christianity’s homophobia, misogyny, nationalism, willful ignorance, and constant struggle for political power is certainly what drives many down the path towards reason, it is not what makes someone an atheist.  Similar to a point I’ve brought up before, it’s not that an atheist has a problem with God – it’s that they don’t believe in God.  Period.  

This is a good example of false consensus – Christians naturally assume that everyone believes in God in some way, so if someone claims to be an atheist, then organized religion must be what they really don’t believe in because they couldn’t possibly not believe in God.  Right?  Wrong.

It is possible to not believe in any god/deity/higher power and tens of millions all over the world do just that.  In the same way that children grow out of believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, millions of people have grown out of believing in god(s).  I know that comparing God to the Tooth Fairy may be offensive to some, but you need to understand that atheists don’t see any difference – to them, they are both mythological beings that exist only in peoples’ minds.

“Satan is trying to deceive you”

It’s still surprising to me how often I see this one come up.  People who use this line of reasoning fail to understand that atheists don’t believe in any supernatural deities.  This includes God, Satan, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Thor, etc.  Arguing that one mythological being is trying to sway us from believing in another mythological being is illogical and ineffective to say the least.

I can already hear people saying, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled…”  Stop.  Just stop.  We’ve all seen The Usual Suspects.  It doesn’t help your case.  Quoting a fictional movie to make a case for you fictional deities isn’t a good tactic.

“The Bible says…”

For Christians, the Bible is the ultimate authority and their first, if not only, source of “truth”.  When faced with conflict it seems all to natural for them to turn to it for help.  When faced with the cognitive dissonance of one leaving their ranks, it’s natural for them to start quoting Bible verses as if they have some magical powers.

I saw a meme once that said, “The road to atheism is littered with Bibles read cover to cover”.  An appropriate statement.  For most atheists, the road out of religion starts with a thorough reading of the Bible, and what we discover is that it is an entirely man-made book, filled with all the prejudices, biases, and ignorance one would expect from a text written by an ancient people.  If someone has come to the conclusion that there is no god, it’s a safe bet that belief in the accuracy and authority of the Bible went away a long time again.  Therefore, quoting scripture is of no significance to us.  You might as well be quoting the Koran or Lord of the Rings; it really makes no difference.

To quote Neil Carter from the article I linked above: “When talking with Christian friends online, I often find that they can’t help citing a Bible verse as their proof–text in order to reinforce a point they are making, as if that is supposed to mean something to me.  For non-believers with backgrounds like mine, not only does the citation not prove anything but virtually any passage you select will be so familiar to us that we are weary of hearing it cited for the ten-thousandth time, probably arguing the exact same point, perhaps even in exactly the same way as every time before.  It’s become like a bad joke among ex-Christians how slavishly it seems people are imitating one another without showing the slightest self-awareness of how badly they’re doing it.”

“You have faith too”

This one usually presents itself something like this, “You need faith to believe in science the same as you do God.”  This is a very common argument among theists, more specifically theists who have no idea how science works.  I addressed this argument once before, but it’s worth repeating here.  Having “faith” in science is not the same as having faith in the religious sense.  This is example of false equivocation.  There are two definitions of the word “faith”: (1) confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing; and (2) belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.  Atheists’ “faith” in science fits under definition 1, theists rely on faith as defined by 2.  Atheists don’t have faith in a religious sense of the word – they have evidence-based trust.  

This is another example of a false consensus.  Those who hold to their religious claims on faith naturally assume that everyone’s worldviews are shaped this way.  But that is not the case with atheists and skeptics – our world view is shaped by empirically evidence, logic and reason, not simply believing in something because we want it to be true.

Another way that I see this argument worded is the accusation that everyone worships something, therefore atheists must also worship something.  Again – false consensus.  No, not everyone worships something.  I know this is commonly taught in Christian culture, I heard it said more times then I could remember, but it’s simply not true.  The definition of worship (as a verb) is: “to show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites.”  You can’t show reverence and adoration for something you don’t believe in.

“Don’t you worry about the afterlife?”

No.  No we don’t.  Because there is no evidence that there is an afterlife.  As far as we know, this life is the only one we get.  Once we die, that’s it.  I realize that the belief in an afterlife is common to all religions, and even with some people who aren’t religious, but that doesn’t make it any more true.

This one comes up both subtly-and not so subtly- in the form of threats of hell.  It’s exactly why the myth of hell was invented – to keep people in line and keep them from straying from the pack.  It’s inevitable that when someone leaves religion there’s going to be that one (or many) friend or relative that is going to let them know in no uncertain terms that they are headed for hell.  Threatening someone with a mythological place for not believing in a mythological god is not only ineffective, but only affirms the fear-based and controlling nature of religion that were likely instrumental in our departure.

A more reasonable question that some propose is if it makes us sad to know that this life is all there is.  Sure it does.  We all want to spend as much time as we can enjoying this life and spending time with the ones we love.  Which is exactly why we spend our time worrying about this life instead of worrying about the next.  Ricky Gervais was presented with this same question in an interview and I thought his response was spot on:

“There’s this strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for, it’s the opposite – we don’t have anything to die for.  We have everything to live for.”

I would love to be wrong about this.  I would love to die someday and wake up again in some other dimension or existence.  That would be a pleasant surprise.  But I’m going to hedge my bets on what we thus far know to be true about death, rather than what we wish to be true.


There’s a common myth that atheism is just another option in the game of “Choose Your Own Religion”, but it’s not – we’ve opted out of the game all together.  We don’t play by the same rules as theists.  Yet, many can’t seem to grasp this fact, desperately insisting that we really do believe in God/the supernatural/faith on some level.  This is their way of trying to rationalize their own belief system to themselves.  By claiming that we also have faith or believe in the afterlife, it makes it appear that atheists have simply made a lateral move from one belief system to another, when in reality we’ve jettisoned the whole construct.  As Captain Cassidy puts it:

“What they’re really trying to do is make their own beliefs sound a little less wacky and foolish – and more believable and relatable. There are several reasons why they do it – sometimes they just want to make themselves feel less wacky and foolish despite believing some wacky and foolish things, or they want to signal and affirm their membership in their group…

When Christians misrepresent our lives, experiences, and worldview in order to make us sound more like themselves, that’s a desperate attempt to create a common ground where (they hope) Christianity’s claims might start sounding a little bit more plausible.  

They think that tearing down our worldview will make us forget that they aren’t actually offering any evidence that their claims are true. They’re not giving us any good reason to believe in their god’s existence. They’re just trying to make us think that we’re already just as irrational and silly as they are, only in different ways, in the wild hopes that we will think it wouldn’t be quite so weird to consider their claims.”

That last paragraph really addresses why theists try to paint atheism the way they do.  In lieu of actual evidence for their truth-claims they resort to Straw-Man arguments in an attempt to deem atheism no better then their own faith system.  Hopefully I’ve pointed out the major differences between the stereotypes some Christians have regarding atheists and how to counter them.  Thanks for reading.

*NOTE:  While writing this, the lead singer of the Christian rock band, Order of Elijah, came out as an atheist.  The response was much like what I’ve described here – while many were supportive, others had plenty to say about it.  Captain Cassidy wrote a rebuttal to the criticisms that are going around that is well worth the read.  

*I mention Christians here because of how it pertains to the discussed subject, but false consensus can be found among any large group of people that share a common identity, whether it’s religious, political, national, or otherwise. 

 

 

False Hope on the Streets

Coming back from the Farmer’s Market this past weekend, I drove through downtown Sioux Falls and noticed something unusual going on outside the brewery I work at.  There were people setting up chairs and a PA system on the sidewalk.  The chairs were set up facing the street and spaced about three feet apart, as if they were intended for someone watching a parade.  Later that day, when I went into work, I found out what the chairs were for:

This is a group known as Healing On The Streets (HOTS).  You can read about HOTS on their website, but the main thing you need to know is that they believe they can heal people through prayer and put on events like this one on a regular bases.  From the local chapter’s website:

“It’s simple really.  We invite people to sit on chairs so we can pray for them.  We believe God LOVES YOU and CAN HEAL you… from back or neck pain, arthritis, depression, chronic pain, sleeping problems, allergies, headaches, smoking, addictions, walking difficulties, lung problems, anxiety, digestive problems, chest pain, or any other physical or emotional condition.”

HOTS is an international group, with franchises mostly in the US and in Europe.  The franchises are formed from members of various local churches.  They pick a time and a date for their event and advertise for it.  On the selected date they meet in the morning for training and then hit the streets and start praying.

So here’s my issue – HOTS is offering false hope to people who may likely have serious medical issues.  They are making claims regarding medical issues that they are not qualified to address.  They are offering a one-size-fits-all cure for a myriad of medical conditions that require a specific, medical treatment.  HOTS is nothing more then the modern-day version of a snake-oil salesman.

Now, I don’t believe the people who volunteer for HOTS are being intentionally deceptive or trying to con anyone.  They state in their advertisements that the events are free, make no guarantees, and I’m sure they genuinely believe that what they are doing is making a difference.  But the sincerity of a belief does not have any bearing on the validity of that belief.

There is no empirical evidence that prayer or “faith healing” actually works.  People have been studying the effects of intercessory prayer since the 1800’s.  To date, these studies have shown that prayer has no profound effect on the people being prayed for. In some cases, prayer has been shown to actually have a negative effect when people know they are being prayed for.

Beside not asking for money, I’m not seeing how HOTS programs are any less deceptive then the “faith healers” movement; a movement that has been thoroughly exposed as fraudulent, yet still continues to this day.  In fact, a little digging shows HOTS founder Mark Marx using one of the oldest tricks in the book for faith healers:

At the 4:30 mark in this video, illusionist Darren Brown demonstrates how this “miracle” is performed and shows that it is nothing more then a common side-show trick:

I’m not the first one to notice Marx’s deceptive tactics.  A fellow blogger has pointed out the inconsistencies (here and here) in these “miracles”.  Unlike the noted blogger, however, I make no reservations about calling Marx a fraud who is attempting to capitalize on people’s desperation and gullibility to make a lucrative business.   

Concerns have also been raised regarding HOTS in Europe.  In 2012, the group was banned from claiming it can heal people in the UK, after concerns were expressed that their claims could give scores of terminally-ill people false hope.  NHS Tayside, a healthcare provider in Scotland, warned the public about HOTS when they hit the streets in 2013, urging people with medical conditions to go directly to their GP for diagnosis and treatment.

So what’s the harm, you say?  What’s the harm in people coming out and being prayed over with the expectation that it will cure what ails them?  What’s wrong with a little hope?  The harm is that despite HOTS warnings*, many people do ignore medical treatment in favor of prayer, often with disastrous consequences.  Like the case of Zachery Swezey; a 17 year-old high school student who got appendicitis, but his parents believed in the power of prayer over the wisdom of medical experts. So, instead of going to the hospital, his parents stood over and watched him die.  Or the case of Alex Jacobsen; a mentally-ill man who attempted suicide after a faith-based treatment center replaced his medication with prayers and Bible study.  Or the case of Mariah Walton, a 20-year-old who suffers from pulmonary hypertension, a condition that doctors could have prevented if her parents had chosen to take her to a doctor.  Instead they chose to pray over her and rub olive oil over her body.  Walton is now mostly bedridden and has to carry an oxygen tank everywhere she goes.  Cases like this are unfortunately all too frequent, with examples popping up almost weekly.

So what is one to make, then, of the stories you hear of people being miraculously cured by prayer?  Simple.  It’s known as the placebo effect – a fake treatment that can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful.  There’s nothing mysterious or supernatural going on here; the placebo effect is a well-documented natural occurrence, and has even been well documented in cases of “faith healing”.  This can become problematic, because while a placebo effect may give temporary relief to certain symptoms of a medical condition (such as relieving pain), there’s no strong evidence that it can cure the underlying issue.  If the issues go untreated, it can lead to severe problems, as the examples above demonstrate.

I realize that prayer is one of the foundations of most religions and is not going away anytime soon.  However, I wish people would quit allowing themselves to be duped by frauds offering snake-oil cures for serious conditions.  I wish people would quit believing prayer is a reasonable solution to real problems.  And I really wish these well meaning, but delusional folks would stop giving false hope to those who have already suffered enough.  Thanks for reading.

 

*At the bottom of the cards that HOTS hands out, there is a warning in small print which reads, “We encourage everyone so seek treatment for conditions for which medical advice should be sought.  If you are on any medications, STAY on it.  Under NO circumstances should you stop doing anything a medical professional or counselor has advised.”  I can’t say whether this same warning is verbalized during gatherings.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Atheism Foolish? – A Response

I recently came across a post on a conservative, Evangelical website called Inspired Walk, called “5 Reasons Why Atheism is Foolish.”  I saw the link via Twitter, and being the glutton for punishment that I am, I clicked on it.  The post reads like every other apologetic argument I’ve read – presuppositionalism mixed with a healthy dose of logical fallacies.  So, I decided I should write a response to the reasons listed.  Not because the author lays out a good, reasonable argument; just the opposite, in fact.  But because the points that are brought up are ones that atheists hear all… the… time!  

You can read the full post in the link above.  I’ll be using the main bullet points here and quoting the article when needed.

At the very start of the article, the presuppositional theology comes out – “Below are various reasons why the word of God is 100% true and correct according to Psalms 14:1 when it states that atheism is foolish.”   This is a great example of the Begging the Question fallacy –  The author concludes that atheism is foolish by assuming (presupposes) that the Bible is the literal word of God, and therefore “100% true” and universal.  Logical fallacy #1.  You’ll notice that he continues to use verses from the Bible as “evidence” of his claims throughout the article as a means of bolstering his arguments.  Let’s look dig into some of these arguments.

1. Atheist Don’t Appreciate That Every Design Has A Designer

The author spends the first half of this point talking about complex machines, such as jet liners and the Large Hadron Collider, how long they took to build, how many people were involved, etc.  It is then stated that, “if we were to use the same thought process or the same thought pattern that the atheist uses in relation to creation, it would be very easy to understand why atheism is extremely foolish and why atheists are regarded as being fools by God. Somehow, the atheist cannot appreciate the complexity but yet harmonious aspects of nature or the universe and come to the conclusion that there is a vastly superior Being behind creation.”

Let’s start by pointing out logical fallacy #2 – a False Analogy: when someone applies facts from one situation to another situation but the situations are substantially different and the same conclusions cannot logically be drawn.  In this case, the author is comparing man-made machines build over the course of several years, to nature which has evolved over millions of years.  It’s apples and oranges, but let’s address the point.

This is what’s commonly known as the Watchmaker Analogy or Teleological argument.  This argument relies on a complete misunderstanding of evolution and how it works.  First, it fails to understand that seemingly complex systems in nature did not suddenly appear in their natural form, but are the product of millions of years of natural selection from much simpler organisms.  Second, it assumes that nature has an end-goal in mind and that what we currently see is what we get.  In fact, nature is continuing to evolve and most species on earth will continue to change over time.  Lastly, it’s very easy for scientifically-illiterate people to look at certain aspects of nature and gasp in wonder over how “complex” it is, but are either unaware or don’t acknowledge the endless examples in nature of things that aren’t “properly designed”.  For example, sea turtles having to come to shore and dig a hole in the sand for their nest, a long and difficult process with flippers.  The turtle needs to lay 50-200 eggs at a time to assure that some of them, when hatched, actually make it through the gauntlet of predators trying to eat them.  Also, the fact that human babies have heads that are generally too big to fit through the birth canal, not only resulting in a long and painful delivery, but a dangerous one as well.  Prior to modern medicine, childbirth was dangerous business.

The argument from design takes place in another form known as the irreducible complexity argument.  From The Logic of Science blog:  The basic idea is that some systems are too complex to evolve because they aren’t functional until all of the parts are in place. For example, an eye that is missing a single piece no longer sees, and a bacterial flagellum that is missing a single protein can no longer act as a flagellum. So the argument claims that these systems could not have evolved because there would have been steps that served no useful function, and nature could not have selected for those steps. The problem is that this argument ignores the fact that evolution is blind. Traits don’t need to function for some ultimate final product in order to be selected for. Rather, if they provide any useful function at all, nature will select them. Indeed, no one has ever been able to find a truly irreducible system, and we have evolutionary pathways that explain how complex systems evolve. For example, an early precursor of the eye would have simply involved a few light sensitive cells (much like some flatworms have). They don’t function as an eye, but they still function, so nature will select for them. Similarly, the proteins that make up a flagellum all serve other functions in the cell, and we have even figured out a step-wise series of events that would form a flagellum with each step serving a useful function for the cell, even though only the final step actually serves as a flagellum. So there is just no truth to the notion that some systems are too complex to evolve.

It’s unfortunate that this argument is still used today, as Darwin addressed it 150 years ago in Origin of the Species.  Yet, theists with little or no understanding of how evolution works continue to regurgitate it.  This is a common theme in apologetics – keep rehashing the same arguments in hopes that they will eventually stick.

2. Atheists Think Accidents Can Create Complex & Harmonious Systems & Life-forms

Again, a simplistic and inaccurate understanding of how evolution works.  Evolution does not rely on chance, but on natural selection.  These are two very different ideas.  Evolution works through a process of non-random selection of random variation.  Dale Thomas writes:

One main criticism of evolution from creationists is that it is based on random chance. That’s kind of true, there is chance involved, but it is important to know where the chance is and how it is used.  When organisms reproduce, the genetic duplication is not perfect, leading to some variation in the genes (mutations). That is where the randomness is. But then that individual grows up and interacts with the world. Those random changes in the genotype may or may lead to a small change in the body or behavior.  If this change helps the individual in its goal of surviving to adulthood and finding a mate, then those genes will be reproduced in the next generation. The point here is that the environment (which encompasses everything, from the laws of physics, the terrain, weather, climate, predators, prey, vegetation, mates, etc) will do the ‘selecting’. If the organism dies or cannot find a mate, those genes have been deemed unworthy of reproduction, but if it can, they are worthy, and will persist in the species.  It is such a beautifully simplistic, and easily understandable process.”

I also want to address a point the author brings up regarding word usage.  The author states: “The atheist thinks he is clever but yet is foolish because he cannot understand that the fact that our solar system is called a system is because there is a methodology & a harmony to how our solar system works and exists.”  This is similar to an argument I often hear regarding the “Laws of Nature”; Creationists will claim that if there is a law then there must be a lawgiver.  This is another logical fallacy – false equivocation.  In this case, misunderstanding the difference between a word that is prescriptive versus one that is descriptive. 

Oh, and contrary to what the author asserts, the universe is not as harmonious as he thinks, but is in fact full of chaos and unpredictability.

3. The Atheist Foolishly Thinks Science Has The Answers To Everything

Here we have your classic Straw Man fallacy – when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.  In this case making the claim that atheists think science has the answer to everything, when in fact you would be hard pressed to find an atheists (or scientist) that makes such a claim.  Most atheists are scientifically-literate and understand the limitations of science, but also its accomplishments.

The author then claims that since science deals with the physical and natural world, and God resides the supernatural realm, that “science is NOT the best means by which a person can learn or observe the nature of God” nor can it disprove His existence.  This argument presupposes that there is a supernatural realm and that his god is a part of it.  The problem with this argument is that science can test supernatural claims and has been doing so for centuries.  Most all claims of the supernatural involve forces acting upon the natural world, thus we are able to test these claims using scientific means.  As Jerry Cohen puts it: “If you invoke a form of the supernatural that claims to have real-world consequences, then those consequences necessarily fall within the ambit of science.  This means that any type of theistic faith involves hypotheses that are ‘scientific’. Dawkins was right to call the existence of God a ‘scientific hypothesis.'” 

4. Atheists Don’t Know That Atheism is a Belief System

First, let’s address the authors claim that, “Neither evolution nor the big bang can be proved by experimentation or observation.
None of these 2 theories can scientifically explain nor give observable evidence of the origin of life.” Yes they can – and have.  The evidence to support both is immeasurable.  Creationists’ continuing insistence that there is no scientific evidence for evolution, the Big Bang, or the origins of life is willfully ignorant and empirically false.   I’m not even going to waste my time putting links here, because the amount of information out there is overwhelming.  The author’s ignorance of science is not a good argument against it.

The author claims that since there is no evidence to support evolution and the Big Bang theory, atheists have to accept them on faith.  This is another example of false equivocation.  There are two definitions of the word “faith”: (1) confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing; and (2) belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.  Atheists’ “faith” in science fits under definition 1, theists rely on faith as defined by 2.  Atheists don’t have faith in a religious sense of the word – we have evidence-based trust. 

5. The Atheist Cannot Disprove The Existence of God

This is perhaps the best example of an Argument from Ignorance – because something cannot be completely disproved, it must therefore be true.  It’s a ridiculous argument, but it’s surprising how often it’s used.  This same argument could be used for aliens, UFOs, unicorns, fairies, vampires, or a tea pot floating around the sun.  It’s an attempt to shift the burden of proof.  The burden of proof always sits with the person making the claim, not the person refuting it.  It’s not an atheist’s job to disprove God, it’s the theist’s job to provide evidence that he exists.

We also can’t skip past the well-worn anecdote used by theists that, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Therefore just because a person has never seen a physical manifestation of God, it does not mean that God does not exist.”  This is only partly true.  Absence of evidence, when evidence should be presentis evidence of absence.  Going back to the discussion on natural vs supernatural, theism makes claims of God interacting and intervening in this, the natural world, which would leave evidence.  Therefore, such claims can be tested, and thus far no evidence for supernatural intervention in the natural world has been found.  Carl Sagan brilliantly counters the “absence of evidence” argument in his story “The Dragon in My Garage”.  After asking multiple questions regarding evidence for a dragon living in a garage and coming up empty handed, this is his response:

“Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?  Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.  Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.  The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head.  You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me.  The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind.  But then, why am I taking it so seriously?  Maybe I need help.  At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.  Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded.  So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage.  You merely put it on hold.  Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you.  Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative — merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of ‘not proved.'” 

I’ve underlined the parts of this paragraph that I find most fitting the current discussion.  Just replace “dragon” with “God” and you can see my point.  The author is right in positing that because we don’t have evidence of theism, it does not prove empirically that god(s) do not exist.  But it does mean that until such evidence is found, it is far from foolish to discount the idea.

 

 

Two things become apparent when reading through this article.  The first is that the author has no idea what atheists actually believe.  The entire article reads like one, big Straw Man argument.  The author projects his own idea of what atheists believe (as opposed to what they actually believe) and then attempts to tear down those beliefs.  His overall view of atheists can be found in the article itself where he states, “I would personally prefer the following definition of atheism that I once saw on one of the social media platforms: Atheism is the belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs, birds, trees, fish and the like.”  

Second, the author shows that he is completely ignorant of the most basic principles of evolution and how it works.  This isn’t surprising as Creationism depends on a willful dismissal of science and all the evidence that it provides, as well as how the scientific method works.  This makes the author unsuited for having any debate in which science is going to be one of the main topics.

It’s also worth noting the condescending nature that the author takes throughout the article.  His contempt for atheists comes through loud and clear throughout the article, and he takes special care to use “fool” and “foolish” as often as he can.  For all his use off scripture, he conveniently left out Matt 5:22 – “…whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

As I mentioned at the beginning – these are not strong, well-thought-out arguments.  This is what Matt Dillahunty would refer to as “Kindergarten Theology”.   Lest you accuse me of going after low-hanging fruit, it should be noted that these are very common arguments used by apologists, both amateur and professional.  Hopefully this post will prove useful for anyone who comes across these types of arguments in future discussions.  Thanks for reading.

 

Things Christians Say (that are nowhere in the Bible)

Anyone who has ever engaged with Christians either in-person or on social media will know that there are certain catch-phrases that often get thrown around as a way of trying to win a debate.  These statements are usually meant to be conversation stoppers – a way of “dropping the mic” and acknowledging that they are no longer interested in anything else the other person has to say.  Having been taught that there is “power in the Word”, many Christians believe that these little one-liners have the power to actually change people’s hearts and minds.  Like magical spells, many believers honestly think that simply quoting Bible references will have some supernatural impact on others around them.

I’ll set aside just how absurd this notion is for now.  Today I want to focus on whether or not some of these saying are truly “Biblical”.  Are these concepts that can be found in the Bible or are they merely a product of modern Evangelical culture?  We’re going to examine a few of the more common statements that one hears in Christian culture and the validity of these statements as it pertains to the Bible.

“God helps those who help themselves”

While sounding like something one would find in Proverbs, this little gem can be found exactly zero times in the Bible.  Some have tried to argue that 2 Thes 3:10 and James 4:8 support this saying, but those are both a bit of a stretch.  In fact, this saying originated in ancient Greece, but is most commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

I see this verse most often used as an excuse not to help someone in need.  It usually looks something like this:  Tony is down on his luck and needs some assistance, so he asks Becky for help.  Becky doesn’t think that Tony is doing everything he can to better his situation; therefore she isn’t obligated to help.  Because if God isn’t going to help those who help themselves, why should she?

I also see this excuse used on a larger scale when dealing with social welfare issues.  It’s simply a more “Christian” way of saying, “Just go get a job, you lazy bum!”  Ironically, in the Bible God seems to show up and help those who can’t help themselves, but must turn to Him for help.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin”

This saying is a favorite among Christians and can be used in a multitude of situations, but is most often used in reference to homosexuality, or really any issue regarding sexuality or gender.  The basic idea is that you can still love a person, but disprove of what they do.  Sounds OK in theory, but in reality, it’s nothing more then an excuse to judge other people, which we’ll get to in a minute.  First, let’s state what shouldn’t need stating:  this “verse” appears nowhere in the Bible.

When the Bible doesn’t contain the verses necessary to back their worldview, apologists’ favorite trick is to simply cut-and-paste different verses together to come up with Frankenstein-esque “verses” like “love the sinner, hate the sin.”  This sort of word-smithing allows Christians to claim that their favorite excuse to judge people is taught in principle in the Bible.

As I’ve already stated, LTSHTS is nothing more then a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for Christians wanting to look down their noses at others and judge them for any actions, behaviors or lifestyles they don’t agree with.  They can try to disguise their contempt under the banner of “love” all they want, but you can’t fully love someone while simultaneously looking down on them.  John Pavlovitz wrote a great article on this topic, calling this saying an “abomination”, stating that; Rarely in history has there been a greater mischaracterization of the heart of Jesus or a more egregious bastardization of the Bible than these six words.  The damage that LTSHTS has done in the lives of billions of people and to the public perception of Christians can never be fully calculated, but one thing is certainly true: it’s an embarrassment and a sin and a total abomination.”  

 “The Bible is the inerrant Word of God”

I was at a Christmas pageant recently where the kids were telling the Christmas story we’re all familiar with.  I was a little surprised to see one kid playing the “skeptic”.  Every so often, after another child relayed a part of the story, the “skeptic” would chime in and say, “But how do you know that’s true?”  To which the other kids would reply, “The B-I-B-L-E!”  I wanted to go up to the kid afterwards and ask him, “But how do you know the B-I-B-L-E is true?”

It’s inevitable that any discussion with a Christian about any subject is going to come down to them quoting Scripture, yet when asked how someone knows that what Bible says is true, or inerrant, the answer is almost always, “Because it says so in the Bible”.

First of all, this is a circular argument, and completely illogical.  But, does the Bible, in fact, claim that the contents contained within it are completely factual and accurate in every way?

The answer is no – it doesn’t make this claim anywhere in the Bible.  The verse I most often hear cited as evidence is 2 Tim 3:16,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

There are a few problems here.  First, the word “Scripture” does not refer to the Bible, as we know it today, it is most likely referring to the Torah.  The Bible would not become compiled and canonized for another three centuries.  Second, saying that something is “breathed out by God” (some translations say “inspired”) is not the same thing as the literal Word of God.  Lastly, in no way does “profitable” (or useful) mean the same thing as inerrant.

The idea of the Bible being inerrant is purely human fabrication, and it doesn’t take a Bible scholar to notice the thousands of errors, inconsistencies, contradictions, and scientific errors found in its pages.  It’s unclear when this idea was first introduced, but it didn’t become popular until the late 19th century with the rise of Christian Fundamentalism.  It still remains dominant in Fundamental and Evangelical circles, and has been used to propagate and justify all manner of deplorable behaviors by Christians.

“The Earth is only 6,000 years old”

Creationists love to claim that they derive their belief in a young-earth from the Bible.  Next time someone tells you that the Earth is only 6,000 years old “because the Bible says”, ask him or her to cite the chapter and verse and see what he or she says.

The age of the earth is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.  Even if one where to take a literal view of the seven-day creation story, that tells us nothing about how long ago that happened.  The young-earth view, in fact, comes not from the any specific Bible reference (and certainly not from science), but from an analysis by 17th century scholars of the Biblical genealogies found in Genesis, Exodus, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.  Basically, they used the genealogy in the Bible to create a timeline of the Earth.  There are several problems with this methodology.  First, it assumes that the people recorded in the Bible were the only humans in existence, not accounting for any other civilizations, or civilizations that came before.  Second, different translation of the Bible cite different ages and dates than others.  And most importantly, humans have never lived for hundreds of years as the Bible claims.  Life expectancy during Biblical times was shorter, not longer, then what it is today.

This isn’t time or space to get into all the reasons why young-earth Creationism is harmful, but there are many articles out there discussing the dangers of Creationism on children, educationsociety as a whole, and even its own religion.   I’ve also written before about why science-denialism hurts everyone.

“Marriage is between one man, and one woman”

Everyone has heard this one.  It’s the battle-cry for those who believe that it’s not only acceptable, but mandated by God, to deny LGBTs the same civil liberties that everyone else has.  The Bible says many things about marriage, but it being solely between one man and one woman is not one of them.

If we were to base the institution of marriage on “Biblical values”, then it would be permissible to have multiple wives, to have wives and concubines (i.e. sex slaves and breeding stock), to have sex with your wife’s servant, to marry the women you rape, and to take virgin women as spoils of war.  But, just make sure whatever women you marry is a virgin, or else she needs to be put to death.

Really, the only verse in the Bible that hints at a so-called “traditional marriage” is found in Titus 1:6, where the qualifications for elders, or overseers, of the church are laid out: “If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination…”

This may seem like an odd requirement to modern readers, but in the 1st century Middle East, it was quite common for both Jews and Gentiles to have multiple wives.  Regardless, this verse only addresses “elders” and says nothing of lay people, and certainly nothing of society as a whole.

“Abortion is a sin/murder/against God’s will”

I thought about making this its own post, but will include it here and try to make it short.  I have no doubt that this is going to spark the strongest reaction.  Abortion is undoubtedly one of the hot-button topics in society today, and Christians have spent millions of dollars trying to make it illegal.  Undoubtedly, those who find abortion morally wrong will cite their religious convictions and/or the Bible as the reason for opposing it.  But, what does the Bible actually say about abortion?

It won’t take long for most to realize that the word “abortion” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, nor does it give any specific commandment one way or another on the issue.  The first objection (and usually only) argument most will give is that “abortion in murder, and murder is clearly wrong according to the Bible!”  This argument is almost entirely based on the notion that an zygotes and embryos are the same as humans, therefore to terminate one is the same as terminating an actual human.  This argument stems from a lack of understanding of biology and personal bias.  But what of the claim of abortion being murder?

If one were to try and find a clear outline as to what defines “murder”, the Bible would be the last place to look.  In the Bible, especially the OT, we see a complete disregard for life, with the murder killing of countless people, including children.  Abraham is asked by God to kill his only son to test him (Gen 22), the Israelite are commanded to commit genocide of whole races, including children (Deut 2:34, Deut 7:2, Deut 20:16-17, Deut 32:23-26, Numbers 31:17-18), God had 42 children killed by a bear for mocking Elisha (2 Kings 2:23-24), Israel was told to sacrifice their first-born, both animal and human to God, (Exodus 13:1-2), Jephthah sacrifices his only daughter to God after winning a battle (Judges 11:29-40), and God has thousand of his own people killed for such petty things as complaining about the food (Numbers 11:1-35, Numbers 21:4-9), wanting to go back to Egypt, not liking the boss (Numbers 16:27-32), those who followed those not liking the boss (Numbers 16:35), complaining about God killing those who didn’t like the boss and their followers(Numbers 16:49), and looking at the Arc of the Covenant (1 Sam 6:19).  And let’s not forget how “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9)

The above passages clearly demonstrate that our modern definition of murder is considerably different (and more civilized and humane) than in biblical times.  A reading of the OT laws shows that killing another human was only considered “murder” if that other human was an Israelite (or “sojourner” living on their land).  But what about children?

It’s important to note, that under Jewish law, life does not begin until birth.  In Exodus 21:22, the law states that if a pregnant women is hurt in an altercation between two men and looses her baby, the man who struck her will be punished in whatever way is seen fit by the husband and the judge.  The man, however, is not put to death, as would be the case if the woman was killed (Exodus 21:23).  Just to reiterate – if the unborn child died it was not considered murder.

Children under a month old appear to not have any worth in ancient Israel.  They were not included in censuses (Numbers 3:15) and were not given any monetary value (Lev 27:6).   There is also the horrific fact of parents being commanded to kill their own children for things like being disobedient (Deut 21:18-21), cursing their parents (Lev 20:9) or suggesting worshiping a different god (Deut 13:6-11).  In the book of Hosea, we read that God will cause women to miscarry (9:14) and kill any children that are born (9:16) if Israel does not repent.  Samaria, too, will feel God’s wrath as “their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.” (13:16)

The other popular argument against abortion are the verses in the Bible which describe a child being made in a womb (Job 31:15, Psalm 139:13, Jer. 1:5, etc.)  The argument goes that because God “knit” humans together in the womb, this suggests that the life in that womb is sacred.  All these verses demonstrate is that the authors had a very basis understanding of human development.  Ancient cultures understood that if a seed was placed in ground, the ground would nurture it, and a plant would come forth.  A similar understanding was assigned to humans – a man places his “seed” into a women, the women carries and nurtures the seed, and a child comes out.  None of these verses say anything of the intrinsic value placed on the “seed” in the womb.  The verses I shared above  however, do give us an understanding of when it was thought life began, and it wasn’t in the womb.  Reading the “womb verses” as evidence against abortion is an example of people extracting their own meaning and understand from the Bible and failing to place it in the context of the larger narrative. 

If abortion being murder is a Biblical concept, then it was only very recently that anyone became aware of it.  In fact, this “Biblical” view is younger than the Happy Meal.  The truth is, Christians were largely indifferent about abortion until the 70’s, when right-wing politics got in bed with Evangelicals and made it an issue.  Many denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, supported it.  And far from being an issue of morality, abortion was used by right-wing politicians as a means to an end for what they considered a much bigger issue – protecting segregated schools.

One of the important aspects of critical thinking is the careful evaluation of truth-claims.  It is important for people to realize where their knowledge comes from and what the roots are of long-held beliefs.  Hopefully I have demonstrated how easily it can be for someone to claim something that has the illusion of bearing weight, when in reality it rings hollow.  We all have our favorite bag of tricks that we like to employ in an argument, but we, both believers and non-believers, must always be mindful of the validity our own “tricks” or truth claims, and scrupulously evaluate them for accuracy.  There’s a lot of bullshit out there – let’s make sure we’re not contributing to the stench.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Take Aways: The “God” Part of the Brain

In previous posts I’ve discussed the role that studying neuroscience and psychology has in my de-conversion from religion.  From Why We Believe in God(s) by J. Anderson Thompson to The Belief Instinct by Jesse Bering; all offer great insight into the propensity of people to believe in the supernatural, and give rational, scientific, evidence-based reasons why.  I just finished reading what I consider to be the best book on the subject – Matthew Alper’s The “God” Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of the Human Spirituality and God.

This book chronicles Apler’s own personal journey of seeking God.  First, he was trying to determine if there was a God by studying the various religions and philosophies on the subject.  He then turned to many disciplines of science looking specifically at the origins of the universe.  When these failed to produce sufficient answers, Alper’s turned inward, seeking to understand why people believe in god(s).

The overall premise of the book is that since every culture in recorded history has believed on some sort of god, gods, or spiritual realm, humans are genetically predisposed towards a belief system.  He talks a lot about sociobiology – any trait we universally posses that are unique to a species, must have a genetic component.  That same rule also applies to a species behaviors.  For instance, all cats meow.  Even a cat that is separated at birth from other cats and kept in isolation will meow.  This is because cats have a “meow” part of the brain.  When looking at humans we see examples of these universal traits in such things as language and music.  All cultures, regardless of how isolated, will posses some form of language, because humans posses a “language” area of the brain.  The same principle applies to spiritually and religion.  There are regions in the brain that are generating these behaviors, so therefore there must be genes that create these regions in the brain.  The bulk of the book is spend on answering the central question – why would human have evolved such a behavior of believing in supernatural agents?

Alper leaves no stone upturned on his quest for answers.  He looks into the science behind such things as pain, anxiety, prayer, near-death experiences, drug-induced visions, religious conversions, speaking in tongues, etc.  This is important, as believers will often try and use such personal (and to them, very real) experiences as “proof” that their is a god.  Using science, Alper explains how and why people have these experiences and shows that there are natural, as opposed to supernatural, explanations for them.

 I was a little skeptical at first when I found out that Alper himself is not a scientist or psychologist.  However, those fears were laid to rest once I got into the book and saw the reference notes to credible science journals.  The book has also been widely praised by Pulitzer Prize-winners, scholars and scientists.  However, Alper is considered one of the founders of a new branch of science that deals with the ideas presented in the book – Neurotheology.

As, I mentioned earlier, this is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject of natural explanations for religion and spiritual beliefs.  This is going to be the book that I give to people who are having doubts and are on the fence with religion.  It’s approachable, easy to read and comprehend, and doesn’t focus on any one religion.  He also doesn’t spend any time “bashing religion” which can be a turn-off for some people.  Alper’s approach is methodical, objective, and evidence-based.

Rather than insert excerpts from the book throughout the post like I usually do, I instead want to leave you with part of the last chapter of the book, titled: What, If Anything, is to be Gained From a Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God?   Honestly, the book is worth reading just for this last chapter.  I went back and re-read it myself three times as it was just so packed with great insight.  Unlike some other notable atheists, Alper is not on a quest to rid the world of religion.  Understanding that humans have a genetic predisposition towards faith, Alper understands that religion and beliefs in the supernatural are here to stay for at least the immediate future.  But, Alper has another idea for how to deal with all the tribalism, hatred, and violence that often stems as a direct result of religious beliefs:

So what if it should turn out that human spirituality and religiosity are nothing more than the consequence of an inherited biological impulse?  IF indeed this is the case, shouldn’t we at least inquire into the underlying nature of such an essential part of us?

As stated previously, no trait is perfect,  Though each physical characteristic we posses provides us with some adaptive utility, each comes with its drawbacks.  Consequently, if spirituality and religiosity constitute inherent physical characteristics of our species, what might be some of the drawbacks?  Only once we determine this will we be able to maximize this impulses positive aspects while minimizing its negative.  Once we begin to view spirituality and religious consciousness as evolutionary adaptations, only then will we be able to objectively determine the negative impact they might have on us and, from there, begin working on turning them into strengths.

Generally speaking, humankind’s spiritual propensities are pretty harmless, just a means by which humans can temporarily abate some of the psychoemotional strains that comes as an inherent part of the human condition.  It’s really only when our spiritual sensibilities become bound up by some restrictive and dogmatic religious creed that problems arise.    

For all the advantages of possessing a religious instinct, for all the social cohesion it brings, the sense of community it fosters, and the alleged purpose and meaning it provides, religion has proven itself time and again, to be a potentially hazardous impulse in us… Religion continues to act as a divisive force, promoting discrimination and intolerance, inciting enmity, aggression, and war. […]

Perhaps if we could learn to view religiosity as nothing more than a genetically inherited impulse, we’d be better able to contain its more destructive influences.  If we could come to understand the underlying nature of this instinct, perhaps we could learn to temper the inevitable antagonism that each religion inherently feels for each other. […] Only once the human animal comes to terms with the fact that it has been born into a mental matrix – a neurological web of deceit – will we have a chance of offsetting this potential destructive impulse in us.  Knowledge is power, and it is high time that the science to spirituality and religiosity be made available to the world so that our species might see that there is another way.  It is time the study of spirituality and religiosity be taken out of the hands of philosophers, metaphysicians, and theologians and “biologized”.

Not to suggest we should seek to eradicate religiosity altogether, but rather that we try to put it into a scientific perspective.  In itself, there is nothing wrong with the religious impulse in that it bonds us with our communities and, through faith, helps us reduce stress levels and bolster general health.  It is rather the excess of nearly any impulse – be it food, love, sex, or materials – can be potentially dangerous, if not lethal. […]

As we find ourselves living in what is an increasingly global community, maintaining a diversity of belief systems may no longer represent a viable option for our species.  Instead, we may have to learn to adopt one unified set of religious and spiritual principles through which to achieve global harmony.  Perhaps if we could learn to embrace a single humanistic ideology based on such principles as equality, tolerance, compassion, and forgiveness, we might be able to optimize our potential for happiness, while minimizing our potential for fostering pain and suffering in the world.  […]

Until we stop teaching our young to honor and respect those with whom we share the same religious ideology, we are only encouraging the type of discriminatory values and behaviors that can only lead to our eventual mutual destruction.  What else can come from generation after generation being brainwashed to believe that the lives of those outside their religious fold are less sacred than their own?  The boundaries of respect for others must be extended beyond the narrow margins of any one religious paradigm and applied to the whole of humanity… United, our species may have a chance of standing; divided, however, we are sure to eventually fall.  As stated by Einstein in an impassioned plea to the nations of the world after our last world war, “Only a few short years remain in which to discover some spiritual basis for world brotherhood, or civilization as we now know will certainly destroy itself.”

Thanks for reading.

An Atheist’s “Holy Trinity”

I recently had a conversation with a friend that I hadn’t seen since my de-conversion.  We had gone to the same church for a while and had played together on the worship team several times.  He was genuinely curious about my experience and we had a great discussion.

One of the questions he asked me was this:

“For me, Jesus is the standard; the goal that I strive for – to try my best to live according to his teachings and his example.  As an atheist, what standards do you live by?”

I thought this was a good question, and I’ve decided to expand on the answer I gave him here.

It’s a common misconception that you have to believe in God and/or be religious to have any sort of standards of living.  This is empirically false.  Everyone, no matter what their lifestyle, faith, or background lives by some ethos the disposition, character, or fundamental values particular to a person.  Put another way, it is the spirit which motivates our ideas and customs.  James Fowler used the word “faith” in the same way.  He described faith as a person’s way of leaning into and making sense of life.  More verb than noun, faith is the dynamic system of images, values, and commitments that guide one’s life. 

For myself, and likely many other non-believers, I live according to the following principals:

Naturalism

Greg Graffin in his book Anarchy Evolutiondescribes naturalism in the following way:

“From a philosophical perspective, naturalists believe that the physical universe is the universe.  In other words, there is no supernatural entities or forces acting in nature, because there is no empirical evidence for anything beyond or outside of nature.  Naturalists posit that the universe is made up of only four things: space, time, matter, and energy – that’s it.  Naturalism can provide the foundation for building a coherent and consistent worldview on which we can base decisions.  In fact, I would contend, it is the only perspective that can secure both our happiness as individuals and survival as a species.”

Naturalism leaves supernatural entities and forces where they belong – in folklore, mythology, legends, and tails.  There is no scientific ground for the belief in spirits, angels, demons, vampires, witches, faeries, ghosts, or gods.  Nor is there any evidence for such thing as telepathy, ESP, astrology, miracles, intercessory prayer, faith healing, resurrections, or telekinesis.  Naturalism disregards any beliefs or entities that necessitate defying the laws of the natural universe. 

This isn’t to say that science has it all figured out or that there is no mystery, far from it.  There is plenty of mystery left in the universe and much that science has yet to discover, however we can be reasonably certain that any new discoveries will still fall in line with the natural laws and order of the universe.

Naturalism also hold the position that all life on this planet is connected.  We, as humans, depend on nature for our survival, so it is paramount that we do everything we can to take care of this planet.  This includes sustainable living, promotion of alternative energies, fighting climate change, sustainable agriculture, and the fair and ethical treatment of animals.

For myself, this means growing my own garden, supporting local farmers who raise livestock ethically, a zero-waste lifestyle, and volunteering for a local animal rescue.

Humanism

Humanism is an outlook, or system of thought, attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.

Those things that make life better for humans, both collectively and individually, should be sought after.  While those things which cause harm to humanity, should be eliminated.  This means standing against such things as sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, bigotry, abuse, and discrimination.

Key to be a good humanists is understanding and having empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  The video below aptly describes empathy and why it’s so important:

Empathy is a far better standard of morality than any religion –   empathy seeks the good and understanding off all people, not just those who belong to one’s particular tribe.  And unlike sacred texts, empathy is timeless and universal.  To quote Graffin again, “The capacity for empathy enables us to organize our societies in a beneficial way.  Because we can see at least some aspects of our selves in one another, we can derive ways of acting that are good for us and for society as a whole.  But in order for this to occur, we have to be open to accepting other people’s experiences as equally valid to our own.  This is simply impossible if prescriptive codes are too strictly enforced, particularly if these codes are underlain by the unverifiable “truths” of the supernatural realm.  Empathy is the best basis for human ethics that we have.  It provides a solid foundation for strong personal relationships and a productive society.”

Science

“Only those willing to submit to submit themselves to the rigorous constraints of scientific methodology and to the canons of scientific evidence should presume to have a say in the guidance of human affairs. Just as freedom of opinion makes no sense in astronomy or physics, it is similarly inappropriate in a the social sciences.” – Auguste Compte

In this age of information it can often be difficult to determine what is real and what is not; do distinguish fact from fiction.  No longer are people simply forming different opinions, but they are forming different realities as well.  Large amounts of resources are being dumped into perpetuating false ideas, pseudosciences, myths, and unrealistic ideologies.  With all this information floating around, how can anyone come to a solid understanding of the world?

All humans have the unfortunate quality of being able to be deceived.  We have all been wrong about something at sometime.  Just because something feels true to us doesn’t mean that it is.  With this in mind, it is important to think critically about matters and have some sort of “filter” through which we can run information through to verify it’s accuracy.  This filter is science.

Science is the most accurate and reliable source of information any method, system, or paradigm has offered thus far.  The use of the scientific method – the collecting of measurable, empirical evidence in an experiment related to a hypothesis, the results aiming to support or contradict a theory – is the most reliable means of deciphering fact from fiction.  In fact, science is currently the only way that we can understand and learn about the natural world.

It’s worth noting that “science” includes many different disciplines – history, archaeology, linguistics, psychology, sociology, etc.  Yet, all of these, to a greater of lesser degree, still use methods of science: verifiable, tested, and generally agreed-upon results of empirical study.

For skeptics like myself, the need for empirical evidence is paramount.  That which can’t be demonstrated through tested, demonstrable, and falsifiable means should be either disregarded, or put aside for later review when more information becomes available.  Notice that I said “put aside” – not outright dismissed.  This is an important difference that comes up a lot in conversations with believers.  As an example, I can’t say with absolute certainty that there isn’t a God – there simply isn’t any evidence to demonstrate that there is one.  Until such evidence is presented, I will put this idea “on the shelf”, but will remain open to the possibility.  The same principle would apply to extraterrestrial life, Bigfoot, conspiracy theories, etc.

Finally, any good skeptic, critical thinker, or scientists must always be open and willing to accept; the possibility that they could be wrong.  This can be difficult, as most of us avoid thinking that we are wrong.  Most people feel that if they are wrong about something then their is something wrong with them.  Kathryn Schulz does a great TED talk on this subject that is well worth the watch.  She points out that it is important for people to be open and OK with the idea that we can be wrong and probably are wrong about a great many things.  But, trusting too much on the feeling of being right can actually be a harmful and dangerous thing.  This is what leads to fundamentalism, nationalism, wars, genocides, toxic religions, and many other atrocities.  If you can be comfortable with the idea that you might be wrong, you are able to think more critically and are more open to new information and ideas.

I often hear creationists criticize science by saying that science has been wrong in the past.  They’re right, but the critical difference between science and religion is that science changes as new information is obtained.  To quote comedian Tim Minchin, “Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed.  Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.”  In fact, being wrong is one of the fundamental elements of the scientific method, and the methodology of science is equally important in every-day life.  In his excellent article in Scientific America titled, “The Key to Science (and Life) Is Being Wrong”, Steven Ross Pomeroy writes,

A good scientist must be willing to be wrong. Such an inclination is liberating, for it allows him or her to investigate potential answers — however unlikely they may be — to the difficult questions inspired by this vast, wondrous universe. Not only that, a willingness to be wrong frees a scientist to pursue any avenue opened by evidence, even if that evidence doesn’t support his or her original hunch.

This principle is one that I live by in my own life, as do many other skeptics and freethinkers.  It’s amazing; once who’ve gone through a major transition of realizing that you’ve been wrong about a great many things, such as a de-conversion experience, it becomes very easy to accept the possibility that you can be wrong about other things.  Having faced the cognitive dissonance head on and struggled through it for years, admitting to yourself and others that you were wrong seems rather simple.


 

I hope this has been informative and helpful.  Thanks to my friend, Joel, for inspiring me to think about this more deeply.  I would like to hear from other “nones” what principles they live by.  What other ethos’ do you hold?  Please leave your comments below.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Climate Change Deniers, Religious Freedom, and the Smokers’ Rights Army

In the early 90’s, the public was becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of smoking.  The cigarette industry had long known about the dangers of smoking, yet had gone to great lengths to suppress this information.  Companies like R.J. Renolds (RJR), the largest cigarette company in America at the time, maintained large lobbying and public affairs team and had succeeded for decades in pushing back most anti-smoking efforts.  But with more information coming out about the health risks associated of cigarettes, the public was quickly turning on them.  Local, state, and even national politicians were proposing a number of restrictions – raising cigarette taxes, banning smoking in public places, recognizing tobacco as a dangerous drug.

With public pressure mounting, and RJR standing to lose considerable revenue, they went on the defense.  The first scheme they came up with was to appeal to the smokers themselves, and create a “smokers’ rights” army.  About a fifth of Americans smoked at the time and many had contacted RJR complaining about being hassled at the work place, prices of cigarettes going up in their towns, and being kicked out of restaurants and bowling alleys.   Following the led of Philip Morris, they launched a magazine catering to American smokers – Choice.  The main topic: smoking was a fundamental freedom, and it was under attack.

Choice depicted the world as a place of woe for the smokers and urged them to act.  Smokers needed to stand up, organize, write letters, call legislators, circulate petitions, and fight for what was theirs.  RJR even started organizing “smokers’ rights” chapters across the country, for citizens to come together and battle the growing legions of anti-smokers.  They even went as far as to equate their struggle to women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement.

One of RJR’s strategies was to plead with non-smokers to consider their feelings.  They would complain about being singled out, about how they were often segregated, discriminated against, and even legislated against.  All for doing something perfectly legal.  The solution to the impasse, the company said, was obvious: “Common courtesy”.  If smokers and nonsmokers could only be civil to each other – the smoker ask whether others wouldn’t mind if he lit up, the non-smoker doesn’t try to get cigarettes banned in public places – tobacco would become a nonissue.

RJR’s strategy didn’t work.  They were unable to get the support they needed from smoking community as many of them hated their addiction and wanted to quit.  Also, RJR direct appeals met with tremendous opposition.  The company was demonized every time a new ad would come out, and received far more feedback from critics than from supporters.  In 1994, with the FDA and OCHA looking into regulating tobacco, RJR needed a new strategy.

RJR hired an outside PR firm, Mongoven, Biscoe, and Duchin (MBD) to run a new campaign – instead of smokers’ rights, they would aim at a larger, more universal scourge: the government was getting too damn powerful, too damn nagging, and two damn invasive.  The campaign was called Get Government Off Our Backs, or GGOOB.  The campaign urged smokers to stand up what they considered the first step in a long line of actions to take away people’s rights in America.

The campaign attracted a diverse cross section of supporters, most of whom didn’t care one way or another about tobacco, but who all expressed anti-government sentiments.  While RJR sponsored GGOOB and contributed donations to many of the groups that joined the cause, they were careful  to keep their name out of the campaign.  RJR’s direct approach hadn’t worked, so they had decided to take their propaganda underground.  By turning the battle onto one about big government rather than big tobacco and by hiding its own association with the plan, RJR could ride towards its goal upon a wave of anti-regulatory activism.  And the plan worked, at least for a while.

In 1995, GGOOB won many victories in Washington.  Other then prohibiting tobacco advertisements aimed at teens, no strict rules – including an outright ban on cigarettes – were imposed.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see that while RJR may have won the battle they would eventually lose the war; many restrictions have been placed on the tobacco industries since the 90’s.  Yet it is precisely the tobacco industry’s failures that proved the importance  – and lasting appeal, to propagandists – of a deception PR plan like GGOOB.

And this sort of propagandist deception machine is alive and well today.  I want to talk about two such examples that closely parallel RJR’s strategy  – climate change denialism and religious freedom activists.


Since the 90’s the general consensus amongst scientists has been that greenhouse gases were deeply involved in most climate changes and human caused emissions were bringing serious global warming.  Since that time, multiple disciplines of scientific research have increased our understanding of climate change and its causes.  Presently, there is a 97% consensus position amongst scientists that humans are causing global warming.  Recent studies have led some scientist to conclude with 99.9% certainty that global warming since 1880 has been mostly caused by man-made emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and long-term temperature variations not caused by nature.

Faced with the threat of legislation aimed at curbing green house emissions, large coal and oil companies started their own propaganda campaigns aimed at not only the general public, but Washington as well.

A recent scientific study has revealed the role corporate money plays in the divide over the issue of climate change.  “The report, a systematic review of 20 years’ worth of data, highlights the connection between corporate funding and messages that raise doubts about the science of climate change and whether humans are responsible for the warming of the planet. The analysis suggests that corporations have used their wealth to amplify contrarian views and create an impression of greater scientific uncertainty than actually exists.”  Where’s the money coming from?

Exxon Mobile, the country’s largest oil and gas company, is under investigation for reportedly lying to investors about how global warming could hurt its balance sheets and also hid the risks posed by climate change from the public.  As early as 1977 a senior company scientist warned executives that “there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” InsideClimate News reported.  But, between 2005 and 2008, Exxon spent $8.9 million dollars spreading climate change propaganda.

Koch Industries, one of the largest private owned corporations in America, has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition.  A company that makes a point of staying out of the public eye,  Koch Ind. along with the foundations they sponsor have contributed $24.9 million in funding to organizations of the “climate denial machine”.

Since the general public doesn’t trust what oil companies have to say about climate change, companies like Koch and Exxon spend millions on think tanks, front-groups, business groups, and so-called “scientists” who lie and distort the facts to spread seeds of doubt amongst the public.  They also spend millions on lobbying and political donations to thwart laws aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

An their efforts have worked to some degree.  While climate change doubters are becoming fewer, roughly 1 in 4 Americans still don’t believe in man-made climate change.  Every likely 2016 Republican presidential contender expresses uncertainty, at best, about climate science.  Time and time again, Congressional Republicans have made it clear that reducing fossil fuel consumption through efficiency or expansion of renewable energies is of no interest to them. They recently killed a bill that would have helped the private sector with voluntary efficiency improvements because it did not include approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.  They are also turning against the wind energy production tax credit, even as fossil fuels drain billions of dollars from the Federal Treasury in tax subsidies.

Thankfully, climate change denialism seems to be largely an American problem.  Of all the major conservative parties in the democratic world, the Republican Party stands alone in its denial of the legitimacy of climate science.  Last December, delegates from 196 countries convened in Paris and agreed to make efforts to reduce carbon emissions to a relatively safe level.  It seems Koch and Exxon’s influence only extends so far.


Since Nov. 16, 1993 when President Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, religious organizations have been attempting to use the bill to be exempt from state and federal laws, namely anti-discrimination laws.  In 2015, seventeen states introduced legislation regarding the creation of, or alteration to, a state religious freedom law.

Despite living in a country that is a majority Christian, and invokes the Christian God on its currency and in its national pledge, many people of faith still feel like they are being oppressed in America.  Much of this stems from the growing acceptance of LGBT’s and same-sex marriage.  Over the last decade, religious leaders and political leaders have been fanning the flames of fear and paranoia amongst conservative Christians and pushed for concerned people of faith to stand up for their “religious freedom” as American citizens. 

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz has warned that the Supreme Court is on the verge of crushing all freedom in America and putting people in prison for expressing their faith.  Ben Carson has stated that anti-discrimination laws are authored by communists and that gay rights are part of a larger conspiracy to destroy America.  Religious leader Franklin Graham praised Kim Davis for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, claiming that, “Our religious rights and freedoms are being trampled on.”  He encouraged more people to “stand for religious freedoms and biblical values” to preserve America.  Focus on Family’s founder James Dobson warned that gay rights activists real goals are to shut down churches, destroy Christian businesses and organizations, and ultimately take control of your children… just like Hitler did.

Like the climate change denial machine, the religious freedom crusade also has it’s billionaire investors.  The Wilks brothers, who made their fortune in fracking, have invested tens of millions of dollars into right-wing groups, as well as anti-LGBT and anti-choice groups.  Groups such as Liberty Counsel, which has gained attention in recent years for its “religious liberty” litigation, has a long history of spreading anti-LGBT propaganda.  The Family Research Council, designated an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has since the the early ’90’s championed for “traditional family values” and in recent years been active in lobbying for religious freedom causes.  The Franklin Center; a non-profit news organization that claims to publish “news and commentary from a free market, limited government perspective on state and local politics”, but in reality is a front-group for conservative political advocacy.  (It’s worth noting that the Franklin Center is also part of the Koch brothers’ right-wing political network)

Religious Freedom has now become synonymous with discrimination, with advocacy groups working tirelessly to keep LGBTs from having equal rights in this country.  Like RJR’s attempt to appeal to citizens’ anti-government sentiments to advance it’s own company, far-right political groups have been pushing their anti-LGBT agenda under the guise of “religious freedom”.  Thanks to media outlets funded by these groups, many people of faith are under the impression that they are being persecuted, despite the fact that not a single person has every been jailed or prosecuted for simply practicing their religion.  These fears lead them to support religious freedom policies, often without understanding the repercussions of such measures or what their real intent is.


These stories all relate to a topic I’ve discussed beforehow digital media and social media can have a profound effect on people’s ability to think critical and make informed opinions.

The digital revolution has done much to connect the world, yet it has also done much to divide it as well.  No longer are Americans merely holding opinions different from one another; they’re also holding different facts.  Arguments are no longer about what we should be doing about climate change, but whether or not climate change is actually happening.  People are now fighting over competing versions of reality.  And now more then ever, it is becoming convenient for some people to live in a world built out of their own facts.

Stephen Colbert has coined this alternate reality as “truthiness” – something feeling true without any evidence suggesting it actually is. 

The internet has made it easier then ever to choose what you read, what you watch, and what you listen to – while blocking out everything else.  This has led to what Farhad Manjoo calls selective exposure – not only can you choose the information that suits you, but you can choose people that suit you.  And it’s people that matter.  Whether it’s climate change, cigarettes, or religious freedom, it’s through our connections with others that we choose our social reality.

Stay informed.  Check your sources.  Always demand evidence.  When conspiracy theories pop up, follow the money.  In this day of information at our fingertips, ignorance is a choice.  Thanks for reading.

 

NOTE: The story of RJR and some of the content for this post was taken from Farhad Manjoo’s book, True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

 

Reflections along the journey from faith to reason.

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