Tag Archives: confirmation bias

Evidence Explained (or, Why Apologetics Fail)

Webster’s defines “evidence” as – : something which shows that something else exists or is true, : a visible sign of something, : material that is presented to a court of law to help find the truth about something.  To put things in more scientific terms, evidence is that which can be demonstrated, tested, verified, and falsified.

This would seem to be a pretty straight forward idea, and to most people about most things, it is.  However, a strange thing happens when people hold to ideas which can’t be demonstrated to be true with evidence.  Suddenly the definition of what constitutes “evidence” changes or broadens to encompass any arguments or claims they can muster that seem to lend credibility to their position.  This widened criteriaa, however, is only applicable to their own strongly held belief and does not extend to beliefs that other people hold that they disagree with.  More on this later.

Apologetics is defined as – reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.  Bible.org gives the simpler definition as “the defense of the Christian faith”.

When I was a Christian, I was big into apologetics, and spent many hours reading books and watching debates from such notable personalities as Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, and others.  After becoming more familiar with the philosophy of critical thinking, logical fallacies, and the scientific method, I soon realized that there was something strangely missing from all apologetic works, both novice and professional: evidence.  Demonstrable, verifiable, empirical evidence.  Despite the common Christian claim that there is an abundance of evidence for their beliefs, I soon realized that this evidence is strangely absent from any work of apologetics I had ever come across.  What I did see over and over where justifications being substituted and passed of as “evidence”.  That’s what I want to talk about here; common apologetic tactics which are not “evidence” and should not be taken as such.

Arguments

Several years ago I served on a  jury.  Before the trial started the judge went over the rules and guidelines for how we determine a verdict.  One of the points that he made was that the opening and closing statements could not be used in out determination of a verdict.  There’s a very good reason for this – arguments (or argumentation), no mater how compelling, well thought out, or convincing, are not evidence. 

Apologists love their arguments.  The Cosmological Argument, Argument from Morality, Argument from Design, Ontological Argument, Pascals Wager, etc.  There are some problems with this however.

First, arguments can be used to show the plausibility of almost anything.  I’ve heard very convincing arguments for the existence of Bigfoot and the Yeti.  I’ve watched documentaries on how aliens are the only explanation for the how the pyramids of Egypt were built.  Many people are convinced that Hitler escaped Berlin at the end of WWII.  Does this mean that Bigfoot is real, Hitler is alive, or that aliens are responsible for one of the great wonders of the Earth?  Of course not.  Yet this same logic applies to apologetics – just because you can come up with a convincing argument for the existence of something does not mean it is “proof” of its existence.

Second, if arguments are not evidence, then fallacious arguments are even less so.  I’ve yet to encounter an apologist give an argument that wasn’t some form of a logical fallacy.   To use the example listed above, the Cosmological Argument is a classic “God of the Gaps” fallacy as is the Argument from Morality.  The Argument from Design suffers from many fallacies, most notably the Weak Analogy fallacy.   The Ontological Argument is a form of Circular Reasoning and Pascals Wager is an example of Begging the Question.  If anyone can find me a work of apologetics that doesn’t contain logical fallacies, I’ll buy you dinner.

Anecdotes/Personal Testimony

Christians love their personal testimonies.  Whether it’s at church, on social media, at music festivals, or in personal conversations, every Christian has a story about how God answered some prayer,  worked in their lives, or performed a miracle.  For many people, these personal experiences are the main reason for their belief in God.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a Christian claim,”I’ve experienced him working in my life” as their “evidence” of God’s existence…

Personal experiences and anecdotes are not evidence, no matter how real or convincing they may seem to people.  There are several reasons for this.

First, when people use anecdotes as evidence, they are usually committing a logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc (post hoc for short).  The Latin translates to “after this, therefore because of this,” and it occurs whenever an argument takes the following form:

  • X happened before Y
  • Therefore, X caused Y

The reason that post hoc arguments are invalid should be obvious: the fact that Y happened after X does not mean that X caused Y.

Anytime someone claims that God answered a prayer, they are committing a post hoc fallacy.  When someone gives an emotional testimony about how they were an addict, criminal, all around shitty person, and then God miraculously changed their lives, they make the mistake of assuming that since they got better after accepting Jesus into their lives, that it was Jesus who changed them around.

Second, if one is going to admit anecdotes as evidence, then you have to admit all personal stories as equally credible.  That means that the personal stories of Muslims is proof of Allah, anecdotes by Scientologists are proof that their religion is true, and thousands of accounts of alien encounters are proof of aliens.  It is not hard to find very convincing stories by very credible witnesses who claim to have been abducted by aliens.  These people are so convinced of this that they are able to pass polygraph tests when questioned about their encounters.  Is this hard evidence that aliens are visiting earth and kidnapping people?  Most theists would say no, yet they would like to claim that their own stories are “evidence” of God’s existence.  This double standard is known as special pleading –  applying standards, principles, and/or rules to other people or circumstances, while making oneself or certain circumstances exempt from the same critical criteria, without providing adequate justification.  You can’t attempt to argue that your experiences constitute as evidence and then try to discredit the experiences of other believers who disagree with you.

Lastly, anecdotes that affirm a position often ignore anecdotal evidence that contradicts the same position.  Theists can claim that prayer works only by ignoring all the times that it didn’t work.  You can claim that God got you out of addiction, but what about all the people who also reached out to God and are still addicts?  This is confirmation bias – the tendency to seek out information that conforms to their pre-existing view points, and subsequently ignore information that goes against them, both positive and negative.

Luciano Gonzalez over at Patheos sums it up nicely:

“Your experiences are AT BEST reasons for you to believe. They are not (or at least they shouldn’t be) compelling evidence for other people that you want to convince you are right. If you are arguing that your experiences are compelling evidence, I want to know what separates your experiences from the experiences of others that somehow their experiences are not as convincing as yours, or are somehow inferior to yours in such a way that you know your experiences are true while knowing or believing that theirs are not (in cases when you share your experiences with people who disagree with you).”

*(For a more in-depth look at why anecdotes aren’t evidence, check out this article over at The Logic of Science blog)

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The Supernatural/Miracles

In a recent debate between Matt Dillahunty and Blake Giunta on the topic of the Resurrection of Jesus, Guinta made the argument that the most plausible explanation for the testimonies found in the Bible, and other sources of people encountering Jesus after his death, was that he had miraculously risen from the dead after three days.  He claims that the actual, physical resurrection is the only plausible explanation for how so many people could have had such similar and lucid encounters.  Remember how we talked earlier about alien abductions?

Miracles, by definition, are a violation or suspension of the laws of nature, thus making them supernatural.  David Hume characterized them as “a transgression of the law of nature” and were thereforethe least likely event possible“.  Yet, miracles abound in apologetics.  In fact, much of the foundation of the Christian faith, such as the Resurrection, prayer, and the divine inspiration of scripture, depend on the supernatural being a very real and active agent in this world.  Contrary to what many apologists think, science can test supernatural claims, and since the scientific revolution four centuries ago, we have learned that there is no supernatural realm.  Natural explanations have been found for that which was previously thought to have supernatural origins in every case that it has been studied.

Occam’s Razor states that when there exist two explanations for an occurrence, the simpler one is usually better.  Another way of saying it is; the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is.  When it comes to the “evidence” produced by apologists for the existence of God, a natural explanation (no matter how unlikely) is always going to be more likely than a supernatural one.  Back to the debate mentioned earlier, when it comes to an explanation for all the witnesses who claim to have seen Jesus after he arose, there are many natural explanations – mass hallucinations, shared psychotic disorder, groupthink, legendary accretion, mistaken identity, false memories, etc.  No matter how implausible some of these explanations may be, they are far more plausible than the supernatural explanation of a bodily resurrection.  You cannot claim that the most likely explanation is the least likely event possible; a miracle.

One final note, the use of the supernatural by apologetics is another good example of special pleading.  If you are going to accept that the supernatural is real then you must also accept the supernatural claims made by other religions.

Awe and Wonder

“The evidence for God is all around us.  Just go outside and look around!”  Sadly, his kind of thinking abounds within Christianity –   people believing that the natural world is somehow evidence for their particular god-claims.  The Bible claims that God reveals himself through nature (Rom 1:20) and many take that to heart.  When asked for evidence of God, some have claimed that He  is “self-evident” in nature and that is all the “proof” they need.

This is similar to what we discussed above about anecdotes.  Personal experiences, including awe and wonder, are not evidence.  They are nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain that give some of us a pleasurable sensation when enjoying nature.  I say “some” because this is not universal.  Not everyone has the same feelings or experiences when being outdoors.

Also, the thing about nature is that it is natural and we have natural explanations for why it’s there, where it came from, etc.  No supernatural explanation needed.  A neighbor said to me the other day, “How can people look up at the stars and not believe in a God?”  My answer was, “Study cosmology”.  This isn’t to say that there can’t be mystery in the universe, but you don’t get to fill in your ignorance of the natural world with “God” and then credit that as evidence.

A common logical fallacy that falls under this category is an appeal to emotions – the use emotion in place of reason in order to attempt to win the argument.  This happens when someone attempts to manipulates peoples’ emotions in order to get them to accept a claim as being true.  This one is easy to spot; anytime someone makes of “feeling God in their heart”, or knowing that “the Holy Spirit is at work”, or feeling some sort of positive emotion and correlating them to a deity.

Absence of Evidence

This one presents itself in a couple of ways.  The most obvious is the classic argument from ignorance – when a proposition is considered true from the fact that it is not known to be false.  It’s common for people to argue that since you can’t prove God doesn’t exist, then he likely exists.  This line of reasoning could be used to support almost any claim: aliens, vampires, fairies, other gods, or a teapot orbiting the sun.  Ignorance about something says nothing about its existence or non-existence.

Another common argument is that, “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence”.  The basic idea being that we can’t be sure something doesn’t exist just because we haven’t seen it yet.  First of all; this isn’t entirely correct.  But more importantly, most situations which make very specific claims can test for evidence.  In these cases, a lack of evidence is evidence of absence.  Put simply – the absence of evidence, when evidence should be present, is evidence of absence.

Apologists often claim the “historical reliability of the Bible” as evidence for their God.  Yet, we’ve seen over and over that when evidence for very specific events, such as the Exodus and Israels’ forty years of wandering are investigated, no historical or archaeological can be found.  It is therefore more likely that these events never took place.  Many apologists would like to claim that just because evidence hasn’t been found, that these events could still have taken place, and we just haven’t found the evidence yet.  This is not rational thinking.  As Matt Dillahunty is fond of saying, “The time to believe in something is after evidence presents itself, not before.”  This goes for aliens, Bigfoot, conspiracy theories, and deities.  It’s completely reasonable to lack a belief in something as extraordinary as a deity if you know of no evidence to support such a claim being reflective of reality.  It is unreasonable to lack extraordinary evidence and still have an extraordinary belief.

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People will go to great lengths to justify unsubstantiated beliefs.  When these beliefs are challenged, things like “evidence” and “proof” suddenly take on a different meaning than they would in a normal, day-to-day, situation.  A good rule of thumb when debating an apologist is this – would this kind of reasoning hold up in a court of law or a science lab?  If not, then they are likely trying to substitute something else for real evidence, and have no solid case.  And as Hitchens famously said, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”  

Hope this was helpful.  Thanks for reading.

Critical Thinking: Even More Logical Fallacies

Over the last several months I have engaged in or witnessed a number of debates, both political and religious, in which faulty arguments were used.  I realized that some of them were fallacies I hadn’t covered in my previous Logical Fallacies posts (here and here).

Just to recap,  a logical fallacy is an error in reasoning.  This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts.  To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support.  So, here’s another installment to my Critical Thinking series.

Ad Hoc Argument

Very often, we desperately want to be right and hold on to certain beliefs, despite any evidence presented to the contrary.  As a result, we begin to make up excuses as to why our belief could still be true, and is still true, despite the fact that we have no real evidence for what we are making up.  Ad Hoc arguments, simply put, are the fallacy of “Making Shit Up”.

They occur when someone is faced with an argument that discredits their position, and they respond by making something up that serves no purpose except to patch the hole in their view.  Here is a simple way to tell if an ad hoc fallacy has been committed; ask yourself the following three questions.

  1. Did they just make something up?
  2. Is their claim based on evidence/is there a good reason to accept this claim other than that it solves the problem in their argument?
  3. Would someone who wasn’t already convinced of their view accept that claim?

When pointing out to theists the numerous studies that have been done that show the inefficacy of prayer, a common response is something along the lines of, “God can’t be tested.  The studies didn’t work because God knew it was a test.” This is clearly a made up on-the-spot response, with no evidence to back it up, and only makes sense to those who already believe in the power of prayer.

Another common ad hoc argument is the use of “sin” to explain away things that don’t make sense in a world supposedly created and run by an all-knowing, all-powerful God, such as why there is so much suffering in the world or why there are so many design flaws in human anatomy.

Any argument involving magic, miracles, or the supernatural could also be considered ad hoc arguments.  Conspiracy Theories are also a hot bed for made-up arguments devoid of evidence.

“God of the Gaps” fallacy

This is a variation on the Argument from Ignorance fallacy.  This argument generally takes the following form:

  1. Scientists don’t have an explanation for A
  2. Therefore God caused A

Creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) rely heavily on this fallacy, as does apologetics. A common example of this is what is sometimes referred to as the  Cosmological Argument.  Simply put, it looks like this:

  1. The universe began to exist at the Big Bang
  2. Something apart from the universe caused this
  3. Therefore, a creator exists

Just because something can’t currently be explained doesn’t mean that an explanation doesn’t exist, nor that you can simply assume that “God did it”. There is a long history of the “gaps” in our understanding being filled by scientific explanations and the “god gaps” thus getting smaller and smaller.

Another form of this fallacy that I see often is the Argument from Incredulity when someone decides that something did not happen because they cannot personally understand how it could happen.  This fallacy comes up often when discussing “spiritual experiences”; people have a profound experience that they cannot explain, so they automatically assign an explanation to God, the Holy Spirit, etc.

Weak Analogy

Many arguments rely on an analogy between two or more objects, ideas, or situations. If the two things that are being compared aren’t really alike in the relevant aspects, the analogy is a weak one.  It’s most commonly referred to as an “apples and oranges” argument.

For example, William Paley’s argument from design suggests that a watch and the universe are similar (both display order and complexity), and therefore infers from the fact that watches are the product of intelligent design that the universe must be a product of intelligent design too.  The argument fails because of the many differences between a watch and anything found in nature. Watches are not caused naturally, whereas the universe could have a natural cause.

The weak analogy fallacy is often used by pro-life advocates who compare embryo’s to fully developed, adult human beings, and then argue that treatment that would violate the rights of an adult human being also violates the rights of fetuses.

Equivocation Fallacy

The fallacy of equivocation is committed when a term is used in two or more different senses within a single argument.  For an argument to work, words must have the same meaning each time they appear in its premises or conclusion.  Arguments that switch between different meanings of words equivocate, and don’t work. This is because the change in meaning introduces a change in subject. If the words in the premises and the conclusion mean different things, then the premises and the conclusion are about different things, and so the former cannot support the latter.

A good example of this is seen when Creationists claim that evolution is “just a theory”, failing to understand the difference between the common use of the word the word “theory”, and the scientific use of the word.

Another example of this can be found in the common apologetics argument for “laws of nature” that I covered in a previous post.  The author states 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.”  He fails to understand the difference between a word that is prescriptive versus one that is descriptive.  We give such titles to help us make sense of the natural world, it does not mean that there is an outside agent that assigns these titles.

Sharpshooter Fallacy

Also known as”confirmation bias“, this fallacy gets its name from an illustration that demonstrates how it works: Imagine that someone fired an arrow or bullet at the side of a barn. Then, after firing, they painted a bull’s eye around whatever spot they happened to hit and proceed to proclaim that they were a “sharpshooter.” Obviously they weren’t a sharpshooter, they simply created the illusion of accuracy by painting the target after firing the shot

In actual debates, this fallacy typically occurs as a form of cherry-picking data where you present an isolated result or relationship and proclaim that it is what would be expected if they were right, when, in fact, there are other results that discredit your position.

Theist will claim that prayer works by sighting examples of prayers being “answered”, yet fail to mention all the times that a particular prayer was not answered.  After natural disasters, people are often quick to point out the “miracles” of people surviving, yet ignore all the other lives lost.  These are examples of the Sharpshooter fallacy.

Special Pleading

Special pleading occurs when people fail to apply the same standards of critical analysis to their own views as they do to other views. This fallacious argument involves an attempt to cite something as an exception to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exception.  Special pleading is often a result of strong emotional beliefs that interfere with reason.

Special pleading  comes up often in religion.  Christians will dismiss the supernatural claims made by other religions, while believing in the claims made by their own.  They will claim that the Bible is the only true “Word of God”, while criticizing other sacred texts.  When pointing out the similarities between the story of Jesus’s Resurrection and other legends of deities rising from the dead, they will insist that Jesus really did rise from the dead, but the other stories are just myths.

Another good example comes from the previously mentioned Cosmological Argument.  Its proponents will insist that something cannot come from nothing, therefore God must have caused it.  Yet, when the question is raised, “Then who caused God?”, proponents will insist that he is the exception to the rule.


In my next post we will be talking about how these, and other types of faulty arguments are often used in apologetics in lieu of actual evidence.  If you haven’t already, please go and read my previous post on logical fallacies (here and here) and critical thinking, as it will help to understand why arguments are not evidence, especially fallacious ones.  Thanks for reading

 

Critical Thinking 101

Critical thinking is a topic I speak often about on this blog, and one that you will come across on most skeptics’ writings.  I thought it would be useful to go into what critical thinking is, common characteristics and philosophies, and how to apply it.  I will also be starting a series looking at one of the cornerstones of critical thinking  – identifying logical fallacies.

Put simply, critical thinking can be described as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”  A more detailed definition, provided by the The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, defines critical thinking as the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

So, what are some of the characteristics of critical thinking?

  1. Critical thinking is reasonable and rational. Critical thinkers do not jump to conclusions.  Collect data, weigh the facts, and think the matter through.
  2. Critical thinking is reflective. Thinking the matter through, weighing the facts and evidence.
  3. Critical thinking inspires an attitude of inquiry.  Be inquisitive but also skeptical.
  4. Critical thinking is autonomous thinking.  Critical thinkers are not easily manipulated or swayed by popular opinion.
  5. Critical thinking includes creative thinking.
  6. Critical thinking is fair thinking. It is not biased or one-sided.
  7. Critical thinking focuses on deciding what to believe or do. Critical thinking is used to decide on a course of action; make reliable observations; draw sound conclusions, solve problems; and evaluate claims, and actions.

The National League of Nursing came up with this list (you can view the full version here) and considered critical thinking so important, they added it as a mandatory criterion for accreditation of schools of nursing 20 years ago.  I wanted to add to this list by pointing out what I consider to be the foundations of critical thinking and the common stumbling blocks that get can get in way.

Bias

Everyone posses the ability to think critically, and most of us do in our day-to-day lives.  But very often, when a person holds a core belief very strongly, it can be easy to put on blinders and only seek out information that agrees with one’s own beliefs or pre-conceived ideas, while dismissing any evidence that works against their core beliefs.  This is known as confirmation biasthe tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.  Everyone has the disposition of being bias, which why it is so important to have an open mind, be willing to admit that you could be wrong, and have a system in place to filter through information to determine it’s validity.   

Evidence

If anyone has ever served on jury duty or watched a lot of courtroom drama, then they know how important evidence is.   Evidence is defined as the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.  In the scientific world, evidence is defined as evidence which serves to either support or counter a scientific theory or hypothesis. Such evidence is expected to be empirical evidence and interpretation in accordance with scientific method.   A few important points about evidence:

First, some things that are not considered evidence: Opinions are not evidence.  Arguments are not evidence.  Conspiracy Theories are not evidence.  Hearsay is not evidence.  “Strongly held beliefs” are not evidence.  Emotions are not evidence.

Second, the judicial system has mandated that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution.  In other words, the burden of proof, or evidence is always with the one making the claim.  If I tell my neighbor that aliens have been visiting me at night in my back yard, it is up to me to provide him with evidence to back up this claim.  It is not his responsibility to prove me wrong.  You will often see people trying to deflect their responsibility to provide evidence onto the person demanding said evidence.  This is what’s known as an Appeal to Ignorance fallacy.  A common example can be found when a skeptics asks for evidence for God, the response will often be, “Prove to me that there isn’t a God!”

And lastly, using a phrase first said by Marcello Truzzi, but made famous by Carl Sagan: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  The more a claim differentiates from what we consider to be a “normal” occurrence, the more evidence is required for validating the claim.  If I told my neighbor that I saw a hawk in my backyard, he would most likely take my word for it, as hawks are often seen in our neighborhood and strong evidence is not needed.  If I was to say that I saw a Sasquatch in my back yard, a great deal of evidence (footprints, hair samples, photographs, etc) is going to be needed before he could be convinced.

Probability Spectrum

Sometimes known as Bayes’ theorem, the probability spectrum describes the probability of an event, based on conditions that might be related to the event.  In debates regarding far-fetched claims, often a last-ditch effort is made by appealing to the idea of possibility.  Speaking of possibility gives the illusion of leaving the door open that such a claim may be true, despite the evidence pointing out the improbability of the claim.  As the old saying goes, there are very few certainties in life, but we all make decisions based on the probability of what’s going to happen.  I know that when I leave my home in the morning, there is the possibility that I may get in an accident, but that doesn’t stop me from going to work, because I know that the probability is relatively low.  This same principle applies to critical thinking – in cases where a definitive conclusion cannot be made, the most probable answer or scenario should be the taken.  Another way to think of it is to draw a line, and have “very unlikely” at one end and “very likely” at the other and postulate where a claim or explanation falls on that line.  In his book, The God Argument, A.C. Grayling explains the possibility spectrum like this:

One line of thinking in the theory of knowledge has it that belief is not an all-or-nothing affair, but a matter of degree.  The degree in question can be represented as a probability value.  A virtue of this approach is said to be that it explains how people adjust the weighting they give to their various beliefs as the evidence in support of them changes when more and better information becomes available.  People might not talk of probabilities unless challenged to say just how strongly the believe something, but their beliefs are nevertheless measurable in terms of how subjectively probable they appear to their holder.  

Along these same principles is the idea of Occam’s Razor.  Occam’s Razor is a problem-solving principle attributed to William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), who was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian.  The principle can be be interpreted as, “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”  In other words, the simplest explanation is generally the right one.

Another important aspect of probability is natural vs. supernatural explanations.  Supernatural is anything that goes against or beyond the natural world.  When debating religious claims, the supernatural is often invoked as “evidence”.  This is a cop-out of sorts, as supernatural claims, by their very nature, cannot be tested by normal means.  This is why in any discussion; a natural explanation is always favorable to a supernatural one.  Put another way: the supernatural is the least likely explanation explanation for events.  Divine intervention, miracles, the paranormal, psychic powers, angles/demons, spirits, etc are all considered supernatural and should send off warning bells whenever they are used in a debate.  Supernatural explanations are unacceptable in the courtroom and in the science lab, and they should be equally unacceptable in critical thought.

Falsifiability

Last, but certainly not least, we must talk about falsifiability.  Falsifiability (or reputability) of a statement, hypothesis, or theory is the inherent possibility that it can be proven false. A statement is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive of an observation or an argument that negates the statement in question.  For any hypothesis to have credence, it must be inherently disprovable before it can become accepted as a scientific hypothesis or theory.

Falsifiability is a cornerstone of the scientific method and should be equally applied to critical thinking.  For a statement to be questioned using observation, it needs to be at least theoretically possible that it can come in conflict with observation.

For example, I can make the claim that “All polar bears are white”, and it is logically possible to falsify this statement by observing just a single black polar bear.  In the same way, Newton’s Theory of Gravity has been accepted as truth for centuries because objects do not randomly float away.  If they were to start floating away, then scientists would need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a different hypothesis.

Example of falsifiable vs non-falsifiable

With all of that out of the way, we’ll next be looking at some of the most common logical fallacies.  They are easy to spot once you recognize them and will help you in navigating the endless sea of nonsense that permeates our social media and literature.  Hopefully this has been helpful.  If you have any questions or need clarification, please leave a comment below.  I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best to answer or at least point you in the direction of someone who can.  Thanks for reading.

Deconversion De-constructed

 

I’ve had a few people ask me for a more thorough explanation for why I deconverted from organized religion and no longer believe in God.  I touched on it a bit in my “coming out” post that I wrote earlier this year.  I also talked about the reasons why I didn’t lose my faith in a previous post.

I’ve been hesitant to write about this for a couple of reasons.  For one, it felt like an overwhelming task.  It’s difficult to take two years worth of research and condense it into a tidy, concise, and relativity short post.  Second, by attempting to simplify my reasons and possibly not provide sufficient information, it leaves the door wide open for unwanted criticism.

However, I’ve decided it was time that I attempt explain things a little better, as some people seem genuinely curious.  For the sake of simplifying things, I’ve decided to leave out all the issues I have with Christianity itself and instead focus on why I don’t believe the truth-claims made by Christianity.  I devote a good amount of words to what I dislike about Christianity, particularly Evangelicalism, but those are not the reasons that I lost my faith.  I had most of these same complaints even when I was a Christian.  I could have just as easily found a different church or denomination and been writing from a progressive christian standpoint. (In fact, that was my original intention when I started this blog)

But, the more I learned, the more I studied history, science, psychology, and critical thinking, the more my faith fell apart.  Like peeling an onion, the layers kept getting stripped away, one by one.  I tried to fight against the tide- I really did.  I didn’t want to become an atheist, but I had to follow the evidence where it took me.  If I was to be honest with myself, if I was to be critically and scientifically minded, I had to let the facts speak for themselves.

So, strap in folks – this is going to be a long, bumpy ride.  Here is a “Cliff Notes” version of  the reasons that I deconverted from Christianity:

The Bible

The foundation of the Christian faith is the Bible.  Everything Christians believe and live by is somehow tied to this one book.  It is held up as the literal “Word of God” and many consider it to be without error.  As such, it is considered authoritative and binding to all functions of the Church, both institutionally and privately.

Ironically, it was reading and studying the Bible in earnest that led to my deconversion*.   The process went something like this:

I took a year to read the Bible from cover-to-cover.  I read it in chronological order, and as such, was sometimes reading the same story, from different sources.  What I found was shocking – far from being inerrant, the Bible is littered with contradictions, errors, and discrepancies.  It also become pretty apparent that the authors of the Bible were a product of their time – pre-science, Bronze Age, primitive times, steeped in supernaturalism and mythology .  Left scratching my head, I decided to look into the history of the Bible itself, as a book.

The Council of Nicea was intended to bring some sort of unity to Christianity, and with it, determine which of the hundreds of sacred texts in circulation at the time would be canonized.  History books revealed that the decisions as to what books would be canonized had more to do with politics than with religion.   There are countless stories of corruption, bribery, and violence that made up proceedings at the Council of Nicea.  And even after the Council, it would be another two centuries before a unified version of the Bible began to take shape.

Within Christian circles, you will often hear people arguing about which translation of the Bible are most accurate in regard to the “original Greek and Hebrew”.  The problem is that there is no original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.  In fact, there are no original copies of any of the books of the Bible.  What we have is copies of copies of copies.  We have no idea that the original authors said.  Some would like to believe that those copying the texts would take great pains to make sure the copies were exact, however, that is far from true.  There are thousands of copies of ancient Bible texts in existence, but there are virtually no two that are the same; there are tens of thousands of discrepancies between them all.  While most of the errors are small grammatical ones, many are huge, with whole sections being added and/or taken away.  It was not uncommon for scholars to add their own insight into a text when copying it, and this went on for centuries. 

Looking into the individual books themselves, I found many glaring problems that I never heard talked about in Church.

Like the fact that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but was written centuries after Moses died, is comprised of at least four separate texts, and is largely folklore, mythology, and propaganda – not literal history (more on this later).

Also, the fact that the Gospels were not written by Jesus’s disciples, and are not eye-witness accounts.  Rather, they were written decades after Jesus had died by anonymous, Greek-speaking scholars, who never knew Jesus personally and wrote based on the oral traditions that had been passed down.  This speaks volumes as to the credibility (or lack thereof) of the stories, especially when you consider the many discrepancies between the accounts.

There was also the problem of Paul, who though credited as being the one most responsible for spreading the word about Jesus, never know Jesus personally, never had access to any of the Gospels (they were written after his ministry), and doesn’t seem to know anything about Jesus’s ministry on earth.  There is no mention of the virgin birth, nothing of Jesus’s miracles, none of Jesus’s teachings, nothing about the Easter story, and nothing about Jesus being God in any of Paul’s writings.  There is also a great deal of debate as to the authenticity of the books credited to Paul.  Some, including Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus, are believed by many scholars to be forgeries, and 2 Thessalonians is widely accepted as being a psuedepigrapha.

Going back to the Old Testament, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have discovered that most of the stories told regarding Israel’s history are nothing more then folklore and mythology.  There was no captivity in Egypt, no Ten Plagues, no Exodus, no wandering in the desert for 40 years, no Battle of Jericho, no Kingdom of Solomon, etc.  There is simply no corroborating scientific or historical evidence outside of the Bible to support any of these events as being historical.

The same holds true in the case of Jesus and his life.  There is no non-Biblical sources from the first-century that corroborate any of the extraordinary claims (virgin birth, miracles, divinity, resurrection, etc)  made of Jesus.  In fact, there is no mention of Jesus at all, in any of the manuscripts from that period.         

After this thorough investigation into the Bible, I came away with this conclusion – The Bible is a wonderful and inspiring work of literature that gives us a look into the culture and history of the Jewish people and the earliest Christians.  Yet, it is purely the work of human hands and is not the “Word of God”, nor is it divinely inspired, and it is certainly not inerrant.  As such, it can not be, nor should be, authoritative in any way. 

The Man-Made God

I want to offer up a quick story by Carl Sagan, called “The Dragon in My Garage”, as an introduction to this section:

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”

Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, and see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle–but no dragon.

“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.

“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heat-less.”

You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heat-less 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, and assertions immune to disproof are worthless in determining veridicality, 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.

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 emerges, 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.”

This story perfectly illustrates my thoughts on the subject of God – there is currently no empirical evidence to support the existence of a theistic God**, in fact the evidence is strongly against it, but if new information ever were to emerge, I would be prepared to examine it and go from there.  

Whenever a claim is made, the burden of proof is always on the one making the claim.  And as Carl Sagan would say, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

When I’m talking about evidence, I’m talking about what can be tested, replicated, and independently verified using the scientific method.  (It is important to note that good arguments are not evidence, nor are personal experiences, or unanswered questions.)  Modern science has looked outward, and has measured the size of the universe, determined how fast it is expanding, has detected and measured previously unknown substances like dark matter and dark energy, and has determined with reasonable certainly how everything came into existence.  Science has also looked inward, breaking things down the subatomic level, and studying the quantum physics that make the whole system work.  In all that research, scientists have never found any evidence of a divine being, entity, or gods, either in the present nor the past.

So where did this idea of a divine being come from?

Cognitive science science shows that humans are biologically designed towards a pre-disposition of trying to make sense of what we don’t understand.  Ancient humans were surrounded by an aw-inspiring, yet scary and dangerous world.  They did not have the luxury of science to explain things like thunder storms, earthquakes, or diseases.  In an attempt to explain these natural occurrences, they turned to the supernatural, and gods were born.  The earliest gods came from various forms of animism, or giving a spiritual essence to plants, animals, and inanimate objects.

As societies grew and more people were living in communities, these early beliefs were co-opted by the governing powers as a way of unifying and controlling the masses, hence; the earliest forms of religion were born.  Religion is a natural phenomenon, and has evolved and been reshaped by cultures throughout the centuries. Polytheism, pantheism, monotheism, panentheism, deism, and many other philosophies sprang up as people tried to understand the world around them.

When one reads about early Judaism in the Old Testament and compares it to the prevailing religions of the time and those that came before, it’s easy to see that Judaism and  monotheism were simply another rung on the evolutionary ladder of religion.  The same can be found when one looks at the history of Christianity.

All of this lead me to conclude that all religions, including Judaism and Christianity, are man-made.  So too, are the god(s) that they believe in and worship.  

Head Games

The next question I needed to address was this – If god(s) are a human construct, why do people claim to have had experiences with God?  How do you explain conversion experiences and other similar religious experiences?

To find the answers I turned to psychology and neuroscience.  I learned that all humans have a “hard-wired” tendency to believe in the supernatural.  This phenomenon is also described in psychology as part of our childhood development of maturity, the one James Fowler labeled the Intuitive-Projective in his Stages of Faith.   This is why children will often have imaginary friends and why a large percentage of the population believes in UFOs and angels.  I also explains why so many people, especially those taught at a young age, believe in god(s).

I learned about such things as Theory of Mind,  Agent Detection, Apophenia, and Rituals, and how these provide a perfectly natural explanation to people’s religious or spiritual experiences.  The latest research has shown that religious ideas are simply the extraordinary use of everyday cognition.  And like music or reading & writing, are the product of cognitive mechanics designed for other purposes.  This leads me to believe that peoples’ religious experiences are the product of our minds natural tendencies, and not divine intervention.

I then focused on the concepts of willful blindnessconfirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and cognitive dissonance to understand why people would hold on to their beliefs despite contradictory evidence.  To avoid these pitfalls, the single most important skill I have found is that of critical thinking.  “No one always acts purely objectively and rationally.  We connive for selfish interests.  It is ‘only human’ to wish to validate our prior knowledge, to vindicate our prior decisions, or to sustain our earlier beliefs.”  Because of these pre-disposed prejudices, one must apply critical thinking skills to every subject, including the subject of god(s).  The scientific method is crucial to this, as is the understanding of logical fallacies.  I found that having learned the common logical fallacies and how they were used, it became easy to spot them in any debate in which tangible evidence could not be provided.  This includes nearly every argument that has been made by apologists concerning God/The Bible.

That’s about the long and short of it.  There’s a lot more that I could have gone into – the contradictions of God’s character throughout the Bible, the myth of Jesus’s divinity, heaven & hell, the Devil, etc.  This post is already a bit wordy for me, however, so I just focused on the main points.  I’m sure for some, I’ve invited as many questions as I’ve answered***.  Perhaps in future posts I’ll explore some of my points in greater detail.  I’m sure some will take issue with a lot of what I have to say – and that’s fine.  As I’ve said many times on this blog, this is my journey and my experience based on what I’ve come to know and understand.  I’m not looking to “evangelize” or convert anyone.  But, I know there might be some out there who are having doubts about their faith, and hopefully this discussion can be helpful.

* – I’m not alone in this; a good majority of former believers would also sight the Bible as the main thing that lead to their deconversion. 

** – I emphasize the term “theistic” here, as it refers to God as a conscious supernatural being (a God who listens to and answers prayers, cares about humanity, intervenes on its behalf, etc).  This is different than what some traditions and philosophies would regard as the “God of essence” (“The Ground of All Being”, non-anthropomorphic, abstract, spiritual, etc.)

***- I didn’t add a lot of links to the information I presented, as is usually habit for me, for a couple of reasons.  First, much of the information I have received has come from books, not online sources.  Second, it would have taken considerable time to try and find links for everything.  I can assure you that the facts presented are not merely my own conjuring or opinion, but were gathered from reliable, well-accepted, academic sources, There are a number of authors and works I can recommen to those of you looking for more information.

 

Becky Explains Why People Are Leaving the Church (and it’s everything you’d expect)

It seems these days there is no shortage of people offering their opinion as to why so many people, particularly millennials, are leaving the church.  Type in “Millennials Leaving Church” into Google, and you will get page after page of articles offering their insight, other articles refuting the thoughts of the first article, and so on.

While I may be technically too old to be considered a millennial, I do fit the category of one of those who has abandoned ship on the whole church/religion thing, and so tend to read these articles whenever I come across them.  There’s a couple of things I’ve found to be consistent with most of these articles that I’ve come across – most are written by people who are still actively involved in church in some capacity, therefore most fail to address or acknowledge the real reasons that people are leaving the church.

There are some that seem to “get it” and understand what’s at the heart of the issue, like Ben Corey and John Pavlovitz.  But then there are those who are so completely out of touch with the reality that they take the debate to a whole other level by insulting, shaming, and demoralizing any who would dare speak badly about the church; the typical “blame the victim” response that is becoming increasingly popular in religious circles.

Whitney Capps, a true “Becky” if there ever was one, wrote an open letter addressing those who are saying what’s wrong with the Church.  If you have the stomach for it, feel free to read the whole things.  For this post, I’ll spare you all the details and just hit on a few of  Whitney’s finer points.

Whitney wastes no time in getting right to the point as to why so many young people are leaving the church:

“…because we are spoiled, selfish, uneasily satisfied, hypercritical, consumeristic and socially enlightened but biblically light-weight.”

Wow.  There’s no judgment, is there?

Because she is so firmly engrossed in the church, (openly admitting admitting that “I love the Church. I’m crazy, obsessed and slightly obnoxiously in love with the Church and her leaders.”)  Whitney can’t conceive of a word in which the Church might actually be the problem.  She has built up such an lofty, idolatrous image of the Church, that in her mind the problem has to be with those leaving.

This probably makes sense due to the fact that Whitney doesn’t appear to have actually spoken with anyone who has left the church.  Her opinion seem to be based solely on articles and letters she has read.  She starts her article by saying that she has “read them all-the letters from well-meaning, well-written peers of mine. Posts penned by young (well, relatively young) people unhappy with and enlightened by the woes of the Church. And they all know the various reasons why people are leaving the Church, the problems they see and the ways to fix said problems.”  

Good for you, Whitney, you read some letters.  Did you ever think to actually talk to a real human being and hear what they had to say?  No, probably not.  And another thing – I’m throwing the bullshit flag on the fact that you’ve “read them all”.  I’m taking an educated guess that you only read the articles that fit your preconceived notions about why these “spoiled, selfish” young, brats who are leaving the church.  You conveniently skipped over any letter written by “liberal” Christian and would certainly ignore any written by ex-Christians and atheists.  Like most in your world, you suffer from confirmation bias and are unable to compute any idea that doesn’t fit your world view.  You even admit as such when you say, “I’m not objective. I’m not impartial… I don’t probably give you the benefit of the doubt you deserve.”  Finally – something we can both agree on.

Despite all of her research, Whitney seems to think that these are the reasons people are leaving the church:

The ladies ministry is too old-fashioned, and yet the worship is too flashy and fake. The pastor doesn’t use enough technology, and yet he’s trying too hard to be relevant and contemporary. The Church is too inwardly focused, yet not focused enough on your needs.

The rest of Whitney’s article might have a leg to stand on if these where, in fact, the reasons people are jumping ship.  But the thing is, I’ve never known anyone who has left the church for any reasons even remotely resembling these!  

Having thoroughly insulted and dehumanized her subjects, Whitney’s next tactic comes straight out of the Toxic Christianity handbook – shame them into silence.  Whitney is one of those who thinks that Church = Jesus.  Therefore, anything bad you say about the Church hurts baby Jesus’s feelings, so you best just keep your damn mouth shut.

“Don’t pretend to love Jesus, but damage the Church. You can’t love Jesus but hate on the Church.  I know, you don’t think what you are doing is damaging the Church, but that’s where you’re wrong.”

She also appeals to people to not air their grievances about the Church in public, because we don’t want to make Him look bad, now do we?  (Little heads up, Whitney, people complaining about the church is the least of it’s public image problems)  She takes this shaming tactic to a whole new level by bringing sweet, little, ol’ ladies into it:

“You wound those sweet, saintly ladies who put on those events praying over those doily-laden tables for young women to fill those chairs. These women who aren’t silenced or frozen by a fear of being irrelevant show up and serve with you in mind.”

Won’t someone please think of the old ladies!

You see, Whitney doesn’t care about actually trying to understand people who are leaving the church.  She isn’t genuinely concerned about millennials, their experiences, or what they have to say.  What she’s doing is dishonestly slamming people she doesn’t like and reinforcing her own sense of superiority under the guise of “love”

It’s not hard to figure out where this attitude of “Keep quiet!  Do as you’re told! Whether you like it or not!” comes from.  Whitney is firm believer in the top-down “submission” model of the church and in Christian Patriarchy.  Both of which are implemented as “Biblical values” for the sole purpose of controlling people.

A quick read of her “about” section reads like someone who has been browbeaten into submission by her husband, who she refers to as her CEO.  She admits that her primary call in life is to serve her husband, and to teach her kids, “that in our house Daddy is most important and valued. I tell them that we all, including Mommy love and obey Daddy. God is first and Daddy is second.” 

Sweet Jesus…

Her “solution” to the issues being brought up with the church are as ignorant as they are useless- keep quiet, pray, talk to your leaders, and stay in the Church.  It’s the same advice some church leaders give abused women.  None of these things actually address the real problems, of course, but it’s the company line, so they’re going to keep spinning it.

I don’t think it has ever crossed Whitney’s mind that perhaps she’s the problem.  That self-righteous, condescending attitudes like hers might be what’s driving people away.

It probably never occurred to Whitney that people within the church have gone to their leaders with their concerns and had them marginalized and down-played just like she just did, or told that they were the problem, that they needed to pray more, serve more, or show up more.

And I can guarantee that in Whitney’s tiny, little, sheltered world, she couldn’t fathom that some people are leaving because they’ve found all the major tenets of Christianity to be untrue and unsupported by any actual evidence.

People are taking to the public forum because no one else is listening. The Church has become an institution that worships itself and is above reproach.  Concerned about it’s image, the Church tries to silence any who would speak out against it and uses shame, manipulation, and emotional abuses to keep people quiet.

All I can say is this – keep it up Whitney, keep it up.  You are doing more to drive people from religion than Dawkins could ever dream of.  7.5 million people left their religion in the last two years, and that numbers is likely to grow exponentially.  If Whitney ever bothered to step outside of her fundagelical circle, she would see that the Church is becoming irrelevant to young people in America.  Like most church leaders though, she will likely continue to ignore the real problems and continue to vilify those who point them out.

According to every survey done, the question isn’t “Will Christianity collapse?” but rather “How hard will Christianity collapse and who’ll be left standing?” And a lot of the blame for that collapse lays at the feet of evangelicalism, with its love of political meddling, its deep desire to control and trample non-believers and shove its nose into other people’s private business, its blatant narcissism, its science denial, its breathtaking misogyny and abusiveness, its inhuman hatred of all who defy its grasp, and its constant demands for capitulation and deference from everybody else. Evangelicals are fast beginning to stand for all that is wrong with Christianity itself; they highlight the religion’s general failings and put into harsh spotlights all the worst aspects of modern Christians’ Biblical illiteracy and their childish, over-simplistic misunderstandings about both the Bible and love itself. And the numbers reflect people’s growing impatience with this particularly nasty strain of Christianity. The fact that young people are fleeing the sinking ship as fast as they can does not bode well. – Captain Cassidy 

I have no doubts that Whitney’s particular brand of low religion will continue on for generations to come (hell, there’s still large denominations teaching that black people have “the Mark of Cain”).  But, hopefully it will continue to shrink in numbers to the point where they have no real influence or relevance in our culture, looking more cult-like then Christ-like.  As Neil Carter puts it, “Perhaps like the snake handlers, some of them will keep an alternate reality alive among networks of tiny churches scattered across the Appalachian foothills or in the deepest pine forests of rural Mississippi and Alabama.”  We can only hope.

 

 

 

Low Religion

I often see people on social media complaining about the criticism that is dealt out against Christianity or the Church.  The most common responses are usually something in the vein of, “Well, not ALL Christians are like that!”  I personally think this is a cop-out; a way of dismissing whatever argument is being brought forth.  The thought process is usually that A) This statement doesn’t apply to me or people I directly know, or B) This statement is too broad and general, or C) This statement is about action done be people who aren’t “True Christians” – therefore I don’t need to address this concern.

I could write several posts on why this drives me crazy and how Christianity’s (yes, I’m using the general term) inability to be self-critical will ultimately ruin it.  But, for the sake of argument, I’d like to propose the use of different terms, ones that are at the same time both more general and more specific, ones that can be used when discussing any religion or denomination –

Low Religion and High Religion.

Here’s how I would define them:

Low Religion

LR is based on dualistic thinking, or an “either/or” view of the world – black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, deserving and undeserving.

This thinking inevitably leads to a religion that is exclusive and tribalistic, with very clear borders set up to determine who is “in” and who is “out” – us vs them, saved or unsaved, conservative or liberal.  This makes them suspicions and even antagonistic towards those perceived as “outsiders”.  The also go to great lengths to make sure no one within the tribe leave the borders.  Those that do are considered “back-sliders”, “apostate”, “heretics”, “lost-souls” and are shunned by tribe.

All LR are fear based, and in fact, can’t survive without it – fear of the wrath of their deity, fear of eternal punishment, fear of the “other”, fear of themselves, their own hearts and minds, fear of believing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing.

Fear-based religions seek to control others.  The insist that they alone hold “The Truth” and as such, can dictate the lives of others.  Not just those within their own institution, but society as a whole.  There is a strong emphasis on submission – submission to religious leaders, sacred texts, the government, social groups.

LR can also be referred  to as belief-based religion.  The emphasis is placed on holding to correct theology, teachings, doctrines, and dogmas.  They use this knowledge for the purpose of ego enhancement, shaming, and the control of others and themselves.

The sacred texts of LR are seen as divinely written or inspired and are mostly interpreted in a literal sense.  The text are often proof-texted to conform the text to their own world views.

LR puts an emphasis on the after-life – rewards for those  who are “in”, and punishment for those who are “out”.

Those who practice LR suffer from cognitive dissonance and have confirmation bias.  They tend to be anti-intellectual and anti-science. 

High Religion

HR is about non-dualistic thinking, or an “and/also” view of the world.  It embraces paradox and isn’t concerned with having all the right answers.  It is a contemplative.

HR is radically inclusive and seeks the greater good off all humanity and creation with an emphasis on issues such as human suffering, healing, poverty, environmentalism, social justice, care for outsiders, and political oppression.

Those who practice HR have risen above the boundaries created by LR and can see wisdom and goodness in all faiths, religions, and traditions.  They are willing to engage in dialog with those of other faiths in the belief that they might learn something that will allow them to correct their own truths.

Symbols, traditions, and sacred texts are viewed in a more metaphorical  and comprehensive lights.

HR is for those who have reached the 5th Stage of Faith – Conjunctive Faith.  They can be found in every religious tradition, although are rare, especially amongst the Judeo/Christian traditions.

Despite my own feelings about God, religions, and faith, I want to make a clear that I don’t have a problem with religion – I only have a problem with Low Religion.  When I (and most others) speak critically of religion/Christianity, it is almost always Low Religion that we are speaking of.  I know that there are churches that are the exception.  I know that there are individuals within churches that are the exception, ones who would be considered practicing High Religion.  But, they are just that – the exception, not the rule.

If you read something by me and another writer that’s bashing the church, and you say to yourself, “This doesn’t sound like my church!” – great; then it doesn’t pertain to you.  But if you get all defensive, if you start clamoring on about how, “not all Christians are like that!” or, “that doesn’t represent THE Church, only a specific church!” – then you’re probably part of the problem.  You are probably a part of the Low Religion I’m speaking of.  At best, you simply have blinders on, don’t get out enough, or don’t pay attention to the news and are unaware the the damage being done by religion in this country and around the world.  Maybe you know that there are problems, but would rather focus on the good and let someone else deal with the problems.  Or worse, you are active in trying to control, marginalize, or discriminate against those you consider “others”.  You are actively a part of an institution that is wreaking havoc on this country and on the lives of countless people.  

In future posts I’m going to try to use the term Low Religion instead of Christianity or the Church when applicable.  However, there are instances where being more specific is necessary.  (For example, Evangelical Christians are the only religion still hung up on the whole Evolution thing, therefore I’m going to call them out on it.)

I also want to say a quick bit to those who aren’t “like that”, who wouldn’t consider themselves to be a part of Low Religion, yet still consider themselves Christian.  If you see or hear about people doing deplorable things in the name of religion – take a stand!  Quit making excuses, quit pretending like it’s not a big deal, quit acting like it’s “just a few bad apples in the bunch,” and quit dismissing people as “not True Christians” like it’s not your problem.  It is your problem!  The reason asshats like Frank Graham and Mike Huckabee get away with saying the hateful shit they do is because none of their peers are calling them out on it!  The only people I see saying anything are the progressive Christians and “liberals”.  As Mandela said, to stay silent is to side with the oppressor.  If you don’t like what’s being said in the name of god, Jesus, the Bible, whatever, then let that be known, loudly and publicly.  Because while not “all Christians are like that”, they certainly don’t seem to have a problem with the ones that are.