Monday, June 8, 2015

More freewill thoughts

When I think of freewill, I think it means we are free to live as we see fit. If we want to be wicked, then we can be. If we want to be good, then we will be good. Christians often talk of freewill, that their god won't interfere with what humans do, but instead he will deal with their actions in the afterlife. I'll use Christians here for simplicity's sake, though all Abrahamic religions speak of freewill.

I've written before on freewill here.

I'm taking a different angle here, however, namely looking at god's wrath. Of course there's the instance in the bible when god hardened the pharaoh's heart, and that clearly is a case when he interfered and removed freewill from someone (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:19). The pharaoh was evil so god intervened. I have no problem with this, but if you claim god grants freewill then this is a violation of that pact.

But let's discuss the Great Flood. Obviously this never happened. It's just a regurgitation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, probably used pathetically to convince believers that their god could smite them at any time. Here is an excerpt that explains why god brought the rains:

“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:11-13)

So, how is this freewill? You create humans, give them freewill to act as they want, then when they do and you disapprove you wipe humanity from the face of the earth? Granted, these people may have been pure evil, and they may have deserved death for their indiscretions, but I didn't set the rules or parameters. Freewill isn't free if the threat of murder is lingering over the prospect. By killing everyone, god is in effect, taking their freewill.

A Christian may argue that these people had freewill until god levied his punishment, but I would argue god kept them from doing what they wanted. He also kept humans from dealing with their own problems, and from that moment on, freewill never exists. If you know god will kill you for your actions, and that killing could/would come at any moment, true freewill ceases to exist.

There are so many problems with the Great Flood lesson, and there are plenty of instances in the bible where freewill is infringed upon, but believers refuse to take their god to task. Why? Fear. And by being afraid to question god, you have lost your freewill.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

On the origins of Hell

First, let me say I believe in nothing supernatural, no gods, no afterlife, no ghosts, no magic, nothing. And while I would never believe Hell existed in my worldview anyway, there is actual evidence that proves Hell is man-made and not an actual thing. In a recent discussion with a theist, he claimed to ACTUALLY know about Hell, so I called him on it. Of course he just told me to read the bible and backpedaled on giving me real evidence. When I told him real research reveals how Hell came to be known as a place of eternal damnation without actually existing, he asked me for proof, so here it is:

It's not surprising that "hell" in the New Testament is used as a vehicle for control and fear, and it's no less surprising that it is the product of mistranslation and misunderstanding. To get to the root of its origin we MUST begin with the OT. The Jews wrote the Old Testament, thus starting the Abrahamic religion, and they use the term Sheol, described as a morally neutral place people allegedly go after they die. It literally means "world of the dead; a subterranean retreat, a grave or pit." In fact, in the KJV, the Old Testament term Sheol is translated as "Hell" 31 times and "grave" 31 times (translated as "pit" three times).

What's that you say, there is no Hell in the OT and the Jews don't believe in Hell? No lake of fire, no eternal damnation? Well isn't that very telling? The Greeks originally translated Sheol as Hades, their underworld, which already is skewing the original meaning. The KJV translates Hades as Hell 10 times, and as grave once. Nonetheless, Hell's origin can still be traced to the OT, but let's take a quick detour to the NT for a second.

Obviously the Jesus character was a Jew, as were his followers/apostles, and in the Greek translations of the NT, Jesus uses the term Gehenna for Hell. Some say Gehenna is not Hell, but originally was a grave and in later times a sort of Purgatory where one is judged based on one's life's deeds, or rather, where one becomes fully aware of one's own shortcomings and negative actions during one's life. But if you follow the steps of translation back to the original Hebrew, you'll learn Gehenna (English) comes from the Greek's Ge'enna (γέεννα), which is a phonetic transcription of the Aramaic Gēhannā, which of course comes from the Hebrew Ge Hinnom, which literally means Valley of Hinnom.

This Valley, aka Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, was used during Roman times (and before then) for burning bodies and trash. A little more research uncovers this Valley was used for child sacrifices by Jews and Canaanites, and these sacrifices were to Molech, Baal and even Yahweh. The Valley of Hinnom is below the southern wall of ancient Jerusalem, which is telling in and of itself, that the location is below Jerusalem. Many biblical scholars will say Gehenna is a metaphor for Hell, but of course we have the actual history of the location and no real evidence of a hell itself.

But the imagery is easily transferable even if mistakingly done so: an underworld, below Jerusalem, where the unwanted things (people and garbage) go to burn. One part of the Valley was known as Tophet, the "fire-stove" or furnace, where the children were burned alive. Excavations from 1975-80 found remains of nine burial caves, and in earlier excavations of the dump, the fire was still smoldering after centuries.

So, we have Hades and Gehenna, and when the bible was translated into English in Medieval Times, both terms became Hell, which in fact doesn't exist. It literally started as just an OT description of where bodies were buried, mistranslated to mean underworld, then it was an actual place where bodies were sacrificed and burned, located below Jerusalem. And it was during the Medieval Times the Christian church manipulated Hell as a weapon for controlling its followers with fear of eternal damnation.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Why Christianity is most popular

On one of the forums I frequent, the comments discussion drifted somehow to which religion had the most members globally. Someone tried to say it was Hindu/Buddhism and I of course had to correct him. Christianity is first with Islam a close second. I then made an off-hand comment that we all know why Christianity dominates and it's not because it's the one true religion. One of the theists took umbrage with this remark and wanted to know my feelings as to why this is true. I poked a little fun at him by asking how he didn't know why his own religion was the most popular, and he just up and left the discussion before I could offer my answer. So here is what I would have said to him:

The reasons are plenty and these aren't in any particular order of importance:

Convenience: If you want to be a Jew, there's the hassle of learning Hebrew, there's a dress code, you must attend Temple services, the food you can't eat is tasty and you must deal with bigotry.

If you want to be a Muslim, you must go to Mecca, pray at least five times a day, you can't eat certain foods, if you're a woman you must live your life covered from head to toe while living in fear as a subservient human. Plus there's the whole jihad bullshit instilled in Muslims.

Other religions have the same or similar restrictions on lifestyle that adds up to one huge inconvenience. But in Christianity? You don't have to do anything and you can still call yourself a Christian. Just ask for forgiveness while you watch your favorite reality shows featuring Real Housewives. Do whatever you want, just as long as you make an attempt to be a good person. You can do this in perpetuity. And don't worry, if you fail, just ask for forgiveness and get a clean slate.

One Christian group can accept evolution (Catholics) while another can dismiss it as the devil's handiwork (Young Earth Creationists), yet both remain Christian and both are considered correct. One can hate homosexuals, one can accept them because Jesus was loving, and both are correct. The bible is figurative, the bible is literal, doesn't matter, you're Christian. Want to pray today? Go ahead. Don't want to? That is OK, too.

Power: Christianity had/has the most power behind it, including weaponry and hierarchy (think Constantine, Crusades, Inquisition). Why are there so many Christians? If you didn't convert to Christianity, you were killed. Simple math. People believed or they died. And as families continued to raise their children that way, the numbers grew exponentially. You kill those that don't believe and you nurture and raise those that do. Again, simple math. It is easy to outnumber other religions when you are killing everyone who wasn't like you.

Money and missionaries: Christianity preys on the needy. "We will build a hut for you, but first let's gather round and discuss the miracles of Jesus. Are you hungry? We'll give you that sandwich just as I tell you the good news."

How many religions send missionaries out into the world to convert non-believers? Christians try to convert every non-believer or non-Christian they know. It's considered their duty. The other religions don't do that. It's easy to outnumber people when you have recruiters all around the world promising you stuff for your conversion, especially if you're desperate.

Christianity craves money more than any other religion, easily. How many times has a Jew knocked on your door to ask if you have a minute to talk about Yahweh? Any Muslims ringing your bell for a chance to discuss Mohammed? Maybe a Hindu has approached you to discuss Shiva. No? You don't say. Christianity loves money, it needs it, and in America it gets tax breaks so the more money they get, the more they keep. These people aren't trying to convert others for love and peace, they are being forced out to increase the flock, to increase the cash flow. And don't even think about bringing up charity, because that still ultimately benefits Christianity, and you don't need religion to be charitable.

So, you take all of these factors and it adds up to Christianity outnumbering all religions, but even with all of these reasons, Christianity is still dying and won't be on top for long. A recent PEW study shows Islam will overtake Christianity in the next few decades and non-believers will catch up as well. So, it turns out that even the threat of death and the promise of eternal bliss isn't enough to keep Jesus lovers in first place.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Learn to think critically

Take a moment to reflect on the things you believe in your life, especially the important things. Now honestly ask yourself, "Why do I believe that?" Is it because you carefully weighed all of the pros and cons of that particular stance and truly arrived at what is best for you? Or are you merely a product of your environment, following what you were told to like, think and believe as a child?

Perhaps you looked up to someone and wanted to impress them, so you liked what they liked, you believed as they did. Think about that for a moment today. Children should be taught HOW to think, not what to think. Critical thinking is the first step to becoming the real you, and the younger a child is when they learn this the happier that child will be in life.

Why be a sheep when you can be the shepherd?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Muslim and me

I recently chatted with a Muslim about our worldviews. It makes zero difference what religion I'm dealing with, the indoctrination and denial run deep in every one. As I talked and listened, it felt an awful lot like déjà vu because these same thoughts and words have been exchanged with my Christian counterparts. Here's how the conversation went.

Me: Does all of the talk of Islamaphobia bother you?
Him: In what way?
Me: Most people associate Islamaphobia with people being afraid of Islam.
Him: Well, I have some in my family.
Me: I guess that's what I'm wondering. I mean, people hear about an atheist and think we're morally bankrupt and eat babies. It frustrates me so I wondered if people being afraid of Islam frustrated you.
Him: It makes me wanna correct them.
Me: Me, too.
Him: What about you, always atheist?
Me: No, Catholic raised, but never a true believer.
Him: That's sad for me to hear.
Me: Don't be sad. We all have our reasons.
Him: I'm sad by my reasons.
Me: Why do you believe Islam is true?
Him: Because I checked all of the paths, including Islam, and I found them all false except for Islam.
Me: Can you expound on that?
Him: For Muslims who live in 2015, the prophet is not with us anymore, right? So we cannot ask for miracles to prove God. At the time of the prophet, it's recorded like 300 miracles for the prophet, and I mean clear miracles like splitting the sea, objects and animals talking like humans, etc.
Me: But ...
Him: The only remaining miracle after the prophet's death is the Quran. I read it and I don't need to finish it to know it's the truth from God.
Me: How?
Him: Countless proofs and evidences. There for those who are sincere in finding guidance.
Me: How?
Him: Check it for yourself, bro! It's free online on quran.com.
Me: OK, so what you're telling me is that every evidence you have comes from the Quran?
Him: I'm telling you the Quran is the evidence. I need nothing more.
Me: OK, why don't you realize the Quran is the claim, not the evidence?
Him: The miracle is that the Quran is both the claim (the testimony) and the proof (the evidence). The Quran states direct statement meaning: "I am your God. Worship Me." That's the claim; it can't be both.
Me: You're losing me.
Him: Hang on, the proof is there, too, but it's not one proof, not one evidence. You're surrounded with evidences.
Me: Name one.
Him: This is exactly why it's the word of God, because no claim can be evidence to itself; that's crazy. If a book does that; it's a miracle!
Me: The book is the claim that these things happened, but in order for those things to be confirmed you need outside contemporary, indifferent sources reporting on these things. You have none. No religion does.
Him: That's impossible and no religion does, I agree, except the Quran, which is why the Quran is a miracle.
Me: By your estimate, something such as Spider-Man could be real. Why do you get to special-plead your holy tome and others don't?
Him: if you tell me Spider-Man exists, I ask you what is your proof?
Me: The comic book is the proof.
Him: The comic book is not the proof; the comic book is the claim. It has no proof.
Me: Neither does the Quran.
Him: The Quran has both the claim and the proof; that's why it's a miracle.
Me: You are practicing what is known as special pleading. Your book can defy logic in your mind, but others can't. That's a fallacy.
Him: Well, the Quran is for those who use their minds, not for those who need to hear or see or feel as evidences, because we are not animals; animals don't understand; we do.
Me: Doesn't sound like it. The miracles you claim are in all religions. Why does your talking animal get true miracle status while the OT doesn't?
Him: Name one and I'm ready to follow the religion which has one miracle.
Me: No miracles have ever happened. But the ones you listed are no different than any other religion.
Him: But I checked them all and I found no single miracle in any religion except Islam. It's full of them.
Me: It's full of something.
Him: What?
Me: Never mind. Your logic is circular. You're saying the Quran is true because the Quran says it's true. Your book has zero proof. Sorry, I'm not insulting you or your religion, I'm just stating fact.
Him: You disbelieve; I believe. We'll keep doing what we're doing and we'll see.
Me: OK, fair enough.
Him: It's very soon.
Me: I'm sure it is. Every religious person who follows a religion that professes the end times are near think it's happening during their time. Good luck with that.
Him: We'll see. By God we'll both see.
Me: Or we won't. I gotta split, nice chatting with you.
Him: May God guide you if you're sincere.
Me: Yeah, sure.

With that, I left for home. The special pleading, circular logic and straight-up delusion was strong with this one. It just baffles me how this guy didn't even comprehend how he made special circumstances for his religion and couldn't see how these very same "miracles" are riddled in other religious stories. If you've seen one, you've seen them all, it seems.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Going Clear: a moment of clarity

I recently had the opportunity to watch the most excellent HBO documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Fear, directed and written by Alex Gibney and based on the book of Lawrence Wright.

What I took from it was the realization that Scientology truly is a religion and not just because it has tax-exempt status.

Looking at Scientology rationally and comparing it to, say, Catholicism, one can't help but see glaring similarities:

• Both religions indoctrinate their followers (Scientology has Sea Org and other institutions; Catholicism has catechism class/bible study)

• Both religions have leaders who judge your actions (Scientology has auditors and interviews; Catholicism has priests and confessions)

• Both religions lean oppressively on members for donations (Scientology makes you pay for each level you achieve; Catholicism's tithing requests 10% of your income)

• Both religions have one supreme earthly ruler (Scientology has David Muscavige, the chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center; Catholicism has the pope)

• Both religions experience legal trouble for their treatment of followers (Scientology has too many to list; Catholicism as WAY too many to list)

• And of course, both religions don't pay taxes in the United States. That is a crime for another post. I could go on, but the point is made.

The documentary was fairly thorough, and not really shocking to me. Why? For many reasons. First, I have broken free from indoctrination, so I am fully aware of some of the ridiculous things religions do. Plus, I live in the Tampa Bay area, home to one of the Scientology headquarters and I have heard/read of the many cruel and unusual practices of this church. So when one of the subjects talks about how Muscavige would literally beat certain followers into submission or imprison them for what he deemed unacceptable behavior, it doesn't surprise me at all.

I also worked as an editor for the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) for nearly 15 years, many of those spent in a heated battle with the church over the treatment of their followers, namely the late Lisa McPherson, who was a victim of negligent homicide at the hands of this church. The Times also played prominently in the documentary as its story of the church's former elders speaking out against the church was all part of this exposé. To say the least, I'm familiar with the evils of Scientology.

In fact, to see pretty much all that I had learned about this church over the years wasn't really shocking, but more like confirmation. Through my deconversion from Catholicism, I researched/studied many other religions, including a brief dabble into Scientology, because I felt I owed it to myself to see if there was something I was missing. When I learned of L. Ron Hubbard's scheme, the auditors, Xenu and thetans, I knew it was all bunk. The documentary only proved it.

But here's the thing: Only atheists can say it is bunk. Anyone who believes in any religion has no leg to stand on if they choose to poke fun at Scientology. Why is Scientology any less of a religion than Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Judaism?

Perhaps their rationale would be that they knew LRH was merely a science-fiction writer who invented his religion as a money-making scheme that preyed on the gullible. (Doesn't that sound a tad familiar?) Maybe it's because we have actual pictures and footage of this monster that makes his story and knowledge more terrestrial and less divine? Is it because this religion basically started in our lifetime so it must be fake?

Does religion become more plausible if you weren't alive to witness any of its preposterous claims? How is having a galactic overlord as part of a creation myth any more strange than having a deity in the sky who sends a spirit to Earth to impregnate a virgin, who will then give birth to the very god that sent the spirit in the first place, only to have him"sacrifice" himself to himself to forgive us of our sins?

Religion, to quote Christopher Hitchens, poisons everything. This documentary exposed Scientology for what it is: poison.

Nice job, Alex.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Don't sink to their level

When I was young, my mother would say, "Don't sink to their level," whenever kids were antagonizing me for whatever childish reason they could dream up at the time. But I had a great childhood, don't get me wrong, and this defense wasn't needed much.

So why am I reflecting today? This phrase often springs to mind when I read of other atheists struggling in their debates with theists. I don't mean to ignore theists or that they are below us. Instead, what I'm saying is, look at their argument first and decide if it even deserves refuting or addressing.

For instance, someone on the Thinking Atheist forum recently looked for help dealing with a theist who tried to explain how Adam lived to more than 900 years old. Their reasoning was that there was very little disease back then so people were much more pure and able to live longer. My mother once used this defense and believed it wholeheartedly. At the time, I tried to just use common sense to dissuade her from this thinking, but I quickly realized she was beyond help, as are most theists.

It was later on that I stepped back from this argument and realized I had been approaching it all wrong. Did I believe Adam lived 900-plus years? Of course not. But what I did believe in was evolution, which proves Adam didn't exist. Why expend any energy trying to prove someone didn't live 900 years when you can dismiss that person altogether? And that's what I mean by, "Don't sink to their level." Don't legitimize their argument by trying to refute it on their terms when you can just destroy the argument from another angle.

This basically works for most, if not all, Genesis arguments. Moses lived a few centuries? Nah, he didn't even exist. Noah lived 500 years and built an ark with a handful of unskilled family members? Nah, the Epic of Gilgamesh supersedes this plagiarized fable, so why argue it's impossible for him to build the ark? Or live that long for that matter? Don't sink to their level. It's the main reason scientists refuse to debate creationists, because they don't want to legitimize their ignorant looney worldview.