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
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.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Taking back Easter

Recently, some of my fellow Thinking Atheist forum members mentioned they liked my blog, so I felt like maybe I should start writing more frequently again. And what better time to start than on Easter afternoon?

The further I remove myself from religion, the more asinine the concept becomes, especially at this time of the year. When you listen to a Christian believer tell of the hoops they "must" jump through during Lent, it's painfully obvious that indoctrination could make anyone do anything, and THAT is why religion is so dangerous.

The period is kicked off by spreading palm ash in the shape of a cross on Christian foreheads. Then an invisible deity is made happy because his followers are forced to stop eating animal meat on Fridays. (As a quick aside, I invited my parents to my house this past Friday and we were going to make pasta and red sauce for them, but my wife said she couldn't make her sauce for them because she makes it with meat. I told her we should just remove the meat from the sauce when she's done, but she correctly assumed that still violated this rule because the juice of the meat would be in the sauce. Are you kidding me? By that rationale, my parents shouldn't be allowed to eat vegetables because the manure used to fertilize the crops came from the asses of cows.)

Also, apparently this god is ecstatic that my mother has stopped using Facebook for Lent. These comical edicts are meant to perpetrate the guilt complex as only religion can. You see, Jesus, if he existed, apparently spent 40 days fasting in the desert while dodging Satan's temptations. So if he did that (apparently) for his followers, the least they could do is make some mediocre sacrifice like giving up social media and hamburgers for a month.

I also learned just yesterday that years ago my wife had a confrontation with her then boss (she no longer works for him) on Easter Sunday. She used to work in a country club and was helping decorate the buffet line. She placed a really cute bunny on the table and when her boss saw it he grunted, "Get this piece of shit out of here!" My wife said, "A lot of kids will be here and isn't that what Easter is all about for them?" He just about lost it, telling her that's what's wrong with people these days, that Easter is not about eggs and bunnies but about Jesus, yada, yada, yada. He threw the bunny on the ground and told her she could keep it.

While at the time I wasn't as militant with my anti-theism as I am now, I really wish I was there when he pulled this shit. These arrogant ignoramuses have zero clue what Easter is and how it really became this holiday. Thousands of years before this Jesus fellow came on the scene, pagans celebrated the spring equinox. It's a time of renewal and fertility, of plants and crops coming back to life, not some Middle Eastern Jew zombie.

Even the Easter name is rooted in pagan lore as the goddess of spring and renewal is called Oestar (Scandinavian), Astarte (Phoenicians), Ishtar (Assyrians and Babylonians) and even in Europe she was known as Ostrara. These goddesses were celebrated on the vernal or spring equinox.

In many of these cultures, eggs (and even rabbits) represented fertility and birth, some even going so far as to decorate these eggs to represent the bright warm sun and the beautiful colors spring would bring forth. And why wouldn't eggs represent life? That's exactly what they are.

Whenever a holiday like this comes up, I can't help but wonder why theists don't see the direct correlation between their rituals and the ones that predate their religion. It's the timing and obvious themes that give them away, yet they would never accept these facts with the shroud of indoctrination holding their eyes shut. Compare the winter solstice and Saturnalia with Christmas, Ostara and the spring equinox with Easter.

Things die in the winter and are reborn again in the spring. It's not rocket science, just critical thinking. In fact, I like to think I've coined a phrase: Atheism is the use of critical thinking, theism is the use of hypocritical thinking.