Saturday, April 28, 2007

Why I May Seem So Strident

Well, I know that at least one other person has read my blog. It was an old friend of mine that I had not thought to hear from again that also happens to be a stunningly attractive woman. Anyway, her advice to me was to “be myself, but tone it down.” As it has been a while since I last posted anything, I thought I might make a reply to my gorgeous friend and other persons of faith who might be reading this, by expanding on why I may seem, at least to some, so strident. The following points are going to mainly apply to those that come from the Christian tradition. I will also make reference to items from the news and the history of Christianity which any person of Christian faith ought to be aware. This is entirely in the spirit of I Peter 3: 14-16, which admonishes believers to “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (KJV) As with anyone who maintains an opinion on any subject (be it the virgin birth or auto mechanics), if they are shown to be ignorant of basic facts and current events relevant to the opinion they hold, then their opinion is worthless. Additionally, if, after being told of the gaps in their knowledge, they persist in their point of view, they can justly be considered a fool.

I am going to address two general topics that touch on different aspects of why I come off the way I do.

1. The first topic is that of morality and public policy. First, we have to define what morality is and what it is not. Morality is about how we treat other human beings and how our actions affect their happiness and well-being in the here and now. By these criteria, turning a blind eye to injustice and human suffering is immoral. That said I will move on to a specific incident/example. According to recent news stories(1) the new vice-President of the National Association of Evangelicals came under fire from James Dobson (of Focus on the Family fame) for his efforts to get the Association to take a stand against our government’s use of torture and for environmental stewardship (caring for God’s creation and all that). Dobson’s (and other’s) justification for this criticism of the vice-President, Richard Cizik, was that it distracted the faithful from the pressing “moral” issues of “gay marriage” and abortion.

First off let me say that abortion is becoming a bona-fide, rationally-based moral issue. There is no evidence for the notion of souls in a Petri-dish and I have yet to hear a rational (i.e. no talk of immortal souls or of vague notions of “potential” allowed) argument as to in what possible sense a 3-day old blastocyst could be considered a “human life,” because first you would have to define (and defend) your definition of a “human life.” The reason that abortion is becoming a genuine moral issue is because of advancements in neonatal care that make it possible for babies delivered as early as 18 weeks premature to survive to the point where they can, at the very least, go home with the parents. If it would be considered murder to kill an 18 week premature baby in an incubator in a neonatal intensive care unit (I think we can all agree with that), I can imagine no moral or ethical argument that would permit the abortion of an otherwise healthy fetus, at the same stage of development as the one in the neonatal intensive care unit, carried by a healthy woman capable of safely (for both the mother and the fetus) carrying the baby to term. Please note the underlined portions, they are important and I will be merciless to those that quote me out of context.

Moving on, by what informed, well thought out, rational piece of moral reasoning are we to accept the assertion that “gay marriage” is a “moral” issue for society at large, but the systematic torture of human beings by agents of a supposedly enlightened democracy, i.e. the United States, is not a “moral” issue!!!??? In terms of civil law, marriage is a contract, like any other contract. Conservative Christians have as much a right to demand that the doctrinal dictates of their particular brand of Christianity regarding marriage and sexuality form part of civil law as Orthodox Jews have to demand that once Bar-Mitzvahed, a 13 year old male be considered an adult in the eyes of the law. Obviously, they have no such right.

The desire of two consenting adults that just happen to be of the same sex to form a personal, physical, economic, and legally binding relationship (which is what heterosexual marriage is in the eyes of the law) based on mutual love and respect harms no one in any rationally demonstrable way. While how the two people involved treat each other obviously has a moral dimension, it is not a “moral” issue for the general public at all. However, there is a word that describes what is going on when believers are afraid that the “god” that they believe in will become angry at them because of the personal choices of their neighbors that, by the way, do not believe as they do, and that apart from irrational psychological distress over “god’s wrath,” does no rationally demonstrable harm to the believer. The above behavior is best described by the term “pious,” in the sense of adherence to a specific religious tenet. The idea that one could be compelled by law, to act, in either word or deed, as though one subscribed to religious beliefs that one does not, in fact, subscribe to, is the absolute antithesis of the ideals upon which our nation was founded.

People that cannot make the distinction between moral/immoral actions, i.e. those actions which add or detract from, respectively, the real happiness, suffering, just treatment of, and well-being of our fellow human beings in the here-and-now, and pious actions, i.e. adherence to the demands of a particular religious tradition, are either self-deluded, intellectually dishonest, morally crippled, or all three, and I will continue to demand that they explain themselves whenever they open their mouths outside of houses of worship. My sense of personal, moral, and intellectual honesty (which are REAL moral virtues) demand no less of me.

2. I have a brother, whom I love and respect that is in the Army (I myself am retired Navy) and in September 2005, he got orders to Afghanistan and sent his children, who were being raised Catholic, to live with my parents for about a year. As I was in the same town and my parents are devout evangelical Protestants, I agreed to take my niece and nephew to Mass during that time. Because of my religious upbringing, I knew how to behave in a house of worship and knew many, but not all, of the hymns. In fact, I enjoyed singing those hymns that I fondly remembered from my childhood, and I still do, in the same sense that I enjoy singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” even though I know Rudolph is not real, and with the traditional hymns, unlike “Rudolph,” the music and the cadence of the songs are often very moving. This was fall 2005, and the controversy regarding the historicity of The DaVinci Code was going strong. For several weeks during that fall, there were announcements of classes and workshops devoted to debunking the claims in The DaVinci Code using the tools of legitimate historical inquiry. I found this utterly laughable and the height of arrogant, pious hypocrisy. The DaVinci Code belongs to the same genre of fiction as do the works of James Michener or Tom Clancy, where the authors take known events, situations, or technologies and extrapolate from them, with some authors extrapolating more than others. The idea that the history of Christianity, which has played a tremendous role in the history of Western civilization, is somehow off-limits to writers of historical/extrapolative fiction is arrogant beyond belief. Believers are just fine with the Left Behind series, but not the The DaVinci Code? I guess they do not object when the fiction is in accord with their beliefs but if it is contrary to their beliefs then that constitutes a form of blasphemy. What blatant hypocrisy!!!! What a double standard!!!!

This is, however, just the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg. The second species of hypocrisy at work here is the fact that believers are quite happy to use the tools of legitimate historical inquiry to attack ideas they do not agree with, but how do you think they would react to having the same tools applied to a critical examination of their core beliefs? They would cry foul to high heaven (pun intended).

Let’s go ahead and apply some of those tools to an examination of the life and work of the apostle Paul. Most scholars agree(2) that the earliest epistle of Paul, the book of Galatians, dates from about 48 C.E. to no later than 55 C.E. The first Gospel to be written was that of Mark, sometime between the late 60’s or early 70’s C.E.(3), likely after the death of Paul in 67 C.E.(4), in Rome during Nero’s persecution of Christians. The writings of Paul, as well as Luke, the likely author of the Acts of the Apostles(5), assert that he knew, first hand, those who knew Jesus while he was alive and yet, the only events in the life of Jesus mentioned by Paul are his crucifixion, death, and resurrection! No parables, no sayings, no virgin birth, no shepherds in the fields, no Magi, no nothing. This is suspicious and makes me think that perhaps the details of Jesus's life we made up, after the fact, after Christianity was on the rise. Were such arguments and evidence as Christians commonly trot out for the "historical reality" of Christ, presented, despite the hurdles to credibility I just mentioned, in a scholarly paper in a subject other than religion, would get one hounded out of the history department as a moron were it not for the exaggerated and misguided respect paid to “religion.” I utterly reject the notion that there are two sets of rules for determining the veracity of a claim, one for religious claims and one for profane, i.e. non-religious, claims.

One last piece of advice, don’t allow your faith to write checks your intellect can’t cash. You will feel embarrassed and others will think you a fool.

References

(1) http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=6&hid=15&sid=99677cca-7126-410c-9ad5-bce7e82195e6%40SRCSM1

http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=4&sid=ed2f075f-5b1c-4a87-8a98-6031193657c3%40sessionmgr9

http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=12&sid=76dd6f45-947d-4683-a06a-8260165e59aa%40sessionmgr9

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_of_Tarsus

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mark

(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_of_Tarsus

(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_the_Apostles

An Open Letter to Believers

We all have a right to our opinion and the right to voice it. As a thinking human being, I have a duty to evaluate the opinions that come my way (as well as the people who espouse them) on their merits. By this I mean that if I voice an opinion on say, economics or history, I then have, having voiced an opinion, a duty to defend my opinion through reasoned, rational argument supported by objective, testable facts and evidence, and relevant knowledge or expertise (in other words, one not need be a Ph.D. in a particular field, sometimes an extremely well-informed layperson will do just fine). Furthermore, (and this is where the part about evaluating the people who hold the opinions in question, whatever they may be, comes in), if the arguments and evidence on which my opinions are based FAILS to withstand the critical scrutiny of adequately informed opposing parties, I have a duty to acknowledge defeat. Should I continue to espouse a particular opinion after I have been made aware of its shortcomings and refuse to acknowledge its defeat because my opinion supports an underlying irrational belief which I am unwilling to change despite any, no matter how compelling, evidence to the contrary, then I can expect to be fairly, and justly, labeled a fool and possibly a hypocrite.

In this great country of ours, no beliefs or opinions are out of bounds for questioning, religious beliefs included. There are too many sadly misinformed (or just plain intellectually blind) people who believe that the United States (the country) was founded upon “Christian” ideals. Our country, and its form of government, was in truth, founded upon the ideals of the 17th and 18th century European Enlightenment, which was itself part of a larger period now known as the Age of Reason, both of which emphasized a rational (i.e. naturalistic), empirical basis for science, art, literature, morality and ethics, as well as for government.

I will grant that many of the first settlers in America fled religious persecution back home, wherever home may have been. But sadly, once they got here, they immediately continued to perpetuate the very intolerance they had originally fled. Of course with them being on the majority side this time, they found that being in the majority position was too big a temptation (what’s that saying about power corrupting?) What a difference suddenly finding oneself in the majority makes in ones perception of good and evil, right and wrong!. Thank God that such people played no part in the founding of our form of government or in the writing of our Constitution (by the way, the irony of my invoking God was intentional). Most religious conservatives seem to fail to make a distinction between the leaders of the puritanical witch-hunters of the Massachusetts Bay colony (which is where Ronald Reagan got his "shining city on a hill" phrase from, and which was in fact, a reflection of the Puritans' desire to build in the New World, the "New Jerusalem" spoken of in the end-time prophesies in the Bible) and the leaders of the Constitutional Convention, men the likes of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and James Madison. While Thomas Jefferson did not attend the convention as he was at that time our ambassador to France, of all the state constitutions which influenced the writing of the national Constitution, Virginia’s Constitution, to which Jefferson was a major contributor, was one of the most influential. Specifically, Jefferson authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and on which the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is based.

Here is a partial quote from the text of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain (emphasis mine, meaning that their beliefs are not somehow “off limits” and that others are free to question them), their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

Section 3 declares "...that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights (emphasis mine, to point out that they are NOT divinely ordained, and to which I will provide a clue to Jefferson’s own thoughts on the issue in a moment) of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right."

I have included some more quotes that shed light on this common misunderstanding of our history:

Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

In conclusion, I wish to make a reply to the charge of arrogance, to which people of my intellectual and philosophical bent are often subjected. I endeavor not to have “beliefs,” but rather, to have “conclusions,” which have a connotation of being based on evidence, and which the term “belief” does not.

I only profess and maintain those assertions which I feel I have sufficient objective, testable evidence to support. This is, I feel, the very opposite of arrogance, and is often called humility. To put it in language suitable for the more simple-minded, I am humble enough to not to have beliefs which I cannot prove, or at the very least, argue plausibly for. I am also willing to change those conclusions or beliefs in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. Those who maintain belief in things that lack supporting evidence, or have been credibly falsified, who feels that no matter what the evidence to the contrary, they are right and everyone else is wrong, they are the ones who are arrogant. Those who blithely use computers, without which the rules and equations of quantum mechanics that govern the behavior of CD lasers and semi-conductor chips, would not work, and yet simultaneously maintain that those same equations and rules when applied to the beginnings of the universe are somehow invalid, they are ARROGANT. Those who get their yearly flu shots, which are based on projections of the year-to-year EVOLUTION of the influenza virus, yet simultaneously maintain that those same rules of population genetics do not and cannot apply to higher organisms are ARROGANT. To be quite blunt, who the hell are they, having no particular expertise or relevant knowledge of the field in question, to say that they know where the lines between where our knowledge applies and where it does not, ought to drawn? That is to me the very height of ARROGANCE and HYPOCRISY.

Arguing with a "True Believer"

Introduction

I would like to take this opportunity to address some frequently encountered arguments used whenever believers are attempting to convert a non-believer. I am doing this in the somewhat forlorn hope that having disposed of the arguments of the faithful here, they will actually take them onboard and non-believers will not encounter them again. But of course, who am I kidding? At the very least, when such believers roll out the same old arguments non-believers can have the pleasure of pointing out that it has been addressed elsewhere and telling them to shut up and move on.

A note about “respect”

Before I begin, I want to say a word about “respect,” and what it means in a supposedly rational, democratic, enlightened society. I feel this is necessary because invariably, some who read this will feel that their beliefs are not being “respected” in the way they feel they should. Five minutes of web surfing will show that there are any number of “weird” beliefs out there. Two easy examples are Holocaust denial and Elvis conspiracies. I will be the first to admit that people have every right hold these beliefs and to argue for them, and in that narrow sense I “respect” their right to their beliefs. Another sense of the word “respect” that comes into play when used in the context of ideas or opinions means to “defer to,” to “hold in esteem,” or to grant weight or credibility to, the content of an idea or proposition based on the idea’s or proposition’s ability to withstand critical scrutiny. In the case of Holocaust denial and Elvis conspiracies, I have no respect for the content of those ideas at all. I am reminded of Martin Luther King’s memorable phrase from his “I have a Dream” speech where he expresses his hope that one day his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."1 Just as individual human beings deserve to judged by the “content of their character,” so too ought their opinions and beliefs be judged by their contents and if necessary, mistakes, errors, fallacies pointed out and corrected.

The evil consequences of “atheism”

While many believers will admit, though somewhat reluctantly, that Christianity is guilty of excesses and atrocities in the past such as witch hunts, Inquisitions, and the Crusades, they are quick to point out the purported bloody excesses of “atheism” in the 20th Century. Commonly flouted examples are:

1. National Socialism and Evolution in Germany, c.a. 1930-1945 (Nazis)
2. The “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkan states following the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe c.a. 1991-1999.
3. Stalinist Russia
4. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, c.a. 1976-1979

Nazi anti-Semitism, Evolution, and Balkan “ethnic cleansing”

Of these four examples, I will first address numbers 1 and 2 due to the common elements these two share to the exclusion of numbers 3 and 4.
Nazi Anti-Semitism and Evolution

Hitler frequently used the language and rhetoric of Christianity and on at least one well known occasion, in Mein Kampf, favorably compared himself to the image of Jesus driving the money-changers from the Temple, saying that Jesus "made no secret of his attitude toward the Jewish people, and when necessary he even took the whip to drive from the temple of the Lord this adversary of all humanity, who then as always saw in religion nothing but an instrument for his business existence. In return, Christ was nailed to the cross." Later in Mein Kampf he wrote: "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."2

Hitler was not alone in his anti-Semitism either. Anti-semitism in Europe had deep roots, all pointing back to the earliest days of the Christian Church when, especially in the eyes of the Roman authorities, the Christians were merely an offshoot of Judaism.3 Given the trouble the Jews gave the Romans, after a certain point, the early Christians were eager to differentiate themselves from Judaism proper. This desire to differentiate themselves from Judaism (and thus be spared Roman reprisals against the Jews) may have been one of the reasons that Christians chose to celebrate “the Lord’s Day” as Sunday, the day Christ was said to have risen from the dead, rather than Saturday, the traditional Jewish Sabbath. 4

This hostility towards Jews on the part of some Christians did not begin to wane until the advent of “Dispensational Restorationism,” which was a subset of beliefs surrounding the Dispensationalist movement starting around 1820 in England. Dispensational Restorationism made the fate of the Jewish people an essential part of Christian eschatology and essential to the unfolding of “God’s Plan” for the “end times.” Because of this, many Christian sects took an active interest in the welfare of Jews. In the interest of intellectual honestly, a trait which is not shared by many Christians today, I will say that this likely helped to offset the harm to Jewish people done by other Christians who still thought of them as “Christ killers.” 5

I will freely admit that, in his private life, Hitler was not in any recognizable sense, a “Christian,” but Hitler’s private beliefs are not the point. The point is that he was able to reconcile his racist dogma and “Christianity” to the extent that the German people bought into his ideas and were able to square it with their Christian beliefs. Note that the ideas of Dispensational Restorationism came mainly out of England and were never that big in Germany, which was still largely Catholic or “old-school” protestant, so Dispensational Restorationism was not much of an impediment to the Germans falling for Hitler’s rhetoric, “hook, line, and sinker.”
Religionists also like to bring up Hitler’s invocation of Darwin, mostly in the context of attempting to discredit evolution – a kind of “guilt by association.” To Hitler, tying his racist ideas to Darwinian evolution was merely just one more of the many rhetorical devices he used to sell his notions of racial superiority. From childhood, he was raised and confirmed as a Catholic, so he almost certainly absorbed the anti-Semitism from his religious education and practice long before he ever heard of Darwin or Evolution by Natural Selection. Hitler’s “Darwinism” was even more of a caricature of Darwinian Evolution than his “Christianity” was a caricature of common Christianity. This leads me to the important point that anti-Semitism was very much a part of the German religious and cultural milieu in which he spent his youth. Believers’ entire argument for the Darwin-Nazi connection is a complete logical fallacy known as “unstated major premise” which happens “when one makes an argument which assumes a premise which is not explicitly stated.”6 In this case, the unstated premise is that an acceptance of Evolution by Means of Natural Selection, as explicated by Darwin, is either a sufficient or necessary cause of racism is patently absurd! For thousands of years of human history there have always been ethnic/national groups that felt that they had a special place/destiny in the Universe, like Yahweh’s personal favorites (drum roll please!)…the children of Israel! It is blatantly and obviously false that the acceptance of Darwinian evolution leads to racism or horrible crimes of genocide. The only reason Hitler was able to murder 5-6 million Jews from the late 1930’s through 1945 is technology (i.e. gas chanbers, etc)! If the ancient Israelites had 20th century technology, they would have piously slaughtered not just Canaanites, but everyone else on the planet if they could have, merely because Yahweh said they were his special race. Or what would the Middle East look like today had the pious "Christian" Crusaders had access to 20th century weapons and technology. The realization that, through a slow process of Evolution, we are related to every other living thing on this earth, is not required for such horrors, but an absolute belief that you are right, and everyone else is wrong and therefore damned, certainly is.

Race-based slavery in the United States ended (in 1864) only after Darwin published his “Origin of Species” (in 1859), and prior to the abolition of slavery in the United States, slave owners found much of their justification for slavery in the Bible. Granted, there were also biblical passages that were used by abolitionists, but that proves nothing, one could also find equally nice, or nasty, passages in the Iliad, but we no longer worship Zeus, does that mean we should start? Therefore, the religious elements of the militant anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany was not much of stretch when the starting point is the Christian anti-Semitism (and general racism) of a Germany and Austria attempting to come to grips with the humiliating terms forced upon it in the Treaty of Versailles and quite eager to find, in an ironic twist, a scapegoat. 7 I do not want to ever hear it said that the atrocities of Nazi Germany were somehow motivated by “atheism” or “evolutionism.”


Ethnic Cleansing

Item number 2, “ethnic cleansing,” is a blatant misnomer. The Balkan conflict was religious in nature, pitting Muslims (Islamists), Serbs (Orthodox Christians), and Croats (Roman Catholics) against each other. Under Communist rule, these three groups had been intermarrying for years because their religions, which would have normally prevented such “ecumenical” behaviors, were made a “non-issue” by their communist overlords. When communism fell, age-old religiously motivated hatreds were brought back to the fore and the fighting broke out, often ripping families apart along religious lines.

Ideological Absolutism

Numbers 1 through 4 above are all related by what I will call “ideological absolutism.” This is any belief, religious or not, which claims to have an absolute lock on the TRUTH, forever and for all time. “We are absolutely right and therefore anyone who is not like us or does not believe as we do is damned, whether here or in some hereafter.”

The “Prove you love your _________" argument.

When confronted with the lack of any real evidence of God’s existence, a favorite riposte from believers is to challenge the non-believer to “Prove you love your ___________.” (fill in the blank with spouse, children, parents, dog, goldfish, etc.) This is a bait-and-switch of the sort only a moron (or was that a Mormon?) would make. The debate started with God’s existence, and somehow segued to how the non-believer feels about their loved ones. An argument-ending reply is to say something like “We were talking about God’s existence; I can, by DNA analysis, prove the existence of, and my genetic relationship to, my parents, children, and, through millions of years of evolution, even to the dog and goldfish. I asked you to prove the existence of God, not if you ‘love’ it. If that is the best argument you can mount, game over!”


The supposed “arrogance” of atheists

A frequent charge leveled against atheists is that of arrogance. How is it arrogant to, paraphrasing Thomas Henry Huxley, assert the truth of a proposition only to the degree that is warranted by the evidence for said proposition? That sounds more like modesty or humility to me. The ones who are arrogant are those who immodestly claim to be absolutely certain of their beliefs in the face of a deficit of confirmatory evidence and/or a prodigious amount of disconfirming evidence.

Conclusions

As non-believers, we must not let believers continue to trot out these idiotic arguments and go unchallenged. Nor do we have any more of an obligation to be nice or respectful of religionist beliefs than we do of the holocaust denier’s beliefs. These people need to be challenged whenever they publicly advocate that their believes be part of public policy. This does not mean that we need to resort to ad hominem attacks, but pointing out the unreason and subtle biases contained in someone else’s argument is not an ad hominem attack; they may feel as though they have been personally attacked and made to feel stupid, but that is their problem, not ours.


References

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_have_a_dream

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler%27s_religious_beliefs

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti_Semitism

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday#Sunday_and_the_Sabbath

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supersessionism#Restorationism

6. http://www.theskepticsguide.org/logicalfallacies.asp

7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scapegoat

How I Became an Atheist

My parents were very loving, very devout, evangelical Christians. Though not overbearingly dogmatic, they were very credulous regarding the literal reading of the Bible, including the Creation narrative, and this of course, rubbed off on me, at least initially. They were not terribly well-educated, nor big on critically examining their own beliefs, but to their great credit, they were readers. There was always something to read around our house and by their example, they encouraged my siblings and I to do the same. In time, I became a voracious reader. Despite their religious convictions, they never tried to sensor what I read.

Juxtaposed to my conservative, religious upbringing, I was a bright, inquisitive kid with a profound interest in science. I was the sort of child who would lay outside at night in a sleeping bag, Dad’s binoculars, and books about the stars and just gaze in wonder for hours. I went through phases where I believed in ghosts, Bigfoot, and UFO’s, but deep down inside I was always a skeptical, critical thinker. As an example, in my teens, when I was curious about sex (i.e., contemplating having sex with my first girlfriend), I went to our copy of the World Book Encyclopedia and looked up the answers to my questions about how a woman can become pregnant and how the menstrual cycle works. While becoming sexually active at a relatively young age was probably not a great idea (ya think?), the fact that, rather than relying on my peers, or for that matter, equally ignorant adults, for (mis)information about sex, I instead sought out a credible source of information, certainly bode well for my intellectual development. Unfortunately, I lacked the requisite mathematical aptitude to study science academically, at least until I was in my early 20’s, when the “math light” finally came on for me.

I devoured books about science, but like a good little Christian boy, I assiduously avoided anything that talked about that godless “evil-ution” stuff. Past a certain point though, I could not avoid the references to evolution in my reading because evolution in general is everywhere in nature, and the idea is not limited to just Darwinian Evolution in biology and if I continued my practice of avoidance of evolution, I would run out of reading materials.

So I kept on reading science, confident that my “faith” could withstand the challenge, but over the space of several years, I became convinced that the creationist arguments and evidence were completely without merit. Not only was my faith destroyed, but I was morally outraged at the deliberate lies being told by creationists to bolster their case, the same sort of tactics used by the tobacco industry to dispute claims that smoking was harmful to one's health. Such intellectual dishonesty ran counter to what I took from the morals I brought up with. My new found skepticism was not limited to just biblical creationism as I re-examined everything I once thought I was certain of, and bit by bit my faith drained away.

Another thing that contributed to my “conversion” to atheism, again from an early age, was the realization of the extremely superficial nature of the “morality” of believers. I call this the problem one of “bumper sticker” morality. Growing up, I remember singing songs like:

“Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black or white
They are precious in His sight”

I took these words to heart and was really disturbed when the son of the pastor of our church casually referred to Native Americans as “rezzers” and African Americans as “darkies.” I distinctly remember thinking, “What happened to ‘Red and yellow, black or white, They are precious in His sight?’” This was profoundly troubling to me. Recently in a conversation with a believer, I related the above to which they replied, “If a hypocrite stands between you and God, they are closer to God than you are.” I have in fact, seen that phrase on a bumper sticker (or perhaps a coffee mug, or was it a refrigerator magnet?). I think that sort of sentiment is morally repugnant and is an attempt to evade being morally accountable for ones own hypocrisy or to avoid holding a fellow believer to account for his or her hypocrisy.

This simplistic “bumper sticker” morality is endemic to Christianity today. For some strange reason, believers seem convinced, and wish to convince others, that pithy sayings or slogans are a credible substitute for thoughtful, reasoned, and informed consideration of the deep, profound moral issues affecting our complex world. The common run of humanity would rather feel certain of what they believe than actually find out whether or not they are right and to actually reason out thorny moral dilemmas for themselves would force them to confront their own fears and uncertainties, or if you will, demons (though these are of the psychological kind, not the supernatural kind). I am not impressed, nor swayed, by such superficial morality.

Under Constuction

Finals are over May 11th, then it is off to the Bay Area to see my children, then I will transfer old posts from my Windows Live blog and create new ones.