Archive for July, 2011

Why I am not Christian Anymore

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on July 29, 2011 by RWZero

I’ve been avoiding it, but I think it’s time I put this in a nutshell. I could write endless pages about this, but I won’t do that here. I can deal with a lot of uncertainty and grey areas. But I can’t swallow the main points, and that’s all there is to it.

– The scientific consensus (and there is incontrovertible, overwhelming evidence for it) is that this universe came into existence a long time ago. We human beings evolved from lower forms of animals. We have been around for a five or six-figure number of years, depending on how you define it. There has always been death, suffering, and killing, and the Jews did not come into the picture until just a few thousand years ago. I do not know why any of this all happened. But if Christianity were true, I would expect God to be there at the beginning of humanity’s existence (not thousands upon thousands of generations later), and I would expect him to have made a good and perfect world with human beings who can be perfect (because Jesus is supposed to be fixing something that is broken). But God didn’t reveal himself in prehistory, the world has always been full of death and suffering, and no human ever had a choice to avoid this “sinful nature” we’re in. Furthermore, we had to figure these things out ourselves using science. Nobody told us. This doesn’t mean there is no purpose to the universe, but I’ve decided that this fundamentally does not fit with the Christian story.

– God is invisible. Christianity talks about a personal God. When I close my eyes and pray, I just hear my own mind echoing off the walls of my skull. I know how to feed myself answers and pretend that I am communicating with God, but I am not. If Yahweh and Jesus are personal, then I expect that they would communicate with us. But we know (as above) that God did not speak to people openly in the past, and he has never spoken to me. This does not mean there is no God, but Christianity suggests that God is personal, and spoke to people directly and that he spoke to humans at large in the past.

– The Bible is wrong about too many things. Many stories in the Old Testament definitely didn’t happen, most of them almost certainly didn’t happen, and the Jews back then didn’t even know what happened to them when they died.  There is a book in the Old Testament about how life is meaningless. There are comparatively few traces of Israel in the ancient world except for a few scraps from the United Monarchy. It is distinctly possible that the Jews evolved from the Canaanites, and that worship of Yahweh evolved from Canaanite polytheism (or at least got mixed in with it for a while).  The whole thing is just not what happened. The Old Testament is a bunch of dubious, ancient stories that are similar to the ancient religious stories of other cultures. This doesn’t mean it’s worthless, but it does not look like the Word of God one bit.

– The New Testament is good quality, but the fact is that the authors were willing to make things up. Two of the authors fabricated Jesus’ birth story to make the Bethlehem prophecies fit into place. There are miraculous stories mixed into the middle that are clearly made up (Satan flying Jesus around and tempting him – this is clearly invented because of the type of pattern it follows, the fact that Jesus would probably not have told the story around a campfire upon returning, and the fact that the presumably earlier version of this story, in Mark, includes no such details). If they were willing to make things up, then they were willing to make the ending up. This does not mean that Jesus was not missing from his tomb or presumed resurrected; it just means that nobody necessarily wrote down what really happened. Jesus is big… but four short stories about his life are not enough to account for the three points above.

– Christianity requires you to believe in eternal bliss in heaven with God for Christians, and eternal torment in hell for non-Christians (presumably those who do not “believe in Jesus”). People who don’t believe that “Jesus was the Son of God” are quite likely to burn eternally. Forever and ever. Torture for trillions upon trillions of years for billions and billions of people (most people you know), and that’s just the beginning–for not being forgiven of a “sinful nature” that God created them with during their short time on earth. A “sinful nature” that he intentionally gave to all 100 billion of us since the beginning of time (and didn’t tell most people about). If you turn off all the lights in your house, lie on your bed and think about this, without anything else in the world to distract you or make you think about tomorrow, you will realize that this is absolutely mental. I don’t even want to go to that kind of heaven for all eternity. And what about hell! Pretty much nobody acts, or is capable of acting, as if it is true. This does not mean there is no consciousness after death, but I’m almost certain that nobody will be roasting (or rotting, or quivering in darkness with “metaphorical” flames) for all eternity.

This is really all there is to it. I could raise a million other objections about what happens to dead babies, personality changes due to brain damage, memory loss, continuity of self, the souls of chimps, the eternal destiny of Homo habilis, the fact that Jesus didn’t come back immediately as seems to be implied, etc. But those aren’t the core issues. The core issue is that Christianity tells me about a personal God who speaks to humans, worked through a chosen people, left us his written Word, created us for a loving relationship with him, sent his son to redeem our fallen state, and gives eternal life to those who accept his gift. But the Christian God doesn’t speak to me, there were no Jews until very recently, the Bible is mostly wrong about everything, people are not and were not born with knowledge of God, we did not fall from grace because the world was always full of suffering and “sin,” and we only need his eternal life because he created us to die.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, and I recognize this. I can accept that there are answers I don’t have–but Christianity rests upon the answers it claims to have to a few big questions: and all those answers do not work. What’s left when you clear those away? It’s just believing in “something more,” being selfless, asking for forgiveness, going to church and being kind. It isn’t Christianity anymore. So that means I’m not a Christian anymore.

More on the CFI

Posted in Faith Experience on July 29, 2011 by RWZero

I visited atheist church again tonight for a book club discussion of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. There were about 14 people there.

I had to admit, it felt like church. It felt like church small group, except with more knit brows and less agreement. There was the guy with the emotional-sounding voice who spoke poetically but didn’t say anything of substance. There was the guy who commented but wasn’t too sure of himself. There were the people trying to show off their knowledge of the book, and the other books that have been written about this book. There was that feeling of frustration at people not really talking about the core issues.

Mostly, I just tried to stir the pot and raise the bigger issues.

I’ve come to believe that most of the round-table conversations we have are not actually about the ideas we’re discussing–they’re about showing off our pedantry, feeling intellectual, feeling like part of a community, and all sorts of other things.

On a side note, most of the people who I’ve seen at atheist church so far look incredibly worn out by the world. They look like life has just sucked the juices right out of them.

Looking into it

Posted in The Narrow Path on July 25, 2011 by RWZero

Some people tell me, upon my raising some point about the Bible, or the beginning of the world, that they “haven’t had time to look into it.” Then they tell me there isn’t time to know all these things, which is why there are experts.

Excuse me?

You have seen hundreds of movies. You can rattle off the lyrics to hundreds of songs. You have watched thousands of Internet videos of cats in funny positions. You have read Wikipedia articles on everything else in the world. On Saturday you played Settlers of Catan with your friends. The next day you had sushi, and a birthday party. You’ve gone camping. You’ve traveled to foreign countries. You’ve read thick fantasy books, learned about medieval times, gone to Wonderland, and practiced an instrument to a high level of proficiency. You have plans, plans and more plans for fun times, fun times and more fun times. But you haven’t had time to look into the things that you’ve based your entire life on–to learn all the basic facts about them.

Yeah, right. You have had more than enough time to look into everything. There are only two possibilities: you don’t care to, or you’re afraid to.

The Cage

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on July 23, 2011 by RWZero

We are in a cage, you and I.

There is only one cage for all of us. There is only one truth about the world, and of all the billions of us who have lived, with all their divergent views, only a handful could have possibly known it (and it is my present belief that none actually knew, nor do any know).

I’m not stuck in here with you. You’re stuck in here with me.

Consider this, though. Every thought you have takes place in this existence, through your own consciousness. There are no thoughts that you can think that do not demand that the world be as it is. Put simply, suppose that you belong to a religion, and that your religion is false. It is nonetheless a fact that your religion–and all your personal beliefs, in fact– could not have existed without this world in which they are false.

This has always been strange to me. It is the reason why we ask: how can a meaningless world specifically give rise to the desire for meaning? How can a godless world be necessary for the idea of God? This has been used as an argument for meaning and the existence of something like God. I do find those arguments compelling. But the fact is that this universe also specifically endows us with the resources to believe things that are not true about it. Every time you think a thought, you are only thinking what you have been specifically permitted (and perhaps forced) to think.

Strange indeed.

Deity for a Day

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on July 17, 2011 by RWZero

I do not want to turn this into a steady trickle of complaints about Christians and Christianity, since I do not think that is (necessarily) helpful, but there are some things that bothered and confused me even many years into the past, and I just see now as a good time to express them.

Why is it that people who pray to the Christian God portray him as more whimsical, less reasonable, and just plain more childish than the best of us human adults, who he is supposed to have created?

I can recall many times thinking “Oh no, if I behave in such and such a way, God might…” or “I hope God won’t judge me too harshly for…” or “I’m afraid that God is going to…” or “I understand, God was just trying to tell me that…” but this is just insane. God is supposed to know your mind inside out; he is supposed to be the omnipotent and all-powerful Creator, and Christians play mind games with him like he’s a spoiled teenager who has been granted the throne of the emperor for a day (and while he’s up there, we have to play his way). There are a lot of humans on earth who are far more reasonable, intelligent, sincere and straightforward than the day-to-day portrayals of the Christian God. Is it really a coincidence that these portrayals come from whimsical, and often unreasonable, people?

Why so many utterances of “we can’t understand his ways,” followed by detailed explanations and lectures on his ways?

Why is God is never any smarter than the person who is talking about him?

Isolation, Sublimation, Distraction, Anchoring

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on July 16, 2011 by RWZero

I have a favourite philosopher, a Norwegian whose name was Peter Wessel Zapffe. He was one of the only philosophers, even among the existentialists, who seems to have felt (and explicitly written about) what I’ve felt. He does not merely talk about meaninglessness, anxiety, anomie, and so forth–he talks about “cosmic panic.” This is precisely the correct word: panic. Sheer and unadulterated panic.

I cannot recall how much I’ve written about what I experienced over the past year, especially in the winter, but it is a severe understatement to call it “existential dread, anxiety, nausea, etc.” I cannot even describe the moments that it was at its worst.

It was suddenly as if I realize that, for my entire life–every second of it–I had been asleep, and had awoken in a locked and burning room. Every strange detail of my life up until then–the chance appearance of smoke and fire in my dreams–was explained. You can never go back to sleep: even if you do, you will dream of the fire, and awake again. You can never escape the room, because it is locked tight.

As you read these words (and you probably ask yourself, occasionally, why you come back here to read these things that I write), you may think of this as something that happened, and is happening, to me. But in fact, this is about what is happening to you right now.

Zapffe outlined four methods that he believed human beings use to remedy panic.

Isolation is the focusing of all one’s thoughts and energy on a single idea.

Distraction is the complete and arbitrary dismissal of thoughts from one’s mind (“one should not think, it is just confusing”)

Anchoring is the prime method that Zapffe believed most humans use to avoid panic. It is picking a fixed point in the “liquid fray of consciousness” in order to focus one’s attentions in a consistent manner. It may be becoming “successful.” It may be spreading the gospel. It may be getting a doctorate. In many cases, it is simply “the next thing.” In the fall I will attend university. Next year I will become licensed. One day I will have my own practice. He notes, as a good psychoanalyst, that the purpose of making a fortune is not the fortune itself, but the enormous opportunities for anchoring. This is why people do not give up seeking fortune when they have made millions of dollars.

Sublimation is a direct effort to convert the very problem into the purpose, perhaps by discussing it or writing about it. He writes, in his essay, “the present essay is a typical example of sublimation. The author does not suffer. He is filling pages, and is going to be published in a journal.”

I believe that Zapffe was right about this. I have inadvertently stumbled across the anchoring points–and the private religions–of countless friends and acquaintances. I do not claim exemption.

Zapffe warned that perhaps one of the most dangerous things to do is to pick an anchoring point, and discover that it is “false.” For this reason, I believe, our individual justifications for living are often a central feature of our lives, fiercely defended, or they are held high above the heads of others, unfalsifiable by argument and evidence, and perhaps never revealed at all.

Anxiety

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on July 12, 2011 by RWZero

It’s been almost a year and I still feel anxious and sick lots of the time.

My stomach is always tight. All the muscles in my abdomen are always clenched. I can never totally focus on what I’m doing at work.

I can’t go to a doctor about this. I did in the fall, when it was really bad, but I didn’t explain why.

“Sir, existence causes me chronic anxiety; I was wondering if you could prescribe me anything.”

There are a few things that would probably distract/occupy me enough to make it go away, but I just can’t see how to I’m going to get there. I’m not sure what to do.