(When we become the “arrogant atheist” stereotype) Are we not better than this?

Recently I was invited to join a “PrayerWorks” Facebook group. At first I was a little surprised. I had a look, and saw a pinned post asking for more moderators because of the number of atheists “trolling” the group. Otherwise there were the usual “inspirational” messages with typical “Amen” responses, but also loads of comments by atheists. And many posts by atheists.

Eventually I figured out what was going on… It seems to be a group run by atheists, one that has sucked theist members in, people who think they are participating in a normal Christian group. Of course that invites the usual false dilemma (If you don’t worship my god, you follow my devil – after all there is nothing else right?).

Are we not better than this?

Sure, theists join our atheist groups and proselytize there. But this is different. When they do so, they come from a place of extreme ignorance. It’s like the ignorant missionaries who go to other countries and disturb the last of the indigenous undisturbed people to teach them about Jesus, exposing the uncontacted tribes to all manner of diseases… The folks who infiltrate atheist groups think that such places are some sort of final frontier, a last bastion of heathens who have never heard of [insert religious savior here] where they can go to teach us about Jesus. They’re not “normal” Christians… They are a rare breed of brainwashed imbeciles with profound ignorance of their choosing, ignorance surpassed only by their sense of self-importance and pride which they, without any sense of irony at all, call humility.

When they infiltrate the atheist groups and find people more knowledgeable about their own religion than they are, the Dunning Kruger effect prevents them from seeing reality. In reality of course, atheists are either people who have rejected religion through careful thought and consideration (and knowledge of what religion is), or people who have been brought up irreligious and not been indoctrinated to begin with. Either way, preaching to us about Jesus isn’t going to achieve anything other than being annoying. Religion is something that the one type has already rejected, and will seem absurd to the other, as absurd as trying to convince adults that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real and hang out with the Tooth Fairy for barbecues over weekends.

We have no such excuse.

Anyway, it’s just my opinion. I think there is a time and a place for debate, as well as a time and place for mockery. But we don’t need to go out of our way to taunt these people who are happy in their delusions, and honestly… the type of people in that group… will never see reason.

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On the assumptions and arrogance of the argument from morality

I’m tired. Tired of seeing articles trending weekly where preachers claim that atheists have no morals because they don’t believe in god. I’ve written about this several times but was thinking it would be good to tackle it yet again, and hopefully produce something I can link to next time someone mindlessly repeats this argument.

In case you don’t know, the argument from morality is the argument that all morals come from god, and this supposedly proves that god exists. Of course to make the argument, you must first assume that god exists and then go from there, but that’s not the worst part. Theists who make this argument normally switch it around and claim that atheists don’t have morals.

So… let’s examine it logically, but instead of doing what religious apologists who make this argument do, which is to assume implicitly that their god exists, make some points that don’t add up, and then conclude what they assumed up-front, let’s do this in a syllogism that’s a little more honest, and actually state the assumptions as premises, state the inference that those premises lead to, and then sincerely ask if the world behaves as this syllogism tells us it does…

  1. Premise one: Assume god exists.
  2. Premise two: Assume god is the source of absolute objective morality.
  3. Premise three: Assume that somehow we are all bound (magically?) by this objective morality.
  4. Premise four: Assume that god also created free will, and that because of this free will, we may choose not to be moral.
  5. Conclusion: If all the above is true, we can infer that this objective morality binding all of us should be observable, across time and geography.

That’s a heck of a lot of assumptions (all of which are wrong) but that’s what the religious apologists assume. They’re just dishonest about them and rather argue pseudo logic that conveniently concludes what they assumed, but let’s ignore that. Does the world work like the conclusion says it should? Does it? Really?

The thing is, people of the same religion don’t all have exactly the same moral values. In fact, we have compassion for others, and that’s about all there is that’s close to absolute. Unless you’re a psychopath, you probably have some common values because you care about other people. The rest is learned… from our parents, our peers, our laws, and other factors in the societies where we live.

But those values change over time. We don’t burn witches or stone brides who are found not to be virgins. Not anymore. Except some people in less modern, and more religious cultures… still do those things. Interesting, isn’t it? Behaviour that most of would regard as primitive and less moral than ourselves, is linked to religion. But certainly there is no observable evidence of any kind of objective morality binding us.

More significantly though, even if we assume that objective morality exists, why would disbelief (in the god who you assumed created this morality) lead to a person without morals? It doesn’t follow logically at all.

As an atheist, I don’t believe in god, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good. It does mean that I’ve put a lot of thought into the religion I was brought up with, and that I rejected it. It also means that unlike some Christians who read their prejudices into their religion as an excuse for having them, for example for women, people of colour and people with different sexual orientations, I can’t do that. Having grown up a white man in apartheid South Africa, having heard racism “justified” by twisted religious rhetoric (and hearing in again recently from the likes of Donald Trump and his ilk), I had much time to think about those things and reject all kinds of prejudice, including misogyny, racism, and homophobia. Without religion to hide behind, I am a far better person.

The truth is, when someone claims that atheists don’t have morals, they out themselves as arrogant and narrow-minded people with hatred for their fellow human beings, but who are really saying, “I’m better than you because you don’t believe exactly what I believe”. They out themselves as people who aren’t terribly bright and who have poor moral values.

Another typical “argument” from a theist debater

I don’t really have time for writing, but thought I’d show you this… another typical argument from a theist who thinks he’s logical. He isn’t.

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Not that this should need breaking down but just in case…

  • Premise 1 is a non sequitur. It does not follow that if objective morality exists, it came from a god. That’s a claim. So this premise is false.
  • Premise 2 asserts that objective morality exists. Another claim and another false premise.
  • The conclusion just concludes what was assumed upfront. That’s not how logic works.
  • Objective morality here is a red herring anyway. Dim Jim could have picked anything (because he assumes his god created everything) and use literally anything in the universe in its place. But whatever he uses, he’s still begging the question.

Of course there’s more going on in the brain of the “debater” here. But I’m really not interested in addressing the argument from morality here again.

Prayer was the most insidious part of my religious indoctrination

Last time I shared a prayer that I printed out for a certain someone who doesn’t want me to write about her here. I hope it helps her. You might think sharing that was an odd thing for an atheist to write about, but I don’t. I think it opens the door for me to share what prayer meant to me when I grew up.

First of all, excuse the simplistic format and words… I came up with this when I was around eight or nine years old. This was more or less my standard prayer every night:

God,
Bless Mommy, Daddy, Christopher,
Toby, Honey, Cheeky and Chirpy,
And me, if that’s the way it should be.

Thank you for [this changed every day]
Please can I [this changed every day]

There’s one thing that jumps out at me from those words: I did not believe I deserved to be blessed. And that’s a problem. (But that’s what Christianity teaches. We are born in sin and shame and are unworthy. That’s precisely what makes Christian beliefs harmful and that’s why so many humanists call Christian indoctrination a kind of child abuse.) My format was based on a book I’d heard someone read aloud at school – the name long since forgotten… In the book, a boy prayed in this format where he blessed everybody and left himself for last. Something like, “And lastly, bless little old me”. But I changed it and added the bit about not deserving to be blessed. Also I changed the words slightly over the years, but those are the ones I remember.

Here’s what I take out of this:

  1. If you look at the prayer I printed for my partner, her Christianity must be quite different to my former beliefs. I would never have considered reading a ready-made generic prayer and inserting the subject I wanted in it, like a template. Never. Everything always had to be in my own words, and I’ve been comfortable expressing them in writing since I was seven years old. It would not feel sincere to read out someone else’s words.
  2. I never did get my head around praying to Jesus, let alone infant Jesus.
  3. Toby was the family cat. He was a kitten born to a cat we had when I was five years old and he died when I was sixteen. In fact, I took the day off school because he wasn’t well, and my father was meant to come take him to the vet, but he died, in my hands, before that could happen. Honey was a golden Labrador, obtained from a school friend’s parents who emigrated when I was eight years old. Cheeky and Chirpy were budgies, and I don’t remember exactly what year they lived, but I am guessing at around my ninth year.
  4. Cheeky and Chirpy were the first pets I remember dying. (Cats like Toby’s mother had died before then, but those don’t register as memories for me. Maybe I hadn’t gotten my head around death and mortality until then.) I changed the words of the prayer, but their names stuck in my head because I’d been saying it that way for over a year. Thereafter changing the names in each prayer required conscious effort.

My prayer wasn’t just a religious thing. It was my link to my childhood. It kept those pets alive in my heart and mind. Also, this is a reminder of something else… Christopher became Chris sometime in high school, because other people called him that. If it had been me, and people called me Jay instead of Jerome, the name would not have stuck. My brother was always different to me in certain way related to peer pressure and outside influences. There was a phase where he went to someone else’s church and picked up their ideas, which upset my mother. I, on the other hand, even used her religious belief as an excuse (when I was 12 years old) to avoid going on a school outing to other churches. In truth, I would not have been influenced by other churches. More likely I would have rejected them all sooner. I think I knew that deep down. Catholicism, and prayer, had sentimental value to me. They kept me childlike and helped me not to forget my love for lost pets, and kept Chris as Christopher in my mind.

I didn’t want to let go of my childhood. I didn’t want to grow up. But also, I felt guilty if I didn’t pray at night. Now this might not make sense, but I continued to pray for several years after I stopped believing in god. It’s hard to explain, but the guilt kept me from being able to stop, even if it meant that absurdly I prayed to a god I didn’t believe in. Just like, for whatever unknown psychological reason, it took me over ten years to begin thinking of my brother as Chris, it took even longer for me to let go of prayer.

Maybe it isn’t only about indoctrination and guilt, but also about my own reluctance to change, but I found it especially difficult to let go of prayer. It was the most difficult part of my personal journey into atheism.

My brother is my only link to those days now, since all those pets are long gone and both parents too. Funny how it works… my changes and my journey through the years feel natural to me, so I still feel like the same person – I am the same Jerome who was the child who remembers all these things as an adult. But it’s different now and I don’t perceive others as being the same. My brain has compartmentalized Chris and Christopher almost as if they are two different people. Christopher is my baby brother, the one I would lay down my life protecting. Chris is… someone else. It’s really difficult to explain, but at least we are closer now than we were a few years ago, since I (rightfully) lost his trust in my years of addiction. And then got it back, but it took some time longer than I expected. Maybe that’s a subject for another day… when we stop using drugs, we expect too much of those who know us, we expect them to know that we have changed long before there is any way they can possibly know.

One of the worst arguments for an afterlife ever (The law of conservation of energy)

I’ve been down for three days with a muscle spasm in my lower back. So, since the pain is still significant even though I can walk now, here’s the shortened version of this post…

Although I don’t participate in atheist vs theist debates any longer, I am still a member of a couple of debate groups, and this dumb argument shows up from time to time, always presented by a man (we are the dumber gender, seriously) who is pretentious, smug, and arrogant… and keen to show how clever he is with overly verbose arguments.

Since I’m in pain and lazy, I’m going to illustrate how stupid the argument is by putting it in a table, side by side with a similarly lame argument.

Law of Conservation of Energy lame argument for an afterlife Example of begging the question
Premise Assume the existence of a “mind” separate to the brain, that controls the brain. (Let’s call this a soul, shall we?) Assume A.
Inference Energy is never lost, blah blah blah, some verbose crap here that distracts you from the assumption made up front. Introduce B, C, & D.
Remove B, C, & D.
Conclusion Therefore a soul exists and lives on after the body dies. Therefore A.

If you can’t see what’s wrong with that argument, you have “issues” with your logic. To be fair, the argument is normally sneaky about the assumption made up front, but it’s always there. The person making the argument puts a lot of effort into their argument inference… a lot. So much that it may be difficult to read, what with all the scientific jargon and elaborate sophisticated language. But none of that changes the fact that the energy lost in death can be perfectly explained by decomposition… or combustion in the case of cremation. Bullshit baffles brains but any argument that assumes its conclusion in the premise is wrong.

To clarify, this argument pretends to be scientific and logical because the argument inference tries to make out that some mysterious energy must be left over after a body dies, and that energy is the soul. Normally people respond only to the argument inference, as the writer intended, but the problem is that the argument always assumes this mystical energy existed separately from the body to begin with. Take away the entire argument inference, as lengthy and verbose as it is, and you will observe that the soul was already assumed to exist in the premise. It just wasn’t called a soul.


Edit… Here’s a real world example of a variation of the above argument, and as I explained in the post, it’s by a man who is as smug as he is stupid, but is keen to show how clever he thinks he is. From a debate group I was added to without asking a while back, so I tend to respond there but treat everything I see as fair game to share outside the group.
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How I stopped believing in religion–Part Two (the rest)

By popular demand…. where popular means as requested by my one loyal reader, friend, and commenter from Sweden, here follows the second part. This one will be short.

By the time of my Confirmation as a Roman Catholic at fourteen years old, I was having serious doubts. I mean, I already didn’t believe in almost everything they taught in Sunday school, but as a teenager, I started thinking about other religions. I didn’t know any of them in detail, but I realized that was quite unnecessary.

I realized that I was taught my religion was the One True Religion, but so were other people. Everybody I knew sincerely believed in Christianity, but other people sincerely believed in other religions. The only difference between us and and them was the location of birth and religion of our parents.

How could our god, who was so loving and good, sentence others to eternal punishment just for being born into the wrong religion? It makes no sense. There seems to be two ways people respond to this dilemma:

  1. Assume all religions contain some kind of universal truth, ignore the differences, and cherry pick what they have in common.
  2. Realize the truth – that the only thing in common is belief. Whether that’s an evolutionary need to believe or something else doesn’t matter.

Obviously I went with number two. I didn’t quite put it all together, not then, not at fourteen years old, but I did get closer at around sixteen when confronted by an atheist, and then it took me less than thirty seconds to realize that I was comfortable with rejecting everything about my religion. And all the other religions. (Actually I didn’t call myself an atheist until years later, and also didn’t come to grips with rejecting the idea of an afterlife. But that doesn’t matter here. This post is only about me saying goodbye to belief in religion.) If Christians can reject other religions without knowing their doctrines and belief systems, and for example Muslims can do the same, then so can I. I can reject them all. It isn’t about the subject of the belief, it is about belief itself. It doesn’t matter what god or belief system you grow up with, they are all very much the same. And they all indoctrinate you the same way. It would be illogical to assume any of them contain any truth.

My first post could be rewritten about any other religion by someone who grew up with a different religious background, because when you look at any religion closely, they all believe stuff that’s batshit crazy. I still don’t understand why believers believe, because I have realized that it was natural for me to reject religion in general. With all my doubts right through childhood, for me atheism was inevitable – a natural part of growing up. I don’t grasp why it isn’t that way for everybody.

How I stopped believing in religion–Part One (the foundation of my disbelief)

This morning as I dove Aishah to school after dropping Josh off and before driving to work, I sat behind an annoying man who drove everywhere at 40kmph – the recommended speed for speed bumps, and slowed down further for speed bumps. I sat frustrated, unable to overtake the moron thanks to oncoming traffic… sat there mesmerized by the twirling Rosary dangling from the idiot’s rear view mirror. And I wondered to myself… Why do believers believe? And I don’t only mean idiots like Mr. Slowpoke from this morning – I mean people in general.

I know how belief works, and indoctrination, but when I think about it, it’s no excuse really. I’ve always said that I stopped believing in god at sixteen years old, but the truth is, despite my Roman Catholic upbringing and Sunday School followed by Mass every week, I was never much of a Christian except on the surface. So before I can relate how I stopped all belief in god, I must lay down the foundation, explain my thoughts and beliefs up until then. So here goes, here is who I was as a child and teenager, or at least, here are a few tricky concepts that I already disbelieved in as a child:

The Holy Trinity

To be honest, I struggled to get my head around praying to Jesus on day one of Sunday school at six years old. If god created the world, why did he need to send down his son? Why is his son also him? Why do they need a third person, the holy spirit? Why not just one?

None of this stuff makes any sense and smacks of made up stories just passed along without thinking.

Confession

I had to do my first confession at eight years old. However, this was one thing I immediately rejected. Why should I go confess my sins to some creepy old guy and then say a few prayers to have them be forgiven? Just so I can eat the magic unleavened bread? (See next point.) But why is all that necessary? If Jesus died for my sins, why do all this stuff?

I was the only kid in class to bunk First Confession by pretending to be sick, so I didn’t get mine with Fr Tom, but had to go to mean old Fr Roche the following week all by myself. To boot, I had to make up some sins.

Communion

The magic unleavened bread transforms into the body of Christ. Literally. And we eat it. Need I say more?

Needless to say, eight year old me didn’t believe that either. I saw no reason to ask questions about it or discuss it with anybody. Hello, magic isn’t real.

Original sin

So my understanding as a child was… emphasized Eve did not eat an apple, but they were punished for something else. What? And does this mean the talking snake and creation from a rib didn’t happen either? I knew children’s stories that made more sense.

So we are all guilty of Cain killing Abel, because Original Sin. And being baptized forgives us for that; otherwise if we die as babies we go to Limbo. This doesn’t seem fair. How come some sins are inherited but not others? If my great grandfather stole a packet of cigarettes and I don’t get baptized, will I go to Hell?

Jesus died for our sins

Thanks, buddy! Also, so what? How does that work? Can I borrow some chocolates from my brother, and instead of repaying him, take on some of his sins?

To be fair, that last line is just me being a smartass now. I didn’t think that far as a child. Whenever anybody spoke about Jesus dying for us I just zoned out and thought about something else because… obvious nonsense is obvious.


So there you have it. I didn’t believe in all those things, but did believe in god, and did believe in Heaven. That was me as a child and teenager. Next time I’ll write about rejecting the rest of the bullshit as well as all other religions. Or maybe I won’t, depending on my mood. This subject is no longer as interesting as it was when I started writing. No, really… I’m sitting here and remembering Sunday school and Mass and starting to nod off.

Friendly reminder: Virgins don’t have babies

  • They don’t have babies now, and they didn’t thousands of years ago either.
  • Natural disasters aren’t caused by angry deities. Hurricanes in the US aren’t caused by God’s anger for [insert people you are prejudiced against here], and the plagues in the Old Testament of the Bible weren’t either.
  • Snakes don’t talk. They don’t now and they never did.
  • Women weren’t made from a man’s rib. We have the same number of ribs now, and we always did.
  • The whole world was never flooded at once. (Where did all the water go?)
  • People don’t come back from the dead. They don’t now, and they never did.

When I used to debate theists, I noticed different reactions to the impossibilities I’ve written above. Not everybody accepts them all literally, to be fair. Most avoid thinking about these things entirely. Some take some things literally and the rest is analogy. And some people, especially those who debate, take some bits literally and the same bits can be analogy, depending on the argument. The general trend is to accept specifics as being impossible in the moment, and call them analogy.

Analogy for what?

It’s easy to say… Well OK, the talking snake didn’t happen… But that’s analogy for Satan and god still created us; sure, virgins don’t give birth, but the other religions had virgin birth stories, so Christianity incorporated that to compete; sure, the other resurrections didn’t happen, but Christ was resurrected because he was special (Maybe he had magic beans?); the world wasn’t flooded all at once obviously, they just thought their small area represented the whole world; the plagues were blamed on God’s anger because the people were less advanced than we are, but the rest of those stories really happened for sure…

Why? Why explain away what can be explained away but continue to believe? There is no point. None of that happened. Every religion has a creation myth. Many had virgin births. Primitive people (and conservative evangelical Christian Americans) blame the gods’ anger at people they perceive as weak when things go wrong. It’s god’s anger at a minority, or a simple old woman who can’t defend herself… or someone similar. Someone they can punish on god’s behalf. The flood myths come from mythology much older than Christianity or Judaism and were likely part of the culture way back. But to then believe anyway is simply to believe what you already believe because you believe it. Because you’re indoctrinated.

All religious people know what indoctrination is. When a cult trends in the news because of something bad they did, you realize that members removed from that cult still hang onto their beliefs. You realize that something fucked up is happening with them psychologically, that they don’t want to stop believing, and that indoctrination must be similar to Stockholm Syndrome. But rather than calling their beliefs a religion, you call it a cult. Because on some level you know you are just as brainwashed, and you want to distance their beliefs from yours – convince yourselves that you are different to them. But you’re not. You’re just like them. Every atheist who has ever debated theists knows this.

Reminder: There is no objective morality that comes from your god. Not all Christians being homophobic demonstrates this.

One of the most common claims I read in atheist vs theist debate groups was that atheists have no morals. It’s the flip side of the argument from morality – the claim that morals come from your god. Incidentally, it doesn’t follow logically that atheists wouldn’t have morals, even if we were to assume the claim that they came from your god was true. Does disbelief “uncreate” your god’s creations?

I have always responded to this claim by arguing that morality is subjective, and that since moral values are different in different locations, even in the same year and same religion, this demonstrates that the claim of objective god-given morality is nonsense. But I forgot about something: homophobia.

asshole_god

Not all Christians are homophobic. That inconsistency should tell you something. Some of them claim that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. Some do not. In fact, one has to reach and use some creative interpretation to find anything that truly refers to homosexuality in the Bible. As always, believers read their own morals into the Bible, so those who hate LGBTQ people will always tell you it’s a sin. Those who don’t, will not.

I don’t care what your Bible says about it. It’s a book of nonsense anyway. The only reason it matters to me is that these different interpretations of it apparently result in Christians who have very different moral values, right now. A couple of hundred years ago, Christians’ morality involved accusing people of witchcraft, and punishing them for it. So without even considering that Christians, who mostly no longer believe in witches, used to stone or burn them hundreds of years ago (and still  do in some remote places), we can see that right now, morality among Christians is subjective.

That’s the way it has always been. You get your morals regionally… from your parents, your peers, and the beliefs prevalent in society. Then, if you are religious, you read those morals into your religion, and claim that they came from your god. And as the meme used shows, if those “morals” happen to be hateful, you claim it’s not you, but the rules of your god.