Indoctrination gone wrong. My journey into atheism. Part 4

And here we have part 4. Originally published on my old blog on 23 January 2014. This was the first time I tried to articulate my arguments against religion, and I don’t think I did a bad job of it. Lately I have been wondering why it took me so long to figure out I was an atheist. Maybe I’ll write something about that in the next few days, if I can find the time.


Where part 3 left off I was 14 years old and a confirmed Roman Catholic. The previous parts of this series were mostly anecdotes, but I’ve more or less finished them. Sure, I could write the names of one or two people who influenced my way of thinking, but at 14, my indoctrination was complete, and thanks to my analytical thinking, I think that atheism was always going to be my final outcome.

Getting there, however, took a while. For several years, I found myself praying every night to a God I no longer believed in. Somehow I had become attached to Christianity, even though I no longer believed in it, and also there were some weird feelings of guilt involved. So I prayed, and I read the bible, looking not for moral lessons, but for some sign that it was true. Some sign of God. I found none.

Around the age of 21, I made a promise to my mother, that I would never convert to another religion. It was an easy promise to make. Atheism is not a religion. I didn’t convert to any religion, but rejected them all.

Before I could do that, I did a little research. What I found astonished me. There are similar beliefs, too similar in nature to be coincidence, throughout many religions. Were I still a believer, perhaps I could have interpreted this as supporting evidence in my belief, and that, ultimately, is what the religious do. They see signs, find ways to justify their beliefs.

But that’s not how I interpreted the data. To me it is obvious: Religion has “evolved” with man. All of the popular religions today probably had a common ancient religious source. People love to think there is meaning in life, and that somehow we, mankind, have lost something along the way, that ancient man knew the truth. But the truth is, ancient man knew nothing, but attributed superstitious spiritual significance to everything. The sun was a god up in the sky; the treacherous sea was a god; the moon was a god; even the rocks and the trees. At some point that evolved to a single god, a virgin birth, and other interesting stories.

Whatever the forgotten religions are, they don’t matter. What matters is that the modern religions incorporate pieces of them. Even the angels, named in Judaism and Christianity, are former gods of older religions. The people joined with the religions that became Judaism, bringing their gods with them. Old gods were not forgotten completely, but became angels.

It is impossible for me, as an atheist, ever to debate this with a religious person. [Edit, 28 August 2016. Haha! Why didn’t I take my own advice here? I wrote this before attempting to debate theists, and have done so frequently for the last two years. And I was right! Might as well debate the walls…] Religion, because of indoctrination, approaches the argument arse about face.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Carl Sagan

A religious person starts with the assumption that god exists, because that’s what they were always taught and they do not question it. If they debate with an atheist, they expect you then to disprove the existence of something that they believe in, despite no evidence that it exists. This is not a valid argument, but is backwards.

Yes, I’ve said it before, but you can not disprove the existence of something that does not exist, to the people who believe in it. They will not and can not argue rationally. It’s the same as trying to prove to someone who believes in a conspiracy theory or doomsday theory, that they are wrong. They can never accept it. If your argument is convincing, you become part of their conspiracy. [Edit. 28 August 2016. If your argument is convincing you become part of the conspiracy, in the case of debating a conspiracist. In the case of debating a theist, a convincing, factual, rational argument is often dismissed as coming from the evil that their religion believes in. So for Christians, the best arguments can be dismissed as coming from their devil. It’s a classic false dilemma: If you don’t worship my god, you must be under the spell of my devil.] A religious person knows that God exists, in their mind.

Some atheists seem to think that the religious lack intelligence. I am convinced this is not the case. I think there is no correlation between intelligence and religious belief. It’s all about indoctrination, and most people who have been indoctrinated into religion will never see the obvious fact that they believe in something that isn’t real.

I hope you have enjoyed this series. It was my first attempt to articulate my argument against religion, as well as explain how I reached this point. It’s probably not going to be my last.

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Indoctrination gone wrong. My journey into atheism. Part 3

This is the third part of my four-part series on atheism. This one was originally published on my old blog on 20 January 2014.


Where part 2 left off, I was eight years old, and had completed my first confession and first communion. I did believe in God (but no longer believed in Santa Claus), and I did believe in Jesus, kind-of. At least, I believed that God had a son, but I could not understand why I was supposed to pray to him, rather than praying to his father.

I kept my doubts to myself, because I was a child, and had been taught that I must have the faith of a child. I found the whole thing very confusing. Also, I didn’t want to get into trouble.

I went to confession twice more in my life, once that same year, and once before my confirmation, which happened when I was 14.

Before I reached the confirmation class, there were a few years that are mostly a blur in my memory. At one stage I had a teacher named Patrick, who was an Irish South African complete with red hair, red beard and a smoking habit that required one of the kids to be sent to the shop and buy him a pack of cigarettes before each lesson. He was a pragmatic type of fellow, and told us tales of his youth and what it was like to attend a Christian Brothers school, and spent the rest of the time teaching us to know the required prayers and Creed off by heart. He also taught us what to say when people criticized us Catholics, accusing us of worshipping Mary and what-not.

Those lessons came in quite useful in the most surprising of places… Years later, while adding features and fixing bugs related to a program that could store freeform data, but did not correctly persist the right number of characters, I unit tested the code by filling the freeform text with the Hail Mary and Glory Be prayers, from memory. I reckon that after my colleagues saw all the prayers in that database, they must have thought I was off my head.

As for the lessons in defending Catholicism, I learned in later years, when it comes to criticism, even if the negative criticism is unfounded, people who criticize are often just not willing to listen to any response, so there is seldom any need to answer what they have to say. [Edit 28 August 2016. I used to be defensive about my former religion. When I wrote this, I still was. The truth is, the rationalizations that Patrick taught us to use when defending the religion didn’t make much sense, when I think about them now. Why should Mary intercede between us and god? Why pray to Mary?… Assuming a need for prayer at all, which I do not. But even if god existed, praying to Mary makes no sense at all.]

Patrick also taught us about the Holy Trinity, and I did not understand that part. By the age of ten, I was already successful when in came to selective belief. I think, as a Christian, you have to be. I mean, is creation a literal tale? Is it a parable? I thought a parable must have a second meaning. What is the second meaning; the lesson that it conveys? The whole story of God creating the Earth in 7 days, “Let there be light” and the fall of man don’t make any sense, no matter which way you look at it. I knew that already at ten years old, but I did what every good little Christian does, and tried not to think about it.

Then we moved on to the next Sunday School teacher. She was a crazy person named Beverly. I was convinced that she was out of her mind, when she taught us about Heaven and Hell, Purgatory, Limbo and original sin. WTF? We all inherit Adam’s sin, and are not forgiven for it… Only baptism in a Catholic church frees us of this. Thus if a baby dies, having not been baptized, it can not enter Heaven, but must spend eternity in Limbo. As for the rest of us, even if we live saintly lives, after we die we must hang around in Purgatory for a while, maybe hundreds of years, before we can go to Heaven.

I’m sorry, but only a lunatic could ever believe that nonsense. So we inherit sin? The sins of the father, literally. What about every sin of all the other billions of ancestors after Adam?

So by 12 years old, my selective belief was starting to get out of control. By the time I reached 14, at around the same time as my confirmation, I’d reached the point where there was more that I disbelieved than I believed, and my doubts in the existence of God, at least the God I had been taught of, was starting to take over.

Again, this is starting to get long… I don’t want to put too much into a single post (and it’s almost time for me to drive home anyway). Thus here ends part 3. Of course there will be a fourth part. Beyond that, I don’t know.

Indoctrination gone wrong. My journey into atheism. Part 2

This is the second part of my series on atheism. This one was first published on my old blog on 17 January 2014.


Where part 1 left off, I was six years old, and two weeks into my very short stint of attending Mass alone. I still believed in God at that point, but I also believed in Father Christmas (or Santa Claus, as he is called in many other countries).

I was a shy and introverted little boy, and spent most of my time in my own universe of my imagination. I’d also only just started reading, so it would be a good two or three years before I could discover that books brought a wealth of imaginative tales just as interesting as my own. In retrospect, I was quite advanced for a six-year-old in some ways, and quite behind in others. I was terribly clumsy; my verbal skills were probably not on par with my peers because I didn’t talk much and my imaginary people and places were visual; and my perception of the world was somehow a tad different to everybody around me. This makes me sound almost like a (retarded) child prodigy, but that was not the case. I was just a quiet, shy boy, in everybody’s eyes. I did however, already criticize things like the movie I referred to yesterday, and my taste was already quite different to that of my peers. When I tried talking about it to anyone, they didn’t understand, so I stopped talking about it.

I said I’d explain why my family joined me at Mass… My father would drop me off at the Sunday School, which was done at St Anne’s Primary School in Plumstead, Cape Town. This is on the same premises as St Pius X church. After the class was finished, I would attend Mass (or maybe before – my memory of this is unclear).

Afterwards, I had to walk home. It was only a short way but I always had the problem where I only remember the directions one way, and get confused going the other way. Here is the route, from my house in Attlee Rd to the church. (Ignore Edu-Babez preschool… That wasn’t there back then, and even if it had been, retarded spelling wasn’t all the rage as it is now.)

directionstochurch

So, the very first time I had to walk alone, I got confused and turned into the wrong road. I think it may have been Rotherfield Rd… So I walked about twenty meters, realized I was going the wrong way, and turned back, crying all the way as six-year-olds do.

A very kindly old man was driving along, with his wife sitting in the passenger seat. Seeing the poor little lost boy, they stopped and asked me what was wrong. They offered to help, but we had a campaign at school about strangers. You know the type… Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t go to strangers. Don’t get into the car with a stranger… And so on. I couldn’t imagine why that might be. I figured the old guy and his wife didn’t look like monsters who might eat me up, but you never can tell with monsters.

I began to cheer up, having relaxed and been put at ease by the kindly elderly people, which had jolted my memory of the way home, so I politely informed them that I couldn’t get into their car because they were strangers, but “It’s this way” and proceeded to run home.

Of course I informed my parents of the whole thing and they were concerned. They were possibly even more concerned after a mother of another child informed them of my antics during Mass. Mass was rather a boring experience, so after I figured out the mystery of the hymns, I decided to show off by playing with the hymn book when boring things like singing and sermons telling the same stories about Jesus that I’d already heard were going on. Apparently this (random paging back and forth through the hymn book) distracted her. My other favourite pastime during boring moments, which nobody knew about, was pretending that I could shoot laser beams out of my eyes which then stole the life essence out of the back of people’s heads. (Hey, that’s what you should expect when sending a six-year-old alone to church!)

So that didn’t last very long. Soon the whole family went to Mass together, and continued to do so until I was about 18.

The rest of my Sunday School years were mostly uneventful. I was a good boy who never disobeyed, and although I never got comfortable with the whole Jesus thing (I prayed to God, but the idea of him having a son – who was also God – and a holy spirit – who was also God – was something that just didn’t feel right), I thought I was a good Christian.

The only other thing that really stood out for me was my First Holy Communion. Not the communion itself, mind you – I always wondered what those little thingies tasted like, although I knew it was not cake, but the confession. By then I was eight years old, and we all did our first communion together. Before that, we all did our first confession. At eight years old, I had already decided that I didn’t believe in confession. My logic then was not much different to that of an adult: There was nothing about confession in any of the bible stories I knew, therefore it made no sense. I also didn’t understand what made the priests so special that they could forgive all my sins, because they were just men, and I had been taught that Jesus died for my sins, so there was no place in my understanding for confession.

So I bunked my first confession by pretending to be sick that week. I did eventually go the next week though, and consequently felt left out. Everybody else had gone and stood in a long line together, for confession with Father Tom Nicholson, who was much loved by all, while I was all alone, and had to face Father Roche, who was a cranky old man much feared by all. I even had to make up some sins because I had not, in my understanding, done anything wrong. This contradiction confused me: Lying is a sin, but I must lie because I need some sins to confess. (Who’s going to forgive me for that one?) It didn’t occur to me that I had committed a sin by bunking my first confession the previous week, because I was always good at convincing myself that I was really sick.

Of course, in religion we always convince ourselves of things that we know can not be true, don’t we? Then we call it faith.

Here ends part 2. There will definitely be a third part. Beyond that, I don’t know.

Indoctrination gone wrong. My journey into atheism. Part 1

A new Facebook friend asked how all her atheist friends came to be atheists… So here it is for me, a series I wrote on atheism and first published on my old blog. Although I’d mentioned my atheism in passing before that, this was my first attempt at writing about it. This was originally published on 16 January 2014.

I’m publishing the original four parts here, separated by 30 minutes between posts…


A short intro: Sometimes I have entire entries, right down to the paragraph level, maybe one or two puns or wordplays or some other deliberate ambiguity to keep things interesting, as well as the summary with some sort of smart-ass comment, all in my head before I write a single word. That is, the entire structure is predefined and I know exactly what I want to say, which means that the only thing not preset is individual words making up the clauses to link everything together. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I just write. This is one of those times, so I don’t know how long it will be, or whether there will be more parts.

I’m an atheist. You should already know that by now. But I wasn’t always this way. I started out as a good little Catholic boy, and somehow ended up here. How did I get here? I am interested in what makes me tick, and hence what makes other people tick. The psychological journey, of myself and of others, intrigues me. Thus my objective here is to remember “out loud” how I got here, in anecdotal form. (I recently discovered I’m good at writing anecdotes, so hopefully it will be interesting.) I must warn you that it may not be interesting, so if you find yourself getting bored… Sorry! Just go read something else.

Wind back the clock to 1978, when little six-year-old Jerome started Sunday School. Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, I was too quiet and shy, and struggled to fit in. At six years old, I was probably at about the furthest point from fitting in. I had few friends, and preferred to be alone. I lived in my own world most of the time. This was years before virtual reality, but in my universe, something just like it already existed. In the stories that went around my head as I played, everybody owned a game system, similar to a PlayStation or console system, although no such items existed yet. In my universe, you plugged into the game and became somebody else, either a super-hero here on Earth, or a character on some other planet or space-ship. You could work yourself up, and eventually rule planets. I’m making this sound far more sophisticated than it was… None of my characters even had names because it was a visual game in my head. When they spoke to each other and used names, they would be mumbled, so everybody was called Hmmmph or Ergh.

The point is, the little Jerome who arrived late for that very first Sunday School lesson was a boy who struggled to relate to other children. I hated the Disney-style movies that everybody else loved, like Freaky Friday, because I thought they were false and just too sweet. So when I walked into the room and everybody else was singing “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”, followed by “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so”, which I had never heard before, but decided immediately I disliked, I was completely out of place.

I did grow to love the place though. The old lady who taught the little ones and ran the place was called Aunty Penny, and she made me think of tea and cake, which was my primary objective when not living in my own world. So when we were all encouraged to go to Mass (“It’s a celebration”), I told my parents and ended up going to Mass alone for the first few weeks. (More on that in the next part, including when and why the rest of the family joined me.)

I didn’t know what they meant by celebration. I hoped it would be like a birthday party, with lots of tea and cake. So when I attended that first Mass by myself, I was sorely disappointed to find it was just a normal boring church service, like the ones we (the family) attended at Christmas and Easter. Everybody seemed to know what was going on and had a Sunday Missal, except me, but there were hymn books on the benches. I soon caught onto the pattern of the Mass, and knew when to stand up, or sit down, or kneel, and repeat the mumbo-jumbo like everybody else.

What I did not get was how you were supposed to know what hymn to sing. I was in my first year of school, and so had begun to learn to read. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could make out most of the words and read the hymns without any difficulty, but the mystery of knowing which hymn to sing eluded me for the first two weeks. Then it came to me… Aunty Penny (the sweet old lady who had, in my mind, tricked me into attending because I thought I would get tea and cake) was changing a series of numbers on a wooden board at the front, and those were the numbers of the hymns. I was very happy to have figured it out, but the numbers were often bigger than I could count, and singing didn’t really interest me, so I didn’t actually sing the hymns.

The rest of my team has arrived here at work (the testers), so now I have work to do, and besides, this is about long enough, so here ends part one. There will be a second part, but beyond that, I don’t know.

THIS is what I’m up against

Sometimes all debating with apologists seems rather pointless, because no matter how well thought out, no matter how well stated, no matter how logical our arguments can be, we are faced with shit like this… This is about his fourth post on the same subject. One of his previous ones, asserted to be proof that Muslim corpses do not rot, contained a blurred photo of an “incorruptible foot” that he claims has not decomposed and has stuck out of a grave somewhere in Pakistan for hundreds of years.

This twat really demonstrates the delusional in “delusional believers”… Piss be upon you, and your idiot prophet.

Lunatic

Update: He was eventually booted from the group. Here is his response to the poll that sent him packing… Note that he simply repeats his claim, which is all he ever did, and called us “afraid” for disbelieving it. I still haven’t figured out if this was a troll or someone with a genuine fixation on dead bodies, with belief that “true Muslim” bodies do not decompose…

I haven’t checked if his other profile, from which he replied to his own post above (he posted with two fake profiles on the group) is still alive and fresh though…

Loony2

Another thought experiment: Assuming you are a religious person and know in your heart that your religion is right, imagine that you’d been born into a different religion

Oops, I did it again. Today you don’t have to excuse the long title. (See yesterday’s thought experiment here.)

I’m not going to make a habit of posting thought experiments, but this one had a lot to do with me making up my mind and accepting that the religion I was brought up with, as well as every other religion, is pure nonsense.

I can’t say when I came up with this much simpler thought experiment, but I do remember that I was older than sixteen, so this is something I pondered after the one I wrote about yesterday. Once again, although this seems like a simple request, if you give it some some thought, some serious thought, it should provide a platform from which can you see your religious beliefs in a different way, one shrouded in doubt. (Unless cognitive dissonance kicks in, in which case it may make you feel uncomfortable and angry, and result in your projecting that anger and calling me an “angry atheist”. It’s OK – I’m used to that by now.)

Imagine that you were born in a different country, and brought up with a different religion. Would you still believe as sincerely in that religion as you do in your current one, and if you did, would that not mean something important about your current beliefs?

Before you read on, think about it…

Think about it further…

..

The answer, of course, is that you would believe just as sincerely. Let that sink in.

For me, this was the last straw, and by this line of reasoning ipso facto I had no choice other than atheism. I was brought up as a Roman Catholic, and taught that it is the true religion, the only religion, the one correct path. But I thought to myself… What if I had been born somewhere in the Middle East? I considered a hypothetical Arabic version of myself… Let’s say his name is Jarid Allah, and he was brought up just as I was, but to believe in Islam rather than Catholicism, and taught that it was the one true religion.

How can it be that I, who was merely lucky enough to be born Catholic, would go on to have eternal life in Heaven, while poor Jarid must suffer eternal damnation simply because he happened to be born into the wrong religion? Let’s assume that both of us are perfectly good people, who never knowingly harm anyone, and live virtuous lives caring for others and our families, and pass on our religion to our own children just as our parents did to us. Thus I am expected to accept, without doubt, that all my descendants have the opportunity of eternal bliss in Heaven, while all his descendants must suffer in Hell forever, unless Jesus “reveals himself to them” and they convert to my religion. (A conversion that most will never even consider, because they are just as certain as myself, that their religion is the correct one. They may even believe that Allah has revealed himself to them. After all, such revelations are all about interpreting personal experiences as having spiritual significance.)

Oh, you could say that God was good enough to choose me, but that would simply make you incapable of critical thinking. The fact is, the only reason that almost all religious people are certain that their particular religion is correct, is that it is the religion they were indoctrinated into, the religion that they were taught since childhood not to question.

To accept the religion of your birth once you have been presented with this thought experiment, is the way of the coward. Quite simply, it is absurd to do so.


Of course there are arguments against this… arguments such as the one where you ignore all the contradictions in your religious texts and assume that all religions are somehow correct. But doing that, you are simply rationalizing away the contradictions and differences between them, coping with them by ignoring them. More importantly, you are thus ignoring the very claims of your own religion. If you profess belief but ignore the doctrines of your own religion, you need to realize that there is no reason to hold those beliefs. Those doctrines are the very foundation of the religions, and without them the religions would not exist. In truth, rationalizing away this argument requires abandonment of your capacity to think critically.

I’m not claiming that it is easy to choose to disbelieve in the religion you were brought up with. It isn’t. But holding onto a belief, just because you already believe it, doesn’t make any sense at all.

A little mind-bender for you: Assuming you are a Christian, and are waiting for the return of Jesus, what would you accept as evidence of his return?

Excuse the long title.

A friend’s recent Facebook share – something about what would happen if Jesus showed up today – got me to remember this. Bear with me… this is a question from the 16 year old version of myself… some 28 years ago! So it is a thought experiment that a very immature version of myself came up with, but one that I think is worthwhile sharing. It was one of the problems that I pondered when I realized that I didn’t merely doubt the religion of my upbringing, but that I was fairly certain I could no longer believe it.

Assuming that everything written about Jesus was based on factual events, and that you are a Christian waiting for his return, what would happen if he did return today? Would you accept it?

Think about it before answering the question.

The answer, of course, is: No. You would not.

The fact is, the Christian religious dogma is fixed. Just like the Torah. Even if both Judaism and Christianity were correct, and Jesus really did fulfil earlier prophesies, Jewish people could not accept him, because their dogma says that the messiah is coming… (or so I was led to believe according to my Roman Catholic upbringing. I’m not dissing Judaism here, so excuse me if I summarise it incorrectly, or accidentally caricaturize Judaism.) The point is, your dogma remains the way it is. It can never be fulfilled. It’s not like anyone is adding new chapters to your holy book. You will remain in a perpetual waiting state, because that’s what the dogma states.

If Jesus returned, no Christian alive would accept him. More likely it would spawn a new religion. Let’s call it Christianity++. Then you’d have four Abrahamic religions.

Note: The 16 year old version of me took the thought experiment a little further, and assumed that Islam was also correct. (Yes, it contradicts the message of Christianity and states that Jesus is not the son of god. So what? Christianity contradicts Judaism just as much, I’m sure. In my thought experiment, the superseding religion is allowed to contradict any aspects of the religion that it replaces.) That is, Christianity came about because Jews didn’t accept Jesus, then Islam came about because Christians didn’t accept Muhammad. And so on… each religion, assuming each one before it is true, cannot be accepted by believers of the religion it supersedes, because the existing doctrine is always fixed dogma. But stating it this way is apparently not PC nowadays, since so many people hate Muslims. But the thought experiment still works, and the logic still applies, with or without the last assumption.


Granted, it isn’t the most mature thought experiment ever… But it is the truth! None of it matters anyway, because my next thought experiment led me to conclude that all such religions are most likely nonsense anyway, since they are all based on the worship of deities that do not exist outside of the imagination of the people who created them.

Prayer. It doesn’t do anything.

It’s been an interesting few days… Not quite a week of having my son in my care, and it’s already very tiring. This is a huge adjustment for both of us. He has been in foster care since he was about 18 months old, and further, he got used to being one of four children. So he expects constant stimulation, and since he is now for all intents and purposes an only child (apart from when his mother and half-sister visit roughly fortnightly), that attention is expected to come from me. (At least until I can hopefully get him into spending his time reading. But I only did that with most of my time from around eight to nine years old, so I can’t expect too much yet. Currently he spends more time trying to get the pronunciation of words right, so reading comprehension, and even maintaining context when lines wrap, is not something I can expect him to master just yet.)

Another thing on my mind regarding him is church, and prayer. Church is easy… I’ve explained to him that he can go to church if he wants to. Of course he doesn’t want to. I was expecting prayer to be more difficult. I used to pray every night, and when I stopped believing in god, I still continued to pray for a while. It was difficult to let go of the feeling of guilt when I didn’t pray. I was expecting my son to want to pray, at least at bedtime, but he hasn’t mentioned it at all. Maybe he hasn’t quite reached that state of brainwashing yet.

(Of course another possibility is that he is afraid to pray or afraid that he will disappoint me, knowing that I don’t believe in god. I’ve spoken to him about this already… and mentioned that if he wants to pray, he can. Maybe this discussion needs to happen again. But it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Bedtime is a ritual – since he is used to sharing a bedroom with another child, I have to brush my teeth with him, and lay down the same time he does. Then I generally get up and have my time for writing and watching television while he is sleeping.)

The thing about prayer is that my title isn’t totally true. While prayer doesn’t do anything in that there is no god answering those prayers, it does have psychological effects on those praying. I believe it is dangerous to delude yourself into seeing signs of reciprocation, into perceiving some sort of personal relationship with an imaginary creator. Prayer brings you false comfort and provides answers for your insecurities. Answers that are bullshit, but who doesn’t want to hear that they will live on after physical death? Who doesn’t want to hear that their departed loved ones are in a better place, and will meet them again?

Believing that you are saved (because you happened to be born into the “right” religion) is also extremely arrogant. But I learned something new today. Apparently, another way of justifying your belief is to say that lots of other people believe, therefore it must be true. The person who stated that didn’t even know that it is a well-known fallacy: The appeal to popularity. As my mother used to ask me in my childhood, “If everybody else jumps in the fire, will you jump in the fire?”

AppealToPopularity

Edit: I’m not trying to brag about my wit or anything here… I just happened to be the first to respond to the prayer share on an atheist group. A day later now and I could grab a new screen-shot to show off all the likes… but that’s way too much trouble. I captured the screen shots on the web and manually stitched them together (in Photoshop – total overkill, I know) because the height of what I wanted was higher than what was displayed on my screen at one time.


Excuse this jumbled-up mess. I haven’t had much time lately and wrote it in two sittings, but didn’t get time to fix it up so that the paragraphs “flow” into each other. I’ve too much of a headache to fix it now and don’t want to leave it unpublished, so…

Some might say that I should lighten up with regard to my son. (And the possibility that he might pray.) Just six months ago, I read a psychologist’s report that concluded (although the rest of it was in my favour) that it is important for a child to have something to believe in. But the psychologist was Roman Catholic and practised from a Catholic school… In my experience, people who say such things are always people of faith. They can not or will not understand that in their faith, they are already indoctrinated. Therefore they do not see that giving a child something to believe in, when that thing (god) is not real, may be harmful to the child. False hope might be hope, but it’s still false!

My own indoctrination dragged on long enough that I felt guilty when I stopped praying. So it had done me real harm. So while it is all very well to say that my son saying a few blessings and expressing gratitude in prayer each night would not doing him any real harm, I believe that such prayer does contribute to long term harm. It contributes to indoctrination, also known as brainwashing, and every such aspect of that brainwashing must stop. My mother doesn’t know it yet because we have yet to have the conversation, but I need to make it very clear to her that there will be no proselytizing in my home.

And of course, there is other kind of prayer. Prayer by a child who is innocent enough, but I have known adults who pray “in tongues”… also known as gibberish. Also, there are people who pray for Paris, for example, or for the poor, and convince themselves that they are actually achieving something. Actions speak louder than words, and I do not want my son to turn into one of those deluded people.

My son’s former foster mother arranged with my mother for him to have some holy water stashed in my mother’s room. I only found out about it after the fact. It’s now too late for me to say no and I don’t want to seem like an arsehole and disallow it after the fact. On that front though, I am quite sure that I can convince my son that there is no such thing as magic water. He can have his fantasy for now, but he will come to understand that it is fantasy.

No, I don’t hate god

Today, I’d like to continue where I left off last time. My last post dealt with my annoyance when theists claim that I am not a true atheist, and then proceed to define what they believe atheism is – a “definition” that has nothing whatsoever to do with what atheism is actually about. Again, I was reading an article by another atheist, and his fourth point resonated with me. I don’t agree with everything else in that article, but I thought it might be a good idea to explore that single point briefly in my own words.

Another frequent “argument” presented by theists is that we atheists hate god. But the argument/criticism is seldom presented either plainly or alone. Normally it is assumed and stated as the first part of a verbosely worded argument, a more complicated version of this: “Atheists hate god because of some contrived/projected reason. This in turn means that some slippery slope of effects, which in turn will lead to some kind of appeal to consequences. A few paragraphs of nonsense related to the points after the initial argument. But you can be saved from this. Just repent and accept some deity as your personal saviour, as it says in some holy book written when man knew nothing of modern science and blamed the fictional gods for everything.” The first part of the argument, not necessarily phrased directly, makes the implicit assumption that atheists hate god. It then goes on to propose a reason for this alleged hatred, and continues on down a slippery slope that assumes the previous parts of the argument are correct, and proposes the disastrous effects of this view, followed sometimes by a solution. (You must repent to be saved because it says so in the holy text.)

The interesting thing about this line of reasoning is that when debating such a theist, they are not interested in the first part of the argument, that is the assumption that we hate god. Their actual argument begins with the proposed reason for this hatred and continues downhill from there. So the bulk of their statement is typically something that someone like myself doesn’t even read. They don’t expect to be debated on that point because they assume it to be true, but instead would like to debate the points they follow it up with… But the follow-up is irrelevant! You got there by going down a slippery slope, where the initial assumption is wrong. And it’s not just wrong – it’s absolute bullshit. I’m not interested in debating the nonsense you derived from your flawed starting argument and it would not make any sense to do so. So we end up talking past each other, with the theist debater not in the least interested in understanding why the argument is going nowhere. This often leads to atheists getting frustrated and possibly rude, and calling the theists stupid – perhaps rightly so. I’m starting to think that the types of theists who participate in such debates are not the smartest around. They do not represent theism at all, but rather a vocal subset of some very stupid theists who do not understand what they are arguing against. (I strongly suspect that intelligent theists are well aware that what they believe in is unfalsifiable – is a matter of faith in something that exists outside the bounds and laws of physics. That is, smart theists know that there is no valid way of arguing faith against logic, so they don’t debate it. The ones who debate are the idiots who think that Ray Comfort’s arguments have merit.)

As usual, the argument starts out by assuming the existence of god, and of a specific god. They think that we hate god… but we can not hate what does not exist. I’m not angry with god. I don’t hate god. How could I? As an atheist, I see no difference between any of the gods that were ever worshipped in the whole of human history. Which god should I hate? Should I hate Mithras? Should I hate Odin or maybe Thor? Should I hate Osiris? I don’t elevate your Abrahamic gods above any of the others – they all have creation myths and all have doctrine. Some of them are older and no longer worshipped, but that doesn’t make them any different to the gods currently being worshipped. While I’m at it, should I also hate ghosts, fairies, goblins, trolls, unicorns, dragons, bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, the Illuminati and the boogeyman under my bed? By your logic, since I don’t believe in those, I should hate them too.

To conclude… debating theists is a pain in the arse. I constantly have to remind myself not to be rude and that the debate is not for them… it’s for other more intelligent people who might read or observe the debate.

No true atheist?

I just read this excellent article, which I suggest you read too.

The article states several points well, but what really struck me was when the author mentioned being accused of not truly being an atheist. I’ve been criticized with that too, and I’ve also seen that criticism used in more general terms by theists when debating atheists on Facebook atheist versus theist debating groups.

It seems to underpin a particularly strange belief, one perhaps best paraphrased with their own meme’s line “There are no atheists in foxholes”. A belief that is, of course, utterly mistaken. (A belief possibly rooted in psychological projection. A person who can not comprehend disbelief might think, deep down, that everybody else also believes. Hence there are no real atheists, just believers who believe the opposite of theists. So to such people, atheism is an ideology or a religion that represents the polar opposite of theism.)

Often the criticism comes from the point of view that my (or others) admission that we do not know (and can not know) that there is a creator, must mean that we are not truly atheists, but rather are agnostics. Often when debating in groups, those kind of comments are targeted at “science” in general terms, as if, since science can not explain how life originated, we should discard evolution and choose instead to believe in the nonsense made up by primitive people thousands of years ago. In reality, there is plenty that science doesn’t know, and that’s OK. There is plenty that I don’t know too, but it doesn’t mean that I should accept magic.

It comes down to an apparent misunderstanding of what atheism is. I am perfectly comfortable to say that I don’t know certain things, like where the universe came from and how life originated. I’m also perfectly comfortable to say that I am absolutely certain that every single god ever worshipped by man, was also created by man. So while I can’t deny that a theoretical god might exist, I can and do deny the existence of every god that every person has ever believed in. If that doesn’t make me an atheist, I do not know what it makes me. I certainly do not believe in any god or gods, and that makes me an atheist by definition… a label I am proud of.

So please do not redefine what you believe atheism to be when atheists don’t fit into your mould. Consider instead that your impression of atheism is wrong. I have spoken to enough other atheists by now to be quite confident that, even though I came to my views and beliefs (and lack thereof) completely alone, I am a fairly typical atheist. So don’t tell me I’m not just because you don’t understand. It’s annoying.