Category Archives: Contradiction

Reconciliation

There is a modern religious thought pattern, called ecumenicalism, which is aimed at reconciling religious traditions or otherwise bringing them under the same umbrella. Greta Christina covers the basic premise of ecumenical religion in chapter 7 of her excellent book Why Are You Atheists So Angry? On its face, the ecumenical approach seems vastly superior to the violent interfaith clashes that have become the hallmark of the Crusades, much of middle eastern history, and indeed the Old Testament itself. Although many of those selfsame religions advocate violence against outsiders, most reasonable ethical systems would agree that, faced with the two choices, it is better to espouse a “live-and-let-live” policy than a “kill the infidels” policy. Indeed, most would agree that committing to violence is the same as admitting we have lost the argument.

However, ecumenicalism is also a false alternative to religious violence. It is also a mode of losing the argument. The ecumenical form of “reconciliation” is little more than “I’ll let you believe your nonsense if you let me believe mine.” Or worse: “We can both believe our separate nonsense as long as we agree to punish anyone who calls it nonsense.” It is the modern institutional form of “agree to disagree”. To nonbelievers: “agree to engage against only the faithless, not each other.”

While most anti-theists argue against religion on the grounds that religious beliefs don’t agree with reality (or don’t even intersect with reality), religions should in principle have the same kinds of disagreements with each other when they make conflicting claims. Indeed, anti-theists consider any clear interfaith conflict as a further point in evidence against the truth claims of those religions. Ecumenicalism is just another way the godless are frustrated to watch as anti-epistemology is perpetuated.

In a recent conversation with a friend of mine, I postulated that holy war might be on one end of a spectrum, with ecumenicalism on the other. More specifically: physically violent confrontation is one extreme, complete avoidance of confrontation is on the other. If approaches to religious disagreement can fall elsewhere on this spectrum, then taking only one of the two extreme approaches is a false dichotomy.

I asked her what she thought other alternatives might be, or if there were even others not on the spectrum at all. She suggested that the death of all humanity might be another choice. I admit I was shocked that I hadn’t thought of an approach that would be more extreme than holy war, but I suppose I just don’t have a believer’s imagination. Thinking more about how such a world view might be possible, it is clear that this is God’s exact approach in the Bible: when God doesn’t like how his creations are behaving, it is not out of character to commit genocide on a whole race or tribe, destroy their firstborn children, or even to flood the entire earth and start over with virtually a clean slate. Indeed, if it is true as the faithful believe that human nature is basically sinful, a utilitarian of any stripe would be hard-pressed to justify the continued existence of billions of our kind.

Fortunately, we are not yet forced by evidence to agree that the existence of humanity is a net negative proposition for the universe. Even if we allow that our species is somehow a cumulative blight in its current state, the case would also have to be made that there is no way for us to ever change our ways and earn our place in the “plus” column. Even the faithful have to agree that this possibility must still exist, or else God would have destroyed us all again; it is His way. It is unfortunate that some believers are actively trying to bring about the conditions they think their holy books foresee as the precursors to a “second coming”, but that is only yet another reason that the faithless feel compelled to act.

Not being extremists or fundamentalists, many atheists advocate and/or espouse a position closer to the middle of the continuum: we adamantly oppose violence of all kinds, especially religiously-motivated violence (including male and female circumcision, stonings, non-sparing of the rod, and other atrocities believers inflict on their own kind), but we also actively engage in confrontation of religious ideas. In a culture of religious freedom and free speech, our answer to religion is not to commit violence against it, try to outlaw it, or use any more force than the power of argumentation. C.S. Lewis, a favorite author of Christian apologetics, would probably agree with our approach (Till We Have Faces):

One of his maxims was that if we cannot persuade our friends by reasons we must be content “and not bring a mercenary army to our aid.” (He meant passions.)

Mano Paul writes about reconciliation, too. His biblical sources might be interpreted either way, but Mano apparently believes that Christians are only obligated to reconcile themselves with other Christians. Indeed, his interpretation seems even to be at odds with the the source material when he says:

Putting First Things First, we must first be reconciled with God and we must reconcile with other believers who may have offended us or whom we may have offended.

Whether or not it is necessary to reconcile with non-believers, Matthew 5:24 does seem unequivocal about the order of things: first set right with man, then return to worship. If the correct order is to first attempt reconciliation with God before settling with man, it would be easy to keep moving that goalpost forever and never take account of one’s fellows. Many Christians seem to agree that we can never live up to God’s standards, so a believer might spend his entire earthly life chasing God’s “friendship and harmony”, never taking the chance to settle differences with the rest of us.

In his Points to Ponder, Mano asks:

Are you reconciled with God? Are you reconciled with men/women? If not, stop your worship and first get reconciled before returning to worship. This is the best gift you can give God.

Atheists have few uniting principles beyond a disbelief in gods. Rationalists and skeptics work toward a world in which poor epistemology is eradicated because we believe the power of science and technology is responsible for the greatest reductions in pain and suffering in human history. The power of these forces is only hindered by archaic and irrational belief systems. We hope that Mano will attempt to settle and resolve his differences with the faithless, because we want him to be a part of the forward progress of humanity (not the backward downforce of antiquity), and we believe the result of that reconciliation is that he will see that atheism is the more reasonable position to take on the question of gods.

If nothing else, the only way we learn new things is to discuss them with those that don’t believe exactly as we do. Perhaps the reconciliation will even bring nonbelievers closer to his god.

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Blood Libel

Mano Paul claims that allegations of anti-Semitism were unfounded when The Passion of the Christ was released. Since he blocks comments from dissenters and won’t reply directly to any disagreements, we can only guess at what he means by this statement.

Does he mean that the people who are responsible for the movie are not anti-Semitic or did not intend such a message? If this is the case, the best we can hope for his mistake is willful ignorance. While it may not have been widely known at the time, since then Mel Gibson has shown his true colors. Even if his movie is only a subconscious reflection of his hate, it’s clear that there are plenty of reasonable grounds to interpret the production as hateful toward Jews.

Does he mean that the actual events of the Bible aren’t anti-Semitic? Here I would actually agree – the Jews aren’t the villain in the story. According to the narrative, the ultimate cause for Jesus’ torture is God. It is God’s plan to create a son on earth in order to torture him and kill him in redemption for the sins of his creations. The men in the story, who are naively portrayed as villains, are simply God’s actors for dramatizing his macabre snuff film. Judas, Pontius, and indeed the cabal of Jewish betrayers are all integral to the larger plot. 30 pieces of silver are merely a distraction to trump up a puppet’s role and obscure the evil of the puppetmaster.

Whatever Mano means when he dismisses claims of anti-Semitism, he should first consider the centuries of blood libel tradition that have cursed the Jewish people by the same wicked hands as Jesus – those that kill and torture in the name of religion. If only those people had instead blamed their misfortune on the true perpetrator (God) instead of the innocent pawns, perhaps the world would not still be shackled with bigotry and ignorance in His name.

Points to Ponder

Mano asks our response to this God who willingly gave his life for us, who supposedly did it of his own free will. He then asks what we will choose to do with our free will. There are so many things wrong with the premises of these questions that a reasonable answer is not even possible until we understand what these even mean.

Presumably, Mano is not just preaching to the choir. If he honestly intends to win converts, he must not assume that nonbelievers have any understanding of the Trinity. (While we’re on the subject, we should hope he realizes that nobody has any reasonable understanding of the Trinity, and indeed most claims are that it is beyond human understanding.) To a nonbeliever, there does not appear to be any justification for believing that God gave his life for us. Perhaps there is a case for God giving his son’s life for us (though a few hours of torture and a few days of “death” followed by heaven forever hardly seems a terrible sacrifice). However, if this was always God’s plan, then it hardly seems like Jesus had any choice in the matter.

Most apologetics for theodicy include some requirement for free will (e.g. if we weren’t allowed to do evil, then we wouldn’t have free will). Saving that argument for later, we must at best assume Mano allows for human free will if he asks us what we will choose with the knowledge of the Jesus story.

So how does a non-Christian respond to a God who kills his son and then makes the only requirement of his inherently sinful creations for avoiding eternal suffering NOT behaving ethically and good, but simply believing that this torture story is the best plan an infinitely loving God could come up with? We think it sounds more like a story that some dimwitted clerics came up with, and we don’t understand why you believe it, either.

Justification

Humans have an evolved sense of social justice. This is not only an advantageous, but probably also necessary trait for a social species whose members rely on each other for survival. Humans are also generally bad at logic. There is no better simultaneous example of both of these than the single test: Wason’s selection criteria.

Naturally, we would expect a belief system which includes concepts about eternal reward and punishment to be particularly appealing to the human brain. It is easy for us to imagine scenarios, especially in a modern world of diminished accountability relative to our small-scale ancestral tribes, where a person could literally get away with murder and not be punished for it in this life. So we see in every major religion this fulfillment of the human desire for justice, whether we call it karma, or heaven, or hell.

Mano Paul notices that maybe Jesus actually didn’t get such a good deal. After all, it doesn’t seem that fair that Jesus would have to take the punishment for everyone else’s sins! I imagine most of his fellow humans would agree. Well apparently Jesus does get his justice when he gets to come back to earth and judge all of us sinners; believers call this the second coming. He will have his revenge! Forget about all that stuff he said about turning the other cheek.

Is this logical? Christians proclaim the greatness of Jesus is that he died for us and absolved of our sins. It sort of detracts from all that greatness if he gets to Lord it over us and punish us if we don’t obey and serve him. Mano claims in this post that all that is necessary to be saved from Jesus’ vengeful return is to just believe in him. “He will accept [us] just as [we] are.” Yet in his series of 7 steps, he claims that a Christian has to do much more than just believe. What does Mano actually think is required to avoid being punished for being born as we are?

What kind of justice is it to create a world that looks like it is the product of natural processes with no reproducible evidence of a supernatural being like the one that will supposedly torture us forever, and then torture us forever for not believing in that being? That kind of thinking is neither logical nor merciful.

Marco…YOLO

Mano Paul votes for “YOLO” as the worst word of 2012. The poll actually calls for “banishment”, which flips on the boo light for censorship, but in the principle of charity we’ll just assume Mano thinks YOLO is bad and we should feel bad for thinking it.

Aesthetically, I agree, but mostly because my only impression of people who use it comes from Fail Blog : Ugliest Tattoos.

Mano claims that YOLO is Biblically incorrect, yet his quotes (including John 11:25 and John 3:16) in support of his argument only seem to undermine his point. Jesus actually tells us we can live forever! It’s hard to imagine how this refutes the idea that we only live once. This idea of everlasting life seems to be a central tenet of Christianity, judging how often we see posters with the John passage outside of churches.

Let’s extend further charity and assume Mano is taking a philosophical stand on the afterlife. No serious person could doubt that humans experience something that we call death. The debate is about whether what we experience as consciousness lives on despite all evidence to the contrary. Does Mano have any serious thoughts to contribute to this argument other than a couple of sentences from a dusty book of myths? The Hindus have their books of myths, too, equally dusty; on what grounds does he dismiss YOLOAOUYETCOR (You Only Live Over And Over Until You Escape The Cycle of Reincarnation)? Not enough ink for the tattoo?

It may not even be true that we all want to live forever, if we think about it, though I tend to subscribe to the Fun Theory of the Universe. However, very few of us not suffering from serious depression are likely to say “yes”, if they’re asked if they want to die. It’s a nice thought to believe in an afterlife. But just because we wish to live forever, that doesn’t make it so.

There is a very silly argument that we should believe in Jesus just in case Christianity is true, because the risk is too great if we’re otherwise wrong. Mano should know a few things about risk management. It’s hard to know if that would make him more likely to accept the argument, or less, but hopefully he has at least considered the case that this life here on earth is the only one we get, and it DOES end when our bodies die. It would be very sad indeed for him to waste so much of his and his family’s life in worship of a false ideal, if this is our only turn on the merry-go-round.

Christmas Perspectives Perspectives

Mano Paul writes a series of posts leading up to Christmas titled “Christmas Perspectives”. Analysis and deconstruction follows.

No Fear, Only Faith

Mano repeats the dangerous notion that belief in God means that one can have no fear of anything, because God makes anything possible. We evolved a fear response for good reason – to ensure we pay extra attention to dangerous situations. If we are actually the product of design, we would expect that the side effects of that response (irrationality, sweating, paralysis) would not be so counterproductive. However flawed the mechanism, though, it is evidence of a survival advantage to have fear.

No matter how often they repeat it, it’s clear that most Christians DON’T actually believe that God gives them invincibility. Though there are the occasional exceptions, there aren’t millions of stories of deaths after Christians try to fly, or stop bullets, or breathe underwater, or do any other dangerous impossible thing that God should supposedly make possible.

Fear is a terrible thing to endure, especially chronic existential fear. That is why religion is so successful: it takes advantage of the fearful in their weak moments and gives them a “cure” – a fantasy world in which they don’t need to be afraid. Ironically, Christianity is perpetuated by the imaginary concept of hell, which is supposed to inspire mortal fear. Christians give themselves and each other this hypochondriac’s disease, which makes them even MORE in need of a cure for their fears.

If only Christians spent the energy they pour into their devotion instead of changing the world to be a less scary place and actually understanding the things they fear. They plaster on layer after layer of God bandages and ignore the disease for the symptoms.

God With(in) Us

Mano asks each of us if God is with us, as well as within us. It is not entirely clear what he believes the difference is, but clearly Mano believes it is superior for God to be within us and not just with us.

Christians believe the birth of Jesus fulfilled an OT prophesy (Matthew 1:23). Apparently Joseph wasn’t interested in literally fulfilling the prophecy by naming his son Immanuel (Hebrew for “God with Us”), but we’ll get to poor Joseph in a minute. Without further explanation than this reference, Mano offers no other clue whether he means that God was with us in body for a short time in the form of the Son, or that God is creepily watching us do whatever it is we do, or something else including a combination of all these things.

To support his definition of “within”, Mano quotes Philippians 2:13, which outlines a more active participation of God in our lives, not unlike the puppeteer with his puppets. He says we need God within us and not just with us, which implies that we have some kind of choice in the matter. I suppose this is a more palatable theology than a God who enters us at will whether we want Him to or not (not unlike a rapist would).

A rough summary of Mano’s position might be: “I believe God is hanging around waiting for us to let him in, and we should do that by thinking that we want him and by doing the things we think he’d want us to do.” Why is this added step necessary? Shouldn’t it be enough to decide we want to do whatever this supposedly perfect being wants and then let Him take it from there? After all, Christians acknowledge almost nothing more than the fact that we are wretched sinners who don’t know our own way.

If only God could communicate better, once He is inside of us, what we are supposed to do instead of leaving it up to us to decide what is His will. Maybe we wouldn’t have ended up with “Gott mit Uns“. As an exercise for the reader, did Nazis believe God was “with” or “within” them?

God’s Will Towards All Men

There are many secular traditions at Christmastime. Whether Christians borrowed them from others or we borrowed them from Christians and made them our own, some of these traditions seem like things we should practice the whole year, instead of for a few weeks in December. “Peace on earth and good will toward men” is one of those sayings which secularists might even believe even without knowing where it came from (Luke 2:14). Imagine if the Christians in the US military actually applied their biblical principles and committed to peace by laying down arms and coming home?

The Wise Seek to Worship

Mano claims it is wise to seek to worship. We should give people the respect they are due, naturally, but this borders on tautology. It is wise to seek to dismantle ideas. Those that are true will survive the attempt. Those that are false will crumble like so many idols through history.

The Gift of Our Life

Mano claims that we owe our lives to God. It is hardly a gift then, is it? This is probably the worst example of Christian Doublespeak – that Jesus gave us a gift when he died on the cross. If he did so with no strings attached, sure. But if we are obligated with our very lives for this gift, well, that’s not a Christmas tradition any reasonable moral person would celebrate. To give him our lives isn’t then a gift, it’s payment of our mafia protection money. Even Santa only asks us to be nice instead of naughty.

Condescension for Ascension

Mano admits that it was condescending of Jesus to live among us. Wow, thanks, Jesus! Now we love you even more! In yet another example of Christian Doublespeak, this condescending act (which in the overwhelming number of cases is negatively connoted) is a loving act. The story so far: God creates man, fucks up by making us weak to temptation, kicks us out of paradise, tries to give us a go of it on earth, fucks up, drowns us all to start over, fucks up, then condescends to come live among us to show us how we’re supposed to behave if we want to come back to live with him. If that is supposed to be some sort of role model behavior, perhaps we’re better off trying to find our own way.

Promised Son for the Prodigal

Mano mixes up the parable of the prodigal son with the Jesus myth. Well if the prodigal can waste his temporary gifts and still be received back into his father’s arms, what incentive does that give us not to live it up while we can? In this light, Christians who truly believe in redemption have more moral justification than anyone for killing, raping, and stealing on this world if they can simply repent and enjoy heaven in the next. It is a common accusation of atheists and humanists who don’t hold themselves accountable to a nonexistent God that we will simply behave immorally without divine accountability. But what accountability exists in the Christian worldview? God continues to fuck up, but he keeps trying to find ways to get us into heaven anyway. Shouldn’t we just enjoy ourselves until he figures out the rules for this game?

The Real Christmas Story

Imagine the Christmas story took place today. What would we really think is going on? Is there any reason to believe it actually happened differently 2000 years ago?

In the Year of Our Lord 1984

Mano Paul says slavery is power. Does that sound like Doublespeak to anyone else? Or does he really see actual parallels between the Gospels of JC and Snap?

The Power” starts with a clip in German about the start of production of a line of personal computers. It would seem that even Snap sees more power in science and technology than in faith. Turbo B goes on to rap about basically how awesome his rhymes are. How exactly is Mano using this song to claim that a “proud, arrogant, and egotistic attitude” brings “absolutely no power”? Does he think that Turbo B is being ironic?

The authors of the original version of the song stole samples from Chill Rob G, Jocelyn Brown, and Mantronix. Before the US release, a new version had to be recorded to replace the samples, and the artist name “Snap!” was adopted. Christianists defend against arguments that the Jesus mythology is stolen, too.

In 2011, disciples of “The Power” threatened the architectural stability of a skyscraper. As an exercise for the reader, what analogies can be made about a group of followers acting in unison that leads to destruction?

There seems to be a tradition in faith blogging to pick some pop culture reference and try to tie it back to the Bible somehow. This repetitive exercise is basically doing nothing but reinforcing the cognitive bias toward confirming interpretations. Or maybe it’s simply a form of “here’s some shit I like; maybe I can use it to make Bible study more interesting”.

The trouble is that Mano has actually stumbled onto something like truth about the ego and self-importance. (Just because the Bible isn’t always true doesn’t mean that it is always false.) If he actually had the philosophical chops to have learned about the ego from Freud and the Buddha and everyone else who has discovered the same thing about it, instead of starting with Turbo B, he would likely use that as justification for all of the other nonsense tied up with it in the Bible. (Just because the Bible is sometimes true, doesn’t mean it is always true.)

The ego is a nasty little beast, always looking out for itself. Maybe you can keep it from making your identity about “high-ranking titles and positions”, but then while you were congratulating yourself about your humility, suddenly it takes on “slave” and “martyr” as your new identity and defends those with the same ferocity and blindness. You think you have power? Try winning the battle with your own identity. Good luck finding all the right mirrors.

Unthinking Tribalism

“You’re either with us or you’re against us.” This phrase, notably associated with the Bush II presidency (though it was actually Hillary Clinton who said it first during that period), is an artifact of our early tribal days, when humans had to survive by banding together in small nomadic groups. It is rather less useful in modern society, when we depend on an intricately connected global network which suffers at the hands of these archaic tribal notions.

What does it mean for people to claim, as Mano Paul does, that they’re in God company? Probably nothing good. The German military, including under Hitler’s command, used the phrase Gott Mit Uns. The Israelites believed God wanted them to massacre the Canaanites, even the women and children. Crusaders believed their military expeditions were ordained by God, and the Catholic church told them so. The 9/11 terrorists praised their God, too. When people say they’re in God company, especially when they’re quoting their holy book, we should rightly be concerned about a coming genocide.

The answer to “who is against us” seems invariably to be “other humans”. If you’ve committed yourself to violence against humanity, chances are good that you’ve made a mistake in your moral reasoning somewhere along the way. In that respect, we should be happy that more and more people are coming down on the side against God.

The absurdity of God-invoked militarism is most clearly seen in the modern athlete who thanks the heavens for a victory or good play, as if God cared for the outcome of a football game. There is no scriptural support for this kind of nonsense, so it is the most naked example of our tribal roots shining through centuries of cultural evolution. Until we all recognize it for what it is and shed our in-group/out-group prejudices, we will still live in a world marked by genocide, whether we credit it to God or not.