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Dec 05 2013

Joe Messina, Atheist Evangelism and Our War on Christmas

Joe Messina’s on SCV News and is weighing in on our dastardly war on Christmas.

I always was amused by the notion that we hate Christmas. I liked Christmas, I sang carols as a kid despite being Hindu and liked presents just as much as the next kid. We just didn’t bother with the Carpenter god of Christianity. It’s a nice social holiday for the rest of us.

Now you may stamp your feet and huff and puff about how we are demeaning the true meaning of Christmas but frankly considering our presents were small and not the latest and greatest must have toys that have so commercialised Christmas we are hardly the thing that’s poisoning Christmas.

You can be an atheist and celebrate the cultural festival of Christmas. You just don’t pray and instead spend time with the family and make it mean something to you.

But it’s not the case for many atheists or people struggling with disbelief. And it is a struggle.

I am reading some of the letters of Mother Theresa and one of the surprising things is how little faith she had. She may not have been a realised Atheist with shelves of Hitchens and a pithy blog but she wrote letters where she struggled to understand her kind  god that allowed such brutal suffering.

She doubted her god and the existence of his son because the atheist world view of poverty and colonialism and lack of unified infrastructure makes more sense. I will write about her and her quotes later but for now let’s delve into Joe’s argument.

By definition, atheists are on an evangelical campaign to convert believers to non-believers. Isn’t America wonderful with that whole freedom-of-speech thing? Too bad there wasn’t a “freedom from lies” in the Constitution. I guess when the only truth you base your whole existence on is science, people and Wikipedia, it becomes a fluid and subjective truth.

Not really.

I don’t think religious people will convert to atheism through the strength of my argument. I cannot argue against magic fairies and wizards and gods with science. Thats silly. It’s like arguing against goblins through geometry. If you believe in goblins then no amount of proof is going to dissuade you since all you will say is “ah but it’s faith”.

No. I am afraid that there are many Christians and indeed Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Bahaai and various other religious people who doubt their faith. Who live in guilt that their thoughts are sinful. Who hate themselves and what thoughts they think because people like Joe Messin demonise atheists.

If I am to be a monster I would ask you to look at yourself in the mirror and tell me what makes me and my actions more monsterous than yours?

The subjective truth? Well that may as well be that there is a true objective truth out there. We don’t know what it is. No one does. Not Joe, and certainly not his 2000 year old book of Bronze age superstition. And it is a horrific objective truth, a truth that states that genocide and rape and murder and slavery  were acceptable since it was under the argument of a divine source and since that source is good. The inhumane acts are also good.

Or perhaps the Bible is itself an objective source. Moderate Christians certainly look at Levite law with discomfort and ignore it because following  it makes them bad people. You may call them hypocrites but I call them nice people.

Or perhaps the people of the Bible didn’t know better but you still claim it as an objective moral code to which my answer is “then what good is it”? What’s the point of claiming it’s an objective moral code and then ignoring all the bits that make you look like a genocidal slave mongering rapist? Clearly that’s evidence for a subjective morality. The Bible itself is a piece of subjective morality since Christian priests were among the people who fought against slavery as an institution because they simply ignored Levite law and all the slavery bits.

These people are disingenuous. It’s not that they want equality and freedom to practice their own brand of religion. They want us to abandon our religion and have the same “nothing” they have. They want us to feel ridiculous for believing in an afterlife simply because they don’t believe in it.

It’s not a religion. Atheism is an absence of a god. With a small g. There are more gods out there created by the minds of man than the rather tame Jesus and Jehovah. Why must they be attriibuted special capitalisation and the Smoking Mirror not? Are only white people’s gods worthy of capitals?

We don’t have nothing. We have each other. We have humanity. We realise that we are all fundamentally the same and have the same wants and needs. We all smile at things we find amusing. We bleed if we are pricked and we laugh if we are tickled. We are all the same. And we can feel kinship in that. We can find love and peace in being a human being.

Yes. I do want people to feel ridiculous for believing in a place where you go when you die that you only go to if you believe in a specific Carpenter god but not if you believe in his friends Moses and Mohammed or indeed some other god. Where you get everything you wanted and live a life of utter vapid boredom or something or the other.

It’s a fairy tale and it’s stupid one at that. It’s no more a reality than George and Lenny’s Farm. It is something to give hope to the people who are downtrodden so we can keep stamping on them without them lining us up against the walls and bayonetting us.

Do not rebel against the stick because later you will get major rewards and the stick man will go to hell and burn.

Except there was never any Heaven or Hell to begin with.

The fact that they can’t wrap their minds around a supreme being who made everything must mean it can’t exist. Talk about being full of yourself. And they actively work against “believers,” telling us it’s for our own good.

I can understand such a being. I understand it a lot. I understand that to believe in something that fantastic you would need a fantastic amount of proof. There is absolutely no proof of any such being. And indeed the existence of such a singular being would create so many more questions. A god is simply not an elegant solution to the problem of what happened to create the universe.

The fact that they think we can’t have fun because we believe in Heaven and hell shows a level of ignorance that’s staggering.

You can have fun, but there are people who doubt their faith. People who you harass and oppress to shore up your faith. The GLBT and women in particular. But for young men and women who doubt their faith, they have to know that there is another way and that way isn’t the bogey  man that you make us out to be.

You describe the Bible as a light. Yes it is. The problem with too much lights in the dark is that it makes you not realise how big your world really is. It’s like the lights of the city. When you turn them off you suddenly realise that the sky is much bigger and full of stars.

Your world view is like living in a goldfish bowl and thinking it’s the ocean. The world is much much grander and beautiful and there is an entire universe out there. There are millions of things, people and experiences to live.

To be human is to live and to live means to show up having done something interesting with your life. And by that I mean something you ENJOYED. Time wasted that you enjoyed is not time wasted. You don’t have to have cured world hunger or fought poverty or saved lives.

Most people who pray to gods never do those things either. The difference is how you view life and the world and experience.

If you want to sell your wares, be honest about it. If you really have the truth, that there is nothing, then “preach” it. If it’s true, it will stand on its own. If not … well then, make sure you have air conditioning.

There is nothing. When you die there is nothing more.

You live in heaven and heaven is what you make of it. And most of us who read this are incredibly blessed. I have seen suffering and I have seen the suffering that broke Mother Theresa’s faith and I still kept mine because I saw that the thing that came to help and give these people comfort were not gods but men.

Even Mother Theresa was not sent by any gods but  because she felt that she had to help but as I have said before about Charity, she bit off more than she bargained for and felt her self get jaded. She fought the beast and lost.

I did not. I beat it and I will keep beating it.

So if you think there is nothing to Atheism because there is no goal then I will tell you this. It’s not the Kingdom of God that we seek but the Republic of Man. And this is built with hard work and sweat and tears and it’s not for us but for those who come after us that we struggle.

My work will have left the world a slightly better place. For both other and my kids. Do you think prayer does that? Do you think sitting in a church does that? No. Spend time with your family, spend time with your kids. Play, Laugh and Live. Because the greatest thing in the world is you are lucky to have been born in a place where you don’t have to suffer.

And you think that the reward comes before dying, but I think the reward comes before you die. But that ignores all the little choices, the little experiences, the things that are and the things that may have been and the things that will be. You have to ignore all of that to say that there is nothing. Because the reward comes after death.

It’s not a race, it has never been a race. It’s a journey and the point has always been to look at the scenery rather than sprint to the end.

The reward of life is life itself.

Does this mean that the only reason you do good and behave well is to gain the non-tangible reward promised in Heaven?  That makes you less moral than me.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    … when the only truth you base your whole existence on is science, people and Wikipedia…

    Something in Christian theology apparently gives a lot of believers great confusion about the concepts of “one” and “three”.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    the true meaning of Christmas

    You mean winter solstice? The christians have no idea when their supposed god-man was supposedly born. Their source of information is somewhere below “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in terms of credibility and factual detail. We also know for a fact that christians often suborned existing holy days when they needed to explain why their monotheism trumped local superstitions.

    The winter solstice: it’s the reason for the season.

  3. 3
    flex

    We bleed if we are pricked and we laugh if we are tickled.

    … George and Lenny’s Farm.

    This is one of the reasons I keep reading. Yes, the message is good, but the writing which connects to other parts of culture make the posts memorable.

    Although, if there is one thing which makes me despair for the future is that none of my co-workers (who happen to be your age) know any of these references. They have never read (or seen) Shakespeare, and if they read Steinbeck it was in high school and they have forgotten it. I suppose we get our pleasures from different places.

    But, how can they properly appreciate classic bugs bunny cartoons without knowing Steinbeck?

  4. 4
    Avicenna

    @Flex – The more scary thing is that I mentioned Steinbeck (I actually prefer Of Mice and Men – Gang aft a gley) since it’s from a Scots poem by Burns. It was taken by Steinbeck for his title from here.) and I am from the UK.

    We read American literature in high school alongside Brit and Commonwealth and I read depression Era literature.

    I had a choice of To Kill a Mocking Bird or this. I picked this because it was a smaller book (I was 14 to be fair…).

    I also love Shakespeare because it was not taught to me in a stupid way but with people in the class reading parts and encouraged to put on stupid voices.

    Steinbeck’s stuff resonates PARTICULARLY now considering it’s a similar environment of economic destabilisation and the fact that the American Dream always has been just a dream. A dream to pacify the Lennys and Georges of our world.

    There are new books of similar vein. And indeed TV Shows and VIdeogames. I dont think culture comes from established sources alone. The world did not explode the day Apocalypse Now told Heart of Darkness for the Vietnam Generation. And the day Spec Ops – The Line told Heart of Darkness for our Iraq Generation.

    Culture comes where we find it.

  5. 5
    flex

    @Avicenna,

    Oh, don’t get me wrong. Conrad’s story is good whether you are reading the original or any of the myriad derivatives. Well, some pastiches are better done than others. And not a few have missed Conrad’s point about colonialism and racism to focus solely on Kurtz’s cult of personality.

    Just like the story of Romeo and Juliet is good whether it’s Shakespeare, or Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovid, or the Sondheim and Bernstein West Side Story, or even the recent move Warm Bodies.

    It’s all part of our culture.

    My point, if I had one, in my original comment was that I appreciate cultural references when I read because they help link the ideas in the article I’m reading to already known subject matter. This gives me some confidence that what I’m getting from the article is what the author intended. For example, if you had written,

    It’s a fairy tale and it’s stupid one at that. It’s no more a reality than The Scooby Gang. It is something to give hope to the people who are downtrodden so we can keep stamping on them without them lining us up against the walls and bayonetting us.

    I would been certain I wasn’t quite understanding what you were going on about. Making cultural references helps communication.

    And If I’m unfamiliar with the cultural reference being invoked, I can ignore it without worry. I just don’t have the cultural linkage to re-enforce my understanding of the article. So if you had referenced Spec Ops as an illustration, it wouldn’t have bothered me. I’m more of a Fallout 3/Skyrim player.

    The second part of my comment, about my co-workers, was intended to be somewhat lighthearted. Yet, I have often been told that I come across as pompous; as Pratchett would put it, like my bum was stuffed with tweed. I try to avoid it, but my inner pedant regularly shines through. So if the wry smile on my face when I wrote that wasn’t apparent, that was a problem with my writing, not your comprehension.

    -Cheers

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