Jan 19 2014

Open thread for episode #849: Spirituality in Healthcare

Today I want to mention a few more things about spirituality in healthcare.

I fully understand that someone’s personal cosmology can play a role in their health. Extreme or prolonged stress is unhealthy. And religious beliefs, as part of a person’s overall worldview, can contribute to stress or relieve it, depending on the individual. I have no problem with a patient in mental or medical treatment asking for spiritual support. And I take no issue with a facility providing them that support. When I interviewed Dr. Poole we discussed how he used referrals to religious practitioners for a number of patients, even though he is openly atheist. He became concerned, though, for a number of reasons, discussed on past shows and blogs, when there was a move to shift the spiritual and religious responsibilities to the medical/mental health professional directly—forcing patients to provide “spiritual histories” and opening the door for professional psychiatrists to pray with patients as part of standard practice. The problems and potential for abuse continue to be a topic of debate in professional journals and within these communities. Again, Dr. Poole was invited on to talk about how he specifically unwittingly became embroiled in one such dialog within the pages of the journal for the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK.

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Jan 15 2014

An iconic moment…

Captured in time.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 9.42.47 AM

Jan 13 2014

Open thread for episode #848: Brain Dead is Dead

Jan 06 2014

Open thread for episode #847: Talking faith with Faith

The first show of the new year, everyone. Comment away!

Jan 05 2014

Trying on atheism

The Huffington Post recently relayed the story of former pastor Ryan J. Bell, who is “trying on atheism” for a while. Bell says,

So, I’m making it official and embarking on a new journey. I will “try on” atheism for a year. For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances. (I trust that if there really is a God that God will not be too flummoxed by my foolish experiment and allow others to suffer as a result).

Bell has his own blog, which I encourage you to check out at http://www.yearwithoutgod.com/

I’ve seen a few different reactions to this. Many of the commenters at his blog are clearly worried that he’s going to go through with it become atheist, and are trying to talk him out of it. Some atheists, notably Hemant Mehta, are telling Bell that he’s “doing it wrong.” Hemant says,

Make no mistake: Bell is not “trying on atheism.” He’s just a Christian doing what all people should do and exposing himself to an alternative perspective. That’s a very good thing, no doubt, but scrutinizing your own beliefs isn’t a substitute for being godless. Just as celebrating Hanukkah doesn’t make someone Jewish and fasting during Ramadan doesn’t make you a Muslim, not going through typical Christian rituals doesn’t make you an atheist.

Ultimately, Bell still believes in God, at least for now. Until he changes his mind about that, he’s not really living as an atheist. He says, for example, that he won’t read the Bible over the next year… but neither do a lot of Christians and it’s not like they’re giving atheism a try. Bell also says he’ll read books written by atheists and attend atheist gatherings… but let’s be honest: it’s not like a lot of atheists do those things either.

That may well be true, but you know what? I don’t really care.

One of the earliest experiences I had arguing with people on the internet was on a message board system on a private network called Prodigy. There was an active religion and atheism section on the Teens board, where kids of different faiths would mingle and take shots at each other. There was an incident when I suggested that everyone should try some roleplaying — atheists should post as Christians, and vice versa. The atheists threw themselves wholeheartedly, while the Christians shuffled around and made excuses, or flat out said that God wouldn’t approve of saying such things even as a joke.

I’m bringing this up because I think most Christians have a big hurdle to overcome, which is that they can’t even let themselves recognize and experience doubt, even hypothetically or temporarily, for fear that it would make them genuinely evil. As I pointed out in my recent lecture on atheism and the internet, Romans 14:22-23 says,

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

So if a Christian wants to experiment with atheism, are they an atheist? No, not necessarily. But they are casting aside the fear that they will not be allowed to access the real thoughts in the back of their mind, and that’s a good step that ought to be encouraged.

Would it please me if Ryan Bell finished his experiment and decided he was an atheist? Well, sure. I know there are some atheists who would hear about this and say, “Oh, now that Ryan has opened his mind, he will definitely become and atheist, because that’s the only logical position.” Not true. I know many sincere and intelligent Christians who have spent time investigating alternatives to their faith, and tell me it strengthened their position. I have no reason to doubt them. I think that someone who gets to Bell’s stage (he disagrees with his church on many significant issues, and doesn’t feel the need to reach out to a God in order to get by in his day-to-day life) is likely to come out on our side, but it’s by no means a foregone conclusion.

I do know that atheism is still an extreme minority position in our culture, and this makes it hard for many Christians to honestly evaluate the shortcomings of their faith. Many atheist came to their current position because they started out with sincere but manageable doubts, they investigated the issues as they arose, and found they couldn’t remain true to their integrity without abandoning belief in God entirely. It doesn’t always happen, but it seems to be one of the most popular paths to atheism. So I would much rather encourage that pastor to continue with his exploration rather than ridicule the way he’s chosen to approach it.

In the end though, what matters isn’t what position you take on whether there’s a God or not (“The easiest question in the world,” as Matt Dillahunty says), but whether your efforts to figure out the truth are driven by intellectual honesty, and a sincere desire to explore what other people believe and why. As long as that’s happening, there is no wrong way to try skepticism.

If I could offer one piece of advice to former pastor Bell: There is no need to isolate yourself from your former beliefs. You don’t have to stop praying for a year. You don’t have to stop reading the Bible. You don’t have to avoid asking yourself how a Christian perspective would respond to the difficult questions that you may encounter.

Instead, make an honest evaluation of the things you have been taught, and try your hardest to remain skeptical of the atheist material you hear about. I can’t guarantee it, but I’m betting you don’t have to stack the deck for atheism to stand up on its own.

Dec 23 2013

Open thread for episode #845: Russell and Don, last show of the year

It’s been a great 2013 everybody. See you next year!

Addendum: Bergoglio’s “Day of Peace” message is here.

Dec 16 2013

Copyright change for The Atheist Experience

Hi everyone,

Last month I posted about some concerns over the duplication of episodes of The Atheist Experience. As I mentioned in that post, up until now we have been using the license Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0. This has effectively allowed various channels on YouTube to become unofficial hosts of new shows, in their entirety, every week.

After extensive discussions among the board of directors at the Atheist Community of Austin, we will be changing the copyright terms going forward. Past shows remain under the Creative Commons license and may be reproduced in full, as long as the license terms are posted, and there is a prominent link to the show’s website. However, new episodes of The Atheist Experience, beginning with the episode on 12/15/2013, are posted as “All Rights Reserved” and may not be reproduced in full without permission.

Having said that, we’ve always appreciated fans posting their favorite clips on YouTube, and we’d like to give as broad permission as possible for that kind of activity to continue. So to make this clear:

The Atheist Experience hereby grants permission to copy clips, up to ten minutes in length, for non-commercial purposes only. Up to two clips per episode may be copied on any one channel.

If you’d like to copy a longer clip, or more clips from one episode, all you have to do is write to [email protected] and ask for permission. We’ll probably say yes. It’s that simple!


Dec 16 2013

Open thread for episode #844

As we slowly ease into the end of the year, Matt and Jen take calls and discuss the Christmas “Wars,” waged by petty little men who behave like spoiled children who don’t want anyone else having their birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Comment away, gang.

Dec 13 2013

Fair representation of competing doctrines

So we got email taking us to task for an argument made on the show. I am copying it with some minor edits.

I am a Christian who has been listening to your program for about a year now.  On the whole, I enjoy your programs but I have a problem with you on this issue outlined below.

I have heard you say that in Christianity a person can do ANYTHING they want – steal, rape, torture, murder – and still get in Heaven on a last minute Death-bed confession, and that Salvation is based ENTIRELY on Faith, IRRELEVANT of actions or deeds.

I am sorry but this is absolutey UNTRUE.

(Continued below)

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Dec 08 2013

Open thread on AETV #843: Russell and Tracie

Thanks to Greg and Chip for the reminder to discuss “The Polar Express” today. I’d like to talk a little about the film’s handling of the Problem of Evil, using Santa as analogous to god, and using the character of Billy to represent the underprivileged of the world, and one of the unbelievers. The song “When Christmas Comes to Town,” describes Billy’s short life without any visit from Santa to his poor home, ever, and contrasts that against the message of a young, well groomed girl, who sings about all her happy Christmas memories. The song is sung as a contrasting duet. Here are the lyrics:

I’m wishing on a star, and trying to believe
That even though it’s far, he’ll find me Christmas Eve
I guess that Santa’s busy, cause he’s never come around.
I think of him when Christmas comes to town.

The best time of the year, when everyone comes home.
With all this Christmas cheer, it’s hard to be alone.
Putting up the Christmas tree, with friends who come around.
It’s so much fun when Christmas comes to town.

Presents for the children, wrapped in red and green.

All the things I’ve heard about, but never really seen.

Billy & Girl together:
No one will be sleeping on the night of Christmas Eve.
Hoping Santa’s on his way.

When Santa’s sleigh bells ring.

I listen all around.

The herald angels sing.

I never hear a sound.

And all the dreams of children.

Once lost will all be found.

That’s all I want when Christmas comes to town.

Billy and Girl together:
That’s all I want when Christmas comes to town.

After a visit to Santa’s magical world at the North Pole, Billy becomes a believer, and upon his return home finds that Santa has visited his home and left something. However, Billy is never provided with any explanation from Santa about why Santa favors the well-off children in his town, and seems to be years behind schedule visiting the more economically challenged households.

Billy is presented as a timid, shy, and humble personality. And so there is no reason provided to think that Billy has landed on the “naughty” list. And at such a young age, it can hardly be the case that Billy could be held to account  for not believing at times in his life when belief was not even possible, due to his cognitive development (at say ages 0 – 4 or so). Where was Santa then? How is his absence explained? How is Billy responsible for those missing Santa years and visits?

I personally think the story would have been better off eliminating the character of Billy. By including that child, the film presented a glaring error in the character of Santa, and also the narrative of rewarding good children annually with gifts, all over the world. Santa appears to be guilty of discriminating due to economic disadvantage, and no viable explanation is provided. Additionally, the blame is placed up on Billy in some respects for not accepting the narrative, when his brief life experience up to this point indicates that narrative is faulty. And that, also, is never corrected nor explained. If the film is going to present the problem, and reconcile that to Santa’s goodness, it should at least attempt to supply an answer or explanation. Presenting the problem and providing no justification for Santa’s negligence leaves the viewer hanging. Why even ask, if the goal is to explain Santa is good, and then leave no satisfying answer, except that Santa seems to think it’s correct to neglect Billy for the crime of being born poor–until Billy proves he’s worthy, by believing at an older age. Alternately, the Girl appears to have every advantage and not to have been overlooked in her earlier years in a far more prosperous home. She has also been provided, by Santa, every reason to believe in him. It’s an unfair contest on every level.

Anyway, that and calls.

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