I’ll Take You At Your Word

You tell me you’re a Christian
And I’ll take you at your word
Though you’re quick to note, the bible
Has some bits that are absurd.

In your eyes, it’s not a science book;
No reason to believe
That there ever was an Eden
With an Adam and an Eve

And the flood is just mythology
Not literally true,
(the majority of Christians,
As you know, agree with you!)

And there isn’t any evidence
For Heaven or for Hell
Or an afterlife of any sort,
But hey, it’s just as well.

You don’t really think that Jesus
Turned some water into wine;
And you couldn’t care the slightest
If He really was divine.

If the miracles are hogwash
And the resurrection hype—
If your Christ is just a mortal man—
The magic all is tripe…

Is “Christian” just a label, then?
Is “Christian” just your tribe?
To which beliefs—if any—
Do you Christian folk subscribe?

If your faith makes you a Christian
But you tend to disagree
With the others of your label—
It’s confusing, don’t you see?

You tell me you’re a Christian
And I’ll take you at your word…
But the label you have chosen
Is, I’m telling you… absurd.

Yeah, so anyway… I know full well that most Christians aren’t young-earth creationists. I don’t actually know any young-earth creationists personally. I know a lot of liberal Christians; some of them are related to me (I do know one or two old-earth creationists who are also related to me). My parents, for instance, are Christians, but know full well the history of the writing of the bible, and are (as former science teachers) perfectly accepting of the evidence for evolution. They don’t even argue for the divinity of Christ; I honestly don’t know whether they believe in that or not (and yes, it comes up in conversation, as all of their siblings are very religious).

The truth is, not only are “theists” as varied in their beliefs as atheists, but frankly, any segment of believers–any small portion of the theistic spectrum–are themselves a spectrum (or, more probably, many spectra across many orthogonal factors). People are people, and they vary. It makes perfect sense that no two atheist need share the same beliefs–after all, atheism is negatively defined–but it should not surprise us that any two believers, even of the same sect, need not share the same beliefs. As important as religion is, it is not 100% of anyone’s belief system. Not to mention… the members of any one specific (no matter how specific) belief system do (and must!) differ from one another in the particulars of their belief.

So it should not surprise me at all, but of course there are Christians (I could say “self-described Christians”, but frankly that’s an insult) who don’t believe in Eden, in Adam and Eve. Who don’t believe in original sin (except as a metaphor). Who believe Jesus’s sacrifice was meaningless, if it happened at all. Who don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, in Heaven, in Hell, in sin or redemption. Who laugh at the notion of transubstantiation (this includes some Catholics). And yet, who are Christians, every bit as much as any other group can claim the name (I’m looking at you, Westboro Baptist Church).

Which, frankly, doesn’t surprise or bother me (like I said, I see it in my own family). But… Why on earth would they want to keep the name? Strange bedfellows, Christianity begets–people who disagree more than agree lay claim to the same name. People who make war with one another over these very beliefs lay claim to the same name. My goodness… I’ve known people who legally changed their names to cut ties to parents they disagreed with. Why would good people like my sister, like my parents…like hundreds of thousands or millions more like them… want to share a label with people who believe things they find ludicrous?

Yeah, I guess they’d rather the other folks change their label. And sometimes they’ll pretend that already happened–that those other people “aren’t real christians”. But the thing is, the whole spectrum claims that label. I’d rather not be caught in a “no true Christian” fallacy, so…

I’ll take them at their word.

Related Posts:
Historical Jesus

On Original Sin

The Thin Veneer Of Civilization Peels Away

It looks just like civility
In towns both far and near
It looks as firm as solid oak—
It’s false as thin veneer.

They go to church on Sundays
And they bow their heads in prayer
American utopia?
Try peeling back a layer.

“Our boys are always gentlemen!
They like to party, but
They’re members of the football team!
It must have been the slut.”

And no, it’s not just Steubenville,
And no, it’s not just jocks
Just look online, at comment threads
On CNN or FOX.

They gladly make excuses for
This adolescent jape—
And claim they’d call the cops themselves…
If only this were rape.

This wasn’t really rape, they said,
And isn’t worth a fuss…
But, damn… it really isn’t them
I look around… It’s us

Let me start with verse 2–in this particular case, I absolutely do not mean that all the rape apologists are religious. I needed a rhyme for “layer”. My point is not hypocrisy, my point is that I don’t think there has been a news site I have yet checked–right wing, left wing, local, national, whatever–where there hasn’t been an active cluster of rape apologists. CNN. FOX. NPR. MSNBC. Others. On NPR, I took the bait of a troll, and remembered that it is much easier to compose a drive-by trolling post than to properly respond… other commenters warned not to feed the troll, but if no one responded at all, it could be confused with tacit approval of a rape apologist.

And here I am, a doggerel writer. A writer of light, often humorous commentary. Ever try to write lightly about something that turns your stomach? Cos I have. It doesn’t go well.

So, in part because of this stuff, in part because of never you mind, I spent part of last night shivering through an anxiety attack, and the rest of it not sleeping. And I can’t wait to read some good news. If you have any, I’d love to hear it.

And the damnedest thing is, I have absolutely no reason to complain. Here I just phrased much of this post in terms of *my* discomfort, and that is so far removed from the actual real thing that’s wrong that it just makes me look a fool.

I guess the good news is, so far (don’t point me to exceptions, not yet!) whereever I have seen rape apologists on news sites, I have seen people ready, willing, and able to call them on it. And it seems that the apologists have been in the minority–motivated, headstrong, stubborn as mules, and loud, but in the minority. It seems. I certainly hope so.

All that TED talking about de-extinction, and I can think of a species I wouldn’t mind saying goodbye to.

God Is Pro-Choice (Just Anti-Woman)

When God created humankind
And said that they were free
He showed nothing’s more important than a choice.
He could save us from damnation
In a heartbeat, but you see,
It’s important that He’s given us a voice.

If eternity in torture
Is acceptable to God
As the risk you take for freedom while on earth
If the right to choose is sacrosanct,
I guess I find it odd
That the church would fight with women over birth

See, if self-determination
Is the most important fact—
More important than salvation of your soul
Why would women be disfavored
For a self-determined act?
Cos the goal is not salvation—it’s control.

Give me liberty, or give me death

Ελευθερία ή θάνατος (“Freedom or Death”–the national motto of Greece)

Live Free Or Die

Humankind has (as you can see) elevated freedom to an equal (if not greater) status with life itself. If this seems extreme, consider that [some of] Christian theology claims that the threat of eternal damnation is balanced by free will; that, because we have been given the gift of being able to choose to believe, it is acceptable to punish non-believers for all eternity.

Equating freedom with life is, it seems, a less stringent standard than it could be; we could easily make a biblical case for freedom being far more (infinitely more) important than life. The ability of human beings to make free choices is an important part of modern theology; if we did not choose our sinful path–if an omnipotent, omniscient God chose it for us–how could that God justify punishing us at all, let alone eternally? No, it is crucially important that humans have the ability, and the right, to choose.

Human beings. Not women. For some reason, the theology all seems to fall apart when it comes to women being able to freely choose. Not because life is important–if that were the case, God could choose to infringe on the freedoms He grants to all of us. An omnipotent, omniscient being could easily make it such that men would not choose to rape, or that parents would not disown girls, or that birth defects would not happen. An omnipotent, omniscient God could easily make every pregnancy wanted. But of course, He did not. Because human choice is more important.

Unless, of course, a woman chooses for herself. Because even more important than humankind’s ability to choose, is… what? A woman’s inability to choose?

God is clearly pro-choice. But it seems equally clear that God is anti-woman.

I wonder why anyone would be pro-god.

Well, Dammit.

I had quite a different post ready to share with you today.

You see, I had very recently googled “cuttlefish” (yes, ego-surfing. Sue me.) and found that, miracle of miracles, I was listed ahead of Answers in Genesis. (For context, see this early post where I first noticed how high AiG is on the list of results for “cuttlefish”, and this later post checking up on the situation.) I was overjoyed; I never expected to overtake The Great Satan AiG, so I prepared a post in which I marveled at the exposure Freethought Blogs had given me, to be able to climb so high (actually, it’s not a matter of my blog being up there–it’s a matter of something, anything, pushing AiG out of the first page).

And I just double-checked. Cos, you know, it would be embarrassing to write the whole thing up and then be wrong.

Yeah, anyway, I wrote the whole thing up and I was wrong.

My most recent search (I re-did it twice) showed AiG comfortably ahead of me–I am on the first page, but just barely, and a creationist lying piece of shit… sorry, a site dedicated to bearing false witness… is ahead of me. And ahead of XKCD, for that matter.

It may be that the algorithms have locked in a lie. It may be that AiG has sufficient inertia on its side that it will continue to serve up disinformation until the heat death of the universe. But could you maybe do me a favor? First… could you do whatever internet search you do for “cuttlefish” and confirm or disconfirm my fears? And secondly… I know I have a lot of smart and savvy readers–is there anything that can be done?

Yes, I know this is a small and perhaps insignificant little battle. But damn, a creationist site on the first page of “cuttlefish”? I was so happy, thinking I had vanquished this dragon. But hey. Reality beats happy fantasy, and (well, dammit) AiG beats The Digital Cuttlefish.

*sigh*

If you’ve read this far, here’s the original verse (now over 5 years old!):

Similarity shows that a common designer
With similar blueprints and parts
Constructed the human and cuttlefish forms—
I swear by all three of your hearts.

The God who created the heavens and earth
And killed dinosaurs off in The Flood
Used the same old ideas again and again
You can tell by your copper-green blood.

But the clearest, most obvious clue to His Touch
Is the similar form to our eye
(They are really quite different, in various ways,
But if you won’t tell, neither will I).

Color-blind cuttlefish never see red
But they can see polarized light;
This common designer gets different effects
Out of human and cuttlefish sight.

Anatomically, too, these are two different eyes
They have retinas frontward-to-back,
And cuttlefish reshape the whole of their eye
Because shapeable lenses they lack.

The shape of the pupil allows them to see
To the front and the rear all at once
So similar, clearly, to what we can do—
If you dare disagree, you’re a dunce!

When Answers in Genesis says it’s design
And not just a matter of fitness
I know they’re not fibbing—right there, number nine—
Thou shalt not bear false witness.

I only have one little, lingering doubt
Though I really, I promise, am trying—
If it’s perfectly clear they see common design
It’s even more clear that they’re lying.

What If Atheism Really Is Just A “Lack of Belief in God”?

There’s no reason to think that we’re better
There’s no reason to think that we’re worse
There’s no reason to think we’ve been chosen
Or are damned by some ultimate curse
There’s no call to put faith in the Torah
Or in any or all of its sequels
And without such a misguided compass
We are free to treat others as equals.

There’s no reason to think there is magic
There’s no need for an ultimate cause
There’s no need for some stellar mechanic
Who’s unburdened by natural laws
There’s no need to infer a creator
Looking on as creation unfurled
And without all those misguided questions
We are free to examine the world.

So today’s title comes from a bit of musing on a religious blog–they don’t have comments there, so I had to write here.

The author starts out largely in agreement with me. He defines (for purposes of this essay) atheism as the privative, the empty category of faith systems, the “none of the above“. It is a “lack of belief”. (The author notes that this view clearly does not encompass all of atheist thought–including things like atheism plus in his additional examples. He is addressing only the “lack of belief” view.) He points out that this non-belief, while it may be associated with any number of positive beliefs, is not itself a positive belief at all.

And this is true. But then, he makes some judgments that are poorly framed.

Atheism Is Not Pro-Reason or Pro-Science
This point is just a clarification of the prior section. Because atheism cannot offer support for any positive belief, atheism is not intrinsically pro-reason or pro-science. Individual atheists might be in favor of reason or science, but they are not in favor of reason or science because of their atheism.

True. More on this later.

Atheism is Not Morally Progressive
If atheism cannot offer support for any other belief, then atheists may or may not value the abolition of slavery, gay marriage, equal pay for women, abortion, communism, and greedy Wall Street bankers.

Also true. And more on this later as well.

Atheism Is A Comfortable Belief
Christians are often accused of believing in God because it is such a comfortable belief system, especially when we consider death.

Note, this stands in opposition to the recent “Where are the honest atheists?” moaners and groaners. Atheism, if the author is going to be consistent, cannot be seen as either comfortable or uncomfortable.

It depends on what you are comparing to. Ay, there’s the rub. Atheism is a comfortable belief, if you compare it to the notion of original sin, fallen humanity, and grace only at the whim of a deity known for death, destruction, and the threat of eternal punishment for simply not worshipping Him. And not, if you compare it to the notion of psalm 23.

But then, let’s be consistent. Atheism is not pro-reason or pro-science… unless our standard of comparison is religion, in which case, religion’s giant step back leaves atheism looking quite pro-science by comparison. And atheism is not morally progressive, unless our standard of comparison is religion once more.

Conclusion: “Atheism” Is Unworthy of Our Respect
Because this kind of atheism is such an impoverished position, unable to establish any other beliefs, and unable to support a pro-reason, pro-science, morally progressive worldview, it does not deserve our respect. Furthermore, because this atheism is clearly appealing to people who want to live selfishly, and not necessarily for the good of others, this “lack of belief” is not worthy of anyone’s respect.

As a Christian, I believe that every human being is made in the image of God, and that Jesus died out of love for every human being, and that God offers forgiveness to all who trust in Christ for salvation. Christianity ought to lead me to respect every person, which most certainly includes these atheists. So I believe in treating all people with respect.

Even though he concludes atheism is not worthy of our respect. Love the sinner, hate the sin. It’s the idea of atheism that is bankrupt, but even heathens deserve respect. Mind you, the notion of atheism being appealing to people who want to live selfishly does not stand up to scrutiny–witness any number of counter-examples from prosperity gospel to the recent study of religious beliefs of criminals justifying their actions (Jesus forgives all!). And mind you, “unable to establish any other beliefs” does not mean “incompatible with other beliefs”. The often-cited fact that there are scientists who are christians has been used to argue that christianity and science are compatible. Well, they are, if you compartmentalize; atheism, even “lack of belief only” atheism, need not even be compartmentalized. It is perfectly compatible with a pro-reason, pro-science, morally progressive worldview.

There are times when it is better to start out from nothing, when the alternative is worse. Better to avoid making up answers to questions, and to avoid making up questions that can’t be answered, than to take bold steps in the wrong direction.

Atheism, as just a lack of belief in god, doesn’t have much going for it (which is why we have A+, and humanism, and naturalism, and more). But at least it’s not actively telling lies and doing harm. And that makes it a better starting-off place than religion.

Where Are The Honest Believers?

Where are the honest believers?
The ones who know life is a shell?
Who know that this life
Is just struggle and strife
Till we cross into heaven or hell?

Where are the moaners and groaners,
Condemned from the start, by The Fall?
Those who don’t find it odd
That, unless there’s a god,
Their lives hold no meaning at all?

Where are god’s empty meat puppets?
Where can such creatures be found?
They just stumble along
Terrified they are wrong…
They’re everywhere! Just look around!

Obviously, the bookend to my “where are the honest atheists?” from yesterday. The difference is, the honest believers are everywhere. They were the ones who inspired yesterday’s verse, after all. Most of them don’t realize the implications of their question, when they start their “if I were an atheist…”

And in any major story that even tangentially mentions religion, you’ll find them in the comments threads, reminding us that this life is nothing compared to the eternal one to come. And there is Rapture Ready, if you want an extreme caricature. No, I am not going to link to them. Life’s too short, and it’s a sunny day!

Where Are The Honest Atheists?

Where are the honest atheists?
The ones who think life is so bleak?
The ones who recall
There’s no value at all
And no ultimate purpose to seek?

Where are the doomers and gloomers,
Who have realized we’re here all alone?
Who know life passes by
All to soon, then you die,
And that’s it for the life you have known?

Where are the nihilist numbers?
Who see nothing above but the sun?
Whose lack of belief
Brings them nothing but grief?…
I’ll tell you—we’re out having fun.

The above is based on two sources, actually. First, a Yahoo article that shares the title, which claims that New Atheism is dead, and yearns for honest atheists who recognize the bankruptcy of our world view:

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

Author Damon Linker says that “Honest atheists understand this”, and cites Nietzsche, Camus, and others who have a considerably gloomier view of life than, say, I do.

The other source is something my aggregator pointed me to, a religious blog that took a look at Jason Rosenberg’s “The Atheist’s Guide To Reality” and found its conclusions bleak and not worth believing. “What atheism gets you”. Mostly I’m just pointing out that site because I commented at length there, and I’m too lazy to collect it back here.

Sure, there are some prominent atheist writers who see the world as bleak. There are, to be fair, writers of all stripes who may see the world as bleak. But that does not make them the “honest” ones. I am honestly an optimist; I honestly find great meaning in my life, without requiring a god to put it there for me. And I honestly wonder why some people can’t accept that.

Music!

Just passing along a link; much too busy for anything else at the moment. You may have already seen it, but NPR has a collection of 100 songs from artists at SXSW (South by Southwest), the music festival in Austin. I’ve shared this with a few family and friends, with nothing but positive feedback, and I have, myself, listened up to the 70′s (out of the 100) at this point, and have only skipped ahead two or three times–a relatively amazing percentage, when it comes to something as subjective as “good music”.

So, yeah, at the link (here it is again), there is a zip file of 100 free songs, so you have nothing to lose but time.

Of course, when I put it that way… that’s the one thing no one can ever pay you back, and arguably among the most precious of commodities. Fair enough; for me, it’s a good collection thus far. If you hate it… quit listening and go do something else.

(I do note that it is really neat, or weird, or something, that a decade can have a sound–but compare this collection to, say, the ’80s. Or the turn of the millennium. I wonder how many years it will be before this collection is … quaint.)