Ray’s threat of hell…

In today’s post at Ray Comfort’s blog,

Ray wrote:

“…but I don’t think that people should become Christians because of a fear of Hell. Rather, they should come to Christ out of a fear of the God that can cast them into Hell..”

I’ve submitted the following response and I don’t care if it gets posted there or not, it’s worth adapting for our blog as well.

Ray, you cited Luke 12:4-5 to justify your position that we should fear God. While I’d normally point out that this is still an absurd doctrine of fear that isn’t something I’d expect Christians to be proud of (and I will), you’ve attempted to avoid that response by claiming that there are two types of fear.

It’s curious that you quoted 1 John 4:17, yet you didn’t bother to note that it’s verse 18 from which you draw the idea of fear as torment.

The text of verse 18 reads:

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

So, the question, Ray, is this:

What is your authority for claiming there are two different types of fear referenced in the passage in Luke?

The same word (English and Greek) for fear is used in both references (in Luke and 1 John). The passage you quoted from Luke also appears in Matthew (10:28) and relies on the same Greek word in that instance as well.

The 1 John passage doesn’t say ‘fear (phobos) can also mean torment (kolasis)’ it says ‘fear (phobos) involves torment (kolasis)’.

The author of 1 John isn’t giving an alternate definition of fear, he’s explaining that fear has/contains (a more accurate translation of the Greek ‘echo’) torment, intrinsically.

Or, more accurately, ‘fear (phobos) does (instead of ‘can also’) mean torment (kolasis)’.

This is a subtle but significant point that will be important in a moment.

Now, I’m well aware that this word (fear/phobos) has several meanings, that’s not my point. My point is that you’re claiming that it means one thing in the first sentence and a different thing in the second sentence and you’ve provide no justification for that – nor have you offered a valid alternate definition (you appealed to some sort of ‘common sense’ fear).

Let’s re-write Luke 12:4-5 substituting your definitions (or with the most valid definition to replace your ‘common sense’ pseudo-definition):

“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid (tormented) of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear (be in awe of): Fear (be in awe of) Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear (be in awe of) Him!”

It’s worth noting that this passage is attributed to Jesus and one would presume that you consider it to be an accurate Greek representation of what he originally said.

I find it patently absurd for you to claim that this passage, is referencing two different types of fear.

Firstly, there is no indication from 1 John 4:18 that there are two different types of fear, as you claim – that’s simply an explanation that fear includes torment.

Secondly, you’re implying that Jesus was such a poor thinker that he would construct a ‘not this – but this’ comparison with predicates that have entirely different meanings and, as if that wasn’t enough, you’re implying that he was so careless with his words that translators were forced to use the same word to mean two different things (despite other words being available), even though he surely must have realized that this would lead to centuries of confusion over what he meant.

The verse is clear – ‘Don’t fear those who can simply kill you, but fear Him who can kill you and punish you forever.’

This is a clear threat of hell.

It’s clear in the Greek and in the English. Your appeal is a sophomoric apologetic that simply rationalizes your preferred softening with sophistry.

What’s worse is that even with your softened re-rendering, the text is still simply a threat of hell – because that’s the power that determines which personage one should fear.

There are only two reasons that I’ve been able to come up with for why you didn’t simply say “Yes, we’re supposed to fear God because he can send us to hell.” (A position that, while I despise it, would have at least earned you some respect for honesty.)

1. You really don’t have any firm understanding of what you’re talking about.

2. You were afraid of facing the contradiction that arises when one verse tells you to love god, another tells you to fear god and a third says that there is no fear in love.

—–

Now, as a quick end-of-post comment:

The simple truth is that the fire-and-brimstone preachers used to use this precise passage to support their message. After all, we have Jesus directly telling you to fear God because of what he can do to you after you’re dead. Ray, I believe, knows this and he knows the distaste the general public has for fire-and-brimstone preachers, so he’s twisting and turning like a twisty-turny-thing in order to convince someone – anyone – that he’s not like those guys.

He doesn’t think we should fear Hell, just the guy who can send us there – because he can send us there – but not really fear, in the sense of being terrified, but fear in the common-sense, ‘healthy respect for’-fashion.

Hogwash.

I therefore request that Fred Phelps of Shirley Phelps-Roper take a few minutes and call Ray to explain why his particular brand of exegesis isn’t Biblical. It may be more pleasant to Ray, but that’s only because he’s desperately trying to soften the message.

Ya hear me, Shirley? I’m tired of beating on Ray, it’s your turn!

Liars, Lunatics, Lords, Legends and Lemmings…

I’m starting a bit of a tradition here. Whenever Ray Comfort posts about atheists (he’s rather obsessed with us, some might claim it’s to the point of protesting too much), I write a response and as he’s not always keen about posting dissenting views, I copy it over here to our blog.

Ray’s latest post is partially correct and partially incorrect – but it’s worth offering some commentary. Give it a read and enjoy the response below…

Ray,

I care very little about whether or not any of these individuals were atheists or not. The truth of a concept is not at all influenced by the number of people who accept it, nor their popularity, nor the strength of their conviction.

It’s very telling, though, that you do seem to care – as if you’re bound and determined to show the ‘truth’ of Psalm 14:1 (the second, lesser-quoted half of that verse, in particular).

I’m not surprised that you’d want to make veiled appeals to authority, but it seems very dishonest of you to point out reasons why these people weren’t atheists when it is clear that they weren’t believers in anything remotely resembling the God you believe in…which makes them atheists with respect to your God, just as you’re an atheist with respect to Zeus.

That said, there is a slight bit of anachronism and selective quoting going on here. You seem to overlook many things, not the least of which is that a human life can’t be summed up in a simple quote. People change. People represent themselves differently, at different times, to different people. People express ideas using the conventions of their contemporaries – and people, for various reasons are not always comfortable publicly expressing their most private thoughts. The common views about gods during the lives of the individuals you cite were very different from those of today and it is a disservice to misrepresent this.

For example, you may be able to find quotes from me from when I was a Christian. You may even be able to find people who knew me during that time, and quote their assessment of my thoughts and beliefs. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m an atheist now. Additionally, I find it curiously hypocritical that you might claim that I was never “really” a Christian – as evidenced by my eventual apostasy – and yet you attempt to twist the views of the individuals above in order to make them appear less atheistic.

I have no reason to debate whether or not these individuals were atheists, agnostics, deists, Christians or whatever – because it doesn’t matter. We can’t know what was in their minds (or hearts, if you prefer), we can only take the information available and make a reasonable guess at what they believed, or disbelieved. By picking and choosing quotes from different eras of their lives, one could easily make a case for any number of beliefs.

I’m curious though, do you think any of these individuals were Christians when they did their greatest works? Do you think they believed in the ‘one true God’ you believe in? If so, how do you explain their clear contempt for Christianity and the God of the Bible? If not, what Biblical basis do you have for holding them in a significantly different light from atheists?

As far as I can tell, the Bible is pretty clear about which God is real and how Jews and Christians are expected to view the character of those who reject that God in favor of other gods or no gods.

If the individals in question are all, according to your belief, given over to a reprobate mind and destined for hell – why would you bother to attempt to venerate them and reclaim them from the ‘atheist’ label?

Despite that, here are some quotes and comments on the individuals above, just to stretch the point. I am not claiming these people as atheists, I am simply providing reported quotes that give us more information about what they did or didn’t believe. Additionally, these quotes may not be correct as the internet (as evidenced by this blog source) is cluttered with good information and bad:

Thomas Edison:

“My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul. I may be in error, and man may have a soul; but I simply do not believe it.”

“I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God.”

“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul…. No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life — our desire to go on living — our dread of coming to an end.”

About Col. Ingersoll (The Great Agnostic), Thomas Edison wrote:

“I think that Ingersoll had all the attributes of a perfect man, and, in my opinion, no finer personality ever existed. Judging from the past, I cannot help thinking that the intention of the Supreme Intelligence that rules the world is to ultimately make such a type of man universal.”

—–

Mark Twain:

“There has been only one Christian. They caught him and crucified him–early.”

“If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be–a Christian.”

“The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive…but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition. The Greeks surpassed us in artistic culture and in architecture five hundred years before Christian religion was born.”

“I am plenty safe enough in his hands; I am not in any danger from that kind of a Diety. The one that I want to keep out of the reach of, is the caricature of him which one finds in the Bible. We (that one and I) could never respect each other, never get along together. I have met his superior a hundred times– in fact I amount to that myself.”

———-

Robert Frost reportedly became more pious in his later years, although…

“Elinor Frost, his wife, thought he was, like her, an atheist. In 1920 (the couple had then been married twenty-five years) Frost confided to Louis Untermeyer:

‘Elinor has just come out flat-footed against God conceived either as the fourth person seen with Shadrack, Meshack, and Tobedwego [sic] in the fiery furnace or without help by the Virgin Mary. How about as a Shelleyan principal or spirit coeternal with the rock part of creation, I ask. Nonsense and you know it’s nonsense Rob Frost, only you’re afraid you’ll have bad luck or lose your standing in the community if you speak your mind.'”

———-

With regard to Susan B. Anthony, I have no reason to doubt that she was a deist. Her continual references to Providence and the God of Providence represent the common language of deists in her time.

———–

Finally, it’s curious that you acknowledge Hemmingway’s atheism only to use it as a tool to imply that this is a testimony to the truth of the words of Jesus and the perils one finds in a life lived without a personal relationship with Jesus – yet, you just finished pointing out that these others were also lacking this personal relationship, yet they didn’t suffer the sad fate of Hemmingway.

You go from implying that belief in some sort of deistic god is enough to justify good works, and then spin the final assessment as testimony to the futility of a life without Jesus.

This is the grand lie. This is hypocrisy at its finest. It’s this self-righteous, selective thinking that you engage in to malign those who don’t share your views. It’s transparent and pathetic. And while you ma
y not print this, it doesn’t change the fact that while some atheists may have misrepresented these historical figures as atheists (a charge that may or may not be accurate depending on the quotes used and the definitions involved), you’ve made an accusation of intentional falsehoods – while presenting a convoluted mess of misrepresentations that either represent the grandest lie or an intellectual laziness of staggering proportions.

Which is it?

Ray is preaching my stuff!

I just checked the latest post from Ray Comfort and submitted the following response. I’m doubtful that he’ll post it and I’m very doubtful that we’ll ever have any sort of dialog…but, darn it, I just can’t stop trying. I guess I’m a bit more masochistic than I thought.

For those that don’t want to read Ray’s post, the short version is: the OT and NT gods are the same, righteous, perfect and equally stern in their pure justice. This version has only a single change…I’ve actually provided the link to the wiki, as I can pretty much do whatever I want to do here. 🙂

Thanks, Ray…for (almost) preaching the very sermon I’ve been preaching for years.

So many Christians (and many non-Christians) dismiss the Old Testament view of God in favor of the cheek-turning compassion of the New Testament version. The mistakenly think that the NT version is better, softer or more kind.

There’s just one tiny area where we disagree (actually, there are several beyond this, but I’m only addressing the comparison)…you think the OT and NT versions are equally good, righteous and perfect. I don’t.

While some non-believers might agree with you, but opt for ‘equally bad’ as the appropriate description, I simply don’t agree. The NT doctrine is far worse.

Your cartoonish oversimplification of the wages of OT sin being “Hell” is not consistent with Jewish tradition and not Biblically supported without anachronistic reinterpretation of the OT. The very understanding of death and what happens after death is rather nebulous in the OT and much more vivid in the NT. This renders the NT version of God far worse than the OT version – because the immoral doctrines of original sin is compounded by the unjust concept of eternal punishment for finite ‘sins’ (though you’ll probably point out that sins against a God are necessarily infinite…that’s just a convenient interpretation that isn’t supported theologically, logically or Biblically).

The idea that it is just to punish people for their thoughts, doubts or disbelief is a perversion of any reasonable concept of justice. The system is further polluted by the claim that it rewards belief, regardless of, or in preference to action.

While you’ll find this sad, possibly offensive and may even refuse to publish it, I have no problem at all asserting that my moral values are superior to those of any character in the Bible, including the various characterizations of God. In fact, I’d argue that the God of the Bible may be one of the least moral characters in that entire collection of ancient writings.

When you sacrifice your humanity, your decency and your rational sense of justice in order to claim that the tyrannical acts of a more powerful being are intrinsically just, appealing to the banality of ‘might makes right’ – you’ve lost the battle.

The Euthyphro dilemma begins to make this point about fiat-morality…but it’s worth extending.

If you’re so impressed with the Sermon on the Mount, I’d be curious to hear your take on my response to it.

Jesus tie-dyed for our sins…

Microbiologychick sent me a link to an article written by a student at ETSU. I submitted the following response, but I have no idea if or when it’ll be published – so my friend suggested I post this here. Run over and read the article…my response will wait.

I would definitely agree that there’s a similarity between a tie-dyed T-shirt and some of the common conceptions of gods. The human mind is a pattern-seeking machine that attempts to identify, catalog and gain an understanding of the world around us. This is a critical skill, to be sure, but we’re also prone to imbuing patterns with meaning when there’s no good reason to do so. Our penchant for seeing face-like images in patterns (pareidolia) is a prime example and, in a slightly more metaphoric sense, so is your tie-dye analogy.

You began by pointing out that, in your eyes, a tie-dye shirt is more than just a pattern and a shirt. That’s a fair (and telling) observation. You’re actively looking for something more and if you can manage to create a connection, no matter how tenuous, that’s satisfying.

In reality, the pattern of a tie-dye shirt is entirely the result of the purely natural process that led to it’s existence. There was, most likely, no grand design that led to the resulting pattern. (NOTE: I’m referring to the standard method in relation to the resulting pattern…there are methods for making specific patterns.) The method was very likely the result of experimentation which weeded out the methods that didn’t produce such interesting and aesthetically pleasing results. It’s still a beautiful and interesting pattern, but there is no need to “open your heart” to see it for more than it is.

What’s wrong with just enjoying the beautiful pattern, taking pleasure in the creativity of the method and appreciating the natural laws that dictate the final pattern while allowing for great diversity?

A flower is a beautiful and glorious part of nature that can be celebrated and appreciated for exactly what it is – the result of a lengthy process of change filtered by natural selection that results in the current, beautiful blending of form and function. Why diminish that appreciation by claiming that the flower is the special creation of some supreme being? If there was some supreme being, couldn’t he have created something more glorious than we could comprehend? Wouldn’t a flower be a trivial bit of work?

Some might ask, “What’s the harm in seeing meaning that may not exist?” – and that’s a great question.

I’m a fan of art, poetry and beauty. I’m a fan of trying to understand the world as clearly as possible. I’m a fan of scratching below the surface…but I’m also a fan of reality. I actually care whether or not my beliefs are true – and not just whether or not they feel good. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible and I’m baffled as to why everyone else doesn’t.

So, where’s the harm in Whitney’s particular style of pattern seeking? She seems happy, she has a positive outlook, she clearly enjoys expressing her views in the hope of helping others…what’s wrong with that?

There may not be anything significantly wrong with it. However, when I read her article I was able to appreciate the beauty of a human mind for exactly what it is. I’m able to appreciate the strengths, weaknesses, emotion, curiosity and wonder – and I’m able to attribute both praise and criticism directly to that individual without diverting any of that credit to a deity.

Whitney, though, feels that she couldn’t be anything without her god…and this means that she can neither take credit for her accomplishments nor own up to her failings. It’s a stagnating position that, in extreme cases, causes people to abandon their humanity.

Most people manage to enjoy mentally healthy, happy, reasonably well-adjusted lives, regardless of their religious/supernatural/superstitious views. I’d never argue that these views are, in all cases, to all people, poisonous views that cripple an individual. I do, though, think they very often can be and that in nearly every case they negatively and unnecessarily limit the mind to some degree. How could they not?

See the world for what it is, there’s enough beauty, passion, joy, intrigue, mystery and wonder without tilting at windmills.

I get email…

I got an e-mail today from a young man who hasn’t written in months. The author e-mailed me many months ago, to tell us just how horrible we were. Here’s are a few snippets from his previous e-mails, with a short note on my response…and at the end I’ll include today’s e-mail – which won’t be getting a response:

“God speaks upon people like you in the great book. You people and yes i say you people are all logical and need everything handed to you. You expect God to hand you everything, i bet half you on this stupid committee are homosexual. Its a sick world we live in these days and you just make it even more sicker. The time will come for all of you, i bet if God was too strike down on earth as your reading this you would be crying to a precher in seconds. Now im not up with my religion but i do know that god gave us a life to live, all he wanted us to do is ask him to be our savior. Why would he give to us if we cant give back to him, think, thats probably why your lost now…Your selfish and want everything in front of you.”

I asked whether this e-mail was real, or Poe and noted how sad it made me. I addressed his points and got the following reply:

“I was searching the net to look at groups who are agaisnt homosexuals for my research and of course i come across you people. Sall you on Youtube and thought…how sick people are. You know damn well what great book im talking about and everything. Like i said before, you are the type who need to see it to believe it. I gaurantee most of youare gay i can tell by the videos i was watching. You point out every bad thing in the bible besides the good.”

He’s clearly obsessed with homosexuality and in his next e-mail, he continued his hate and told me his age…

“Confused and Lost…and homosexuals has a big role in this. I may not be the best at talking cause im only 14 but i know what i am talking about. All gays are going to hell no exceptions, just like you, and if you were to put my letter on the air you would have no logical reason to back anything up, only with more of your atheis questions. You cant take the truth, your weak minded, good luck in the after life.”

At this point, we exchanged a few e-mails where I tried to carefully and politely offer my thoughts on his questions. I was deeply saddened that a young mind had been so crippled by dogma and hatred and was concerned, given his age, that we might be dealing with the confusing awakenings of puberty. After answering a couple of questions about religion…his tone changed:

“Ok i have done my share of research about God. I apologize for my opening statement i email to you, all i wanted to do was get more people to believe in God before its too late. God loves each and one of us dearly, All i really want to say is MAY GOD BE WITH YOU”

A few more e-mails were exchanged when I received one from him that was far more thoughtful, covering the trials of human life, waiting for death, a lost soul trying to survive the trial, apologizing for any rude comments, begging me to “believe and ask for jesus to be your savior, and commit to being clean from sins.”

I ended the conversation shortly after this and won’t be replying. Several months have passed, and the following e-mail arrived in my inbox this morning. I see no reason to respond, or even comment on it here…

“PAIN and TORTURE. I have not forgotten about you my friend. Pain and Torture. As i keep researching atheist i realize, YOUR SCARED OF GOD. You know God, like no other point blank, for he is the Only God that exist. PAIN and TORTURE. You know his word automatically, its embeded into your brain. PAIN AND TORTURE. On youtube they have people saying I deny the exsistence of the Holy Spirit. PAIN AND TORTURE. Why is it that you hate on God so much, he has done nothing to you. PAIN AND TORUTRE. I mean if you want evidence go look in the mirror. PAIN AND TORTURE. I was told not to care for you, to hate people like you. PAIN AND TORTURE. But i realize that we were put here to help each other. PAIN AND TORTURE. But i realize you are full of stupidity, and will soon be full of regret if you dont change. PAIN AND TORTURE. What else can God do for you, let me guess show himself. PAIN AND TORTURE.

Enjoy this life, becasue if your going to be an athiest forever, your next one wont be so joyful. Lets just say there will be alot of NASHING OF THE TEETH. “

“Did you have a good day?”

I wasn’t going to post any follow up to the “I’ll Pray For You…” post, as I’d generally prefer to keep my health issues within my “inner circle”. Fortunately, I was reminded that there are many friends and fans who care and, after receiving a number of kind and encouraging comments, e-mails, text messages and phone calls, I think some minor update is in order. There’s also a point to this post, so if you want to skip the diagnosis and get to the meat, scroll down a couple of paragraphs. 🙂

Yesterday, I stopped by my doctor’s office to go over the results of my lab work. As suspected, I’m diabetic. He explained the lab results to me, pointing out each number, what it meant and why it was (or wasn’t) a concern. He explained the specifics about the type of diabetes we think I have, discussed what to expect, what changes need to be made, what my potential risks were and then, after he was confident that I had a good grasp on the situation, he went over his proposed treatment plan. I’m now on medication and will be going back in 2 weeks to check my progress and make modifications to the treatment plan.

With luck, I’ll be able to avoid taking insulin, but it’s a possibility. With hard work and some difficult changes, I might eventually reach a point where medication isn’t required but as it stands now, this isn’t something that’s going to be corrected by diet and exercise.

On my drive home, I stopped by the store to pick up things I needed. As I was checking out the teller asked if I was having a good day. I had to stop and think for a moment. I started to weigh the good and bad events to gauge my day…I got off work early, so that’s good…but I had to go the doctor, that’s bad. I found out I’m diabetic, that’s bad…but it’s treatable, so that’s good.

I left the store and headed home, ready to make a few phone calls to people who had asked to be informed of the test results, and kept thinking about whether or not I’d had a good day. It didn’t take long to reach an answer, once I realized that I’d already started off by categorizing some events incorrectly.

Yes, I had a VERY good day.

There has never been a better time in all of human history to find out that you have an illness. I was fortunate to be able to visit the doctor and to have health insurance coverage to make the visit affordable. I was fortunate that my condition is fairly well understood, treatable and possibly correctable.

More importantly, as one of my friends pointed out, I gained more information about reality, and was able to form a plan to deal with it rationally and responsibly. Seriously, what more could anyone ask for? I’ve preached that goal in one form or another, on both programs, for years. ‘Believe as many true things and as few false things as possible’…’Understanding reality is critical to making good decisions’, etc.

No, I’m not saying that I’m thrilled to have diabetes (although it’s possibly the kick in the ass I’ve needed to make some changes to improve my health) and I’m not just looking for a silver lining…but I definitely had a good day.

And because of that good day, I’m more likely to have more good days.

I’ll pray for you…

Nearly two years ago, Daniel Dennett wrote one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. After surviving a 9-hour operation to repair damage to his heart, he wrote ‘Thank Goodness‘, a short essay that discusses the ordeal, his take on the sentiments of well-wishers and his view that “Thank Goodness” isn’t simply a secular substitute for “Thank God”.

This essay has been on my mind for the past few days. It came up in a discussion following Sunday’s show and I found myself thinking about it again this morning. As it turns out, I’ve got a few health concerns of my own and I visited my new doctor yesterday to discuss them. While we won’t have test results until Thursday afternoon, there’s a pretty decent chance that I’m diabetic (at a minimum, there’s a serious blood sugar concern and a few miscellaneous issues to address). I wanted to keep friends and family informed of the situation, so I fired off a quick e-mail, with the full knowledge that I’d receive a few “I’ll pray for you” responses.

In situations like this, that doesn’t really bother me. Yes, it’s as silly as saying you’ll sacrifice a goat for me, but I understand that most of the time it’s really just a sincere attempt to show that you care. The words don’t matter nearly so much as the sentiment, and I can appreciate both the sentiment and the inability to find a “better” way to express it.

I wouldn’t be upset if someone said they were keeping their fingers crossed, so why should I be bothered by those who say they’ll pray for me? As rhetorical as that question appears, the situation is not nearly so clear cut. Of those who would promise to keep their fingers crossed, I suspect there are relatively few who seriously entertain the notion that doing so is likely to have an effect on the situation. Of those who would offer to pray, I suspect that many (if not most) believe in the efficacy of prayer. Despite that difference, I’m not going to let someone’s superstitions distract me from their sincere desire to see positive changes in my life.

Unfortunately, some people simply aren’t content to offer a simple “I’ll pray for you” without injecting even more of their ignorance, self-righteousness and superstition into the mix. I received an e-mail response from one individual that went beyond the simple, superstitious sentiments of prayer. Without violating this persons privacy, I’d like to quickly point out some of the responses. I’ll paraphrase, rather than directly quoting the message, but the following is accurate…

‘I’ve been praying for you for a long time. I pray to the God that you deny and he’s told me so much about you.’

It’s curious that he couldn’t be bothered to give either of us the specifics on the problem. I’m wondering what else your god told you about me…if you’d just tell me, we could check the claims for accuracy. It’d also be nice to hear these ‘divine revelations’ before their confirmation. It’s a bit like looking at the lottery numbers and saying, “Yup, those are the numbers that God told me would win.”

‘I believe that this is what I saw that was “wrong” when I looked into your eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul and your soul is sick.’

This is a very thinly veiled assertion that my illness (whatever it may be) is because I’m an atheist. I have no doubt that this individual cares about me and wants me to be healthy and happy, but their religious beliefs have so thoroughly poisoned their mind that they’re unable to address situations like this rationally and simple expressions of love and compassion become opportunities to preach their superstitions with an “I told you so” bent.

Everything becomes tied to their religious views. If something bad happens to them, it’s the devil, trying to attack them for being a good Christian. If something bad happens to me, it’s God punishing my defiance. Health problems, money problems, family problems – every single event has some supernatural motivation.

People like this are unable to face reality rationally. The world is full of demons and angels, pulling our strings, guiding our fates, pushing us around like pawns in a cosmic game of chess. There is no grand mystery or wonder in their world, the supernatural ‘explanations’ fill the gaps. There is no hope of discovery or improvement, humanity is sick and sinful and the Earth is simply a place to wipe our feet while we wait for Jesus to spirit us away to the real life. Yes, modern medicine may be able to tell us more about illness, but these people already know that the ultimate cause is man’s sinful nature and the capriciousness (though they refer to it as ‘justice’) of the invisible friend they call ‘God’.

Those of you that have been crippled by religion, unable to face reality without your superstitions, I’ll pray for you.

No really. If “I’ll pray for you” is shorthand for “I’m sorry you’re in that situation and sincerely hope that things improves”…then I’ll pray for you.

This Sunday’s ACA lecture – Belief

The ACA hosts a monthly lecture series at the Austin History Center. I’ll be delivering the August lecture, this Sunday and I thought it might be worthwhile to post a brief synopsis.

It’s a topic that I’ve been fleshing-out for quite a while and despite the fact that we’re less than 48 hours from lecture time, it’s not completely finished (I’ve still got to finish some slides and run through it once more to make sure it’s complete and of the appropriate length). The major themes, though, are complete…and despite the fact that ‘epistemology’ might be a more accurate title, I’m sticking with ‘belief’.

Why? I once had someone write in to the TV show to try to convince me that it was pointless to discuss beliefs and that only knowledge mattered. I couldn’t disagree more. Belief is something that I think is much easier to come to terms with than the various (and potentially useless) definitions of ‘knowledge’. Belief is simply the acceptance of a proposition as true. Beliefs inform our actions – they matter. What we believe, and why, may be the single most important issues we face.

On a previous show, I pointed out that the old adage “knowledge is power” is actually wrong – in my opinion the real power is in understanding, not knowledge. I’m pretty sure that’s what the saying implies, but I’ve been continually striving to be more precise in language. We tend to communicate in shorthand, trusting that our meaning is understood, because shorthand is usually good enough. However, when it matters, our reliance on these linguistic shortcuts isn’t just a hindrance, it’s potentially crippling.

So, we’ll be starting with a few definitions; ‘belief’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘real’…and then moving on to some Venn diagrams demonstrating truth values vs. belief values, what it all means, which positions or ‘sets’ are actually useful and which don’t provide nearly the clarity that they imply in the vernacular.

And, unlike my last two lectures that sort of just faded out, this one may actually have a real ending – though I won’t promise that.

If you’re in the Austin area, you’re welcome to attend (see the ACA website for more information). The lecture may eventually be posted, in some format, on our lecture page.

The absurdity of G-d

This is just a quick something-to-think-about that began as a bit of a pet peeve.

If you’ve been interacting with religious folk on the interwebs, you’ve probably run across comments from Jews that include “G-d” in place of “God”. A bit of investigating will reveal that this is a way of showing respect and avoiding the ‘sin’ of erasing or defacing the name of God.

When I first heard of this, I largely disregarded it as one of the various pretentious activities of the religious. Eventually, I gave it a bit more thought and the absurdity really started to sink in. Consider the following…

The Jewish deity has a name and it’s a sin to erase or deface this name. There are a number of names for this god (YHVH, El Shaddai, Elohim), some of which are supposedly unutterable, others are reportedly unknown (what happens if you accidentally deface one of the unknown names?) – but all are sacred.

So, observant Jews avoid typing or writing “God”, for fear that it ‘might count’ as a name of their god. The generic “god” is a word in the English language, made up of characters that evolved from other languages. The symbols that make up this word (remember, it’s the written name, not the spoken name – that one must be cautious about), are unlikely to be the correct symbols for any of the names of their god, as these characters didn’t exist at the time.

If modern English characters could be constructed to actually be the written name of a god, it seems that those characters might just as likely be “banana”, “porn” or “ghoti” – yet observant Jews don’t worry about morphing these words to avoid incidental defacement of the name of their god.

But, if we assume, for a moment, that “God” is a valid written representation of the name of the Jewish god, isn’t “G-d” a defacement of that name? Granted, we’re in the realm of word-magic, so it doesn’t have to make sense, but it certainly seems ironic to me.

Further, we’re really just talking about characters here that are used as labels for a concept. The label “god” is a non-specific reference to a type of being, “God” tends to refer to a specific being.

The value of a label is in its ability to communicate information.

By modifying the “God” label to “G-d”, the Jews have added information. The “God” label could apply to a variety of specific deities qualifying for proper-noun-status. The “G-d” label, because of Jewish usage, now has the added information that renders it a label that specifically applies to the Jewish god.

It has, by their alteration, become a more specific label that is far more likely to qualify as the “name” of their god than the less specific versions that started this mess.

Ironic, huh?

Patrick wants your opinion

Patrick Greene called in to the show on Sunday. The episode is now posted on Google and you’re free to listen to Patrick make his case (with interruptions and clarifications from your rather perturbed host).

While we’re all aware that public opinion is irrelevant to truth, he’d like to hear from you. If you think he’s done the right thing, let him know. If you think he’s made a huge mistake that makes the rest of us look bad, let him know. If you aren’t sure, let him know.

Evidently, he’s just not getting enough email. So, here’s his e-mail address:

peewee_91762 [at] yahoo.com