People are skilled at lying to themselves

Both Alex and Heina have excellent articles on the association of religion with LGBTQ people. It’s an absurdity that Christianity accommodates both Fred Phelps and Marcella Althaus-Reid, telling us definitively what Jesus’ opinions on homosexuality were, and both of them giving completely contradictory answers. The problem is that Jesus and Mohammed and Moses are completely malleable imaginary authority figures who can be invoked to justify anything — Jesus simultaneously blesses the peacemakers and comes with a sword in that muddled book of myths, the Bible, so pacifists and warmongers are both happy to adopt his ‘philosophy’. It’s not at all surprising, then, that both queer folk and gay-haters happily quote their holy books to justify whatever the hell they believe.

But it’s dishonest. And it invalidates the holy books — they’re obviously just Rorschach blots for any gullible brain looking for an authoritarian fallacy to back up their bullshit.

As an act of appropriation, or more charitably, extension, I’ve been saying the same thing for many years, but on a different topic: science. Scientists who try to marry their empirical scientific ideas to their religious beliefs are committing a similar kind of betrayal. No, your holy book is not a scientific text. It is wrong about the nature of the universe — definitively, demonstrably proven wrong. It isn’t just wrong in detail, but wrong in method. A scientific brain ought to be squalling in anguish at the very idea that they ought to accept the garbage of the Bible with greater certainty than the provisional observations published in a peer-reviewed scientific paper (and we properly ought to question the latter, making the former an even more pathetic joke.)

But no. Religion’s primary purpose seems to be to condition human minds to reject sense, reason, and evidence, and to replace a thinking human morality with a strain of absolutist dogma. Those happy gay men trying to continue in a church that hates them are in the same sad state as a scientist who tries to use the Big Bang as evidence of divine benevolence. They are both fucked up.


  1. cswella says

    “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but–more frequently than not–struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

    -Martin Luthor

    I like the quote, but for different reasons than the original author intended.

  2. A Masked Avenger says

    Of course! Remember: there are plenty of generally decent people born into various religions. People rarely leave their tribe: it usually carries a massive social cost. More often people try to influence their tribe, but that, too, is dangerous. So most often they project, instead. “I’m a Christian, and I [believe myself to] support LGBT people. Am I a worse Christian than those haters? Obviously not! So Christianity supports LGBT people–it just includes haters who aren’t doing Christianity right.”

    Us folks here at FTB don’t do that w.r.t. religion, but we’re very strange creatures indeed if we never do it. Any time we catch ourselves making the “few bad apples” argument, we’re very probably doing it.

  3. chinchillazilla says

    This is certainly one of my larger objections to religion, but it’s also important to remember that it’s not exclusive to religious people.

    Just yesterday I was trying to convince someone not to house multiple pet snakes together in one enclosure (it can spread disease, stresses them out, and somewhat increases the risk of cannibalism). After I said that snakes can’t feel love due to the structure of their brain and don’t enjoy companionship, they started throwing anecdata at me to try to prove that their snakes do love each other.

    I know I do it regularly, too, although I obviously TRY not to. I often catch myself trying to interpret journal articles through the lens of my own ideology.

    The human mind is amazing and I’m not knocking it, but it’s definitely not naturally inclined toward objectivity.

  4. says

    It’s an absurdity that Christianity accommodates both Fred Phelps and Marcella Althaus-Reid, telling us definitively what Jesus’ opinions on homosexuality were, and both of them giving completely contradictory answers

    It’s not that they have totally contradictory views – it’s that they both think their views are obviously right.

  5. Kevin Kehres says


    Well, snakes do enjoy the companionship of a mouse every week or so. But only for a few minutes. :-)

  6. joyfulatheist says

    I remarked to a Christian friend that an account in Genesis about Jacob laying different-patterned sticks in front of livestock while they breed is specifically NOT how genetics works. He told me he’d never really thought about it, despite having read the passage several times (and this is a man who works in a science-related field!). Funny thing is, when I was a Christian I’d never really thought about it either.

    Most of the attempts at “science” in the bible are mythological and/or blatantly wrong, and yet those of us raised going to church are taught that it’s perfect and that it’s PEOPLE who are wrong. Thus, ridiculous anti-science movements like Creationism are not bugs but features of a worldview that claims all reality is perfectly depicted in (and therefore MUST conform to) a book with a core understanding steeped in ancient superstition.

    I am glad I stopped lying to myself. Perhaps my friend will as well.

  7. says

    Honestly, I don’t see the queer/Christianity contradictions as inherently any worse than the Christianity/reality contradictions.

    However, I’ve been in queer student groups, and I’ve been to Creating Change, and I entirely agree with Alex & Heina. Creating Change had a completely disproportionate number of religious workshops, and only one atheist caucus (which I missed due to conflict). I attended an inclusivity workshop where they explicitly said that being inclusive meant never criticizing religion lest religious people be uncomfortable. It’s a double standard, since religious people are never exhorted to keep their religion private, and are instead given lots of space.

  8. Anthony K says

    Religion’s primary purpose seems to be to condition human minds to reject sense, reason, and evidence, and to replace a thinking human morality with a strain of absolutist dogma.

    Not to mention taking advantage of our tendency to assume agency and purpose where there is none.

  9. brucegee1962 says

    In all honesty, I’m willing to give the Christians some slack on this. (Though since I’m straight, my opinion amounts to considerably less than a hill of beans.)

    But what I see looking at this country right now is a widening gulf between right and left, red and blue, that is tearing apart every. single. institution — from churches to cell phone companies to video gamers to, yes, organized atheism.

    There are a BUNCH of people on both sides of the “great rift” who believe that this is the Most Important Fight, and all the other rifts are minor in comparison.

    I’ve seen plenty of authors right here on FTB, who say “The fight for women’s rights is what I currently care most about. My feminism trumps my atheism. If you call yourself an atheist but you aren’t a feminist, then you’re no ally of mine.”

    But when the tables are switched, and Christianity is torn asunder by “deep rifts” of its own, atheists are going to kick them off the bus? Really? I don’t quite get how that works.

  10. brucegee1962 says

    “It’s an absurdity that Christianity atheism accommodates both Fred Phelps and Marcella Althaus-Reid Thunderfoot and Ophelia Benson, telling us definitively what Jesus’ opinions logic dictates our opinion should be on homosexuality feminism, and both of them giving completely contradictory answers.”

    My point is that, as many people here have been observing for a long time, we’re in the middle of a war here. It strikes me as pretty uncharitable to look at another group whose members are fighting the exact same war, against the exact same sorts of people, and tell them “you’re no ally of mine.”

  11. AndrewD says

    Religion’s primary purpose seems to be to condition human minds to reject sense, reason, and evidence, and to replace a thinking human morality with a strain of absolutist dogma

    I thought the primary reason for Organised religion was to support the power structure in place,

  12. grumpyoldfart says

    Being a Christian is good, because even when something you say turns out to be completely and utterly wrong, you can still claim that it’s all part of god’s master plan and everything will turn out for the best (so you were never really wrong in the first place).

  13. freemage says

    brucegee1962: The problem lies in the how they approach the existence of the Rift.

    Atheist feminists fully acknowledge that there is nothing inherent in dictionary atheism that would support the feminist viewpoint. We just regard anti-feminist atheists as horrible human beings who should be either educated (where possible) or shunned (where not). As a result, where we encounter misogyny in our organizations and society, we can freely condemn it, confront it and attempt to correct it, without having to re-invent the wheel each time.

    Feminist-friendly Christians, on the other hand, insist that their Scripture does not merely accommodate feminism, but rather, that it demands it. Thus, they are forced to resort to debates about the validity of kilt undergarments, rather than simply accepting that their sacred text is somehow flawed.

  14. unclefrogy says

    I doubt that this great rift is really very new in fact if christianity is any guide it is entirely all too common for religions to fragment into more or less conflicting or at least differing beliefs and practices that might be partially responsible for the religions with pantheons of multiple gods and dime-gods.
    The great rift to day , the newest one is between what is and what is believed. The growth of scientific knowledge and its success in real concrete positive ways is helping challenge religions beliefs where before it was mostly philosophy alone. It is sciences relentless all most compulsive questioning of everything that is helping to push the conflict. Hence this post is not lamenting rifts and trying to accommodate differences but looking closely, taking sides questioning.
    There is reality that can be demonstrated and there is wishful thinking about the way we would like (believe, think) things to be.
    uncle frogy

  15. unclefrogy says

    the other day the discussion included the idea of the positive aspects of religion that we might want to preserve. I would say that the one real strength of religion that has been demonstrated time and time again is its power to organize people into integrated coordinated groups. It has been used by the ruling class to preserve their authority and privilege. It is still being used to foment conflict between peoples today.
    There are other religion like belief systems that use the same kinds of systems to gain and maintain power like Marxism or libertarianism.
    uncle frogy

  16. says

    I would actually appreciate it if Christian feminists made some pointed criticisms of the way that the atheist movement accommodates people like Thunderf00t. Maybe it would encourage atheist groups to clean up more.

    I think Alex Gabriel made a very pointed criticism of the idea that Jesus was a queer ally. It sets a really low standard for what counts as an ally. Even the queer-positive Christians are setting a low bar and aren’t going far enough.

  17. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Great reading. I’ll just throw out one of the “all-inclusive” aphorisms that come from “theists” mouths: “God works in mysterious ways”. In other words, don’t try to explain God’s miracles with that “science” nonsense; miracles, by definition, are beyond science and totally inexplicable.
    And, I too, want to reiterate, that the real problem isn’t theism per se, but our own brains, They sometimes find it too hard to reason, and just accept an explanation from an expert. So, it is very easy to accept that there is a book with all the answers (if you read it _correctly_), and there are all those experts (priests) willing to tell you exactly what the answer is to any question you have.

  18. larrylyons says

    Personally I find that the Christianists attitudes towards gays to be the height of hypocrisy.

    The only direct references of Christ commenting on homosexuality, and not Paul’s rantings about male temple prostitutes are in Matthew 8 and Luke 7.

    Christ blessed the union of a Roman Centurion and his young male lover.

    In this story a Roman centurion came up to Christ and asked him to heal his Pais. While many so called Christians would claim that the word Pais means servant, in actuality the Greek word pais was commonly used to refer to the younger adult or teen partner in a same sex relationship. Jesus offered to go to the Centurion’s house, but the man said no, he thought that Christ could heal is pais from where they were. Christ commented on the centurion’s absolute faith and then blessed both and the pais was healed.

    So if Christ was so much against same sex relationships why would he bless such a union?

    The Greek word used in Matthew’s account to refer to the servant of the centurion is Pais. In the language of the time, Pais had three possible meanings depending upon the context in which it was used. It could mean “son or boy;” it could mean “servant,” or it could mean a particular type of servant — one who was “his master’s male lover.” (See Dover, 1978 cited below) Often these lovers were younger than their masters, even teenagers.

    The Bible provides three key pieces of textual and circumstantial evidence. First, in the Luke passage, several additional Greek words are used to describe the one who is sick. Luke says this pais was the centurion’s entimos doulos. The word doulos is a generic term for slave, and was never used in ancient Greek to describe a son/boy. Thus, Luke’s account rules out the possibility the sick person was the centurion’s son; his use of doulos makes clear this was a slave. However, Luke also takes care to indicate this was no ordinary slave. The word entimos means “honored.” This was an “honored slave” (entimos doulos) who was his master’s pais. Taken together, the three Greek words preclude the possibility the sick person was either the centurion’s son or an ordinary slave, leaving only one viable option — he was his master’s male lover. (See Mader, 1998 cited below)

    A second piece of evidence is found in verse 9 of Matthew’s account. In the course of expressing his faith in Jesus’ power to heal by simply speaking, the centurion says, “When I tell my slave to do something, he does it.” By extension, the centurion concludes that Jesus is also able to issue a remote verbal command that must be carried out. When speaking here of his slaves, the centurion uses the word doulos. But when speaking of the one he is asking Jesus to heal, he uses only pais. In other words, when he is quoted in Matthew, the centurion uses pais only when referring to the sick person. He uses a different word, doulos, when speaking of his other slaves, as if to draw a distinction. (In Luke, it is others, not the centurion, who call the sick one an entimos doulos.) Again, the clear implication is that the sick man was no ordinary slave. And when pais was used to describe a servant who was not an ordinary slave, it meant only one thing — a slave who was the master’s male lover.

    The third piece of evidence is circumstantial. In the Gospels, we have many examples of people seeking healing for themselves or for family members. But this story is the only example of someone seeking healing for a slave. The actions described are made even more remarkable by the fact that this was a proud Roman centurion (the conqueror / oppressor) who was humbling himself and pleading with a Jewish rabbi (the conquered/oppressed) to heal his slave. The extraordinary lengths to which this man went to seek healing for his slave is much more understandable, from a psychological perspective, if the slave was his beloved companion.

    Thus, all the textual and circumstantial evidence in the Gospels points in one direction. For objective observers, the conclusion is inescapable: In this story Jesus healed a man’s male lover.

    Moreover Jesus didn’t just tolerate this gay centurion. He said he was an example of faith — someone we all should strive to be like.

    Then, just so the good, God-fearing people wouldn’t miss his point, Jesus speaks again in Matthew verse 11: “I tell you, many will come from the east and the west [i.e., beyond the borders of Israel] to find a seat in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs [i.e., those considered likely to inherit heaven] will be thrown into outer darkness.” By this statement Jesus affirmed that many others like this gay centurion — those who come from beyond the assumed boundaries of God’s grace — are going to be admitted to the kingdom of heaven. And he also warned that many who think themselves the most likely to be admitted will be left out.

    In this story, Jesus restores a gay relationship by a miracle of healing and then holds up a gay man as an example of faith for all to follow. So Christianists need to consider carefully: Who is Lord — Jesus or cultural prejudice?

    K.J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978), page 16; Bernard Sergent, Homosexuality in Greek Myth (Beacon Press, Boston, 1986), page 10.

    Donald Mader. The Entimos Pais of Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, in Homosexuality and Religion and Philosophy, Harland Publishing, Inc., New York, 1998.

  19. ravenred says

    WHATEVER our beliefs are. Atheist Libertarians look to atheism as validation of their views or beliefs, whatever they are. Atheist Libertarians look to atheism as validation of their views of themselves as independent, atomised individuals, social democrats look to atheism as a validation of themselves as rational and empathetic and so on. It’s like a honeypot for No True Scotsman fallacies. The more complex and difficult task is to accept multiple, situational identities that may hold contradictory sets of values. A hard ask.

  20. Bea Essartu says

    I agree we must separate science from religion just as we must separate science from politics and religion from politics. Like three branches of government.

  21. ravenred says

    Well that comment totally stuffed up. What it MEANT to say was prefaced with

    “We look to their group identities to support our ideologies, WHATEVER our…”

    Carry on.

  22. F.O. says

    I used to believe that the big problem with religion is that it teaches us very bad thought patterns.
    The great disillusionment came with realizing that many skeptic rationalist atheists fall in those same errors.
    I recently realized that plenty of religious people are full of shit and it has nothing to do with religion.
    So, religion is bad, but it’s not this Great Evil I thought it to be.

    So yeah, my take is that we all need to learn to think better, to be aware of our own biases rather than the others’, because we can change our own much more easily.
    I was scared the last time I realized how deep my cognitive blind spots are, and this despite my best efforts.

    For the first time in my life I feel like I want to have “faith” because I realize I’m pulling it out of my ass, but still, I want to have faith that we will learn.

  23. Anri says

    larrylyons @ 21:

    The only direct references of Christ commenting on homosexuality, and not Paul’s rantings about male temple prostitutes are in Matthew 8 and Luke 7.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t Jesus (reportedly) say that the old Jewish would not be overturned until the second coming?
    That would be a pretty clear statement about the morality of homosexuality, yes?
    I mean, if a modern person said that we should take an Old Testament view towards homosexuality, we wouldn’t be confused at all about their opinion, yes?

    . . .
    ChasCPeterson @ 12:

    What you mean, of course, is “other people are skilled at lying to themselves”.

    Good point! That’s why we’ve never seen an article on Pharyngula about scientists’ capacity for self-delusion, nor ever had a discussion about that ramifications for science in general.


  24. larrylyons says


    What do you expect from True Believers. And I am not just referring to religionists either. You see the same patterns with anyone who holds a very strong set of beliefs about something. Unfortunately when confronted by objective, credible and verifiable data and evidence that contradicts their preciously cherished beliefs, True Believers dig in deeper and believe even stronger. Its called the Backfire effect. The backfire effect occurs when, in the face of contradictory evidence, established beliefs do not change but actually get stronger. The effect has been demonstrated experimentally in psychological tests, where subjects are given data that either reinforces or goes against their existing biases – and in most cases people can be shown to increase their confidence in their prior position regardless of the evidence they were faced with.

    In a pessimistic sense, this makes most refutations useless.

    What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel as though they are even more sure of their position than before you started the debate. As they match your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs.

  25. larrylyons says

    @Anri, But it is the only direct reference to what Christ said directly about LGBT people. I’ll go with that. Then again he probably also said that he liked boiled goat, which can be one of the most vile meat ever. Right up there with filet of snake.

  26. gakxz1 says

    I assume there are lots of liberal churches these days that will happily accommodate positive LGBT viewpoints. Why rile against them? Because the world would be a better place if instead all LGBT people felt no religious need whatsoever, and went straight from repressed conservatism to complete secularity? That’s not realistic, and I don’t even think it’s preferable.

    I also don’t like the implication that any religion that doesn’t take its text at face value (i.e., isn’t crazy) is some anodyne institution, existing only to provide cover for the crazies. Well… sure, there might be a bit of that. But also, what right does someone have to tell people who are liberaly religious that their religion doesn’t count, and they should get on and become secular already?

    And yes, keep religion out of science. I don’t want papers about how the big bang looks like creation anymore than anyone else does. But I see no contradiction in a religious person doing science. Say a historian believed in the resurrection as a christian, but as a historian did not (I’m using a story told by Christopher Hitchens about an argument he had). So the historian would go to work and genuinely do good history, and not inject historically nonsensical biblical theories, but would still go to church and talk about the resurrection, and believe it. I don’t think this is a contradiction, or that he’s living a sort of split brained life that’s constantly in tension.

  27. Anri says

    larrylyons @ 28:

    Speaking for myself, I’ve never really been all that good at figuring out which bits of the Bible are Clearly The Imperishable Word Of A Perfect Being and must therefore be taken as absolute truth, and which bits are Obviously The Work Of Fallible Humans and may therefore be safely ignored.
    Part of the problem in my trying to draw this line is the fact that most Christians appear to use the somewhat subjective sorting technique of “Stuff I like is A, stuff I don’t is B.” Not many seem to notice the incredible coincidence that only the things they agree with just happen to be god’s own truth (until it’s pointed out to them, and then they tend to get huffy).