Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Atheist Attacks Faith

Here is a talk by an atheist that is on YouTube. His name is Aron Ra. I think it is called Faith Is Not a Virtue
Throughout my youth, I was taught that faith is a virtue. Other than that, no one could tell me what faith is. I was told that faith is loyalty. Now Fido was a popular dog name because it was based on the derivative of "fidelity," meaning the opposite of "infidel." And obviously if you are faithful and your spouse is unfaithful, he or she is guilty of infidelity. That's why they're called "faithful." An infidel is one who does not keep the faith. I'm told that the virtue here is that a man should stand by his beliefs as if his beliefs are tied to his very identity, and that he should hold true to that and defend the faith without compromise. That didn't make any sense to me as a child because, I reasoned, what if you had two men with mutually exclusive ideas? What, exactly, is virtuous if at least one of them are wrong, if not both? What exactly is virtuous about being unable to consider your opponent's position or reconsider your own? I know people who will continue to believe what they want to believe, regardless of whether it's really true or not.
There is a conflation of quite a few things here. One is to stand up for truth. Standing up for truth is something virtuous. That is independent of how we arrived at that truth. You might know something is true because you saw it with your own eyes. Faith is more about how we arrive at truth. Once you are properly convinced of a truth then defending it is a matter of integrity. 

But then he suggests in the last sentence that faith is about believing what you want and not caring about truth. I says he knows people like that. He doesn't give any examples. I would not call that faith. I would call it delusional. People of faith that I know care deeply about truth. I am not sure if he means liberals who talk about "your truth and my truth" or perhaps he means fundamentalists with their "faith against reason" thinking. It is hard to say. But knowing there are some people who abuse the notion of faith does not prove there is no proper place for it. 

[clip of Simpsons episode featuring Homer and Ned Flanders]
I cut out the story of some Mormons who behaved in a silly way. He does not seem to want to engage the best of Christianity. He seems to want to take the easy shots at when they look silly. The trouble is every belief system looks bad sometimes. Do you judge Mozart based on how it sounds when horrible musicians play his music?  So why judge Christianity by behavior that even Christians laugh at? 
I know that other people have done this, too, and one guy I know of managed to convince himself that his wife was still faithful, even when all of his friends and family had figured out when and where and with whom she was cheating. He didn't want to believe that, so he refused to acknowledge it, ignored all the signs, saw only what he wanted to see, and preserved his dignity (he thought) for a while until he realized that he didn't have any dignity for quite a time. And I know this is what religious people do, too. But it begs the question: when is it ever wise to believe someone without reservation? 
Now this is getting to the point. Can we trust anyone? He gives another proof by example here. Someone should explain to him that is a logical fallacy and not a valid for of proof. Sure there are people who have been betrayed. But is the wife always cheating? Is that a reason not to get married? It is a reason to be careful who you marry. Same with religion. Showing some religions are bad is not enough. You have to show good religion is impossible.
I was told that faith is trust--well, obviously that didn't work for me, either, partly because I had this image [image of sinister-looking goblin and thought bubble saying, "TRUST ME"] on a t-shrt in high school. In this context I was told I would not step onto an airplane unless I had faith that it would land safely. That doesn't make sense because I know the plane exists, I can prove that it does, I know something about the safety ratings of getting on an aircraft, I know I can check out my sources to know that they should be fairly reliable--but how could I be expected to trust things which can't be verified, and which are told to me by people who frankly can't be trusted? I can't trust the teacher, or the preacher, or even the President-who, when I was a boy, was Richard Nixon, and maybe that's why I can't recognize any authority as being unquestionable, and that includes the people who wrote all the world's religious tomes while claiming divine inspiration from a host of gods who cannot all exist at the same time.
This is more a statement about himself. He has trouble trusting. But is that a virtue or a defect? He was lied to by Richard Nixon so he rejects Jesus. Yet he trusts the people who fly airplanes. It seems pretty arbitrary. This is playing to one of the big fears people have with religion. They don't want to get taken. They don't want to be made a fool of. But you can be a fool for rejecting something as well as for accepting it.
Each of my science books said, "This is why we think this, this is how we figured it out, and this is what we still don't know." That I can trust. And it inspires me to contribute. Conversely, religious books claim to already know everything you'll ever need to know, even though they never explained anything, and you're forbidden to question them; instead, you should believe them without suspicion simply because they said so, even when they've already been proven wrong. This is why the words "confidence man" described a criminal swindler; such people should not be trusted. When is it ever wise to believe someone without question?
I don't know where he learned religion. I asked a ton of questions in religion classes. They did explain where we got things. God came to us in the person of Jesus. We know it is true because God raised Him from the dead. You start with that revelation. Things proceed logically from there. Someone might teach religion in a way that does not focus on reason and understanding but they might teach science that way to. It is not in the nature of religion but how we choose to think about it, or not think about it.

Again he comes back to trust. Are people who teach religion dishonest? Are they trying to con people? Do they really think it is all a lie? All of them? Does he seriously believe that? I doubt it. The swindlers are very few and far between. So why focus on them?
At least when you look up the word "faith," some dictionaries will describe it as "a secure confidence," but those that do also distinguish the colloquial sense from faith as it applies to religion, and that is the context we're talking about. Every dictionary I have yet seen matches everything I've seen from the hymns and sermons and theologians past and present, and even the scriptures of Abrahamic and Hindu religions: faith is a secure confidence that is not based on evidence. Without evidence, there can be no reason to believe. So then faith was described as being synonymous with hope. You hope this is true. You hope your authorities know what they're talking about. You hope they're not lying to you, and you hope your preconceived notions will still turn out to be true even when they obviously can't be. This sort of unsupported wishful thinking is what it really means to take something on faith. But when is it ever wise to believe someone without reason?
Here is a guy invited to speak about faith. He does not know what it means. Faith is a confidence in someone or something. It can be, and almost always is, based on evidence. When a friend gives you his phone number you are confident it is right. Why? Faith in him. In his character. In his ability to write 7 digits without error. Those things would be based on evidence. You would not have any direct evidence that the phone number is right. If you had such evidence then it would not be faith. You might still ask questions. "I thought you lived in New York, this looks like a New Jersey number?" If you had faith in him you would expect there to be reasonable answers.

He keeps going back to the rhetorical question, "When is it ever wise to believe someone without reason?" The answer is when they know more than you on the subject in question. You will typically have some reason for believing they know more than you. Maybe that reason is also based on faith. Just because premises are believed on faith does not make the process illogical. You want the best information. If Jesus knows more about how a man should live then I do then why should I ignore His word and follow my own thinking?
But you gotta have faith. If you have faith, anything is possible. Faith can move mountains. Supposedly, your faith can make mountains move all by themselves so you don't have to do all that tedious shoveling. That's the great thing about faith: it can give one a satisfactory feeling of accomplishment without having to find a solution or, really, do anything at all. In one of many old books of magic, myth, and monsters, there is a legendary character called Jesus, who might have been an actual person, but the story has been heavily embellished. In one of these tales, Jesus said that with even very little faith, you could destroy coastal communities by causing mountains to jump into the sea. He didn't mention the implied tsunami, but that is what would happen. 
Again, he does not seem to want to deal seriously with the actual faith. He seems more of a blasphemer than a rational thinker. That is he is more about poking fun at sacred things than actually addressing the big questions of life.
However, while Jesus says we only need faith as small as a mustard seed--and I want to know what his metric is, what metric he's using--he also implies that our faith must be absolute, because we cannot have doubt. The only way to eliminate doubt, the things that can't be tested, is you simply don't question, don't even think about them. Even though you know it's absurd, just keep telling yourself that miracles can happen if you believe that they will. But you must be absolutely convinced; the impossible will happen only if you believe "hard enough." Or if you make a wish with all your heart. Because there, mutually exclusive contradictions can be ingested without consideration. Don't think your way out of Fantasia. You don't measure faith with a logical brain from a natural world. "Search your feelings, you know this to be true." If you circumvent the intellect, you can believe six impossible things before breakfast. All you have to do is deny the laws of nature and the rules of logic, and just convince yourself without a doubt. Don't just say that you believe impossible absurdities, assert your conviction. Trust in the priesthood and in the doctrine of the infallible fables, and believe them absolutely. Never under estimate the power of pretend; you must make-believe. You have to pretend, with all the auto-deceptive delusion you can muster, because there's a lot riding on it.
Again he completely misrepresents what Christians believe. Christians don't deny the laws of nature and the rules of logic. That would be an absurd religion. We believe in miracles but as miracles. That is they don't happen all the time. They are exceptions to the laws of nature. The exceptions prove the rule.

We don't believe that if we wish something with all our heart it will come true. We have all tested that theory when we were children. Can we eliminate doubt? Not very often. Certainly not asking your questions will never eliminate doubt. You don't do it by eliminating the intellect. You don't so it by forcing yourself. You do it by living it and experiencing the truth of it in you life.
Religion is a belief system; that means you are required to believe this, and forbidden to believe that. This is how religion differs from free thought: we don't care what you believe, all that matters is why you believe it. Faith doesn't count as a reason. It is indefensible in that regard. This may be why religions resort to psychological projection, denying their own faults while accusing them in others. It's an old cliche: the pot calling the silverware black. It means accusing someone else of faults you, too, are guilty of. But religious extremists project their own faults onto those who will not share them.
This is interesting. How many irrational appeals has he made? He asserts that we know it's absurd but does not say how we know it. Listen to that small voice of doubt in your heart. Really, if you compare what he does to a typical preacher I would say he has embraced the worst preaching tactics, the cheap shots against people who believe different, the bold assertions without evidence. So he acts like he is above them but he plays the same game.
[montage of clips of religious people talking about the faith of atheists]

It's the old playground game of "I'm rubber, you're glue; what bounces off of me sticks to you." It's an infantile tactic which I describe as the pot calling the silverware black. It's a sort of psychological spin; how else can you defend an indefensible position? You have to twist everything around. That's why the Bible defines a fool as someone who does not believe completely the outrageous claims of incredulous sources even without asking for evidence, but every other source in the world defines a fool as someone who does these things. 
This is the tu quoque objection. It just means the problem you are pointing out in my system also exists in your system. It is a twisting around of sorts but it can be valid. There are certain questions that sit at the center of our lives. What is the meaning and purpose of life? How do we determine right and wrong? What happens when I die? It does not really work that well to leave these questions unanswered. If anything it is a less rational thing to do because you are not thinking about the key questions. You are rejecting an answer for reasons that can be just as emotional or involve just as questionable a reasoning process as any other religious choice. But there is often no clear sense of what replaces God in the center of your lives. should not a rational person articulate and scrutinize the central truths that he is organizing his life around? I know religious people do that. I don't see atheists doing that.
There is this idea, common throughout Christendom, that belief in God is somehow required in order to be good. 
I don't know many Christians who say this. Nobody doubts that atheists can have very strong moral feelings. Many times their morality comes indirectly from the Christian society they were raised in. But in general there is nothing wrong with them morally.  The concern is more long term. Do they have a principled way to tell moral progress from moral regress? If a new idea comes or an old idea gets challenged how does an atheist decide what is right? A Christian might get it wrong but he at least believes there is a transcendent source of morality, namely God, and we know some things about that source, namely the revelations of Jesus. Atheists tend to deny anything transcendent. Even if they believe such a moral source exists they have no reliable way to know anything about it. Everything boils down to moral feelings. Again Christians are being the hard rationalists. It is the that atheists are following their heart.

Statistically, that is obviously not the case, at least according to what I happened across online [screenshot of article headlined 'Societies wors off "when they have God on their side"']. I don't see a lot of Christian compassion or charity represented here [screenshot of article headlined 'Religious doctors not more likely to care for poor: study']. The factions of religion typically have the highest crime rate with special emphasis on hate crimes. Religious people are more likely to condone the murder or torture of prisones [screenshot of headlines 'An Enduring Majority: Americans zContinue to Support the Death Penalty,' 'Evangelicals Support Torture'], where non-religious people are more likely to consider that morally wrong. Yes, we have morals, and we're beginning to feel alone in that. But it gets worse. The most religious countries also have the highest murder rate, and the same is true of the most religious areas within this country. The higher the religiosity of a populace, the higher the murder rate. Similar nations show the opposite tendencies, where the less religious they are, the more peaceful they are [screenshot of article headlined 'Atheist nations are more peaceful']. Here in America, evangelical Christians have the highest divorce rate [screenshot of article headlined 'Evangelicals: Why Do We Have the Highest Divorce Rate?']. They also have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, which isn't surprising since we believe in teaching abstinence only. I live in Texas, where the abstinence-only program has been so successful that we have achieved the country's highest level of repeat teen pregnancy. But it gets even worse. Fundamentalist Christians also have the highest rates of abortion; that's what a colossal failure the programs of the religious right have been. But it still gets even worse than that: child protective services and other agencies report a significant majority of child abusers and molesters report as being very religious, and the more religious they seem to be, the worse offenders they seem to be. And yet despite all of this, how are atheists perceived?

[montage of invective against atheists]
This is actually fair comment. Sure the headlines are cherry-picked but Christians do tend to look down on atheists and they should not. Not all Christians but too many. We should be holier than they are. We should not say so. It should just be obvious. Sometimes that is true but not generally. When we claim more than is true or claim anything at all really we are judging. We need to stop. Atheists are allowed to judge us because they don't have to follow Jesus. We do.
In 21st century America, as in other predominantly religious countries now and throughout history, we are judged as evil, void, and emotionally depraved simply because we do not believe things which are not evidently true, because we are wise enough to reserve judgment in lieu of compelling evidence. Because we are wise enough not to jump to the first conclusion [unintelligble]. We lack the virtue of admitting we are wrong about something or could be. If given good reason, I will change my mind. I've had many discussions with people who say, "Look, you're never going to change my mind, and I'm never going to change yours." And I say, "No, you're wrong. You could change my mind, if you have a reason. I can't change yours because you've decided in advance that it doesn't matter what reason I give."
I agree again. We should always be open to changing our minds. In principle, most of us are. In practice, we close down when our core beliefs start to shake. It is easy to do. When contemplating Catholicism I had the constant temptation to just drop it. It is very uncomfortable to question your deeply-help convictions. Still people do it. I hate it when people start discussions by saying nobody is going to convert. If one or both has to be wrong then why do we want to exclude conversion? Don't we want the discussion to result in everyone arriving at the truth?
And it doesn't matter if there is an inverse correlation between one's level of education and their tendency to believe in gods, aliens, pseudoscience, and spiritualism. The real problem for empirical science and other forms of rational skepticism is that we care more about truth than the religious do. Christians have often told me that their fear of God is the only reason they don't run amok in the streets, raping, killing, and doing all the horrible things God commanded his followers to do in the Bible. Things atheists generally would never do even if it were legal. 
I don't think atheists care more about truth. The desire for heaven and the fear of hell is a motivator. It should not be the only motivator. When Christians say these things make them behave they typically don't mean raping and killing. They typically mean drunkenness, pornography, etc. Even that is a sign of an immature faith. Mature Christians are motivated by a desire for communion with God.

Most of us tend to do good, and when we are, we're good for goodness's sake. We do what must be done because it should be, not because of any threat, and not for any reward, either. So why do Christians think that belief in God has anything at all to do with being good? The popular notion is that when anyone dies, they're judged according to the tally of good or evil things they've done in their lives. This idea is much older than the Bible. It dates back to the Zoroastrian religion, which scholars say contributed significantly to the formation of Judaism, and of course Christianity and others. Way back then, they believed that the souls of men would ascend to the kingdom of justice and truth ruled by Ahora Mazda. And the souls of evil men descend into the kingdom of the lie ruled by Ahriman. And shadows of this can be found in modern Judaism, but this does predate. This is what it says in the Avestas of Zarathustra, but it does not say that in the Bible, and that is not what Christianity teaches.
There is a popular atheist assumption that if you find echos of Christianity in any other religion that creates a problem for Christians. It does not. Christians believe that God reveals Himself outside of the Christian and Jewish faith. The Zoroastrian religion could have discerned some truth about God before Christianity did. I think the idea of some sort of reckoning after we die, where the good are rewarded and the evil are punished, that is common to many religions. We sense that things should be that way. That our actions should be rewarded or punished justly and on this earth they frequently are not.
In the Christian religion, nearly all sins can be forgiven if you believe in Jesus, and simply because you believe in Jesus. No matter how absurd the stories are, all you have to do is swallow whatever the priests are selling [image of stained glass window depicting a boy kneeling in front of two priests, implying fellatio], and that's it! You're saved! So if you love sin, claim Jesus as your savior. Yes, there are passages in the Bible that say that works are important, too, but only in addition to faith, and those passages could be paraphrased as, "Believe what we tell you, so that you'll do as we say." Submissive obedience and subservience to the priest is repeated throughout. But there are also passages like Ephesians 2:8 which say that you are saved only through your faith, not of yourselves, meaning that there's nothing you can actually do about it. Because, as it says in Isaiah 64:6, your good works are like filthy rags in the eyes of God. It doesn't matter how good or bad you are, you're not going to be held accountable for your sins; that's not what you're being judged on. There is only one criteria[sic]: all that matters is that you believe, and that you believe on faith, meaning that you have complete conviction without evidence. Remember, Jesus said, "Blessed is he who has not seen and yet believed." So morality isn't the issue. What matters is whether or not you can believe the most outrageous claims imaginable, even from the least credible people possible, and believe it completely even when there is no reason at all why you should. The most saintly skeptic is cursed simply for being rational, while the most naive sinners can still be saved. You can break the Ten Commandments if you want to. You won't go to hell for that. In fact, the Bible lists hundreds of God's commandments, but he literally won't give a damn if you break them. Leviticus 26 says if you break God's commandments, he will punish you in this life, not the next, by making your toil harder and your efforts fruitless. That's why all these atheists [image of celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Bill Gates, and Jack Nicholson] had to toil so hard with little or no reward.
This is not a fair representation of protestant Christianity. It does sound protestant despite the references to priests. Morality is the issue but grace is the only way we become moral. Choices have consequences. If we reject grace then we cannot become holy. But people might reject grace through the church and receive it some other way. That is not normal but the church does not exclude that. But telling God to get out of your life is a dangerous business. He might do exactly that.
Now you might be thinking, "But that's the Old Testament, and those rules don't apply to modern Christians." But in Matthew 5:19, in the New Testament, Jesus says that any who ignores those old commandments shall be called least in heaven. So you'll still go to heaven; you just have to fly coach. You're still supposed to obey all those creepy old Jewish laws, including the one about having to murder anyone who works on weekends, and the one about having to sell your daughter to whoever rapes her first. But you'll still be forgiven if you don't. Even if you eat at Red Lobster while wearing a nylon-polyester blend. It doesn't matter how good or bad you are; love your sin all you want. Noah was a naked old drunk cursing his own children. Lot offered his daughters to a rape mob before he got drunk and molested them himself, and even blamed them for seducing him--what a schmuck! Yet these were the men whom God considered the best men in the whole world. Graded on a curve, wouldn't you all be better than that? Graded on a curve, how could any of you be considered least in heaven?
I often wonder about these kinds of bizarre biblical interpretations. He goes on and on with them. I can't imagine they are meant to be taken seriously. But atheists eat it up. It is lie they have contests to come up with the most revolting interpretive twist on some obscure passage of scripture. There is a reason why it is obscure. Christian tradition has not focused on these passages. They do tell us something but they are of limited value. These do mean Noah and Lot behaved badly. Their children behaved badly as well. Curses flowed from that. Anyway, he goes on and on with this kind of weirdness so I'll skip a little.
So, no, the reason I don't pretend there isn't an imaginary God has nothing to do with my wanting to be held accountable for something. Quite the opposite. The fact that I have accountability is the reason I can't pretend to believe. Not that that or anything else I ever say or do will matter to believers. When I die, guaranteed, some disrespectful fuck will be at my wake, assuring his or herself that they were right all along, and that Aron knows God is real now. So I'll use this moment to preemptively correct that eventual asshole by saying that when you or I die, we will not think, know, wish, remember, dream, be anything. Whether your god exists or not, history will be our judge. Either way, when I die, everything that was once me--my mother's son, my son's father, my wife's husband, my friends' bro, my neighbors' inconsiderate jerk--everything that once made me special will, upon my demise, be reduced to a few dozen pounds of ape meat going bad. And I'm okay with that. I don't need to live forever. The only meaning my life ever had was what I meant for someone else. That is all, and that's enough. Thank you. Thank you very much.
 He says he has accountability. Then he says after he dies he expects no accounting to happen. He gets very angry at someone who might try and console themselves at his funeral with the thought of an afterlife. Why such a bother? Why such concern that he be faithful to the truth and that other that follow him be faithful to the truth no matter how hard it is to face? That is a laudable goal. Where does it come from? Why can't an atheist say "believe whatever you want?" If he is dead then why does he care? Like truth is some absolute good that transcends death.

The accountability thing is real but it is always a self-accountability. That is you hold yourself to a standard of your own choosing. That is a huge difference. For example, many atheists decide that sexual morality does not apply. So they can just not count that when they declare themselves to be good. So they can be morally outraged at many things and still give themselves a free pass on their favorite vices. It is certainly not hard to imagine some people wondering if that plays a bigger role in the choice for atheism than any love of truth does.

1 comment:

  1. What a piece of crap article. Not even one shred of objectivity. You are insulting the average persons intelligence with this crap. Do the world a favor and never try this again.