Atheist Parable: The better playground

Welcome to my Atheist Parables series. In the tradition of Plato, Jesus, and Aesop, I will use stories and allegory to examine issues of faith, reality and reason.

Here, I’ll share a thought experiment related to Pascal’s Wager, and to the charge that “Atheists just want to sin.” Is that a legitimate charge, or are there other ways to look at it?

We were pretty excited when our parents dropped us off at the city park.  It was not our own city, you see; we were visiting a distant town, and the playground here was spectacular.  There was a giant wooden construction with bridges and towers, secret passages, slides, and swings.  There were seesaws and bouncers and a short climbing wall, and we were itching to go and enjoy it.

We were just about to dart off into the throng of happy, screaming boys and girls, when Jake stopped us.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Jake said.  “Didn’t you hear what your mother said?”
Continue reading

Verses on healing

Recently I was talking with an online Christian about healing. One of the many reasons I don’t believe the Bible anymore is the Bible contains many, repeated promises that prayer can heal people. The Christian told me this was not the case. Here’s her direct quote:

God does not promise to heal those who pray. Never does the Bible make this promise, although I was once in a group who taught this very thing. It is false, and it is an evil lie, giving false hope to desperate people and then destroying their faith when God doesn’t heal them or their loved one.

So I did a quick collection of some of the many Bible verses that do, in fact, promise healing.

Let’s talk about Jesus himself. What was Jesus most known for? Powerful preaching, and healing the sick. Flip through the book of Mark, and the headings are things like “Jesus heals a paralytic”, “A man with a withered hand,” “Jesus heals a deaf man,” “Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus,” and so on. Continue reading

Police, parents, and the problem of evil

The question “Why does a good god allow suffering?” is one of the oldest in religion, yet Christians seem to think they have the answer. The problem is, I’ve never heard a convincing answer.

A PhD Christian scholar recently wrote a piece in Christian today, saying that a god who allows evil in the world is no different from a parent who has a child, even though the parent knows that child may suffer someday.

He also says God does not stand by and watch pain; he comes down and experiences it with us.

The loving parent is not the one who never risks suffering in a child’s life; the loving parent – whether human or divine – is the one who is willing to suffer alongside his child, and willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure that one day that suffering can be overcome.

[Jesus] is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.

The website has no place for me to leave comments or send email to the author, so I shall reply here.

Dear Dr. Vince Vitale, Continue reading

Why women must submit.

The Bible says all women must submit to their husbands. Or at least, you probably think that if you’re a gay commie atheist. All the real Christians out there know the Bible only says that when you read it out of context.

That’s why Christians love to “debunk” it whenever someone brings up a verse like Ephesians 5:22.

Unfortunately for Christians, the Bible also explains why it is that women must submit. And that “why” creates an even worse problem. Continue reading

Free at last (from thought crime)

I’ve heard people talk about how coming free from Christianity set them free from fear. Libby Anne, of Love Joy Feminism, said she used to worry about demons; because even though her parents said Jesus would keep the demons away, that only worked if you “really” believed; and what young person wouldn’t be scared when told invisible powerful creatures that want to hurt you are real?

Then there’s the old fear of not being saved, no matter how many times you “confess” your sin and repent.

I don’t know if any of those fears plagued me—I certainly wasn’t too scared of evil spirits, except in Africa. But I was often worried about thought crime, or about wrong beliefs.

When I think about life with and without Jesus, one of the best parts about freethought is that I am no longer scared about what I believe.

Christians teach that “if you CONFESS with your mouth and BELIEVE in your heart” you will be saved. So, what you believe and profess is vitally important to your survival. Therefore it won’t do to believe in false things, or to embrace incorrect beliefs.

Is it right to drink, or should all alcohol be shunned? We know Jesus taught about standing up for the poor, but is it right to Occupy Wall Street or should you try to be more respectable than that? Is it right to stand up against the oppression in Palestine, or does the Bible teach that God is on the side of the Israelis in spite of how they don’t confess Jesus?

These aren’t just differences of opinion, or different ways of seeing the world. The danger here isn’t only that you may cause harm to someone. The problem is that you could be punished for believing the wrong thing. Also, holding those wrong beliefs could become a foothold that eventually leads you into further sin.

But the worst part is there’s no practical measuring stick to find if you’re right or wrong. You can’t run a simple test to prove which belief is true. You can’t measure it or experiment on it. You can’t even argue from logic alone, because you have to believe what the Bible says is true over and above your own logic. All that’s available to you is a mixture of logic, theology, and faith—trusting your gut to lead you right.

The Bible is no help because people interpret it differently. You hear different arguments, different interpretations. You can’t just trust your own logic, because those other arguments sound so Biblical—what if you’ve missed something? And you can’t just admit you don’t know—if you don’t know, how can you believe, and if you don’t believe then what is your faith?

I never realized when I was doing it just how much of a burden that is to constantly try to find ultimate truth based on such vague criteria.

If you’re an atheist you can make your decisions based on facts and logic. How they feel doesn’t have to enter into it, unless you really believe that such a criteria is useful in the circumstances. If it turns out you were wrong, you can change your mind; you don’t always have to “repent”. If you don’t harm anyone else, holding wrong beliefs has absolutely no negative impact. You can believe in pink fairies and unicorns and healing crystals, so long as you don’t let those beliefs stop you from being healthy, and absolutely no one can really condemn you.

Martyrs: Why we care about religious freedom

The Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition in which I grew up has a rich history of martyr stories.

Dirk Williams, perhaps the most famous Anabaptist martyr, turns around to rescue his pursuer after he fell through the ice. Williams was later tortured, and burned at the stake for the crime of baptizing people and holding secret church meetings. The Netherlands, 1596, etching from the 1685 edition of Martyrs Mirror.

I’m reading a book now called On Fire for Christ. It’s a dramatized re-telling of the stories from the classic work Martyr’s Mirror. It tells of Anabaptist Christians killed by other Christians, usually Catholics, throughout the sixteenth century.

What was their crime? The book details conversations between the Anabaptists and monks or judges who tried to get them to recant their heretical beliefs, beliefs which earned them the death penalty. Primary among these was the practice of baptizing adults, and teaching that infant baptism didn’t really absolve you from all sin. Continue reading

How to prove God is real

So, I’ve noticed a lot of Christians use words when they debate.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a live debate, or an Internet discussion. Christians always use words. They will make logical arguments about why the world must have a Creator. They’ll talk about history, and claim the Bible is reliable and true. They’ll give personal experiences. They’ll talk about how morality must come from a divine law-giver, or claim life is meaningless without God.

They’ll draw on their knowledge of science, history, logic, theology, and epistemology. What I’ve never seen them appeal to, though, is physical proof.

That’s not how it is in the Bible. Continue reading