Duck Dynasty: Why is No One Talking About the Actual Victims?

you might be a redneck if...

In case you aren’t sick of hearing about the whole Duck Dynasty scandal (shortlist here for those that have been living under a rock). I finally cracked and had to put in my own two-cents when an article on the subject from the Christian perspective showed up on my Facebook newsfeed. The following was my reaction to the article (which can be read here for anyone interested):

Honestly, the Christian reaction to this has been so funny. I admire the Church’s ability to turn every possible social issue on its head and spin it to create some issue of faux-persecution. Everyone with a thought in their head already knows this Duck Dynasty business is not a violation of free speech (it’s been repeated incessantly) and as much as it is not an issue of free speech, it is even less an issue of Christianity. Like at all. In any way.

This is about the human rights of the LGBT community, plain and simple. They are the victims here. Views like Phil’s are outdated, hateful and divisive not because they are Christian views but because they are outdated, hateful and divisive. But since people are so keen to turn this into a Christian issue, let me explain why they’re still wrong.

Views like Phil’s aren’t justified very well within Christianity itself or the way Christians in contemporary society conduct their lives. Aside from explicit Old Testament verses condemning homosexuality (which Christians are understandably quite happy to throw out) we have only a couple statements from the Apostle Paul on the subject. Jesus, so far as we know, never condemned homosexuality. The problem with the writings from Paul is that they are widely believed to be written by proxy. So if it’s possible to discard the laws of Leviticus, which are are directly communicated by god (or as close as the Bible ever gets to such a thing), why are Christians so comfortable accepting ambiguous verses that are two steps removed from the actual “word of god”? Is the Church really comfortable basing hateful, outdated, divisive beliefs on such shaky evidence?

stop using religion as a crutch and just admit you don't like thinking about two grown men going to town on each other

The fact is that the objective, scientific evidence is very clear: LGBT issues are not a choice, they are made between consenting adults and most importantly they do not endanger the well-being of the people around them (Just a few quick links on those points here, here and here—there are of course many, many more). The natural world is filled with homosexual behavior in species both like and unlike ourselves. And in humans all evidence points to the fact that these behaviors are biologically ingrained. So unless the Church and people like Phil want to start calling people with genetic dispositions like natural athleticism, savant syndrome or tetrachromacy (extremely heightened visual acuity) as exhibiting sinful behavior, they’d be wise to reserve their uneducated, selfish judgments—especially on the public stage. The sexual preferences that people express behind closed doors should have literally no bearing whatsoever on one’s own personal happiness. And if they do, this is your problem, not the LGBT community’s.

homosexuality is totally unnatural, just a sin dreamed up by people

The benign nature of LGBT preferences being judged by people like Phil and the Church is especially egregious when Christians themselves are the ones advocating love and tolerance. They don’t seem to realize the hypocrisy in such outlooks. How might it be possible to view someone as an immoral sinner and yet still somehow display unconditional love towards them? These two views are irreconcilable. When the shit hits the fan, only one of these beliefs can effectively hold—love or judgment.

You want a solution to these problems? Stop making silly events like this about Christian “persecution”. Stop judging others on insufficient evidence and do the decent human thing—love and respect each other, no matter what. It’s really not that hard.

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1 LIKE = 1 PRAYER: Why Liking Emotionally Distressing Pictures on Facebook is Inhumane and Idiotic

 

We’ve all seen them: “like this post to pray for Timmy’s leukemia,” “share this post if you believe in the power of prayer!” Or “leave a comment to tell Sasha the cancer can’t stop her from being beautiful.” If you’re like me, you probably assumed these types of posts were all but dead, however in recent months there’s been an alarming resurgence of images like these in my Newsfeed. Considering the power these posts still have on us and the ignorance that liking them betrays, it’s only prudent—at the risk of being obvious—to explain why these posts are insidious nonsense.

I’m sure most people reading this have had, at the very least, a sneaking suspicion that these posts were not what they seemed. That instinct is correct. And that conclusion leads many to chastise the page owners who disseminate such content. However, I’d like to submit that you—yes you—are as morally culpable for ongoing suffering as the page owners are by virtue of continuing to like and share such images. After all, if it weren’t for the reliability of social media users spreading such garbage, these morally bankrupt content creators would be powerless. Having an emotional reaction to a post doesn’t give one the right to spread drivel – especially drivel masquerading as philanthropy.

So let’s get the obvious out of the way. The Facebook pages that generate these posts exist for only one reason — and it ain’t curing breast cancer. These pages are after money. The posts they generate are designed to elicit strong emotional reactions so as to build “likes” on the content creator’s page – commonly referred to as “like farming.” Once a Facebook audience is big enough, these pages can be sold to the highest bidder or leveraged to bring in advertising dollars for the page owners—sometimes for $5k or more.

Next time one of these posts appears in your newsfeed, take notice of the Facebook account that created the image. It’s a virtual guarantee that the picture of “Bree the cancer patient” doesn’t come from Cancer Treatment Centers of America. In fact, tear-jerking sick kid posts are usually generated by pages like the following:

I’m sure when she’s not too busy posing in lingerie she’s all over developing novel treatments for HIV.

If you didn’t know that, now you do. But again, it’s too easy to stop here. It’s too easy to simply blame pages like the aforementioned for toying with people’s emotions to build an audience (and there’s no doubt they are). What’s harder is to go a step further and really examine whether the moral culpability lies with content creators like this or whether it lies with users of Facebook.

Think about what it must mean when someone “likes” a photo like this. It means that they didn’t understand the implications promoting a photo from an unscrupulous source (excusable), however it also means they haven’t taken even a moment to think about where the post came from or what it means (inexcusable). No matter what a user thinks is going on with these images, liking them betrays a certain amount of ignorance and/or lack of empathy. Do people honestly believe that a surgeon and her assistants are scrubbed up and standing in the OR — laptops open to Facebook — waiting until a photo has a million “likes” to touch scalpel to skin?

Yes! We can finally operate!

Most of these posts appeal to supernatural healing, prayer or the existence of a god in order to pull the appropriate heartstrings. But here the assumption is even more ludicrous than it is with the aforementioned doctor. People who like posts on a religious basis are essentially saying that the creator of the universe judges a life’s worth by how many social interactions a person can garner on Facebook when ill. Hallelujah.

Further, we can be absolutely rest assured that no matter how many times you like or share an image you are not guaranteeing that a prayer is said—unless you happen to be one of the rare breed that actually puts down the mouse, shuts the laptop and prays upon liking. However, even if you were dedicated to such an extent, the sad truth is that prayer doesn’t do a damned thing to help people in need. Don’t take my word for it, the most extensive study on intercessory prayer to date had this to say:

 Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery…And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms…”

In light of all of that it’s easy to see why legitimately charitable groups like UNICEF are upset with the perception that social media behavior is a means through which to affect change. These images and the people that interact with them perpetuate what many have come to call “slacktivism,” purported good behavior that ultimately accomplishes nothing. Earlier this year UNICEF ran this take-no-prisoners ad against slacktivism:

like if you don’t think likes change anything!

There’s no doubt that these posts commit their greatest evil by appealing to our empathetic natures for material gain. But the bigger problem is that we continually allow them to. If we were being seriously generous we might be able to conclude that people who like them are raising awareness. However, in actuality we’ve raised awareness—not for a condition or a person—but a nefarious like farmer. We’ve pledged to take an action that means nothing and offers nothing, then we have the audacity to walk away from our computers feeling good about such a thing!

Our insistence on interacting with these despicable posts based on pure, unadulterated ignorance is no longer acceptable. If we truly yearn to help each other a like isn’t going to do it. A prayer isn’t going to do it. Only action will. If you’ve ever been taken in by heart-wrenching images posted to Facebook, I urge you to be taken in by the notion that somewhere these images are happening in real life and you do have the power to change those situations. The links below are reputable agencies that you can donate to or volunteer with if you have a true heart for giving. Every cent counts. Not a single second is wasted.

 

Doctors Without Borders

UNICEF

The American Red Cross

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Introducing the “Gospel of Atheism”

“All conflict stems from misunderstanding. With understanding comes empathy and with empathy there can be no conflict, only agreement.”

Gospel of Atheism, Knowledge, 001

Hello friends. We’re fed up. And if you’re anything like us, you’re fed up too. Up until now the dialogue between the religious and the faithless has been one characterized primarily by vitriol, fear and stereotyping. But what if our aim was not to incessantly point out why others are wrong but why we’re all right?

That’s why we’re trying something new…

In today’s culture of information overload, we’re making a concerted effort to provide people with bite-sized pieces of information, thoughts and data that illustrate the way the atheist aspires to see the world around them. Over time, it is our hope that these pieces of knowledge and empowering wisdom will add up to a cohesive worldview that both the religious and irreligious will understand and empathize with. We think people from all walks of life will be surprised to find that a life without god is just as conducive to love, happiness and the flourishing of the human spirit as the great religious traditions.

If you’d like to participate in this new dialogue, or are just curious to find out how the “other side” lives, we’d encourage you to visit our page and leave us a comment. In the spirit of understanding, we’re open to all views, opinions and comments.

Join us in creating a whole new way to view the religious debate.

Facebook.com/GospelofAtheism

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The Small Group Series: Volume One

Lately I’ve been attending a Christian small group with a co-worker. They know I’m atheist, but have invited me along anyway. So far we’ve had some good discussions based on scripture. Below are the notes I prepared before our first meeting. Our prompt was to read the book of John, chapter 19. Read it yourself and see what your responses to the questions might be:

1. Have you ever been unjustly accused? How did you feel, and how did you go about trying to defend yourself?

Jesus, as a point of fact, was not unjustly accused. He was properly accused within the confines of the blasphemy law that was in place at the time. Even if he wasn’t, he needed to be accused in order to be sacrificed and thus save humanity—so it’s a moot point at best. One wonders just how much Jesus was manufacturing the situation so that he could be accused (i.e. allowing himself to be captured and remaining silent with Pilate). He certainly couldn’t have avoided this punishment otherwise all of Christianity is rendered useless.

As for personal examples, I know that this has happened to me though I can’t remember a specific example. Unjust accusations are not particularly bothersome if one has good reason to believe that something is true. Every situation is different, of course, and one should strive to communicate truth in the face of fallacious information, especially when the stakes are high.

Because Jesus had no choice but to accept his fate and his fate was not, technically speaking, unjust—the crucifixion story ultimately teaches us very little about how to deal with fallacious accusations. Using the story as an example one would conclude that we should accept categorically incorrect assessments about ourselves and those around us if we are to be Christ-like.

2. The trial which opens this passage can be viewed as four overlapping dramas, seen through the eyes of the different parties. Can you identify the four main groups/persons involved?

Pontius Pilate and his soldiers, Jesus, the Jewish Pharisees and the peasants/bystanders were the parties involved in the story.

3. What was the agenda of the Jewish chief priests and officials? What evidence do they bring against Jesus? What authority do they ultimately appeal to?

It’s unknown within the confines of the chapter what the Pharisee’s agenda is, and though it’s speculation of the highest order, we can assume based on other passages that they were afraid of losing political power with the commoners who were beginning to follow Jesus. However, this makes little sense in light of the fact that many of the Pharisees were firsthand witnesses to Jesus’ miracles according to scripture.

Their evidence against Jesus is hearsay, though their charge is accurate given the story. They eventually appeal to the Law god gave in Leviticus to justify executing Jesus.

4. What is Pilate’s agenda in this trial? How many times does he try to free Jesus? Why do you think Pilate eventually gives in to the Jewish demands?

Pilate’s agenda seems to be to avoid an uprising and maintain the status quo. He tries to free Jesus four times throughout the chapter. From the text we can assume that he gives in to the demands in order to maintain this status quo in the face of the Pharisees threatening to blackmail him with Caesar.

5. How do the soldiers treat Jesus throughout the trial and crucifixion? What prophecies do the soldiers inadvertently fulfill, thereby validating Jesus’ claims?

The soldiers treat Jesus very poorly, which is striking because calling him king of the Jews doesn’t seem to have meant anything to them. Nor does their excessive violence. Why would they enjoy beating him and mocking him so mercilessly, especially when it was very clear Pontius wasn’t ready to condemn him?

The prophecies “fulfilled” are non-specific and could be easily applied to virtually any living person whose clothes had been taken and divided (Psalms 22:18). Further, there’s no indication that Psalms must be referring to Jesus. If it is, why isn’t 22:12 (Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me) considered prophetic?

Most fulfilled prophecies regarding Jesus are hardly prophecies out of context. The aforementioned example from Psalms isn’t even written in the future tense — how is that a prophecy of things to come? Why is it that the prophecies are so vague that they could apply to anyone? If we are to believe that scriptures in the Bible are prophecies fulfilled by Jesus, then we must believe, on principle of similar evidence, that Nostradamus predicted JFK’s assassination and 9/11.

We also have to ask ourselves why Jesus did not fulfill things that do genuinely appear to be prophecy—for example that the messiah would be descended from King David or bring about world peace.

6. Finally, what is Jesus’ underlying agenda? Why does he choose not to answer Pilate’s questions? In his mind, who was truly in control of the situation?

Jesus’ agenda was to be put to death on the cross and it seems he didn’t answer Pilate’s questions for this reason. Simply admitting guilt and/or provoking Pilate would’ve served this purpose more readily so it’s difficult to say what motivation he had to choose this particular strategy. He must’ve believed that it was necessary for Pilate to struggle with whether or not to condemn him.

Jesus knew that he was fully in control of the situation as he continually recognized, according to the story, when he was fulfilling prophecy and even declared when his role had been completed with the words “It is finished.”

With the notion that Jesus was fully in control of the situation, we have to wonder what the point of his ministry was — the point of his miracles, so on and so forth.

7. In verses 25-27, we witness Jesus’ final earthly act of compassion toward his disciples. What does this reveal about Jesus’ heart and the goal of his mission here on earth?

Jesus indicates that his disciple John was to take care of his mother. However, there doesn’t appear to be anything overtly graceful or compassionate about his words and it speaks very little to what he may have been trying to accomplish here on Earth. In fact, within the confines of the story we have no reason to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross somehow equals our salvation.

8. Share about a current or recent situation you’ve been in where life seemed to be treating you unfairly. What was your response at the time? In light of this passage, how do you think God might have been at work in that circumstance to bring about His will?

I feel that I am being treated unfairly financially for choosing to pursue higher education. Because of my socioeconomic status the only way to do this was to take out private and federal loans to cover the costs of school and living. The large debt from my schooling makes me feel like I’m “trapped” in life and unable to do the things I’m meant to do.

As for how god might be at work in this situation, many Christians have told me that we in fact, cannot know the mind of god. So, I see no point in speculating about what was or is going through the mind of an utterly unknowable, incomprehensible god. I see no point in wild speculation as to what god’s almighty plan might consist of. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and move on in a, hopefully, smarter manner.

9. God promises not only blessing, but persecution, if we follow him. Have you experienced persecution or criticism as a result of obeying God? How does Jesus’ example give you confidence to not only endure, but experience joy and victory in staying faithful to His call upon you?

When I was a member of the church I was a victim of perceived persecution, but in hindsight I realize that my personhood was never actually being attacked or compromised. I was never insulted as a human being or physically abused. In fact, I’ve noticed that this type of persecution is more readily reserved for atheists. As a Christian I couldn’t ever have imagined legitimately hearing people threaten to kill me or telling me with all sincerity things like “go straight to hell where you belong” though unfortunately similar comments are all too often directed at atheists like myself in message boards and forums on many of the sites and blogs that I read. And many of the atheist writers and thinkers that I look up to regularly receive similar, if not much worse, backlash for their ideas.

As an atheist I would never persecute people for the beliefs they hold, but I quite willingly criticize the beliefs themselves. I fully expect that not everyone will hold the beliefs that I hold, and as a consequence I fully expect to be questioned on why specifically I believe what I believe. If I hold a belief, I should understand the ramifications of that particular belief because it will affect my behavior. Too often people attempt to place a partition between belief and behavior, but beliefs matter to our decisions more than most of us care to admit. In the same way that we care about whether someone is Democratic or Republican, in the same way we care about what a person believes about slavery, rape or nuclear warfare we should care about what a person believes about religion. Too often we see parents who fail to immunize their children or fail to treat preventable illnesses, too often we see acts of terror—from 9/11 to the Oklahoma City Bombing—carried out specifically for irrational beliefs held. No one would argue that beliefs that lead to these types of immoral outcomes are correct, so why should we behave as if those beliefs cannot or should not be challenged? The idea of “believing in the comfort of your own home” is — at best — an illusion, and for this reason belief should be held up to criticism.

As for what Jesus’ example can teach us: I’m really not sure. Jesus seemed to know what was going to happen to him and why that was ultimately important. Jesus never needed what people call “faith.” He only needed to obey instruction—if he wasn’t already consciously aware of what his plan was. If being Christian were that simple, I don’t think there would be so many different sects of Christianity, or so many doubts amongst believers about what god’s plan ultimately entails.

In knowing what would happen to him, Jesus had a remarkable leg up on any of the rest of us humans. We don’t know what god’s “calling” is for our lives and if we did, we’d be absolute fools not to follow it. It’d be like being an eye witness to Jesus walking on water and choosing not to believe or looking up during the rapture to see people ascending into heaven and chalking it up to silly superstition. No one is that thick. If we could reliably know what god’s plan was for our lives, we’d be moronic not to follow it, regardless of Jesus as an example.

So what I’m really curious about is how the Christian answers the question. If you think you can know god’s will—what kind of petty distractions could possibly get in the way of accomplishing it? And if god’s will is unknowable—what does Jesus’ example have to do with the way you live your life? Jesus was never meant to be a model for those of us who aren’t partly divine.

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Letters to a Pastor, Experiencing Resurrection: Volume Two

I received some responses from Pastor David Kim following my letter about his sermon that I’d like to share. Again, the correspondence below appears as originally written save small edits for personal information.

 

Pastor Kim:

Hello. I just wanted to say thanks for coming and visiting the church and thank you for taking the time to write out your thoughtful questions regarding the Experiencing the Resurrection sermon. I wish some of our congregants would listen to the message three times too! :)

Wow, the questions you raised are very valid and challenging. It’s clear that you have a great intellect and that you have some good Biblical knowledge. I’ll do my best to address your concerns.

Regarding the question about Christians and mourning and my point about being “real with God.” Yes, our faith in Jesus gives us a great peace and comfort knowing that our loss loved one is now in a better place. Personally, this comforted me greatly when my mother passed away five years ago. I believe the reason we do need to go through a grieving process is that we are all human and this grieving process is necessary to process the deep feelings of loss and sadness. Yes, the loved one is in heaven and we will see them again, but there is a definitely a sadness that there will be a temporary absence. Sort of like when you say goodbye to a loved one at the airport and won’t be seeing them for a while—there is a sadness but it is a temporary sadness.

If we don’t deal with these feelings, they get buried and people can get stuck without going through a grieving process. I totally agree with you that the efficacy of the grieving process. And I do think it would be great to write down the emotions as well as verbal expression. In my sermon I didn’t go through an in depth step by step of the grieving process. Perhaps a different sermon…

I like to think of things in personal relational terms. The relationship that the Lord calls believers to is a very personal one, where there is a two way communication process. He communicates to us through various means (thru the Bible, directly through impressions, through others, even through nature). There are many things way beyond my pay grade in terms of understanding God’s ways and mind. I do know that He loves me as demonstrated in the cross of Jesus Christ. And in His Resurrection, I am assured that the words and teachings of Jesus are valid. And in my personal relationship with Him, I know through experience that the Lord is faithful and good.

It would have been great for Lazarus to share about his four day experience of his experience in heaven. You’re right, no one without a shadow of doubt know exactly what happens to us beyond the grave. But we do have solid reasons to believe that there is life after death based upon the promises of Jesus. There is an interesting book called Life After Death: The Evidence written by a Christian scholar named D’Souza. If you want to take a look at it, I can give it to Mina to give to you.

Hope my response to your questions were somewhat helpful. May the Lord’s richest and highest blessings rest upon you.

Wierzenskizzle:

Thank you for your quick reply. Strictly speaking, I don’t disagree with you. Like I said, I believe the grieving process is very necessary. After reading your responses, it occurred to me that what I’m really asking—at the risk of putting too fine a point on it—is this: if the grieving process is human and necessary, as you say (and as I personally agree with), then what exactly is the role of the “extra” spiritual belief? Suppose a believer and a non-believer both suffer the loss of a parent. If, let’s say, six years later they’ve both gone through the grieving process in the same way—the only difference being that the believer sought God’s advice—how do we know that it isn’t simply the grieving process itself that’s helped each to live happy, well-adjusted lives again? You don’t need to have an answer to this question, but I believe it’s an important one to raise because the above situation is not at all uncommon in the real world.

 I’ve seen Dinesh D’Souza speak many times and actually went to a debate he did at CalTech with Michael Shermer a couple months ago. I’ve never read his writing, but I’d be more than happy to read Life After Death. If I had to recommend a book of my own it would be either Sam Harris’ The End of Faith or Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Both writers are clear, unbiased and provide compelling evidence for all of the claims they make.

Thank you again for your response.

Pastor Kim:

Good morning. It’s been great to correspond to you. I always appreciate an engaging dialogue.

We definitely are on the same page regarding the power and necessity of the grieving process. I believe that with or without faith, a grieving process is definitely necessary to be able to move on in life. Without it, one can easily get stuck and not be able to move forward. The difference that comes with faith comes at two levels—1. the blow of death, the loss suffered, is greatly lessened on the part of the one who is grieving (do to Jesus’ death and resurrection and His words about heaven) and  2. There is a great hope that comes from the knowledge that you will see that person again which brings great comfort and assurance to the believer.

That’s awesome that you heard the Shermer –D’Souza debate—wish I was able to attend. Though I am somewhat familiar with Harris and Dawkins’ work, I will look into the books you have recommended.

Hope you can join at The Garden again soon—would be great to meet you in person!

From our brief interaction, I can tell that you are a sincere seeker of the truth. I am a firm believer in following truth wherever it leads.

Wierzenskizzle:

Thanks again for taking the time to respond. As usual, there’s a lot to say on these subjects. If I make it up to the Garden again I’ll be sure to introduce myself.

I’m pleased to hear you support finding truth wherever it may be as that’s always been my main goal in life. I’m glad we can both agree so strongly on that.

Pastor Kim:

You’re a good man, Mike.  It’s been a pleasure corresponding with you.

 

Pastor Kim ended up sending me Life After Death: The Evidence—which I’ve finished reading. I will post my letter and (hopefully) Pastor Kim’s response when it’s received.

So what do you make of the responses? Satisfying? Agree or disagree? Post your thoughts in the comments.

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The Trouble with Christianity: a Critique of Tim Keller’s Apologetics

A friend recently gave me a sermon series by Christian apologist Tim Keller entitled The Trouble with Christianity. I listened to the series as well as an “Authors@Google” talk he gave which I believe sums up his points throughout the whole sermon series quite nicely (and in only an hour instead of six). Below is the letter I wrote to this friend:

 

I hope this letter finds you well. I’d like to thank you very much for making me the Tim Keller sermon series CDs—I’ve been through them all now. Coincidentally, I’ve also noticed a user on Reddit posting debate threads based on each chapter of Keller’s book, The Reason for God. I’ve been able to read through many of these posts as well to get a fuller idea of Keller’s arguments and position.

I thought it only fair to provide my point of view on the sermon series. I was pleased by the nature of the sermon series overall—grappling with the tough questions of faith and Christianity is, in my mind, highly commendable. It certainly stood as a valiant effort and I found that I agreed with Keller on many more points than I would’ve imagined. Namely, the ways in which people acquire their faith, the acknowledgment of both the sublime and the disgusting that can come from religious belief and the concession that believing is generally a far more psychologically complex affair than we’d like to believe. While I found these observations to be very astute coming from the pulpit, I was ultimately unconvinced that a belief in god is any more tenable than living without such belief—and even less convinced that Christianity is “truer” than other religions or truer than atheism.

Keller often falls prey to the most fundamental misunderstanding there is about atheism. Chiefly, that all atheists everywhere assert that there is no god. Atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief. As such, no reasonable atheist sets out to disprove god—it would be a fool’s errand. It is logically impossible to “disprove” the existence of a god in the same way that no one can disprove the fact that I have an imperceptible dragon hovering over my shoulder at all times. This error is so widespread that I’ve heard many atheists bemoan the fact that the word “atheist” even exists. After all, we have no need for words such as ”a-Santa Claus-ist” “a-tooth fairy-ist” or “a-Godzilla-ist”. It’s a default position in the face of no evidence.

I raise this point, not because Keller relies on it heavily within his argumentation, but because he mistakes arguments from authors like Hitchens and Dawkins for “proof” that god doesn’t exist, and because it renders his ultimate endgame (that atheism requires faith) impotent. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and the rest do not aim to present proof that god doesn’t exist—they aim to illustrate that the type of god most people claim to believe in doesn’t exist.

Basically, all of Keller’s arguments conclude with the idea that he cannot prove (or even adequately demonstrate) that there is a god and that this god interacts with humans in the “Christian way”. But he insists this belief somehow requires less faith than any other. Not if no one is making a faith claim to begin with! In the face of non-evidence, it requires precisely zero faith to not believe a claim. But even if we were to accept Keller’s assertion—how can we be sure that one proposition requires less faith than another? Keller offers no method by which to compare “levels” of faith (because, frankly, the notion is absurd) and thereby rests his entire argument on little more than personal opinion over what the best reaction to a non-answer is—admitting ignorance or having faith in god. Personally, I found this to be a disappointingly flimsy argument.

As much as atheists are not setting out to disprove god, they’re also not asking for a definitive smoking gun for existence—as Keller seems to think. But if even half of what most Christians claimed about god were true, we would have some physical clues that point to god’s existence. These clues could be as disparate and mysterious as quantum mechanics once was to physicists—all we need is something, anything to go on. Even if all we knew was that every hundred years one Christian church had its prayers answered from the night before, that would be enough—not to prove god—but to begin to figure out how god works, why god intervenes and propose that god’s existence is likely. One needn’t explain the metaphysics behind how prayers actually get into heaven to demonstrate that something is at play. However, over the course of thousands of years—no such spiritual phenomena have ever emerged. Thus, only believers require faith in these unsubstantiated claims.

Ultimately, none of the specifics of faith or the intricacies of Christianity presented by Keller can address this utter lack of empirical substantiation. I recall that you’ve said Christianity works based on “revelation,” but revelation does not escape the confines of empirical verification. If revelation consisted of real knowledge that couldn’t be attained except through religious means—that is still a connection that would reveal itself under the scrutiny of statistical analysis. It would be child’s play to identify such an occurrence if it were really happening. The only place left to retreat in light of these facts is a Deist perspective that, by definition, rules out the possibility of Christianity being true (obviously not what Keller’s after). So we have to ask ourselves, what’s more likely—that there is a personal, intervening god that leaves absolutely no clues for its existence or that what we see is what we get? If Keller is in the business of presenting choices that require the least amount of faith, he’s on the wrong side of the equation.

In his Authors@Google talk he brought up some things that I think deserve addressing:

I’m skeptical that the problem of evil has been so thoroughly repudiated that philosophers no longer take it seriously, as Keller (quoting Alston) would have us believe. Again, the notion that this sort of argument could definitively disprove god is a misnomer. It can’t. But neither can Keller’s solution prove god—or any others I’ve heard, for that matter. In fact, his argument is little more than throwing his arms up in defeat and accepting an a priori assumption that god must be good. It’s telling that Keller couldn’t answer the question raised by the first audience member at the end of the video. After fumbling Keller says, “when it comes to guessing what god will do, that’s a completely different category and you really shouldn’t put the two together.” But the fact is that Christians must assume they know something about what god will do or else what separates the behavior of Christians from non-believers? It’s “WWJD” emblazoned across t-shirts not, “we can’t guess what god will do.” It seems to me perfectly logical to demand that Christians have a sensible answer for why a loving god allows so much unnecessary evil.

There is an unstated leap in virtually all of Keller’s arguments, which he acknowledges in the video. He hasn’t established how a broad, philosophically based belief in god can rationally translate to belief specifically in the Christian god. Belief in the goodness of the Christian god, using Keller’s argument, doesn’t follow logically. If we cannot know the ultimate good god creates through senseless evil, then we also cannot know the ultimate evil behind actions that appear good to us. As the questioner stated, how can we know that god’s inscrutable plan for good doesn’t involve atheists going to heaven? Keller answers by appealing to the Bible, but this does nothing to solve the problem. From his premise we can conclude that god may have an unfathomably evil reason behind giving the Biblical command “thou shalt not kill.” If we humans can’t know the mind of god, then we can’t know—it’s that simple. But if we do know, then god needs to answer for the evils that he’s perpetrated and allowed throughout human history. Christians cannot logically hold both positions simultaneously—no matter how philosophically “bankrupt” the problem of evil is purported to be.

I was surprised to see Keller appeal to the anthropic principle in defense of god, as this argument actually does seem to be rather dead insofar as supporting the existence of a deity. The only possible universe that can contain observers is the universe whose conditions allow observers to exist—there is nothing mysterious about this concept. I don’t think anyone has refuted it as succinctly or beautifully as Douglas Adams:

“…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’…”

Arguing from the anthropic principle also ignores the innumerable items—asteroids, gamma ray bursts, black holes, parasites, viruses, natural disasters—that illustrate just how not finely tuned the Earth and universe are for our continued existence. As we speak the Milky Way galaxy is hurtling through space on a devastating collision course with the Andromeda galaxy, but we needn’t wait billions of years for this to happen—at any moment our species could be completely obliterated by an unending list of natural perils present in our universe. The truth is, the universe is indifferent to our survival—so it’s unclear how these facts could possibly facilitate belief in a loving designer.

Lastly, Keller seems to be implying that human rights “exist” regardless of humans who are around to observe or enforce them. This part of the speech is especially salient with regard to the inadequacies of religious belief compared to scientific understanding. Just four years ago when Keller gave the talk, our understanding of the evolutionary roots of human morality wouldn’t have been as clear as they are today. The frontiers of scientific research have recently demonstrated the existence of very human senses of fairness, reciprocity and justice in a wide variety of mammalian species—from elephants to macaques (there’s a great TED talk about this here: http://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_do_animals_have_morals.html). It’s been established for decades that our empathetic behaviors were a biological and evolutionary advantage (Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene is probably the most seminal piece on this).

So it would already be contrary to evidence to suggest that natural selection and evolution couldn’t account for the breadth of human morality we now observe. We can clearly see it’s beginnings in animal species that are evolutionarily closest to us and studies show very clearly that our natural empathy breaks down when processing suffering of large groups—precisely the trait we’d expect to be selected for within small groups of nomadic primates like Australopithecus, whom we share a common ancestor with.

But even if morality is a purely human construct (which, on some level, it certainly is) this in no way suggests the existence of a god. It’s a bit like presuming that the human conception of “health” being good implies a creator. Nothing in the natural world explicitly points to the fact that it is proper for humans to maintain our health, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t see being healthy as a positive. For all its similarity, no one is arguing that the universality of “health” implies a creator—so why should morality be any different?

To be sure, all of the dots on human morality have yet to be definitively connected, but a natural model for human behavior is growing more and more plausible by the day and explains nicely a wide array of phenomena in nature. One can still argue that god is responsible for human morality, but this would be a gamble that no Vegas-veteran would likely make given the way the evidence is currently stacked. Keller must know that the track record for “god-of-the-gaps” argumentation like this is horribly bleak. With regard to the germ theory of illness, the spherical Earth, mental disorders, the big bang, human genetics, natural disasters, and biological evolution, it stood invariably on the wrong side of truth.

I’m sure my brevity on these large issues has left a lot of holes to be filled, so no pressure to respond immediately—and I’m sure we’ll get the chance to talk some more in person soon. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you can at least understand where I’m coming from. I suspect you do given that you went through a phase of secular humanism. Most likely none of the points I’ve raised are new to you, but I hope that at the very least their role in mitigating problems of belief and perception at large have been felt.

 

Have any of you read Tim Keller’s book or heard his sermon series? Did you find them compelling? Let us know in the comments.

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Moderate Christianity: Why Tolerance Proves Ignorance

Though it’s hard to draw a line in the sand that definitively separates groups of Christians, it would hardly be a stretch to say that most types of Christianity in America right now exhibit elements of Christian apologetics and moderation. Many of the best-known Christian thinkers of our time are apologists who diligently try to reconcile the overtly outdated concepts contained in the Bible with our modern-day lives. Christian moderates are unique in that they flippantly convert the inerrant “word of God” into literary metaphor (in some cases ditching the relevance of entire books of the Bible). It’s a trait that’s enough to make a fundamentalist’s hair stand on-end, but it’s also one that affords the moderate a unique opportunity among their Christian brethren: to be tolerant.

Moderates bare no resemblance to the xenophobic Christians of yesteryear, they can open their church doors to homosexuals, vampires, pedophiles, atheists and those who eat shellfish without a shred of shame. This tolerance is a striking trend for many reasons—not the least of which is the Bible’s explicit condemnation of it. In particular the Bible is very clear about homosexuality and, as such, it will be the primary subject of this article.

By eschewing traditional Biblical notions of right and wrong, the moderates effectively burrow themselves into an impenetrable and unfalsifiable faith-based worldview that is at odds with the world at large and with Christianity itself. Worse still is that these beliefs are based on nothing in particular—not scriptural knowledge or empirical evidence. I can think of no better way to phrase the predicament than Sam Harris did in The End of Faith:

“Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and religious ignorance.”

Only the religious moderate is capable of being tolerant and accepting of alternative lifestyles like homosexuality without realizing that said lifestyles are blatant violations of the tenets of their Christian faith. Here’s what the Bible has to say about homosexuality and other “alternative lifestyles”:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.“ 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

And that’s from the New Testament, so the moderate’s hackneyed response, “those rules no longer apply because of Jesus’ sacrifice” is not relevant here. And in case that verse weren’t damning enough, an earlier passage in the very same book tells Christians what their behavior should be towards those with alternative lifestyles:

“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person…Therefore put away from yourselves the evil person.” 1 Corinthians 5:11-12

I’m no Bible scholar but that sounds an awful lot like not accepting homosexuals and other “immoral” persons into the church. And I’ll reemphasize that these passages come from the same book of the Bible—one needn’t spend months going through the Bible from cover to cover in order to have an informed scriptural position on their beliefs.

The plain and simple fact is that the Bible is exceedingly clear on homosexuality and other alternative lifestyles when they are mentioned. They are evil and expressly forbidden by the church. On top of that, welcoming these “evil persons” into the church is not morally excusable. However, as noted earlier, the modus operandi of moderate Christianity is to dismiss a verse as metaphor or throw it out completely when it’s convenient, so we shouldn’t expect scriptural arguments to hold much water with the modern-day, reformed Christian.

But hang on a minute, isn’t tolerance and acceptance from the church a good thing?

Perhaps if the church knew why it was promoting such a clearly secular value like broad tolerance and acceptance, we could forgive or even applaud taking steps away from Bronze Age scripture. Unfortunately, most moderate Christians have no idea that they are making concessions to modern-day, secular society. In fact, many of them are proud to lord their moral superiority over other people’s heads, not having realized they’ve borrowed from non-believers.

Moderate Christians, due to a lack of understanding of their own religion, are boldly proclaiming that God is not the central figure of moral authority in their lives, but that they themselves are. They are the ones who can correctly divide right from wrong, where no other Christian has been able to, and they alone possess the true knowledge of what is and isn’t divinely inspired writing within the Bible. Ironically, this is the same disposition they claim atheists have. The only difference is that the atheist is being intellectually honest about where their morals come from (themselves) whereas the moderate Christian is under the mistaken assumption that their morals are divinely inspired—and thus of greater value than their secular counterparts. The moderate Christian is actively changing their faith to conform to the external values of society, but the real kicker is that they aren’t educated enough to realize they’re doing it!

There’s nothing wrong with moderates accepting secular values, however the problem lies in the fact that they contribute their morality to the Christian God of Abraham without even the most basic understanding of the scriptures that describe such a God. The moderate Christian is deeply confused about the history of their own faith and the science regarding the natural emergence of morality. In fact, tolerance is an implicit admission that for hundreds of years the church has been…wrong. Using homosexuality as an example, it was only when the evidence for natural occurrence and against negative societal impact emerged that the church suddenly became “open” to it. But where are the verses in the Bible when Jesus says homosexuality is not a sin? When did God personally reveal this newfound wisdom to the church? The moderate will likely insist that these changes are a result of modeling their behavior after meek and mild Jesus, all the while conveniently forgetting verses like:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Matthew 10:34

Or maybe that’s a metaphor too?

Again, the moderate has circumvented any real foundation (Biblical or otherwise) for the moral truth claim they are making. They’re masquerading subjective moral opinion as absolute, divinely revealed truth.

Now bear in mind, I’m not saying moderates are wrong—Christians should be open, tolerant and accepting—they just shouldn’t be Christian. Moderates don’t seem to realize that they’ve already kicked the tenets of their faith to the curb and are grasping at straws to even call themselves Christian in this day and age. If a modern-day, moderate Christian were put into a room with one of Jesus’ contemporaries, there would be no mistake as to who would appear the most devout and Christ-like. Most probably the moderate would be crucified as a heretic. In other words, the moderate is right for literally the worst possible reason—they’ve thrown logic and evidence out the window in favor of the sense of moral superiority that comes from being part of an ancient sociological “in” group.

Maybe if the moderate stopped to fully appreciate the secular values to which they already unwittingly subscribe, they might have some real reason for why they should be accepting of an alternative lifestyle like homosexuality. They might know, for example, that homosexuality indeed appears to be genetic, and has many scientific research studies to back it up1. They might know that homosexuality has often been observed in the animal kingdom amongst bonobos, dogs, orca whales and king penguins—to name a few. They might know that same-sex unions have been legalized in several countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, and Canada and that almost all of these countries, are ranked higher than the United States on the HDI (Human Development Index – a measure of standards of living, life expectancy, education and income indices)2. They might even know that children raised by same-sex couples are no worse off than their peers3. Unfortunately, the religious moderate doesn’t value secular knowledge, and therefore bases none of their behavior on it. The moderate has decided that nothing—not scripture, not data, not evidence—can be so important as clinging to a loose interpretation of what they personally and subjectively believe Christianity to be.

So even if the ultimate behavior of the moderate Christian is in line with well-established and morally valid precepts, we cannot condone the behavior because it is baseless. Here it becomes apparent why even a fundamentalist can be forgiven where a moderate cannot. At least the fundamentalist follows all the verses of the Bible. As Ned Flanders of The Simpsons humorously put it:

“I’ve done everything the Bible says! Even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!”

Moderate Christianity is somewhere between an episode of Oprah and a self-help book. It’s a self-glorifying celebration of ignorance of the highest magnitude with an emphasis on feeling good rather than thinking critically. Ultimately that’s why moderate Christianity is so revolting. Sure, they may be more accepting and loving overall, but they’re replacing calculated condemnation with something that’s far more dangerous. Unbridled ignorance. For it’s only in the mind of a moderate Christian that one can find reasons for praise or condemnation with utterly no explanation for why such standards are warranted. The truth claims of moderate Christianity are so subjective and baseless that you’re not likely to find two people within the same church that can come to a perfect consensus on issues like abortion, gay marriage or apartheid, much less what happens to a soul after we die.

But worst of all is that moderate Christians don’t seem to realize that they’ve already stripped the religion they cling so steadfastly to of all of its authority. They’re waving war flags, but they don’t realize they’re white. All the concessions have already been made—secular society rules the morality of the modern-day Christian church—and it’s parishioners are like children playing in a sandbox in the middle of the Sahara Desert, unable to see that the things they value exist all around them—outside the confines of the church. It’s baffling, sad and unfortunately stunts the social progress of the country at large. The only solace to be taken is that moderate Christians are implicitly admitting that their beliefs are wrong every time they swing open their church doors for Sunday service.

 

NOTES:

1 Physical traits linked genetically to homosexuality, and theory of sexual antagonism.

2 List of countries’ performance on IDHI.

3 Same-sex couples make effective parents.

 

 

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Letters to a Pastor, Experiencing Resurrection: Volume One

Do you believe in life after death? Do you believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ? How about Lazarus? Or the many dead who were raised simultaneously during Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:52-53)?

Earlier this year I attended a church called “The Garden” in Chatsworth, CA at the behest of one of my dear friends and co-workers. The sermon there was on resurrection—more specifically on “experiencing” Jesus’ resurrection in a physical way. The message, simply put, was that Christians need to grieve just as much as normal people do when they lose a loved one and that God understands this grieving process. The lesson was taught via the story of Lazarus as detailed in the Gospel of John (John 11).

Naturally, I had some problems with the message. It’s my personal opinion that any Christian who truly believes the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ, and the Bible as a whole, should be positively delighted when a loved one passes away. After thinking about this for quite some time, I decided to e-mail the pastor my thoughts on the matter. The body of the e-mail, edited slightly due to extraneous personal information, is below:

 

Dear Pastor Kim,

I’ve listened to the sermon three times now and the overall message seems to be that we should be “real” with God. We should be okay with airing our grievances when we’ve lost a loved one. We should come to Him first and allow ourselves to make requests, feel hurt, be angry or anything in between. You said many times that Christians shouldn’t just say, “praise Jesus” when someone they love passes, to which I couldn’t help but ask myself—why not?

For the Christian who’s lost a fellow believer, the idea of traditional mourning seems, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, an indictment on the mourner’s faith. Christian or not, you will undoubtedly miss your loved one and their company once they’ve passed away. But for the Christian, a newfound feeling of emptiness can’t compare to how ecstatic you must be to know that said loved one has been reunited with their perfect Creator. Your loved one is watching over you in a place of unfathomable and unending ecstasy. If anything, this should be cause for celebration. And how selfish would it be for us to wish that person were back on earth, slugging it out in a fallen world, simply to assuage our feeling of loss? The Christian will be comforted by the belief that in the relative blink of an eye, they will be reunited with their loved one—in God’s glory—for all time. So, what on earth does the Christian who truly believes in the afterlife have to grieve for?

Maybe they lost someone close to them who was not a believer? This is somewhat more understandable, but even here the grieving process for the Christian should be mitigated in a major way by their faith. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” So the believing Christian isn’t able to say that the loss of an unbeliever was somehow a “mistake” or that it was not intended to be a benefit to them (and other believers) in the long run. Indeed, the unbeliever’s death is all part of God’s perfect plan for those who love Him. But more than that, the Christian knows the attributes of God—perfectly loving, perfectly just, all-knowing—so on and so forth. Even though it may seem unfair from the human perspective, we know that because God exhibits these qualities the unbeliever got exactly what they deserved—no matter how good of a person they were, or how much we personally miss them. So again, for the Christian who truly believes in the afterlife—and who also truly believes in God’s sovereignty—what is there to mourn?

Even if this very “human” (as you called it) grieving process turns out to be necessary, it’s still unclear why we should be telling God how we feel and what we want. After all, He already knows what’s written on our hearts and minds without us having to form those thoughts and feelings into words. And since prayer doesn’t usually utilize speaking anyway, why is it so important that we think these thoughts specifically to God? Can He only respond to thoughts when we bow our heads a certain way or clasp our hands? Beyond the logistics of communicating those thoughts to Him, what could we possibly ask for that’s a tenable solution to our problems? Why is it important to let Him know what we think when He’s already fashioned a superior plan? How comforting is it to ask for something and interpret a “no”—or not get any answer at all? Since He’s sovereign over all of creation, how much sense does it make to be upset about a situation that He manufactured in the first place?

I don’t have good answers for any of these questions, but I can say that as an atheist I happen to believe in the efficacy of the grieving process. Much has been written about effective ways of dealing with our emotions—studies show it’s generally better for our happiness to write feelings down, rather than talk about them for instance—but these approaches are rather “worldly” and rest firmly on the notion that the loss of a loved one is permanent. So, I’m a bit surprised that Christians, despite laying claim to spiritual knowledge of life after death, can’t (or choose not to) circumvent the normal steps of the grieving process. Why don’t the truths of Christianity better equip believers to deal with death than the truths of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or atheism? It appears that the promises of Christianity aren’t truly believed—even by Christians—and so they must suffer through the heartaches of life like everyone else. If this were not the case, Christians would be deeply consoled by the simple and elegant truth that God is sovereign over all and salvation comes to those who accept it from Jesus Christ. But no human knows—beyond the shadow of a doubt—what happens after death. For this reason I think we all want to experience a resurrection, even if it’s just to ask “what’s it like on the other side?”

If the story of Lazarus is to be taken as literal history, rather than metaphor, then Mary, Martha, Jesus and even the Jewish mourners who were present during Jesus’ miracle could’ve asked this question. But sadly they did not. Or if they did, the scriptures leave that detail out. Which is pretty striking considering the power of the question and it’s potential answer; it’s something mankind has asked itself since we were capable of doing so. If this answer had been recorded then perhaps Christians would have the depth of faith required to truly believe in the doctrine of life after death—rendering the grieving process useless, or at the very least reduced in severity. But, unfortunately, the Lazarus story is glaringly without conclusion. Jesus’ final line, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” is hardly a fitting end. We don’t know if Lazarus praised Jesus—or if Mary and Martha did. We get no picture of what Lazarus’ life was like after the resurrection. How many more years did he live? How did he die? Was he miserable, having already experienced heaven?

But I believe the most important detail is that God (via Jesus in this case) intentionally creates the suffering of Lazarus, his family and the “many” Jewish mourners present from Jerusalem to prove a point—namely that he is the Son of God and everything is part of his master plan. As soon as Jesus hears about Lazarus, he says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” He goes on to tell the disciples before they reach Bethany, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So we know that he was intentionally waiting for Lazarus to die by staying in “Bethany beyond the Jordan” for two days after hearing the news.

But is the contrived grief of waiting for Lazarus to die really worth it? Wouldn’t the healing of Lazarus on his deathbed be miraculous enough to prove who Jesus was? In fact, it’s incredibly easy to imagine a situation in which Jesus could prove beyond doubt that he was the Son of God—without the emotional trauma of inflicting death on his close friend’s family. He could’ve just as easily gathered all of the people that needed to get the message, brought them into the middle of the desert and had God rain down fire that spelled out “I am real and Jesus is my Son.” No life lost. No grief induced. The notion that Mary and Martha had to lose their brother in order for people to believe Jesus was the Son of God strains credulity—especially since they themselves never lost faith after Lazarus’ death, and the disciples had already witnessed a litany of miracles firsthand.

Naturally, we assume Jesus had good reason for inducing the emotional collateral damage that a funeral caused over four days for Lazarus’ family and friends. But if some “higher” inscrutable plan was at play here, it again begs the important question: why is it necessary or fruitful to mourn? We know from the story that Mary and Martha were deeply upset at the loss of their brother. But we also know that if that was part of the plan to begin with, no amount of suffering and grieving on their parts could’ve changed it. If Mary and Martha had not been sad at all, Jesus still would’ve raised Lazarus. In fact, the moral of this story seems to be that we should trust completely in Jesus at all times, even when the consequences look particularly dire. Potentially the exact opposite of “being real” with God about what we want to happen and how we feel about a given situation.

So even after hearing your sermon multiple times, I’m still racked with questions about how effective it could possibly be to mourn as a Christian—if indeed it’s necessary given the beliefs held. I’m sure if we could see God’s plan laid out before us we would probably be content, but since we can’t we have to rely on blind faith. Blind faith in, not only what happens to us when we die, but in God’s overall plan for the good of His believers. And when our faith isn’t strong enough, God’s plan is still present and active, so what is the ultimate point of being frustrated with it? Ultimately, would we want to change God’s perfect plan—even if we could? This is not a new problem for Christianity; just one that I believe is illustrated rather well in your sermon, and I’d be curious to know how you and your church answer these questions.

Thank you for your time and I hope this letter finds you well.

Sincerely,
Mike Wierzenski

 

So, any Christians out there have compelling answers to those questions? How do you feel knowing that a believing loved one will go to heaven when they die? Why do you feel this way?

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And we’re back…

In the coming days we will be reorganizing and adding new posts to the site. Sorry for the downtime. We have a new author, Mike, who will be co-administering the site with me. I look forward to the discussions.

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Homosexuality

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time, but I wanted to be sure I listened to everyone’s constructive criticisms from my post on Missionaries. As you read, realize that these posts are part of a personal blog, but I also want to come across more objectively. I realize that posting based purely on emotions will hinder influencing those on the opposite end of the argument. I’m going to try to give credit where credit is do, as well as post intelligent points that will hopefully sway those on the other end of the fence. That being said, as with my last post, I’ll give you some background on my origin concerning the topic of homosexuality, then I will go into the main point of the article.

Homosexuality is a huge issue in the Pentecostal church, as well as most other denominations. I, however, came from a Pentecostal background, so that is the origin of my experience. My father, as well as my uncle and grandfather are extremely homophobic, so I grew up being taught that homosexuality was disgusting and not natural by any means. My uncle and father had a constant schtick where they both played the role of gay men, speaking in effeminate voices to each other and all around giving their perception on how they believe gay men acted. As a young adult I thought they were hilarious. I never thought of the implications of hate and intolerance that underlined beneath their jokes. In fact, the entire family thought this was hilarious. I remember us sitting around a dinner table during an extended family holiday. Everyone would laugh when my father would flamboyantly flip his hand while lisping something like “Oh (uncle’s name) you’re so silly.” Now, this might seem harmless, but there is another part to the equation.

Whenever a man we met, such as a waiter, would speak with a slightly effeminate voice, he was labeled as a ‘freaken homo.’ This of course was said in the most derogatory tone possible. Subtly I was being indoctrinated to hate homosexuals, or at the very least see them as freaks. My family and I used to take annual trips to Disney World. When I was around 12, I remember hearing that Ellen Degeneres came out to the public. I did not hear this from the news, I heard it from my father seeing a billboard in the park with her on it. I asked who she was, and he replied “She’s a dyke (followed by arrogant laughter.)” My father also had a huge issue with Disney sponsoring gay parades. I specifically remember him mentioning this and how disgusted he was with it. Before I continue I want to clarify something: The reason for this post is not to attack my family. Several of us are not on speaking terms, but hopefully this will give you insight into the mindset I had by age of 21. At that time, I still believed in a higher being, I was still part of the church, and I believed that homosexuality was disgusting and I looked down on anyone that was a homosexual.

At the age of 21 I moved to California in order to pursue my interests in writing and film. As one can assume, this put me in direct contact with a much larger concentration of homosexuality. I met a bunch of friends within the first week of being here, and one of them invited me to go out with them to a club in Hollywood called Tiger Heat. This particular club was mainly comprised of homosexuals, which I did not know. My first experience with witnessing two men make out happened, and I was completely disgusted and felt very uncomfortable. I met many homosexuals that night. I found out that night that they were ordinary just like anyone else, if not friendlier and easier to talk to. This was the night that I began to question what was so wrong about homosexuality.

I am now 26, I’m an atheist, and I am a firm supporter of gay rights. Instead of being disgusted with homosexuality, I’m now disgusted by the persecution they receive from most religions. I’m disgusted that they don’t have the right to marry in the majority of states. There are still areas in America where it is not safe to be a homosexual, mainly the bible belt. While the Muslim countries have stricter penalties, such as life in prison or the death penalty, I think the only reason we don’t have that in America is our democracy and Constitution. The bible is just as harsh about homosexuality as the Koran is. Luckily the Constitution does what it was made for: it protects minorities.

Where does the belief that homosexuality is wrong come from, and why is the church so against it? One verse is the culprit. Others follow after it, but this is the most scathing:

Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” (this is actually the first mention of homosexuality in the Bible.)

Sadly, Christians seem to forget this verse:

Luke 6:37: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

From seeing both sides, I’m well acquainted with the arguments the Christians will throw against homosexuality. All of them are irrelevant and ignorant, and I’ll list a few and explain why.

1. “If we give rights to homos, why not give rights to pedophiles and bestiality lovers?”
This shouldn’t warrant any explanation, but sadly it does. Homosexuals engage in CONSENSUAL sex. Pedophiles and animal lovers do not. To compare these people to homosexuals is disgusting and outright wrong, yet I’ve heard many Christians think they’re so clever in coming up with this.

2. “Marriage comes from the Bible, therefor it should only be between a man and a woman.”
This statement could not be more wrong. Every major culture and religion has had marriage. The ancient Greeks had marriage that was documented in a legal manner far before Christianity decided to coin it as their own ritual. Native Americans had their own method of polygamist marriage before even interacting with Christian settlers. Let’s hypothetically assume the bible DID come up with the concept of marriage. How does this in any way warrant the prohibition marriage of two consenting adults? The bible has no place in politics. Sadly, the reason most states don’t legalize same-sex marriage is because of Christianity.

3. “If they’re gonna kiss and touch each other, they should do it behind doors. Two men kissing is disgusting.”
So it’s okay for a male and female to kiss in public, but if you’re homosexual, you can only show affection behind closed doors? Just because you are ignorant and intolerant, doesn’t mean some sort of rule should be made. This is where an opinion can become dangerous. Luckily there is no law against public affection in America regardless of gender, but in many countries it can land you in jail for life, or you can even be executed.

When I was around 16, we had a man come to our church to teach a seminar on homosexuality. He himself was a former homosexual but was saved by the grace of god and now is married to a woman. He claimed to no longer have sexual urges towards men. Looking back now, this is heartbreaking to me. Homosexuality is natural and most likely genetic, and to force someone to love or be attracted to something they aren’t is wrong. Imagine telling a straight person they can no longer have sex with the opposite gender, they must engage in same gender sex. This is exactly what Christians expect of homosexuals. There is something known as the “Ex-Gay Movement” going on in America. There are several Christian sponsored organizations that provide materials and seminars with the purpose of changing homosexual desires into heterosexual desires. Teen suicide rates are higher in Conservative anti-gay areas than they are in liberal areas. (source: http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/04/18/teen-suicide-rates-higher-in-conservative-anti-gay-areas). Why must these people change their natural desires in order to please someone intolerant and ignorant?

I am amazed when speaking to a conservative about this. They actually believe that just because they think it’s wrong, it should not be allowed. What they don’t realize is that homosexuality is a natural occurrence that not only happens with humans, but with around 1,500 species of animals as well. For someone to say that homosexuality is not natural, they are simply uneducated in the subject. Apes, our close relatives, regularly engage in homosexual activity. I’ve found that conservatives tend to not want to know the other side of something. They don’t want their beliefs to be threatened by facts.

Many Christians will say “I’m fine with homosexuality, but it’s still a sin.” This is STILL offensive. They think it’s a polite way of disagreeing with homosexuality. These same Christians believe that homosexuals are going to burn in hell forever simply because they’re attracted to the opposite sex. Yet I guarantee they will agree that the “Fag” haters of the Westboro Baptist Church are crazy. It’s hypocrisy in its highest degree, equatable to those that mocked the May 21st movement yet still believe the world will end in their lifetime.

I must give credit where credit is due: there is a new Christian movement that accepts homosexuality ( http://www.thechristianleftblog.org/ ). I’m very happy with this and they have my support. I still disagree with their beliefs and I think they’re rewriting the bible, but it’s a step in the right direction. I don’t mind Christianity as long as it’s inherent racism and bigotry does not infiltrate politics.

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