Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Sunday Sermon: “It takes faith to be an atheist”

perfect-senseSome Christians seem fond of declaring, “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” That’s a pretty stupid thing to say if you’re someone whose religion is based on faith. It’s also a pretty stupid thing to say to someone who’s actually an atheist, rather than a fellow Christian who’ll smile and nod “knowingly” without bothering to think about it.

One thing that’s stupid about it is that it denigrates faith. Even for an atheist like me, that seems wrong. Faith is a powerful thing. Even in a world devoid of deities, we have faith in other people. I know what it’s like to have faith in someone. I know what it’s like to have that faith rewarded. I know what it’s like to have that faith betrayed. And (as a former born-again Christian) I know what it’s like to have faith that’s neither rewarded nor betrayed, but still abides nonetheless. It’s not a trivial thing.

One reason Christians pursue the “atheist faith” line of reasoning (or perhaps I should say “reasoning”) is because it’s a way to equate atheism with religion. This has tactical advantages — for instance, if there’s some public school curriculum you don’t like (e.g. evolution), you can declare that it’s atheist in nature (even if it’s not), and try to have it banned because it’s religious (since atheism is a religion, right?).

But while there are a few activist Christians pursuing such blatantly tactical approaches, most of them are just talking about and thinking about stuff. So why the denigration of faith? Why try to undermine the mainstay of their own religious view?

christianityMaybe it’s because they think they can win on an appeal to what “makes perfect sense,” either literally or sarcastically. Maybe that’s the whole reason they’re theists in the first place — they simply can’t believe that nobody’s in charge, and their religious belief isn’t really based on faith in the first place, but on a need to feel certain about something, even if what they feel certain about is absurd. For some people,¬† answering a question like “How did the universe come about?” by saying “It’s magic” is more satisfying than saying “I don’t know.”

But in a straight-up debate about cosmological-type issues, “I don’t know” wins every time, especially when you can pin down the Christian about specific details of what they claim to “know” (or at least have faith in).

For one thing, there’s the sheer vast emptiness of most of the universe. Creationists like to claim the universe is “fine-tuned” for life, but so far we only know of one planet that has life, and that planet is a tiny portion of its own solar system, which in turn is a really tiny portion of its galaxy, which in turn is only a tiny part of the universe. What’s the deal with creating this whole vast universe just to do a little social experiment on one tiny blue ball in one tiny corner of it?

And then there’s the actual creation story in Genesis. Not only do the first 2 chapters contradict each other (not my favorite Bible contradiction, but a good one), but the second chapter makes God into a colossal cosmic Homer Simpson character, making huge blunders and then cobbling together half-assed kludges to compensate for his mistakes.

For starters, he creates the earth and puts plants on it, but there’s no one to till the soil (BTW, most plants on earth grow in the wild without any tilling needed). So he creates a man (scoops up some mud, shapes it into a man and breathes life into its nostrils), but — D’oh! — the man is all alone! That’s not good. So God decides to create a mate for the man. How does he do this? By creating animals. He creates every animal in the world (same process, breathing life into the nostrils of mud sculptures), and brings them to Adam to name them.

(Question for creationists: There are at least 250,000 species of beetle we know about so far — how much time did Adam spend just naming beetles? If he did it really quickly — say, one beetle per second — that’s still 3 solid days, without pausing to eat, drink, sleep or anything else, just naming beetles. And how many¬† beetles did Adam go through before saying, “Hey, God, I think maybe you’re on the wrong track with these critters. You’ve brought me 185,394 of them already, and I’m pretty sure they’re not getting any closer to being a suitable mate”?)

So God ends up creating every single animal on earth, but — D’oh! — Adam still doesn’t have a mate! So then God (finally!) abandons the whole mud-sculpture concept, and takes a rib out of Adam and makes another person out of that. You’d think, being all-knowing and all, he might have foreseen that the mud-sculpture method wouldn’t work, wouldn’t you? And even if he didn’t foresee that, you might think he’d figure it out fairly early on — maybe around the 497th beetle or so.

Now, if a Christian challenges you to explain how all this stuff got here, you might think “I don’t know” is a lousy answer. But you don’t need to know how it got here to know that it’s here. You can observe that the universe exists, that the earth exists, that life on earth exists, without having any idea whatsoever how it got here. Saying that reality exists isn’t faith, it’s just observation.

But the Christian can’t just rest on “I don’t know” for explaining why (or how) God exists, or any other tenet of his religion — he can’t fall back on saying “I don’t know how God got here, I merely observe that he is here.” Because that’s not an observation — that’s faith.

And, I suspect, that’s why Christians want to claim atheism is also a faith — because it’s the only way they can even begin to attempt to make our worldview appear as comically absurd as their own.

(Christianity cartoon via Migrations; atheism cartoon via The Web Elf Report)

How to out-Christian a Christian

atheist_debate

In my previous post, I referred to certain uses of the phrase “I’ll pray for you” as passive-aggressive. But being passive-aggressive doesn’t have to be a bad thing — it can be your friend when dealing with certain types of Christians, especially on debate boards but also in “real life” if you happen to be faced with a particularly belligerent person.

I’ve found that the best way to win a confrontation with a Christian is to out-Christian them — be a better Christian than they are. Be meek, mild, accepting — even loving — and non-judgmental and non-confrontational. Turn the other cheek, and all that.

The Christian(s) you’re arguing with won’t find your demeanor convincing, any more than they’ll find your arguments convincing — they never do. But when you’re arguing with a Christian, the goal isn’t (or shouldn’t be) to de-convert them and convince them that their religion is wrong.

Realistically speaking, that’s not going to happen even if you’ve got an airtight argument and the Christian’s got nothing. Dogma is a powerful thing. But fortunately, it’s also an obvious thing, to any lurkers or onlookers or other spectators.

When arguing with a Christian the goal is (or should be) to demonstrate to onlookers that you’re the one who’s right — or at least that you’ve got a valid argument and that the Christian’s argument has some serious flaws.

So, how do you out-Christian a Christian in a fight? It’s not hard, at least not if you define “Christian” as someone who follows Jesus’ instructions to his followers.

Jesus said (according to the Bible, anyway) that you shouldn’t be judgmental, and that you should treat everybody well, even those who curse you or do you harm. Jesus said you shouldn’t act like it’s your place to point out the moral failings of others, at least not until you’ve managed to get rid of all your own failings.

So when you’re arguing with a Christian, and you want to come off looking like the “good guy” while still winning the argument, don’t cast aspersions on the Christian’s moral character or motives — leave the judging and condemning to the guy who claims to worship someone who commanded, “Judge not, that ye not be judged; condemn not, that ye not be condemned.”

Don’t declare that there’s no reason to believe in any deities — just declare that you’ve been unable to find such a reason, and ask your Christian buddy for help. When he offers something he considers a good reason, don’t tell him he’s wrong, just explain your own logical (or other) objections, not as criticisms of his belief but simply as a personal “testimony” (Christians love personal testimonies) of why it doesn’t work for you.

Then ask him to clear up the logical (or other) problem you’re having with his argument. If he can’t, maybe you can ask him to help you out by supplying some other reason you should believe in his magical sky-daddy (although, of course, you don’t want to use the phrase “magical sky-daddy”).

And then repeat the process. Explain why his reason isn’t working for you (and make sure you phrase it that way, that it’s not working for you because of the logical contradictions — not that the contradictions invalidate the argument for any sensible person).

(Atheist Eve cartoon via Carapace)