Christianity leaves us gasping for air!

Apologist Glen Scrivener is popular with Premier and the Unbelievable? Team. So it’s no surprise that his latest defence of christinaity is publicised on the their website. This publicity includes an article Glen has written, called ‘Christianity is the air we breathe. Even your objections to Christianity are Christian’ see link 1 (link: https://www.premierchristianity.com/features/christianity-is-the-air-we-breathe-even-your-objections-to-christianity-are-christian/13185.article?fbclid=IwAR1ePgAJ7PS8CYn4kVyzTXoRwyRDNUwoM3L99Mk6r74tv_9k-9f3rt7n83Q) The title is typically click-baity, but what of the content?

The opening sentence, that we all value things like freedom and equality, amongst others, seems uncontroversial. But the next sentence, where Glen suggests that these traits can’t be natural, and are the direct result of the death and resurrection of Jesus is where the whole things starts to go wrong. Assuming this is an actual historical event that took place a mere 2000 years ago, have humans really only recently discovered the benefits these behaviours bring us? Were the humans that existed during the BCE years really so bad and so unable to work these things out? The very idea seems preposterous. Maybe Glen is being intentionally rhetorical, that wouldn’t surprise me. Could it be that he really means they have existed for all of human history, but they only exist because of his preferred definition of god. For now, I’ll grant him the latter, even though a plain reading of his claim doesn’t naturally (ha) lead to that explanation.

But could there be a natural explanation? Actually yes. Scientists have long proposed that group behaviour in early humans, or even other animals for that matter, necessitates cooperation and equality. A simple thought experiment will reveal that a when comparing two groups, one with the traits that Glen lists and the other without, the former group will have advantages over the latter and so, evolutionarily speaking, will be more fit. Therefore, it’s not only unsurprising that humans have evolved these traits, it’s expected. See link 2 for an article in the Guardian from 2015 that reports on one study that has attempted to explain the arrival of these traits in humans (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/14/early-men-women-equal-scientists). But it gets worse for Glen, we do see these traits in other animals, a fact which should be enough to put paid to the ridiculous claim that these are bestowed onto mankind by a masochistic god.

Having started so badly, Glen then goes on to detail a list a specific qualities that he thinks we all have and that Christianity is somehow uniquely placed to grant them all, he equates their links to Christianity with them being like the air we breathe. Except he’s wrong on every count. Here’s why:

• Equality: You believe in the equal moral status of every member of the human family.

Christianity is directly responsible for the mistreatment and malignment of many members of the human family. The slave trade is the obvious place to go when considering past inequality. While there are some prominent Christians who were involved in its abolition, look also at the numbers of Christians who propagated in and profited from it and fought against abolition. Additionally, many who rejected Christianity were also abolitionists. If Christianity was such a good thing for equality, why is it that being Christian did not obviously correlate with being against slavery? Look around at inequality today, specifically the treatment of those who are LGTBQ+, those who malign them and view them as morally lesser, are typically Christians. This is a direct example of Christians propagating unequal moral status, in direct contradiction to Glen’s claim. This should not be surprising, read about the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25, unequal moral status is baked into Christianity, unequal moral status is exactly what Christianity thrives on. The missionary culture in which I was brought up exists because of the Christian view of other humans having a lesser moral status. Unequal moral status is what Christianity needs in order to provide its salvation narrative. It is secular morality that brings all members of the human family to equal status.

• Compassion: You believe a society should be judged by the way it treats its weakest members.

It may not be the only trait by which we judge a society, but it certainly is one metric by which it does seem reasonable to judge a society. Societies that look after their weakest members are clearly caring societies. They are clearly societies that value the individual above what they can offer. They are clearly societies that do not need all individuals to be contributary. See link 3 for an article about a find in Vietnam from over 5000 years ago where a child with Downs syndrome appears to have been looked after. (https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/06/17/878896381/ancient-bones-offer-clues-to-how-long-ago-humans-cared-for-the-vulnerable) But Glen’s claim is not about societies that looked after their weak, it’s about us, you and me, judging societies by how they treat their weak. This is a tough one to counter because while I can claim that I do not need Christianity in order to judge the society in the link I just referenced, the fact remains that my upbringing is steeped in Christian influence, and so I can not separate my existence from Christianity. This link is what Glen will point to and claim that it is only because of that Christian influence on my life that enables me to measure the criteria required to judge a society’s level of compassion. I can call bullshit as much as I like, but I can’t rerun my life without Christianity in order to prove Glen wrong. What I would do to counter this though, is point to the link I have referenced, and there are other examples, and suggest that those societies looked after the weak because they saw the value in it, and those societies existed without any knowledge of Christianity, and that is my case that on point two, Glen is wrong.

• Consent: You believe that the powerful have no right to force themselves on others.

I am very happy to own this belief. The powerful have no right to force themselves on others. And yet we live in a world where every single country where the religious have power, others suffer from the imposition of religious preferences. The most obvious modern example is how the religious are trying to curb the freedoms of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Or how Christian parents ostracise their non believing offspring. Christianity is characterised by the misuse of power this goes way back in time to the Crusades, the conquistadores and beyond. One wonders how blind Glen must be to Christianity’s abusive past to include this absurd claim.

• Enlightenment: You believe in education for all and its power to transform a society by persuasion and argument rather than by force.

I absolutely belive in education for all. More than that, education should be unbiased and reliable. That’s why I object to the Christian education I received where I was taught and told that the earth was young and created and that evolution was a lie. The Christian element of my education was actually indoctrination. A secular education is by definition a better quality education than a religiously biased one.

But maybe Glen means the existence of education, not the quality of the education. If what you’re teaching is bullshit, than that’s worse than ignorance and it’s better not to teach at all. This point is arrogant in its ignorance. See link 4 for examples of educational establishments that predate the influence of christinaity on the world, (https://www.britannica.com/topic/education/Education-in-the-earliest-civilizations).

• Science: You believe in the ability of science to help us understand the world and improve our lives.

Science is awesome, the scientific method gives us the ability to test and validate our ideas and sift out the best ones to constantly expand our knowledge of the world and deliver improvements to our technology. None of that depends on Christianity. Additionally, the sheer number of Christians who challenge and deny well studied sciences like evolution and vaccine efficacy should be enough to convince anyone that Christianity’s relationship with science is tenuous at best. If that’s not enough, then the disproportionate number of Christians who subscribe to conspiracy theories ought to settle it.

But maybe Glen means that because there were Christians who were involved in the inception of what we now call modern science, then science must owe its existence to Christianity. While it is indeed true that there were Christians actively involved in early scientific advances, and Christians continue to be involved today, it is important to note that doing good science does not automatically validate any belief you have. There are people who have done good science who have believed all sorts of things, to focus on just the Christian beliefs of some of those people and claim validation by association is frankly the worst form of special pleading you can possibly engage in.

The whole point of science is to challenge our beliefs, not to be used as an excuse to hold to beliefs that we refuse to challenge. There is a reason that the proportion of scientists who are Christians is lower that the proportion of the general public who are Christians.

• Science: You believe in our ability to do science and its ability to improve the world.

The ability of science to improve our world does not need christinaity or your belief, it is evidenced by its track record of test and validation.

• Freedom: You believe that people are not property and that each of us should be in control of our own lives.

The irony of this statement is that it is given at a time when Christians are active in the world trying desperately hard to curb the freedoms of others to marry who they love and to have children when they want. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so fucking desperate.

• Progress: You believe we should reform society of its former evils.

Yes, let’s do that, starting with religion.

In justifying his points Glen claims that “These values are not at all common in pre- or non-Christian cultures. They have come to us specifically through the Jesus-revolution (in other words, Christianity). When we extract ourselves from Christian history (for instance, by studying the beliefs of the ancient Greeks or Romans), we discover a frighteningly alien world.”

But this is a typically Christian example of blatant cherry picking. Glen is stepping over the horrors of Christianity and ignoring the things that pre-Christian societies have done that he would approve of. Glen is painting a picture of world that apparently turned on a dime from horrific to nirvana the moment Christianity arrived. You can tell he’s not an historian.

Having presented a list of the benefits of secularism Glen takes an unexpected turn by invoking Plato and Aristotle in arguing for the inequalities of the pre-Christian world. This is strange because I have seen many Christians quote both Plato and Aristotle when justifying theism, their ideas and arguments are constantly regurgitated by philosophical Christians needing to justify their beliefs. Yet here we have a Christian quoting them as proof of pre-Christian inequality, they apparently held to the view that “women, barbarians and slaves to be of inferior value to freeborn male citizens.”. But we don’t need to go that far back to find inequality, Christians today do not grant women the same freedoms as they grant men. Christianity has not and is not helping us become an equal society.

Glen then returns to his presented list of things that he says others belive and attempts to show how Christianity has driven those improvements.

• Equality: Ancient rulers kept ‘the little people’ in check with threats of crucifixion. God descended to a cross and rose to invite the world into spiritual unity.

Despotic regimes do this all the time. It’s how they keep power. Lack of religion is not the indicator here, it’s lack of democratic accountability. For an example of how Christianity keeps the little people in check, look at how many Christians in America and the UK want a harder line to be taken when it comes to border controls. Look at how many conservative Christians oppose affordable healthcare or unemployment benefits that enable people to live.

• Compassion: Ancient societies were based on dominance. God came as a foot-washing “servant of all” (Mark 9:35) and handed us the towel saying: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Correction, some ancient societies were based on dominance. Some modern societies are based on dominance too. Glen is ignoring pre-Christian compassion, remember link 3?

• Consent: Ancient men felt they had the right to any body belonging to an ‘inferior’. Christ sides with the victim and gives incredible dignity to the weak and marginalised.

Jesus wasn’t unique. Ancient societies did this too. See link 5 (https://www.science.org/content/article/ancient-greeks-didn-t-kill-weak-babies-new-study-argues)

• Enlightenment: Ancient cultures would spread by force. Christ said: “put away your sword” (Matthew 26:52, NLT). Now we are to spread our influence by word, through gentle persuasion.

Christianity was spread by the sword, I’ve already mentioned the crusades and the conquistadores. Link 6 gives additional information on the violence associated with the spread of Christianity. (https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/interview-converting-by-the-sword). Even today, Christians will use coercion and strong persuasion to get others to align with their beliefs. There is nothing gentle about how Christianity operates.

• Science: Ancient people thought their way towards knowledge of the natural world. God showed up in the world to found a movement that, in time, would itself invite the world to test things empirically.

You do not get to facts by thinking alone. You need a methodology to help you separate facts from fiction. Christians who are reluctant to put their claims to the test have no protection from nonsense thinking, it appears that Glen has failed to properly test out his own claims and is instead content to think his way to his conclusions.

• Freedom: Slavery existed in every ancient people group, yet the God of heaven came as “slave of all” (Mark 10:44) to bring us liberation.

And in this Christian era, one in which we apparently owe all our progress to Christianity, slavery still exists.

• Progress: Ancient thinking considered history to descend from a great Golden Age in the past. Jesus rose from the dead to give enduring hope for a brighter tomorrow.

And all our medical and technological advances that give us the progress we have now, is thanks to secular science.

Having given his very weak suggestions that these arbitrary traits are the result of Christianity, and putting no obvious thought at all into what evolutionary theory might say, Glen boldly declares that “These seven values, then, are not natural developments for Homo sapiens to evolve into.”

This is of course utter nonsense. Evolution works on the group, not the individual, and so behaviour traits that benefit the group are to be expected through natural evolution. Which is exactly what we see. These behaviours literally are an inevitable consequence of natural selection, no matter how much Glen might object.

He goes on to say that “The rest of the animal kingdom does not sign up to this moral code.”

Link 7 would disagree (https://philarchive.org/archive/FITAMW) it’s a PDF titled, Animal Morality: What is The Debate About? Put Animal morality into your search engine of choice and there is no shortage of examples of animal behaviour that matches items on the criteria that Glen has listed. These are not traits that are unique to humans, and any claim to the contrary is flat out untrue.

Glen further tries to justify his claims by giving specific examples of extreme events that apparently demonstrate his points. Glen is brutally honest, and arguably being humble and modest too, in this list because he touches on things where Christianity has very publicly failed. His attempt here is to show that the values of Christianity are what are behind our ability to judge even Christian failings.

• If I don’t like the violence of Old Testament wars, or of Church history in the last 2,000 years, it’s probably because I’ve absorbed the teachings of one who said: “Turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39).

Or maybe it’s because I am able to see that a god who favours one group of people over another is inherently an unjust god.

• If I recoil at Israel’s ancient practice of slavery, it’s almost certainly because I’ve inherited biblical notions of redemption, freedom and equality.

Or maybe it’s because evolution has granted me empathy to recognise and identify with other humans when they are being mistreated.

• If I am devastated by church abuse scandals, I am standing with Christ and against the misuse of sex and power endemic to human cultures.

Or maybe because I hold to the secular value of consent, I am able to recognise that religious power structures are inherently unhealthy.

• If I abhor instances of the Church mistreating minorities, I’m assigning a sacred (and distinctly Christian) value to the weak, the poor and the oppressed.

Or maybe because I hold to the secular value of equality, I am able to recognise that church dominance of the weak is simply an extension of Old Testament morality, and that is why I reject Christianity as being a moral authority.

• If I consider the Church to be on the wrong side of history, I’m considering history and progress in thoroughly biblical ways.

When I consider the church to be on the wrong side of history, it is because I am able to step away from the things I learnt from the church and judge them independably of the values that the church has taught me.

• If I hate the bullish colonialism that has at times accompanied the growth of the Church, I’m agreeing with profoundly Christian ideals – that rulers should serve, not dominate, and that differences should be valued, not dissolved.

The bullish colonialism associated with the growth of the church is baked into the very message of christinaity. It is Jesus’ commanded to make disciples of all nations that drives this despicable behaviour. It is exactly the reason why Christians view other cultures as lesser to its own and it is what is fuelling the very attitude that Glen is projecting in his piece. Which is why in his admission of things that the church has failed at, there is no acknowledgement of this feature of Christianity, it’s because he’s blind to it.

Glen now moves onto the clash between Christianity and secularism, but he still argues using the mantra that everyone takes Christian assumptions into the dialogue. He is characterising secularism in as unattractive light as he possibly can. He has to do it this way in order to appeal to his Christian readers, he has to drip feed lies about secularism in order to dissuade Christians from looking into it.

• We are clever chimps but possess inviolable human rights.

Rights that humans have drawn up and implemented. Rights that only exist because humans, despite opposition from Christianity, are capable of seeing the value in others.

• We are biological survival machines but have a duty to care for the weak.

A duty that stems from the evolutionary advantage of being in a group that works together for the benefit of all.

• We are nothing but mammals but we must honour each other’s sexual boundaries.

That’s because secular morality recognises that consent is important in order to maintain others’ dignity. Christians do not have a good record on others’ boundaries, sexual or not.

• We are the heirs of a brutal evolutionary history but we should spread our influence by persuasion and never by force.

Rudimentary psychology should tell you that people do not respond well to being forced into obedience.

• Our brains evolved merely for the purpose of survival but we can trust them to fathom the scientific mysteries of the cosmos.

We recognised that our brains can’t be trusted and so we have developed the scientific method that enables us to objectively test our ideas for reliability.

• Survival of the fittest is the deepest explanation for human life but pursuing the idea of a ‘master race’ is an unconscionable evil.

Which is exactly why the Christian idea of favoured people is recognised as a faulty human invention.

• We are clinging to an insignificant rock, hurtling through a meaningless universe towards eternal extinction but the arc of human history bends towards justice.

We can control how we treat others, but we can’t control the physics that determines the fate of the universe.

According to Glen, we can only hold these values because of the existence of Jesus. He claims secularism can’t explain them. But his claim is based, not on facts, but on his religiously motivated bias. He betrays himself by utterly misrepresenting what survival of the fittest means by suggesting it means the sacrifice of the weakest. This is bullshit. In the evolutionary context, fittest means those most adapted for the environment in which they live, this does not mean the strongest or the fiercest, it could mean those who cooperate or those who look after the sick. This misrepresenting of what fittest means in evolutionary contexts is often found in Christian circles, and is regularly corrected, but still the lie persists. One wonders if this is intentional.

  1. https://www.premierchristianity.com/features/christianity-is-the-air-we-breathe-even-your-objections-to-christianity-are-christian/13185.article?fbclid=IwAR1ePgAJ7PS8CYn4kVyzTXoRwyRDNUwoM3L99Mk6r74tv_9k-9f3rt7n83Q
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/14/early-men-women-equal-scientists
  3. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/06/17/878896381/ancient-bones-offer-clues-to-how-long-ago-humans-cared-for-the-vulnerable
  4. https://www.britannica.com/topic/education/Education-in-the-earliest-civilizations
  5. https://www.science.org/content/article/ancient-greeks-didn-t-kill-weak-babies-new-study-argues
  6. https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/interview-converting-by-the-sword
  7. https://philarchive.org/archive/FITAMW

First Time Back at Church for a Year

Recently I attended a Church service. I can’t remember when I last attended one but I am fairly sure it was about a year ago. It may have been a service over the Christmas period last year. I can’t recall for certain when the last service I actually attended was but a year seems about right.

The last time I attended I do recall having issues with worship. I didn’t like singing the songs that I know so well because of what they represent. Standing there not singing them made me feel conspicuous and uncomfortable. What I chose to do then was to sing quietly, I didn’t enjoy it and it framed much of my desire to stop attending church completely. My wife understood and agreed that she would rather I didn’t attend if it made me feel that way.

So when our pastor friend asked if I would take photos at an upcoming baptism service, I surprised myself by readily accepting the invitation.

Historically, baptism services have tended to be emotional services. They remind me of my own baptism as a youngster, the same age that my daughter is now as it happens. As a Christian, baptisms were a good reminder of the promises I made and served as a focus point. This service would hold none of that for me and I was interested to see how I would respond to this one. Of course the primary reason I was there was to record the moment of immersion of the two adults being baptised and as far as I was concerned, any personal misgivings would be second place.

As it happens the service brought up nothing for me at all. There were no negative emotions, no uncomfortable memories and no feelings of discomfort. I even found myself signing the songs, which I still know by heart, in a manner that I haven’t for a very long time. That is I sang them as enthusiastically as one can without actually entering into a spirit of worship. The singing desire just came and I went along with it, I deny any suggestion that I was actually worshiping though.

My wife led the service, which she does regularly at the church and I did realise one thing, I miss hearing her sing, it is probably the single biggest loss I feel about no longer attending church. Even as an atheist I recognise that she sings well and leads sensitively, she is good at it, gifted even. I don’t have to engage with the spiritual content to appreciate and enjoy the good voice at the front. Other than that realisation, the service passed without event for me, the two getting baptised said their pieces and I took my place to capture their moments.

Talking with my wife about it later in the day I expressed my thoughts as mentioned above, that joining in the singing came naturally, in return she expressed surprise that she saw me singing at all. I guess the break from church caused me to calm down somewhat and my reaction to worship is less harsh than it once was. I don’t really think there is much to unpack here, other than to recognise the continued evolution of my own thought processes.

I don’t think it means that I’ll be returning to attending church regularly, I think my attitude will harden again if I go too often. It is nice to know that I can now attend a service and sing heartily without the associated baggage I had last year. That in itself should be considered positive progress.

Childhood Conversations

There was one thing that happened on the day which touched on something that may well rear its head at a point in the future, though for now it is not an issue. That is of talking Christianity with our daughter. She and I travelled to church together because my wife had gone earlier to prepare for the service. Knowing it was a baptism service, my daughter asked questions about why someone would get baptised and what it means to be baptised. I answered truthfully from the Christian perspective and even told her I was her age when I made my decision to be baptised.

If I’m honest, I didn’t especially enjoy answering like that but my daughter deserved a truthful answer and I believe I gave her that. She didn’t lead on to ask me why I no longer attend church; I would have told her the truth if she had. If my daughter is going to ask questions of the Christian life then I should answer those questions without bias. She attends church each Sunday morning with my wife and she has a child’s acceptance of what goes on there. If I were to take every opportunity to push and counter with my own feelings I could cause upset, yet at the same time, I struggle with letting her continue to believe something that I utterly reject. I struggle with her being indoctrinated each week, yet I don’t want to cause upset by being the bad daddy that hates church, because at root that is not what I am.

For now it does not need to be made into an issue and I see no point in escalating it to that status. I accept that while I continue to live a life that is tightly bound to Christianity these things will always be there. For now I’ll celebrate the progress and not make an issue of things that don’t yet deserve it.

 

 

Mis-quoting others, atheists being dicks

One of the joys of the internet is the ability to check out and spread humorous quotes of famous people that backup your philosophical position.

Which probably explains why the following quote, supposedly of Mark Twain, has been doing the rounds for some time.

Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.

When the above quote appeared on my Facebook feed some weeks ago I decided to check it out. I don’t like to just take pithy quotes on face value and in today’s age of easily assimilated and faked images it is so easy to attribute anything to anyone.

There are many places that repeat the quote, but only a few that show a history of the quote, among them is this one: http://www.zebrafactcheck.com/neer-the-twain-did-speak-it/

As can be seen, the quote is of dubious attribution.

One of the reasons I wanted to check the quote out is that I don’t consider it particularly accurate. The history of religion is very complex and no one who studies it long enough will actually claim the quote as being an accurate representation of that history.

The quote is the sort of thing that I would laugh at with friends over a beer if repeated down the pub, but would never take seriously. However, sticking it on Facebook makes it open to challenge. So having found that it wasn’t a valid attribution I commented to that effect and corrected the poster.

Now this particular individual is rather outspoken and like to say things that shock and will argue them until the other party gives up. Some of his posts and comments are so abrasive that my wife has blocked his comments from showing on her feed. He certainly isn’t the type to admit a mistake easily, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when his response to my correction was to reply that whoever said it, it was effing funny.

It is this kind of atheist that, sadly, gives the rest of us a bad name and it is this kind of mentality that, also sadly, many people of a religious persuasion imagine when they think of atheists. I know that is the sort of person I thought most atheists were because that is what I had been warned about many times growing up.

The truth of course, is that this is not characteristic of most atheists, it is simply that this is the kind of atheist that gets noticed the most.

 

Swearing on the Bible

 

A few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I found myself swearing an oath with my hand on a bible.

In my Christian days I this practice bugged me somewhat. I always considered the verse in James which talks about not swearing on the book of the law and letting your word be reliable. In my more arrogant moments I would say that if I were ever in that situation I’d open the Bible to the relevant passage, read it, and then refuse the request.

These days, I’m not quite so hot headed about the issue, but I do wonder why it is done and why people still accept it. There is good argument for both Christians and atheists to object to the practice. The way I squared with it was that I took the view that it was better to have a bible there on display and seen as a symbol of trustworthiness. The issue now, is that it is only Christians who have that option.

I get the reasons; there is solemnity in putting your hand on the bible and making a promise. As a child, the challenge from people doubting ones word was to “swear on your mother’s life”. People who really wanted to be believed would do this in an effort to show their reliability. My mother’s life is more valuable to me than a bible; can’t that be used as a sign of my reliability? Of course the legal process would consider that a flippant offer, so why should the bible be seen as less flippant?

As it happens, the oath swearing was a requirement of my being an executor of my late mother’s will and in order for my brothers and I to get our inheritance, I had to make a visit to a solicitor and swear that I am me.

It is interesting that for items such as passports it is sufficient for me to get a photo signed by someone who knows me or that for me to go and get a benefits payment I just need to produce a document with my name and address on it, along with something with a signature. However, this process required something more, and that something more is for me to visit the office of someone who has never met me before, put my hand on a bible, promise I am me and sign a form. My neighbour could have done it in my place and no one would have been any wiser. Well technically, the signature could eventually be checked and found to be wrong, assuming it was checked downstream of the swearing.

The actually event took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting it. The first alert came when I was introduced by the secretary as being there for a swearing oath, she then informed the duty solicitor that there was a bible in the meeting room. Because of the background detailed above I was immediately on alert for what was about to happen.

After a brief chat with myself I decided it wasn’t worth kicking a fuss over and that I would go with it.

The moment itself was me with my hand on the bible repeating a phrase that was being read out to me. The only other times I have repeated stock phrase was at the dedication of my daughter, when I was a god-father and when I got married. All those seemed more solemn than the moment I was having in that average meeting room with my hand on a slightly battered bible.

I took it seriously, but it didn’t feel as wholly solemn as it should have. I dare say that if I was still a believer I may have felt differently.

Afterwards I asked the solicitor if there had ever been anyone object to the process. She said not, but that there was an alternative phrase for the occasion should someone prefer to forgo the bible option. I was both impressed and pleased there is that option but I don’t think I missed out on anything by choosing not to object; after all, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that important. My promise would still mean the same and any falsities would still hold the same punishment.

I couldn’t help wonder though, if this practice should be consigned to history and what value it really has. Those that will intend to lie their way will do so, bible or not, and those that wish to be honest will do so, bible or not. I don’t believe the presence of the bible in situations like this makes a difference. It’s the solemnity of the moment that is important; in which case it probably is time that something was found that will be equally acceptable to Christians, atheists and other faiths alike.

Though, honestly speaking, it is not something I’d consider important enough to campaign for. There are far bigger issues in the world than the need to worry about the technicalities of convincing people to tell the truth.

 

 

Dying to see God

Recently I watched a video from Discovery News on the phenomena of Near Death Experiences (NDEs). Video here (http://testtube.com/dnews/dnews-517-white-light), I recommend watching it before continuing, its only a couple of minutes and worth your time.

It gives a very good summary of the current state of understanding of NDEs and its very interesting. For years NDEs have been jumped on by the religious community as being proof of an afterlife, specifically heaven. Over the years I have heard of several testimonies from people which included an NDE as part of the subject’s journey. They are always used as an indicator of the reality of heaven and the teller typically tells of a joyous sense of calm during the experience.

It is worth noting that the testimonies I have heard on the subject have always been from a Christian perspective and so my knowledge of NDE reports is heavily skewed with that bias.

NDEs as proof of heaven

Whenever I hear a story of an NDE I always think of this story (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Proof-Heaven-Neurosurgeons-Afterlife-ebook/dp/B008TTPQXA/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1) or at least one like it. I am sure the book I have heard of is a lot older than the book in that link.

From the perspective of many Christians, stories like this are seen as tangible proof of the divine and when someone has an experience like that and tells it in Christian terms it can provide very real encouragement and confirmation to those who sometimes struggle with their faith.

Thinking back to my Christian days, I’m asking myself how I felt about NDEs, there were certainly times when I never doubted that they were real and that people were provided with a glimpse of heaven. However, there were also times when I found myself wondering about the details that were occasionally provided. These are now so long ago that I honestly can’t say what effect they had on me at the time.

With this latest scientific research I find myself being relieved that there is an explanation that makes sense. Though I do also find myself wondering how the believing Christians will respond to this news.

 

I’ve been working with a Creationist

I must confess I find this amusing.

In my work for an IT consultancy I tend to work at a variety of customers and not always with the same colleagues. The past few weeks I have been working with a chap who I first met about a year ago on another project and during the three short weeks we were working together we got on well.

This time round we it is nearer 3 month and we’ve had the chance to get talking on various subjects, including personal things and it came out that he was a Christian. I told him my wife was and I used to be. There wasn’t time to continue that conversation at the time but he did indicate that he would be interested in the story of why I left the faith.

Well, last month that chance came, by coincidence it was the last day I was on the project and so I don’t know when we’ll next work together.

I told him that I used to be a creationist (this piqued his interest) and that as I gained a better understanding of science the realisation that I could no longer trust early Genesis to be true caused problems and as that realisation spread through other parts of the bible I eventually realised that no Adam meant no original sin and therefore there was no point in Jesus; at which point it was game over.

Of course he disagreed with my conclusion and during the conversation it became clear that he was sympathetic to creationism, even though he didn’t out himself as one specifically. When he said that the flood was global in his mind and that carbon dating was shown to be flawed I knew his creationist credentials were there.

I tried to counter his claims with the standard scientific explanation and he came back with the same creationist stuff I was saying 20 years ago. It was a very bizarre form of déjà vu.

He also came out with the classic claim that scientists are always changing (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/oh-science-why-do-you-change-so-much/) their minds while the apologists stick to the same message. The explanation that mind changing is good because scientists follow the evidence simply didn’t wash, much the same as with my 20 year younger self.

It also became apparent in the conversation that he was swayed more by good rhetorical argument then he was by good scientific explanation. I guess the same would have been true of me once too, though I am not conscious of it.

It was sad to experience, maybe my conversation will help to challenge him to look at science more, we’ll see. He probably equally hopes he has helped me back onto the right path and may even pray for his witness to me and for my eventual conversion.

Maybe there will be an update when we cross paths on the next project, who knows.

 

Is it deconversion or just another conversion?

Since the great admission to my wife, almost two years ago, that I had rejected my Christianity and considered myself an atheist, we’ve had a number of discussions on the subject of faith and our opposing attitudes to it. On the whole these have been positive discussions, in the sense that we’ve mostly been able to have them without unhelpful emotional extras. This is how I had always hoped we’d be able to converse about faith, it’s a source of sadness that I spent several years alone in my journey afraid that we’d discuss my loss of faith in a negative or hurtful way, only for that fear to turn out to be unfounded.

It has not always been a smooth ride, we have had difficult discussions and there have been moments when one or other of us has got angry or upset. Those times have been the minority though and it is to my shame that I must admit I did not give her enough credit, having known her for all those years, I should have been able to predict her reaction better.

We’ve discussed many aspects of faith, getting braver with the depth of subject as time has moved on. We’ve probably discussed faith in greater detail in the past eighteen months than we had in the previous ten years of marriage, maybe even our whole marriage, though I’m less certain to place a bet on the latter. We’ve challenged each other and answered deep questions. We clearly disagree on the value of faith but we’ve been able to display to each other that it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker and that disagreeing with dignity is possible.

One of the lighter discussions we’ve had is over the semantics of how to describe my loss of faith. I refer to it as a deconversion, and all across the internet, where people of former faith hang out, the same word comes up. It makes sense to use conversion with the ‘de’ prefix because it signifies a step away from and in the opposite direction to the original conversion.

My wife does not like the deconversion word and prefers to describe it as another conversion, because it is a second conversion from one form of faith position or worldview to another. I have a bit of a problem with her logic, which is that I associate conversion directly with religion. I had a conversion to religion and now I have deconverted away from it. Her definition is not as narrow as mine, she takes the broader definition that conversion does not have to mean a religious conversion, it could mean a significant change in world view. In this case, my world view was one of a religious bent and now I have converted to an atheistic world view. Using that logic deconverted doesn’t make any sense and my experience is in fact, just another conversion. That makes sense semantically, to change world view is to convert from one to another, you don’t deconvert or unconvert, it’s a nonsense word to use.

Further complication arises when I see Microsoft Word underlining deconversion with a squiggly red line, clearly my computer thinks that no such words exists. If the word does not exist in Her Majesty’s beautiful language, then clearly it is not a word I can use to describe my position. So what is the best word to use? Does it matter?

Like many former Christians on the internet, I embrace deconverted as a description of my current faith state. The word has a great benefit because it immediately gets across the fact that the person to whom the word is being applied has not just moved away from religion but moved towards atheism. No further explanation is required. Try to get across the same meaning using ‘conversion’ instead and suddenly a whole sentence of supporting explanation is required. ‘Deconversion’ gets the meaning across far more efficiently; that it may not be a real word is irrelevant. However, I do accept that there is a negative connotation associated with the ‘de’ prefix and I do not consider my atheism as being negative at all.

Does that mean I should call myself an atheist convert?

I need to think about that one. I don’t like that description because saying convert tends to imply a position of faith and I absolutely reject any notion that that is where I am. I want it to be clear that I do not subscribe to a faith position. For now I’ll settle for no I would not call myself an atheist convert, maybe this is just a side effect of my rejection of faith and I’ll soften in my attitude to this word we’ll see. It is an interesting thought and I am sure we’ll return to it again at some point in the future, after all it does help to unpackage the thought processes of the past few years.

I’m now wondering what other semantic discussion are possible within this situation.

Answers on a postcard ….

 

I told my Dad I am an Atheist

That was interesting and not entirely how I expected it to go either.

First some background.

As a Christian, I was always unembarrassed by my Christianity and in my family I was among the most committed. Of my siblings, if there was one who was not going to die a Christian, it was me. As it is I was the last to leave the faith, however, if you asked them, no one in the family would have predicted I would turn away from my childhood faith.

My father, on the other hand, is what I would have described as a nominal Christian with a very liberal faith. As a child we would always have meal time prayers and he played the piano in church for many years, however, I don’t recall him ever expounding the gospel or leading studies. As a young adult I actively involved in various parts of the church organisation including study groups and youth groups. These are areas I never recall my father being involved in, and certainly not with the enthusiasm that I displayed.

I remember one discussion we had many years ago where he described me as a zealot. I’d say that was a pretty accurate description of my Christianity.

I hadn’t told my father about my move from faith mainly because the subject hadn’t come up, and to be honest, I’ve not been sure of his level of faith. He’s effectively not lived a Christian life for several years. I imagined that he’d done what one of my brothers has done, which was to quietly quit living a Christian life, while not making a formal rejection of faith.

It turns out I was wrong and he still holds onto the basic concepts of a Christian god. I don’t know how strong they are, but they are clearly stronger than I realised. Our relationship has been a bit shaky for most of the past thirty years, though in the last five years, since my Mum’s death, it is the best it has been in all that time. However, there are still subjects that we are cautious about and it seems that this is now one of them.

He’s spoken about my atheism with my youngest brother, with whom I have a very close relationship, and through that I know that at some point he wants to bring me back round again. Not at all what I wanted or expected to hear. I know from past experience that this would be a conversation that runs a very high risk of us falling out again. Thankfully we’re both at a stage where neither of us really wants to risk that and so sensitive conversations are now avoided, whereas in the past we would both have gone in guns blazing and stubbornly blamed the other for the resulting fallout. He didn’t see his young granddaughter for three years the last time that happened; the cost isn’t worth it.

The wider context is that there is more to the conversation that we had. He suggested I might wish to seek advice from the church minister. I explained that he was also a close friend and I wasn’t sure I wanted to cross the friend boundary, so dad suggested another minister. I was very surprised that his port of call for advice was a man of the cloth, so I killed the idea by saying I wasn’t interested in doing that because I was an atheist. The conversation was already emotionally charged and for one of very few times in my life I managed to utterly stump him. To be honest I think I sent him reeling. It was the last thing he expected me to say and when he spoke to my brother a short time later he expressed how shocked he was.

This was six weeks ago and we’ve still not returned to the subject. I think he’s scared of raising the subject with me. To be fair, my brother did warn him that he already knew and that it had been a long journey for me and turning me back wasn’t going to happen. It is nice to know that he has paid attention to direct advice from one of his sons.

On my part, I’m surprised by how strong his commitment still is, we’ve not conversed about Christianity for so mnay years I just assumed he’d be cool about my deconversion, as he appears to be about my brother’s. Why should my faith be more special?

For the first time since Mum died and we tentatively reconnected and started building a new father-son relationship, I am finding myself a little concerned. It would be a great shame this causes a rift between us, there have been too many of those in the past. On the other hand I have hope because we both clearly have different agendas and motivations now and the neither wishes to repeat the past.

 

And So The Pendulum Swings

When I first realised that my questioning of my Christianity meant that I was on the road towards atheism I made myself a promise. I promised myself that I would always be sympathetic towards Christianity.

Having slid slowly out of Christianity, I knew that there was much to admire about many Christians that I knew. I also knew that there was much that the churches behind organised religion do in their locality. I wasn’t leaving Christianity because I hated anything or anyone; I was leaving because the basis of the belief system isn’t true. People who I know are good people don’t suddenly become bad and meaningless just because I no longer believe what they believe.

I knew some atheists who were vocally anti religion and their comments would bug me because I viewed the comments as either ignorant or hateful and certainly without compassion. I wanted no part of that mentality so I promised myself that I would never become that sort of atheist and that I would always have that sympathetic attitude towards Christianity. It seemed like a sensible thing to do.

Unfortunately I now find myself in a place where I consider that promise naive and I can’t keep it anymore.

I Don’t Hate Religion

Let me be clear on that, I don’t have the hateful and mocking attitude towards religion that I so often see on various places on the internet. I find that deeply unhelpful.

However, I do find myself being less tolerant that I expected to be. It started with little things, like hearing or seeing comments about praying for situations but not seeing any evidence of actual practical effort to achieve the desired result. Or seeing that there are different ways to interpret bible passages with no clear guidance on what is being determined. If the message of Christianity is correct, then why are there so many arguments about what various passages mean? Surely if there is one God, it would be more obvious what was being said to his created beings in the bible. Such widespread ambiguity must surely be strong evidence for falsity.

I was starting to find myself agreeing with sentiment that I would have once discarded as atheistic nastiness. The fact is these were legitimate questions that I had never seriously considered.

There is a difference between honest criticism and religion bashing for sport. I am all for the former but want no part of the latter.

More than that, I do find myself wanting less and less Christian influence in my life. I’ve rejected the theology; I’ve rejected the lifestyle and now I found myself wanting to purge the influence of Christianity from other parts of my life. This is more serious because it has a direct impact on those close to me and has led to some difficult conversations and analysis of what stage my life is at.

Sitting back and analysing my atheist journey over the past, there has been a clear move further and further away from tolerating Christianity. I’ve moved further away from that point than I expected I would and it has been a bit of a surprise.

For the moment I am assuming that this is just a part of my deconversion experience and that at some point I’ll soften my attitude and the pendulum will swing a little back again. Until that happens, assuming it does, I’m going to have a fun ride while I wait to achieve a balanced viewpoint.

 

Conversing with atheists and former christians

To follow up on a previous guest post I have had (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/how-does-the-online-ex-christian-community-affect-those-who-have-questions-of-faith-or-doubt/) I asked unkleE of http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/ to answer a similar question from a Christian perspective and to touch on what its like to converse with ex-Christians. UnkleE has impressed me on other blogs with his calm and considered responses to questions where others have become defensive and aggressive.

The below is his post for me on the subject of conversing with atheists and former Christians.


 

Human beings are tribal

Most people seem to like to be part of a group and to take sides against other groups. Football fans cheer, argue and sometimes even fight on behalf of their teams.

It seems that atheists and Christians are often tribal too. Each group has its own heroes and gurus, its own predictable arguments, and, too often, a penchant for scorning those they disagree with.

 

Justifying nastiness

Both sides can find ways to justify nasty behaviour towards their opponents. Some Christians argue that atheists are dishonest and rebellious, and need to be forcibly reminded of their perilous position. Some atheists, finding their arguments bouncing off, conclude that Christians are delusional, and since rational argument isn’t working, ridicule just might.

It rarely works of course, but who needs truth to justify tribal behaviour?

 

The web is a different ballgame to real life

Often we use pseudonyms. It is easy to feel anonymous or separated from others, and easy to press the ‘Post Comment’ button too quickly.

When I first ventured onto the web about 7 years back, I found myself in an argumentative and polarising environment. At first I argued back, but I now feel there is a better way.

 

The world doesn’t need any more aggro

I don’t think many of us think the world needs more aggro. Yet somehow, we can convince ourselves that our little nasty comment is OK.

But as a Christian, I believe humans are made by God to have worth, gifts, feelings and logical minds. We are made for relationship and we need some affirmation. People should be treated with sensitivity and respect, something the New Testament emphasises.

So I try very hard now, without always succeeding, to respect each person, and only make comments that add to the discussion, not attack them. I try to ignore barbs that come my way and not respond in kind, even if it means I miss an opportunity to ram a point home.

 

Responses

I find many atheists I talk with appreciate this. But unfortunately many atheists on the web still seem to follow the inhumane model of ridicule a lot of the time. To my chagrin, a fair number of christians are just the same.

Consequently, I avoid some forums and blogs, and I avoid or ignore some who comment. It’s just not worth the aggro. Fortunately, there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who are happy to play by rules of common courtesy, and I gravitate towards them.

 

Talking with ex-Christians

Talking with ex-Christians is a special challenge. I naturally feel sad that they have given up what I believe is the truth. But often they have been hurt by the church, sometimes leading to their change of mind, sometimes as they went through the process of leaving. I think they need special sensitivity and patience from Christians – fierce argument is likely to be specially harmful here.

It is easy to feel they have betrayed the team, and to wonder whether they were ever personally convinced or their ‘faith’ was just cultural. But I cannot know what has happened in their lives, so I should respect what they tell me.

Perhaps the hardest thing is when I feel they have rejected a form of Christianity I would reject too. I want to explain this to them, but sometimes they are not ready for anything except friendship, the wounds are still tender. Sometimes I think they are better off out of there – as long as they come around eventually to a more thoughtful form!

Ex-Christians often assume they have made a permanent and final change in their worldview, but statistics show that people who change once are quite likely to change again. So patience and courtesy are needed.

 

Ways forward

We all need to learn not to take offence easily, to have limited expectations of changing people’s minds and not to take it personally when others don’t agree with our arguments. We should enjoy getting to know and understand people who are different to us, and be willing to be in conversations for the long haul.

At the very least, we may help remove some misunderstandings, and who knows, we may even be part of a process of someone changing their mind. I still hope and pray for the people I talk with, for I do indeed want what is best for them.