Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A New Direction

I'm taking a break from my religion/science blogging this post to talk about life. Actually I've been wondering lately if I should start a new blog dedicated to the topic of religion since I write about it so much lately. Right now I don't think I will, but if the readers of this blog tell me that they are only interested in a specific topic that could influence me to do so.

Anyway, other than my studies on religion and science there isn't a whole lot for me to comment on right now. Sadly I admit that my time spent on Allacrost has fell to almost nothing. An upgrade cycle I did back in February somehow rendered my Linux images unbootable and I haven't had the time and motivation to fix that yet, so that's a major contributing factor. I hope to get it fixed in a couple weeks and slowly get back into the swing of things, but I realize now that I have other interests and hobbies outside of Allacrost and I don't think its feasible for me to dedicate myself to that project at the level that I did for so many years. I'll continue working on it until the final release or until my death, whichever comes first. :)

I've been struggling to get back into good shape for triathlon season. I've mostly been focusing on my running now that I have custom orthotics and shin splints don't seem to be a problem at all for me anymore (YAY). But I've been plagued with some sort of problem in my throat for nearly two months that has left me with a chronic cough. The doctor said he thought it was a bacterial infection and the medicines he prescribed worked great, but as soon as they ran out it came back. I coughed so hard that I actually damaged my ribcage and its pretty painful. So the coughing and damaged ribs really hindered my training in a big way. So I wasn't in top shape for the Capital 10K race which I ran last Sunday. It was disappointing because I had been looking forward to that race for an entire year.

That race last Sunday, by the way, was the one year anniversary of my return to competitive athletics. The race itself went better than I expected to and I actually beat my time last year by a little over a minute. I finished at 40:59.4, which is 6:36/mile pace. I think the reason I did so well was because I ran it smart, conserved my energy, and ran negative splits (last year I ran the first half of the race too fast and died in the last half). I didn't take my splits, but I know my first mile was 6:50 so that means I definitely sped up as the race went on. As I was on the final stretch, I knew the 41:00 mark was coming up and I wanted to beat it, so I sprinted as hard as I could for about 10 or 15 seconds. And then about 20-30 seconds after I finished, I threw up. And I mean I really puked my guts out. I threw up at three different places in the finish area (all off to the side). It felt good because I know when that happens, it means I really pushed myself beyond my body's limit. I haven't done a post-race puking since my last race in high school in early 2000, where I ran the 2-mile race at the regional track meet in a personal best of 10:24 (I think I PRed that race by 12-20 seconds).

And now an important announcement. I've decided to leave my current job. In this economy I know its a bit crazy to do that, but I am financially stable and I feel confident enough to make this move. The reason I decided to do this was largely because I'm not interested in the work I'm doing there. It was a really hard decision to make because I love the company and the people, but I'm still pretty miserable when I have to spend 40 hours a week doing something that I don't enjoy and that is not intellectually challenging for me. My manager (who has been totally awesome about this) helped me try to find other work in the company to see if there was another group I could transfer to where I could find my niche, but even after looking around and working temporarily with another group it just wasn't happening. My last day is April 10th (next Friday).

So what do I do now? Well I don't have anything lined up yet, even though I've kept my resume posted for the past four months or so. I've been keeping an eye out but I just didn't find anything that really fit my interests and my preferred technologies. I really want to go back to a Linux development environment. I hate dealing with Microsoft, Windows, and all of their crap. Sadly, the best positions that I have found that meet what I'm looking for have been with defence contract agencies. I'm a bit apprehensive about designing "tools of war", but I've decided that if another defence opportunity presents itself to me, I might as well interview and see what happens. I'd prefer that the results of my work go to the betterment of life, not the destruction of it (I know that defence is a necessary industry and war/conflict is unavoidable, but I would like to avoid having a part in it if I can). I'd really like to work for a research lab or institution and help design software to enable scientists and engineers to better do their jobs. That way, I can also learn about another field. I would really love to be able to design simulators. Biological, chemical, structural, electrical, any kind of simulator really.

But I'm not limiting myself to just a typical job either. I had dinner with my friend Hari a few weeks ago and he actually proposed that I try out working for myself as an iphone game developer. Apparently there's a lot of money in that if you develop a popular game. It sounds simple enough and I think I'm easily capable of doing that work on my own, so I think I'm likely to look into it and give it a shot. If I can make a living that way, be my own boss, and not have to put a ton of time into it, I think that would be great. I could spend more time and effort dedicated to causes that I care about that way. I've also considered going back to school to get my PhD, either in computer engineering or possibly in another field like neuroscience or psychics. My primary concern with returning to grad school life though is how much time working on my PhD will consume. If you recall some of my posts from my grad school days, they were not happy times for me. I got physically and mentally sick from working myself to the bone every day without respite. I started a thread on the PhD comics forum asking about time commiments in different majors.

I'm also open to the idea of moving away from Austin if the right school or job opportunity presents itself to me. I love Austin a lot and it is difficult for me to part with it, but a part of me feels like I should not stay in place for too long. I need to shake things up every few years and intentionally put myself in a new environment where I am not comfortable. I don't want to live in a bubble called Austin, or anything else, for the rest of my adult life. I've been considering California or perhaps somewhere in Europe, perhaps Germany. I don't know German but its a language that I would like to learn one day. I could try Japan too, but I don't know if that country would be a good fit for me to live in. I'll visit it someday to be sure, but living there is another matter entirely.

Anyway that's my life for now. Hopefully my life will become more interesting as I leave my current job and I'll provide more frequenent updates on happenings in the near future.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

I believe you're going to hell...and I hope I'm wrong.

I've been thinking about the concept of hell a lot lately. I would like for you to think about it too, especially if you are a believer in some form of hell. First lets take a brief look at what hell is, at least in general without getting too far into specifics or different religious explanations.

What is hell?
Hell is a place that human "souls" go to after their mortal life on Earth ends. No other species on Earth, at least according to most mainstream monotheistic religions, is at risk of going there.

What happens in hell?
You are subjected to the ultimate form of torture. Your "soul body" will burn in a lake of fire. You will be tortured and mutilated and suffer the most unimaginable suffering from the moment you die for all eternity. There will not exist a single moment of respite from this continuous torment.

What factors determine whether or not I will go to hell?
It varies according to which belief system you adhere too. But according to my religious friend, you can go to hell for either of these two conditions. (1) You do not accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior (ie, you are not a Christian). (2) God will judge your life and if you did not "follow his rules" as he outlines in the bible well enough, then he damns you to hell. Muslims, from what I know, believe all non-Muslims go to hell but I'm not sure if any other conditions apply.

Once I'm in hell, how do I get out or make my situation any better?
You can do nothing to change your fate after you die. Once you're in hell, you will stay there for all eternity. God will not forgive you and will not show a single ounce of mercy for you no matter who you are, no matter how apologetic you are, and no matter how much you are suffering and crying out in pain asking for mercy. He will allow it to continue. Forever.

Where did hell come from?
Like all things, God made the decision to create it. He deemed the existence of hell, of eternal torture, a necessary and just thing.

How many people living today are destined to go to hell?

Let's provide an estimate how many people are going to go to hell, shall we? Well, the answer of course depends on which religion is correct. (Most) Christians say that all non-Christians are going to hell while (most) Muslims say that all non-Muslims are going to hell. For the sake of keeping this short, we will consider just these two religions. Also because I'm not God and can't judge whether someone is a "proper" Christian or Muslim and doesn't deserve hell, I'll just say for the sake of argument that 100% of persons of the correct faith are not going to hell. I'm also going to ignore denominations and just assume that both Catholic and Protestant, Shiite and Sunni, etc. are all not going to hell (even though many of these denominations believe that this is not true). So lets take a look here. The graph below is from adherents.com and lists an estimated distribution of the world based on religion.

Now according to cia.gov, the human population of the world is somewhere in the ballpark of 6,706,993,152 people, or 6.7 billion. As a comparison, the population of the United States is approximately 307,212,123 people, or 0.307 billion people. The US population accounts for 4.58% of the current world population.

If the 66% of the population that is non-Christian world is damned to hell, that's 4,426,615,480 people, or 4.4 billion. 4.4 billion people are deserving of eternal torture and punishment according to mainstream Christian belief. And if we assume that Allah is the one true God instead of the Christian one, looking at the 79% of the non-Muslim world we have 5,298,524,590 or 5.3 billion on the verge of eternal damnation. To put that in perspective, if the Christian teachings are true then a quantity of people that is over 14.4 times that of the current population of the United States is deserving of the worst suffering imaginable, forever (the number of non-Muslim damned is 17.2 times).

Holy crap!!! I thought your god was supposed to be a loving and merciful character? How is it that so many people sing praise to Jesus (who is God) or Allah and say nothing but wonderful things about them when they surely realize that of the number of people who are currently living on this Earth, he is sending 4.4 b-i-l-l-i-o-n of them to be tortured for eternity simply because they don't believe in him? I am having trouble finding the correct ways to express the seriousness of this. Lets think about the horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. About 2.2 billion people on Earth believe that the other 4.4 billion deserve a punishment that is far, far, far, FAR worse than what those poor, innocent Jewish and other minority victims suffered. Furthermore they deserve to suffer in that state for all eternity without a shred of hope for temporary respite, not even being allowed a second death. If Jesus is justified in torturing those who are "inferior" for not believing in him, why don't I ever hear Christians making the claim that Adolf Hitler was justified in his actions during the Holocaust? Is the only difference because Jesus is a God while Hitler was merely a man? Does that mean that there is a different set of morals and justified actions for a God than a man? If God is justified in everything that He does, does that imply that the more powerful or knowledgeable a being is, the more correct their seemingly unethical actions would be?

I know that what I am about to say may cause a lot of Christians, Muslims, and people of other faiths to become furious but I will say it anyway. If the god (Jesus, Allah, Yahweh) in your religion is going to send all non-believers of your faith to be tortured for eternity without respite, then your god is much worse than Adolf Hitler. And much worse than Joseph Stalin. And much worse than Mao Zedong. Your god is much worse than all three of those genocidal mass murderers combined. I would love if someone could explain this and convince me why I am incorrect about what I just said.

Coping with a belief of hell

Why do people continue to hold on to the beliefs that all others who do not share their faith are going to be damned with eternal torture? Isn't it distressing to them? I haven't met all 4.4 billion people of the non-Christians nor have I met all 5.3 billion people that are non-Muslims, but I am willing to wager that a large majority of them are good, decent people and I'm sure that nearly everyone would agree with me on that. If I personally held that belief that those people deserve to be tortured, I would be devastated! I generally care about other people, including those that I've never met. My mission in life is to do what I can to make the world a better place for both the people living on this Earth now and for those who will live long after I am dead (and burning in hell?). I think I can understand better now those people of faith who make it their mission to convert as many people over to their belief system as possible, so long as they are doing so because they genuinely believe that these (innocent?) people would otherwise be tortured by their "loving" god (add sarcasm). But not all missionaries have that sort of altruistic intention in mind I'm sure.

I also think I now have a better understanding of the grief that must exist in a religious family when a close friend or family member rejects the teachings that they have shared. I grow more thankful every day that I did not grow up in such a family, because I know it would be so much harder for me to be who I am. Having become close friends with a religious person was hard enough on me. When she told me that she believed that I was going to hell, despite having nothing but positive things to say about me at that time, it really did hurt. And it was also very confusing and difficult for me to accept. How does she cope with that belief if she cares about me? How does she also respect my right to believe or not believe what I choose and not try to actively convert me? (I'm glad that she doesn't try that by the way). Is it just something that she doesn't think about? Does she avoid becoming emotionally attached to any person who she believes is going to hell? I wish I could ask her these things.

Is hell something that people deserve?

Whether my religious friend or another person believes that I and X billion number of other humans on the planet are going to suffer from a state of eternal torture upon death is one matter. I think that a question that many believers fail to ask themselves (and should) is "Do these people deserve that?". Lets examine three possible responses.

"Yes, I believe you deserve to go to hell for not sharing my belief."
Well then I wonder how your position is any different from Hitler, as incendiary as that may sound. Hitler believed that all Jews and other groups should be thrown in concentration camps, starved, beaten, and murdered en masse. You believe that all non-Christians/non-Muslims/etc. should be thrown in a lake of fire, tortured, mutilated, and tormented for all eternity. You both believe that certain groups of people deserve this inhumane, unimaginable level of punishment and suffering.

"I don't know, that's God's will."
But you still believe that these people will go to hell, right? So obviously your god thinks that they deserve to go to hell. And because your god is infinitely more powerful, more knowledgeable, and more benevolent than you (really?), you are just willing to default to his/her/its decision and respond "Yeah, that's cool with me". Personally, in some ways I find this answer to be almost more insulting than just saying yes. Perhaps you feel guilty, so you want to avoid the question and shift the blame to your god. After all, this is his judgment, right? Have you ever considered questioning his judgment? Have you ever considered saying to your god "Hey, I disagree with you torturing these billions and billions of people for eternity and I think you should stop"? If you haven't, then why the hell not?

"No, I don't think that you deserve that simply for not sharing my faith."
Great! You are more moral than the god that you worship. You are not alone either, because most human beings are as well. I know that if I was a god, I sure wouldn't be putting these people through so much suffering for not believing in me. Especially if I was the sort of god that wanted people to believe in me based on "faith", or belief without evidence.

I believe that you are going to hell, and I hope that I am wrong about that.

Everything I've said builds to this final pressing question that I've been pondering for the past week. If people genuinely hold this belief about hell, why do I never hear anyone say "I believe that you are going to hell, and I hope that I am wrong about that"? Do they really want to be correct that 4.4 billion or 5.3 billion of their fellow human inhabitants of Earth are going to hell, to be greeted by the screams of the billions more already there and to be followed by the trillions who will die later? I have been told that I am going to hell countless times throughout my life, yet not one person has expressed any sort of remorse about that belief. They've never told me that they wished that particular belief that they held was not true. Does that mean that they want it to be true?

I'd guess "probably not", at least for most decent and caring human beings. So why don't they abandon it? Why is religion this "all or none" deal to so many people? Can you not continue to believe in God while rejecting the belief in hell? Can you not believe in a heaven if you do not believe in a hell? Many people have already rejected many aspects of their belief system, whether they realize it or not. I have yet to meet a Christian who adheres to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which states that you should stone your unruly children to death. (I've also yet to meet a person who does not admit that they were not unruly at some point during their childhood). I could list dozens, perhaps hundreds of examples like this that you would reject, I promise you.

If from the bottom of your heart of hearts you believe that I am going to hell, that will always make me sad. Even more so if you are a beloved person to me. But I hope that you'll at least have given the idea of hell some thought. And maybe, just maybe, you'll say to me one day "I believe that you are going to hell...and I hope that I am wrong".

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On the Historical Veracity of Jesus

The historical veracity behind Christianity (or any religion) could be an entire book and I suspect that I will write more posts questioning the historical evidence for events described in the bible. But for now I'll share this video clip form my on going series.

The caller is rather annoying and close minded in my opinion. He repeatedly asserts that the bible is more than just a book, asserts that his religion is a fact, asserts that all other religions are false, asserts that the hosts are going to hell, and providers zero evidence to back up that his assertions are facts. He just does not get it. I like what Don (the host on the left) says towards the end: "If you are going to make an extraordinary claim, you need to have extraordinary evidence to back that up". I couldn't agree more. When I'm told that there was a man who lived 2,000 years ago who could walk on water, cure any ailment instantly without even touching the patient, was resurrected and rose many others from the dead for a fun zombie get-together in town. Sorry if I'm skeptical of all that when the only place it is written is within the bible.

I'm not saying that a man named Jesus Christ never existed. I'm skeptical about whether he did exist, but he may have. Or his character may have been based off of another real person of that time, and that person may have indeed claimed to be the son of God and was crucified. From what I have studied, many people during those times (and even many people today) claimed to be the Messiah. I'm much much more skeptical that he was the son of God and had all of these supernatural abilities, especially when I can't find any mention of these miracles outside of the bible or other religious writings. The bible repeatedly says "Jesus performed miracle X, and word spread throughout the countryside about his deed". Do you really think that if someone had cured a blind man that no one would have written about it? That no historical scholar would have gotten word about it and rushed to see it for himself?

I haven't done a comprehensive study on the historicity of Jesus (yet), but I did find this page on GotQuestions.org: Historical Evidence of Jesus Christ. The give a number of secular sources there that they claim support that Jesus existed. I haven't looked at these sources myself yet, but I hope to get around to it eventually and make up my own mind. Re-read that last sentence. Rather than continuing to believe what I always have, I am open to looking at evidence that may contradict my lack of belief. How many Christians or religious people would honestly do that? How many care enough about whether their beliefs are true or not to do that? Not many from my experience. I think the approach I am taking is the best one to find out what is true and what is not. And that's what I care about. I want to believe what I think is most likely to be true, not what I most wish or hope to be true (and by the way, I don't particularly wish or hope that no Gods exist).

One of the things that the GotQuestions page mentions is the sacking of the temple of Jerusalem and Israel by the Romans in 70 AD (which did in fact happen). They hypothesize that much of the evidence and many of the eye witnesses of Jesus were killed during this time. Do you really think that every single one of the thousands of witnesses to Jesus were slaughtered in this attack? Ancient Israel is a large area of the middle east, especially in those times when transportation was much slower. And there were nearly four decades that had passed since Jesus' death. If there was sufficient evidence, sure much of it may have been destroyed in that attack, but I find it near improbable to claim that all of it was. Again though, this is something that I plan to research more by myself sometime in the future. Until then, I will happily retain my skeptical position.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Of Heaven and Hell

I had some interesting discussions with my religious friend a while back about the Christian heaven and hell. After I read several chapters in the bible, I formulated several questions for her. This was a while back so I don't remember her specific answers, but I'll try my best to represent her views accurately.

The book says heaven is perfect bliss and happiness, etc. But it also goes on to suggest that there are different "levels" of admittance into heaven. That depending on your faith and what you've done in your mortal life, you will be either greater in heaven or lesser in heaven. This is illogical. Heaven can not be perfect if there are to be levels of distinction. That implies that there are "less than perfect" parts of heaven, which would imply that these "lesser" heavens are not true heaven at all.

Her response
We can't know what heaven is like and I honestly don't know the answer to this question.

My thoughts
I appreciated the fact that she was willing to admit that she didn't know and can not know. But my question still stands. If the bible can make these claims about having "greater" treasures in heaven and also claim that heaven is perfect bliss, that seems logically incorrect to me. I was joking with my friend that if she and I both made it to heaven, she'd be perfectly happy with the giant golden palace given to her by God and I'd be perfectly happy with the little lump of coal God gave me. :)

What are the absolute requirements for being "admitted" into heaven according to Christian teachings? List them for me because I'm confused.

Her response
1) Accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior*
2) God will judge you when you die and He is the only one that can decide whether you go to heaven or hell

My thoughts
I think I also brought up Jewish people, because obviously they don't accept Jesus. I think she said that they still get to go to heaven because they are bound under the old "agreement" with God. And if God is the ultimate judge, you could follow every single commandment (not just the 10, but the hundreds of commands God gives in the bible) and still not get in because He's an ass. My friend, who is a great person and a devout Christian, could be joining me in hell because she doesn't condemn me for being a non-believer, or she doesn't drag people to the edge of town and stone them to death for being gay/disobedient/etc. Of course everyone would prefer to believe that God is merciful and grants many more people into heaven than he rejects, but we can't know that to be true. He might be a hard-ass and a biblical literalist. After all, he was the one who allegedly wrote those religious texts.

So God sent us Jesus because we couldn't be saved without him. But he didn't send him until 4000 years after he created man. Does that mean that every person prior to Jesus' lifetime went to hell?

Her response
Romans 4:1-3 and Romans 5:12-21

My thoughts
I forgot what she answered personally. I just read those verses she cited for me and I still don't know the answer to the question, but my guess is that the answer is "no".

What about people born into native tribes that never even had the opportunity to read a bible, or meet a Christian, or even know what Christianity was? Are they all sinners that are going to hell? What wrong did they commit?

Her response
She had actually spoken about this with her former pastor and they both agreed that these tribes would get to go to heaven.

My thoughts
She has no basis for her answer other than she thinks it fits God's character. She wants to believe that God is good and thus wants to believe that he wouldn't condemn these people who haven't been exposed to Christianity. With religion, it seems to me that many people are biased in there beliefs because they believe to be true what they wish to be true, which is not a good way to determine what is true and what is not. Wishing for something to be true does not make it so.

Another thought is, what if a Christian minister came to the village and began preaching the word? What if the villagers, cemented in with their pagan beliefs, refused to accept the minister's claims as true? Do they know go to hell for not accepting Jesus? If not, at what point is one "exposed" enough to Christian teachings that their rejection of those teachings merit them eternal damnation? What about myself? Have I been exposed enough that I deserve to go to hell? Maybe I wasn't damned before because I knew so little about Christianity, but am damned now that I have undertaken a serious study of it and rejected these claims as false? If that were the case, wouldn't it be better to not expose anyone to Christianity at all? That way they are guaranteed at having a shot of going to heaven (recall, my friend is convinced that I am guaranteed to go to hell).

What about children who died very young, before they had a chance to become Christian or be baptized? Are they going to hell too? Is it a sin to be born?

Her response
Honestly I can't recall. But I'm pretty dang sure that she said they would go to heaven.

My thoughts
It certainly seems that they would, since "sin" is something that we all inherit from our genealogy. I can't imagine going into a hospital and visiting the newborn area and pointing at all the days-old infants and shouting "Repent, ye evil sinners! Thou shalt be cast into the fires of hell!". Honestly, who on Earth and in their right mind could think that babies are born guilty? That's all Christianity seems to be to me. Its putting everyone on some big guilt trip for being who they are and continually having to ask forgiveness merely for being human and having faults like all other creatures. God was the one who allegedly created you with all your faults, so instead of asking forgiveness from him for being an imperfect sinner why don't you try condemning him for making you an imperfect sinner?

Is heaven a place of eternal happiness, peace, and bliss? Can you really be forever happy there with God when you are up there and know that myself and many other people you've known in your mortal life are in hell, being tortured and burned and mutilated every moment of every day for the rest of eternity? Do you just "forget" about the people you knew in your life that went to hell, or do you just not care for them anymore? How can you be happy by yourself up in heaven knowing that people you once cared for are suffering in hell for all eternity?

Her response
Her answer again was that she can not know what happens when she gets to heaven.

My thoughts
Again I commend her honest response. Personally I think I asked a great question with this though. In heaven, you either lose all empathy with those you knew in life or you forget all of the souls that you once knew who are burning and suffering in hell. Or here's the third option: hell does not exist. Many Christians actually do disbelieve in hell (and for good reasons I might add). And if hell doesn't exist, maybe heaven doesn't exist either? And if heaven doesn't exist, how about going a step further and admitting that your God doesn't exist?

I know one thing for certain. If I was in heaven, I would be unhappy knowing that so many of my friends throughout life were being subjected to never-ending torture, and I would go up to God and tell him to stop it. I'd like to see a Christian agree with me on that, but I doubt many will. For to question or disagree with God is just something that they can't even contemplate doing.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Problem of Evil and the Problem of Hell

Ah, the problem of evil. One of my personal favorite topics of religion. This clip discusses an e-mail that a theist sent in to the show to provide an answer for the problem. For those too lazy to click the link and read the wikipedia article, the problem can be summarized as this: if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then why does evil exist in this world? During my studies I learned of a wonderful philosopher of ancient Greece, Epicurus (341 BCE - 270 BCE). Epicurus presented the following conjecture.

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

I won't comment too much on this clip because I think it pretty much speaks for itself. One of the arguments rhat the theist presents is that God asks us to bear suffering in our lives but the eternity we will spend in heaven (or hell) makes up for it. Don, the guy to the left, then brings up an excellent point. "Isn't that what they told the 9/11 attackers?" Exactly. These terrorists were so convinced of the prospect of this superior afterlife that they were totally willing to end their mortal lives, as well as the lives of thousands of innocents along with them. This is why strong beliefs in unverified theological propositions is dangerous to the believer and dangerous to others. Don't even try and say that its just Muslims either. Christianity has the blood of millions of innocent people on its hands as well, and I imagine many other religions share the same guilt.

Another problem related to the problem of evil is the problem of hell. I like this argument even better. It is very similar to the problem of evil: if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, why does hell exist? Why did He decide to create hell and to send souls there? Is the idea of hell compatible with a creator that is omnibenevolent? I certainly think it is not. I reject God's omnibenevolence outright. The reason being is the problem of evil, the problem of hell, and all of the atrocious and immoral acts that God commits Himself in the bible, asks others to perform for him in the bible, and such actions of others that he condones in the bible. If God does exist, he is not omnibenevolent. I perceive the Christian God to be much more evil than good. Same with the Jewish God (Yahweh) and the Muslim God (Allah). Sorry other religions, I don't know enough about your god/gods to provide my own opinion on whether or not they are good or evil beings.

I had some interesting discussions with my religious friend about heaven and hell during one of our meetings (this was before our falling out of course). In fact, I think that I will share those in my next post.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Religion's Role in World Improvement and Homosexuality

This video is about religion's role in making the world a better or worse place. The hosts say that religion, or something like religion, is required to make good people do bad things. I wouldn't go so far as to say its the fault of religion. I believe that it is the fault of dogma. It is the fault of holding an unwavering position that the person holds and refuses to question or challenge it. Regardless of what dogma it is that one holds, regardless of whether it is good or bad, is unhealthy and unsafe in my opinion. Remember, my dear friend who I have great respect for and is an excellent person is willing to kill children if given the order. That is sickening to hear and it disgusts me, especially when it comes from someone as great as she.

Here's the thing. Every one of these religions have different beliefs. They can't possibly all be right, but they can all be wrong.

I like that statement. In fact, in the past couple of days I've been trying to hypothesize how believers, including my close friend, regard religions other than their own. (I'd like to speak to some of them, but I don't have any theists in my life that I think would be comfortable talking about this). A small part of the reason for my atheism is because I look at all religions, not just one. I look at the different beliefs, the dogmatic claims they make, the truths that they assert without evidence, and the testimonials given by followers of each faith. Whenever anyone has a "personal experience" with their God, why is it that it is always the God that they worship? Why don't Muslims hear from the Christian God, or Christians hear the word of Allah? (I'm sure there are a few cases where one heard the God of another religion, but such cases are a minority I presume).

The topic then turns to homosexuality and the caller states that his church teaches that it is wrong because God made people to have children. I really like how Matt (the host on the right) responds to that. He basically asks the caller to think for himself, and to question whether it is morally or ethically acceptable to condemn homosexuals. If his only justification is hearsay from his preacher or indirectly from his God (written in the bible), then he has pretty bad justification for holding that position. I agree completely. When you are accepting an argument or statement from someone else, you need to have good reasons for doing so. I admit that I trust many things that scientists say because I've studied and participated in the scientific process, and I have confidence in the results it produces. Its not the product of one scientist, but of many. And that community together weeds out the false theories and evidence so that they can be as certain as possible that the views of modern science are correct.

On the contrary, if you believe in a single person (your pastor) and you believe everything he says is absolutely true, what if one day he suffers a stroke or mental disorder and starts spouting nonsense that is not true? For example, what if he claimed that God said all homosexuals should be stoned to death and that it was the responsibility of every member of that church to follow that command? Would you still accept his statement verbatim and not question it? Oh and by the way, God did say that! "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." - Leviticus 20:13. If I was a theist, unless I received the word from God himself, I would not accept what others told me that God did or did not say. How can I know that what they perceived was true? They could be lying, they could be misinterpreting what God actually said, or they could just be completely nuts.

Toward the end of the video the caller says that if everyone was homosexuals, humanity would end. The hosts make an excellent point that even were that so, how would that make it immoral or unethical? I really like what Tracie (host on the left) follows up with. "If the next generation were all women, would that mean that it is then wrong to be a woman?". Kudos to her for that great point. While I'm on the subject, I should mention that I am a strong supporter of gay rights and its not because I am an atheist. Its because I looked at how gays are discriminated (especially by religious people...hmmm) and decided that was wrong. It was wrong in the exact same way that African Americans were discriminated against and that women were discriminated against. (I say "were", but really a lot of that discrimination sadly continues to this day). I would also like to point out that religion, again, was a significant factor for the discrimination of all three of those demographics. Religion makes the world a better place, right?

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Various Topics on the Christian God

I took a bit of a break from blogging this last week. It really takes a lot of time and effort to blog about these topics, look up information, formulate arguments, etc. Plus I think now that the major conflict with my friend is over, I'm a little bit less enthusiastic about this. But I'll continue writing about it for as long as I see fit. At least I promise to finish my collection of videos from the atheist experience.

Which brings me to my next clip which comes in two parts. This one is a little light hearted and poking fun at things, but I have a strong agreement to many of the views that the hosts present in this video. There's not much to comment on for the first 4-5 minutes of this clip, although that's probably the most amusing part of the video. I'll punctuate several points in the video by the time that they occur.

Part 1.

@ 4:45 - What are you going to do when you die and you find out that all of this [God] is true?
I would then believe. Its as simple as that. I'll be surprised then of course, because I think that the evidence strongly suggests that the bible is false in many many different areas. But what I would like to turn around and ask a Christian is "What are you going to die and find out that your religion is not the correct one?". Maybe the Muslims are right. Maybe the Hindus are right. And guess what, you Christians can then join me in whatever version of hell the correct religion may prescribe and we can have a lengthy discussion about it then.

@5:15 - If the God that exists is the one spoken about in the bible, I still would not worship him.
I agree with this statement. If God is all powerful and chooses to exterminate life that is "incorrect" (such as is written in Noah's Ark), I would not worship that God. I would condemn that God for his immoral and unjust acts towards life. I don't care if he "created everything". Life is not something to be toyed with. If I have a child, does that give me the right to stone them to death for being disrespectful to me? Does it give me the right to kill them at my whim? "I created you, and I can end you" is an immoral stance. But for some reason, Christians seem to think that its okay that God can do that. I will not worship something that I do not respect, even if I believe that it exists. And if I find out that God exists someday (the God written in the bible), I will no longer be an atheist, but I also won't be a Christian. I will be a theist who believes in a petty, jealous, unjust, immoral diety.

But that doesn't mean I won't try talking to him. I'll try to convince him that the things he has done and is doing are wrong. I don't care that he's omnipotent or omniscient. If he thinks that he is right and that committing genocide and infanticide and accepting human sacrifices are all good, then he has a lot of explaining to do to me before I'm ready to worship him. He has the power to convince me and he knows how to do it, so don't tell me that its my fault for being a lowly human who can't understand his great plan.

@ 5:25 - You're born guilty because of something your ancestors did.
I reject this as well because it just isn't right. All these infants are born into the world guilty of the crimes of their parents, their grandparents, and so on? If some man or woman ever committed some atrocious wrongdoing to me, for example killing someone I hold close, is it right for me to blame it on their 2 month old infant? That's ridiculous! We are all born innocent, not guilty. I reject such a system where I have to continually apologize to God, the only perfect being, for being imperfect. He made me imperfect as he made all other life imperfect, so shouldn't he be apologizing to me for making me less than perfect and thus making me "guilty"?

@ 7:35 - I'm God and I created everything. Including hell.
This is another item that boggles my mind when trying to understand how Christians can believe that God is good. He created the system of heaven and hell. He decided that he will not provide concrete evidence of his existence because he wants people to believe in him on "faith". And those who look at the evidence, examine arguments, and come to a well-reasoned and rational conclusion that this God probably doesn't exist are to be punished. And by punished he means tortured, burned, mutilated, and put through the most unimaginable suffering for all eternity, with absolutely no hope of forgiveness. Some Christians have probably thought this through themselves because quite a number actually do not believe in hell at all. It probably came down to them having to chose between rejecting the notion that their God is good and rejecting the notion of hell.

Part 2.

@ 0:55 - What will you say to God after you die? I'll say that I was honest in my thinking.
Exactly. If it is a crime for me to be honest about what I think and believe? Belief in something like a God is not so easy as to say "I believe and I accept this as true". I could say that, but the words would be meaningless because I don't actually believe it is true nor do I feel it is true. Is that my fault? Am I wrong to have such high standards in believing in some invisible all-powerful being that created me and loves me and is present with me at all times? Even the 10 commandments say thou shalt not lie, so should I lie and say that I believe in God when I really don't? I could convince everyone that I do, except for God of course because he knows what I really think about him.

@ 2:30 - Would you lock your children up in a basement and torture them forever for not loving you?
Many Christians like to provide the analogy of human is to God as child is to parent. When I say I don't believe in God and don't understand why he would punish me as severely as he said he would for no believing, I often hear the argument "well imagine if you had a child that you loved and they didn't respect you or believe in you, how would that make you feel?" Disappointed at the very least, devastated at the most. But if we're going to go there, how does the act of torturing and burning and raping my non-believing child for eternity justify itself? Especially when I want my child to believe in me, find me, and form a relationship with me but I am absolutely not going to prove my existence to the child? That's a horrible God and I hope that he does not exist.

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