Christianity is Self-Defeating

The book of Exodus gives God’s demand that the Jews avoid foreign religions when they returned to Canaan (“You shall have no other gods before me,” etc.).  God had to make sure that they weren’t corrupted.

[SFX: Record scratch]

Wait a minute! How could they have been corrupted?

The Jews enter a land full of foreign gods—invented gods—but God had made plain the correct religion.  How would those made-up gods look next to the real deal?  Judaism would be a stunning and brilliant jewel compared to the other religions’ tawdry plastic beads.

Imagine the Hollywood set of a Western town, built with plywood facades, compared to a real building—Neuschwanstein castle, say.  Who’d be tempted to stray to the cutout imposter if you could have the real thing?

Another example: imagine that God provided Disney World for the Jews but warned against moving into the filthy trailer park across the street.  Why bother with the warning?  How could anyone possibly be tempted?

Similarly, with the Jews given the correct religion, how could God have ever been worried that another religion would be the least bit compelling?

… or maybe Judaism didn’t look special.  Perhaps the prohibitions—remember that these were imposed by priests—made a lot of sense because in fact early Judaism looked similar to all the other Canaanite religions.

The very existence of these prohibitions argues that Judaism was made up, just like the rest.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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Jesus and Aliens

Raphael’s “Mond Crucifixion” painting is modified to show an alien-headed Jesus on the crossThe editor of the New York Times recently published an article called “Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith.”  He opens with this:

If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him?  Personally, I might not disqualify him out of hand; one out of three Americans believe we have had Visitors and, hey, who knows?  But I would certainly want to ask a few questions.  Like, where does he get his information?  Does he talk to the aliens?  Do they have an economic plan?

Yet when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively.

My own view is that religion is off topic.  Candidates for a job as pastor can expect questions about religion.  But for the job of president?  Religious questions are out of bounds.  We’re governed by a secular constitution that includes the constraint, “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust.”

I long for the day when a candidate will dismiss a question about his/her religion with, “That’s irrelevant.  Next question.”  Ask about candidates’ values, their specific plans, their qualifications, and so on, but one’s religion is as relevant and as personal as questions about the style of one’s underwear.

A columnist from GetReligion.org was quick with a response.  She seemed outraged at the Jesus/aliens comparison, but her most substantial comment was to reprint the comparison and state, “I’m not joking.”

Is outrage appropriate?  Which belief—in aliens or Jesus—raises the bigger questions about a candidate’s ability to reason?

Sure, I see the difference between Jesus belief and alien belief.  Jesus is supernatural.  Space aliens are not.  We have nothing to compare a supernatural Jesus to except myths or legends, which sure makes the Jesus story look like a myth or a legend.

On the other hand, aliens aren’t supernatural.  They are life forms (we know about plenty of those) who travel using technology (we know about plenty of that).  Science keeps finding strange new animals on earth living in extreme environments—at the bottom of the ocean, under miles of rock, in glaciers.  Is it so hard to imagine them on other worlds?  Their discovery would be surprising or even shocking, but we wouldn’t need to discard any scientific laws if aliens presented themselves.

I’ll agree that belief in aliens with insufficient evidence is a bit nutty.  But that’s nothing like believing in supernatural beings with insufficient evidence.  I’m not joking.

Photo credit: Jesus Was a Space Alien

Related links:

  • Bill Keller, “Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith,” New York Times Magazine, 8/25/11.
  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “NYT takes on aliens, baggage, Trojan horse faith,” GetReligion.org, 8/25/11.
  • Issues, Etc. interviewed GetReligion.org columnist Sarah Pulliam Bailey in its 9/1/11 podcast, “Media Coverage of the GOP Candidates’ Religious Views.”

Why Worry About a God That Isn’t There?

You don’t call yourself an a-unicornist.  Or an a-Santaist.  Why call yourself an a-theist?

I get this a lot.  “Why do you worry about something you don’t even think exists?  Why call yourself an atheist?”

That’s a reasonable question.  People with no God belief may not call themselves atheists for lots of reasons.  Maybe they prefer another name like freethinker or agnostic.  Maybe they want to focus on what they do believe in and so think of themselves as humanists or naturalists.  Maybe, as the cartoon suggests, not believing in God is as irrelevant to their lives as not believing in unicorns or Santa Claus.

But I do call myself an atheist.  God belief impacts society in ways that unicorn belief or Santa belief could never do.  In the list of Christian excesses below, see if you agree that only religion—and not mere belief in mythical creatures—could provoke these actions.

  • The Pope says that condoms shouldn’t be used in Africa to stop the spread of HIV
  • U.S. preachers provoke anti-gay legislation in Uganda
  • Some churches forbid birth control
  • Stem cell research is held up
  • Young women are urged not to get the HPV vaccine that protects against cervical cancer
  • In-vitro fertilization, which has brought four million children to parents unable to conceive, is attacked by the Catholic church
  • Some Christians push for Creationism to be taught in science class, for Christian prayers to be said in public schools, and for the Ten Commandments to be displayed in courthouses
  • Christian belief seems to increasingly be a requirement for public office, despite the fact that the Constitution makes clear that no religious test shall ever be required
  • … and other excesses that come to mind for you.

If Christianity could work and play well with others, that would be great, and I’d find other activities to occupy my time.  But it doesn’t.

If you’re a Christian reading this, you may respond that your church doesn’t do this.  In that case, agree with me!  Agree that Christianity—in some versions, anyway—crosses the line and must be kept in check.

Artwork credit: Mike Stanfill

Nazi Soldiers Indoctrinated with Darwin? How Convenient.

1871 image of a monkey with Charles Darwin's headWhy were the Nazis so disagreeable?  Because they were force-fed evolution, of course!  Christian podcaster Greg Kokul thinks he’s uncovered the Nazi/evolution connection.

In a recent Stand to Reason podcast (starting at 5:00), Kokul spoke of being informed that German soldiers during World War II were issued two books, Goethe’s Faust and a German translation of The Origin of Species.  And it was Hitler himself who insisted that they get them.

(Wow—right out of the gate we’re embracing Godwin’s Law!)

About the logic behind Hitler’s assigning these books, Kokul says:

It’s because the ideas in The Origin of Species served [Hitler’s] purposes well, and if a person actually believed what Darwin taught, then they would make good Nazis.

My first complaint is that Kokul accepted the story uncritically.  This story nicely supports his worldview that evolution is both harmful and wrong, so he passes it on with no fact checking.  I do my best to take the opposite approach: when I find a delicious story that skewers an opponent (either a person or idea), I want to make sure that I have strong evidence so that I don’t look ridiculous after passing on flawed hearsay.

In doing my own research on books issued to German soldiers, the only page I came across was a post in another atheist blog (IAmAnAtheist) who’d heard the podcast and asked the very same question.  That blogger raised a great point: Why issue those two books and not Hitler’s own Mein Kampf?

That Origin was a central part of Nazi thinking seems unlikely.  The official Nazi library journal in 1935 listed twelve categories of banned books.  One category was:

Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism.

(If anyone comes across evidence for this books question either way, please add that to the comments.)

Now let’s move on to critique Kokul’s ill-informed ramblings on evolution.  One of Kokul’s favorite ploys is to try to tie eugenics with evolution.

First off, Darwin himself rejected eugenics.  In The Descent of Man, he said, “No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that [not culling the inferiors] must be highly injurious to the race of man.”  Creationists enjoy quoting just the paragraph that contains this sentence and ignoring the very … next … paragraph where he overturns this argument.

Darwin rejected eugenics, Greg.  Of course, you’ll be quick to backpedal and argue that Darwin’s own personal opinions say nothing about the validity of evolution.  Agreed!  Which is why whether or not Hitler kept his copy of Origin under his pillow says nothing about the central issue here: Is evolution the best explanation of why life is the way it is?  Which is why this entire conversation is simply mudslinging.

“Hitler was bad, and Hitler and Darwin were BFFs!  And Darwin was ugly!  And … and he probably ate babies!  And didn’t recycle!”  Whether true or not, it’s irrelevant.

This is what one does when one doesn’t actually have a real argument.

Science is not policy.  Evolution is science (the domain of scientists), and eugenics is policy (the domain of politicians).  Any scientist who advocates eugenics has left the domain of science and jumped into policy.  Eugenics isn’t science, and criticism of eugenics is no criticism of science.

Which brings up the last point: Did Hitler base his eugenics policies on evolution?  Kokul seems to imagine a kind and gentle Adolf Hitler, picking up litter and helping little old ladies cross the street, being turned to the scientific Dark Side® after reading Darwin.  But wasn’t there plenty of anti-Semitism around already?  Didn’t Martin Luther himself write the violently anti-Semitic On the Jews and Their Lies?

This bypasses the issue: Is evolution correct?  Bringing up eugenics is not only flawed but irrelevant.

It’s the white flag of surrender.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Related articles:

  • The Stand to Reason podcast archives are here.  The podcast referenced here is from August 21, 2011.
  • “Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn’t Want You to Know…” Scientific American, 2/11/09.
  • Full-text version of Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man available here.
  • “Hitler was a True Christian™,” Pharyngula blog, 10/27/11.

Do We Really Trust in God?

Do Christians really trust in God, like it says on the money?Is it really true that “In God we trust”?  With what do we trust him?  It might indeed make Christians feel warm and fuzzy to see that motto on U.S. currency, but do they actually believe it?

This was the question recently asked in an excellent article, “In God We (Do Not) Trust.”

Using prayer as a little extra insurance when times are tough is one thing.  But who would pray instead of using evidence-based means?  Who would pray for safe passage across a busy street rather than looking and using good judgment?  Who would pray to fix a car?  Who would pray for healing rather than use a cure proven effective by modern medicine?

That is, who would actually trust that God will take care of important things without some sort of safety net?

Indeed, the government has made clear that that’s not the way things work.  In response to preventable deaths among minors within the Followers of Christ church, a Christian denomination, Oregon recently removed laws protecting parents who rejected medical care for their children in favor of faith healing.

As the article says about faith healing,

It is tantamount to the state saying, “Sure, it looks great on a coin, but come on you idiot, it’s not as though this god stuff actually works.”

For atheists, “In God We Trust” on currency and as the official motto of the United States is one of those pick-your-battles things.  It’s in blatant violation of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”), but issues such as injury from faith healing are more important and deserve more attention.

But let’s look for a moment at what we discarded to make room for this motto.  E Pluribus Unum (Latin for “Out of many, one”) was the de facto motto before the adoption of “In God We Trust” in 1956.  That certainly showed those atheist commies which side of the theological fence we were on.  But this came at a price.

One trait that is special about America is that we’re composed of people who came from all over the world to pull in the same direction to make a great country.

Out of Many, One.  Which country would this motto fit better than America?  Out of Many, One—a custom-made inspirational reminder of who we are and where we came from.

And we flushed it down the toilet in favor of “In God We Trust,” a one-size-fits-all poncho that could be worn by a hundred countries.

Photo credit: kevindooley

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