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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Don’t touch my God Shaped Hole

Before you can sell the solution, you’ve got to sell the problem. Infomercial formula: Black and white reenactments of ham-fisted actors bumbling around trying desperately to do some difficult household chore like cut a tomato or eat a grape.  Then, WHAMO!, the product of your dreams appears in Technicolor through the magic of television.  Those days of frustration you felt for not having sleeves in your blanket are as outdated as a Dobie Gillis episode.

In order for you to buy a cure, you need to be convinced you’re sick.  Beauty products aren’t beauty products anymore, they’ve been renamed health products.  More urgent that way, and their advertisements reflect it. –Open with wide shot of our avatar sitting on the patio of a cafe, sunlight reflecting off the glassware.  Opposite gendered person approaches in modern but professional apparrel.  Camera zooms in close to reveal startling health concern.  Everyone is so embarrassed!–  These things usually involve a woman on a blind date with someone who looks like David Beckham if he tried harder and worked out some more.   How did she get to this crucial moment in her life and not realize she has thinnish eyelashes, a skin blemish, and/or an intractable case of “not looking exactly like Sofia Vergara”.  Then, she realizes, she can either become agoraphobic and ring church bells for the rest of her life or….

For me the first time I realized how marketing worked was teeth whitening.  As a kid, I had no idea teeth were supposed to look as white as an 81/2 by 11.  (Full disclosure, I’m male.  I know I’ve got it easy when it comes to the media vs. body image thing.)  But for me, as a coffee addict, the white teeth sales pitch got me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve plenty of other hang ups, but I wasn’t around the genesis of those.  I got to see people go from archaic sepia-tones to sand-blasted porcelain in just a matter of a few years.  It’s like carbon dating.  You can tell how old a movie is by examining actor teeth.  I remember thinking to myself, I’m being sold a disease and no amount of conscious effort can forestall it infecting my brain.

Enough preamble.  The God-shaped hole is one of the laziest arguments you’ll ever encounter. So lazy you’ll swear Pascal must have thought it up.  Oh wait.  He did. (along with Augustine and CS Lewis).  It states that we have a desire to experience greater things and to have order in the world, THEREFORE, there must be a greater experience than this one.  Because we want more, there must be more.  The proof is in the problem.

1.  It’s not biblical.  The evidence to support this claim is weak with regard to the holy book.  Acts 22:27 is basically the one go to verse.  It’s Paul’s pitch to the Greeks who have a statue to “an unknown god”.  Guess what?  That unknown god is God!  He made you humans look all around for him (and then presumably give up and just call him unknown for a few thousand years).  That’s promising.  But wait… Romans 3:11 states that “no one is righteous, no one seeks god“.  Oops.  In using the sales pitch of sin, Paul screwed up his sales pitch of God searching.

2.  It’s lazy as hell.  Imagine a commercial that said you had a cheese pizza shaped hole in your life.  You could try and fill it with hamburgers and tacos, but you will never be satisfied.  That’s as subtle and well thought out as a Robin Williams punchline.  BUY PIZZA, WHY?  BECAUSE YOU WERE MADE TO EAT PIZZA!  Na-Nu Na-Nu.

3.  It’s condescending.  Christians are whole.  I’ve got a hole.  They have joy, I’ve got to settle for being happy.  Basically, christians have the Renee Zellweger of God to complete them.  All I’ve got to settle for is “Kwan”.

4.  It’s ineffectual.  Christians don’t stop buying things.  In fact, they LOVE shit.  They can’t get enough of it.  Bigger churches, houses, cars, everything.  Step one in “planting” a new church is hiring a minister with designer jeans and an Ipad to stand up in front of an IMAX screen while rock music shakes the coffee in the cup holders.  How am I the one who is desperately trying to fill my God shaped hole with what the material world has to offer?  (Feel free to counter with Christians are imperfect or those are bad Christians.  Or that they are using those tactics only to lure in non-believers.  Sacrifice = For christians so love the world that they eat a free donut for you.)

5. CS Lewis (I like his writing) wrote one embarrassingly bad thing with this: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  Seriously. He used the word PROBABLE.  Hey CS, those Occam’s Razors aren’t disposable.

6.  (Anecdotal, I know) I’m happier now than when I was a christian.

7.  It’s quite vague.  People say that materialism and the fact that lots of cultures have established gods are proof of a god shaped hole.  These seem really different to me.  Which do you find more convincing?  Then it’s that one.

8. Teeth whitening wouldn’t have worked if there wasn’t some truth to it.  Social shame, a desire to be young, and sexual attractiveness are real things and when they are associated with bleach trays, it moves bleach trays.  I’m not arguing that.  But it’s backwards.  Sexual attraction isn’t proof that bleach trays exist.  As my blogmate John quoted, that fact that I desire something isn’t proof that it exists. I almost don’t have a problem with them using the fact that humans have problems and frustrations to sell god (if there was a god and he could demonstrate a decent percentage rate of fixing those problems).  But showing me a problem and then using that problem as proof of the existence of a solution is naive and not very realistic.  Just think.  How did all those people live for thousands of years without Crest Whitening Toothpaste?  Surely, their yellow teeth was a sign that gel exists with which to cure it!

All that said, sometimes I think people do have God shaped holes.  And only christians fill them. We all have two of them, and they led to our eardrums.  (I kid!)

Prove me wrong.  Leave a comment!

Doubling Down on Pascal’s Wager

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“Hell no, I won’t go!”

Christians have all sorts of different arguments. They’re mostly fallacies. As I said in my post about the Creation Museum , the point of christian apologetics is not to actually find the truth, it’s to find Christianity in the evidence and verify it by twisting and contorting the facts and suspending your disbelief like you’re Roger Goodell and your disbelief is a Bengals cornerback. The goal of the scientist is to start with a hypothesis, test it, prove it or disprove it, and thusly work one’s way from a question to an answer. The goal of the christian apologist is to start with whatever interpretation of the Bible one accepts, and work your way back as successfully and creatively as possible… and with enough imagination, anything is possible.

That’s sort of where this blog comes in. We’re about a lot of things here, but we’re always looking for the humor in any situation… and when you’re trying intellectually to fit a round peg into a square hole, hilarity can and will ensue. The logical fallacies, circular arguments, the psychological mischief and mental gymnastics are completely mockable when not completely heartbreaking. My alltime favorite though is Pascal’s Wager.

Poor Pascal. So good at math. So bad at logic. He’s like Bobby Fischer if math were chess and having a conversation was NOT hating Jews and growing a crazyman-beard. Pascal’s Wager is the concept that one should believe in Christianity because it has a greater risk/reward scenario than other options, especially Atheism or Agnosticism. Because Christianity comes with a threat of hell, and a carrot on a stick in the form of Heaven; and because Atheism comes with no benefit for believing or adverse affects on not believing; it behooves you to accept Christianity based on the premise that there is quite literally “nothing” to be lost and “everything” to gain.

I can go on forever about what’s wrong with this. First of all, it’s not actual proof of anything. Voltaire responded to Pascal’s Wager by saying “the interest I have to believe a thing is no proof that such a thing exists.” It would most accurately be described as a sort of “strategy.” It views the world and all various concepts of the afterlife as a scenario that might be studied in a Game theory classroom, where pros and cons are weighed and a decision is made based on probabilities and positive and negative outcomes, resulting in a strategy. Even if the world is viewed this way, Christianity wouldn’t be a smart choice, as it over-emphasizes outcomes without weighing the probability of those outcomes. Aside from that, it’s an incredibly simplistic, cold approach to the world. I truly hope most Christians aren’t believers because it’s a strategic move. That would seem to negate the free-will love that God seeks so intently that he allows all sin, pain, and death to assure himself he has it. I hope and I do believe that most Christians base their faith upon what they believe to be personal experiences. I would hope that even if it’s a misguided viewpoint, that it’s at least an honest one.

Secondly, it’s just not possible to view the world that way. We’re surrounded by information. We see it all around us, and we can use books (yes, even the Bible) to inform our decision. The Bible informs my decision just as it informs a Christian’s decision, but to completely different results. How can Pascal’s Wager be taken seriously? You’re surrounded by information and evidence. For my Christians you have a huge book supposedly written by the god of the universe as a love letter (ugh.) to you. And you’ll bypass all that information and base your working theory on the nature of the universe on the magnitude of the various threats and promises you’re made? That’s disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to the world, to any god you believe in, and to yourself. Pragmatism is one thing. Some people believe because of social pressure, to keep the peace in a marriage, to fit in well at work, or to have a community. Those things can and I believe almost always do influence someone into belief. But to throw away all information and simply make a pragmatic choice to let the concepts of Heaven and Hell be all the convincing you need makes you a bit of a wimp and a bit of a sociopath. Oh, Pascal, you’re reinforcing so many hurtful stereotypes about mathematicians here…

I will say this about Pascal’s Wager: It reflects the nature of Christianity. It reflects the nature of most religion. It is a threat, and a promise. Religion is a cosmic pyramid scheme. You get in on the ground floor as a child. You avoid vices like drugs, alcohol, sexuality, and Pokemon as you grow up… you learn good manners, obedience, respect for elders, and give reassurance to those elders by following their path… paying forward your enjoyment of life to varying degrees, giving them peace of mind and a sense of control. As you get older you receive your pyramid scheme payments in small increments that keep you pushing on towards the big prize. Respect, stature, stability… your “faith” is reassured by these “blessings” being bestowed upon you. But just like in the pyramid scheme, few if any are actually getting that big cash payday. God promising you heaven is the sleazy Hollywood director telling the young starlet that he’ll make her a star if she just hops on the casting couch. It’s “YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS.”  I think more accurately, it’s the abusive husband telling his poor wife that if she stays he’ll change. He swears. He’ll stop giving kids cancer and allowing war, hunger, and death, and he’ll be the man you always hoped he’d be.

In the same way, Hell is simply Heaven’s reflection. One is not really any more insidious than the other. What does the abusive husband always say to the battered wife when she threatens to leave? “If you leave me, I’ll kill you.” Think about that for a minute. Hell is a threat. God is threatening you. Is that love? How does that stack up with the love that’s described in your church?

Heaven is an absolute reward; it is described as perfectly good. There is literally no way to dislike it or to not be fully satisfied, by definition. Hell, too, is absolute. There can be no worse pain, no greater grief, and no worse fate, by definition, than this place with which God is threatening us.

Now that I’ve told you about why I have particular disdain for this childish argument, and why my Christian friends should as well; (Seriously… NEVER use this one. You’re better than that. Even if we do disagree.) let me tell you what your response to it should be when confronted with it.

When confronted by the Christian with any form of “If I’m wrong, X… but if YOU’RE WRONG, Y! It is time for you to proselytize back. Here are the steps.

1. Instantly discount the person who said it to you. Whatever respect you had for them, halve it. Actually, quarter it. Do this before proceeding.

2. Tell your friend that you actually have recently found faith. It’s a new faith that you’re eager to share with them. You’re excited, and also concerned for their eternal soul.

3. Your new religion is Johnianity. (You’ll have to show them my blog of course. It won’t make sense if you mention me and they’ve never heard of me.) Tell them that every single thing about Johnianity is exactly like Christianity, except for two main differences. First, Jesus Christ is not the savior. Jon and I are. We are co-saviors, and the Bible is a perfect book, EXCEPT in every instance where Christ is mentioned, an accidental search and replace cosmically replaced our names with his. We travelled back in time and did all that. You’re welcome. In Johnianity, you pray to us, you worship us. We are your new savior. (At this point, you know it’s working if your friend is dry-heaving violently. In with the good, out with the bad.) The second difference is that not believing is not punishable by hell. It’s actually punishable by another place. Brace yourself. This place is known as DOUBLE HELL.

4. Explain to them that DOUBLE HELL is exactly, perfectly like Hell, except that Jon and I have found a way to stoke the flames. It’s exactly, perfectly, to within a millionth of a degree, twice as bad as regular Hell. Now you’ve doubled down on Pascal’s Wager. You’ve called his bluff. Your friend’s argument for believing is the weight of the consequences, regardless of evidence. The main flaw in Johnianity is the embarrassing dearth of evidence. (For the life of me, I know I left the Time Machine and crowns of thorns at Jon’s house. He says it’s at mine.) However, Pascal’s Wager was absolutely made for Johnianity. Because the great strength of Johnianity is the weight of it’s consequences! And because your friend bases his/her choice ONLY on the weight of the consequences, they now must either abandon this unfortunate argument, or you can email us the name of our new minion so we can put him/her to work. (Also, if you’re dealing with a Scientologist, this is the time to hand them the credit app.)

5. I usually try to cap things off by getting in the Christian’s face and saying “So now how would YOU like to spend your eternity? Non-smoking, Smoking, or DOUBLE SMOKING???” (If you’re holding a microphone, this is where you would hold it out in front of you and drop it.)

Seriously, the first thing out of your mouth when someone tries to argue with you using any version of Pascal’s Wager is “Johnianity” (Or “_____ianity” with your name in the blank. I’m not that egotistical. You can be fake god. It’s your conversation.) and the concept of Double Hell. All joking aside, it crushes that argument. Of course, most believers will simply continue to backpedal into one of the safe havens, like “God is mysterious” or “You need to be praying about these things.” I don’t promise this will convert, I only promise it’s a logical shut down. Have fun!

Christians and Non-believers, what are your thoughts on this? Can any believer with a Pascalian Predilection give me a good response to “Double Hell?” Has anyone ever heard a form of this argument? (I’m sure it’s been thought of before somewhere, of course.) We’re starting to get some interesting discussions going, and I’d love to see it continue. Also, feel free to ask us any questions you’d like, or make any general comments you’d like. We’d love to discuss with and also make fun of you!

-John with an H.

The Bad Shepherd

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I was recently offered this verse from scripture by a christian friend.

Matthew 18:12-14 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

This verse tells us that God is our good shepherd. That he watches us closely, cares immensely for us, and he is all-powerful, all-loving, and perfectly good. This was my response:

If someone who can’t be stopped is trying to save every individual person in the world, and billions of those people are NOT saved, then how is that someone unstoppable? The words say he is not willing that any should perish. But they perish.

If a shepherd had a flock of 7 billion sheep (number of people worldwide) , and he had them enclosed within a gate where they could not escape his sight, and he returned in the evening with about 2.1 billion sheep… (number of Christians worldwide.) is he a good shepherd, or a bad shepherd?

Let’s say no one ever sees him. The farmer just opens the gate in the morning, believing the shepherd will come, the sheep leave, presumably with him. The 2.1 billion remaining sheep return in the evening. 4.9 billion of them gone and lost. The next day you talk to the farmer and he gushes about the greatness of the shepherd who has lost 3/4th s of his flock. He tells you the story of opening the gate and of the great loss, and continues to praise the greatness of the shepherd. Would you start to wonder if that shepherd is real?

Let’s say you were curious so you wandered out to the field, and as you walked the path you saw sheep. Dead. Eaten by wolves. Broken upon rocks after falling off a cliff. Snatched up by birds of prey. They are almost literally everywhere. So many sheep. The streams are nearly clogged with sheep who wandered in and drowned. Some still limp along, lost in the forest, bleating for help.

This is what I’ve seen. I can draw two conclusions. One is that the shepherd is a bad shepherd. That he is ambivalent towards the sheep, and outright malevolent towards them. You could argue easily that he hates them.

The other is that the farmer may be a good man, but he is mistaken. There is no shepherd. You mentioned the other day that I was disrespectful towards god. Out of the two choices I have above, I have chosen the one that is MOST respectful towards him.

Just my thoughts,

-John

Those were my thoughts. Now I’d love to hear yours. Christians and Non-Christians, what are your thoughts on the verse? What are your thoughts on my response?

-John with an H

Quote for the Day: Sam Harris from The End Of Faith…

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“…bad ideas, however sacred, cannot survive the company of good ones forever.”

Focus on the Family Quote Day!

Focus on the Family Quote Day!

It’s time for everyone’s favorite segment, Focus on the Family Quote day!   Let’s get to it….

From Jim Daly (President of Focus on the Family) Blog about the motives of political assassination and how it relates to idolatry.

Yeah, that’s right.  We have finally found the common linking variable between all serial killers and political assassins. Surprisingly, it’s unrelated to middle names or Catcher in the Rye novels.  It’s not being Christian enough.  I say we start rounding those non-christian (or as I like to call them “pre-shooters” or “demon-incubators”) up.

We are just getting started and I’m already demoralized.

This next one is in two parts.  One quote from an email (I subscribe to Focus on the Family emails. Don’t judge me.) and one from a corresponding blog post.

PREFACE:  You have to understand that “Citizenlink” is the political arm of Focus on the Family.  They have a clear agenda, but unfortunately for them they also have a non-profit status.  That means they can’t actually say, “Let’s all go vote for the Great White Mormon Hope”.  They have to be much more nuanced.  It’s an amazing high-wire act to watch.  I have selected two quotes for you to look over as well as the IRS law. I’ll let you, the viewer at home, decide if they are walking the line.  The following is from an email entitled:  Criticism of the Chief.  And it’s about Justice CHIEF Roberts.  High wire stuff, it’s really fun to watch.  It’s by Tim Minnery, Senior VP of Government & Public Policy (Fancy!).  He quietly mentions what “several Republicans” are waiting for and then calls us to action:

The next one is from Bruce Hausknecht on the same subject:


Boom!  Non-Partisan Roast! Maybe that’s why he’s not a Senior VP of anything yet….Anyway, here’s the boring portion:

Thoughts?

-Jon with no h

Links:

http://www.focusonlinecommunities.com/blogs/Finding_Home/2012/07/03/tebow-kardashian-and-our-worship-of-idols

http://www.citizenlink.com/2012/07/02/dig-deeper-chief-justice-is-catching-flak-over-his-obamacare-decision-does-he-deserve-it/

http://www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/article/0,,id=163395,00.html

A Response to Jon’s Post: Hades Stands Alone

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You can read Jon’s original post here.

A little exposition… When Jon first sent this to me, I believe he had only recently become openly atheist. I was still wrestling with my own thoughts, trying to rationalize and control them, and had been offered a lucrative position in ministry that I very much wanted to be able to accept. I pushed back against Jon’s argument by suggesting that we would never understand certain things, like the beginning or the end of the Universe, and how everything came to be.

Why was I not arguing that my god was afraid of nothing and didn’t need refuge, but would always have dominion over the known and the unknown? Why was I arguing instead that they would ALWAYS be able to run like cowards to more refuges than Jon would admit to? Why do I now as an atheist understand the stand a christian logically should take against what Jon is saying, as indefensible as it may be?

I was pawing at his argument in an evasive way, trying to by time and space in my own head for my argument to regroup. I wonder if anyone is reading this blog and doing it now.

It’s possible we’ll never be able to chase the gods into death, but we’ve made progress. The “bright light at the end of a long tunnel” and the “life flashing before my eyes” has already been explained by our growing understanding of the brain. If we ever somehow perfectly understood death, I’m sure that some would suggest that there are still gods, out beyond the borders of the universe. When I was young and I learned about the Big Bang Theory (the idea, not the show.) I of course also learned that the Universe was expanding outward. The idea that it was expanding led me to realize that the Universe had edges. It was like a big balloon being blown up, I learned. In my ten-year-old mind I used to wonder what was on the edge of the Universe. I had this surreal, imaginary movie I played in my mind once of a space ship traveling to the edge of the universe and finding an endless brick wall, with some graffiti here and there. Stretching out of vision in all directions and enclosing our universe.

In my weird, imaginary vision, an astronaut in one of those big white suits with the big glass helmet floated out of the ship on a spacewalk. As he lazily drifted towards the wall he held in his hands a large sledgehammer.

-John with an H.

Happy Independance Day to ME…

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Just a quick note that I DO feel a sappy sense of meaning on this July 4th as my first Independance Day to be independant of religion. I have and I do feel an increased sense of freedom lately as I don’t find myself wondering what would “draw me closer” to “Him” or other such nonsense, but I make decisions strictly based on what brings me joy and what is best for the people I care about. In the aftermath of God’s funeral in my life and the mourning period that took place afterward, I am starting to understand more and more that he who died was not a friend.

I see my friends and loved ones more clearly now than I ever have.

-John with an H