Tag Archives: sin

What does atheism have to offer?

29 Jan

Earlier this evening I met up with a group of fellow atheists for a round circle discussion. While there I got to meet the hosts of the A Matter of Doubt podcast and one of them asked a very simple question that honestly stumped me for a bit:

What does atheism have to offer?

That question really made me stop and think, and at first I couldn’t really come up with any serious answers other than “Well, we have the best comedians.”

But really, what does atheism have to offer? Well there’s a lot it doesn’t have to offer:

A reward after you die, the ability to see lost loved ones, a large community safety net, a constant feeling of belonging, etc. Instead atheism, at least on its face, appears to offer a first class ticket to be socially ostracized with no happily ever after. That’s a tough sell!

But after thinking a bit more on the matter, and discussing it with the other people in the group, there is one very important thing that atheism does not offer: certainty.

And you know what? That is perfectly fine for me. “I don’t know” are three very humble yet powerful words. Unfortunately uncertainty scares people. One of the greatest draws for religion is the false sense of certainty is asserts, backed up by nothing but the tenacity of the belief. If I can only will it hard enough, it will be so. I feel a big part of growing up and achieving maturity is gaining the understanding that “I don’t know” is a good phrase, that it is ok to utter it.

As we discussed this question further, I realized there was something that atheism offers that religion does not.

Responsibility

(Now depending on the person, if they shy away from responsibility or not, it could be yet another mark against atheism)

With atheism comes the realization that you are responsible for your own actions. You have no excuses for misdeeds, and no salvation from consequences. You cannot blame things on the work of the devil, and you cannot be forgiven by proxy from a god. There are no bailouts or handouts. There are some theists who would say that atheism is a free ticket to do all the horrible, wicked things you want, when in reality it is exactly the opposite. With atheism you can’t commit evil and then wash your hands of responsibility by asking an invisible man for forgiveness.

Which brings me to the next thing atheism offers:

Freedom

With this great responsibility comes great freedom. You are not born evil. You are not somehow sinful and broken. Your life is not planned out for you, it is not a test that you must pass. You are you’re own person, responsible for your own actions, and free to make your life what you want it. If you ask an atheist who used to be religious, chances are they’ll tell you that when they left religion they felt a great sense of relief. I know I did. Suddenly you no longer have heaven and hell looming over you, no supernatural puppet masters, no self-loathing. You are free, you are in control.

Animal souls, stem cells, & embryos

31 Oct

Do animals have souls?

The majority of theologians say no. The bible is clear that animals are beneath humans and not made in god’s image; thus they do not contain souls and will not be waiting for you in heaven or hell.

But what about those who believe their pets DO have souls?

Are animals able to sin? Does sin require consciously making the choice to disobey god? If so then small children and animals can’t sin because they are physically incapable of the brain functions needed to understand that what they are doing is a sin.

However, the doctrine of original sin dictates that everyone is born damned because of what Adam and Eve did generations ago. (For centuries the infallible catholic church felt it was imperative to baptize children as soon as possible to wash away original sin so they could enter heaven if they died, which was a real possibility. They only recently changed their mind on this because they realized “unbaptized babies in hell” was bad PR) John Wesley (one of the fathers of Methodism) felt that even animals were cursed when sin entered the garden of Eden. Furthermore, he believed that when Jesus died on the cross, he was also dying for all the animals. Francis of Assisi (founder of the Franciscan order) gave a famous sermon titled “Sermon to the birds,” where he literally preached to a flock of birds in a tree, warning them against committing the sin of ingratitude. (So lets see where this line of thought leads, shall we?)

Despite not having the brain capacity to understand the concept of sin, there are those who believe animals are capable of sinning; and thus going to hell (“for the wages of sin are death” Romans 6:23). This begs the question then: do animals have free will? If they don’t have the brain capacity to understand sin or the ability to decide whether to commit it or not, then they can’t have free will. Yet despite not having free will they are still capable of sin. Furthermore, you must believe in Jesus to be cleansed of this sin and enter heaven (John 3:16). If animals are unable to even comprehend sin, they definitely can’t comprehend Jesus. Therefore, since animals are born guilty with sin and capable of unknowingly sinning further and are physically incapable of understanding their actions or accepting Jesus;  god is condemning billions of animals to hell without any chance of appeal.

Lets step away from this conclusion and go back to the original question of “do animals have souls.”  Well what exactly is a soul? The eminent wikipedia  has this to say about the soul: The soul has often been deemed integral or essential to consciousness and personality, and soul sometimes functions as a synonym for spirit, mind or self, although the soul is said to function in a distinct enough way from both the spirit and the psyche that the terms should not be treated interchangeably.

“Essential to consciousness and personality,” so that is pretty much exclusively mammals. Fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and most birds would not have souls.

Here is where stem cells and abortion come in. If we operate under the definition of a soul that requires consciousness, then embryos, stem cells, and fetuses do not have souls. They are an unconscious mass of cells.

But what if we went back to the notion that all living things have souls? (Isn’t this borderline Animism?) This way stem cells, embryos, and fetuses would have souls, but so would fish, spiders, frogs, and crocodiles. So would plants! Under this logic vegetarians would be far more guilty of genocide for the number of plants that died to make their salad than compared to the 1 bull that died to make a bunch of steaks. If you look even closer at this line of thinking it becomes even more absurd. When talking about things the size of stem cells or embryos, it would be better to compare them to something similar in scale and complexity. Animals and plants are far too large and complex. Bacteria and viruses would be more appropriate. They are living things too; do they not have souls as well? What about this example? A human embryo 4 days after fertilization is a blastocyst with 100 cells. Some christians would say this tiny blastocyst has a soul and that it would be murder to destroy it, even in the pursuit of medical advances that could save the lives of millions. By comparison the brain of the common house fly, just the brain, has 100,000 cells.

A conceivable (no pun intended) counter to this argument might be: “Oh, but only human cells have souls because only we were made in god’s image.”  Here’s a mind-blowing little fact for you: There are 1 billion cells for every gram of body weight. If you weigh 70 kilos (154lbs) then there are 70 trillion cells in your body. All of these cells die off and are replaced over the course of 7 years. 7 years, 10 trillion cells a year, 27 billion cells a day, 18.75 million cells a minute.  Every 19 seconds more cells die in your body than people died in the holocaust. If you scratch your arm you kill millions. Here’s a possible retort: “Oh GP don’t be ridiculous! The difference between the cells on your arm and the cells in a blastocyst is that the cells in the blastocyst have the potential for creating new life.” Ah! But that argument fails as well because the very stem cell research that some christians seek to block holds the key to enabling us to transform those cells into anything we can imagine. If the mere “potential” for life is what you care about, then standing in the way of stem cell research that would unlock the secrets to creating that life is in effect denying an unfathomable number of cells the potential of life.

Of course there is one position I haven’t covered yet, and to which there is nothing I can say. It is the position of “Despite what you’ve pointed out, I am going to arbitrarily choose to believe that only my pets, and other animals I like, along with an form of human embryo, has a soul and will be in heaven with me. Now excuse me while I stick my fingers in my ears and go lalalalalalala.”

Empires and Faith

21 Oct

People have been warning that “society is going to collapse” since the dawn of societies millennia ago. Despite a track record of failure spanning longer than recorded time, some modern day religious people like to pull out this gem to argue that refusing to adhere to their world-view will cause the downfall of life as we know it. In actuality, it is the world view of the religious person that will collapse if everybody ignores him; but what can you expect from someone who has the infinitely arrogant view that the entire universe was created solely for them, that they are the chosen creature of an invisible god, and that they alone hold the keys to truth, knowledge, happiness, and everlasting life?

The “logic” of the religious person making this claim is thus: God it watching us and demands worship. If we worship and honor him he will favor us. If he favors us our society will flourish. If we don’t honor god then things will go wrong and our society will crumble. Assumably god “favors” a society be subtly intervening to make the crops grow, the buildings stand, and the trains run on time…you know, stuff that would normally happen in a well managed civilization. The whole thing has an African witch doctor feel to it. No matter how you try and disguise it, what the religious person is suggesting is just an advanced and dressed up version of a rain dance.

Now anyone who actually takes the time to study civilizations will know that there are many reasons why they collapse. These reasons usually contain a mixture of economic, environmental, and political factors, but “failed to appease the sky god” is never a valid factor. At this point we can expect our rain dance shaman to chime in “but god causes those things!” This claim is unfalsifiable, untestable, and completely lacking in evidence to support it so it can safely be dismissed.

Before we continue I must point out a seldom thought of fact about civilizations: The idea of “civilizations” is an arbitrary delineation made by historians in order to neatly classify specific periods of activity in a given area. When a civilization collapse, as many have, it is not like a tsunami suddenly comes and wipes them off the map. There are no trumpets on high that announce to the people of a civilization when their civilization has fallen. The buildings, people, and customs remain. Sometimes people move out of an area, but they still exist. In rare cases a city is hit by a natural disaster (like Pompeii). However, more often than not the political system changes and those who used to belong to political system X now belong to political system Y. When the Roman empire collapsed all the Roman citizens around the world did not vanish; they simply assimilated into the local political system. Bottom line: civilizations don’t end like the apocalypse.

What I would like to do today is take a very brief look at some civilizations to show that the collapse independent of religion. However, when religion does play a role in the collapse it is often the over zealous practice of that religion that ends up harming the society. (contrary to the claims of our rain dance shaman)

One of the most obvious examples of an extremely religious empire collapsing is the Spanish Empire. At it’s height in the 16th century Spain was a superpower. Their army and navy was unmatched, and they had a monopoly on the riches of the new world. The effects of the Spanish empire can still be seen today. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world! Spain’s rapid growth and mismanagement in the 16th century ended up crippling her in the 17th. She collapsed primarily from economic and political problems, but these were exacerbated by religion.

Spain was a shining example of a society that put god first in every aspect of life. Forged in the bloody crusades of the Reconquista, birthplace to the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, and mother to the fanatical order of missionaries, monks, and assassins, the Jesuits.  Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain, was on the front lines of the split between Catholics and Protestants. He was the champion of the Catholic church and swore to return the protestants to the fold, at the edge of a sword if necessary. When he failed to force the protestants back into the church he retired to live out the rest of his days at a monastery. His crusade was passed on to his son, Philip II who pursued it all the more fervently.  Most famously Philip bankrupted his country and cut down entire forests to build his great armada. This massive fleet of ships was to take thousands of soldiers, the inquisition, and god’s fury to England. When the armada was destroyed Philip started building a second one, but died before it was finished. Philip’s confessor once told him that it was better to lose his whole empire than to lose his salvation. It would take Spain centuries to pull out of the economic downturn set off by the mismanagement of their empire and the ultimately pointless wars over religion.

Earlier I mentioned the Roman empire. Rome was founded in 753 BCE and the barbarian invasions began in the late 300’s CE. This was a civilization that lasted over a thousand years. Between 27 BCE and 180 CE existed the “Pax Romana” or “Roman Peace”, a time of relative stability and economic flourishing. To help put that in persepective, he United States has existed only slightly longer than Rome’s golden age.  In 313 the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and issued the “Edict of Milan,” ending persecution of Christians and making the empire religiously neutral.  Sixty-seven years later (380 CE) Theodosius I issued the “Edict of Thessalonica” making the state religion of Rome Christianity. The imperial city that had lasted for a millennium was sacked by barbarian hordes three decades later. Did Christianity cause the fall of the Roman empire? No. There were a lot of complicated factors that led to the eventual collapse; but it should be pointed out for our rain dance shaman that the collapse of that civilization coincided with the the conversion to and enforcement of Christianity.

 

How about the British Empire? Here was a Christian nation that also once ruled a quarter of the world’s population. The empire was not only a means of transmitting western culture, but the Christian religion. Wherever British armies went, missionaries soon followed. Despite bringing the gospel to millions, England lost her empire after WWII.

What about the French empire under Napoleon? The Ottoman empire? The Japanese Empire? The Mongolian Empire? The Greek Empire under Alexander the Great? All of these empires fell because of natural economic and political reasons, not because they didn’t worship hard enough. But lets look at some smaller examples.

The Puritans: Unhappy with the more moderate and relatively tolerant society in England, they left for the new world to set up a theocracy in 1620. Seventy years later and the colony was hunting and executing their own citizens for witchcraft.

Easter Island: Home to the famous Moai statues. Here was a civilization so obsessed with pleasing the gods that they destroyed their own ecosystem in the process!

 

Easter Island is important because it so wonderfully outlines a major problem with focusing to heavily on religion in your society: you tend to neglect the things that matter, like food, water, shelter, and political/economical/environmental stability. You can see this fact echoed in the Human Development Index. The most religious societies in the world are also the worst places to live.

So where do we stand today? The United States is arguably an empire. Despite it’s secular constitution and first amendment protections, we are an extremely religious country. God has been placed on our money, wedged into our pledge, and adopted as a second national motto. 86.7% of our congress is Christian. 98.7% of them believe in a higher power of some kind. For the majority of the past century our nation was ruled by deeply religious men. Churches have tax exempt status despite meddling in politics. Half the country doesn’t except the scientific fact of evolution. (The rest of the developed world accepted it an moved on over a century ago) There are millions of houses of worship in this country. Religious programing floods the airwaves. Religious lobbies are very powerful in Washington.

All this and our rain dance shaman wants more. The utter saturation of religion in American society is not enough. Things are starting to go badly for America despite our devotion. Some assure us it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. If we only prayed a little more, worshiped god a bit louder, things would turn around. But in reality this will never work. It will never work because it is ignoring the actual causes of our problems. A poor economy, an over extended military (which some like Palin feel are fighting wars that are god’s will!), and a failing school system are only a handful of the actual problems dragging this country down. But the rain dance shaman ignores this. They won’t be happy until the country is turned into a Christian Saudi Arabia. By the time they manage to create hell on earth it’ll be too late for them to be held accountable.

 

Atheist resistance

20 Apr

So living in Lynchburg Virginia, home of “9/11 is god’s punishment ” Jerry Falwell and his penitentiary of brainwashing and bullshit, “Liberty” “university”, religious stuff is all over town. Every other car either has a LU sticker, the christian fish magnet, or “Not I, but Christ” sticker. The local stores are also almost entirely owned by the LU octopus. Falwall and his ilk even have their own section in walmart that sells only LU gear, along with religious books.

So as a way to stay sane and get some cheap thrills, I engage in a little Atheist resistance. First up is my car. When you’re stopped at a red light, that’s your 30 second chance to get a message out to the three cars behind you. (Assuming you’re in the middle lane)

I love these things. I change them out every so often, depending on what’s pissing me off that week. Sometimes it’s political, like pro-choice signs (which are a real hit in the area ~_^), but most of the time it’s religious. Currently I’m blasting the catholic church for their 2000 yr + child pedophilia scandal.

I figure the “liberty” kids in Lynchburg are constantly confined to their nice little clean bubble of rich, white, conservative christian fanatics, it’d be nice to jar them out of their comfort zone and make them realize they’re not the only game in town. If I have to sit in traffic and put up with their stupid signs, they can suffer my 1st amendment rights to mine. Yeah, some could argue that it might look a little trashy, but if nobody stands up and says something, they’ll think that everyone is just like them, and thus their beliefs will be all the further reinforced.

Secondly is pamphlets. In Lynchburg there are pamphlets all around. The LU kids stuff them inside beer cases, leave them in shops, in mailboxes, on dining tables, under your windshield wipers, everywhere. I’ve put a few of them up here on my blog, and they all say the same thing: You’re a rotten person that’s going to burn in hell forever unless you buy our product. So I decided to make my own. Here is one that I’m currently circulating:

Outside:

Inside:

I can’t make the picture any bigger, so incase you can’t read it, the outside when you first open it just says something like “Hey, you’re ok the way you are, you’re not a sinner, nor are you damned to some eternal punishment.” Then it goes on about how the pamphlet isn’t trying to get them to join anything, or give any money, unlike other religious pamphlets. The inside just asks 20 simple questions to get people thinking about their faith critically.

I get a real rush putting out these pamphlets. I have to be all ninja like so I don’t get caught. Sometimes I’ll sit down at a table with my stuff, wait a few minutes, and get up, conveniently forgetting to take the pamphlet with me. I love to put these in the religious books sections of book stores, there I can really hit my target audience.

The bumper stickers in the car give me a bit of a thrill, but not so much as sneaking around with pamphlets. I guess I just feel safer with a physical barrier between me and them. Though I have been honked at, shouted at, and flicked off before while sitting at a red light. (How christian, eh?) There have been times when I’ve nervously expected a bullet to come through the glass behind me and kill me, or for my car to be rammed, or for someone to throw something at my windshield. That’s all a thrill too, though it does make me wonder about my opponents when I have to worry about being physically attacked and they don’t. What do you think that says about them?

Sin and forgiveness through Atheist eyes

9 Sep

Growing up in the protestant faith, my concept of sin was that it was to do anything god forbade. What that might be was either what it said in the bible not to do, or what the pastor (who supposedly spoke for god) said not to do. A sin was a transgression against god.

It was at the same time that I learned about the concept of forgiveness. (Mind you I was still very young) I was told that the idea of forgiveness was an exclusively christian notion, that other cultures and people did not have this idea of forgiveness. I can remember the person using Japan as an example for some reason.

The interesting thing about sin is that some people define it differently. For me it was usually  just going against the 10 commandments.  For a few fringe groups, dancing is a sin. (The bible goes both ways on this) The administration at “Liberty” “University” thinks dancing, watching “R” rated movies, and video games are sins.

According to Leviticus 19:27 round haircuts are a sin. Leviticus 11:8 also says football is a sin. Pulling out during sex is a sin. Tattoos, Shellfish, dressing nicely as a woman, and having crushed testicles are also right out according to the bible.

So what about me as an Atheist? What do I think about sin? Does sin exist?

Well since there is no god to transgress against, there can be no sin. This does not mean that there is no such thing as “wrong” in an Atheist’s eyes. I still think that killing, stealing, rape, etc. are wrong. I don’t need a god to tell me that. I don’t, however, think drinking, dancing, sex, games, movies, and shellfish are wrong.

As for forgiveness. I’ve come to realize that this is not an exclusively christian concept. I’m not christian and I still believe in forgiveness. To me, forgiveness is as much about your own healing process as it is about the person who wronged you. You also show higher moral fiber (in my opinion) if you forgive a person instead of holding a grudge.

Dead Babies

12 Aug

If it is true that all human beings are born as sinners, what about babies who die? The baby would not have had the opportunity to accept Jesus as his/her personal savior and ask forgiveness for his/her “sins”, therefore the dead baby would go to hell with absolutely no choice in the matter or ability to avoid it. Thousands of babies die every day across the world. Way to go god.

You’re not a bad person….

17 Jul

Just a thought I’ve been having lately.

I personally know two people who when I first met them, they were in no way religious. Now both of them are evangelical christians preoccupied with their “unworthiness” and “sin.”

What happened to them? They seemed totally fine on the outside, then out of nowhere they convert. I talked to one of them loosely about this and he said he had no liked who he was in the past, and didn’t realize how much of a sinner he was.

This took me as a shock because the friend I was talking to was a really nice guy. He was extremely popular because of his personality, never drank or smoked, and only had sex with one woman with whom he was in a steady relationship.

The other friend claimed to be Buddhist at the time I met her, though I think she was only saying that because I was Buddhist at the time too, and she also wasn’t particularly religious either. She drank, though not any more than the typical college freshman, and had had sex before, but nothing outrageous. Unlike my earlier friend, she was not very popular. She only hung out with my and another girl at school.

She was a bit strange however. She wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and she did a lot of awkward things socially, but that was about it. She eventually dropped out of college for a bit, converted, got married, and is now going somewhere else.

These conversions totally took me by surprise. I’m starting to suspect that my two friends are victims of the “you’re a sinner” mentality. Now I don’t know if they are in a full fledged exclusive cult, but convincing a person he or she is damned/a bad person is a universal trait among all cults/religions*.

“You are a sinner and you must except this and repent in order to be saved. The reason bad things are happening to you is because you haven’t accepted (insert deity/religion here) into your life.”

Here is an interesting site that details this tactic, along with many other tactics cults use.

I think it’s pretty sad that my two friends have fallen into this. They are so convinced of their own worthlessness it’s despicable.

You’re not a bad person! There is no heaven or hell, and there was no talking snake with an apple that condemned everyone to eternal fire. By extension there is no such thing as sin. (Post on that pending) Sure bad things happen to people in life, it’s not because you don’t belong for belief system X. Sure you might have done some things in the past you weren’t proud of, everyone has. Human beings make mistakes, it is natural. Seek forgiveness from yourself and those you have wronged, not by convincing yourself that you’re somehow unclean…

*Except Unitarian Universalists ~_^