Tag Archive: christianity


“You had to be there.”

We’ve all heard it before.

We’ve all said it, and we all know the feeling. We want so badly to communicate exactly how it felt to experience a particular moment – a funny joke, a transportative live music experience, the electricity of the crowd at the game winning score – yet we can see on our listeners’ faces that our accounts of these stories are falling short. They’re unable to put themselves in our shoes and directly feel the states we’re trying to convey.

So we say, “Well, I guess you just had to be there.” But we’re left with that residual feeling… if only there were some way we could make them feel what we felt at that time, then they’d get it.

The problem is, we can’t do that. Subjective experiences by definition are limited to the subject who experiences them. Each human mind is an island unto itself; we cannot inhabit the minds of others, get into their heads and truly know what it’s like to feel what they feel, experience what they experience, think how they think.

Not that we human beings don’t have an amazing and beautiful capacity to approximate that sensation to what generally strikes us as a convincing degree. A shared concert experience, a shared tragedy, in all sorts of situations our great capacity for empathy enables us to understand that at that particular time, we all went through the same thing, or at least something so very similar that we confidently say, “I know how that feels. I’ve been through that.”

And of course through millennia of human culture and civilization we’ve established wonderfully refined methods to communicate, in both concrete and abstract ways, the richness of human experience. Poetry, music, literature, art, allegory, metaphor, humor, these are among the many devices that allow us to articulate our experiences with such power and beauty that we just know – or at least feel that we know – that we have had a common experience of the same condition.

These empathetic resonances touch our lives every day. And this experience – the experience of feeling that we have shared or at least understood the experiences of others – is real to us. And this makes it all too easy to accept the experiences of others as true. But in fact, it even actually goes beyond that.

It makes it difficult to accept the experiences of others as false.

To question another’s assertion of personal experience as truth is often seen as, at best, insinuating that they may be confused, or perhaps not too bright, but at worst, accusing them of being an outright liar. And so it becomes socially inappropriate to express vocal disbelief in the personal experience claims people make.

But there’s a problem with this. Two problems, actually.

The first is that there isn’t just a single delineating line between believable and unbelievable claims. It’s a many layered threshold; it’s a wide spectrum. It is possible that people could lie when they say, “I’m hungry.” But such a lie would be so rare – not to mention pointless – that we generally would never have reason to doubt that claim. A claim such as, “I see dead people”, on the other hand, appropriately raises the red flag of skepticism. The extraordinary nature of the claim rightfully brings upon itself increased doubt, increased skepticism, and increased disbelief. Hunger is not only a universal experience for us humans, it also has countlessly abundant evident examples in the natural world. The natural world does not, however, provide us with examples of ghosts, and further, only a certain percentage of people claim to have personally experienced them.

Which brings us to the second problem, which is that some things are demonstrably true when scrutinized using logic, reason and the scientific method (inasmuch, that is, that anything can be said to be “true”, which, in science, is never said with 100% certainty). Hunger is not only universal as an experience, it’s universal as a biological reality which can be measured, tested and validated. However, there is no reliable scientific demonstration that ghosts exist at all, let alone that even if they did the type of equipment that “ghost hunter” types use in their pseudoscientific pursuit of spirits would be the right kinds of tools for the job. There simply are no evident, naturalistic signs of the existence of ghosts.

Or gods. And here we get to the point.

“I know God is real because I experience him every day.” “I know Jesus is the Savior because I accepted Him into my heart.” “I know Mohammed is the one true prophet because I feel Allah’s presence at all times.”

We’ve all heard it before.

Chances are, if you’re a believer, you’ve probably said it, too, and may well say it many more times again. It is one of, if not the most common appeal that believers make in efforts to convince others of the truth of their beliefs. And the reason for that, as mentioned above, is that it’s a powerful appeal.

Our sense of empathy is strong, as is our reluctance to question the validity of the personal experience of others. Appealing to this empathy and respect for boundaries not only creates the appearance that “there’s really something to it” when it comes to religious beliefs, it also corners the skeptics into being the bad guys if they dare question the factuality of those assertions.

How dare we disrespect others’ beliefs!

Here’s how: Because they have no place in the discussion of what is actually true. Because the things we can recognize and demonstrate as being true are, by definition, not subjective, but objective and demonstrable under the scrutiny of multiple observers.

Not only that, but there is plenty of evidence that what actually can be demonstrated about personal religious experience claims is that they are, practically without fail, limited to the cultural parameters in which the subject was raised. When a farm boy from Nebraska “sees God”, we can be quite certain that that god will not be a Hindu god such asVishnu or Shiva. The personal experiences of “God”, or “Allah”, or “Vishnu”, or whatever that people have are, almost without fail, confined to the strict limitations of their culturally familiar religions. So objectively speaking, is it more reasonable to assume that most Americans who claim to be experiencing Jesus are actually experiencing Jesus, or that they believe they’re experiencing Jesus because they’ve grown up in a majority Christian nation, raised by Christian families?

Furthermore, if we start from the default position of atheism (as we all are born atheists, and are only taught religion later in life), which personal experience claims are we to believe? People of different religions assert that their own is the only true one. But given that we cannot access any other individual’s personal experiences, how should we determine whether the Christian’s “only true religion” (or for that matter, which of the hundreds of Christian denominations), or the Muslim’s “only true religion”, and so on, is actually the right one? If the argument is limited to the subjective personal experience, then it can never be demonstrated as true to an outside observer.

And so all such religious truth claims, all of which conflict with each other, are equal in the eyes of the neutral observer. And, given that there’s no evidence for their veracity to be found in the natural world, they’re all equally unlikely, equally implausible, equally unbelievable.

And that’s why, when believers ask me (as one did recently) questions like, “Doesn’t personal experience matter? Doesn’t it count for anything?” My answer is:

No.

Not when it comes to demonstrating the truth of your claims. It doesn’t mean a damn thing.

 

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[via atheist-community.org]

I came to know who Tracie Harris is by watching her frequent appearances as one of the co-hosts on the excellent Austin-based TV show The Atheist Experience, and more recently listening to her on the also great Godless Bitches podcast.

Just now I stumbled across the comic strip above, which I immediately wanted to re-post here. Wanting to properly credit it, I tracked it back to its source, and it was really cool to discover Tracie is the author, and that there is a whole collection of her work at the Atheist Community of Austin site. If you liked this one, go check out the rest of her stuff!

Reporter: “You were trailing most of the game, but you were able to come back in the final minutes for the big win. Can you tell us how that felt?

Quarterback: “Well, first of all, I’d like to remind everyone that there is no God, and that everything that happend on the field tonight was the result of purely human endeavors, accomplished through a perfectly natural mix of some good genetic luck, a ton of hard work and the ingenuity of some brilliant minds. So nobody’s prayers were answered, and rather than thanking a nonexistent God, I’d like to thank my teammates and coaches, and all the other actual real people who helped make this happen…”

The Orange Crush defense of 1977. I was five years old, and I remember it well.

After all, I had the entire Orange Crush can collection on my bookcase. For those too young (or disinterested) to remember, that was a popular orange soda at the time, and the Denver Broncos adopted its name for their dominant defense, where Lyle Alzado and Randy Gradishar were the heroes of the team, overshadowing quarterback Craig Morton. That Broncos team would be the first to reach the Superbowl, only to fall to the Dallas Cowboys.

From then on there wouldn’t be another real bright spot until 1983, when Denver drafted the young Stanford hotshot John Elway. After a rocky start, he soon changed the ethos and the future history of the team by making it his own, a transformation crystallized by “The Drive”, Elway’s epic AFC Championship performance in which he commandeered a 98 yard comeback victory against the Cleveland Browns.

That was January 11th, 1987. Seven months and three days later, on August 14th, Tim Tebow was born.

In all my years of Bronco fandom, from 1977, through the early Elway peaks and disappointments, through their two Superbowl victories which finally came to pass in the late 90s, through all the ups and downsthe team and its fans went through over the decades, I never knew two things:

I never knew the political affiliations of John Elway or any other Broncos player.

And I also never knew their religious beliefs.

In Colorado, John Elway was a universally acceptable hero to the state. Had he used his status to promote a personal, and divisive political and/or religious agenda, it would have tarnished his legacy, as well as the ability of lifelong, loyal Broncos fans to enjoy the sweetness of those two Superbowl victories without any trace of bitterness or awkwardness.

Fortunately for all Broncos fans, and for Elway’s good standing in history, he played only one singular role as quarterback of the Denver Broncos: Quarterback of the Denver Broncos.

Unfortunately for all Broncos fans and NFL fans who do not subscribe to Tiim Tebow’s personal brand of Christian fundamentalism, or who simply value the arena of sports as an apolitical and areligious realm, he has chosen to play a dual role. One aspect of his chosen role is as Quarterback, but the other is as Proselytizer-in-Chief of the Denver Broncos.

By adding that religious dimension, by inappropriately abusing his position of privilege to wear the Broncos uniform, using it as a platform to advance his personal evangelical agenda, he has stolen from us not only the chance to appreciate him solely as an athlete, but also the ability to unambiguously, unreservedly support him as the leader of our team. (He has also deprived himself of the opportunity for his career as a professional football player to be evaluated primarily by his accomplishments on the field, but as this is his own problem, I won’t concern myself with it further here).

The U.S. military has a very sound policy regarding what political actions its members can and cannot engage in. The policy does not completely prevent people from engaging in partisan political activity, but where they are allowed to do so, they are specifically required not to be in uniform, and not to be engaged in any capacity as an official representative of the Armed Forces.

One important (and obvious) reason for this (another being that it is most likely unconstitutional) is that the U.S military does not selectively represent and defend only Democratic Americans, or only Republican Americans, or only Libertarian, Green or what have you Americans; it stands for and protects all Americans, and as such its members (politically opinionated and active as many of them are) are required, when officially representing the United States, to keep on a good game face and conduct themselves in a manner which is not divisive or alienating, and which does not mistakenly create the appearance that the political views of individual members of the Armed Forces represent the official stance of the nation which they serve.

When it comes to politics – and religion – professional sports leagues and franchises would be well served to follow suit.

I should add that I think this should apply across the board to all expressions of divisive religious or political views, including those I happen to agree with. Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns, for example, has a lot of mostly liberal political views that I tend to share. But although his opinions would be more palatable to me than Tebow’s evangelicalism, I would oppose just as much his promoting them in his capacity as an official representative of the NBA.

Nash remains wildly popular in Arizona, the Southwest’s bastion of conservatism. How? Simple. He keeps his progressive views separate from his basketball career and his role as the public face of the Suns. He understands what it means to be a professional. You will never hear him (as Tebow incessantly “Tebows” and praises his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”) endorse gun control or a more humane immigration policy. As an action which would alienate a significant segment of Phoenix fans who just want to enjoy some basketball and support the team, it would be inappropriate, unfair and divisive for him to do so.

Likewise, it should go without saying that the Denver Broncos are not the “Denver Christian Broncos”, the “Denver Broncos for Christ”, the “Evangelical Denver Broncos”, or even (despite the bumper stickers asking then why are sunsets orange and blue?) “God’s Own Denver Broncos”. They are the DENVER Broncos. And they are there for ALL the people of Denver and Colorado. Not just those who happen to have the same worldview as Tim Tebow.

Imagine if, after a game, an NFL quarterback actually dared to say the (fake) quote at the top of this post. Can you imagine the outrage? Fox News would immediately be running a 24-hour smear campaign to get him fired. All the pundits and talking heads, all of ESPN’s experts, all of CNN’s celebrity newscasters, to a person they would all be screaming their outrage at how offensive and disrespectful such a statement is to all of those with deeply held religious beliefs.

In Tebow’s case, however, they pretty much rounded up the wagons to encircle him with a ring of protection (if not, as in the case of Fox, outright promotion) of his “rights” to preach and proselytize his religious propaganda while working in his official capacity as a Bronco.

But please, let’s keep in mind that while a server at Denny’s has the constitutionally guaranteed right to tell one of his or her customers to fuck off, Denny’s also has the right to fire that person, as well as to establish rules of appropriate and inappropriate behavior which their employees must adhere to if they want to keep their jobs.

Does Tebow have the “right” to speak his mind? Of course, but that does not always make it right, appropriate, or tasteful to do so. And when, as the highest profile representative of a massive sports franchise backed loyally by millions of people, he engages in activities which alienate, infuriate, bother or otherwise turn off a huge number of fans who have been lifelong supporters of that team, well, it just ain’t right.

Unfortunately, I think we must, until we get indications otherwise, ssume Tebow won’t “see the light”, and will continue to prioritize his selfish personal religious agenda over the better interests of the entire Broncos fan base (as Dr. House said, “Rational arguments don’t usually work on religious people. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be religious people.”).

And so, I would urge the Broncos, and all professional sports teams for that matter, to institute a policy, modeled on that of the military, to require their players to refrain from engaging in overtly religious and political activities while in uniform and/or while officially representing their organization. To demand that their players respect the uniform, which not only represents their team, their league and their sport, but also represents the noble ideal that the world of sports might always remain one of the few last spheres in which people of differing religions, political views, backgrounds, or any other imaginable differences which might otherwise set them apart, can meet on neutral ground in a spirit of friendship and peace, and just… play.

Then I, and everyone else, can shut the hell up about all of this and just watch the damn games with no reservations.

[Note: I started writing this in December but due to a busy January did not find the time to finish it until now. Obviously, since Tebow and the Broncos got punted out of the playoffs weeks ago, this post has lost some of its currency and cache, but I hope it won’t have lost its relevance in the bigger picture of sports, religion and politics.]

Oh, Christians in the U.S. have it so rough.

Everywhere they look, they see their “right” to flex their majority muscle and discriminate against non-believers and other non-Christians being assailed.

They whine about the “War on Christmas”, when, every year, Christmas positively dominates the social, popular and commercial culture throughout all of November and December.

They cry about gender and sexual orientation rights being “shoved down their throats” (the phrase they usually use – I’ll spare the Freudian analysis for now), going so far as to legislate their “right” to bully gay kids.

The problem with all of this is that none of these so-called “rights” are rights at all. They are the benefits Christians have traditionally received from preferential treatment resulting from their majority position of power and the subsequent stronghold Christianity has over American society and culture.

And now that their privilege is being challenged by increasingly vocal minorities of nonbelievers and members of other religions, who are calling for a more fair and level cultural playing field, some Christians are quick and vociferous in playing the hurt feelings card and drumming up false allegations of anti-Christian discrimination.

Take Mathew D. Staver, chairman of the right wing fundamentalist culture war organization known as the Liberty Counsel. According to Christian Today, he

said that the [American Humanist Association’s] campaign was a crass attempt at restricting the religious freedom of Christians passionate about Christmas. As the birthdate of Christianity, he said no other holiday deserved more public worship. […]

Staver said his organization fights censorship of the holiday’s Christian traditions with its “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign,” now in its ninth year. The initiative educates society and businesses on the Christian faith, he said, ensuring they keep its part in Christmas intact through litigation if they don’t recognize believers’ right to religious freedom.

“People either censor Christmas out of ignorance concerning religious law or they worry they may offend someone else,” Staver said. “Retailers, meanwhile, should not profit off Christmas while pretending it doesn’t exist.” […]

Staver countered that groups like AHA shouldn’t analyze Christmas given they lacked compassion for its spiritual basis. This fundamental separation, he said, meant that they often disrespected the rights of Christians practicing their faith.

“I think a campaign like this shows how bankrupt the AHA is by trying to offend people by secularizing a holiday like this,” Staver said. “They have a right to their own viewpoint but the timing is very inappropriate. It shows how out of step they are from the rest of society.”

So what horrific action did the American Humanist Association pursue to “restrict religious freedom”, to “censor Christmas out of ignorance” in such a “disrespectful”, “bankrupt”, and “inappropriate way?

Well, take a look:

That’s right, they simply asked people not to discriminate against atheists.

As with all things pertaining to religion: Simply unbelievable.

Browsing through the #atheist twitter hashtag, I came upon this tweet by @LaurentRA:

Okay #atheists, where the hell is your raising a stink about this?? http://bit.ly/s4ghcS

The shortened url links to an absolutely horrific article in the Daily Mail on the beheading of a Sudanese man in Saudi Arabia for the “crime” of … “sorcery”.

Although I disagree with LaurentRA’s implication that atheists would generally not be outraged by this, I absolutely agree that we all should be. I urge you to read the entire article in all its gruesome detail, which literally turned my stomach and left me wondering if there is any Islamic blasphemic equivalent to “Jesus fucking Christ!”, which happened to be my first utterance upon reading the article.

I won’t presume to know LaurentPA’s exact reasons for directing the tweet at atheists, but there are common complaints, usually issued by the Christian faithful (“Christian” is in LaurentPA’s twitter profile description), that for various reasons – sometimes political correctness, sometimes bitterness at the faith in which people were raised, sometimes purely out of spite or animosity – atheists are “too hard” on Christian religions and “too soft” on Islam.

There may be a degree of truth to this. And there may be some good reasons as well as some bad reasons why it happens. One factor that comes into play is that Western atheists generally react most strongly against Western religions, which hold majority positions of social and political power in their regional societies. Atheists in Nebraska are legitimately more worried about Christians replacing actual biology with pseudoscientific creationism in school science classrooms than they are about the potential implementation of sharia law because, well, there’s a much higher chance of the former really happening. So in terms of immediate concerns most American atheists (and I see that LaurentPA is in Virginia) locate Islam on a less immediate orbit of concern.

That said, it is absolutely true that what concerns atheists about religion – the harm that it does to the well being of individuals and societies, to human rights and to prospects for peace and civility – should not be contained in a localized bubble, but should encompass a global awareness.

I’m reminded of the Bruce Springstein song, The Ghost of Tom Joad:

Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”

Whenever, wherever there’s a religious justification for beating down the human rights of individuals or populations, whenever and wherever people are dehumanized in the name of imaginary legends and ancient texts, all atheists who are humanists (and most of us are) should be there, ready to fight against them.

Fight against unjust beheadings in Saudi Arabia.

Fight against the religion-based oppression of women in Afghanistan.

But also:

Fight against unjust executions in Texas and Georgia.

Fight against the religion-based gender oppression (most specifically in the areas of reproductive rights and sexual orientation) in the United States.

Yes, LaurentRA, in terms of the harm which is being done by the religious these days, Islam probably wins first prize.

But that is no automatic exemption for Christianity, or any other religion which causes people to accept believing in things for no good reason with no good evidence, and therefore opens the door to people actually doing harmful things for no good reason and with no good evidence that their actions are, in fact, morally justifiable. For the most part:

Only the religious (especially Catholics) institutionally cover up child rape and protect the rapists.

Only the religious (including Christians) engage in “ethnic cleansing” (which is in fact, in practically every case, religious cleansing)

Only the religious (including Christians) mutilate genitalia (and yes, this includes circumcision).

Only the religious (including Christians) believe homosexuality is a sin.

Only the religious (including Christians) commit holy wars and genocides in the name of their gods.

And, LaurentRA, only skeptics (as, again, you describe yourself in your twitter profile) who fail to apply their skepticism to the theological realm remain theists. The only logical conclusion for skeptics who apply their skepticism to all aspects of their belief system is atheism. Skeptics require evidence, most especially in regards to extraordinary claims. And religions (including Christianity) make the absolute most extraordinary clams while providing absolutely no evidence of their veracity.

Atheism and secular humanism, on the other hand, are the only hope for a future in which we will see no more socially or nationally sanctioned executions or human rights abuses. Because the the only way the world will be free from the moral sanctioning of such crimes is to free itself from the fairy tales which people create to perpetuate them.

Harold Camping, made famous by his highly publicized campaign to prepare everyone for a rapture that never happened on May 21, 2011, has a lesser known doomsday prediction for… today! Yes, it’s October 21st (although the clock is rapidly ticking down), and once again the end of the world… well of course, it won’t fucking happen.

Here’s The Rational Warrior, aka Tombstone Da Deadman (check out his music and videos here and here), with some good advice for the rapture, as well as some other observations on religion and the Republican primaries:

 

Here’s Rick Perry describing his interpretation of a sudden rainstorm after a long drought in Texas (video follows below):

I took that as God’s real clear message to me, ‘This is where I want you, son. This is where I want you to be. That’s not where I want you.’ And you go through my life, and there have been so many of those events that occurred, and I don’t get confused. It wasn’t coincidence. It was god’s hand on my life guiding me in the ways he wanted me to be. And I truly believe that he has me here at a time such as this.

The arrogance of this perspective is just mind boggling. Let’s just say for a moment, for hypothetical purposes, that Perry is correct. The personal god he believes in dries up a massive swath of farmland for an extended period of time, no doubt causing all kinds of emotional and economic distress for the local farmers and towns who so heavily rely on agricultural production for their well being. For months and months that petty nepotist sits (presumably) up in the sky tormenting thousands of innocent people, depriving them of livelihoods and security. But he has a plan, you see. This is all for the divine purpose of changing Rick Perry’s tiny little mind and convincing him to stay in Texas.

If such a god did exist, I think all rational people could agree that the appropriate reaction to this story is: What a dick!

But of course, in spite of claiming otherwise, Perry actually is confused. He doesn’t exhibit even the most basic, childlike understanding of meteorology or climatology. But even worse, he not only thinks the entirely insufficient explanation of “god did it” is adequate, he goes much further and locates himself at the center of the story, claiming that god singled him out for preferential treatment at great expense to thousands of other people, and to what end?

Just to give him a message? Really? Either god really sucks at communicating his will, or Rick Perry is a conceited, self-righteous delusional with a laughably primitive (I won’t insult children by calling it childlike) view of the universe.

I’m leaning towards the latter.

Here’s the video:

Jim delivers some good laughs at the expense of Jesus, Noah, and pandas (yes, pandas). (NSFW)

 

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