Bangladesh has a long history of political and ethnic violence. Read about how that affects the latest rash of violence against secularists there. Continue reading
Bangladesh has a long history of political and ethnic violence. Read about how that affects the latest rash of violence against secularists there. Continue reading
According to Max Lucado of the Christian Post on November 9, the results of the US Presidential election simply don’t matter. Only God’s sovereignty matters. And, us silly mortals needn’t worry because that won’t change. Unless, of course, it never was to begin with.
Lucado quotes Proverbs “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases.” When you stop and actually think about this passage, its in direct opposition to the most central theological tenet of christianity … free will. Now the Christian will argue that limiting options doesn’t take away free will, so much as limit it. But free will is by definition the ability to choose between all options. Furthermore, why would god choose to direct so many people’s river towards atheism. Why woudn’t he direct us away from it?
Lucado stated that on one occassion, god changed the heart of the king of Assyria so that he aided the Jews in the Construction of the Temple. On another occassion, he stirred the heart of Cyrus to release the Jews to return to Jerusalem. But in Genesis, rather than stir the hearts of the ENTIRE WORLD; he chose to kill them all by drowning it, save Noah’s family. Was stirring the hearts of the world beyond the power of god, or did he simply not care enough about people to try? So much for omnipotence and omnibenevolence.
Lucado states that god’s sovereignty over the nations opens the door to peace. He states that when we realize that god influences the hearts of all rulers, that we can pray instead of worrying or, in his pithy turn of phrase “we select prayer over despair”. Except, theists can’t actually demonstrate that prayer works. Furthermore, why even despair, why not do something about it? Despite your candidate losing an election, a vocal dissent serves a function in politics. It serves as a moderating force and prevents elected officials from overreaching.
Lucado finally uses an analogy about some missionary work he did in Brazil. He was flying somewhere when turbulence hit the plane. He began freaking out about crash landing in the middle of the Amazon and “being gobbled up by piranhas or swallowed by an anaconda”. The pilot turned to him and said “We won’t face anything I can’t handle. You might as well trust me to fly the plane.”
The problem with this analogy is two-fold. One, there’s such a thing as christian eschatology. A Christian can never be certain whether a bad turn of events is part of the divine plan for armageddon, or just a bad turn of events. Second, in a democracy, god’s not in control. We are. We’re the pilot of the plane. So the anxiety stems not from our candidate losing, but our worldview losing.
And that’s a pretty scary place for theists to be. Not so much atheists. Most of us have had our worldview completely shattered. The anxiety stems from the doubt that arises from having your indoctrinated beliefs challenged, and that others not sharing them is a complete mystery to you. My advice to theists: embrace that doubt.
Doubt is lethal to indoctrination but vital to you. Independent thinking is scary because there is no safety net. You will make mistakes, offend others, and be corrected many, many times as an independent thinker. Many things are beyond your direct control, and sometimes you have no choice but to let those things happen as they do. I sometimes catch myself thinking “Please don’t let X happen. Please please please!” but I no longer ask god to intervene.
Hope doesn’t leave simply because you reject god. Hope is a natural and healthy human emotion. But hopes are dashed whether you pray or not. If prayer is a yes or no question, and god tells you no, then what good was praying? It comforts you to think that someone is listening, regardless of the outcome. There are 4 billion people on the planet who could listen to you, and you choose the person who hasn’t visited this planet since the bronze age.
There are plenty of ways to self-soothe and process disappointment. In a way, prayer is self-sabotage for the believer. Enough disappointments eventually begin to call into question the existence of god. It certainly did for me.
The bottom line is that theists simply don’t process doubt and disappointment in a healthy way. They rely on god to do the emotional and intellectual heavy lifting, and then complain about being persecuted when things simply don’t go their way. More than anything else, this grates on the nerves of atheists. We acknowledge that things don’t go our way all the time. We tend to process and move on. Theists tend to dwell in their perplexity and wallow in their disappointment. They don’t have to, they choose to. They relinquish their sovereignty to a deity that simply doesn’t deliver. That’s on them.
There’s a bit of a snafu in my new hometown of Tucson that started 2 months ago. The Tucson chapter of the Satanic Temple applied to the Tucson Unified School District for an afterschool program. Many in the public fought hard against it, so much so that it’s likely to end in litigation.
The move was meant to counter religious afterschool programs that are hosted at schools all across the district. Such afterschool programs have been cropping up in school districts nationwide.
Now, most atheists know that the Satanic Temple is pretty much about the separation of church and state, and that virtually none of them actually worship an anti-deity called Satan. But while 27 percent of Arizonans identify as having no religious preference (compared to 26 percent identifying as evangelical Christian), only 3 percent identify as atheist and 2 percent identify as agnostic. The remaining 21 percent are likely theists with no actual religious preference.
So using a term like Satan may actually be working against the cause of separation of church and state. Messaging and branding matter. As much as I would love for us to live in a world where the practice of critical thinking was the norm instead of the exception, we don’t inhabit such a world.
We all have our cognitive biases. To be persuasive and change a person’s view, one needs to circumvent those biases. The use of the term Satan only reinforces the cognitive biases we seek to override. It’s counterproductive.
This is not meant to detract from the work that the Satanic Temple has done in terms of shining a light on church and state separation. I especially liked how they effectively forced the Phoenix City Council to ban prayer at their meetings.
But it’s an entirely different ball game when it comes to schools. You’re working with multiple cognitive biases. Not only are you working with the religiously indoctrinated biases, you’re working with those arise from the parental instinct to protect their children. It’s a doubly difficult problem to persuade in this scenario.
Here, branding does matter. I get that using the term atheist in the branding may only be marginally better than the term Satanist, but why use either? Why not use something like the Best News Club. It competes directly with the club that Satanists are trying to sponsor in terms of branding. It avoids the pitfalls of using incendiary terms. As long as the club sponsors are transparent about the atheist sponsoring of the club, it’s not disingenuous.
Don’t get me wrong. All movements need their firebrands and the Satanic Temple certainly fills that role admirably. They certainly have gotten results nationwide and often bring key issues of church-state separation into public view. But not all change can be achieved by incendiary tactics. Some change requires finesse. I feel that the issue of afterschool clubs (and by extension childhood indoctrination) requires such finesse.
I get that the gnostic/agnostic distinction serves as epistemic shorthand when describing your flavor of atheism, but is a spurious distinction. Let me explain.
Some people call themselves gnostic atheists in order to indicate that they know with certainty that gods don’t exist. Others use agnostic atheist to indicate that they don’t believe gods exist but they can’t be absolutely certain. It’s a distinction without a difference. That’s because being an atheist is an epistemological position, not an ontological one.
However one parses the definition of atheist, it is all about non-belief. It’s all about rejecting the proposition that gods exist. Belief is a necessary condition for knowledge. Think about how many times you’ve gotten into a debate with a creationist. Their disbelief always prevents them from knowing evolution. I should note, that belief is necessary, but on its own, insufficient for knowledge. I could deliver a graduate course in epistemology here, but suffice it to say that belief doesn’t disappear from any current account of knowledge (except for skepticism which says knowledge is impossible).
Still, objects exist entirely independent from one’s knowledge of them. As humans, we engender relationships with objects of the universe through our epistemological enterprises: science, philosophy, art, etc. But these objects are not contingent upon there being humans in the universe.
Simply because the universe must be such that we can exist, doesn’t mean that we must exist. When we talk about the universe, nowhere in its formulation are humans (or even sentience) required of its existence. That is, unless you hold to the strong anthropic principle. In which case, you’re probably a theist.
To put some meat on the bones of what I’m saying, let’s talk about the weirdness of quantum phenomena. Quantum theory states that an electron can exist in two places at the same time. But based on the law of non-contradiction, this is impossible. Yet, it happens all the time according to observations. Does this speak more about the limitations of human knowledge or the laws of logic? I propose it speaks more to the former, though I won’t entirely rule out the latter.
We simply don’t know enough about quantum phenomena to know how to explain them without the apparent contradiction. When we discover more, we may be able to demonstrate the non-contradiction. This speaks more to the limitations our knowledge than it does to the universe itself.
The problem that the gnostic/agnostic distinction speaks to is that the universe is such that gods can exist. There is no law of physics or science that prevents the universe from having gods, at least for the time being. But when one honestly considers the evidence it’s so unlikely as to be virtually impossible. So when one says “I don’t believe in gods.” What are they really saying?
That they’re an atheist. Belief is entirely epistemological. So even if they say they know gods don’t exist, how does that matter? The belief is in there still. At worst, they’ve overstated their position. Who hasn’t? Let’s leave agnosticism to describe someone who isn’t committed to either side of the existential question. The agnostic/gnostic distinction is spurious. If you’re an atheist, you’re more sure than not that gods don’t exist. That’s all that matters.
I sympathize with the overwhelmingly underwhelming and tepid response to the two major party candidates for president. I get that these two candidates aren’t perfect.
But the giant-douche-vs.-turd-sandwich narrative is unnecessarily pessimistic and grossly misleading. We need to grow the fuck up, America.
Presidential elections always will be the choice between the lesser of two evils for the simple fact that all candidates are evil to some extent. That’s because we’re electing a human and not a deity.
But perhaps it’s our country’s tendency to deify, rather than reify, our presidents that is the root of this issue. Even though Lincoln emancipated the slaves, he held some rather racist views. He even called Sojourner Truth by a racial epithet once. FDR had so little backbone when it came to racial matters that he appointed a KKK member to SCOTUS and wouldn’t push anti-lynching legislation through because of his fear that southern Democrats would block his proposed legislation.
Yes, Hillary shouldn’t have used a private e-mail server. Her flip-flop on TPP is questionable due to her commitment to Wall Street, who stands to benefit greatly from increased trade. Many people say “I just don’t trust her.” But when pressed, they can’t quite put their finger on it. Perhaps it’s because they’re holding Clinton to an unfair standard.
On the flip side, criticism of Trump (until recently) has been understated. Many of us have been willing to overlook his vague and often incoherent policy statements. His record number of incorrect statements of facts has been downplayed, while his outlandish statements has given him free advertising via the cable news media. My opinion is that current Republican support of Trump has less to do with his bona fides and more to do with the possibility of many SCOTUS vacancies, including the one left by Scalia. There is no more divisive issue in American politics than abortion, and SCOTUS is the only thing that can overturn Roe v. Wade.
But the bitching and moaning about “I’m not voting for either,” is childish. Adulthood is all about choosing between two non-ideal options. If this segment of the voting public were being mature, then this election never would have been close. We’re becoming a culture who demands many things to which we’re not entitled, like presidential candidates who’ve never done anything to piss us off in the past.
All presidential candidates are evil, but some are more evil than others. In my opinion, the evilness of Trump far outweighs the evilness of Clinton. And the third party candidates fall squarely in between the two in terms of evil. Jill Stein fuels conspiracy theories without evidence, and her college debt cancellation plan is a non-starter. Gary Johnson is a moron who doesn’t know where Aleppo is and thinks that the Departments of Education, HUD and Commerce could be eliminated with little effect on the public.
Not voting for either candidate because they don’t match your ideal of what a president should be says more about your level of maturity than it does about the fitness of the current candidates. Grow the fuck up, put on your grown-up pants and your thinking cap, do the requisite intellectual task of deciding on a candidate and vote. Otherwise, you get to be called an entitled self-absorbed crybaby without compunction or remorse.
First let me say this: Mes condoléances vont aux victimes de la Nice attaque.
Here we are … again talking about another terrorist attack in France. French authorities are working under the presumption that this was a terrorist attack, but are being circumspect as to why they think it was terrorism. President François Hollande basically said that the terrorist nature of the attack was self-evident. Applez-moi un sceptique, Monseiur President. Western governments need to be perspicacious about why they consider certain attacks terrorism. If we’re viewing terrorism as an act of war against Western values, but failing to get the consent of the governed to extend states of emergency ad infinitum, then the terrorists are winning this fucking war.
Terrorism is ideological warfare reified. Islamists are not content to allow the merits of their religious ideals to sell themselves. They will use violence to spark fear which leads to the questioning of essential civil liberties. I remember the odious responses to the Charlie Hebdo massacre such as “What did you expect? You depicted Muhammed, of course you’re going to be gunned down by terrorists.” Such an opinion ignores the integral role of freedom of expression in the functioning of Western democracies while also assuming that Muslims are both uncivilized and uncivilizable. It’s the epitome of bigotry, which dissolves under the most cursory scrutiny.
If I were wanting to drive otherwise sensible Muslims into the arms of extremist religious dogma, the French government’s extension of the state of emergency is precisely the reaction I would want to elicit. Extending a state of emergency which curtails civil liberties otherwise enjoyed by all is exactly what terrorists want to happen. It allows Islamists to draw a contrast between the contingent ideals of Western philosophy to what they view as the essential and immutable truths of Islamic theology.
Of course none of this would matter if it weren’t for a tacit bigotry against Muslims in the West. Note, this doesn’t include criticism of Islam, but a palpable albeit tacit bigotry against Muslims as people. That we regard Islam as a race instead of a religion not only highlights are own stupidity, but also betrays the fact that there are definitely racial elements in the West’s animus towards Muslims. We are actively isolating Muslims from our democratic process, and pushing them more towards the terrorism that ISIS and their ilk romanticize as righteous jihad.
That being said, Muslim immigrants need to know that our Western civil liberties are non-negotiable for a reason. Freedom of expression and the separation of church and state are essential in hashing out disagreements and moving towards détente and civility. We don’t need to agree on everything to live together, but we must be civil. Terrorism is the antithesis of civility, but so too, is the reactionary nationalism of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.
I certainly don’t have to agree with the insane bullshit that come out of these two people’s mouths to defend their right to say it. It is Western civil liberties which allow us to opine and discuss such incivilities, and these civil liberties make our democratic process transparent, but messy. There’s an argument to be made that we need the insanity of Le Pen and Trump if only for the sheer reason that we need examples of dangerous thinking to demonstrate what is dangerous about such thinking.
You know what happens when a video camera points at a video display?
A video feedback, the image of the display recurs ad infinitum on the display. This a positive feedback loop as the image repeats more and more. There are negative feedback loops which regulate many biological processes. For example, blood sugar is regulated by a negative feedback loop. When blood sugar gets too high, the pancreas produces insulin which rids the blood of sugar. When the blood sugar gets too low the pancreas secretes glucagon which converts the glycogen stored in the liver to convert to sugar, thus raising the blood sugar.
The blood sugar example is really two feedbacks happening, whereas the camera is one. Negative feedbacks tend to stabilize things, whereas positive feedbacks tend to make things chaotic and unwieldy. What if we were to hold public debate up to such analysis? For instance, what if we were to put the camera of religion in front of the display of guns.
We’d get much the same thing that’s going on right now in America post-Orlando.
I want to call this phenomenon the efficient feedback loop. Efficient, here, refers to the efficient cause named by Aristotle in classical philosophy. An efficient cause is by what means a change comes to be. For a pile of wood to become a table, the efficient cause would be a human. Don’t read ‘cause’ here as our current concept of causality. Rather, look at it as an explanation.
Both guns and religion have been historically and are currently used for shocking and depraved acts of violence. Prima facie, the difference between the two would seem to be that guns are strictly manufactured for violence whereas religion isn’t created so much as interpreted to be violent. I use religion here to mean the Abrahamic religions, since Orlando happened in an Abrahamic context.
Here’s the problem with the interpretation objection. Have you read the Abrahamic texts? They are full of violence. And while there is an argument to be made for the quality of violence changing over time from genocidal to defensive; any interpretation of them which is devoid of violence is dubious. The violence is there. You can’t un-say the words of your god and your prophets.
Then, the public debate goes between those who say that both guns and religion are inherently violent and should be abandoned. Though, a basic examination shows that this patently false. It makes no sense to say guns are violent. This is the basis behind the “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” counterargument. (Though it should be noted here that Aristotle would say that guns are a material cause of murder. That is to say, a gun murder can’t take place without a gun.) Also, we must separate the adherents from the dogma and the scriptures. For the vast majority of religious people worldwide don’t commit acts of violence despite the dogma and the scriptures. So if we view religion as the sum of the three, then we can’t say that religion is inherently violent.
So then, the rephrasing begins to make an equivalency stick. Guns and religion are both deadly, and by this virtue, should be abandoned. But this means that we should abandon anything that’s deadly. Are we going to abandon alcohol? Junk food? Oxygen? All these things are deadly.
Then we argue from type to token. A token gun is deadly. A token religion is deadly. Some token guns are deadlier than others. Some token religions are more violent than other token religions. And when we argue from type to token it makes it easier for us to use quantitative reasoning to justify why some tokens are worse than other tokens all the while not looking at the qualitative reasons which underpin these tokens … i.e. the type. We then go further into the quantitative field divorcing causation and going towards correlation.
And further and further and further ad infinitum.
All the while the camera is still looking at the display.
If social media has taught me anything, it’s that we’re obsessed with our own opinions. Some are obsessed with opinions only insofar as they’re similar to the majority of other opinions. Others go out of their way to have a different opinion than the majority. Everyone has a right to their opinions, and to express their opinions. But all this speculation about the Orlando murderer’s sexuality, how his religion figured into his motivation for, or justification of the massacre is all pretty pointless because …
The camera is still pointed at the display.
Why aren’t we asking questions about violence? No matter how you break down guns or religion they’re both only efficiently related to violence.
Or have we just given up on that question?
Outreach coordinator James Croft of the Ethical Center of St. Louis and self-identified humanist, wrote an article in the Huffington Post in which he implored the LGBTQIA community to be inclusive of atheists when holding vigils in the wake of the Orlando shooting and offered some tips as to how to do this.
But when it comes to post-Orlando vigils, all faith is bad faith.
What I mean by bad faith is precisely what Jean-Paul Sartre meant by bad faith in his existentialist philosophy (particularly his seminal work Being and Nothingness). Bad faith, or mauvaise foi, is the self-deception that arises out of being inauthentic in an effort to avoid the pain of being. To Sartre, the inescapable fact about our existence is that we can choose to act among a wide range of choices. In his words, “We are condemned to be free.” We always have a choice … to a point.
There are certain facts about our existence that limit our choices. I can’t choose to fly by flapping my arms. I can’t choose to be a wildebeest. When we accept the facts about our existence and honor our agency within these constraints, we are living what Sartre terms an authentic life. Thus, it is from authenticity that our human anguish derives.
So it follows that bad faith is our attempt to escape this existential anguish. For an LGBTQIA individual, the struggle between living our lives accepting of the brute facts of our own sexuality or gender identity and society demanding or imposing bad faith upon us; is the central struggle in coming out. And coming out is a core feature of our community.
The LGBTQIA community is a confederation of people who have come out against the bad faith imposed upon us for nearly all of recorded history. And for this, we’ve been marginalized, beaten and even killed. When we came out at Stonewall, we aimed a bright light squarely on humanity’s propensity for inhumanity. We came out so that future LGBTQIAs don’t have to come out. The LGBTQIA community’s struggle is a struggle for authenticity, which inoculates us against those who tell us that we are fundamentally immoral people.
Religion tells everyone that they are fundamentally immoral with equal amounts of ubiquity and impunity. Religion tells us that our imperfection is necessarily the source of our immorality. Religion creates a need and then offers a solution in the form of bad faith. And then religion says that people are immoral when they are dissimilar from themselves in some seemingly crucial way and demands its adherents to do something in the name of morality. Make no mistake … the business of religion is to lull, persuade, demand or even violently impose bad faith on all.
Marx once said that religion was the “opiate of the people”. He was wrong. Bad faith is the opiate and religion is big pharma.
Religion tells us that the Orlando victims are “in a better place”, when they’re dead. Religion presupposes suffering when they tell us “at least they’re not suffering anymore.” Religion demands we forgive the shooter but only because a wholly imperceptible being of immense power demands it of us. Religion does everything it can to keep us from seeing this tragedy for what it truly is … a wholly senseless tragedy.
It’s senseless for a human being to bring an assault rifle to a bar and shoot a hundred people. It’s senseless for a human being to have access to an assault rifle. It’s senseless for assault rifles to exist. It’s senseless for a person to hate themselves and others for who they are. Nothing about the Orlando shooting makes sense.
And the emotions that come from the senselessness are apropos of our very existence. We should feel pain, anger, and fear from the very senselessness of the event. We can choose to engage in these emotions, or we can choose to swallow the saccharine bromide of religion to avoid the pain. Only one way offers authenticity.
And it is authenticity that we must protect as a community. That also means the LGBTQIA community embracing the American non-believer community. Whether or not it is realized, the analogousness between the two is eerily similar, especially in terms of coming out. What does it say about our community’s commitment to authenticity when vigil organizers insist on foisting religion upon our community?
And I’m not saying we shouldn’t mourn. As a community, we should come together and help each other with these difficult emotions and seek solace in our LGBTQIA siblings. But religion only offer bad faith, and bad faith is a counterfeit cure. It will numb our pain while eventually poisoning us. But it won’t just poison us.
Christopher Hitchens was right, religion truly does poison everything. So let’s not allow religion to set up shop at these vigils.
If you’re a Christian apostate, you will not have escaped the term ‘armor of God’ being bantered around during sermons on defending the faith or responding to criticism of religion. Contemporary Christians will undoubtedly read criticism here, as persecution. Because clearly, asking logical questions of religious texts and theological exegesis is tantamount to Nero’s feed Christians to lions. Hence, the need for the armor of God.
The term comes from Ephesians 6. The epistle taken as a whole isn’t like other the Pauline epistles, insofar as it doesn’t really address a “crisis” amongst Christian communities (e.g. Romans). The overall context of Ephesians is to address a balkanized group of Christians with diverse ethics and cultures, and thus differing interpretations of Christian principles. Paul wrote this letter to homogenize the Christians of Ephesus into his interpretation of Christianity.
This explains the books emphasis on Christian morality, particularly about parenting and the treatment of slaves (eek). Treat your slaves with respect (minus that whole indignity of ownership of another human beings). And slaves should also act as if they’re Christian, because apparently being the slave of a Christian made you a Christian, who is also a slave to god. (Ephesians 6) See my aside post on how this ties into Nietzsche’s master and slave morality.
In order to bolster Paul’s moral proscriptions to the Ephesians, he suggests that followers don the armor of god in order to defend the faith (and thus, Paul’s moral proscriptions). To Paul, the Ephesians lived in a corrupt and authoritarian world. Due to this, there will be a particular day of evil that the Ephesian Christian must be prepared for. Also the Christian must be ready for spiritual warfare in Heaven, too. The armor of God will protect the Christian from all of these issues.
Of course the implications of this set up for the use of the armor of god has troublesome implications for the Christian. The first is the concept of original sin. Without knowledge of good and evil, there would be no need for the armor of god in the first place, as neither Adam and Eve wouldn’t have been expelled from the Garden of Eden. That doesn’t imply that Adam or Eve didn’t sin, they just didn’t know that they sinned. But the Genesis account isn’t so concerned with their knowledge of good and evil, but that Adam and Eve might also eat from the tree of life, making them too godlike. (Genesis 3:22) Plus, it’s quite obvious than an all-knowing God would have known not to plant that particular tree in the garden of Eden. Clearly, the entire ontology of sin is conceptually incoherent, according to the Bible
More problematic for the Christian is Paul’s claim that evil exists in Heaven, the kingdom of god, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good deity’s home. But then again it’s no secret that any supernatural ontology is deeply problematic. Then there’s this prediction of a day of ultimate evil reckoning at hand, which makes it imperative that the pious Christian don the armor of God to survive. I can suppose that in even a corrupt and evil universe, there will be a last day to it. But it’s hubris to assume Christians will be around to see that day. Christianity has only existed for 1% of the time that humans have existed, only 0.0004% of the time that Earth has existed and 0.00000144% of the time that the universe has existed.
Still, the faithful Christian is commanded to wear the armor of God, so a deconstruction is appropriate nonetheless. There are six components to the armor of god. They are 1) truth 2) righteousness 3) the Gospel of Peace 4) Faith 5) Salvation 6) The Holy Spirit, which according to Paul is the word of God, or the Bible.
If we read Ephesians charitably, the Gospel of Peace and the Bible aren’t the same thing. So accusations of redundancy here would be are unfair. The holy spirit is often conceptualized as a messenger of god, so it’s also unfair to equivocate the holy spirit with the Bible. Still, holy spirit is part of the trinity metaphysical snafu which is non-sequitur. This makes the only way to hold an attitude of belief in the holy spirit is to make claims beyond one’s capability to understand (The trinity is real because God wills it to be so), or eschewing logic altogether. If the latter is the case, the sword of the holy spirit would be ineffective against those of us who don’t eschew logic. And supremely effective on those who do. This would make prayer warriors less like warriors and more like predators.
Truth is an equally elusive piece of armor to the Christian. Conceptual problems with supernatural ontology, contradictory source material, and faulty exegesis on the part of theologians only obscure the truth regarding Jesus. Questions about his historicity, whether there was more than one Jesus, questions about the syncretic evolution of other religions into Judaism and Christianity also call into question the basic assumptions of the entire Abrahamic tradition. Truth has always been difficult to discert, but not impossible as some Christians claim. Truth is also nuanced and complex. Christian apologists often eschew such characterization of the truth, and instead say that truth is incomprehensible to humans, or at least the truth that matters. If that is the case, how can one don truth in any meaningful way if truth is utterly incomprehensible to humans? Hint: They can’t.
Then there’s righteousness. If we’re using the character of Yahweh in the Old Testament, or Pauline moral proscriptions as a guide, then the claim of moral superiority is dubious. The book of Job has god and satan gambling with Job’s life over whether or not Job will quit believing in god. Levitical laws are draconian and outdated. God kills the all the unrighteous in a flood, except the alcoholic who passes out naked in front of his sons. There are so many more morally dubious passages in the Bible, that if the Christian were to take these thing literally, there’d not be a single moral Christian on the planet. And while no christian lives by Levitical laws with the excuse that Jesus revised them. He didn’t, but theologians and clergy have created an endlessly equivocating exegesis as to exactly what Jesus meant by ‘laws’ in Matthew 5:17-18 instead of examining the morality of the Torah in its own right. So righteousness isn’t an armor piece readily available to the Christian.
Possibly the most ironic armor-piece is the gospel of peace. Now, I’m assuming that the ‘gospel’ here is more akin to the Hellenistic Greek word ευανγελλιον (pronounced you-angel-leeon, meaning “true message”, the root word for evangelical). If this is the case, and the truth about peace is like all other divine truths, unknowable to us humans, then how can one meaningfully don the true message of peace. Not to mention the sheer irony of naming gospel of peace as the footwear of the armor of God. The irony then turns into paradox, if not outright contradiction. We cannot know whether the gospel of peace is armor, paradox or contradiction, because the truth of peace, like all other divine truths are unknowable to humans. Therefore, the “true message” of peace is inaccessible to anyone, and certainly can’t be used as a piece in the armor of God.
Faith is the most paradoxical of the armor-pieces. Trust, unquestioning belief and loyalty are all necessary (but not sufficient) elements of faith. But the unquestioning nature of that belief is especially problematic to us atheists. We tend to view skepticism is healthier that blind faith. This is because skepticism allows us to process information in an integrative way. Bad beliefs are discarded and good believes are integrated into our understanding of the universe.
The reasoning of faith is purely defensive. It scrambles to explain new information in extravagant terms to preserve questionable tenets. Or, and perhaps most dangerous to all, it scrambles to suppress the new information for fear that it will upend their faith altogether. This leads to distrust of scientific knowledge. But most Christians aren’t going to simply pray for a friend having a heart attack, they’ll also call 911 and get their friend to a doctor. You know that guy full of scientific knowledge that has been proven to be more effective than prayer in correcting heart attacks. Scientific knowledge which contradicts biblical accounts of the origin of life. It also questions the how the universe came to be.
Then there’s the issue of loyalty. With a capricious (Old Testament) or intentionally vague (New Testament) god to be loyal is to act counterintuively at the best, and to submit one’s self to systemic victimization at the worst. A capricious person doesn’t garner loyalty because of their volatility. And intentionally vague people don’t garner loyalty because there’s too much room for doubt. It’s counterintuitive to be loyal to any god, especially the Christian one.
Then there’s salvation. Ah salvation, a weird process to avoid getting summons to god’s kangaroo court. The way to salvation is simple, acknowledge that Jesus died on the cross to save you from the inevitable outcome of sin … hell. Though in all actuality, it’s not just a simple acknowledgement, it is often wholehearted unwavering belief.
Only with this belief, founded or unfounded, can you escape hell. This one is so ridiculous that it makes me question the intelligence of educated Christians. Not only do you have to accept the ridiculousness of the ontology of sin, but that god committed an act of metaphysically impossible suicide/filicide in order to absolve us from a situation that an all-good and all-knowing god would have avoided by simply not putting a particular fruit tree in the garden of Eden. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice Christianity!
Beneath the concept of the armor of God is the idea that spiritual warfare is necessary. And for once I agree with Christians. Due to their flawed holy text, defensive reasoning to justify flawed tenets in light of new information and their insistence on being persecuted when critiqued, they’re fighting a spiritual war. But it isn’t with the nonreligious, it’s with necessity.
We don’t need god any more. We can explain rain without the firmament. We know how the heavens operate to a greater degree than we did in biblical times. We understand the nature of disease and illness not as afflictions of the soul but of pathogens. God is obsolete for the most pressing problems that man faces. Insisting on god’s relevance by conflating it with Christianophobia or persecution infantilizes Christians who need to pitch in to help confront these problems. We can’t pray away climate change, LGBTQ+’s, income inequality, waning education standards, or unemployment. We need human action, not divine intervention.
In a post from 2015, Thomist Bent explored what he termed was “The Unreasonableness of Atheism” It fell out of my Twitter feed and into my consideration. The first question asked by the author (by quoting someone who posed the same question to another atheist) is: What would it take for you to believe in God?
This atheist’s answer is a complete credible account of a supernatural ontology. Look, atheist activists on Reddit, Twitter and the like use a wide variety of techniques to poke holes or expose weaknesses in theist arguments. Many of these involve asking the theist to explain why they don’t believe in the tooth fairy, chupacabra, Loch Ness monster, etc. It usually ends in a special pleading argument by the Christian apologist. Your god may not be identical to the tooth fairy, but they share a necessary condition, they’re both supernatural.
Now, the author takes great effort to show that atheists are as unreasonable as the theists because they use ad ignorantiam arguments. The author claims atheists make ad ignorantiam to the non-existence of god(s) on the basis of a lack of naturalistic proof for the existence of god(s). After all, absence of evidence isn’t the same as evidence of absence.
The intellectually honest atheist would make no such claims. Atheists are acutely aware of ad ignorantiam (i.e. god of the gaps) arguments. This of course, has more to do with this author’s tacit concept of atheism as making a positive claim to the non-existence of god(s). Which is a straw man, for atheism makes no such claims. Atheism can only be the rejection of the existential claims to god(s) due to the lack of epistemically reliable evidence.
Some atheists have attempted to provide evidence of the absence of god(s). But these suffer the same problems as the evidence for the existence of god(s). And that is that there is no supernatural ontology available to either atheists or theists to make any evidence meaningful whatsoever. Forget about the existence of god(s) for a moment. The existence of a supernatural ontology is impossible for the theist to offer. Full stop. Without a supernatural ontology, god(s) cannot by definition, exist.
Of course, providing a supernatural ontology is the purpose for holy texts in the first place. (Interesting exception: Buddhist canon, which state explicitly that gods are the creation of man in many different places.) They are supposed to delineate the supernatural ontology which lay down the individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for the existence of gods. Furthermore, they are aimed to give the reader a reasonable account of how the supernatural and natural interact. There are several problems with using holy texts as an account of supernatural ontology.
One example: Christian canon states that there are three metaphysically distinct entities which co-exist at the same time. If we follow the Bible, one of those is supernatural (god), one of those is natural (Jesus) and the other is both natural and supernatural at the same time (Holy Spirit). This is such a huge philosophical problem that Kierkegaard recommended the Christian “leap to faith” to accept it. Furthermore, there is the problem of how supernatural and natural entities can share the same identity, which is non-sequitur itself.
The answer Christian apologists offer is usually some variation of “because God wills it to be.” This is essentially punting the question of supernatural ontology. How does god will something like that to be? It’s the logical equivalent of God creating a rock so heavy that even his omnipotent self can’t lift it. It’s a logical impossibility.
The trinity problem is likely due to the human authors’ of the Bible lack of foresight as to this being a problem. A coherent supernatural ontology is required to explain the trinity. Doesn’t it then become an ad ignorantiam argument to say when asked “How does god pull off the trinity thing?” to answer “I don’t know, but he does.”
This is the real problem of theism: How does one establish a supernatural ontology that allows for interaction with the natural world in the ways required for god(s)? Especially in a natural world which is increasingly comfortable with epistemic ignorance of natural phenomena, and less reliant on supernatural explanations for mind-boggling phenomena.
It’s more than an evidentiary issue, it’s a conceptual one. God, by definition, is supernatural. A few philosophers have tried to circumvent this ontological problem with novel approaches. Spinoza, for example. He conclude from a handful of axioms that everything in the natural world is made of god-stuff, and that god doesn’t care about us whatsoever. This is an entirely naturalistic explanation for the existence of god.
Sadly, Spinoza’s god wasn’t acceptable to Christians or Jews (he was excommunicated from his Jewish community in Portugal as a result of writing The Ethics). It’s especially unpalatable to modern Evangelical Christians as their conceptualization of god requires an adherent to have a personal relationship with god.
Of course, there are inklings of a supernatural ontology in modern society. Take the trope of an 8-year-old surviving life-threatening surgery with a complete account about her time in heaven. Even if we assumed the existence of heaven for the sake of argument, an 8-year-old is cognitively ill-equipped to make to make any such observations reliable. Unless, she has some supernatural affinity, which would require a logically coherent supernatural ontology to explain, let alone verify.
Furthermore, if we take the 8-year-old at her word it still shows the problem of supernatural/natural interaction. For her body was on the operating table for the entire time, and didn’t disappear into a supernatural realm when the surgeons were operating on her.
The most frequent response to this trope involves a Cartesian substance dualism argument, which Descartes uses to establish a clear and distinct idea of God in philosophy’s first recorded instance of circular reasoning. Plus, Descartes never ontologically established (only epistemically established) his dualism except for his conjecture that the spirit/mind and the body interact via the pineal gland. (N.B. The purpose of the pineal gland is not trans-substantial mediation, but for melatonin production).Then there’s that whole parallelism thing.
This forces us to choose between two options. Whether the child somehow travelled to a parallel supernatural realm without a philosophically viable supernatural ontology to explain this. Or, we could attribute her experience to vivid dreaming, which is a widely reported side effect of surgical anaesthesia.
It is the intellectually dishonest theist who would choose the former over the latter. The central problem of theism isn’t proving the existence of gods, it’s helping themselves to a supernatural ontology that often, by their own definition, they can’t comprehend or provide proof for, empirical or otherwise.
Which is why the christian canon implores us to “Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on (y)our own understanding.” Because there is no way to make god available to people through understanding without a logically coherent supernatural ontology. Therefore, the faithful must unquestioningly trust to believe, or as Kierkegaard implored “leap to faith.”
A lack of supernatural ontology is also the problem with Anselm’s ontological argument. He helps himself to the assumption that god exists in the understanding without offering an explanation as to how god avails himself to the understanding at all. After all, it is quite possible that god exists not in the understanding, but in the imagination.
It’s also why champion apologist William Craig Lane avoids omni-descriptors in his version of the kalam cosmological argument. He uses words like ‘changeless’, ‘timeless’, ‘incredibly powerful’ to describe god. Lane is smart enough to not help himself to the omni-descriptors because the same metaphysical problems rear their head when using them.
One could rely on a Plantinga-like possible worlds modal logic to establish such an ontology. But such an attempt would certainly be fruitless, because to make such an ontology consistent with holy texts is impossible, even with modal logic. That has more to do with the source material than the modal logic.
The bottom line is that laying the claim of ad ignorantiam arguments against atheists is a disingenuous one. Clearly, one can reject a claim and maintain an attitude of epistemic ignorance without trying to fill the gaps of any argument, with the apparent exceptions of theists and apologists.
It’s an unavoidable ad ignorantiam argument for theists to lay claim to the existence of gods without a logically coherent account of a supernatural ontology. Not to mention a deeply rooted a priori problem with gods.