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Willful Ignorance

Every once in a while, inspiration arrives unexpectedly.

Recently I’d had a rather humorous exchange of ideologies with some very nice, albeit imaginatively compromised theists on the internet. Although we had extremely different views about life, death, the afterlife, science and theology… for the most part we were all able to discuss our varying perspectives without too much Christian inspired animus. As only the invisible, all-knowing, all powerful, sex hating, intergalactic ruler of the cosmos knows, I was uncharacteristically well behaved.

Sure, there were those who took exception to my very existence, and who typed in all capital letters (to let me know that they were shouting in anger) that I was undoubtedly going to hell, and that –as one synaptic impaired dullard asserted– “GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD! I HAVE 2 AWESOME PRAISE REPORTS THIS WEEK! HE IS WORTHY 2 B PRAISED! I GIVE HIM ALL THE PRAISE AND GLORY!” (actual quote)… but for the most part the discussion revolved around me trying to explain basic science to people who refused to acknowledge it. To them, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the earth is 6000 years old, humans and dinosaurs coexisted, and their appalling consensus was that any science that contradicts the bible is a tool of Satan.

But my resolve is such that I cannot sit in good conscience and allow blatant lies which negatively affect so many lives to be accepted without speaking out against them. My idealism won’t allow what I felt was a flippant, cavalier disregard for human suffering from “Christians” sitting comfortably in their heated, carpeted homes to go unanswered… especially when they engage in trite religious platitudes such as “Jesus loves us”, or the comment that began our interaction:

“GOD is with you, He is on your side, He has your best interest at heart and He is working to bring restoration and peace to every area of your life”.

But clearly, God doesn’t love all of us, and if he does, he has a funny way of showing it. Sure he loves the wealthy, or the plain ole’ lucky… but try telling a victim of the Rwandan holocaust who’s had her arm hacked off with a machete, or someone who lost their family in the Japanese tsunami, or a 4 year old dying painfully from leukemia that God has a special plan for them. Faith in god not only allows theists to dismiss the man made pain and suffering occurring around the globe and chalk it up to “god’s will”…. it allows them to remove themselves from any sense of empathy and pretend that (especially brown) people somehow had it coming for not believing as good, Anglo mid-western Christians do.

The sanctimonious indifference exhibited routinely by American Christians is the height of condescension, and serves the less than noble purpose of narcissistic self-centeredness. “God loves me, more than the Serbian child who became paralyzed when a bullet ripped through his spine while he was doing his homework. I can tell because he rewards me with cable television. In fact, I don’t have to concern myself with the poor little cripple, God is on the job.” Religion appeals to the darkest parts of human nature, and allows us to rationalize some otherwise very antisocial, bigoted, and overtly ignorant perspectives. It’s as if theists are complicit in a post-life ponzi scheme, design to sign as many gullible people on as they can. And like any other multi-level-marketing pyramid, only those at the top are rewarded.

Which is why I believe that even a little religion is a very bad thing. For theist –many of whom I have little doubt are very well intentioned– the belief in god deprives them of the ability to think critically, or to fundamentally reason. It allows them to ignore facts and evidence in favor of what they’d like to believe. It can cause people who are obviously not insane, to make some very irrational statements of faith. Once one convinces themselves that a talking snake persuading a woman to eat an apple is the reason for war and disease, believing that god was punishing the hedonistic city of New Orleans with a hurricane is not such a stretch.

When adults practice the art of self-deception in any other aspect of their lives, we call it denial. We offer therapy, support or perhaps even an intervention whereby all of one’s friends get together and explain what an irrational, self-destructive imbecile they are behaving like. However when they do so in regard to the genetic, or astronomical evidence supporting the actual age of our universe or the origin of our species, we call it “faith”. However “god” is the abusive relationship theists can’t get out of, and they keep telling themselves that “He loves them”, despite the random, abject cruelty he routinely exhibits. They need an intervention.

But it gets worse. When people allow themselves to become corporeal servants to an ethereal dictator… and when we sacrifice our intellect and ability to employ logic here on earth in the hopes of gaining post-life admittance to what Christopher Hitchens so eloquently described as a “Celestial North Korea”… When we convince ourselves that we’ll find happiness in a heavenly hive where one must appeal to an almighty creator’s sense of vanity by constantly heaping praise on him, while simultaneously serving as “bottoms” in a sadomasochistic, mentally abusive patriarchy which only allows one to only be rewarded for blind obedience, and the ability to endure boredom… it is epitome of lazy thinking in the face of real world issues that require our serious attention.

As such, religion hurts everyone. To which I say to those whom demand “respect” for a fundamentalist, inherently bigoted worldview that eliminates any metaphoric interpretation of scripture, and which denies science in favor of fairy tales…. You’ll get none from *this* Atheist.

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Evangelical Evil

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” -William Shakespeare

I have been referred to by some as a “Fundamentalist Atheist”… and to be honest, I’m not really sure what that means. I understand what the word means, however there is no specific doctrine to fundamentally adhere to. I am, however, fundamentally opposed to war, poverty, and human suffering. I am fundamentally against ignorance, willful or otherwise. I loathe bigotry, and sanctimonious indignation. I love science, reason, compassion, and freedom. The search for truth is what motivates me to employ skepticism, and to not waver in my integrity even in the face of inconvenience, or popular opinion. I trust that truths derived from facts will eventually bear themselves out. So if that’s what my critics are referring to, then I will accept the label gladly.

I have also heard Atheism categorized as its own religion, which makes no sense either. As my friend, and colleague Brian Sapient (www.rationalresponders.com) once so eloquently observed, “Atheism is a religion the way that not collecting stamps is a hobby, the way that off is a television channel, or the way that bald is a hairstyle.” It would be like forming an ideology based on the disbelief in Zues, Mithra, or for that matter, the Tooth Fairy. From my perspective, Atheism is just a word describing one’s non-belief in any supernatural deities. It is not a personal decision to not believe, rather it’s the rational determination one arrives at based on evidence and the acumen of their life’s experience. If new evidence were to be introduced to any rationally thinking person, they would be forced to re-examine their beliefs.

As such, I spend much of my time and energy trying to contribute reason to the national discourse in the face of what I perceive to be an intrinsic evil… Evangelical Christianity. While I have yet to experience any religion which doesn’t fly in the face of reason, I tend to focus on the perfidy inherent in American Christianity mainly because as a resident of the United States, the majority of people who reside here identify themselves as such. Although many who make such claims are often doing so out of cultural tradition and are in fact, much more casual about their faith than their evangelical counterparts, their upbringing still holds sway. However it is predatory manner in which the evangelical movement manifests itself upon the assailable psyches of a frightened populace which warrants my claim of “evil”.

It’s to the cultural (more casual) Christians whom I am writing.

Most people simply don’t feel that being gullible applies to them, especially where it concerns religious beliefs. Subjectivity being what it is, it’s always easy to recognize the irrationality of other faiths, but not our own. However the harsh reality is that many Christians have not actually read the bible, mainly because either reading “ain’t their thing”, or because it doesn’t quite have the same appeal as the Real Housewives of NJ. So many Christian Americans actually hire people (through donations, and TV ratings) to read it for them. They entrust their immortal soul to clergy and evangelical preachers, who often misrepresent what’s actually in the bible.

It is this misrepresentation that makes the American evangelical movement evil in its intent. They dread knowledge of bible, for it would certainly cast doubt, and hurt business. So they give their frightened, intellectually compromised flock biblical sound bites, and keep those more casual in their beliefs tethered to their faith. Conveniently, we rarely hear about how the God of the bible condones rape, slavery, or stoning children to death. Instead, we are told of a loving God… and most Americans, it would seem believe what they want to hear. So much so, that our social and political discourse is driven by a blind adherence to the Christian faith, which happens to be based on a very provable lie.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16

According to the new testament –on which Christianity is based– the God of the old testament (the one who had previously killed almost everyone on earth in a great flood, among many other petty, violent acts… not any of the other gods from other holy writs) sacrificed his only begotten son so that we could all be forgiven for an “original” sin (hey, there had to be a first, right?) … which had happened approximately four thousand years prior on our newly created planet when Satan (disguised as a talking snake) convinced a belly-button-less Eve to eat an apple (which God had forbidden). This human sacrifice, and the ensuing angelic altruism was apparently the only way the omnipotent creator of the universe could think of to allow us into his cosmic gated community called heaven. I can only imagine that God, being a supreme being and all could have just said something to the effect of “Bah, forget about it, it was only an apple… so offer me a peach and we’ll call it even.” But that wasn’t the case. Jesus had to be crucified so that he could rise from the dead, and bring the rest of the unworthy souls to eternal paradise with him. Party at Dad’s place.

However, Science tells us otherwise. We know that the Earth is not six thousand years old. We know that humans, as a species have existed for hundreds of thousands of years. We also know that the universe is billions of years old, and that it originated from a central point. We know this, because science has proven so through *literally* millions of pieces of genetic, astrological, geological, and fossil evidence. We know the story of creation to be, in fact, just a story. If there was no Adam & Eve (there wasn’t, btw) then there was no original sin to prompt the necessity of a savior. Yet many have ignored the evidence and abandoned the story’s metaphoric intent so as to remain stubbornly obtuse in their faith.

I am often confronted with the convoluted logic that “Evolution” and “the Big Bang” are *just* theories, and that to believe the myriad of scientific evidence that supports them in the face of the biblical holy writ is, in itself, not rational. However I don’t think that those who employ the dizzying, circular logic that allows one to believe the bible to be both historically and scientifically accurate (simply because it says so) truly understand what a scientific theory is. It’s not as if Charles Darwin was sitting in his underwear and chowing down on pot brownies when he got the idea that humans and other primates shared a common ancestry. It was a determination arrived at through years of research, and gathered evidence which has exponentially increased in the years since his death. The embodiment of the scientific community –through peer review and authoritative scrutiny– have come to embrace these theories, and they only remain categorized as such because we cannot physically travel back in time. To offer some perspective, gravity (also once opposed by the church) is still a scientific theory.

Conversely, Americans rely on facts and evidence to reach every other rational determination in their lives, except creation. So to reference another fictional story in order to illustrate the lack of rationale it takes to be able to ignore what is plainly evident in favor of denial, and blind obedience…. the King of Kings has no clothes.

The truth is, none of the basis for Christianity makes any sense unless one’s had their umbilical cord wrapped around their throat. Yet it drives our national dialogue. It’s safe to say that no one could even be considered to be a viable presidential candidate without first claiming that they truly believed that God impregnated a young virgin with his son (who is actually an incarnation of himself –Jesus is God, John 1:1) …so that he could sacrifice himself, *to* himself in order to alleviate us from an original sin that he determined we had in the first place because some chick ate an apple, thus denying us entry to heaven… and sentencing every human who had existed prior (not to mention subsequently should they not appeal to his sense of vanity by praising him in the appropriate manner) to languish for an eternity of torture, pain and suffering in a fiery hell, despite God’s love for us dirty, unworthy homo-sapiens.

My battle with those of faith is not about their beliefs, per se’… but about the causal effects of their beliefs. The truth is, once a populace gives into fear, abandons fact for fantasy and reason for fairy tale, it invariably accompanies irrational socio/political determinations. It accords Bigotry, and the denial of minority rights. It does this violently, and through legislation. And if history has shown us anything about theocracy … it’s that it harmonizes with tyranny. So I am, as my detractors would say, Fundamentally opposed to the ignorance, bigotry, and outright evil that is consistent with the Christian lie.

The Premise of Faith

There is a disturbing trend occurring in the United States regarding how we fail to recognize the difference between illumination, and propaganda.

Certainty is a luxury which can only be acquired through accurate, proven information. While many have strong feelings about why things happen as they do, before one can reasonably claim assuredness, their facts must support their assertions. However, today’s media dynamics are such that a lack of valid data is hardly enough to discourage those whose brands offer assessments as certainty. No longer concerned with journalistic integrity, professional socio/political commentators often make assertions — not based on confirmations — but in accordance with how they might affect their financial bottom line. As cable news pundits, Op-Ed Bloggers, and Facebook prognosticators confound suppositions with hard evidence, and offer opinions as facts, the sensibly susceptible will invariably fall prey. The results are that much of America is having their world view shaped by editorialists with little, or no credibility.

It is human nature to gravitate towards those who espouse the things we want to hear. This is how many of us choose our media, churches, and often our friends. But where it concerns the premise from which many of us operate, absolute affirmations are being accepted as fact by a population all too willing to believe things that will provide a level of comfort –without those offering these same assertions having to provide any sources, or proof. A presumption of credibility is often being accorded to those who base their platforms on purposely deceptive information, and who draw conclusions based on demographics.

Such is the case with religious faith, and how theists are interpreting disasters, both natural and manmade, around the world. When sectarian pontiffs assert the will of an almighty creator in such instances, they not only do so without regard for all of the facts, they do so despite having any facts. Faith is often presented, not as a belief which is not based on proof (as the dictionary defines) but as a positive assurance. So those whose predispositions are in accordance with certain fundamentalisms will acquiesce to the message, regardless of its legitimacy. The recent Tsunami, and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan was fertile soil for those hoping to nurture fear driven, religious fervor. Whether it was a preacher, a politician, or a “news” entertainer, there was no shortage of those who profit from feigning righteousness –or who claim absolute clairvoyance pertaining to God’s will– speaking their minds about why such a tragedy took place.

For instance, Fox News pundit Glenn Beck’s suggestion that God was “sending a message” to the people of Earth by killing thousands of Japanese folks with an earthquake, tidal wave, and subsequent nuclear meltdown would be laughable — if not for the amount of simple minded people who accept whatever someone with a dynamic personality like his says where it concerns such matters.

“God …what God does is God’s business, I have no idea.” Said Beck on his radio show, “But I’ll tell you this: whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus — there’s a message being sent. And that is, Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.”

Apparently, the character Mr. Beck plays in the media has some sort of divine intuition whereby he is able to determine whether a geological phenomenon is simply a matter of happenstance, or if it is a cosmic post-it note written by the hand of the almighty. What is the stuff we should stop doing then? Was the tsunami God’s way of letting us know that we shouldn’t watch liberal news broadcasts? Does God want us to listen more to Glenn Beck? Tune in to find out. God, it seems, works in mysterious, if not ineffectual ways.

The not-so-subtle message here is that Glen Beck, and his viewers/listeners are in good standing with the almighty creator of the cosmos, and that those who have befallen disaster somehow “had it coming”. The psychological payoff for one’s inclusion into any pietistic, theological “cool-kids club”… is that they are then afforded the latitude to enact sanctimony, indignation, and mask their bigotry with religion. But bigots rarely recognize themselves as such… and the pious either never see it that way, or they lack the capacity for honest introspection. “Hey, I don’t have a problem with anyone… it’s God …I’m just relaying the message.”

However Beck is not alone when it comes to rallying people through religious fear by appealing to their sense of self righteousness. There have been a countless number of opportunistic televangelists who have also engaged in similar self-serving indulgences when their fellow human beings have fallen into hardship. Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson, host of “The 700 Club” and self described “statesman” has concluded why God would have punished Haiti with such a devastating earthquake. It was retribution for a deal they allegedly made with the devil years ago. So too, according to Robertson, did God apparently punish the people of Louisiana with Hurricane Katrina for their sinful ways. Did Robertson not notice that Bourbon street, the cultural center of New Orleans’ libidinous proclivities went, for the most part, unaffected by Katrina? Has God never noticed the cities of Amsterdam, or Las Vegas? Is the architect of the galaxy simply not paying attention, or does he just have bad aim?

But there were few heralds of divine truth whose bigotry could compare with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who went so far as to blame the Sept 11th attacks on “abortionists, feminists, and gays”… none of whom are in accordance with Falwell’s (nor God’s apparently) moralistic world view. “I point the finger in their face” said the Liberty University founder, “You helped this happen.” Did I miss something, or did only pro-choice feminists, and homosexuals die in the Trade Center attacks? Considering that the United States financial industry was so negatively affected, couldn’t one just as reasonably conclude that God hates capitalism? Could our almighty creator be that obtuse? But Christian America’s hypocrisy is staggering when one considers how most in the United States will denounce the ignorance and bigotry consistently exhibited Westboro Baptist Church, and how someone like Falwell — who was no less insular — was a accorded the luxury of credibility to the point where he had access to the White House.

The moral and theological contradictions in the statements that evangelical, and politically motivated pontiffs make are clear… provided one’s acumen is not distorted by fear based religion. If one concedes that the God which these, and other theistic profiteers speak of is indeed the omnipotent, loving, merciful, all powerful being they claim –then how can one rationally assert that a loving God would punish people with natural disasters? What “message” could a “loving” God be sending to us mortals by decimating so many people’s lives? Would any of us send our children to play on a beach we knew would be devastated by a tsunami? How could anyone who is reasonable conclude that the same God who hates abortion would also allow pregnant women and children to be killed in these very same disasters? Is God also punishing bible belt Christians when he obliterates a town with a tornado? How can anyone with the ability to discern reason intellectually reconcile the concepts of love and mercy from a being who is also the catalyst for so much pain and suffering?

However when religious editorialists make such unconditional allegations about God’s intentions, the contradictions about love, mercy and petty wrath are incidental regarding the their true motivations. They have — whether they want to admit it or not– arrogantly replaced their messiah with themselves. The psychological dynamics of this type of narcissism are both frightening, and sad.

It is ego-driven self indulgence that will allow anyone to make any absolute assertions as to what God’s will is…as opposed to what they feel it might, or could be. In what amounts to a theological version of White Night Syndrome, those who claim to have inside apostolic information about God’s objectives, are in fact, portraying themselves as the incarnated prophets for their fundamentalism, or more likely, brand name. It’s like having a surrogate Jesus on our televisions telling us who to vote for, and why God is angry at us this week. It is they who offer divine providence here on earth by playing the role of savior, and rationalizing bigotry with scripture. But with the advent of social networking, masking hate speech with religion has gotten significantly worse.

With the safety and anonymity of the internet, those inclined towards being part of a “God Squad” have found a safe venue to impose their narcissistic self importance. All they have to do is simply regurgitate articles written by whatever “credible” 3rd party affirms their dogmatic predispositions, and inject themselves into the socio/political/theological equation by becoming “junior” saviors themselves. Now we can all, to some extent, be like Glenn Beck.

Condescendingly, many offer prayers when a cataclysmic disaster occurs, as if the almighty was momentarily distracted and was unaware of what actually happened, or if he could perhaps have his mind changed about those whose lives still hang in the balance. With every disaster, lives are destroyed, and with a cavalier disregard for human suffering, those very same people offering prayers will chalk it up to “God’s will”. Nothing short of hubris would allow one to conclude from the warmth and comfort of a middle class suburban home here in the United States why God would allow people to languish in disease and poverty elsewhere. Only through arrogant indignation could one determine that “God Loves Us” while chowing down on a cheeseburger during American Idol, while there is so much needless suffering occurring around the globe.

At least those on television who provide vainglorious proclamations about God’s plan can rationalize them with a significant income. For those posting inane religious platitudes on the Internet and blathering out of context scripture to their friends and co-workers, their payoff rarely amounts to more than satisfying a petty sense of ego. But for the small minded, or those simply looking to impose their will on others, the reconciliations about God’s alleged ethics, and the harsh reality of global suffering need not be made. Logic and reason are afterthoughts when the motivation is self indulgent.

The truth is, there are only three conclusions one can rationally draw where it concerns the concept of God, and what “his” motivations might be. One might take the classic Deist position, and determine that if there is a God, he is indifferent to what transpires here on Earth. Perhaps God created the universe, and like a giant Petri dish, things just started growing. A microbe on the other side of the galaxy, bacteria on a distant moon, and humans here on earth… he does not prefer one to the other.

Or perhaps, God is a sadist. After all, various holy writs are replete with stories about how God punishes people for not pacifying his ego, and banishes them to an eternity of torture for not worshipping correctly. That would not only explain all of the needless pain and suffering around the world, but how Glenn Beck and Jerry Falwell were created in his image.

Lastly, one could determine that there is, in fact, no such thing as God. If employed, logic and reason would most likely lead to that conclusion.

However one cannot invent the god they want. Recently I was engaged in an Internet discussion about the Japanese Tsunami, and afterwards I received an angry letter from a woman who took obvious exception to my stance regarding the uselessness of offering prayers, and the pretentiousness of those in a warm, dry place suggesting that survivors turn to God. It was my contention that if they believed in God, then this was obviously his will as he is all knowing, and all powerful… right?

Among other barely coherent ramblings, she wrote, “The God you think I pray to is not the one u(sic) speak of!!! My God didn’t create that disaster and if u(sic) think he did just to prove a point your(sic) wrong!! My God is a loving God and I am not imposing him on you but there will come a time in your life that you will call his name!”

Herein lies the problem with most Theists. It is their inability to recognize their own inconsistencies. First of all, she sent me the E-mail… so she was imposing her beliefs on me. Beyond that –spelling and grammar notwithstanding– there is a gap in this woman’s logic wider than the nuclear fallout that she claims God had nothing to do with. Can this person not understand that an all powerful God would have had to be responsible for this disaster, as he is in control of everything? But by the same token, how a loving God wouldn’t have caused any devastation in the first place? Is such a rudimentary inference too difficult to arrive at when one accepts without question that “God loves us” because it “comforts” them?

We cannot pick and choose random acts of nature, and conveniently interpret them so as to qualify God as “loving and merciful” when the facts bear our differently. One cannot rationally determine that if God is indeed omnipotent, all powerful, and loving… that he is unaccountable for the tragedies that occur on such a massive scale. We cannot remove God from the global suffering equation when it does not suit our astigmatic presumptions. Moreover, we cannot be certain about any of God’s intentions, when we cannot be certain about his nature, or whether he exists in the first place.

But like much of America’s personal indulgences, the luxury of certainty is being paid for with credit, and without any collateral. We’re overextended, and looking for an emotional handout. We accord credibility to those who simply do not deserve it because they say things we want to hear. It is how Americans formulate their premise of faith, and it is unfortunately devoid of any rationality. Certainly, if there is such a thing as “God”, we humans are incapable of understanding him, or his intentions about us… and those who affirm otherwise, are either self serving, egomaniacal, or simply predatory.