Friday, April 28, 2006

Why no Bible stories about China or America?

A reader writes with another deconversion story:

Thank you for making this great website in a clearly organized and greatly analyzed way. I accepted Jesus Christ in 1999 after seeing how happy Christians' lives can be and after learning the story that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins as preached by an evangelist. Soon after that, I joined bible study groups and church regularly, where we were taught many miracles that Jesus has performed. However, since I was not a Christian (sorta Buddhists/Taoist) before this and I have many Muslim friends, I questioned my group leader and more experienced Christian friends about the story of evolution, why the earth is much older than the bible said, and why do we have to believe the Bible when Muslims claimed Quran contains God's true words and Bible incomplete. Also, I asked them why can't the bible be a fictional story written by the people that live in the old days? I am sad to say, I did not get convincing answers and most of the time, the discussion will end abruptly when my Christian friends could no longer answer my doubts. They will usually tell me that I do not have to see to believe. All I need is to believe by FAITH. Slowly, my faith decreased and I stopped attending church or bible study.

Also, each time I read the bible, I thought that if God had created the world and humans, surely he must have known that the Chinese people exist too. However, the stories written in the bible only revolves around people in Egypt and places surrounding it. Why is there no mention of the Red Indian tribes in America? The only reason that could answer this is that, those people who wrote the stories in the bible did not know that "outside" world exist at that time. Although I have this conjecture in my mind, I still thought, NO WAY, I have to believe by faith because I want to go to Heaven!

After reading the Da Vinci Code, and The Last Templar, I had actually made up my mind that even if in the future Jesus is proven to be not godly and is merely a mortal, I am open to it and will accept it. But I still believed on certain things Jesus taught which I learnt from bible study and sermons.

Then, today, I finally chance upon your website. And guess what? I am quite surprised that even the church chose to use only the "good" stories to teach us of a loving God. Not a God who is irrational and killed babies. I am really greatful that you wrote in detail how we should believe in scientific facts. Thank you and now I am convinced and no longer believe in Christianity

Yes, why would a God of the universe be so intensely interested in several tribes along the Mediterranean Sea, while making no mention of the rest of the world? Did he have no message for the people of China or America? Why do the Old Testament writings look so much like the egocentric tribal rantings of the other nearby tribes? Surely an Omnipotent God would see beyond the next hilltop in Israel.

The writer of this email has asked good questions, and is on the right path.

The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos

Sam Harris wrote an interesting article entitled, The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos. Harris answers the common claim that, without the Bible, moral chaos would ensue. Harris shows that this is not true, for the Bible is far from the best moral guide. Further, there is no good evidence that Christianity produces better morals, and there is indeed a solid basis for morals from a secular starting point. Harris states:

According to the United Nations Human Development Report (2005), the most atheistic societies countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are actually the healthiest, as indicated by measures of life expectancy, adult literacy, per-capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest by the UN in terms of human development are unwaveringly religious.

Harris is quick to point out that such correlational data does not prove that atheism is better, but it does show that it is indeed possible to build moral societies without relying on faith.

This article is a good response to the claim of Jeffrey Wilson in the debate I had with him. Wilson criticized my claim that secular humanists have good priniciples. Wilson wrote:

Good principles?!? You’re not even fooling the humanists here. Even they say that the Christian religion has a purpose in curbing total moral chaos in that if everyone believed that they were accountable to no one then everyone would do whatever it took to “get yours” and take and do whatever it is to maintain that fleeting high of happiness, such as, drugs, rape, murder, theft, etc.

But, of course, Wilson did not mention one humanist who believed that Christianity is necessary to curb moral chaos. We humanists teach that our message is a message of hope.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why Care?

A reader writes, asking why we should care about others:

How would I go about determining whether to abandon the religious philosophies of my youth for 1) a greater personal freedom and happiness, such as you have found, or, 2) a violent, f--- the world and anybody who gets in my way philosophy?

I mean, I'm not sure why I should care about the propagation of the species or any kind of possibly "made-up reason" to love or be kind to others.

I know I don't believe in God like you used to but, it seems that if I am here by accident, why try to make up some ridiculous and temporary notion that life matters...... mine or anyone elses?

[A] few years ago I sent money to one of those starving children places, I quit after a few months because I needed the money myself. Now, I kinda feel like if people are sick or starving, why not let them die to the benefit of the rest of the evolving species. And, if the idea to care for them in the first place is a part of evolution anyway?????.... know what I mean?

Just wondered how you acheived your freedom and personal happiness with regard to this simple intellectual dilemma. I guess I'm saying it doesn't appear that I can learn from you either since it seems you are walking in faith with your own set of
inconsistencies that starve for intellectual integrity. Then again, what is integrity and why care anyway?

I would need to begin by asking this writer if he cares about his own happiness and personal well-being. I assume he does. For, if he did not care about his well-being, why does he eat? If he does not care about his happiness, why does he write and ask about happiness?

So if his personal happiness and sense of well-being are important to him, we must then ask how he can best get what he wants. The writer suggests that taking advantage of others might be one way to achieve his goals. But I think he is sadly mistaken. Humans are social creatures who depend on other people for their survival. It has always been the nature of humans--and many other animals--to form families and groups that support each other for the common good. Without this support, few people could survive long, and few would find happiness.

If the writer were to choose to get what he wants by selfishly taking from others, he will find little support from others. If he hurts others, hates them, and takes from them, they will be opposed to him. And he will not find happiness.

The writer suggests that evolution is all about competing with others. But evolution is not necessarily about defeating others. It is about promoting self-survival, yes, but that survival is often best accomplished by learning to build mutual cooperation and trust with others of the same species or even of other species. And so evolution encourages cooperation.

The writer asks that I offer him something more than a ridiculous and temporary notion that life matters. And I will not make up such vacuous reasons.

I cannot prove to anybody that life matters. We are the accidental product of natural forces. I cannot prove that we should care about life or that we should want our own well-being. But I do know this, that my happiness matters to me. And I suppose that the writer's happiness matters to him. If that is so, then let us both seek to find happiness. And I think that he, and I, and all other readers, will best find the happiness we desire if we set out to build mutually helpful relationships with others. We will best find happiness if we work together for the common good.

Some people help others because they believe that God will punish them if they don't. What a sad motivation that is! The result is a legalistic serving of others in an attempt to avoid punishment. Some who have this fear as their only motivation cannot imagine a world of love and cooperation if that fear of hell did not exist. But they are wrong. There is a natural need in all of us for each other. If we recognize our need of others, and recognize that caring for others is the best way to win the friendship of others, spontaneous outbreaks of good come from the human spirit.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Faith and Reason

A recent editiorial in the London(Ontario) Free Press says that I have gotten it wrong regarding the Bible and morality. (see Christianity melds reason with faith) In response I sent the following letter to the editor:


I read Rory Leishman’s editorial, “Christianity melds reason with faith” with great interest. Leishman quotes from my website ( and announces that I have “got it wrong.” Well I don’t know, but maybe I must take a closer look to see if I indeed have gotten it wrong.

Leishman criticizes a recent Supreme Court decision, and complains that many Canadians fall into grievous error because they “rely on reason alone as a guide for moral judgment.” But reason has long been the standard by which democratic governments strive to govern. Shall we turn away from reason?

Leishman says that, for many, “Holy Scripture is the ultimate authority on all questions of faith and morality.” But what of Deut. 22:11 which forbids wearing clothes of mixed fabrics? Is this verse the ultimate answer to that question? Leishman mentions that verse, and infers that it is an obsolete ceremonial law. But how would one know this is an obsolete law? The New Testament is not at all clear on that.

But even if we judge this law obsolete, that does not clear up the problem. For that law is in the early scripture. At one time, this was the only scripture people knew. And the same scripture allowed slavery. That is the problem. Are we really to believe there was a time in which slavery was right but wearing mixed fabrics was wrong? Those who followed the books of Moses at that time would have thought so. But reason would disagree. Would not a literal following of scriptures in those days have yielded a wrong morality? We cannot ignore this problem by saying the commands are now obsolete. What about the time in which they were taken as relevant? If scripture was wrong back then, how can one be sure that following the updated scriptures is the best way to morality now?

Leishman declares that “The moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments is universally binding and true.” But what about the fourth commandment, which says to keep the Sabbath holy? In its original context, this command meant no work was allowed from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, with the death penalty for violators. Many now interpret this commandment to mean Sunday worship. But that is not what the original commandment meant. If we are allowed to change the meaning of the original word “Sabbath”, can we also change the meanings of “kill”, “steal”, and “adultery’? How can the Ten Commandments be said to be universally binding if Christians are free to change the meaning of the fourth commandment?

Leishman turns not only to scripture, but also to church traditions, which we are told “essentially concur on the substance of the moral law.” But I have found that church traditions differ widely. There are huge differences on the perceived morality on issues such as alcohol, gambling, divorce, and military service. The Amish even declare electricity immoral. How can one possibly say that all these traditions agree on the substance of morality? When we encounter the differences, should we not turn to reason to resolve the conflicts?

Leishman chooses the example of condemning “unchaste thoughts” of adultery as an example of unity in Christian tradition. But I know many Christians who do not think such sexual thoughts are immoral. Such “unchaste” thoughts come naturally to males. Sometimes men think and feel in certain ways. It just happens. And many Christians will tell me it is not immoral to experience such thoughts, provided one maintains a rational view of the other priorities in life, and does not act in an immoral way. So where is the unity that condemns these thoughts? Unless we exclude these Christians that differ, the claimed unity disappears. And if we must exclude some so we can claim unity, who gets to decide whom is excluded?

What we share, both Christians and non-Christians alike, is a common set of values and principles, such as the value of respecting the property of others, and the value of not killing. From these values, we can use reason to establish laws and moral decisions that best help us all reach our goals.

So I find that neither scripture nor church tradition is a good alternative to making moral decisions based on shared principles and sound reason.

All of this brings us to the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. Many see this decision as unreasonable. The answer is not in condemning reason, or in demanding blind obedience to church tradition. The answer is to show why reason might lead to a different decision. The answer is in open democracy, not in theocracy