Saturday, September 30, 2006

Many small steps

A former minister writes of his deconversion:

I want to let you know how much I enjoyed your website. I appreciate the careful work it took to set down your arguments. It is good to see that people feel able to come out openly and discuss their reasoning.

I think that the hold of religion is eroding here in Australia, with younger people having no idea what church is about! We do seem to lack some principles of life for young people though.

I was a Churches of Christ Minister briefly, and it took many small steps over the last twenty years to admit the weak historical and scripture basis behind the Christian faith and finally the barrenness of the whole exercise. Religion is a human artifact.

The religion known by many young people is indeed far different from the religion that had been taught a generation ago. For some, these many small steps lead to a milder form of fundamentalism, for others, they lead to a whole new view of life.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Who would die for a lie?

A reader asks me about the disciples dying for their belief:

I don't know where to start, but I'll try to be brief. There are many parallels between us in our life experience. I have had many doubts growing inside for several years. Taking up astronomy started it steamrolling. I confided to a long time christian friend who is now a pastor that I am down to believing only that Christ lived , died and resurrected . Genesis, time lines , genealogies, and writings just don't jive. I think your essays on old earth and evolution are very strong, but the ones on Jesus and his divinity and resurrection provide no clear explanation. Its still a big what if for me. Question: Almost all of his disciples died horrible deaths according to tradition. Who would die for a lie?

I congratulate this reader in taking the time to ask questions, and consider where they lead. She is certainly on the right road.

What about the disciples? Well, as she wrote, tradition does say they died horrible deaths for their beliefs. But those traditions come many years after the gospels were written. The New Testament does not record any disciple dying specifically for his belief in the resurrection. (Stephen is martyred over a dispute about the law in Acts 7, and we are not told why James was killed in Acts 12. ) Are the later traditions of martyrdom based on facts? The reports of the disciples' martyrdom are so far removed from the events, we really don't know that they are true.

But suppose the disciples really did die for their beliefs. What does that prove? The 19 hijackers died on 9/11 for their beliefs. Does that prove they were right? The folks in the Heaven's Gate cult died for their beliefs. Does that prove they were right? No, sometimes people can be so caught up in their beliefs that they can die for something that is not true.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Religious Belief and Violence in the Middle East

At the root of the wars in the Middle East lie deep religious views that are at odds with each other. See Religious Belief and Violence in the Middle East for an excellent overview of the problem.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

American Theocracy Revisited

A friend writes with concerns about my essay on American Theocracy. I will address his concerns here. His words are shown below in red.

I'm writing today for a couple of reasons - one is to again express my appreciation for the continued existence of your site. It remains one of the very best out there, in terms of dealing with the subject of 'God' in general, and the Christian experience in specific. Your most recent entry that details the book of Genesis is fantastic. Bravo for that.
This friend and I share much in common in our view of religion. I am glad that he found my site helpful.

At this point, however, you're probably wondering why the title of this e-mail is 'Somewhat Disappointed'. That has to do with your essay entitled 'American Theocracy'. Let me explain...

I read this particular essay expecting to find the usual, thoughtful, commentary; posed to the reader in your typical style of gentle questioning, and followed up with answers that are arrived at vis a vis an exhaustive review of the evidence and available facts. Instead, what I found were blanket statements along with broad, sweeping, generalizations. Perhaps you were merely pointing out the conclusions of the author of the book that coincides with your essay. Nonetheless, I feel that your apparent agreement with these conclusions is based on a skewed or propagandized interpretation of the facts at large.
This point is well taken. I have definitely deviated from my normal questioning style in writing this article. I have gone back and edited it, changing some of the assertions to questions. Also, I have removed much of the references to the Bush administration, as it is not my primary aim to discredit particular politicians. Rather, the aim is to show that many Americans have elevated theocratic issues above all other issues, and vote accordingly. As long as this problem exists, and Americans vote for the politicians that will do the most to force their religion on others, rather than vote for the politician that will do the most to address the glaring concerns in our country, we are going to find a deterioration of our country.

Unfortunately, my time is somewhat limited and I don't have time to detail a point by point counterpoint of this essay. Additionally, my time constraints won't allow me to go into any protracted debate either (which I apologize for in advance). So let me keep it somewhat simple by merely taking one of your statements to task: "The Bush Administration lied to us about weapons of mass destruction."
Merle, a statement doesn't become a "lie" simply because it isn't true. A "lie" is directly proportional to intent not content. There is simply no credible reason to believe that President Bush told a deliberate "lie" on the WMD issue. Please consider some of the following:
Okay, I see that I made a claim about the Bush administration without giving supporting details. I have changed that statement to read, "Our leaders were wrong in their assertions that we faced imminent danger from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." I still think the evidence indicates that Bush either deliberately lied, or was so overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance that he was blinded to facts that opposed his preconceived ideas, but I do not wish to be sidetracked by this issue.

* Director Tenet of the CIA - originally appointed by President Clinton - said that the case amounted to a 'slam dunk'===> ttp://

Okay, it was reported that Tenet said this. Your source (wikipedia) references the book "Plan of Attack" as its source. If you click the link wikipedia references, you will read,
In the book, CIA director George Tenet is noted as stating the evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk." Later, Tenet is forced to admit that his intelligence was flawed when months of post-war searches turned up nothing.

So even Tenet admits the intelligence of WMD was flawed. That is the problem. We have gone to a war under a false fear of WMD. Whether that was caused by deceptive leaders, incompetence, or a legitimate mistake is not the primary issue. The issue is that the war to eliminate WMD was not required. Many Americans either ignore or do not care about the lack of WMD in Iraq, but would rather worry about forcing a narrow morality on others.

* Numerous members of the Democrat Party believed Iraq had WMD, and clearly said so===>

Yes, I understand that many politicians from both major parties supported the buildup to Iraq. Much of this support was based on the belief that their political futures required them to appease those who promoted the war. It is sad that there were so few voices within the government pleading for caution on the issue of war, whereas world opinion and the opinion of many Americans was strongly urging caution before starting that war.

Did others believe the WMD story because they reviewed the evidence and found it convincing, or because they followed what they were told by the administration and because of political pressure? Personally, I think the blame lies on the Bush administration, but that is not my main point.

* Recently, declassified material from a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center (a Defense Department intelligence unit) confirmed the following ===> and so on.

Well, yes there have been some remnants of Iraqi chemical weapons and some weapons may still have had some limited potency. But why did Iraq have these weapons? Iraq used its weapons against the Kurds, Kuwait and Iran, not against the United States. If anything, Iraq maintained weapons because of its ongoing conflicts with its neighbors.

Some might argue that it doesn't matter what their intentions were, the weapons could have fallen into the hands of terrorists, and that was the problem. But if we adopt that strategy, where does it stop? Do we fight any country that has a weapon that could hurt us if terrorists were to obtain it? Cell phones and simple explosives can make devastating terrorist weapons. Should we attack all nations that have cell phones and simple explosives? And what about the nuclear arms in Russia and Pakistan? Do we attack any nation that has dangerous weapons? It seems to me that it is a mistake to do preemptive strikes at any country with powerful weapons and some people that hate us.

And besides, if all nations are entitled to attack any nation that has massive weapons and some hating people. does that entitle many nations to attack America? For surely America has the greatest stockpile of WMD, and some people here would love to use them. (I have heard more than one person suggest that we should have dropped a nuclear bomb on Baghdad.) So I don't buy the attitude that is quick to resort to war when we see another country with dangerous weapons.

It is interesting that one of your quotes is from Glenn Beck, who is now vocally recommending that we need to remain in Iraq to keep Iran from moving in. Now we learn that, after the war, Iraq does not have a good enough army to defend itself. Interestingly we were told that we went to war because Iraq had too many powerful weapons, and now are told that we need to stay at war because Iraqis are defenseless against their neighbors. Could it be that disarming Iraq did nothing to stabilize the region?

Why do so many of my fellow travelers in the non-theist community seem to think that non-theism mandatorially goes hand in hand with a left leaning political worldview? Also, why do so many of them automatically link right leaning political views with theism; particularly, Christian theism?

As you've probably guessed, I do identify myself as a political Conservative. But along with that, consider this:

* I support a woman's ability to obtain an abortion.
* I think that the current crop of drug laws don't work.
* I think sodomy laws are beyond ridiculous.

and (no surprise here)...

* I'm an atheist.
* I support complete Church-State separation.
* I believe that "religious right" and "religious left" (yes, there is a 'religious left') organizations need to have their tax exempt status pulled.

In closing, let me ask: were you aware that there are actually a number of conservative atheist websites out there? If so, have you ever reviewed any of
them (and if so, with an open mind?). Let me leave you with a few of the URL's
that I sincerely hope you will find the time to peruse (and consider).

Here they are:

Conservative positions include any thing from anti-abortion, to strong defence, fiscal responsibility, small government, limited welfare programs, pro-gun, return to Biblical rule, softness on environmental issues, or support of big business. Certainly non-theists can and do take the "conservative" side of many of these issues.

In particular many non-theists support limited government or strong defence. Those are noble positions, and are certainly areas on which non-theists can have productive debate. But supporting limited government or strong defence is far different from the theocratic voting patterns that I am concerned about.