Tuesday, February 2, 2010

On how great and how wrong I think Switchfoot is.

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently discovered Gomusicnow.com. Two of the first records I downloaded upon this discovery were Hello Hurricane and Nothing Is Sound by Switchfoot. I love Switchfoot. I think Jon Foreman is an incredibly intelligent songwriter, both lyrically and melodically, and I'm really enjoying both of these records.

But as I've been listening to them constantly for the last couple of days, I've started noticing something that has either never been so abundant in Switchfoot's music before or I've just never been in a position to notice before. If, for Jon Foreman, art is an extension of self (and I believe it is) then I think we can maybe safely assume that Jon Foreman feels like shit most of the time. And while that is sad for him, what's disturbing to me, is that he seems to believe that that is the way he and everyone else should feel. Culture is empty and meaningless, people are empty and meaningless, life is empty and meaningless, etc. I really wanted to count all the times the word "entropy" is used in all their records but who has the time? But trust me, it's a lot. Also, he really doesn't belong here, and I really can't blame him for not wanting to belong here if he really sees the world the way he seems to.

Here's an excerpt from "Stars,"
Stars, looking at our planet, watching entropy and pain
And maybe start to wonder how the chaos in our lives could pass as sane
I've been thinking bout the meaning of resistance, of a hope beyond my own
And suddenly the infinite and penitent begin to look like home
Everyone, everyone we feel so lonely
Everyone, yeah, everyone we feel so empty

Here's a little bit from "Mess Of Me."
I am my own affliction
I am my own disease
There ain´t no drug that they could sell
No, there ain´t no drug to make me well

There ain´t no drug
It´s not enough
The sickness is myself

And just a little more from "The Setting Sun,"
I've got a wound that doesn't heal,
Burning out again,
Burning out again

I've not sure which of me is real,
And I'm alone again,
Burning out again

My hope runs underneath it all,
The day that I'll be home

It won't be long, I belong,
Somewhere past the setting sun

finally free, finally strong,
Somewhere back where I belong

I really could go on and on and on, these themes are so abundant in almost every song (but that wouldn't make for a very entertaining blog). Of course, there is a silver lining for the downtrodden. Everything in the world in meaningless, but when you add god to the equation, then at least we have hope for a better world "somewhere past the setting sun."

I think religion enables a lot of shoddy thinking. In some parts of the world, it's still downright dangerous, but even in America where the zeitgeist has dragged most of our religions, kicking and screaming, to a point of moderation that can almost be considered harmless, it still seems to be a proponent of unhealthy thinking. I can so vividly picture an 18 year old Taylor connecting with these lyrics so strongly, as well as all of my christian friends today. What has happened that makes good people think that they aren't worth the skin they're wrapped in unless they believe that one day a loving sky wizard is going to come and make it OK? Why did I believe that? Why didn't it, at least, seem weird to me that I thought that? As I've said before, the most depressing times in my life were when I was the most "connected to the holy spirit." And just like Jon Foreman seems to think, I thought it was good for me to feel that way. How perverse that seems to me now!

Ignoring the fact that this kind of thinking is unhealthy on a social level and leaves little to no incentive to fix the world that you actually do belong to, despite what any chosen faith might want you to think, I think it was the father in me that made me take issue with Switchfoot's lyrics. I think it just dawned on me when I was listening to it, that if anybody tried to convince my daughter that she, her world, and all of her relationships and dreams, were essentially shit unless she prescribed to their particular delusion, I'd be pretty pissed off.

As I said before, I love Switchfoot and I'm not going to stop listening to them because I disagree with them. Nor am I going to keep my daughter from listening to them, if she feels so inclined. (I do think that they also say some really great things about culture sometimes and I'd much rather her listen to lyrics that are at least thought provoking and wrong than lyrics that are degrading and shallow, like so many are.)

What I am going to do is write a record that is the antithesis of their message. You do belong here. We all belong here. There is hope for this life. People are worthwhile regardless of whether or not god loves them or even exists.


  1. Damn skippy. More power to ya. (:

  2. That last paragraph made me tear up and I'm only a little embarrassed to admit it.

    The hardest time in my life to live through was when I was trying to make -my life- make sense through the lense of the religion I'd been brought up with. Things didn't start looking up until I gave up trying to make my life meaningful in light of the fact that I had never "felt the presence of God" - which at the time made me feel with 100% certainty that I was going to hell.

    As soon as I stopped beleiving that true love could only come from someone who refused to even talk to me (God) I started to be capable of loving myself, of loving anyone. Depending on God for love (which I never felt) led to the most unsatisfying, painful, dangerous place I've ever been in emotionally.

    It makes me laugh when people say they got saved by Jesus because losing my faith was the thing that saved me from a terrifying place, where doubting God existed meant doubting I would ever really feel loved.

    Instead, I discovered love was already there in my life. Recently my mom asked me how I get through the hardest times in my life not knowing that God loves me. What I told her was "You love me, that's enoguh" but what I didn't tell her was that God's "love" was never enough for me. Hers was.

  3. I’ve never really been a listener of contemporary Christian music. Ironically, Quiet Company was probably the most explicitly ‘Christian’ band I explicitly listened to besides Sufjan Stevens.
    One of the interesting features of criticisms leveled against Christianity is that they usually take a stance between one of two extremes.
    On one hand, many take the position (people like Freud, Bertrand Russell, and many others) that the world is so terrible, so cold, so alienating, so desolate, and so foreign to our interests that we created a ‘father up in heaven’ to keep from sinking into total and utter despair. Religion, in short, paints a world in which the injustices and pain and suffering are put into a manageable form. It is, therefore, a foolishly optimistic picture of how the world actually is. On the other extreme, there are critics (Nietzsche in some places, Ayn Rand, Dan Barker, and you in this post) that argue that Christianity is responsible for a horribly pessimistic view of human nature that emphasizes sin, the ugliness of the body and fallenness of the Nature, et cetera. Many atheists I have had conversations with have often gone back and forth between these two criticisms, sometimes in the very same discussion.
    I think this disagreement among atheists actually illuminates one of the great insights that Christianity has to offer. The world certainly is, in so many ways, a wonderful place. I have never understood the ungratefulness of pure asceticism that refuses to enjoy the pleasures available in this world: the human body in its glorious form, the joy of sex, the pleasures of food and drink, the beauty of perception, of smells, tastes, and sensations. Not to mention the satisfaction yielded from intellectual, aesthetic, and scientific pursuits and the meaningfulness of loving human relationships.
    I too despise the tendency for many Christians to ignore the good in this world, and view it to be a slap in the face of a God that made them. Even more than this, I hate the (relatively recent) eschatological view that so confidently asserts that we know the end times are immanent, and that therefore striving to improve the world through building universities, hospitals, and other great Christian institutions in pointless.

  4. Despite all this, I also think that the pessimism that is characteristic of so many Christians isn’t entirely without warrant. The truth is, we enter the world through pain, endure suffering, disease, existential anxiety, poverty, and injustice in life, and nearly always exit the world through a process of decay and more pain. I identify a lot with the optimism you espouse in this post, but I also think that it leaves out the egregious, gratuitous, evil that we encounter both in ourselves (and if anyone reading this can’t see the evil in themselves, they simply don’t know themselves) and in the world at large. For this reason, that optimistic hope for this world is hopelessly naïve.
    The strength of Christianity is its ability to account for both the good and the evil in this world in a way that doesn’t make our human condition look absurd. It’s very easy, I would argue, to espouse the position you do during a time and in a country where we are sheltered from what ‘normal life’ really is for most people. What would you have to say to a child suffering from malaria in the third world? “Cheer up kid! Life is beautiful! Why isn’t this world enough for you? Sure, there’s no heaven, but at least you can look forward to the relief of utter annihilation!” If you were to present this view in the third world, or during times of economic depression (real economic depression, not this inconvenient slump our country is currently in), or plague, or tyranny, I think it would look like absurdity bordering on satire.
    I am very pleased to hear that as an atheist you express the desire to improve the world we all belong to, and I will fight along side you in that endeavor. However, I am totally convinced that your position will be of no use to those who are not as lucky as you or I are.
    None of this would amount to an argument against atheism, but would only show that it is ugly. It’s truth value will be a different question altogether.

  5. Hi Green,
    When you believed in God, what did you think that a relationship with Him would consist of?
    I know a lot of Christians who have very specific expectations over what a relationship with God would look like, and then are very disappointed and disillusioned when those expectations go unmet. The contemporary evangelical church is so guilty of construing a false picture of the Christian life. For example, I think a very large problem in the church these days in the power of 'praise music' that misleads christians into confusing aesthetic experiences with religious experiences. I am always a little disturbed to see teenagers (and adults too) at contemporary worship services with their arms up in the air as they 'feel the power of the holy spirit'. I'm not saying this was a confusion that you personally made, I'm just saying that I do see this a lot.
    I identify myself as a Christian and believe in God as strongly as I believe in anything. Still, I have never seen a miracle, I have never heard God's voice audibly speaking to me, I have never spoken in tongues (and regard the whole idea as bizarre), and I very seldom have strong emotional experiences where I 'feel' God's presence. Though I don't think God is incapable of interacting with people in these ways, I don't think we have been given any indication that this is what an ordinary relationship with God would look like.
    Of what I would regard as the few genuinely 'religious' experiences I have had in my life, they have mostly consisted of 'seeing the world right'. In other words, they consist of seeing and being convinced of my being made in the image of God, as seeing the world as under his providential order, seeing his perfect goodness making demands on my life, and as being liberated from the worst parts of myself. These never feel like mystical experiences, they never last very long, and I don't regard them as convincing arguments of God's goodness and existence to anyone other than myself.

    Is it possible that the presence of love in your life, the blessings you have been afforded, and even your life itself are indications of a God that loves you? Is it possible that the God you wanted for yourself just isn't the God that exists?
    I really hope you won't interpret any of this has hostility on my part. That is not what I am after at all. I really am asking these questions sincerely.
    Hope all is well,

  6. You asked: Is it possible that the presence of love in your life, the blessings you have been afforded, and even your life itself are indications of a God that loves you? Nope. What kind of world is it when my mother loves me because God allowed her to love me? What kind of life is it where everything that makes me happy in the world does so because God says it may? I want to live in a world that is good because it is good, not because it is allowed to be good.

    You asked: Is it possible that the God you wanted for yourself just isn't the God that exists? I have no opinion on whether or not God EXISTS. I'm more of an agnostic than an atheist. I just don't think that any God I've been presented with merits my worship. If God is so powerful that he can create the universe and everything in it but such a bastard that he can never address me like a sentient being or present any evidence of his existence.. then he sucks. After "losing my faith" I looked at several religions- went to church with friends, read books about faiths I had no friends practicing in, and no religion this world has ever produced offered me a God who made any sense devoting time to. I think about it like friendships. If I meet a person and they want to be my friend except that they will never talk to me, never e-mail me, never touch me or laugh with me.. and they want me to look at birds and flowers and my mother as evidence that they're my friend... I'm not going to be their friend, no matter how badass they are.

  7. TD, it's interesting that you note that religion is very appealing to the desperate and miserable. I find it dually interesting that while a Christian sees this correlation as positive, an atheist (me) just sees it as another reason religion is a worthless crutch. After all, we've got missionaries handing out bibles wherever there are starving people. But it hasn't solved any problems in a significant way. (It's the bags of rice helping people, not the bible.) In fact, I'd say it's done some harm. We've got Africans who have tainted views on AIDS and therefore won't teach sex education, and we've got Ugandans, influenced by American evangelicals, making homosexuality illegal and even punishable by death.

    Well, now the desperate people have heaven to look forward to, and are more than willing to step all over each other to get there.

    Even in the most grim of situations, one can find hope here on Earth. After all, we have been here in the form of Homo Sapiens for a few hundred thousand years and have been through some serious shit. Yet, here we are. No Jesus was around to get people through the stone age. We did it because we need no gods, conscious of that or not. Maybe there have been superstitions since the beginning of time, but science has replaced the ignorance we cling to with knowledge, and continues to do so. Religion is slowly but surely losing its foothold in the world and serves less and less of a purpose except as a crutch to the miserable or insecure. One day, man willing, we won't need that crutch anymore.

  8. Greene,
    Thank you for your answers. I guess I have a couple reactions.
    I’m having a little bit of a hard time understanding what you are getting at here. God doesn’t have to ‘permit’ or ‘allow’ our love and good actions even if love and goodness themselves are dependant on him. If theism is true, goodness just is a property rooted in the nature of God. There simply isn’t, on theism, any such thing goodness apart from Him. If this picture is right, the desire you express at the end of your answer would be as misplaced as wanting to live in a world where you could to be a married bachelor, or swim without water.
    If God exists, the relationship between you and Him cannot be thought of as a relationship between friends. It is a much more complicated relationship than that. God will be worthy of your worship not in virtue of whether you like or dislike him, but because he is the standard and perfect exemplar of reason, beauty, power, and goodness.
    I think the question will come down to the reasons for believing that God exists, and a moral commitment to change your preferences as reality dictates. I hope that, as an agnostic, you are sincerely committed to following the arguments where they lead. At some point it might be worthwhile to doubt your doubts. Agnosticism is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

  9. Teresa,
    Thank you for the questions and suggestions. A few points:
    The history of seeking to give a genetic (in the abstract, not biological sense) account of the origin and causes of religious belief is long one. As I’m sure you know, Marx argued that religion was the opiate of the proletariat that comforted them through the abuse they suffered at the hands of the bourgeoisie. Friedrich Nietzsche believed that religion was the means by which the weak could control the strong, and was thus the product of resentment. Sigmund Freud said basically the same thing you did; that this world is so terrible that we deluded ourselves into believing it was under the providential control of a ‘father up in heaven’ to avoid looking reality full in the face. More recently, many evolutionary psychologists have sought to account for the origin of and natural disposition toward religious belief as something that was advantageous to our survival in our evolutionary history.
    Here are a few worries for arguments like those:
    1) They all commit the genetic fallacy.This is the mistake of confusing how we acquired a belief with the truth-value of this belief. For example, the chemist Friedrich August Kekulé is said to have discovered the theory of the Benzene ring while staring into a fire and hallucinating a snake eating its own tail. That sounds like a bizarre and untrustworthy way of acquiring a belief, but it is still apparently perfectly true and is believed by all chemists today. Similarly, even if all of these normally untrustworthy means by which belief in God arose were true, this would not constitute an argument against the truth of God’s existence.
    2) If Theism (and more specifically, Christianity) is true, we should expect that people come to belief in God’s existence when confronted with evil and suffering in the world, or because believing in him is more conducive to survival and reproduction. In other words, all of these storied about how religious belief arises will be perfectly consistent with Theism, and therefore as good a reason to accept belief in God as to reject it. If Theism is true, we should expect that accenting to that believe will indeed provide a much needed crutch for those that need it.
    3) There are plenty of ways in which the origin of atheistic belief can be accounted for on psychological and moral grounds. I don’t think these are good arguments concerning God’s existence for the same reason that I highlighted above, and I don’t like to use them because I think they come off as sounding belittling to my atheist friends. It is worth noting however, that a criticism of the origin of atheism can be made just as easily as criticisms into the origin of theism. Given that so many people naturally come to believe in God, maybe failing to come to that belief is the result of cognitive malfunction. Maybe atheists don’t believe in God because they don’t think it is in their own self-interest. Maybe atheists don’t believe in God because they have daddy issues.

  10. I certainly would not want to endorse everything that any Christian missionary has ever done or said in the third world, although on balance Christianity has been an overwhelmingly positive force. Modern day South Korea, for example, owes much of its current economic and social prosperity to Christian groups that financed the building of schools, universities and hospitals after world war II and throughout the 50’s and 60’s. All of this is really irrelevant to the point I was making.
    Even if I granted that some sort of secular humanism could provide and foster a sense of social hope among people as a whole, I think it fails spectacularly on the personal, individual level. As I mentioned before, a child suffering from malaria will find very little hope in the fact that other animals (and remember, on Naturalism that is all we are) like him have been through ‘some serious shit’. If Christianity is true, it explains how God has interacted with humanity from its creation, through our living in caves, and into the present day.
    Finally, it’s simply false to say that science is witling away at the explanatory power of Theism. On theism, science is our endeavor to better understand how God has ordered and controls the world. So, for example, our having an understanding of the physics and chemistry of lightning will not undermine our belief that God causes lightning anymore than our understanding the physics and chemistry of cakes undermines our belief in bakers. There is no indication whatever that religion is slowly losing foothold. In fact, prominent atheists like Quentin Smith think it is the other way around.

  11. Well, shit. I didn't have time to comment yesterday and now so much more has been said that the things I wanted to respond to have been left behind in the conversation. Oh well, I find myself lacking in desire to get into something terribly in depth, I'll just hit the highlights of what I wanted to say.

    "Atheism is ugly" says the guy who's theology is built on the concept of blood sacrifice.
    I also found it more than slightly ironic that you talk about how abundant god's goodness is in the same conversation that you bring up the 3rd world. You seem to want to make a straw man out of arguments I haven't made, particularly about the 3rd world. Obviously, no one is suggesting that we say to these people, "Cheer up kid! Life is beautiful! Why isn’t this world enough for you?” That would ALMOST be as useless as saying "Don't worry kid, we're praying for you and your heavenly father (who hasn't seemed to give a shit about you yet) really does love you and he's preparing a place for you in a magical kingdom where all of your problems dissapear. Isn't that nice?" I know you would never suggest that that's all anyone would offer these people by way of help, but neither would anyone in their right mind. It's especially discouraging because a great deal of that part of the world's problems stem from the fact that they have an over abundance of religion and a poverty of education.

    Travis, you may be an enlightened "True Christian" who's views on your faith are not only harmless but beneficial to the world, but the problem is that every other christian that you think has got the wrong idea all view themselves as the enlightened "True Christian" who's views on faith are not only harmless but beneficial to the world. At some point it becomes less about what religion could/should be, and more about what religion is.

    Based on what you've said here, I'm curious to know how much you buy in to the idea that god is personal in the way that every church, and every denomination of Xianity I've ever been around sells. I'm also curious to know how you view the scriptures.

    I really liked what Green said about friendships. That's how I was always taught the human/god relationship was supposed to be, and in the practical world we live in, I think she hit the nail on the head when she said, "If I meet a person and they want to be my friend except that they will never talk to me, never e-mail me, never touch me or laugh with me.. and they want me to look at birds and flowers and my mother as evidence that they're my friend... I'm not going to be their friend, no matter how badass they are."

  12. TD- Not sure why you compared me to Freud. I do not think the world or people are innately evil and the only good is God. That's a Judeo-Christian idea. Good and Evil are relative terms anyway. They vary by the context of the situation, culture, and every other circumstance imaginable. I don't like to oversimplify things.

    Second, about people coming "naturally" to the idea of god and atheists being an anomaly... How "natural" do you honestly believe the belief in God is? We don't come to any specific idea until someone tells us something to believe in. And we could make a metaphor about someone being isolated from society and eventually coming up with superstitious ideas to explain things, but that would just be a product of their ignorance. Here in reality where science offers us falsifiable, empirical proof of things and religion does not, we have the choice to stay an atheist (as is our default mode of thinking when we're born) and lack supernatural belief, or adopt one that's presented to us by another human. I see no reason for the latter. All I need is right here on earth and within myself and other people.

    As for people who DON'T believe they have a magic Sky Father who loves them unconditionally being the ones who have daddy issues, the irony there is painful.

  13. Furthermore, if God so values our belief in him, and this belief is naturally occurring, why would he create cognitively malfunctioning atheists like myself and then send us to burn? Sounds like the ultimate standard of good and love to me.

  14. Back in the day of Jesus "The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, 'Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.' Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side." Mark 8 11-13 Jesus knew that his earlier miracles had not convinced the Pharisees. Here they demanded a sign from heaven. Jesus refused because he knew that even this kind of miracle would not convince them. They had already decided not to believe. The human heart can become so hard that even the most convincing facts and demonstrations will not change them.

    David in Psalms 22 wrote,"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent." These words were quoted by Jesus himself upon the cross in urgent appeal to God his father. We have all had times when we feel God is not there, does not hear our prayers and is silent. By the end of the Psalms David realizes the God's loving concern does not begin the day we are born and conclude the day we die. It reaches back to those days before we were born, and reaches ahead along the unending path of eternity. Our only sure help comes from a God whose concern for us reaches beyond our earthly existence. When faced with such love, how could anyone reject it? "Hallalujah! Grace like rain falls on me"

  15. How convenient of Jesus. I feel like it's pretty dense of Jesus to ask "why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign?" I think it's painfully obvious and reasonable for them to ask for some kind of sign to back up his claims that his very existence denies the laws of nature.
    The pharisees may have been assholes but I can't blame them for not wanting to be suckers.

  16. Tereasa,
    My comparing you to Freud only goes as far as both of you asserting that religious belief is caused by wish fulfillment, or in service of some other need (a ‘crutch’ in other words). No more than that.
    Similarly, if you go back and read my comment I hope you will see that the only reason I brought up the possibility of belief in God being ‘natural’ was to show that a Theist can give a genetic account of atheism that makes disbelief in God look every bit as embarrassing as Freud’s account of religion does. The same goes for atheism being a product of an unhealthy view of a father figure. My point is that these sorts of arguments, whether they come from theists or atheists, all commit the genetic fallacy. They criticize the truth of a belief by trying to discredit how you came to that I’ll say again, I don’t use these arguments not only because they aren’t any good, but also because it is disrespectful and belittling to my atheist friends. I would appreciate the same courtesy.
    You have asserted several times that ‘religion’ is the product of ignorance. Until I have a reason to think this is more than just an assertion, I won’t have anything to say about it.

    I fail to see why atheism enjoys a ‘default’ position. Theism and Naturalism are two competing worldviews that give different accounts of what reality is like. The only way to choose between the two of them is by means of their internal consistency and their ability to provide for the preconditions of human reason and experience.

    Last, I don’t think you will want to be committed to the idea that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are relative to our interests or culture. You are absolutely right to assert that objective moral laws are appropriately applied in different ways as the situation dictates. This fact does not imply that moral relativism is true. The only good argument for atheism is called the Problem of Evil. This argument contends that the existence of evil in the world is incompatible with the existence of an all powerful all good God, because if he existed he would have the power and moral duty to correct all evils. If you give up on the idea that objective evil exists in the world, you give up one of the premises in that argument, and you will have lost the best reason to be an atheist.

  17. Taylor,
    I know that you personally wouldn’t actually say that to a child, because you are not cruel. My point was just that given your atheism that would have to be your answer. It may be perfectly true, but it is ugly. As for my beliefs, the presence of evil in the world does pose a serious logical, theological, and emotional problem for believers in God. I grapple with this constantly, and I have real sympathy for atheists who cite this as their reason they reject belief in God. If you would like to get into The Problem of Evil we can.

    If I’m understanding you correctly, your argument in the third paragraph boils down to this: There are many different types of Christians and each of those types believes that their rendition of Christianity is the correct one.
    Therefore… What? Is this meant to imply that because people disagree, no one is correct? Or is it that disagreements concerning religious beliefs have had some undesirable effects throughout history?
    Obviously there are all kinds of situations in which people hold different views where we still think that there must be some truth of the matter. In the past, physicists disagreed over whether quantum mechanics was a superior description of the natural world than Newtonian physics. In ethics, people disagree over whether or not abortion is a morally justifiable action in some conditions. In law, people disagree over the rights provided by the second amendment. In politics, people disagree over whether or not we should have invaded Iraq. The other day, my wife and I disagreed over whether or not there was any milk in the refrigerator. You get the point. Why should I be worried that there are disagreements within Christianity?
    Now, maybe you meant that religious disagreements cause violence and suffering in the world. This is certainly true, and …it sucks. It’s completely inexcusable. But is this a problem unique to religion? Political disagreements cause every bit as much pain and suffering in the world as religious disagreements do. Disagreements over proper medical practices have resulted in some barbaric forms of treatment including electroshock therapy and lobotomies. Disagreements over the scope of Darwinism have produced practices like social Darwinism and Eugenics.
    My point is that the terrible effects caused by disagreements are not a good reason to reject the subject of those disagreements. If it were, we would have to throw out politics, medicine, science, art, philosophy, religion….and so forth.

    As for me, I really don’t consider myself ‘enlightened’ in any way, shape, or form. I don’t subscribe to a form of Christianity that is especially unique or idiosyncratic. I’m a pretty traditional Reformed Protestant and would subscribe to the Westminster Confession and the Apostles Creed. I do, therefore believe in a personal God, meaning I believe that God has thoughts, affections, and desires. I also believe in the infallibility of scripture in its inception.
    Hope that helps,

  18. Because everyone disagrees, there's no authority. The one thing I am certain of is that even if there is a God (for the purposes of argument lets say there is. He's there. He refuses to talk to us directly because our brains would melt or he has this weird "if you believe when there's proof it cheapens the faith" thing. So cool. He's there, bright, shiny, and silent.) then what do we know about him? Let's say there's someone on the planet that is 100% sure that he has the right answer and guess what... he does!

    Who is going to believe him? No one. Well, if he's really REALLY charismatic he might form a religion that is successful enough to number in the millions worldwide. But even if he does a huge percentage of his followers will believe he's got a few facts wrong, and their slightly tweaked version of the truth is what they actually believe.

    Because he's just like every single other person on the planet, no one is going to believe 100% of what he says even if it's 100% right. Even if he's the second coming, performing miracles left and right... a huge % of the population will label him a hoax and a heretic.

    Because we're human. It's our nature either chemically, divinely, or evolutionarily, to find some kind of answer. We need science. Even if you say you have religion, you still have a system with certain rules that lets you figure out how the world works, how to predict the outcome of certain events, and how to stay alive and safe. We ask questions. We seek the truth. You do it in religion, I do it in science.

    Here's the thing, though. Our system has a way of dealing with disagreements. Rigorous testing. If an experiment can't be duplicated hundreds of times with the same result to a reasonable margin of error, we consider it a hoax.

    But the faith system has made itself invulnerable to proof. You say things like "If we had proof that God existed it wouldn't be faith it would be knowledge." Proof of God's existence is nothing more than pointing out amazing coincidences like the tilt of the Earth.

    The problem with arguing religion is that you are completely certain that you are right, and I am completely certain that I am right. And there's nothing either one of us can say that will convince the other one. Which is why my take on religion is that until there's undeniable proof, I choose to cross my arms and say that I don't know either way. And I believe that you don't know either. I know you disagree. I'm not trying to belittle your beliefs... I just believe you're wrong to be so certain of something you can't have proof of.

    The one thing I do have to agree 100% with Taylor on is that religion is dangerous, causes more fighting than love, and is generally a way for people to waste their lives waiting to die and go to a better place that might not be there at all. I'd rather be focused on my life here on earth where I know 100% that some joy can be found than sit around waiting to make it to a place that will be so much more happy if it happens to exist.

  19. Also,

    "The pharisees may have been assholes but I can't blame them for not wanting to be suckers."

    made me laugh really hard. :) And I agree. That quote from Jesus strikes me as one of those instances where it's totally believable that he's not really human, because any real human would understand why we NEED a sign. It also sounds like a huge cop out.

  20. Well, for starters, I don't feel anyone needs a "reason" to lack belief in God. That IS the default position. It's only an idea you have to arrive at over time if someone has already influenced you to have belief.

    Secondly, this so-called Problem of Evil doesn't guide my atheism and I don't find it much of a problem at all, because, like I said, I don't believe in simplistic concepts like Good and Evil. People don't act because they are good or evil. We are physiological creatures with complex brains running on chemicals and impulses. (Not as romantic as thinking we're all souls inside shells of flesh, but so be it.) Psychology and Neuropsychology have come a long way in a short time and we are gaining more and more understanding of behaviors and their causes. This Problem of Evil would only be useful to someone who believes there is absolute evil or absolute good, or subscribes to those concepts at all.

  21. Travis,
    The point I was trying to make, and perhaps I was too lazy to explain myself very well, was pretty close to the analogy Green just used. As I've said here many times before, most of my favorite people are Christians, and because they're reasonable, loving, and fantastic people, they're mostly liberal Christians, meaning that they love the Bible but don't take everything in is seriously. They use their own logic to determine what is and isn't of worth in the book. Because these lovely people, for whatever reason, strongly desire to hold onto their faith, their faith has to change in order to have some kind of coexistence with their logic. Now here is where it gets sticky. Now each an every one of them has creative license on what the religion MEANS TO SAY, regardless of what it actually says. But as you've pointed out, and you're completely correct, they're all going to disagree about a ton of shit because they're all people. And that's what people do.

    Now its frustrating because you have countless people running around with vastly different interpretations of the same texts and they're all trying to convince you that if you just understood it the way they understand it, you wouldn't have any problems with it. Because, you see, they understand the "True Christianity."
    This is why literalists are a lot less annoying to debate, but a hell of a lot less fun to be around. With a literalist you can actually say "well the bible says this, isn't that horrible?" And they have to at least admit that that's what the bible says/means, but with the liberal "True Christians" they'll just say, "Yeah, but what that REALLY means is...(insert benign feel goodery)"
    The point is that no one ends up being more reliable or their answers more viable than anyone else. You're right, that doesn't prove anyone wrong or right, it's just a frustration inherent in this argument.

    I'm inclined to agree with Teresa about atheism being the default. My baby, at least, has never mentioned god. You also have to consider that people, generally, grow up to share their parent's religion which varies geographically. That simple fact, to me, points in the direction of our life long belief systems depending largely on what we're handed first. But as I've said many time, what do I know? Next to nothing.

  22. Greene,
    The only thing that follows from a lack of consensus on religious issues is a lack of consensus on religious issues. It does not follow that no one is right, and it doesn’t follow that every belief system is as good, rationally speaking, as any other.
    You seem to have the idea that there is a dichotomy between science and religious belief such that because I am committed to a religious worldview I am immune to or uninterested in science. This is false. Science is an extraordinarily useful and worthwhile endeavor that reveals much about the Nature of the universe and provides wonderful ways of improving life on Earth. I don’t mean to be rude here, but I do find it a little funny that you attribute science to yourself as if it belonged to you as a nonbeliever.
    If you get hung up on the word ‘religion’, I’m prepared to stop attributing the word to myself. Under the way in which I would use the word Naturalists (our most common contemporary atheist worldview) hold a religious position. At any rate, it performs more or less the same functions as a religion. It gives an account of what the universe is like, what counts as knowledge and how it is acquired, how we human beings got here, and what we are like. It accepts the answers to these sorts of questions prior to going out and looking at the world, as all worldviews do.
    The history of systematic theology in Christianity is a clear demonstration of how rigorous we Christians have been in seeking to present a clear, coherent explication of the knowledge yielded through scripture, science, philosophy, and experience. We have a framework in which claims to knowledge can be the subject of rational scrutiny. Our beliefs about things are not arbitrary whims that we ‘feel’ our way through.

    Where have I ever said, “If we had proof that God existed it wouldn’t be faith it would be knowledge.” I have NEVER said that. I’m sure your not doing it on purpose, but this is a complete misrepresentation of what I think. My view of the word ‘faith’ isn’t that it is a blind leap in the dark immune to reason. My view of faith is that commitment to a belief in God enables a commitment to reason, science, and morality.

    I don’t agree that the argument between theists and atheists needs to end with us crossing our arms and disagreeing, although ironically I have found that this is the position many atheists take. I say ironically because I believe that the question of God’s existence is a factual claim subject to rational investigation, and many atheists love to think of themselves as exemplars of reason and common sense. I would really challenge you to ask yourself if your commitment to unbelief is a rational one.
    You said: “until there's undeniable proof, I choose to cross my arms and say that I don't know either way.”
    If you applied this same attitude toward any of your other beliefs you would have to be agnostic about the existence of a world outside your own mind, the existence of other people, the validity of science to accurately describe the world, et cetera. I do not fault agnostics for looking for good reasons to believe in God, but the standard you have set for yourself is a hopelessly pernicious form of skepticism that ends thought.

  23. Teresa,
    If the question of God boils down to a disagreement between competing worldviews, then there is no default position. If God exists he exists necessarily. If God does not exist he does not exist necessarily. God isn’t the kind of thing we can simply withhold belief about in the same way we can withhold belief about, say, life on other planets. How we interpret science, reason, morality hinges on what we view the universe to be fundamentally like, and there isn’t any ‘default’ position to appeal to here.

    As for the ‘simplistic concepts’ of good and evil, I don’t have much of an argument for you. I wonder, do you believe in the ‘simplistic concepts’ of true and false? I think I’m on Taylor’s team as far as this goes… If you don’t believe in moral objectivity you will have no basis for criticizing the atrocities committed by the religious (or anyone else). The Spanish inquisition will just have been the necessary product of chemicals interacting with other chemicals in the brains of a few dubious churchmen. The same would go for the Holocaust, the genocide against Native Americans, Jeffery Dahmer raping, killing and eating people, and anything else imaginable. If your atheism commits you to the position that none of these things are evil, then that is reason alone to reject it.
    Incidentally, on this view, the same thing would go for your beliefs. If you are right, you are not an atheist because it is a more rational position to hold. You are an atheist because of the accidental, nonrational interaction of molecules in your brain. If you are prepared to live like that, more power to you. As for me, I’ll stick with the worldview that enables the possibility of rational thought and the validity of moral decision making.

  24. Taylor,
    You seem to bring up the distinction between ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘liberal’ Christians a lot, and it sounds very much like the dichotomy Sam Harris makes between religious extremists and religious moderates. I think this is an unhelpful way of looking at different kinds of Christians. We’re not trapped in an ‘either/or’ scenario here. I think it is perfectly possible to have a highly reverential attitude toward scripture without being committed to the crude and uncritical interpretation that many American Evangelicals labeled ‘fundamentalists’ have. This doesn’t mean that I am a ‘liberal’ whereby I take what I like from the bible and ignore the parts I don’t like. I agree with you that this is a disingenuous position to take. There is nothing more irritating to me than ‘koom by ya’ Christianity.
    Biblical scholarship and systematic theology are REALLY HARD, and I’m certainly not an expert on either of them. It is not always obvious what God intends to communicate in some parts of the Bible, and I think it is a mistake to have steadfast, or unsubtle views on some of these difficulties.
    Theological disagreements certainly can be frustrating and sticky. As I’m sure you will agree, anything worth talking about can be frustrating and sticky. But as I said to Green above, that doesn’t mean that every position is as justifiable as any other. One of the real strengths of Christianity is that we have standards by which we can judge the rationality of certain truth claims. We believe that God communicates through his direct revelation in the bible, but also through Natural Revelation in the form of science and philosophy. On the basis of those standards, we are in a position to sort the plausible interpretations from the implausible ones, and we need to be humble and careful where there doesn’t seem to be an obvious interpretation.
    Part of the theological tradition I identify with believes that as individual human beings grow in an understanding of themselves and the world, they come naturally to the rational belief that God exists and that we are his creatures. Notice, this doesn’t imply that we are born with that belief, but just that everything else being equal, we will come to it gradually. My wife Sara and I are expecting a child, and I have no expectation that it will pop out of the womb exclaiming, “There is a God and Jesus is his son!”.
    This rational assent to God’s existence can be foiled by false philosophies and sinful motivations on our part. I know that as an atheist you don’t see things the same way, and that is fine. That’s why we Christians need to understand and be able to communicate the abundant reasons for the truth of our claims. The church has failed spectacularly in the last 100 years to educate its members and to communicate a clear, rational, coherent view of what we believe to the world. Most churches have embraced an anti-intellectual ‘feel good’ approach to Christianity. I am deeply embarrassed and ashamed by this fact, and you are perfectly justified in rejecting that approach.

  25. Wow this is quite the forum, huh? Sorry if this gets repetitive, I kept getting distracted and coming back mid sentence.

    Ok the problem I have here, Travis, is that you keep arguing these points endlessly without attaching yourself to anything concrete. Then when I try to reply you take apart what I say with a lot of "I never said..." because no, you didn't. But I have no idea what you actually believe aside from "some form of Christ-loving" while I feel like I've laid my cards right on the table. If you are inclined to disagree with that, I'm going to restate my assertions to make them more clear. Sound cool? You do the same and we can move from there. Unless Taylor wants us to gtfo and then I'll shrug it off. I will apologize for making a few assumptions about what you believe, and also reading both a comment by you and Gigi and sort of responding to both ideas at once. this format of website is not ideal for grand discussion. :)

    *I believe that even if there is someone on this planet who has the truth, even if it's you or me or my mom... I have no real reason or inclination to believe them. No argument is demonstrably better than any other, and the multitudes of theories offer me no real benefit except maybe if it's right I don't go to hell (which I don't believe in so really.. not a real powerful threat).

    *I believe that religion, by nature, is about control. Making people do the same rituals, same prayers, same rites of passage as you. Same beliefs even.

    *Either the bible is infallible and 100% accurate in which case it's full of racist, misogynistic BS, or it's "open to interpretation" and that means there's really no concrete way to get the full, 100% right message.

    The reason I call myself an agnostic as opposed to an atheist is because I have no opinion on whether or not it is TRUE. My opinion is on whether or not it is USEFUL. My argument against religion has no basis in truth or falsehood, but rather that there's no reason to believe it.

    I've never heard an argument for God that made me willing to believe that he existed in light of my experience. Old testament tales, Immaculate conceptions, reincarnations... it sounds so much like greek or norse or roman mythology, and we dismiss that as nonsense. How is this different? How does this help me be a better person? A happier person?

  26. Green,
    Sounds like a great idea, and I will do my best to summarize. As I have mentioned to Taylor, a more elaborate description of my theological views can be found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Here goes:
    - I am a Christian Theist: I believe in a personal God that is Omniscient (all knowing), Omnipotent (all powerful), Omnibenevolent (all good). God is not an abstract force that is completely distant from Nature, nor is God identical with Nature. God exists necessarily. He could not have not existed. Our God is the God of the Old and New Testament. God is a Trinity. This means God is 3 distinct persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) sharing one nature.
    - I am a Moral Realist. This means that there are moral facts independent of our particular culture, taste, and perspective. For example, it is a fact that the Holocaust was morally evil. It would still be evil even if the Germans had won WWII and succeeded in killing or brainwashing everyone who disagreed with them.
    - I believe that the universe was brought into existence by God a finite time ago. Strictly speaking, I am a creationist in this sense. I do not feel that I have any theological difficulties concerning our current scientific estimation of the age of the universe at somewhere between 13.5-14 billion years.
    - I am very sympathetic to Theistic Evolution. This means that I have no theological reasons for rejecting that: 1 ) The Earth and life on it is very old 2) That all life on Earth descended from a common ancestor 3) Life started with simple forms and progressed to more complex forms 4) That life developed slowly through a process of slight modification 5) Evolution occurs through natural selection acting on ‘random’ genetic mutation.
    - I believe that human beings are different than other animals in that they are made in the Image of God. This means they have been made like God in several important respects: They have the ability to reason, they have a moral sensibility, they are made to flourish in relationships of love, both with other human beings and with God. This makes every individual human being more precious than every star in the sky, and of greater importance than every square inch of the universe.
    - The meaning of life is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. This means that our purpose in life is to enjoy a proper relationship between ourselves and the author of all goodness, beauty, pleasure, reason, knowledge, and happiness.
    - Human beings were made morally perfect, but have somehow been corrupted in such a way that we no longer function properly. We are naturally disposed to rejecting God, choosing to attempt to live autonomously (which is impossible), and fail to acknowledge or live up to moral law. This moral law consists in loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves.
    - I believe that the history of humanity is God’s story of creating the world, interacting with human beings, bringing about a plan to recover human beings, and acting on that plan. This is the story of Christianity, and is recorded in the Old and New Testaments.
    - I believe that the Bible is God’s special revelation to humanity. I believe that in its inception, the Bible is infallible. In other words, God was able to use human beings to communicate to us through the written word. God also reveals himself through science and philosophy. Though it is not always obvious what God intends to communicate to us, a correct understanding of his revelation will be true.
    Hope that helps,

  27. Green,
    A few quick thoughts on the points you made:
    1) It’s wrong to think of people as ‘having’ the truth. What is true is true regardless of what people say or think about it. Why are you inclined to say that no theory is better than any other? That seems plainly false… Wouldn’t you be more inclined to hold our current scientific view of the Earth as a sphere rotating around the Sun as opposed to some traditional Hindu beliefs that we are resting on the back of a turtle which is itself on the back of a turtle which is itself on the back of a turtle….? There are rational ways of sorting between good and bad theories.
    2) I’m not sure how you are defining religion, but I like to think about it in this way: a religion is just a view of what the universe is fundamentally like. How you answer that question will have an effect on the way you think about everything else in the universe. All beliefs, even about mundane matters like the price of eggs, or the number of books in my library will exercise certain limitations as to what we think. I suppose you could look at that as a form of control, but I like to think of our beliefs as enabling, rather than inhibiting, action and free choice. Or maybe you were getting at something more like this: If you have a firm belief about what the universe is like, you will be more inclined to try to force people to think and act the same way you do. I do think this is a real danger, and has certainly occurred frequently in history. I guess I just think that this tendency is indicative of false, immoral religions, but not mine (which I view to be true, and good). Professing Christians have, of course, committed acts of immorality, and continue to do so today. I just don’t think that they are properly operating according to a Christian worldview. It is embarrassing for us Christians, but I don’t think it undermines our beliefs in any way.
    3) I do believe that the Bible is infallible, but as I have said before, I don’t think that this commits us to a crude, simplistic reading of it. All texts, even if they are perfectly reliable, are ‘open to interpretation’. This doesn’t give us license to pull anything we want out of the text, but it does mean that it isn’t always obvious to tell what the text is getting at. As for the presence of racism, and misogyny in the bible, I won’t be able to comment unless you give me specific examples. I am familiar with most of the passages, particularly in the old testament, that look troubling to us today, and that skeptics (quite rightly) like to point out as evidence that our beliefs are immoral. Again, we will need to deal with these one by one, but by and large I think that when understood in the proper context the sting goes away pretty quickly. The Old Testament, is the story of God working with an immoral group of people in an immoral world to try and bring about a plan for the redemption of all of humanity. Some of what God would sanction or allow would be necessary at that time, but unnecessary in ours.
    4) Again, I don’t mean this to be offensive in any way, but I think your professed indifference to the truth or falsity of Theism is a little bit of an intellectual and moral cop-out. One of the few things that I agree with Sam Harris completely about is that our beliefs work by way of coherence. Ideas have consequences, and are the motivation for our behavior and action. If God exists, it will have very useful consequences for your practical day to day life, as well as in your ethical and intellectual life. If you believe that human beings are a product of blind, nonrational processes that did not have them in mind, that will have an effect on what you view human beings to be. If you think you live in a purposeless universe that is indifferent to human interests, that will have an effect on what you think you ought to do here on Earth.

  28. Again, all you've done is respond to my arguments without making any of your own. You say that: I guess I just think that this tendency is indicative of false, immoral religions, but not mine (which I view to be true, and good). But which one is that? I'd really love to know what this miracle one true religion where everyone treats non-believers like decent human beings and doesn't judge you for being gay and lets you make your own decision about things that impact you and not them.

    I've put my beliefs out on the table and you can pick them apart all you want but until you give me something to understand about why you have the right to be so right, then there's no use arguing. All I know is you subscribe to some "true form of Christianity" but hell, I knew someone in high school who subscribed to a "true form of Christianity" who ended up going to jail for arson trying to light a planned parenthood on fire. I have another friend who subscribes to a "true form of Christianity" who, when my best friend came out of the closet, started telling rumors and lies and spreading all kinds of hateful gossip about him. Oh, and then there's the girl that practiced a "true form of Christianity" who told all our mutual friends that I was "a slut who got what was coming to her" when I got pregnant.. and I'd actually caught her doing nasty things in a public place a year before. So you can see how I might not be ready to accept that being True Christians has helped these people begone well adjusted, decent human beings. And I know you're just going to say that clearly THEY weren't true Christians but I should still believe true Christians exist.. But after years of digging in the mountain for gold and coming out with only fool's gold, there's no reason to think the mountain's full of anything buy pyrite.

    Maybe 'those other, non-true Christians' don't undermine your beliefs to you, and that's good. You should have your beliefs and get to use them in ways that make you feel the world is a good place and God loves you. But it sure as hell undermines any kind of faith for me. I don't want it. I see it as a place for humans to get together and decide who's worth keeping and who's worth sending to hell, slowly or quickly it makes no difference.

    Now, my mother practices a Christianity that doesn't look ugly, that doesn't look spiteful and vindictive and judgmental. But is this the one true way to see God? No. It's good for her, and it helps her deal with her life. But it hurts me when I try to make myself fit into it. Whatever "true Christianity" you practice that you're so proud of is good for you and that's great but it's not for me. There is no one true way. That is the fundamental belief I have about living here on earth, I guess. There is no one true way. What's good for you is poison to me.

  29. Green,
    I'm a little taken aback by your last response. Did you accidentally miss the post where I summarized some of my beliefs (it's right before that last one you read)? Or were you asking for me to give something else? If so, maybe you can try to ask me a specific question, and I will do my best to answer it. I really am trying to be cooperative here (really!).
    It sounds like you have really been hurt in the past, and I hope you won't think I'm being facetious when I say that I really feel for you. I don't feel comfortable speculating on this sort of thing, especially with somebody I don't know personally.
    I'll just say this: I know a lot of people who have been mistreated by professing Christians and that prevents, very understandably, them from approaching the question of God impartially. It is often the case that emotional obstacles keep us from being able to evaluate the ideas properly. I think that this is true in varying degrees of everyone.
    Now again, I don’t know if any of this applies to you personally. I certainly am not in a position to say that it does. It is just something to consider.

  30. Aha, yes. You replied to me twice and I only saw the second one. There's a lot there that seems to be in harmony with what my mom seems to believe, even though she worships with Catholics. There are a lot of things I can cope with, and I recognize that your system is much less rigid and blind than most. In fact, some points you made are rather enlightened, and seem like a very noble compromise. I'm a fan of compromise, whether I've seemed so in this conversation or not.

    You're right about me being hurt by religious-types. It's always felt like they had something that comforted them and made them think they were glorious creatures that I didn't have. For the longest time I was jealous of their certainty, and id my best to fake that I was one of them. But the problem there was that I was faking it, 100%. I went to church and sang in the choir and I was already pretty certain that God either didn't exist or wasn't as awesome as we kept singing.

    As someone who wants to have something to believe in, God is like the ultimate form of the silent treatment. It was harmful to my self-esteem in ways I can't properly articulate.

    The one thing you've got there that I cannot accept is the duality of "made in the image of God" and the "we no longer function properly" ie: the whole Fall thing. Of everything Christianity in any form has to offer I think this is the most hurtful and dangerous thing. It's the thing that let me think, at 13, that maybe I was miserable because I was extra-fallen. I wasn't good enough to feel the presence of God. what does it matter if everyone around me was faking the arms raised and prayers of glowing thanks? It's the belief that there is something innately wrong with us that makes me (I will admit, irrationally) angry.

    We are perfectly fine, us humans. We're no more special than any other animal on this planet. Which isn't to say we shouldn't eat the animals, I'm not going in that direction. What I mean is that everything that's here on earth is fascinating. Not because it is made in the image of God but because when you look around the world it's full of life and when you look around the universe it's full of too hot and too cold. We're sleeping in Baby Bear's be and eating his porridge, and the way I see it, it's not because it was made for us, or because it was destined, or even because we forcefully took it as some environmentalists would have you say.

    We're part of this community. THAT is the miracle of life, not God fumbling in the dark for a light switch on the first day. For me, the miracle is that we're here. I don't know how we got here in the first place, or how we've gotten here now- to this place where I have no idea who you are but I can endlessly debate unprovable theology with you from my glowing desk box.

    I believe that we're here. That I can trust my eyes and my ears. That life is beautiful and humans are innately not good or evil, but driven by electrical signals in the brain.I guess the one thing I believe strongly is that there is no answer here. Sure, there's faith, but that's not good enough for me. And as of yet, no god has seen fit to give me any evidence to change my mind.