I sometimes listen to AM religious talk radio because I’m amazed at the sorts of the things I hear. Today, while listening into local St. Louis 24/7 “TruthTalk” Christian radio station KJ SL in my car, I heard a bit of contentious discussion between a radio host and a caller. I believe that the host of the radio show was Bob Dutko. Dutko has long held the position that “Jesus really is the only way and He really did rise from the dead, physically and historically.”
When I first tuned in, the caller was talking, saying something much like this: I believe that the spirit of God resides in every person, and that people can live good and meaningful lives without belonging to any church. I believe that God will reward them based upon the good things that they do, and based upon how they treat others, regardless of whether or not they follow any religion. Good-hearted people who do not believe in Jesus or follow a religion will not go to hell.
The host told the caller that his “new age” religious outlook was hopelessly naïve, and that he needed to read the Bible, whereupon he would see that there is only one way to avoid hell is by accepting Jesus Christ as Savior.
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Direct from The Onion:
[T]he Divine Creator fielded questions regarding rumors of his possible retirement.
“I’ve been at this a long time,” said God, ∞, the all-knowing, all-powerful being who has presided over the cosmos since forming it from sheer nothingness nearly 14 billion years ago. “And the truth is, this was never something I planned on doing forever. Lately, in fact, I’ve begun to wonder if I should move on sooner rather than later.”
Over the past few centuries, God has on numerous occasions deflected speculation that his reign might be winding down, but his remarks Tuesday appeared to signal a shift in celestial policy. . . .
God mentioned that he deeply lamented missing his only child’s once-in-a-lifetime crucifixion.
“Your son’s down there being martyred in front of all these people, but you can’t be there for it,” said God, his voice cracking slightly. “He thought I’d forsaken him. Of course, I was tied up working on something that seemed important at the time but that I can’t even remember now. And I’ll never get that moment back.”
Daniel Dennett and Linda Lascola have published a paper called, “Preachers who are not Believers.” The authors extensively interviewed five active preachers who don’t believe in God. They are all closeted in this regard. Fascinating reading.
Why not just come out of the closet and admit that they no longer believe? You’ll see that they believe that they can still do an important job without that core belief. Interestingly, the participants expressed that lack of belief in God is common among active preachers.
When asked his opinion of why ministers do not pass on their seminary-learned knowledge of Christian history to parishioners, one of the participants had this to say:
They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to lose donations. They want to keep their jobs. They don’t want to stir up trouble in the congregation. They’ve got enough trouble as it is, keeping things moving along. They don’t want to make people mad at them. They don’t want to lose members. What they will often do is bring in someone like me to be a lightning rod, and teach it, and they’ll follow up on it.
I myself have spoken with at least four active members of the clergy over my lifetime (all of them Catholic priests) who admitted that they don’t believe in the God that they describe at the pulpit. They each admitted that this is not an impediment to doing good work as a priest.
Dennett’s paper parallels his contention (in his book, Breaking the Spell), that most believers don’t actually believe in God. Rather, they believe in belief in God. They say they believe because they think it’s important to say it, whether or not they actually believe. I have often discussed Daniel Dennett’s work at this site (e.g., here). He has a track record of being extraordinarily able to thoroughly think through many topics regarding religion and express his conclusions succinctly.
There are many people out there who fight Darwin’s theory of natural selection because it makes them feel “small,” it makes life “meaningless” or it causes only despair. In the February/March 2010 issue of Free Inquiry Magazine, Christopher Hitchens substitutes the word “stoicism” for “despair,” then poses several questions in response:
[I]s this Darwinian stuff really the goods or is it not? You can’t take a position against it on the mere ground that might make humans feel small. (Incidentally, isn’t religion supposed to make people feel small and worthless: mere sinners created from dust by an angry and jealous deity? Our own well charted descent from lowly amoeba and bacteria is surely nothing as humiliating as that.)
I suppose you could argue that my next question is to some extent a matter of taste and therefore ultimately undecidable, but how is it more uplifting to human beings to compare themselves to well-tended but helpless farm animals, grateful for any favor from the owner and not believing themselves able to manage any sustenance without a corresponding guardianship?
The point Hitchens raises has puzzled me for many years. How could any life feel worthwhile without a sense of autonomy? As soon as one hands one’s fate over to Someone Else (who is guided by God-knows-what), it would seem that the “meaning” of one’s life exists merely in the hand-over of control, and not in one’s many earthly choices, no matter how impressive they might seem.
Why doesn’t God like me?
I have an acquaintance who has been enlightening me recently about manifestations of the supernatural, both good and bad. He has told me frightening stories of people using occult practices to summon dark spirits and actually touch them.
More often I hear believers talk of their personal experiences with dreams, visions and the clear responses they get from God that cement in their mind His existence. These are not imagination, they assert. These are real events. Palpable things.
So, what’s wrong with me?? I have been alive for almost 50 years and never ever, not even once, had any experience that was so unexplainable that I felt it HAD to come from another realm.
“But you have to seek God out before you will find Him,” the believers will say.
I have been very open to belief at times in my life. I was raised Catholic, left the church in my teens, returned to the church in my 20s, ready, open for and desiring a spiritual journey…and felt nothing. I’ve had hard times, lost loved ones to disease, been divorced and lost all my money, been alone, nearly became addicted to painkillers for a time and contemplated suicide on one occasion.
Nothing. No signs from God.
There were times when I really needed help and would have welcomed a vision or two, but not one experience did I have during all that time that I would consider other-worldly. I just said to myself “enough of this”, and eventually moved on.
My agnosticism comes from my practical experience. I’ve lived this long and been through what I’ve been through and have never experienced a manifestation of any kind. Do you blame me for not believing?? Why should I believe in something that gives me no sign of its existence? If there is a God, why is he holding back?
So, what’s wrong with me, God? Didn’t I deserve a vision or two along the way? Wasn’t I good enough for a manifestation that I could see and touch? They say that faith is knowing in the absence of proof. You gave proof to these other believers. Why not me?
Is there anyone listening?
At Daylight Atheism, Ebonmuse points out how odd it is that the God of the Bible allegedly desires certain things (e.g., he likes sacrifices). But, as Ebonmuse explains, it should strike us as odd that the creator of the universe would have desires:
The belief that God wants and desires certain things is a common thread in monotheism. But when you think about it, this is a profoundly strange belief. Most theists don’t recognize this, but that’s because the analogy between God and human beings masks the strangeness of it.
After all, we all understand how, and why, human beings come to hold certain desires. We have instinctual physiological drives, installed in us by evolution, for basic things like food, sex and companionship. We have more complex desires as a result of culture, upbringing and past experience for things that we think will add to our happiness or help fulfill the more basic desires. Every one of us has gone through a long, complex and contingent process of development that shaped our likes and dislikes.
But God, so we’re told, is eternal and unchanging. He is pure reason, pure mind, pure spirit – no physical needs to fulfill, no past history, none of the contingent events that make human nature what it is. So how is it that he has, just like us, a complex nature with specific likes and dislikes?
The post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek , but Ebonmuse makes a serious point that theists really should confront, but they never actually do confront it. Instead, they concoct “souls” and “spirits.”
I would spin the issue this way. All desires, many of which stem from emotions, are associated with bodies. Without a body, there cannot be any emotion and thus there cannot be any form of craving or desire. There isn’t a jot of evidence that there has ever been any thought in the absence of a body. Further, there is no such thing as free-standing self-sufficient meaning; there is no such thing as meaning independent of a physical body; all meaning is embodied. I know that many believers would find my conclusions to be disturbing, but this is the direction I am turned when I rely upon the (expansive) scientific view of what it means to be a human animal (and see this entire category).
Over at Edge.com, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein presents an extraordinary collection of proofs for the existence of God. The problem with these proofs, however, is that they aren’t actually proofs, which Seltzer succinctly explains, one-by-one. Take, for instance, Goldstein’s analysis of the Argument from Holy Books:
1. There are holy books that reveal the word of God.
2. The word of God is necessarily true.
3. The word of God reveals the existence of God.
4. God exists.
Seltzer isn’t convinced:
FLAW 1: This is a circular argument if ever there was one. The first three premises cannot be maintained unless one independently knows the very conclusion to be proved, namely that God exists.
FLAW 2: A glance at the world’s religions shows that there are numerous books and scrolls and doctrines and revelations that all claim to reveal the word of God. But they are mutually incompatible. Should I believe that Jesus is my personal savior? Or should I believe that God made a covenant with the Jews requiring every Jew to keep the commandments of the Torah? Should I believe that Mohammad was Allah’s last prophet and that Ali, the prophet’s cousin and husband of his daughter Fatima, ought to have been the first caliph, or that Mohammad was Allah’s last prophet and that Ali was the fourth and last caliph? Should I believe that the resurrected prophet Moroni dictated the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith? Or that Ahura Mazda, the benevolent Creator, is at cosmic war with the malevolent Angra Mainyu? And on and on it goes. Only the most arrogant provincialism could allow someone to believe that the holy documents that happen to be held sacred by the clan he was born into are true, while all the documents held sacred by the clans he wasn’t born into are false.
Keep in mind that Goldstein’s analyses are rigorous and serious. Her collection includes many “proofs” that you don’t typically encounter in philosophy of religion classes, but you constantly encounter in people’s living rooms and on public buses. Consider these “proofs,” for example:
19. The Argument from Personal Purpose
20. The Argument from the Intolerability of Insignificance
22. The Argument from the Consensus of Mystics
23. The Argument from Holy Books
27. The Argument from The Upward Curve of History
33. The Argument from the Unreasonableness of Reason
If you’re in a mood to have a chuckle at those who conjure up supernatural beings through word-logic, try these humorous proofs for the existence of God.
Robots. Whilst not yet able to disguise themselves as innocent-looking assault vehicles which drive themselves, make ghastly jokes and lay waste to entire cities & provide fodder for truly reprehensible motion pictures, robots will one day be our oppressors. To attempt in some small way to understand our eventual machine overlords (and perhaps locate a weakness that can be exploited) before the inevitable enslavement of humanity, I recently went to this website: http://www.titane.ca/concordia/dfar251/igod/main.html and had a chat with a rudimentary AI which has been named God. I decided to treat it as the all-knowing all-seeing creator of the universe, whom you may have encountered as a central character in a series of very popular books.