Archive for the 'Religion' Category

It does go away when you close your eyes

Forgive me blogosphere, for I have sinned. It has been over two months since my last post.

And to be honest, that last post was an attempt to win an argument that had absolutely nothing to do with religion. I can’t explain why. It has to do with crashing internet polls. It’s complicated and it didn’t work anyway. I stand by what I wrote, but the fact that I put it up at all was a matter of having the draft hanging around and needing a relatively controversial post in a hurry. No, I’m not going to elaborate on the details.

Part of the reason for the drought – as I’ve mentioned once or twice before – is that my pet topic, religion and the lack thereof, is just not prominent enough in my life at the moment to warrant a lot of thought. The fact that religion actually isn’t important unless you want it to be (at least with my circle of acquaintances) is something I’ve had to learn. As a Christian, I felt guilty if the topic of God didn’t permeate everything I did. As it turns out, this is at least one lingering bit of fundamentalism that I hadn’t quite managed to get rid of – I sort of kept feeling like I had to find someone to discuss it with. Recently I haven’t bothered, and it hasn’t bothered me, and I’ve gotten on with finding something more productive to do.

This might all change in mid-July when World Youth Day crashes on my doorstep, and Sydney (where the default strategy for dealing with a sudden rush of international visitors, cf. the Olympics and APEC, is to tell everyone to take the week off and go somewhere quieter) will play host to a bunch of people gathering to see a German guy in a funny hat. The jury is out on whether this will help or hurt the local economy (see, for example, this article by Chook the Elder, who I feel compelled to point out has something of a vested interest), but there’s little doubt that transport of all kinds will congeal in a particularly ugly way.

(As a sidepoint, why is it that the word “youth”, when used as a collective term for young people (as opposed to the early years of a particular person’s life, as in “in my youth”), is rarely used outside a religious context? “Youth group”, for example, is an unmistakably Christian term. It’s something like the word “family” in the name of an organisation, particularly a political party. And for that matter, why does “World Youth Day” run for nearly a week?)

Where was I? Oh yes. Anticipation of World Family Week aside, I don’t have much to blog about on the contra-religion front. So, the options are to (a) write about other things, like what actually is happening in my life; (b) write nothing, and actually have a life instead; or (c) pick random theological fights for the sheer intellectual sake of it.

I think I’ll go for “all of the above” in measured portions. Let’s just see what happens.

2 comments

Forgiveness and Cooperation

Where to an atheist’s morals come from?

It’s a common question, and I’m not going to give a comprehensive answer here and now. This post is about one small aspect of the issue.

There’s a phenomenally important book by Robert Axelrod, based on an earlier article of the same name, called The Evolution of Cooperation. This book comes up in pretty much every discussion of evolutionary morals, and just about every atheist blogger on the web has reviewed, summarised or referenced it at some stage, so I’ll just give a really brief overview of it. The basic point is that, in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma between members of a population, under certain conditions the most stable strategy is “tit for tat” – you cooperate on the first round, then in subsequent rounds you do whatever the other player did the round before. A fairly small group of players following this strategy can quickly take over a much larger population of players who always defect.

The real-world translation is that, in a population where you often interact with the same members (say, human society), it’s in your own interests to act for the good of others, even when it can potentially disadvantage you – but only as long as they return the favour. If someone responds to your generosity by turning on you, it’s in your interests to avoid helping them in future. You should, however, be willing to forgive them if they change their ways. Basically, you should be nice to people you’ve just met, and from then on you should treat them the way you remember them treating you recently. A similar concept in biology is called reciprocal altruism.

The nice thing about this is that it clicks so well with our (or at least, my) intuitive social sense – it feels natural to behave like this. It’s quite easy to believe that we’ve evolved towards stable, mutually beneficial behaviour. If that’s the case, then we have a basis for morals that make perfect sense without an external Giver of the Law.

Buuut, but but but. The former Christian in me rarely shuts up during discussions like this, and at the moment wants to point out that Christian morals go beyond this. Jesus had this to say:

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:27-31, ESV

It seems Christian morality includes something that can’t be derived from rational self-interest. The stable “tit for tat” strategy says that you should cooperate only with people who cooperate with you. Jesus says to cooperate with everyone, regardless of their behaviour. In Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma terms, this is the (sensibly named) “Always Cooperate” strategy. A player using this strategy tends to get exploited – in fact, it’s the worst possible strategy to use in a population of defecting players.

So do Christians know something we don’t? Are Jesus’ moral teachings something that we can’t derive from first principles, that have to be taught to us from someone outside? Are Christian ethics genuinely superior to our natural altruistic instincts?

If you guessed that my answer is “no”, you know me too well, but knowing why is a different story.

The first thing I should mention is that “turn the other cheek” is high on the list of least-observed commandments in Christianity, at least in western society. Some Christians (and churches) go so far as to say that these verses are hyperbole, and not to be taken literally. Some readily confess that they “fall short” of Jesus’ standard in this area. Others just gloss over it. Certainly there are a select few people who have lived up to it, but I must admit I haven’t met any of them. For the most part, if someone takes away your cloak, you call the police and do whatever you can to stop them taking your tunic.

(In the time since I originally wrote that paragraph, someone pointed me at an interesting theory that Jesus’ comments along those lines weren’t as altruistic as they appear. Interesting.)

The point is that, whatever they say in theory, in practice Christians don’t think it’s a good idea to cooperate with someone who’s trying to exploit you. Maybe I could be accused here of taking aim at the fallible humans rather than the godly ideal to which they aspire. However, I’d say that it’s not that the reciprocal altruism embedded in our human instincts is holding us back from God’s ideal plan; it’s that our instincts are quite rightly telling us that God’s plan is wrong. Whether they admit it or not, Christians have realised that the godly ideal is flawed at this point. Unconditional generosity is not a path to a better society.

I think there’s something more to it though – something that explains why people would accept a moral system like this in the first place, even in theory. Take this passage from Proverbs, for example:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22, ESV

The sentiment in the first part is noble, if (as I’ve discussed earlier) impractical to live up to. But does anyone else find the second part of that a bit jarring? It’s as though it’s saying that being nice to your enemy is just a roundabout way of attacking them.

At first glance, “burning coals” might refer to inducing guilt or something – it’s not totally clear. Paul quotes the passage in Romans and adds his own interpretation:

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary,

“if your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;
for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21, ESV

Again, there’s a germ of a noble sentiment here, but it’s marred by the “burning coals” business. But the bit that sheds some more light here is the command to “leave it to the wrath of God”. This seems to be saying that you should treat your enemies well, not because revenge is inherently bad, but because revenge is God’s job, and he can do it better than you ever could. To Paul, the “burning coals” are cast down on your enemies from heaven.

This is where, in my opinion, the Christian “turn the other cheek” sentiment reverts to “tit for tat”. As I said earlier, few Christians manage it in practice; but those even those who do are assured that their enemies will still be punished. Basically, they’re getting out of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game by relying on another player to (heavily) punish their enemies, while they give the appearance of cooperating.

If you squint just right, this is actually a pretty cool trick. Christianity has (unwittingly, unless you’re the conspiracy theory type) set up a system for people to be nice to each other, even when they don’t think it’s merited, because they’re confident that justice will be doled out in the end. The bit that almost impresses me is that this works even if the justice never happens, because the ultimate punishment is assumed to come after death, where (conveniently) no one can report back whether it happened.

When I say that I’m almost impressed, what I mean is that this encourages (in theory) niceness and generosity in a way that doesn’t upset our natural need for justice; but that doesn’t make it a better moral system. The strategy is still “Always Cooperate”, it’s just that the players don’t think it is. And it has the same vulnerability – if someone comes along who decides to exploit everyone’s niceness, they’ll get away with it. Everyone else will turn a blind eye, believing that, if what they’re doing is really wrong, then God will put a stop to it. Society will be worse off as a result.

Whether this has ever happened in a Christian society is left as an exercise to the reader.

So my point in all this is that there’s at least a starting point for morality without a god, which holds its own against Christian morality, even though the latter sells itself as more “noble” in the surface. This isn’t the end of the story by a long stretch, and yes, I know other people have explored this area much more thoroughly. But this is the beginning of my take on it.

3 comments

Church crawl

Yesterday I went on a church crawl (”like a pub crawl, but with churches”) with a friend from my former Christian days. We got around to four different services before lunch. He’d planned more for the rest of the day but we both had things to do in the evening that came up at the last minute.

Videos were taken and reactions were recorded, but we won’t be making them available just yet. I might put some isolated thoughts down on (virtual) paper before then. There’s a good chance we’ll do it again, so it might have to wait until the whole lot gets edited together.

Quick spoiler: I haven’t changed my mind about anything. :)

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Archbishop gets sound-bitten

From the SMH again, UK Archbishop facing calls to resign:

Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, faced calls to resign for suggesting the introduction in Britain of some aspects of Islamic law was unavoidable.

The Archbishop of Canterbury tried to quell the storm by denying he had called for Islamic law, known as sharia, to be introduced alongside British law.

In a BBC interview on Thursday, he referred to the use of sharia in some personal or domestic issues, much like orthodox Jews already have their own courts for some matters. Asked if sharia needed to be applied in some cases for community cohesion, Williams said: “It seems unavoidable.”

Hmm.

Archbish Williams has made an appearance on this blog before, when he cast doubt on the factual accuracy of the Christmas story. And, once again, I have mixed feelings.

First things first. I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel recently, and the negative effect of the practice of Islamic law in refugee communities in the Netherlands is fresh in my mind. Plus, I think that religions in general have a pretty bad track record of defining laws that promote rights and equality, so I don’t see why any religion should have claim to any privileged position to influence law.

However, while I disagree with Williams, there’s a big fat gulf between what he’s saying and people calling for him to resign. Here are a couple of excerpts from the full transcript of the interview (I recommend reading the whole thing):

What a lot of Muslim scholars would say, I think, and I’m no expert on this, is that Sharia is a method rather than a code of law and that where it’s codified in some of the ways that you’ve mentioned in very brutal and inhuman and unjust ways, that’s one particular expression of it which is historically conditioned, not at all what people would want to see as part of the method of trying to make actual the will of God in certain circumstances. So there’s a lot of internal debate within the Islamic community generally about the nature of Sharia and its extent; nobody in their right mind I think would want to see in this country a kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well.

It’s very important [t]hat you mention there the word ‘choice’; I think it would be quite wrong to say that we could ever licence so to speak a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general…

…as I said earlier, it’s not something that’s absolutely peculiar to Islam. We have orthodox Jewish courts operating in this country legally and in a regulated way because there are modes of dispute resolution and customary provisions which apply there in the light of Talmud. It’s not a new problem, not to mention the issues as I mentioned earlier the questions about how the consciences of Catholics Anglicans and others who have difficulty over issues like abortion are accommodated within the Law; so the whole idea that there are perfectly proper ways in which the law of the land pays respect to custom and community; that’s already there.

…now that principle that there’s one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy, but I think it’s a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and the law needs to take some account of that, so an approach to law which simply said, ‘There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or your allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts’. I think that’s a bit of a danger.

It seems pretty clear that he’s not proposing that the UK set up Islamic ghettos where western law doesn’t apply, which is how it seems to come across in the sound-bite news reports. It’s more like he’s saying that there could be a way, in communities that already internally follow a set of de facto religious laws, to allow that to influence civil law, without overriding anyone’s basic legal rights. Apparently this is already the case with Jewish communities. And he falls short of saying that this should happen; he mostly just says that it should be up for discussion.

I hardly see how people can be calling for his head on a plate over this.

The thing that stands out to me is that the head of the Anglican Church is taking a very big step back and talking about acceptance of standards outside his own religion. It’s almost as if he’s suggesting – shock, horror – that someone else might have a different point of view. He’s very non-partisan about the whole thing – he only talks about the Christian position in passing, by way of comparison; and he ducks the interviewer’s final question:

In the end, do you think that some people might be surprised to hear that a Christian Archbishop is calling for greater consideration of the role of Islamic law?

People may be surprised but I hope that that surprise will be modified when they think about the general question of how the law and religious community, religious principle are best and fruitfully accommodated…

Well, I am surprised. Pleasantly.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe people want the head of their church to push for the church’s beliefs and only the church’s beliefs. Maybe people are uncomfortable with the idea that their church’s leader is willing to consider that other people believe differently, and have just as much right to do so.

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Sickening

From SMH:

Heath Ledger’s family and loved ones have held a private memorial service at a chapel in Los Angeles.

The service took place under heavy security last night at the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary in a bid to thwart paparazzi and US religious extremists.

Religious groups vowed to picket the memorial because of Ledger’s performance as a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain.

There are times I wish there was a hell, so people like Fred Phelps could get what they deserve.

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Jacoby-Shermer debate

I’ve been meaning for some time to watch the debate between Michael Shermer and Douglas Jacoby about the existence of God.

I know (or knew) Doug – he’s a Teacher in my former church, and he and his family lived in Sydney for a year or two while I was helping with the teen ministry, so I knew his kids reasonably well. On the other hand, Michael Shermer’s book, Why People Believe Weird Things, was what led me to wonder whether what I believed was real. (Or, at least, I was reading it at the time that I started questioning my faith. Correlation ≠ causation and all that.) So there’s a whole historical and emotional context here for me.

Should be fun. And by fun, I mean gut-wrenching. The one thing I won’t be able to do while watching it is dismiss one side as obviously wrong – the way you do when you listen to, say, Kirk Cameron.

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No wise men, says Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has picked apart the historical accuracy of the story of Jesus’ birth.

…including how a star rose high in the sky and stood still to guide the wise men to Jesus’s birth place.

Stars simply don’t behave like that, he told the BBC during an interview.

Dr Williams said there was little evidence that the three wise men had existed at all. Certainly there was nothing to prove they were kings.

He went on to say that while he believed in it himself, new Christians need not leap over the “hurdle” of belief in the virgin birth before they could join the church.

He said the virgin birth was “part of what I have inherited”.

And on the timing of Jesus’s birth, he said the son of God was likely not born in December at all.

“Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival,” he said.

This is kind of cool on the surface. The virgin birth is one of the obstacles (roadsigns?) I encountered during my deconversion, with the controversy around the translation of Isaiah 7:14. And he’s right that there just isn’t a lot of historical support for the story as described in the gospels.

But Dr Williams said almost everyone agreed on two things – that Jesus’s mother was named Mary and his father Joseph.

The archbishop said his approach was to stick strictly to what the Bible says.

But I have to interject with some minor concerns. Maybe there was a journalistic snafu here, but how is what he’s said so far “strictly… what the Bible says”? Wasn’t he just talking about how some of what the Bible says is probably a myth?

It sounds suspiciously like he’s trying to have a bet both ways. I’m not an all-or-nothing Biblical literalist (although if I was, I’d be in the “nothing” camp :) ), but it has to be said that once you start poking holes in the Bible’s credibility, the basis for a lot of Christianity starts to fall apart. Jesus’ resurrection, for example, is such an outlandish claim that I can’t see how you could take it seriously at all if your only source is a book that you’ve admitted is shaky in other places.

Ugh. Maybe I’m too much of an ex-fundamentalist. I know there are people who don’t see Christianity in those black-and-white terms. But I don’t see what else would convince you that it makes any sense. And I suspect that what Dr Williams is doing here (intentionally or otherwise) is inoculating Anglicans against the shakiness of the rest of the Bible. It seems like he’s saying “Sure, there’s some weird stuff in there, and some of it’s probably wrong, but don’t let that worry you that any of the important stuff is wrong. It’s okay to question some bits and still have unshakable faith that Christianity is still fundamentally right. Look at me, I do it every day.”

Can someone explain to me how you can doubt the accuracy of the Bible and still believe in, say, the resurrection, or Jesus’ miracles, or… whatever you do believe in that is still identifiably Christian? I know I’ve asked this before, but I’m doing it again, ’cause I’m thick and I still don’t get it.

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To the test

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. - Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects

The greatest trick God could ever pull would be convincing the world he does exist. - Me

Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew. - Judges 6:36-40, ESV

Okay, here’s the thing. I’m an atheist. (Yeah, I know, big surprise.) It is my considered conclusion, based on what I’ve seen so far in my life, that there’s no such thing as a god or gods.

But that could change at a moment’s notice. If I saw something that I could only attribute to the intervention of God, then I’d become a believer again.

Some people would say that I shouldn’t be expecting that; that I need to make the first “leap of faith”. Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12 (quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, although it means something completely different in that context) say “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. But here’s the thing. He’s not my God. It’s all very well for God to want me to trust him enough to not need proof of his existence, but then how do I come to trust him in the first place? It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.

And, at any rate, I spent six (or twenty-four, depending on your definition) years as a Christian. I’ve done my leap of faith. God didn’t do anything to back up the trust that I put in him. I’ve already made the first move, and God didn’t respond.

Of course, many people are convinced that God has shown himself, but of the stories that I’ve heard, each fails to be convincing for some combination of two reasons:

  • They are too far removed from me for the story to be reliable. Either they happened too long ago for reliable accounts to have survived (starting from the “creation” of the universe and going through to Jesus’ miracles and a few scattered stories after that); or it was never examined in detail, and has passed through enough retellings to make it indistinguishable form myth (an angel appeared to the brother of a friend of a guy in Italy whose mother I met once).
  • They can be explained through the actions of people, or natural events, or chance. Someone changing their life for the better after finding God is not a miracle, because people are capable of doing that without finding God. Surviving a car crash is entirely possible without divine intervention. Recovery from an illness, even a serious one, is not proof of anything unless it’s at the level of, say, regrowing a limb.

It amazes me that people think it’s reasonable to expect God to use people to spread his message and encourage others to believe. I already believe that people exist. I don’t want to hear it from them, through things that I already know they can do (like talk a lot, and distribute pamphlets). For it to make any difference, I need to hear it from God.

Now, I can come up with plenty of things an omnipotent god could do that would easily convince me of his presence. Burning bushes, disembodied hands writing on the wall, talking donkeys, water into wine – there are any number of Biblical precedents for things that I’d readily accept as evidence for God. But it doesn’t have to be anything fancy like that. Any small thing, that I could verify as being impossible by natural means, would at the very least force me to reconsider things very carefully.

There’s a standard argument against this, that I wouldn’t really reconsider anything; that my dark atheist soul is too far gone, and that I don’t want to believe in God for my own evil reasons, and wouldn’t change even if Jesus himself appeared before me. Apparently such people have some special insight into my mind and soul that I don’t have, because I’m pretty sure that I would change my mind.

But we could argue that point back and forth all day. There’s an easy way for me to demonstrate that I’m serious.

Two ring-pulls

I have here two perfectly ordinary ring-pulls from drink cans. I’m going to keep them at home and check them every day. If I ever discover that they’ve been linked together, without being broken, like this:

Linked ring-pulls - SAMPLE ONLY

…then I promise to:

  1. Post a photo here immediately.
  2. Start attending church again, that week if at all possible. In the absence of any other factors, I’d probably go back to my old church, but I’m willing to be directed to other alternatives. (For example, if it happens when a friend prays for it, I’ll go to church with them instead. Similarly, if the context suggests it, I’ll look at religions other than Christianity.)
  3. Tentatively accept the existence of God. I won’t close my eyes to other explanations (at the absolute least, I’ll check very closely to see if the ring pulls have been tampered with), but I would take the existence of God very seriously indeed.

I’m doing this to put my money where my mouth is, and show that my atheism is nothing to do with not wanting to believe in God, but rather not having the evidence to believe in God. This is my way of saying what it would take to convince me, and to lay out the red carpet for an omnipotent God to show me that he’s there, if indeed he is. (Or she, or it, or they. I’m not narrowing my scope here.)

I’d also encourage other atheists to do the same, if they think this is meaningful. This isn’t about being arrogant or smug; it’s about showing that we’re ready and willing to be shown that we’re wrong. Atheism is a hypothesis, and a hypothesis that can be disproved. You can even do this if you’re not sure what you believe, or if you’re looking for a sign or a spiritual experience. The ring-pulls are just what I happened to have on my desk; find something that would convince you. (Although it would be kind of cool if two unjoined ring-pulls became some kind of atheist symbol. It would be more meaningful to me than the scarlet “A” at any rate.)

To theists reading this: if you understand and accept what I’m doing, then pray for the rings to link together. If you think I’m totally misguided, leave a comment and explain why. Also, let me know if there’s a simple, verifiable event like this that has the potential to challenge your beliefs.

4 comments

Christian children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as He (i.e. not)

Just finished watching the first part of Richard Dawkins’ talk at Atheist Alliance International, and will watch the second at some stage.

There’s something I’ve been thinking about since reading The God Delusion… Dawkins has a fairly well-known position on the use of the phrase “Christian child” (or “Muslim child”, “Catholic child” or whatever) – that, essentially, there’s no such thing, any more than there’s such a thing as a Republican child or a Marxist child; and that giving them this label is a form of child abuse. This is a sentiment I have a lot of sympathy for, and would wholeheartedly agree with, if it weren’t for one conflicting fact.

There. Are. Christian. Children.

I’m not talking about just children whose parents have religious beliefs. I’m talking about children who pray, who sing Christian songs, who ask for bedtime stories from the Children’s Illustrated Bible. Children who maybe ask why Noah’s flood happened, but never whether it happened. Children who believe in God. I was one of them (to some degree – I didn’t do all of those things), and I know plenty of children now who I wouldn’t hesitate to call believers – not because I necessarily think it’s good for them to be, but because they are. By what definition are they not Christian?

Sure, there’s always the argument that a child hasn’t had the opportunity, the ability or the maturity to reach their own rational conclusion about what they believe, so their belief system shouldn’t be binding. But do all adult Christians believe what they do as a result of mature, rational consideration? If you reserved the word “Christian” for those who had reached the decision only after serious research and objective analysis, you’d find yourself using the word far less often.

Is it a good thing that children are given such strong exposure to a religion at such a young age that they adopt it before they can seriously question it? I’m strongly in the “no” camp, although I’d defend the rights of parents to raise their children in whatever way they think is appropriate (with the sidepoint that having a right to do something doesn’t make it a good idea). I’d greatly prefer to see children raised to work out their own conclusions about anything where there’s major disagreement around them, and religion is the obvious candidate for that. But the fact that I want it, and the fact that Richard Dawkins wants it, doesn’t make it fact. The reality is that children all over the place believe in God. (More so than would even understand Marxism, let alone subscribe to it.)

So the phrase is valid, as far as I’m concerned. The terms “Christian child” and “child of Christian parents” should never be confused (although there’s a pretty strong correlation between the two), but they both exist.

Anyway, that’s my rant for today. About time I took a swing at an atheist position. Normal programming will resume shortly.

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If a blog falls in a forest…

Is a blog still a blog when most of the posts are about not blogging often enough? Heh.

I’ve been thinking about the reason I started this thing in the first place. At the time, I felt the need to blow off some steam after coming out of 24 years of theism. Mission accomplished, really. It felt like there was some momentum behind it at the time, so that I’d be able to launch into a semi-regular rant against religion to the amusement and/or consternation of all involved.

That’s not what happened though. I think one reason is that I’m in Australia, where although Christians are nominally in the majority, it’s not considered the default position, especially among twenty-somethings, and especially especially (for some reason) among twenty-something software engineers. You read Pharyngula or Friendly Atheist and you get the impression that they’re continually battling against the surrounding brainwashed masses; but I look around and I generally see irreligious, or at least non-fanatical, people. With the occasional exception, of course; the exceptions are always out of place in a way that doesn’t seem to happen in, say, the US. To cite a recent example, when Cardinal Pell spoke out against stem cell research back in June, Catholic MPs said he was a goose. Basically, I really like this country.

(PZ, you’re welcome to stay at my place.)

The reason that the word “atheist” exists at all is because there are opposing theist positions that are (more) widespread. The whole “New Atheist” movement is a rebellion against the silliness that has held prime position in people’s minds for so much of history. In the absence of theism, there’s no reason for atheists to do anything; which is what I feel like at the moment.

Another perspective is that maybe it took me until now to get rid of the Christian idea that it’s my “mission” to spread my worldview as far and wide as possible. (Okay, maybe that’s just an ICOC thing, or at least a less-than-liberal-Christian thing.) The idea that I don’t have to be on a crusade for what I believe (or don’t believe) is a relatively new concept that I’m only just getting my head around.

Of course, none of this is to say that I’ve changed my mind about anything. Just how much of my life I want to devote to pushing it.

Now, having said that, I do want to keep this blog going. So if you’re a Christian (or theist of any flavour) reading this, feel free to pick a fight with me. If you don’t, I’m going to start talking about my plants again.

(In case you’re wondering, this post was written under the influence of a McLeish Estate 2004 Merlot.)

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