I saw a picture of this button on DeviantArt. I liked it, but it got me thinking.
Born again Christians use the term “Born Again” to denote their belief that when they accept Jesus as their personal savior they are “born again” in spirit. This phrase and concept is taken from John 3:1-36,
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. …
To say, as the button above does, that an atheist is born again once they reject theism is not quite the same thing. It is really more of a reversion.
In Islam, converting to Islam is said to be actually reverting because of the Islamic believe that everyone is born a believer in the one true god, but later is lead astray. Of course, this makes the erroneous (in my view) assumption that there is one true god.
An atheist is someone who does not believe in any god/gods, or any supernatural begins like angels, devils, demons, jinns, etc. So to say that you are a “born again” atheist is about as true statement as you can get since none of us are born with a belief in anything, never mind a god or gods. These beliefs are usually learned or taught to us.
That’s not to say that, left to our own devices we wouldn’t create a god or gods on our own to explain the world around us. This is human psychology and is where religions come from in the first place. We have evolved to see agency (a specific animated cause) in everything around us, perhaps from the survival need to see a predator instead of just a bunch of leaves or grass in the bushes. Sure, we could assume that it is just a random pattern, but if it were a lion, we’d be lunchmeat. Those of our ancestors who assumed that something living was there survived to reproduce and pass on this evolutionary trait.
This need to see agency in the things around us also gave rise to giving agency to things unseen as well. When trying to answer what is basically the meaning of life (which we all know is 42, of course), we naturally assigned agency to explain that as well. A rain god must cause the rain. A wind god must cause the wind. Ditto for all of the other things in nature.
Eventually, logic dictated that the gods must all be ruled by a god of superior power, just as we were ruled by a chieftain or king. As time went on, logic again told us that our entire universe must have come from somewhere and that there had to be something even greater than the existing gods. A creator god was born and eventually, this creator god not only ruled over the other gods, but completely did away for the need for them. Everything could be explained as the actions of this one, all powerful god.
As time went by, our inquiry into the workings nature took on the form of ideas followed by testing. This lead to the scientific method which then lead to amazingly accurate explanations and predictions of the workings of the universe. The forces that controlled nature could now be explained without the need for god or gods. This didn’t preclude the actual existence of them, but eliminated the need for them to explain the things that they had always been needed for.
Once we saw that we could explain nature without having to resort to “god did it”, many of use came to the belief that since there is no need for a god, there probably isn’t a god at all.
The need to explain the world we live in is universal. The need to see agency is deeply ingrained in our brains. This need has driven how we explain our world and has shaped the explanations that all the varied cultures have come up with, leading to all the different gods that have ever been postulated to exist. But the agency we are wired to see doesn’t actually exist. It was evolved to protect us, not to explain anything.
While we are born with this need, we are not born with a belief of any kind. Beliefs are shaped by those around us, by social settings. Most of us accept those beliefs because they are reinforced by our inclination to see agency in non-animate things. Even as children, we try to use reason and logic to make sense of the world around us, but reason is often trumped by socially enforced beliefs. It is extremely difficult to shakes these beliefs, but when we let reason and logic guide us, we can finally let go of these beliefs and are “born again” into the state in which we were first born, a state of not knowing. Then our minds are clear, pure, and ready to find the real answers to the meaning of life.
A dear friend of mine posted some disturbing videos from Indonesia of people being stoned to death for one religious offense or another on her Facebook profile to highlight the terrible violence that religion continues to inspire. She changed her profile photo to
I found what I consider to be a much more accurate version of the Coexist sign above,
. Used with permission.
I’m not a graphic artist, but I’m sure if I had the talent I could come up with other signs that contained more “truthiness” that the Coexist one.
Of course, the Coexist message represents something to strive for and as such it serves its purpose well. If religious coexistence was a fact, we wouldn’t need the logo in the first place.
While I fully support efforts for peoples of all faith to coexist, my feelings, as I said in my response to one of the videos, is that to coexist we must see each other as fellow humans, not as believers and unbelievers and until we can throw off all vestiges of religions, that can never happen. As long as people allow religion to guide how they live their lives, the violence and hatred will continue. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but we need to be realistic about just how insidious the influence of religion really is and how very difficult it will be to change that.
A childhood friend on FB responded to my post, The Bible is the Literal Word of God; Except When Its Not. Here is what he said:
“have you read the Bible? or are you simply regurgitating ignorance from others? I have offered answers, yet I have not been taken up on this. Again, it is very irresponsible to propagate unsubstantiated opinions. Why this venom towards Christians and the Bible? If you wish to be an athiest be one, that is your right. Why the all out war on the belief of others. What is freethinking? Oh just freedom to think apart from responsibility and accountablity? Freedom from any form of religious thinking? Maybe free thinking should be folks who examine an issue and think for themselves. Not simply robots who cannot originate a though for themselves. Freethinking is a misnomer”
Yes, I’ve read the bible, cover to cover, at least twice, and many parts of it, the New Testament especially, many, many times over the years. It was this almost continual reading of the bible that made me see more and more contradictions that I just couldn’t rationalize away. Then I studied the history of the writing of the New Testament, how there were originally hundreds of gospels and competing camps of bishops supporting one version of the theology against the others. I learned about the political machinations that took place to arrive at the New Testament we have now. It was, totally and completely, cover to cover, created to fulfill political agendas of the most powerful bishops and the rulers who backed them.
Why do I have such venom toward the bible and the people who misuse it (I refuse to lump all Christians into one group as this would be irresponsible)? Ask Madeline Neumann, a 12-year-old girl whose parents, based on their religion, allowed her to die of diabetic ketoacidosis rather than save her life by allowing physicians to administer insulin and fluids. They thought prayer would save her. It didn’t. Ask the thousands of people who have been killed over the last 2000 years for their refusal to follow the prevailing version of Christianity. Ask the irresponsible ministers and political leaders who wish to brand homosexuals as immoral, second-class citizens. Ask the 156,000,000 women who’s reproductive organs are held hostage by a religiously motivated white, male, privileged class of cretins.
I wage an all out war on anything that conspires to take rights away from people. That includes holier-than-thou Christians, militant, closed minded Muslims, Zionistic Jews willing to steal and kill to get their land, white supremacists who wish to overthrow the U.S Government, wide-eyed, white, privileged Greenpeace and PETA people who would rater see millions starve and die of disease than allow GM foods and medicines tested on animals be developed that could save countless lives.
Christianity is my main focus because, almost without exception, all of the people in this country right now who would seek to take rights away from others self-identify as Christians and claim that their sense of morality comes from their religion. If things change and the largest group of privileged people in power become Muslims or Hindus or Wiccans, I’ll fight them just as loudly and forcefully.
I don’t claim to be able to tell people how to live their lives. As long as no one is being harmed, taken advantage of, or being forced either by law or by custom to kowtow to some group’s beliefs, then I say let people believe whatever they like. You can believe in God and Jesus, you can believe that Homosexuals will go to hell, but keep that belief within your churches and homes, don’t force it on others.
I don’t go door to door trying to get people not to believe in God. I don’t support any law that would outlaw any kind of religion or religious belief. I don’t lobby for my personal beliefs to be the law of the land, but don’t try to tell me that Christians aren’t doing that every day, in every town and state in the country. When the Christian majority (and yes, you are well over a 70% majority) tries to tell the rest of us what we can do and say and believe and think, then yes, I will fight for my rights and the rights of everyone else who are forced to listen to people tell us we are less American and less patriotic than they are because we don’t believe in their god. This country was founded on religious freedom (freedom for and from religion) and freedom of conscience, not on Christianity or any other religion. Yes, I will fight for that kicking and screaming, every fucking step of the way.
I’m going to be exploring in the next few blog entries the idea that in order to be moral, we need God’s guidance. This is one of the main arguments of Christians against atheists, that if we didn’t have a belief in God we would all degenerate into stealing, killing and all sorts of other reprehensible behaviors.
I haven’t quite got my thoughts all together on this yet, so I’m not going to say much about it now. It is both an interesting and important question that people have been debating for thousands of years and I’ll be exploring the history of that debate and how the question is still relevant today.
I took the Midwest Secular Survey today. The questions were pretty standard, asking your secular persuasion (agnostic, atheist, etc), how comfortable you felt about sharing your secular views with various groups of people, and how being secular affects different aspects of your life.
What I learned from answering these questions is that I do feel very reluctant to share my atheistic views with people who I have to relate to in day to day life, such as co-workers, neighbors and family.
Very few, in fact only two I believe, of my co-workers know that I hold secular beliefs and I don’t think the actually know that I’m an atheist. It is not something I would want widely known at my work. While I have never seen or heard of anyone being discriminated against because of their religious (or non-religious) beliefs, I do live in one of the reddest states and from overhearing conversations of my co-workers, many, if not most, attend some kind of church regularly. In fact, I block people from work who are on my friends list on Face Book from seeing my status posts because I just don’t want them knowing my beliefs. I’m not ashamed, but I do fear that it could cause problems for me if the wrong person at work finds out.
None of my family knows, at least if they do, they have kept quiet about it. This isn’t surprising since they aren’t really “my” family per se, but my first wife’s family, whom I keep in touch with because of my kids. They are all Armenian and the Armenian Church is a very big part of their Armenian identity. When I was married and living back there in Massachusetts I was the one who took the kids to Church every Sunday. I even taught Sunday school for a year. The church is so intertwined with the Armenian identity that it is almost impossible to imagine an Armenian who doesn’t profess belief in God. After all, Armenia was the first Christian nation,a fact of which the Armenians are very proud.
Most of my friends know I’m an atheist. In one case, this has come between myself and a very dear friend who is a devout Christian. We still chat occasionally, but there is a palpable strain in the relationship that wasn’t there before I let it be known that I was an atheist. This was very difficult and discouraging for me. Her and I had a real attraction for each other and we got along so incredibly well. Once she was divorced from her husband and I separated from my wife and was in the process of getting divorced, I was hoping to pursue a closer relationship with her, but now that is out of the question. Also, it seems that our relationship has lost the depth of emotion that it once had. This is completely due to her reaction to my writings and comments about Christianity. As I said, we still talk occasionally, but we never talk about anything too personal anymore and I mourn the lose of that very much.
All of these things came back to me as I read the questions on the survey and contemplated my answers. I didn’t realize just how vulnerable I feel about being an atheist outside of the skeptical/atheist community. I’ve tended to limit my personal relationships to people who share my beliefs. I know that this one of the most common things that people do; keep to their own, but I didn’t realize that I was actually fearful of revealing my beliefs to others outside of these groups. Considering I hope to work in critical thinking and skeptical outreach, I think that it is something I will have to come to terms with.
Socrates was certainly onto something with his method of instruction. Asking questions is one of the most powerful ways to get us to really think about an issue and brings to light our underlying feelings about it that we may never have realized we had.
I’ve talked a lot about the “War on Christmas” here lately. The whole thing is pretty stupid if you ask me and it is driven almost entirely by Christians who feel like their beliefs are under attack because someone dares to say, “Happy Holidays”, instead of, “Merry Christmas”, or, FSM forbid, someone puts up a billboard suggesting that the nativity of Jesus never really happened. The Christian majority would have you believe that it is the atheists who are the ones engaging in a “War on Christmas”, but in fact, it is these Christians who are making all the fuss about these things.
The reality is that Christians are easily in the majority. According to a survey done by Trinity College, as of 2008, 76% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, while only 15.0% identified as “none”, which includes agnostic and atheist. How can it be that people who are among a groups that constitutes a full 3/4 of the population possibly consider themselves persecuted? It is not like they are discriminated against in society. On one is losing their jobs because they are Christians. They aren’t being marginalized in society; no one is shunning them or calling them evil or bad people because they are Christians. The same certainly can’t be said of atheists.
If these Christians are so sure of their beliefs, if they are so confident in their world view, then why do they take such easy offense when someone dares to question their beliefs? Normally, if someone is confident in something, they aren’t particularly worried about dissenting views. Being confident means you aren’t worried about things. You know you are right and are comfortable in that knowledge.
These Christians who cry foul when someone dares to question their beliefs show all the hallmarks of insecurity. When someone is insecure, they tend to get defensive. Why the insecurity? I believe it has to do with cognitive dissonance. These people are holding these beliefs in their heads, but the reality of the world they live in contradict their beliefs. They must either abandon their beliefs in light of the overwhelming evidence against them, or find ways to rationalize and justify their beliefs. The greater the dissonance, the more hysterical their defense of their beliefs becomes. This leads to seeing enemies in the slights criticism, paranoia and a persecution complex. Of course, I’m not a psychologist so I can’t say that this is exactly what is happening, but it seems to fit pretty well with what I know of cognitive dissonance theory.
I’m glad that Christmas is over. That’s not going the be the end to this pseudo-Christian-percecution-complex that we have been seeing, though. It will manifest itself in other ways, I’m sure and I’ll be reporting on it as it keeps rearing its ugly head.
I’m just coming out of a failed marriage (#2 and the last marriage for me). A big part of the problem was that we really didn’t know each other when we moved in together and, later, when we married. I found that there just was no intellectual curiosity in her. At first, I was able to rationalize it away, but as I began to come out of my 25 year long shell after my first marriage, I returned to my intellectual and artistic roots, and I began to feel like a penguin in the Sahara Desert; lonely, lost and starving.
My embracing of atheism was certainly a part of the schism, although not directly, as she was not particularly religious and didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t (at least she never said as much). It did have an effect in the sense that a huge reason I came to my non-belief was that I had been reading, thinking and writing, engaged in a quest of intellectual exploration that required all of my rational and critical thinking skills, skills that had laid dormant for a long time.
For me, the conflict was not that of a non-believer versus a believer, but an intellectual versus a complacent non-thinker. While religion did not play a part in the dynamics of the falling out, the clash of rational and critical thinking versus passive acceptance of the norm did, and this kind of conflict is at the heart of any religious versus non-believing clash.
My question to you, my dear readers, is; how important is it that you have a partner who thinks like you? And by thinks like you, I mean someone who not only has the same general world view, but who also actively engages their mind in relating to the world around them.
For myself, I have learned that I absolutely must have someone was is at least my equal in the pursuit of intellectual inquiry and who shares the same skeptical, rational world view. I am eager to hear your thoughts on this question.
PZ Myers has a great post about the absurd and disgusting ways some Christians have on insisting that everyone believe like they do while callously marginalizing a human life at the same time. I highly urge you to read the whole post, but I want to say a few words about just one part of it.
This is a quote from one Donald Douglas at AmericanPowerBlog speaking about Elizabeth Edwards’ final statement before her death of cancer:
Clearly Elizabeth Edwards wants to put her faith in something, be it hope or strength or anything. But not God. I wonder if it’s just bitterness, that’s she’s been forsaken by more than just her estranged husband — that’s she’s been forsaken by Him. And imagine if she’d have become First Lady. Americans generally expect outward expressions of faith in our presidents, Christian faith especially, and thus in our First Ladies as well. The Democratic base obviously doesn’t care, as we can see in the “wow factor” expressed by the author at the American Prospect. Being anti-religion is cool, so Edwards’ non-theological theology gets props from the neo-communists. Still, at her death bed and giving what most folks are calling a final goodbye, Elizabeth Edwards couldn’t find it somewhere down deep to ask for His blessings as she prepares for the hereafter? I guess that nihilism I’ve been discussing reaches up higher into the hard-left precincts than I thought.
What did Elizabeth Edwards say that was so terrible to cause such a vitriolic response? Did she curse god with her dying breath? Umm, not quite. Here is what she said:
“You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces—my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.”
Did you catch that blasphemy? Didn’t the anger against God just leap right out of the page and slap you in the face? No? It didn’t for me either.
Apparently, she neglected to mention God or Jesus in her dying message to the world. That’s it. No death-bed denial of the existence of God; no words of favor for hedonism and atheism; she just didn’t happen to mention God. That’s all.
For all the douchebag Donald knows, she prayed to God and asked his blessings in private before she died. After all, didn’t this man’s beloved Jesus teach that it is better to honor God in private where only He can see, rather then in public just for the benefit of being seen to be pious? Wether she did, or didn’t, is between her and her (supposed) God. Its none Donald’s, mine or your business. Period.
And what is really galling is that there were plenty of people agreeing with this warped sense of outrage:
“Donald, I don’t know who Elizabeth Edwards is, but I’m glad you defend the faith in God.
I hope everything is well with you and your family.
Have a time! ”
Don’t know who she is? Try goggling “Elizabeth Edwards”. Defending the faith in God? Defending it from what? And for whom? I thought their god was all powerful. What does he need defending from? Is their god so pathetic that he needs mere humans to defend their own faith in him for him? Oh, and the “Have a time! ” is a nice, gaudy, touch.
Or this gem:
She is dying jackass.
Fortunately, there were a few with some sense of decency who spoke up:
What would Jesus do?
Attack a dying woman, that’s what!
God has a nice warm spot in Hell reserved just for you.
Too bad hell doesn’t exist.
You, Donald, are scum.
You have redefined the meaning of low blow.
Low Blow? Absolutely. Not to mention heartless and unforgiving. Isn’t it funny how so many followers of a religion that is completely centered around forgiveness can’t seem to find any of it in their hearts for their fellow human biegns? Their sanctimony keeps getting in the way.
Add this to my incredibly long and constantly growing list of things I hate about Christianity. Maybe thats why our society seems so mired in discord and hatred. They say we are a Christian nation, and with Christians like Donald in the majority, I think I now see our problem.
I don’t have a whole lot to say today. I was up until 3:00am working, and not work as in writing or photography which I love, but work as in, they-sign-my-paycheck-so-I-have-to-do-this kind of work. Also, today I’v got the beginnings of a sore throat, which doesn’t bode well since both my kinds either just got over, or currently have, a nasty sore throaty virus. Things aren’t helped by the fact that my dog, who is lying so cutely asleep beside me, is fouling the air with dog farts. I really wish I had the stuffy nosey virus instead of the sore throaty virus right now!
I’m sitting here listening to Christmas In The Heart, by Bob Dylan. I love Christmas carols and Christmas music. But Jay, you say, you are an atheist! How can you justify listening to Christmas music?
Fist off all I will ask you to, read my last post about the real history of Christmas in America as an explanation Secondly, I want to talk briefly about how we can appreciate art, literature and music that may have religious origins. Just because an artist was inspire by their religious beliefs to create a great work of art doesn’t, and shouldn’t, take away from the intrinsic beauty and majesty of the art work itself. Is Handel’s Messiah any less beautiful just because it was written to celebrate the Christian ideal of a messiah? Are the great cathedrals of Europe any less magnificent because they were built to glorify the Christian God?
Anyone who has ever had the privilege to visit any of these beautiful edifices can’t help have been rendered almost speechless and struck with a profound sense of awe while walking within them. But this is exactly the emotional response that the mortal men who designed them intended them to have. Just as Handel, who was only a man, after all, intended his opus to inspire and fill us with joy.
The intense emotions that art engenders in us are distinctly human emotions, inspired by the creative geniuses of other humans who were in turn inspired by, not religion itself, but by the inexplicable wonder of the universe we live in. It is this wonder and awe of our existence that religion tries (feebly I believe) to explain, and which art is able to come closer than anything else humans can ever invent to express.
We only punish ourselves by refusing to let ourselves appreciate the expansive beauty that is art just because it may have been inspired by a thought or philosophy we don’t agree with. Life is too short not to appreciate beauty where ever we may find it. By doing so, we only diminish our own existence, to our own detriment.
Surly Amy has a post today on Skepchick.org giving advice to a reader who is working on a project in an education class. The issue is that the class is reviewing a proposal for an educational rights amendment, which included the notion that children have the right to be indoctrinated into a religion in public schools. The reader express outrage that everyone except them is in favor of this proposal. Amy, as usual, gives some good advice. I highly encourage you to read the post.
There has been an ongoing debate about the harm of the religious indoctrination of children by their parents and other adults such as teachers and pastors. There are plenty of stories, admittedly all anecdotal, of young adults filled with anger at the people who indoctrinated them and caused them to have a very difficult time adjusting to the real world outside of their given faith community. They have problems with depression, socializing, and navigating a alien culture, even though they were born and raised right here in the United States.
It seems to be almost natural that parents should be able to raise their children in their own faith. The question becomes when does indoctrination into their parent’s beliefs become abuse?
There are the obvious answers such as when the parents’ religious beliefs compel them to physically or sexually abuse their children, but what about mental abuse?
My personal opinion is that if a child is living in fear due to things their parents do or say, for whatever reason, this constitutes abuse. I am not talking about an occasional spanking or threat of punishment. I’m talking about a child living in constant fear of physical harm. I think most people would agree that if a parent is always threatening to beat a child in order to get them to behave as they want them to, this would be abuse. So how is this different from the constant threat of burning and torture in hell that many religious parents threaten their children with on a continuous basis? “Don’t do that, or God will send you to hell!”, “You listen to your mother or God will punish you!”, “Be nice to your brother, God is watching you!”
Unlike the parents who threaten direct, physical harm to their children, religious parents who threaten their children with God’s terrible wrath are never questioned. What police office would ever think to arrest a parent who threatened their child with the torment of hell? How many prosecutors would consider charging “good Christian” parents will child abuse for telling their children, day-in and day-out, that they are sinners and are going to hell?
The fact is, Christians get a free ride in this country when it comes to child rearing (and most everything else). They can threaten their children with the most horrible, terrifying tales of burning flesh, and being ripped apart limb by limb and no one thinks that there is anything wrong with this. These visions of hell are very real in the mind of an impressionable child, as is the terror they create. Sure, some people might go as far as to call these parents “strict’ but the fact is their actions toward their children is abuse, plain and simple.
The big question is what can we do about this? There is no easy answer, but I think that education is key. I’m talking about creating a safe, accepting, secular environment in our public schools. I’m talking about keeping religion out of politics and our public institutions. This means we, as non-believers, as well as anyone else who believes in religious freedom and the separation of church and state, let our politicians know that we don’t want religion in the public spaces. We need to let them know that we value reason and science as a guide for public policy. As more people, especially young people are exposed to reason and science, the less tolerant society will become as a whole of superstitious beliefs. It may take a generation, but it can happen. It will take all of us speaking out and supporting those organizations that are fighting for reason, science and separation of church and state to make a difference.