reason

If Christianity is True

If Christianity is True

Note: Given the propensity of Christians to continually deceive themselves with this argument, I have decided to bring this back to the front of my site. In case you are wondering, I often prefer to use the informal indicative rather than the more formal subjunctive. – May 2005

IF CHRISTIANITY IS TRUE

Wayne Everett Orgar

March 2000

Over the past few years, one of the most frequent comments I have heard from Christians is paraphrased as follows:

If Christianity is true and I believe, than I have eternal life.

If it is true and I don’t believe, I have eternal punishment.

If it is false and I believe, than I will have only lived a lie.

This is nothing more than Pascal’s wager watered down. Bet on Christianity and you lose nothing.

WRONG! You lose plenty.

First, though, let’s recognize this is only a statement of fear and presents evidence of nothing except the fear of hellfire and brimstone. Supposedly, believing in Christ on faith is the key to salvation. Believing in Christ because it is a safe bet is not faith and disqualifies you from salvation. This is fear, not the courage of one’s conviction.

Consider:

  • This argument provides no evidence for a god or for gods.
  • It presents no evidence of an afterlife.
  • It presents no evidence for the truth of Christianity or the belief that these practices will bring you that eternal life. You still have no guarantee that being a Christian brings eternal life if there was an afterlife.
  • It represents a false dichotomy. The choice is not between Christianity and atheism. It is a choice among atheism, Christianity, and the thousands of other religions that respective believers think will get them eternal life. If eternal life existed, it could belong to only the Hindu.
  • If Christianity was false and you believed, you could lose more than a life of lies. If Shintoism were true instead, you would lose eternal life. You better get out there and believe in Shintoism to hedge your bet.

Consider the underlying reasoning behind the argument and it falls apart.

If religion A is true and I believe, than I have eternal life.

If religion A is true and I don’t believe, than I have eternal punishment.

If religion A is not true and I believe, than I will only have lived a lie.

You could use this to justify believing in any religion. Just substitute Islam for religion A. If you use this reasoning to justify believing in Christianity, the moral principle of fairness requires you to allow other religions to use it with equal justification and hope of salvation. Otherwise, you are being hypocritical and you are deceiving yourself.

You could use it to hold conflicting beliefs and be in total self-contradiction. Why would anyone respect this argument?

Now back to my original point. You have plenty to lose with Christianity

  • You lose a lot of time and money on religious organizations and icons, time and money that could be better spent on real problems.
  • You have to worry about guilt and shame from the imaginary concept of sin. Big brother is watching.
  • You have to stand on your head and do verbal gymnastics to “apologize” for ridiculous Bible stories and verses.
  • You have to worry about the increasing knowledge of the facts of the universe and try to rectify them with the Bible, written by people who knew nothing about their universe.
  • You have to worry about the increasing civil rights of women and other minorities such as homosexuals, atheists, ethnic groups, and other religious groups that are increasing in this country.
  • You have to constantly worry about non-believers watching your behavior as Christians and pointing out that you do not behave any better than non-believers.
  • You have to worry about your friends and family going to hell for an eternity. If you don’t worry about this, you either don’t truly believe or are a very callous individual.
  • You have to worry about breaking arbitrary “rules of men” that were attributed to a supposed deity thousands of years ago.
  • You have to worry about those secular humanists (all 20 of them) that have taken over every school, government body, university, media outlet, and ice cream stand in the country.

I could list more. I found no comfort from Christianity. It is not a sure thing and I certainly would not want to bet my life or well being on it.

February 2006 – The stupidist thing a Christian has ever said to me in regard to this is that non-belief in Christianity has consequences and the above is therefore not true. Other religions have no consequences? Tell that to an Islamic believer who insists that Christians will go to hell!

Atheist ads to adorn New York subway stations

Atheist ads to adorn New York subway stations

NEW YORK (CNN) — Some New Yorkers may want to reconsider exclaiming “Thank God” when arriving at their destination subway station beginning next Monday.

Or at least that’s what a coalition of eight atheist organizations are hoping, having purchased a month-long campaign that will place their posters in a dozen busy subway stations throughout Manhattan.

The advertisements ask the question, written simply over an image of a blue sky with wispy white clouds: “A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?”

On October 26, a dozen bustling New York City subway stations will be adorned with the ads as “part of a coordinated multi-organizational advertising campaign designed to raise awareness about people who don’t believe in a god”, according to a statement from the group, the Big Apple Coalition of Reason.

New York City’s subway system is one of the busiest in the world with more than 5 million riders per day and more than 1.6 billion total passengers in 2008, according to the Metro Transit Authority.

Recognizing this, the Big Apple Coalition of Reason decided the “best bang for the buck” was to place posters in popular subway stations to capitalize on the amount of potential viewers, says Michael De Dora Jr., executive director of the New York Center for Inquiry, one of the associated atheist groups.

De Dora says the ambitions behind the advertisements are threefold.

First, the coalition hopes the promotion will enhance awareness of New York City’s secular community. He explained that the coalition also hopes to encourage “talking and thinking about religion and morality,” as well as support involvement in groups that encourage a sense of a social community for non-believing New Yorkers.

John Rafferty, president of the Secular Humanist Society of New York, another member group of the coalition, said the ads are in no way an anti-religious campaign. They are looking to reach out to more people who have similar feelings, but might not be aware of an outlet to express their beliefs, he said.

Rafferty and De Dora cite the American Religious Identification Survey, released earlier this year, as evidence of a shift away from organized religion. Those checking “none” for religion rose from 8 percent of the population in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008, effectively making “no religion” the fastest growing religious identification in the United States.

De Dora said that the “million” New York nonbelievers mentioned in the advertisements is the result of an extrapolation based on the survey’s findings. With more than 8 million residents living in New York’s five boroughs, the organization projects more than a million potential atheist New Yorkers.

De Dora said individuals “don’t need religion to be good people and productive members of society” and ultimately he feels that groups of nonbelievers are “adding to cultural life of NYC.”

The United Coalition of Reason, which is a national organization that helps local groups advocate atheist ideas, approached the New York nonbeliever associations in August with an offer of a donation from an anonymous source to help pay for the subway station ad campaign. The donation amount was for exactly $25,000 and specifically allocated for the subway advertising promotion.

Rafferty says the groups involved expect no substantial backlash over their ads. Since news of the campaign was made public early this week “reaction has been mixed,” De Dora said. He emphasizes that the Big Apple Coalition of Reason ads are not “forcing issues, they’re just getting ideas out there,” with the hope of fostering discussion in New York.

The ads are “not poking fun at religion and not being outright nasty,” he said.

A year ago some unease was caused by advertisements that ran inside subway cars promoting Islam. While the ads themselves weren’t controversial, they were partially funded by an imam of a Brooklyn mosque who served a character witness for convicted 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman.

In a statement to CNN, Metro Transit Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said, “The MTA maintains basic advertising guidelines with prohibitions on nudity, four-letter words, and the like. Beyond that, to accord with the First Amendment, our advertising guidelines are written so as to not prohibit the free exercise of religion or abridge the freedom of speech.”

According to the Big Apple Coalition of Reason in their statement, the New York City campaign is just one component of a “nationwide effort” by the United Coalition of Reason that will see billboards and postings in transit systems across the United States.

Devoted Atheists Grow in Numbers, Goals

Devoted Atheists Grow in Numbers, Goals

Valerie Celeste Coffey is a woman on a mission. For six years, her small group of local atheists has gathered to exchange bemused stories about the things Christians do in worship and swap tips for raising confident skeptics.

But on a recent Wednesday evening here at the Java Room cafe, Ms. Coffey said the time had come to take the meetings in hand.

“I don’t think this group has a vision,” said Coffey, a freelance editor who lives in nearby Boxborough, Mass. “We need to figure out what our values are.”

Ten days later, something unprecedented happened: The group met over Sunday brunch for a structured discussion with preplanned topics.

The ranks of nonbelievers are on the rise, research suggests, and as they seek out each other online and in small groups, they are increasingly looking to do more than just vent.

Some are adopting rituals themselves, from de-baptisms to wedding ceremonies, as a way to cement ties among members. Others are organizing science-related outings or enrolling in community-service programs. Nationwide, atheists’ groups are now treading, sometimes gingerly, into unfamiliar territory.

“This is the transition moment right now,” says Dale McGowan, author of “Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion.” “Some groups are really diving in [to foster a robust sense of community], and some of them are holding their noses and standing on the diving board. They’re not quite sure what to do.”

Some 15 percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation, up from 8.2 percent in 1990, according to Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey, released in March. Also, the American Humanist Association claims 20,000 financial supporters. That marks a doubling from five years ago, says spokeswoman Karen Frantz.

Moreover, signs point to non-believers seeking fellowship as never before. During the first five months of 2009, 95 new atheist groups have formed through meetup.com, bringing the US total to 372. That’s up from 59 in 2005, says Blair Scott, director of national affiliates for American Atheists, a networking and advocacy organization. Known parenting groups for nonbelievers have proliferated from just one in 2005 to 33 in 2009, adds Mr. McGowan, the author.

The intersection of the two trends is evident across the United States. For example, the North Alabama Freethought Association, which has grown from 50 members in 2006 to 350 today, drew 30 people to a camping event in May and runs regular outings to visit caves or other science-related sites.

“It used to be that these atheist groups … met almost in hiding,” says American Atheists spokesman David Silverman. “Now they’re doing a lot more stands at town parties, a lot more trash pickups, a lot more blood donations — a lot more stuff that gets their group out and noticed.”

Some say such initiatives are necessary to improve an image problem. Rebecca Grieve founded South Lake Atheists and Freethinkers in Groveland, Fla., last year because she felt the nearby atheist group in Orlando “wasn’t doing enough in the community.” Through an Adopt-A-Lake project, the new group monitors a section of Lake Minneola and promotes its efforts on a big sign at Clermont Waterfront Park.

“A lot of atheist groups are really negative,” says Ms. Grieve, who now lives in Derry, N.H., and describes herself as a secular humanist. “They’re not standing for anything. They’re not making a difference…. I want to be accepted just like everybody else. We need to be showing people through example that we’re decent people.”

For some, however, the status quo suits just fine. Of the monthly Atheists of Greater Lowell (Mass.) gatherings, where no one convenes or adjourns the group, Paul Ratner of Lowell says: “I like this group as it is now.”

Rob Butler of Westford. Mass., agrees: “I love coming here because I can just say whatever’s on my mind, and people won’t be offended by it.”

In some ways, the lack of structure or ritual has been a defining characteristic of atheist groups. McGowan notes that many atheists bristle at ritual because it feels too religious or superstitious. American Atheists’ Mr. Silverman insists, “there are no rituals with us.”

But America’s 27 Ethical Societies, which attract many nontheist attendees to their humanist “platforms,” or services, see growing interest in rituals, ranging from children’s education to weddings, according to membership chairman Thomas Hoeppner. Through ritual, “you build up not just common intellectual values, but the emotional and personal connection with people,” says Mr. Hoeppner, a member of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago. “That’s what it’s all about.”

“So when one of my dear friends in his 80s lost his wife, he’d be over at our house every Sunday afternoon for dinner,” he says. “That’s a ritual for us.”

In Florida, atheists are pioneering a new ritual: de-baptism. Since last year, American Atheists’ Florida state director Greg McDowell has been donning a mock clerical robe and officiating at services where family and friends come to watch the baptized renounce their baptisms.

The events spoof baptisms by using blow-dryers in the place of baptismal waters. They culminate in certificates for the “de-baptized” and letters to churches requesting that the names of those de-baptized be removed from baptismal rolls.

Elsewhere, ties that bind the faithless continue to grow stronger, even without ritual per se. After one member of the North Alabama Freethought Association was robbed earlier this year, fellow members collected a few hundred dollars to see him through to payday. And when another was injured in a motorcycle accident, atheists brought meals every day for him and his caretakers.

“It makes me sit back and smile to know that this community has built itself up in a way that they’re looking out for each other, watching each other’s backs, and supporting each other,” says Mr. Scott, who founded the Alabama group six years ago. “It almost makes me feel fatherly — like you raised your child right.”

Religion: why do people believe in God?

Religion: why do people believe in God?

As scientists prove that faith can relieve pain, distinguished psychologist Dorothy Rowe examines the case for and against religion

I’m not religious, but I have thought about religion all of my life. My mother never attended church but she insisted that I went to St Andrew’s Church, a cold, unfriendly place filled with cold, unfriendly people. At home, my father, an atheist, would read aloud to us from the essays of Robert Ingersoll, the 19th-century militant atheist.

Ingersoll’s prose had the music and majesty of King James’s Bible. I loved the language of them both. I learned how to use Ingersoll’s logic to examine the teachings of the Bible. My disapproval of the cruelty and vanity of the Presbyterian God knew no bounds, but I felt at home with Jesus, whom I saw as a kind, loving man like my father.

God had not been in the trenches, or anywhere else, with the ex-Servicemen whom I met at university. When religion was discussed, we listed the cruelties and stupidities of religion throughout history, just as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens were to do 40 years later.

However, when I went to work in psychiatric hospitals, I realised that criticising religion was not enough. I needed to understand why religion becomes an integral part of a person’s life – and doesn’t cease to be so when such beliefs cause the person much pain and guilt, or lead him to commit murder, even to the point of genocide.

Although they had not recognised it, my depressed or psychotic patients were struggling with the questions that theologians and philosophers had struggled with for thousands of years. “What will happen to me when I die?” “How can I be a good person?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Siegfried, a depressed, alcoholic psychiatrist, told me about his uncle, who was in the RAF during the war. He provided the love and concern for Siegfried that was lacking in Siegfried’s parents. He said: “Then, one day his aeroplane came down a bit too fast.

“Up to that time, aged 13, I’d had some vague concept of God – I sang in the church choir every Sunday. My last memories of any contact with God was that particular night when I called Him all the filthy language I knew. I thought, if He exists, He’s a s–t.” I asked him how he felt about God now. He said, ‘If He exists, He’s a s–t’.”

Unable to find satisfactory answers about the meaning of their existence, the psychotic patients had constructed very idiosyncratic fantasies. Ella was a beautiful 16-year-old who had become withdrawn and isolated. Her parents had taken time to recognise that there was a problem because, to them, she was the perfectly obedient child they wanted.

Ella’s mother told me: “I always obeyed my parents and I expect my children to obey me.” Fearing her parents’ anger, Ella learned to avoid all spontaneous decisions and actions. She told me: “I’ve begun to wonder whether I’m the only person who’s really alive – the only living person. Everyone else is a vision. I’m living each person’s life in turn.”

Dems dismiss the atheists

Dems dismiss the atheists

A few atheists have their panties in a twist once again, this time fussing that an atheist leader wasn’t invited to speak at an Aug. 24 interfaith service that’s part of the Democratic National Convention.

The service will feature Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist speakers. The official reason for the interfaith services is “to honor the diverse faith traditions inside the Democratic Party,” which could easily include atheists. If they aren’t welcome, it’s probably because they’re rude.

This column has advocated religious liberties for atheists, citing case law that defines atheism as just another religion – as in just another unproven and forever unprovable belief. This column has applauded a federal court ruling that forced prison wardens to allow prisoners an atheist study session. The court allowed the study session for the same reason wardens allow Bible study meetings: atheism is a religion, therefore subject to protections and restrictions of the First Amendment.

From the objective, legalistic standpoint of government, one belief is no more valid than another. Therefore a belief in creation – or an original intelligence, Jesus, Buddha, or the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” – is no more valid in the eyes of the law than the odd belief that nothing could possibly exist beyond what our embryonic state of scientific discovery has seen in our relatively primitive microscopes and telescopes. The humble and intelligent scientist understands that what we have proven about time and space is a microscopically small body of knowledge relative to the endless size and never-ending expansion of all that exists. To rational thinkers, atheism seems a sad and shallow belief. That’s because great scientists understand that, metaphorically, they’ve discovered little more than the drawings on the walls of a cave. They don’t know what’s beyond the cave or how it began. As Albert Einstein said: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. … a legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist.”

Yet an amazing number of atheists have taken to confronting and insulting believers of other religions. They pretend that atheist beliefs are proven true, while others are proven false. They refer to other religions as “irrational,” and “superstitious.” Their approach to ministry is overbearing and rude. They engage in confrontation, with disregard for persuasion. It’s as if they’ve watched too much “American Idol,” where Simon Cowell briefly made it hip to be the bully.

Consider the righteous indignation of Becky Hale, founder of Freethinkers of Colorado Springs: “By reaching out to people of faith, they have shown the back of their hand to those who do not believe,” Hale told The Gazette.

In other words, if I’m not invited to your party then you’re bad. Even the name of Hale’s group is insulting. It implies that people of other faiths are something other than “free thinkers.”

No, Ms. Hale, nobody gave your group the back of the hand. You simply weren’t invited to a private party for “believers.” While the law considers you nothing other than a “believer” – clinging to a belief that no higher power could exist – those who organized the party don’t likely see you that way.

Hale, by her own admission, fancies her club as something other than a group of believers, calling it a group of “those who do not believe.” So why invite yourself to a party of believers, Ms. Hale?

Boulder atheist Marvin Straus accused Democrats of “pandering” for the religious vote. How dare they reach out to people who believe in God? There oughta be a law!

Hitler imagined a world without Jews. The Freedom From Religion Foundation rented a billboard near the Colorado Convention Center that says: “Imagine No Religion.”

Imagine a world with no religion and one sees a world without the Golden Rule, devoid of most charities, hospitals and great universities. One sees hurricane recovery zones, minus all the chartered planes and buses full of churchgoers giving their time and money to rebuild homes. How many children are fed and clothed by atheist charity organizations? Approximately none.

Imagine no religion and one sees a world ruled by atheist tyrants – Pol Pot, Albania’s Enver Hoxha, Stalin and Mao, to name a few – who have murdered tens of millions in modern efforts to cleanse society of religion.

American Muslims, Baptists, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Mormons, Quakers, Amish, etc., don’t erect billboards saying “Imagine No Atheists.” They don’t advocate government force to cleanse atheist expressions and teachings from the public square. They don’t imply that atheists are “irrational,” even though atheists claim absolute knowledge. They don’t advocate theft and desecration of atheist property, even though an atheist hero in Minnesota stole and destroyed the Catholic Eucharist.

Democrats will nominate a Christian gentleman who respects others. It’s likely they didn’t invite atheists to their faith service because they didn’t want embarrassing guests. Atheists might bring pseudointellectual proselytizers, who are intolerant, self-aggrandizing and rude. Atheists should fund universities and hospitals. They should feed and clothe starving kids. They should act more like Christians and Jews. If they do some of that – if they contribute to a diverse humanity – they might get better party invites.

The rise of Miliband brings at last the prospect of an atheist prime minister

The rise of Miliband brings at last the prospect of an atheist prime minister

When Labour cabinet members were asked about their religious allegiances last December, following Tony Blair’s official conversion to Roman Catholicism, it turned out that more than half of them are not believers. The least equivocal about their atheism were the health secretary, Alan Johnson, and foreign secretary David Miliband.

The fact that Miliband is an atheist is a matter of special interest given the likelihood that he may one day, and perhaps soon, occupy No 10. In our present uncomfortable climate of quarrels between pushy religionists and resisting secularists – or attack-dog secularists and defensive religionists: which side you are on determines how you see it – there are many reasons why it would be a great advantage to everyone to have an atheist prime minister.

Atheist leaders are not going to think they are getting messages from Beyond telling them to go to war. They will not cloak themselves in supernaturalistic justifications, as Blair came perilously close to doing when interviewed about the decision to invade Iraq.

Atheist leaders will be sceptical about the claims of religious groups to be more important than other civil society organisations in doing good, getting public funds, meriting special privileges and exemptions from laws, and having seats in the legislature and legal protection from criticism, satire and challenge.

Atheist leaders are going to be more sceptical about inculcating sectarian beliefs into small children ghettoised into publicly funded faith-based schools, risking social divisiveness and possible future conflict. They will be readier to learn Northern Ireland’s bleak lesson in this regard.

Atheist leaders will, by definition, be neutral between the different religious pressure groups in society, and will have no temptation not to be even-handed because of an allegiance to the outlook of just one of those groups.

Why I Am Not A Christian – Bertrand Russell

Why I Am Not A Christian

As your Chairman has told you, the subject about which I am going to speak to you tonight is “Why I Am Not a Christian.” Perhaps it would be as well, first of all, to try to make out what one means by the word Christian. It is used these days in a very loose sense by a great many people. Some people mean no more by it than a person who attempts to live a good life. In that sense I suppose there would be Christians in all sects and creeds; but I do not think that that is the proper sense of the word, if only because it would imply that all the people who are not Christians — all the Buddhists, Confucians, Mohammedans, and so on — are not trying to live a good life. I do not mean by a Christian any person who tries to live decently according to his lights. I think that you must have a certain amount of definite belief before you have a right to call yourself a Christian. The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions.

What Is a Christian?

Nowadays it is not quite that. We have to be a little more vague in our meaning of Christianity. I think, however, that there are two different items which are quite essential to anybody calling himself a Christian. The first is one of a dogmatic nature — namely, that you must believe in God and immortality. If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think that you can properly call yourself a Christian. Then, further than that, as the name implies, you must have some kind of belief about Christ. The Mohammedans, for instance, also believe in God and in immortality, and yet they would not call themselves Christians. I think you must have at the very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men. If you are not going to believe that much about Christ, I do not think you have any right to call yourself a Christian. Of course, there is another sense, which you find in Whitaker’s Almanack and in geography books, where the population of the world is said to be divided into Christians, Mohammedans, Buddhists, fetish worshipers, and so on; and in that sense we are all Christians. The geography books count us all in, but that is a purely geographical sense, which I suppose we can ignore.Therefore I take it that when I tell you why I am not a Christian I have to tell you two different things: first, why I do not believe in God and in immortality; and, secondly, why I do not think that Christ was the best and wisest of men, although I grant him a very high degree of moral goodness.

But for the successful efforts of unbelievers in the past, I could not take so elastic a definition of Christianity as that. As I said before, in olden days it had a much more full-blooded sense. For instance, it included he belief in hell. Belief in eternal hell-fire was an essential item of Christian belief until pretty recent times. In this country, as you know, it ceased to be an essential item because of a decision of the Privy Council, and from that decision the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York dissented; but in this country our religion is settled by Act of Parliament, and therefore the Privy Council was able to override their Graces and hell was no longer necessary to a Christian. Consequently I shall not insist that a Christian must believe in hell.