My Conversation with Linda on 9-23-12

The following conversation happened at Support Atheism in the comments section of my article Keeping Religious Friends. Two highlights were Linda’s insistence on Christian persecution and her appeal to her dislike of the fact of death as her reason for believing. Her text is in bold. Mine is in Italics. Comments are [in brackets].

Hi Linda,

Thanks for your comments. Following are my responses.

“I’m a Christian, don’t shoot me,”

I’m pretty much a pacifist, so wouldn’t dream of it. 🙂

“but this article is about the same struggles we have. We have been hated by people if we talk too much about God in our lives, but if we don’t we then deny a big part of us that we absolutely love.”

Except there’s a difference. There is far greater social acceptance in this country to religion in general and Christianity in specific. I’m sure you’ve been in awkward social situations, but politicians live and die by your vote. Not so with mine.

And this whole “God in our lives” thing is your choice. You don’t have to live that way. You choose to. Thus, as with any choice, the consequences of your choice are yours to bear.

“It feels like walking on a wire. Friendships truly shouldn’t feel that way. We do have to love each other regardless of our understanding or lack of understanding of each other’s beliefs.”

I tend to agree, which is why I was so disappointed at Judy’s actions.

“I can say this though, if you HATE with all your heart the idea of God and think people are stupid and foolish to believe in God then it will be impossible to be friends with someone who does, because you have already decided to hate them before you got to know them and therefore it is set up for failure.”

I agree. And to be clear, I don’t HATE the idea of God, religions, or the religious people who practice them. Yes, I find it annoying and dishonest that people do so, but I feel the same way about those with political leanings different from mine. The trouble arises when the religious attempt to legislate their way of life, their morality, on the rest of us. That I hate.

“You can say that the whole God thing is not for you and that you just don’t know why it is for anyone, but abdolutely hating the idea and anyone that falls for it, well that is what will hinder any relationship with a Christian.”

I agree, which is probably why I have zero born-again friends.

“Likewise if a Christian hated anyone that didn’t believe in God and bashed them for it directly or indirectly, they will never have successful friendships with non-Christians.”

Here we are agreeing again!

“We can all be ourselves I think without offending each other, but it is when hate is involved that it won’t work. Thanks for reading! :)”

While I agree with your sentiment, I feel that it’s ultimately very naive. There are certain passages in the Bible which, if taken as they’re written, mandate no less than homicide, fratricide, filicide, etc. and pretty much across the board for no good reason. If you believe the Bible to be the Word of God, you must believe these mandates to be true. And don’t go saying “The Old Testament is done” because Jesus himself said that it isn’t.

Finally, why are you a Christian, Linda? What about the faith convinced you that it was correct above all others or no faith at all?

Best,

Anton.

[Part II]

Hi Linda,

Sorry for the delay. Following are my comments.

“So why am I a Christian and believe it is correct above all others or no faith at all? Hmmm….. Tough question and everyone’s answer would be different I think.”

I don’t understand why this is the case. If you started life without being a Christian, something convinced you. I’d imagine it pretty easy to recall what that is. If you were raised Christian, that’s different.

“Since faith is a belief that is not based on proof it is difficult to say anything to prove to you that God is real.”

Why do you consider faith a good thing? Why is believing in something either without evidence of it or with evidence to the contrary of it good?

“You would have to choose to believe with your own free will. I will, though, try to answer your question from my personal experience and how I came to the decision to accept God as truth.”

I don’t understand why Christians use terms like “free will” especially when discussing the choice to believe. Of course it’s a choice. Even though I was raised a Christian, it was still my choice whether to believe it or not. No one could shape or change my thoughts.

“I never really had God in my life growing up, as my family didn’t live for Him. I was sexually abused as a child and fell into drugs ,among other things, as a teen. I HATED God for allowing such things in my life, but I guess I always humored the idea of His existence.”

I’m a little confused. You did or did not believe in God? Sounds like you did. So since you always have, you didn’t have to be convinced of Him. Maybe you had to be convinced not to hate Him, but that’s a very different thing.

“I came away from that life on my own merit. I realized I was making my own bad choices, that it wasn’t the horrible choice of my step-father that was making me a drug addict. It was me. Just like that, I made a better choice for myself and became clean. I eventually married and had two children, at the time, when I had a dear friend of mine to pass away. She was such a lovely person. My husband always believed nothing happens to us when we die and I was kind of with him on that.”

So it wasn’t getting yourself clean or meeting your husband or having your children that made you lose your anger at God. That’s interesting as most I’ve talked to cite any of those as reasons for either believing or becoming born-again.

“When my friend passed away, I just couldn’t believe that her life was now nothing. I began thinking about all we invest in life with our emotions, it can’t possibly be for nothing? I refused to believe we become maggot food when we die.”

So it wasn’t that something convinced you of God’s existence, but rather your dislike of reality. That’s an appeal to personal incredulity–you didn’t want to believe something, so you decided it wasn’t true. I don’t mean to sound flippant, then, but how do you feel about gravity? It’s an observed, tested fact that if we choose to jump off of buildings, we fall. So too with death. Once brain activity ceases, that’s it. Our personal feelings on either matter are irrelevant to the facts.

“Where do emotions come from anyway?”

Chemical interactions in our brains. This is now pretty well understood. For example, dopamine gives us feelings of euphoria. If you increase or decrease certain hormones in the brain, people feel different ways.

“Where does these feelings of right or wrong come from?”

This is a bit more complicated than the emotion question, but evolution has shown us that across the animal kingdom, it’s more advantageous to get along than not get along. Your feelings of right and wrong ultimately derive from a communal compassion for your fellow humans and a desire to minimize their suffering. If you see a child cry, you want to help that child, even if the child isn’t your own. When one vampire bat is deprived of blood, other vampire bats feed it.

But let’s pretend there were no answers to your questions. Even given that, what necessarily leads you from your friend’s death to not only a god, but Yahweh? What of your experiences led you to believe that not only did Yahweh communicate to us, but did so specifically in the Bible? I doubt that you could demonstrate a necessary causal link between your experiences and your conclusions.

“I began to seek this crazy idea of God and because I do not take everything someone says to me blindly, I began reading the Bible for myself. In the end, it just made sense to me.”

See now you just skipped pretty much everything. Why did you choose to read the Bible as opposed to any other holy book? Why did you assume Christianity had any answers that Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other faith didn’t have? What made sense to you? Why?

I ask all these questions because while it’s true that one can make a case for some parts of the Bible being philosophically sound, all of that which can be demonstrated as such is not unique to the Bible. The idea of compassion for one’s neighbors and enemies predates the Bible by centuries.

And that’s only if we ignore all the awful parts of the Bible. You admitted before that the Old Testament hasn’t gone away. So do you believe all of the ritual laws to still apply? Do you believe that the flood happened and was justified? Do you believe the Earth to have been created in six literal days? If so, what led you to these conclusions?

“God says that the knowledge of right or wrong are written on our hearts.”

That part I mostly agree on except that again you’d have to prove that the fact of human compassion was necessarily caused by a god when we know that it’s advantageous to the species.

“There were just so many things in the Bible that related to today.”

Like what? And how does the fact of that make the Bible and everything else it says true? Other ancient books, holy and secular, also say things that relate today. The Odyssey is about a man desperately trying to return to his family after being away. People today can relate to that.

“I remember reading about a pregnant woman being told not to drink wine or any other fermented drink. How long did it take for science and how many deformed babies were there before we figured that one out?”

While it’s true that the Bible and other holy books described understanding of some scientific facts centuries before those facts were formally codified, that alone doesn’t demonstrate divine intervention. All it truly demonstrates is an ancient people loosely understanding certain cause-effect relationships.

For example, before I learned the specific chemical and neural reactions of touching my finger to a flame, I easily understood the mundane effects of doing so. The flame burned my finger and it hurt. Had I written this experience down, no one would’ve labeled me as a precocious child prodigy who’d just discovered the answer to a major mystery in the world. They would’ve simply sneered, pointed out that I probably shouldn’t do that again, and later taught me the reasons why the effects I’d observed had happened.

So too, it doesn’t take a wine-drinking tribe much time to put two and two together on the effects on babies born to alcoholic mothers.

But again, let’s pretend that the Bible had gotten this pregnant-drinking thing right down to the letter. This is using the part-to-whole fallacy, assuming that because a component of something is true that the whole must also be true. How does the wine thing prove everything else the Bible says? What would lead you to believe that all of its other claims are true, and not those of any other faith, or no faith?

“The Bible showed me the choices we make as people and the consequences of them.”

I don’t mean to sound flippant again, but I assume you were an adult when you decided to become a Christian. If that’s true, then did you really have to be told such an idea to realize it? It’s a pretty basic tenet of reality. I do something A, it has consequence B. Again, doesn’t take a genius, let alone an all-powerful deity.

“Everything we do IS choice, everything we believe or put our faith in IS choice, but humor me for a moment. Let’s say God IS real. He created us for Him, He loves us and wants us to love Him and live in His home with Him, but to make us love Him would not be true or real love. So, He gives us free will to make our own choice so that when we do choose to love Him, it will be real. His invitation to live with Him is accepted once we choose to love Him.”

The problem with the free-will argument is it completely ignores the very basic doctrine of God’s omniscience. If God is omniscient, He knows everything that will happen in the universe, including every single one of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, before the universe begins. Thus, everything we ever do, say, or feel is pre-ordained. Since all that we will do, say, or feel is already determined, we have no choice in it at all.

Not only that, but this doctrine of God wants us to love him implies that God doesn’t know whether we do love Him or not. That God doesn’t know whether our love is sincere. But an omniscient God would know.

“When we do not make that choice, there is another place he has set up for us. So essentially we choose Heaven or Hell. I certainly wouldn’t want someone that hated me, living with me even if I loved them.”

Moving past the fact of God’s omniscience, do you agree that God created everything? If so, do you agree that God either created Hell or allowed it to be created? If so, then doesn’t it stand to reason that not only is Hell God’s creation, but that He didn’t have to do so?

This idea of God not wanting people who Hate him makes no sense to me. Maybe you wouldn’t like having someone in your home who you knew hated you, but you’re not an infinitely wise god. Are you saying, then, that God Almighty is so petty, on the level of humans, as to stoop to the distaste of having people around Him whom He knew wouldn’t like to be around Him? And then punishing them eternally for that which He knew they’d do, think, for feel? How would such action be possible with an omniscient, omnipotent god?

“Now let’s say, there IS no God. I am totally an idiot, naive, ignorant, foolish, etc. for believing there is. I don’t believe I am hurting anyone by choosing to love God, in fact the more I learn about Him the more I do want to live for Him and that IS not a bad thing.”

In a sense, I agree. But if you believe that it’s your duty to follow God and you believe that God, say, wants you to vote in such a way as to put creationism in schools, outlaw women’s right to choose, or stop the state from legally recognizing the consensual committed
relationships of otherwise law-abiding adults, well, that’s a lot of harm right there. And a lot of harm for absolutely no reason.

“I believe I get to go to heaven and it is something to look forward to, if I am absolutely wrong and you are right and God is not true then I really have nothing to lose anyway.”

Except that you’ve chosen to live in delusion rather than reality. You’ve chose to waste your time, energy, money, and possibly vote for nothing. Yes, on a day-to-day basis, this may have minimal consequence, but what’s the point of living a lie? Because it makes you feel good? Well, then, why not live all kinds of lies?

“I still gain in living this life I chose. I am happier, I feel complete, I love easier, I have something to live for, etc.”

Are you suggesting that you’re happier, more complete, more loving, and have more to live for than I do? If so, that’s pure, unadulterated, patronizing, condescending arrogance. And it’s arrogance built on delusion since you admitted that it’s based on the notion of believing without evidence. I can tell you, Linda, that I achieve my own happiness, I’ve found my own love, and I’ve made my own meaning. And it’s real because it’s what I’ve chosen rather than what’s been dictated to me by dead guys who got off on controlling peasants.

“But if I’m right and your wrong? Well, let’s just say I rather be on this side of the line.”

This is a false dichotomy. You’re assuming the line lies between us. But what if we’re both wrong and the Zeus-believing Greeks were right? You can’t prove that Zeus doesn’t exist. You can’t prove that because you’ve devoted your life to the worship of some odd Semitic god that Zeus won’t be angry with you and won’t throw you into Tartarus for your insolence. The smartest thing to do would be to worship all gods just in case. And yet you’re not doing that. What makes you so certain that Yahweh is correct and all the others aren’t?

“One other thing. I HATE religion. I am not religious.”

Yes, this is a very irritating, hip new thing in the Christian community. To denigrate “religion.” This begs the question, how do you define religion? If you define it strictly as gathering with other believers into a room, following specific rituals, singing specific songs, partaking of specific sacraments, standing at the same time, sitting at the same time, etc., and you don’t do this, then fine, you’re not religious. But if you believe in the doctrines that Christianity preaches, especially the supernatural ones unsupported by evidence, as you’ve admitted you do, then the rest is just window dressing, ultimately not the point, and you know that.

“If you truly believe the Bible as truth, then it is just that, truth.”

What do you even mean when you say “truth”? You know that “religion” that you said you hated? Guess who wrote the Bible. That’s right. Bishops, priests, so-called prophets, and scribes. The religious. Guess who decided what books and doctrines would be included and which would be excluded. That’s right. The same guys. Ironic that you claim to hate that which created what you claim to cherish.

“If you learn from God Himself through His word, then you are believing His way (hopefully).”

Who do you think came up with the “Word”? Do you think God sat down with a pen and wrote it out? See above.

“Religion is manmade.”

Where do you think the Bible came from? See above.

“It’s created when people LOVE the idea of God, but not necessarily God himself, then they begin to conform Him to fit inside their box.”

How do you know any of this? What are you basing it on? How is it that you’re not doing exactly what you’re criticizing?

“Picking apart the Bible and making up things to go with it.”

Who’s made what up about the Bible?

“In conclusion, there is absolutely nothing I can say to prove to you God’s existence.”

This isn’t true at all. You could cite evidence that demonstrates it.

“I don’t think you are asking for it either.”

That’s not quite true. If you have some, I’d love to hear it, but I’m confident that all you’ll offer will be logical fallacies and emotional appeals mainly because that’s what you’ve done so far.

“Everything I would say about my experiences in life that proves God’s existence to me could be viewed differently through another lens.”

What specifically were those experiences that proved His existence?

“If you do not believe the Bible as God’s word then spitting out scripture will mean nothing or prove nothing.”

Again, I absolutely agree.

“His existence is seen and felt through faith, but if we choose to put our faith somewhere else, like science, nature, or even ourselves then we will never feel or see Him.”

You already admitted that faith is belief without evidence, so are you saying that God’s existence is seen through believing in Him for no good reason? If so, then why not believe absolutely anything about absolutely anything?

I take issue with your claiming that people put “faith” in science and nature. Science and nature can and have been proven. And with new evidence, our understanding of science becomes more refined. This is the opposite of faith. I don’t believe that gravity works because I want to. Nor do I believe in evolution because I want to. Both, and other scientific theories, have been demonstrated repeatedly. You simply can’t say the same about faith in God.

And why is it that I won’t ever be able to see God if I trust evidence-based critical thinking? Why should it work that way? How do you know that it does? Why does this seem good to you? Why would a god set reality up that way?

“So, yes I chose to place faith in something that I, at one time, could not see or feel. It is a choice I have never regretted.”

That’s good. There probably wouldn’t be much point if you did regret it.

“My choice was more than placing faith in Him. I also chose to have a relationship with Him.”

I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What’s the difference between believing in Him and having a relationship with Him?

“I know, I know…. I might be naive and it is really hard to understand for those that have made another choice, but I’m ok with that.”

That’s all fine and good, I simply don’t understand how you’re defining these things.

“I can love them anyway. In the end… I guess we will see which side of the line was correct.”

Which is again assuming that there are only two sides to the line.

“Oh by the way… I am hated more now for my faith then I was when I was lost in drugs and other things. So, I really can’t agree with your statement that there is a wider acceptance of Christianity. There may be a tolerance, but not acceptance.”

Well, this all depends on how we define our terms and discuss them. I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say you’re more hated now. I don’t have any context. The fact remains, however, that presidential candidates believe they will win more votes by professing their faith than not. As long as that’s true, it’s an indicator as to where they believe the majority of the votes will swing.

Best,

Anton.

To my knowledge, Linda didn’t respond. I think my greatest annoyance about this, in addition to her complete dodge of some of my basic theological questions, was the whole “personal experiences” thing. I don’t know whether this has increased of late or I’ve simply noticed it more, but it keeps happening. I ask a theist (or deist) why they believe what they do and they cite personal experience. When I ask what that was, they either dodge, refuse to answer, say I won’t understand, or, in very, very rare cases give me some anecdote about a loved one recovering from disease after prayer. It’s never anything miraculous at least as far as I understand miraculous to mean. This leads me to an inescapable conclusion that I figured out more than ten years ago. People believe bullshit because they want to. And that’s really the end of it. Sure, they’ll try for evidence of their claims or some convoluted “logical” argument, but when push comes to shove, they always go back to some version of “I like it.” The thing I don’t understand is why. Even granted the comforting thing of thinking there’s a celestial authority figure who has your back, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile that with many of the socially unacceptable doctrines of even left-leaning religions. And that’s I think where the dissonance comes in. Usually when I ask about those, I get some odd, non-commital answer about faith or God’s ways being higher than ours, but I never get a solid commitment from the believer on how they feel about it. And yet I foolishly soldier on.

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