A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian: A Book Review by Christina Knowles

Manual for Creating AtheistsIn A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian makes a great case for street epistemology, or attempting to create atheists, whenever we engage someone stuck in a faith system in our everyday lives. At first, the title comes across as a little too “evangelical” for even my taste. I mean, what about “live and let live?” Should we actively try to spread our take on things just like the religious do? What about respecting people’s views if they’re not harming anyone?

Well, Boghossian points out what many of us are aware of already. Faith, or “pretending to know things you don’t know,” as Boghosssian defines it, hurts us all. It dumbs down our society, causes us to deny science, create laws that inhibit the rights of others, and feeds radical fundamentalism. At any rate, he is not advocating for bringing this message door to door, but merely engaging in Socratic questioning when we find ourselves in a friendly conversation with those of faith. Basically, he wants us to stop backing down out of “respect” for ridiculous beliefs, distinguishing between respecting the individual and pretending to respect their beliefs, thus legitimizing irrational thought.

Where I disagreed with Boghossian was that we should always target the epistemological process of faith, rather than specific beliefs or contradictions in “holy” texts. While I agree, blind faith is the problem, and as he puts it “all faith is blind,” many will be more willing to question the “virtue” of having faith if you put a crack in the specifics of what they already believe in their particular religion. It’s a lot easier to expose the fallacious elements of faith, in general, if you can show how beloved personal beliefs fail. This often leads to questioning everything. And this is the ultimate goal, questioning—examining everything with critical thinking. Skeptical thinking is the epistemological method that leads to finding truth. In my experience, it seems that many people progress through many steps toward skepticism, and that the first step is admitting that their own holy book has undeniable errors.

My favorite part of this book was how eloquently and logically Boghossian makes his case for getting back to Classical Liberalism, rather than the modern liberalism we see so much in higher education today. Boghossian explains that in an effort to promote tolerance and acceptance, we fail to attack bad ideas and bad thinking out of a misplaced politically correct sense of diversity. While cultural diversity is a good thing, we still have to point out, question, and attack logically the ideas that cannot be true or that are harmful to freedom, democracy, human rights, etc. Boghossian discusses how certain topics are considered off limits in our educational institutions today, religion being primary. Boghossian says that liberalism today has “favored” groups that are protected, while the rules against intolerance for these groups do not apply to other groups who are not favored. For example, one favored group currently is Muslims. Boghossian states,

“Contemporary academic leftists don’t withhold making judgments entirely, as do cultural relativists. Rather, they withhold judgment to the degree that a culture seems foreign and/or alien, or to the extent that they perceive a culture to be misunderstood or victimized by the West. Islam currently occupies the top rung on the contemporary leftist hierarchy of beliefs and practices that should not be criticized.

“Leftist academicians fervently judge elements in Western culture. For example, academic leftists take great pride in condemning Western institutions, Western financial systems, and Western corporations. One might see a leftist academic withhold judgment, regarding a clitoridectomy in Northern Africa, but loudly decry a gender imbalance in the headcount of speakers at an academic conference” (Boghossian 205).

This type of hypocrisy is all too familiar. Sam Harris often points out what he sees as the dangers of the Islamic faith, as well as other religions, and I have always appreciated his willingness to come out with these issues publically, realizing this dialogue cannot be “off limits,” just because it will offend someone. Open and intelligent civil discourse requires that we can engage these issues. And as both Harris and Boghossian point out, religion is not race. People choose to change religions every day and cannot be born a certain religion even if they are born into a religious family. As Boghossian points out, Islam is the favored protected group at the moment, but we don’t have any trouble pointing out flaws in Christianity, Mormonism, or Scientology. What is the difference?

Boghossian, by no means, advocates for discriminating against the rights of anyone based on their religion, but merely states that no religion is off limits for critical examination and civil discourse.

This book is filled with wonderful references for further reading and resources to help the concerned atheist spread critical thinking, and I look forward to reading many of them; however, I will still attempt to point out specific problems with specific doctrines, rather than only targeting the faith fallacy. Overall, Boghossian conveys some very good strategies and makes his points well. Four stars out of five—Christina Knowles

Here is a link to purchase Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists

 

 

 

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Missionary Atheism? Let’s Start by Coming Out by Christina Knowles

 

quote-a-fool-s-brain-digests-philosophy-into-folly-science-into-superstition-and-art-into-george-bernard-shaw-26-83-67            Of course, I dislike the concept. I am not a missionary. I have no religion to spread. No message to proselytize. I don’t normally care what someone believes if it doesn’t affect me. But I’ve heard the religious describe atheism as a religion we’re trying to spread, which is highly offensive. Shaking free of ancient belief systems that have no more merit than Greek mythology and expecting evidence to accept the unbelievable does not qualify as a religion.

I’ve also heard that we are scared that religion is becoming more popular, so we’ve become missionaries against their religions. We may be scared, but not that religion is growing. Atheism is growing, a natural consequence of ready access to ideas and information on the internet. Nevertheless, some of us are scared, scared of a nation that seems more inclined toward theocracy than ever before in our entire U.S. history.

When beliefs seemed more benign and simply ritualistic, not spoken of in polite conversation, there was no need give it a second thought. A bemused smile or a shake of the head was sufficient. However, our country, and even our world, is under a growing and alarming threat posed by religions that seeks to undermine basic civil liberties, impose antiquated and prejudiced values on others, and maybe most sinister of all, denies science and common sense on an unprecedented level, threatening to destroy the very earth under our feet in a way that cannot be undone. Laws can be overturned and rights restored, but we have reached the tipping point when it comes to climate change. The denial of basic science and the indoctrination of America against facts, even by people who should know better, perhaps, do know better, but are so consumed with greed and self-interest that the collateral damage inflicted by their aggressive domination of the earth is of no concern to them. The earth will last as long as they need it to, and what happens when they are gone is of no consequence to them. They lead the blind and uneducated by reinforcing archaic notions of being saved miraculously by the gods. Who cares if we are destroying the earth when our god intends to destroy it and create a new earth and promises a heavenly Eden in its place?

These politicians and corporate predators pander to a deluded and ignorant public who, because of their own confirmation bias, see these politicians as heroes of the faith. All a crafty, self-interested politician has to do to gain the support of these fundamentalists is to say that they are saving them from an imagined moral decline, pretend to care about the pro-life movement and the sanctity of marriage, and they forever own the minds and votes of this programed group. They tell them how to think, how to vote, and teach them to fear the rational educated who could actually save them. This group is already pre-disposed to indoctrination, having been thoroughly relieved of critical thinking skills by their religions.

So, is it time for missionary atheism? Do we need to take a more active stance in proclaiming reason over superstition? There is too much at stake to stay quietly in the closet. The risk of losing family and friends, to straining relationships, and to being looked upon with disdain and suspicion pales in the light of the greater threat to our world. Those of us who have shaken the scales from our eyes to see reason, to overcome childhood conditioning and think for ourselves, to demand evidence and logic for extraordinary claims must come out openly and strongly so that others may wake up from the delusions passed down from generations of conditioned superstitions and ignorance. Most of us have been there and woken up, and we were glad we did.

I’m not suggesting a massive deconversion campaign. I am asking that we no longer stay politely silent when those around us claim a god is blessing them with a new car while millions of innocents in Aleppo are slaughtered in the streets. They don’t even realize the depth and magnitude of their fallacies, and they never will unless someone is forward enough to point them out. Let’s make it socially objectionable to float around in a cloud of delusion, at least publically. Let’s show them that atheists are everywhere, in their families, in their offices, in their clubs, and on their teams. We are citizens with a voice, and we need to start using it.—Christina Knowles

Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems

I have always wanted to write my memoirs, the story of how I got from there to here. Perhaps, I just need to explain it to myself or to those I love. Perhaps, I need to leave a legacy for those who knew me after I’m gone. At any rate, I find that whenever I try to express my deepest feelings and my most profound experiences, I do it through poetry, so here it is, my memoir in poems.

This collection of eighty-one poems is a series of reflections of moments throughout a life lived. Some are joyful, some tragic, but all are heartfelt and real.

“Christina Knowles is a poet who is not afraid of delving into the inner world of symbolism, emotion, and dream imagery. Signs of Life is a revealing journey into the soul, a look at the inner self to which we can all relate.”

Available in paperback and Kindle Edition on Amazon.com

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Do I Really Hate Christians? by Christina Knowles

believer Just recently I found out that some people I love very much think I hate Christians. I was shocked, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. I do poke holes in Christian logic frequently, and I can see how this could be misunderstood to be directed at the people who have these beliefs. So, let me clarify what I really think and feel.

I came from a Christian family, and I used to be a Christian, so I know what it’s like to be completely sure something is true with all my heart without evidence. But after a long journey, which started with studying the bible in order to get closer to God, I opened my eyes to the reality that religion and god are man-made constructions to meet emotional and psychological needs.

Even if we are independent, healthy, and happy people, we are not immune to the conditioning of the environment in which we were raised. Even if our trusted loved ones did not teach us about God since birth, we are surrounded by it in our culture. It’s so easy to accept something without really analyzing it when everyone around us accepts it as unquestionable. Even if we don’t accept it at first, when a crisis happens or even a joyful experience, maybe things start going well for us for the first time in a long time, it’s natural to revert back to our conditioned beliefs or to things that were told to us by trusted individuals. We may think that the people who preached the gospel to us were right all along because of some event. When we have this epiphany, it is emotional. We feel relief, peace, and joy. I’ve felt it; I know. But the thing is, this happens in every religion. People, regardless of belief system, experience the same emotional rush and believe that truth has been revealed to them. The sheer number of different belief systems where this occurs is evidence that this is a psychological phenomenon having nothing to do with supernatural truth. Further evidence of this is the fact that a Christian born in America would be a Hindu if born in India. Religions are regional. You are taught to believe it by the people around you.

With this in mind, I do not think Christians are stupid for believing. I think it’s natural. As more and more people are exposed to different cultures and beliefs, more and more people give up religion. Some people are highly invested in their religious beliefs and have no impulse to critically analyze it, and religions discourage it by saying we just need to have faith, as if believing something without evidence is a desirable thing.

But when I opened my eyes to the reality of the contradictions in the bible, the sketchy historical evidence for Christianity, and the scientific impossibility of scriptural accounts and combined that with ethical concerns over the morality of the God of most religions, I just could not believe it anymore, and I don’t want to. But I could not even if I did want to. What is seen cannot be unseen. And with this realization comes the knowledge of the shaky ground upon which Christianity stands. Now, I see holes and fallacies in it everywhere, so it is easy to poke fun of it and disrespect it. But I do not do this out of a dislike of Christians. I do it out of a desire to promote truth.

But in fact, I do sometimes hate Christianity. For the few good things done in the name of the religion, a thousand bad things result. When I see what Christianity has done to the world, to our country, to logic and progress, it angers me. It divides the nation and causes people who would ordinarily be compassionate people to side with heinous politicians who preach hatred and selfishness. It turns normally good people—people who would be kind, loving, and accepting if not for their strict dogmatic beliefs to fear, avoid, and hate those who don’t believe. It makes parents disown their gay children. It creates distance between brothers and sisters whose views are different. Christianity causes people to hate, war, and sue each other over things that should not be any of their business. It causes people to think they can tell another group they should have less rights. It makes people think they are better, more correct, and more moral than other really good people. It causes people to speak harshly and tell others they will burn in hell for just being human. It causes people to shun those who believe differently. It causes children to stop speaking to parents. It causes couples to fight and neighbors to keep to themselves. It causes teenagers to commit suicide because they can’t accept who they are and fathers to call daughters whores and mothers to keep their children from loving relatives who might infect their little ones with rational thinking. It invades our politics, our government, public life, schools, and personal lives. Christians sometimes think atheists are arrogant for not believing in God, but the height of arrogance is to claim that you have the one perfect truth and direct access to God. So, yeah, I have a problem with Christianity. Occasionally, I have a problem with Christians who do the above behaviors.

I do not, however, have any dislike for Christians who are kind and do not insist that others live lives acceptable to their moral codes. I enjoy my Christian friends who care for the poor, see their neighbors as friends instead of enemies, and believe their religion is a personal choice, and that everyone else in the country does not have to abide by the rules and dogma of their particular religions. I do not dislike Christians who like me and treat me with kindness even though I’m an atheist. And the truth is I’d love my family even if they did treat me badly, but they don’t. I do not believe they lack intelligence or critical thinking skills, even though I may believe they are using the fallacy of special pleading to exempt religion from the same critical analysis they apply to everything else.

I also believe I have every right to voice my disbelief in religion, just as they voice theirs. They wear crosses, verbally praise God, ask for prayer, and speak of miracles in their lives, just as I will continue to point out the flaws in the bible, wear atheist t-shirts, and put anti-religious bumper stickers on my car. I don’t assume they hate atheists because they wear a cross or have a fish on their cars, and they should not assume I hate Christians for pointing out how science disproved another verse in the bible.

I don’t want to hurt my Christian friends and loved ones. I just want to be real. I want to be the authentic me, and say what I really think, and I’m sorry that what I think is that Christianity is bullshit. I have the same need to speak truth that Christians feel when they speak of God’s supposed goodness and mercy. I have the need to tell my story of enlightenment, much the same as Christians have the need to tell their stories of redemption. But I don’t need faith to back up my claims because I have the evidence on my side.

Do I want Christians to wake up and see the flaws in their religions? Yes, sure. My life has been so much better since I gave up the fairy tale of religion, just like Christians want everyone else to wake up and accept salvation in their one true god. But do I hate them? Of course not. I remember what it was like to be them. Do I have disdain for their religion? Of course. I remember what it did to me, and I see everyday what it does to people I love. But we sometimes need to set aside our personal beliefs and just care about each other and not worry so much about what the other believes or does not believe. —Christina Knowles

 

Afraid You Are Losing Your America? Well, You Are. By Christina Knowles

leave-it-to-beaver-2It seems that some of us continue to fantasize about returning to the good ol’ days of Mayberry RFD and Leave It to Beaver, a fantasy that was never reality, and who’d want it to be? Apparently, many people desire to return to the pre-civil rights era, back to segregation, closeted homosexuality, dangerous back-alley abortions, and to a white-male dominated society that oppressed women and confined them to the home, whether they liked it or not.

These same people want to deny scientific discovery and progress in favor of an ancient book of mythology, but worse, they want to impose their antediluvian notions on the rest of us in the form of laws and by refusing to combat the use of fossil fuels and by resisting clean energy or any type of regulation that will slow the next mass extinction.

If you fall into this category, I address the rest of this to you:

If you want religious freedom, the absolute worse thing you can do is to try to enforce your superstitious beliefs on the laws of the land. You are shooting yourself in the foot, as the saying goes. The more you say that you are following God’s law by breaking the law of the land by discriminating and trying to force action based on your unfounded beliefs, the more you look like a Jim Jones cult-type, and the more you will imagine that you are being persecuted just because the rest of us don’t also believe the world is 6000 years old. You complain about the progressive churches promoting evolution and a more free interpretation of the bible, but this change is happening because the more people learn, the more they realize that the bible was just a book, steeped in the middle eastern culture of the day. Christianity cannot survive scientific and sociological advances without adapting, and this is a good thing. It will, however, lead to its inevitable demise, regardless of this adaptation, but you hasten it with every ridiculous outcry, demanding biblical rigidity in the law.

Understanding climate change, evolution, and population predictions necessitates the inability to pander to fanatical religious groups like the Quiverfull movements, which irresponsibly reproduce dozens of children who will need resources for which we cannot supply, not to mention jobs for when they are out on their own. Believing that some imaginary creator commands its followers to fill the earth with offspring cleverly keeps the cult going, conditioning children in these beliefs that would otherwise dwindle and die away very quickly.

But know this, eventually reason always wins out over superstition and cult-type religious fervor. It’s called progress. So, are you afraid you are losing YOUR America? You are. Just like medieval thought gave way to the Enlightenment. Just like flat earth thought gave way to scientific fact. Desperately insisting that you are doing what God commands, regardless of scientific fact, just makes you look unhinged to the rest of us. Reason and science will prevail, but if it does not, we are headed to extinction. More and more people are realizing this, and that is why there is a mass exodus from the church—not because new age preachers are twisting the gospel, not because the worship is shallow, or because there are too many coffee bars in church, or anything else. People are waking up and shaking off the shackles of unreasonable superstition and childhood conditioning. This is the progress that will lengthen our species’ era upon this earth. This is our only hope. There is no true hope in faith. So, loosen your grip on the past, and realize YOUR America is our America too, and it will move forward, despite your best efforts of fear mongering and lingering in the idealized past.—Christina Knowles

Photo via famefocus.com

 

 

 

So What the Heck Is a Secular Bohemian? by Christina Knowles

tree-huggerWhat Is a Secular Bohemian? I am. I am non-spiritual (secular), and I am unconventional, artistic, and a bit of a hippie (Bohemian). How do these two descriptors coexist in one body?

Well, I may seem like a bundle of contradictions to some. After all I read the Tarot, I celebrate pagan and Christian holidays, I meditate and practice yoga, I eat organic and respect animals, I use alternative and Eastern homeopathic medicines, and I light incense at my Buddha altar.

On the other hand, I don’t believe in gods, heaven, hell, an afterlife, magic, ghosts, reincarnation, the soul, or the supernatural, in general. I accept the current views of the scientific community, and I like to have hard evidence to support the things I believe. I use reason and don’t just accept anything I hear.

So why would a rational person with no spirituality be interested in all of these questionable practices? Well, I consider myself somewhat of a cultural pagan, just like people who aren’t Christians celebrate Christmas. It’s fun and enriches my life. Celebrating the cycles of the earth and the culture of my ancestors enhances my sense of where we came from, what they believed, how they lived, and it’s full of joy and creativity.

I do understand that many non-theists think that all religions are harmful because they promote irrational thinking, but if we take the positive cultural customs in full awareness that there is nothing magical about them, why do we need to toss it all? Most of us give gifts and have a Christmas tree in December, but we don’t have to lie to our children about the existence of Santa Claus.

Meditation, yoga, many essential oils, and nutrition as medicine have all been studied and shown to have positive effects on health. Some doctors are now prescribing essential oils to treat symptoms and disease. For example, frankincense has been tested in the lab has been found to have a positive effect in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and even cancer. Don’t get me wrong, if I need medicine, I’ll take it, but if I can treat it naturally without experiencing the string of side effects associated with pharmaceuticals, I’d rather.

And I know organic foods have been highly criticized by skeptics as well. I don’t have a problem with the concept of genetically modifying food to feed the world or to create a drought-resistant crop, but I do object to genetically modifying food in order to withstand dousing it with proven toxic chemicals like Roundup. I also prefer that my meat is not tortured before slaughter. I do realize that all organic foods are not all they are advertised to be. That’s why I prefer to support local family farms whenever possible. I also think that our food source should be more about health and survival than about corporate profits.

As far as my Buddha and incense rituals go, they simply put me in a relaxed state and have nothing to do with a spiritual concept. It just sets the mood for my meditation—and it smells good too.

And although I never get a flu shot, I am not an anti-vaccer. I guess I just don’t get why freethinkers are so closed-minded when it comes to these things. Things like acupuncture and other Eastern medicines are being researched and positively tested more and more frequently. To just dismiss these things out-of-hand without inquiring about their validity is being skeptical to the extreme. You know, all science is pseudo-science before it is has been tested and accepted, and we actually do not understand everything about our world, at least not yet. I’m not suggesting we believe every new idea put forth by the general public, but neither should we condemn something without enough information. Don’t knock it till you try it.

So, I guess being a secular Bohemian means being open to ideas and experiences that don’t necessarily conform to only proven scientific conventions while not being subject to irrational beliefs about them. And instead of trying to fit into a secular box or a Bohemian one, I accept my complexities and even embrace them. So peace out and merry part!—Christina Knowles

Photo via EcoEquine/Horse Hippie

Let’s Stop Insulting Doctors, Shall We? by Christina Knowles

Two hands praying In light of recent headlines such as this one that appeared in the June 3, 2016 issue of the Colorado Springs Independent, stating, “Parents prayed for two hours as their son lay dying before calling ambulance, court hears” (2016), referring to the Canadian couple charged with the murder of their 15 year old son, maybe it’s time to get real for a minute. Medicine works, prayer does not.

And let’s stop insulting doctors, shall we? Let’s give credit where credit is due. Every time you say, “It’s a miracle,” or “God showed up,” you are diminishing the years of hard work that a doctor or scientist put forward in finding a cure, practicing how to save people, perfecting treatments, etc. If God was going to show up, why didn’t he do it before you lost your house because of medical bills, before you destroyed your body in chemotherapy treatments, before you had triple-bypass surgery? Why would God need triple-bypass surgery to fix you anyway? Every cure attributed to God, undermines truth, reality, common sense, innovation, and hard work.

Every disease that has ever been defeated has a natural explanation. In addition to the expert hands of wonderful physicians, it is a well-known fact that our bodies have amazing self-healing abilities. You know what the human body can’t do? Re-grow limbs. When is the last time you prayed over an amputee, and their limbs grew back? Right, because medical science can’t perform that little miracle, and evidently, neither can God. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

There are examples of spontaneous healing, though rare, and these examples span the religious and the non-religious, and do not depend on whether or not anyone was praying for these people. For most, eventually the reason was validated with medical science. For the rest, a solid non-supernatural theory is in play. Although spontaneous remission happens, it is quite rare, much more rare than prayer for the ill. If prayer worked, you’d think it would have a much higher percentage of success. But, you can always say, “God works in mysterious ways” or “It wasn’t his will.” Either God takes a lot of days off, he doesn’t have the will to heal very many people, or this is just another escape clause believers perpetuate to let God off the hook for doing nothing to intervene in, apparently, almost anyone’s life.

According to an article in Science-Based Medicine, so-called spontaneous cures for cancers are usually discovered to fall into one of a few categories and “most alleged cancer cures are [explained by]:

  1. The patient never had cancer. (Was a biopsy done?)
  2. A cancer was cured or put into remission by proven therapy, but questionable therapy was also used and erroneously credited for the beneficial result.
  3. The cancer is progressing but is erroneously represented as slowed or cured.
  4. The patient has died as a result of the cancer (or is lost to follow-up) but is represented as cured.
  5. The patient had a spontaneous remission (very rare) or slow-growing cancer that is publicized as a cure” (2010).

But what’s the harm in believing God heals? Doesn’t belief act as a placebo effect if nothing else? To this, I would say that belief does much more harm than good. Even if you don’t have radical and dangerous ideas about killing those who disagree with you because of something men wrote a couple of thousand years ago, there are more common dangers. On a daily basis, Americans (and not just the extreme cases as in the Independent article) refuse treatment or wait too long to get treatment because they believe God will intervene. When God does not show up, not only do they suffer emotional damage, but often they or their innocent loved ones pay the price through a sickness that has been left too long untreated. If they get lucky enough times, they rely more heavily on prayer or faith healing, and sooner or later they won’t be lucky when it really matters.

According to Carrie Wiesman from Alternet.com, there are numerous examples of children dying due to faith healing beliefs, wherein, timely medical attention was foregone in lieu of prayer, and rationalwiki.com cites numerous cases as well, stating,

“The organization Children’s Health Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) estimated that around 300 children have died in the US since 1975 due to people putting too much faith in faith healing. CHILD identified 172 cases between 1975 and 1995 in which a child died and evidence suggested medical care was exempted for religious grounds; of these, CHILD estimated that 140 would have had a 90% survival rate with medical intervention and an additional 18 would have had a 50% survival rate “(updated May 9, 2016).

And these are just the known cases with more and more popping up with greater and greater frequency. What about the ones whose parents did not admit that they had known the child was sick? What about adults who die quietly without ever telling anyone that they were counting on God?

At the very least, we stand by uselessly when we offer prayers for the ill, and believe we have done our part, rather than taking physical action or even giving useful advice. As Madalyn Murray O’Hair said, “Two hands working can do more than a thousand hands praying.” The same could be said for any situation, problem, or tragedy. Why sit around talking to an imaginary being, who, if he does exist, does not seem to be in any hurry to help us out, instead of actively doing something when it is clear that this God is not willing to help, is not capable of helping people, does not act equally among people, or most likely, just does not exist?

So, stop praying, and start supporting science and medicine, which has a proven track record in saving lives. God, not so much. And next time you want to say “sending prayers,” realize that your actions would be a lot more helpful and appreciated.—Christina Knowles

Sources:

Hall, Harriet. “Faith Healing.” Science-Based Medicine. 26 Jan. 2010. Web. 17 June 2016.

Samuels, Gabriel. “Parents prayed for two hours as their son lay dying before calling ambulance, court hears.” Colorado Springs Independent. 3 June 2016. Web. 17 June 2016.

Weisman, Carrie. “Shocking Numbers of Children Die in America When Their Parents Turn to Faith-Based Healing.” AlterNet.com. 28 Nov. 2014. Web. 16 June 2016.

Blessed? Aren’t You Special by Christina Knowles

blessed_1063_1280x1024I am so tired of hearing the constant gushing of ‘I’m so blessed because God . . .” Fill in the blank with all the nonsense people say was God’s gift to them—nice house, new car, health, a good job, etc. I don’t think they know how rude and offensive this is taken in light of the millions who are not “blessed,” such as the homeless, the sick and dying, the children currently being molested and abused. Yet, God chose to bless you and ignore them. Aren’t you special.

Sure, many people mean this just as a humble way of saying that they don’t deserve all they have received in life, but many people really do mean that out of all the suffering people in the world, they were chosen to get special treatment. Usually, they connect this to some behavior they have done to trigger God’s blessing. Disguised as humility, they are really saying that they do deserve this special treatment.         blessedThey often state it something like this: “God is so GOOD! Ever since I turned my life over to Him and followed his will, things have all been falling into place for me!” The other one that is popular is giving credit to other people for praying God into submission to their will. It goes something like this: “Sending prayers to you ASAP! We have all our prayer warriors on this!” implying that God will have no choice but to comply with “prayer warriors” fighting the battle for God against Satan. Apparently, God either needs permission to stop Satan from wreaking havoc, or he’s not capable of doing it on his own. Maybe he just needs the popular vote from his followers to decide that finding a missing child is worth his attention.

Of course, if things come out in their favor, yay God! He is soooo GOOD!!! Yeah? Well, what about everyone he didn’t rescue? They didn’t have enough Facebook “Amens” or “Sending prayers!” posted, I guess.

And what happens when after all this prayer, they are not “blessed?” They don’t get a new job, their car breaks down, they can’t pay the rent, and the doctor gives the worst news? Are they suddenly quiet? Ashamed that they must have done something to deserve this? Confused, wondering why God has deserted them? Or like, Job, do they give the standard, “Who am I to interfere in God’s plan? He gives and he takes away.”       Some have these reactions, while others continue the vigilant prayers, never wondering why they choose to worship such a capricious and cruel god, even though they would never treat their own children like this. Struggling to make meaning of suffering, they ignore the obvious conclusion. The things that happen to them are merely a result of a combination of random chance, coincidence, and the natural consequences of the choices they and those around them make.

Just as the ancient Greeks were desperate to explain the droughts and floods, the lightning in the sky, and the numerous uncontrollable aspects of their lives, we are desperate to make meaning of tragedy and chaos, so we too, invent myths to explain them and to comfort us. But they don’t comfort us. In fact, they are disgusting and harmful.

To those who believe in this god, is this myth you perpetuate, this god, the same god whom you think is going to send your child to live in everlasting flames merely for being unable to believe something for no good reason? Is this the god that would let a child be raped and murdered in order for those around him to learn some sort of twisted lesson? Is this the god that would allow free reign of ultimate evil for a time to separate the wheat from the chaff? Ask yourself, would a good parent let one child jump in front of a moving truck to teach the other child to look both ways? Would a loving parent let home invaders in to terrorize and kill just to see who finds the faith and strength to not give up? This is one twisted god you serve. And that’s what I think of every time you post how blessed you are.

Stop saying that when you do things right, or when you experience random good “luck” that God is blessing you. Stop saying that every time you have a good day, miss all the red lights, and find a parking space that God has blessed you. Stop saying that your expensive house, good job, and new car are the results of God’s goodness and love for you. Not only is it an affront to common sense, it’s cruel. How do you think that makes the abused woman feel? The starving child? How are they supposed to take it when you credit God for giving you a big house, a nice job, and lots of friends? If God would really do all that for you, why wouldn’t he throw this molested or neglected child a break? So that’s what some of us are thinking every time we read your ridiculous posts. Look, no one has a problem with you being grateful, but stop acting like you are chosen to miraculously be rescued from the suffering that God chooses to ignore in everyone else’s lives. Please.—Christina Knowles

Believe It or Not—Shit Happens by Christina Knowles

POSTER-BELIEVE-TROUBLES-LG-400x307Everywhere I look, everywhere I go, I am bombarded with the message to “Just Believe.” These encouragements do not always seem religious in nature, though at the heart of them, they really are. Phrases like, “Don’t be afraid, just believe” and “Believe in the magic” or “Believe in your destiny” all imply that either we have some control over the physical world merely by thinking something into existence really hard, or that we should accept something without any evidence, and in some cases, accept things that defy natural laws and simply cannot be true. Yet, those of us who identify as skeptics, who simply want some facts to back up the claims, are scorned as cynical, or as lacking imagination or some more “desirable” ability to regress into a childlike state of belief in fairy tales.

Why would this state of mind be lauded and sought after more than a mind that withholds agreement until the proof is in? I can only guess that it might be that belief makes us feel good, makes us feel we have some control, or makes us happier, thinking we live in a world where anything is possible, at least anything we want is possible. Maybe we just want to explain the chaos, give meaning to it.224312-Believe-The-Magic-Of-Christmas

But being a skeptic in a world where belief in the unknown is not only encouraged, but is praised as an ideal way of living, causes quite a few uncomfortable experiences. For example, when someone loses a loved one, and friend after friend offers up promises of prayers, encouragements of faith, comforting thoughts that a strong sense of surety will bring them through, what are the skeptics supposed to say? “I’m so sorry,” or “I’m thinking of you” pales in comparison. And when a friend tells a skeptic that if they just believe, everything will be all right, how should they respond? Saying what they really think will seem rude and most likely start an argument.

Just-Believe
We, as skeptics, may seem insensitive or even offensive if we explain that we would rather take real action than use our mental energy to make-believe help. Often, we can’t bring ourselves to offer up promises of words spoken to someone who is not there, no matter how comforting. It’s just too hypocritical when believing doesn’t do anything that matters to anyone but the person experiencing it, and even then, it’s simply a psychological placebo. And every time something good happens, faith in some magical experience is credited, but when the opposite of what is wished for happens, the answer seems to be that either the person just didn’t believe enough, or my personal favorite, “It just means something better will come of this.”

I am a compassionate person. I really care when something bad happens to someone, but I can’t pretend to believe that trusting in some magical rescue or that wishing, praying, or focusing on the positive is going to help, even if it makes someone feel better temporarily. I think we’d all be better off if we just dealt with things realistically, even if it hurts for a while.Miracles

So no, I can’t “just believe.” Could it be that we just have no control over some things? That some random things just happen and some things happen that are clearly cause and effect? You may believe that you are wishing your world into existence, but until someone can measure the brainpower affecting real change on the physical world, reproduce it in the lab, and explain it, I’m going to stick with “Shit happens.”—Christina Knowles

All photos via Pinterest

90 Days with God: A Sincere Attempt to Believe the Unbelievable by Christina Knowles

devotionsTwo years ago, I became very frustrated with my back and forth relationship with belief. After feeling confident about coming out as an atheist, I had an “epiphany” that I was wrong and decided to determine what it was that I believed once and for all. Once and for all—quite an unrealistic expectation as I look back on it. But I was tired of waffling between Christianity and unbelief in any god at all. I wanted to be sure I was making the right decision, but as it turns out, I don’t really get to make a decision about what I believe. No matter how much I try to choose my beliefs, my beliefs just are. I can choose to look at things with a skeptic’s eye, or I can choose to ignore problems with claims as far as not investigating those nagging doubts, but in the end, I can’t un-know what I’ve learned, and I can’t deny logic. I just can’t choose to have faith. I have come to realize that belief is not a choice once the eyes are opened. It’s like seeing your parents fill your stockings in the middle of the night before Christmas. The illusion of Santa Claus is forever shattered. But I did try.

At one point, I wondered if I was just doing Christianity wrong. After having this epiphany that I was wrong about God not existing, I still struggled with faith, especially in the bible. I just couldn’t make myself believe that it was the inerrant word of God. It was full of contradictions, there was no original text to track changes, many things clearly contradicted what we know from science, but most of all, God did not seem like a god to me. He seemed like a man, a man created by a patriarchal culture, a flawed man, who valued vengeance, and demanded worship to feed an ego that seemed to go against my idea of an all-powerful perfect and good god. Not only that, the god of the bible seemed to contradict himself. He demanded things from us that he did not deliver on himself, namely humility and mercy. He also created imperfect beings, gave them free will, but demanded that they “freely” obey him, accept him, believe in him, or be punished.

Furthermore, it really bothered me that many places in the bible blatantly state that God causes certain people to not believe; he closes their eyes and hearts to the truth, so they cannot receive him and salvation. How is that free will? And how is that fair? Supposedly, he then uses them to fulfill his purposes. Not only does this seem unfair, it seems downright evil. But because I had this “revelation” that he was real (It is worth noting here that this epiphany came to me during a theatrical performance of Paradise Lost in which I closely identified with Lucifer), I thought it must be me. Maybe I wasn’t praying enough, confessing enough, or I didn’t have enough faith because I didn’t read the bible enough, everything that most churches will tell you that you need to do in order to develop a close relationship with God. So, I decided to do everything I could to do what was supposed to help me believe and have the right attitude. I committed to spending ninety days with God, praying, asking for faith, asking for God to reveal truth to me, reading the bible, journaling about what I read, and worshiping with music and meditation.

Every day I started by asking forgiveness for my unbelief and by praying Psalms 51:10-11, which says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (NKJV). I prayed for God to work in my heart, and I was sincere. It is worth noting that when I began this ninety-day commitment, I actually believed God was real even though I struggled with what kind of god he was.

I began reading the New Testament in Matthew and read through Acts. Everyday I would read a chapter or more, continuing until coming to a logical place to stop in the narrative, or slowing down when I required more thought on a passage. I would highlight it, meditate on it, pray for understanding, and then journal my thoughts and a prayer or two to God. I would end with another similar prayer, but more personal. Later in the day, I would listen to praise music and worship along with it. I would meditate on God or scripture as well. I did this whole-heartedly, expecting God to work in my heart.

When I first made this commitment, I honestly thought to myself that this was my last chance. I had devoted hours, days, and weeks to reading theology, bible commentary, listening and calling into Christian talk shows, talking to pastors, and looking for answers to questions I didn’t understand. I thought if this didn’t work, I was done. I would devote no more of life to searching in vain. The first few weeks were hard. I didn’t want to do it, I dreaded it, and I even had nightmares about the church being a cult that I needed to escape. Some people said this was a spiritual attack, and others said it was my subconscious telling me what I really thought about the religion. I’ve come to believe the latter.

Previously, I had always thought that most of my problems were with the Old Testament version of God. He is the one who commanded that whole races be wiped out, including small children and people who had nothing to do with whatever the rest were guilty of. He was the one who said to stone children who disobeyed, kill homosexuals, and plunder villages, leaving no one alive. But while reading the New Testament, I saw similar contradictions. For one thing, Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles advocated for the behavior in the Old Testament and keeping the law. And then I read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. To paraphrase, the early church members sold their personal belongings and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet to distribute to anyone as they had need. Well, Ananias and Sapphira sold their land, and gave some of the proceeds to the church. Peter confronted them saying, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:1-4, NKJV). Ananias, after hearing these words, fell down and died. Then Peter asked Sapphira if the amount they gave was the whole price they had received, and she lied, saying yes. Then Peter, knowing she lied, asked, “‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5; 9-11, NKJV). Presumably God struck them down for having an unfortunately natural human reaction. Yes, I realize that in Christianity, natural human reactions are sin, but if Ananias and Sapphira would have been given a minute to think about it, feel guilty about it, they most likely would have changed their minds and given it all. I mean, they didn’t have to give any of it, so they obviously believed in the cause, but the normal human reaction is to be afraid, afraid to give up everything and trust. If they were condemned for a momentary lapse of trust, then we were all doomed.

Whenever I’ve heard this taught in church, the pastor always emphasizes that Ananias and Sapphira lied to God, not just men, and it wasn’t about the money. So what? Does that make it right? Does that mean they deserve to be struck dead? I’ve always had a problem with a major tenet of the Christian religion—the idea that because we are all sinners, we deserve to go to everlasting punishment. I agree, we are all flawed and sometimes do immoral things. No one is perfect. No one is worthy—wait, worthy of what? Heaven? Life? Punishment for sin is death. Okay, that seems reasonable, maybe, I mean if we’re talking just not living forever. But flaming torment without end? I don’t believe anyone deserves that. To me that sounds suspiciously like a human invention, an angry vengeful, wronged, and bitter human answer to taking care of people who do things they don’t like, or perhaps, someone who wants to frighten people into conformity. So, I don’t care if it was about the money or lying to God (the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira). They didn’t deserve it. And I don’t believe a loving father-God makes examples out of his children, so others will learn. Would you let one of your children step in front of a speeding vehicle, so the rest of your children will learn to look both ways? Of course not. I longed for answers, but everywhere the answers were shallow, didn’t make any sense, or just fell way too short of logic. And my problems with the New Testament don’t end there. How about the whole concept of blood sacrifice? But that’s another blog.

Anyway, I continued reading, praying, and worshiping, but my heart moved further and further from God. Did I even want to believe this stuff? The miracles didn’t bother me. If God created the world, then he could part the Red Sea, but the fact that he didn’t bother showing us any of these miracles made me wonder, made me doubt. Of course, the entire creation story completely contradicts what we know about the earth and the universe, so maybe it just isn’t supposed to be taken literally. But it comes down to this for me: Doesn’t he want us to believe? Isn’t he capable of showing himself to an unbelieving world? Wouldn’t a loving and powerful god know just how to reach each and every one of us? Maybe he just doesn’t care. Maybe he is evil. Probably, this god just doesn’t exist. The stock answer from Christians is that we just don’t understand the mind of god, he wants us to have free will, and it’s to test our faith. From the bible, I think we understand the mind of god too well—he acts just like a violent, sexist tyrant with the prejudices of an ancient patriarchal society. Free will doesn’t make sense because even if we knew God existed, we could still choose not to worship him. Satan and his followers did. Faith shouldn’t matter because the Old Testament people weren’t required to believe without seeing. They had miracles in their faces every day. Why should we be required to believe on less evidence?

But what was most disturbing to me were the contradictions in the bible about the basic tenets of salvation. Every religion claims to know exactly what, as Paul puts it, is the “Way” to salvation, but how could they, when it is not at all clear in the scriptures? For example, and I could give you many, it says in Acts 2:38, Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (NKJV). When I ask about this, I always get referred to a different part of scripture that says the opposite. But that only proves it’s contradictory, not which way is right. The very fact that it is contradictory points to none of it being right.

Then the other thing that many Christians disagree about, but seem to think it is really a non-issue, is the idea of predestination or Calvinism–that God chooses whom he will give knowledge and faith to, and who will be saved. Here is one verse among many that supports that, “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them’” (John 12:39-40). Verses like this make me think that if this God were real, I must be one of those people that God won’t let believe because no matter what I did, I doubted. But then there are verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV). Again, this doesn’t prove anyone can be saved; it just proves the bible contradicts itself, and no one, no matter what they say, can know the true “Way,” even within the confines of Christianity.

Now some Christians say that this is not important; we can go on regardless of which way it is, but I can’t see how. If the bible contradicts itself, it cannot be trusted, so therefore, all of it is in question. I do see obvious moral lessons and wisdom from some parts of the bible that are valuable, as I do with the wisdom of many religions, but I cannot base my beliefs on it, especially when so many things in it contradict my own internal moral values like killing groups of people because some of them have sinned, or raping and pillaging, slavery, subjugating women, or condemning homosexuals for feelings they did not choose.

So the conclusion of my ninety days with God was that I don’t believe I spent time with God at all. It was actually confirmation to me that I could never again be a Christian. It set me on a path of critical thinking and skepticism as it has for numerous atheists. So, beware, studying the bible too closely very often causes apostasy. Most atheists I know personally believed at one time, but turned away after studying the bible too closely, usually in an effort to be a better Christian.

I no longer feel the need to force myself to believe. I don’t need or want a reward for being good, and neither do I deserve to go to hell for being human. I’ve come to terms with this. I may be wrong. But if I am wrong, then there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t make myself believe something I don’t. I feel that even if I tried to brainwash myself again, it wouldn’t work because once I woke up and realized the truth, I couldn’t un-know it. By the way, I think that “epiphany” I had was a normal psychological reaction to my cultural conditioning, but I broke free from the cult of religion once and for all—at least I hope so.—Christina Knowles