Friday, December 7, 2018

I Believe; Therefore, I Know

This article is very different than what I typically write, and is reflective of a journey I have been on. It has been a long time in the making, and came about as a result of my going from thinking that my beliefs were fact to knowing they are not. The result has been a greater capacity for sympathy and even empathy for those whose beliefs are polar opposite of mine, and for people in general. After all, at the end of the day, we are all human and we are all doing this journey of life together.  

“I know God exists!”

Certain: to perceive directly: have direct cognition of (Merriam Webster)
-to have developed a relationship with (someone) through meeting and spending time with them; be familiar or friendly with (Oxford Dictionary) 

Ask a christian if god truly exists, and you will get a resounding and emphatic “YES!” To them, god is as real as the sun, as real as the clothes on your back. There is no assuming, no second-guessing. God Is—period. Challenge that notion, and you are going to get push back—vehemently so! Their beliefs have become so engrained that they have become an integral part of who they are; their beliefs have become their identity.  

It is as if the christian has blinded themselves to any other possibility than those beliefs whose individual parts make up the sum of their worldview. For many fundamentalist christians, Adam and Eve are our ancestors. The Garden of Eden was a place where they literally walked and talked with God. The serpent really talked. Mankind began through Adam and Eve. A boat that carried tens of thousands of species of animals, managed to float the entire time, and the animals neither ate each other nor were overcome with massive, unmanageable amounts of scat.

Jonah was swallowed by great fish, lived in its belly for three days, and was conveniently vomited up on land exactly where god wanted him to be. The Tower of Babel was being built to reach god, so god caused the first United Nations meeting. The burning bush actually spoke. The Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years for what should have been a two-week journey. And of course, Moses parted the red sea.

And then, when you get to the new testament, the “I knows” become even more solidified. Jesus was both man and god. Mary really was impregnated by the holy spirit. And yes, she was still a virgin. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Mankind is depraved and needs saved. Jesus did rise again—that one is of the utmost importance!

All of these—and so many more, are all “facts” to the christian; there is no way they are not true. They won’t even begin to entertain that idea; these issues are presented as and believed to indeed be fact.

There is just one problem with that; not one of their beliefs can be proven. Sure, they will offer up what they consider “proof”; however, their proof falls short of just one thing—proving anything.

I know there is no god!

Certain: to perceive directly: have direct cognition of (Merriam Webster)
-to have developed a relationship with (someone) through meeting and spending time with them; be familiar or friendly with (Oxford Dictionary) 

Ask most atheists if god exists, and you will get a resounding and emphatic “NOI!” To them, there is no assuming, no second-guessing. God Is Not—period. Challenge that notion, and you are going to get push back—vehemently so! Their beliefs have become so engrained that they have become an integral part of who they are; their beliefs have become their identity. It is as if the atheist has blinded themselves to any other possibility than those beliefs whose individual parts make up the sum of their worldview.

For many atheists, there is no afterlife, no deities, no angels…demons…devils, etc. The bible is a book consisting of mostly ridiculous, at best sentiments, written by crazy, sometimes drunk desert dwellers who were homophobes, bigots, and misogynists. There is no way it’s the “word of god” and it is definitely not infallible and inerrant. Prayer is a joke and a worthless exercise, whose requests are falling upon non-existent ears. Tell some atheists you are praying for them, and they will respond with vitriol, feeling it necessary to make known in no uncertain terms how they feel about prayer. It is highly likely for some atheists that any discussion of their beliefs will be focused on attempting to convince the one they are arguing with that they are right—their beliefs are the correct ones, and any dissenting voice is flat-out wrong—no questions asked. This mindset comes from the staunch belief that one’s beliefs are correct; so much so that the propagator of those beliefs will present them as fact. This is exactly what you see so often when a christian argues their points; their beliefs become facts in their mind. And increasingly, I am seeing this same behavior with atheists—and I find both disturbing and frustrating.

This article began with a journey of self-reflection and the resulting realization that my beliefs, while I hold rather tightly to them, are in fact, not facts! I do not believe god (or any gods, for that matter) exist. I do not believe in an afterlife. Nor do I believe in the supernatural, including a devil, angels, demons, etc. No heaven, no hell. However, I do not know that there is no god, no afterlife, etc. And I must come to the place where I am just as respectful of someone else’s and opposite beliefs as I would want people to be of mine.

When someone sees their beliefs as facts—that they are right, they are placing themselves in the not so envious position of being arrogant and feeling superior. And isn’t that exactly what so many of us, myself included, have been so outspoken against when it comes to christians? Just because they are our beliefs, and in spite of the sometimes-tumultuous journey we embarked upon to arrive at those beliefs does not mean that we are correct. If I were to believe that I was indeed right; that my beliefs were facts, I would rather quickly become arrogant and would be unpleasant to be around and particularly to have a discussion of faith with. I would go from being skeptical to being close-minded, and no one has expanded their beliefs or adopted new ones whilst remaining close-minded. Certainty is the antithesis of growth and learning new things.

When we are convinced that we know, we are effectively ensuring that we won't know more. It's that cognitive dissonance that atheists complain about christians so much; it's the same thing christians dislike about atheists...that smug, know-it-all attitude. An attitude which will certainly prove to keep us from learning more, that will keep us stuck.

When I was a christian, for a long time I was certain I was right, and I became stagnant in my fundamentalism and in my beliefs, and became arrogant and adopted an attitude of superiority. As an atheist, I at first exhibited that same certainty of my beliefs, or this time, the lack thereof, and once again, for a time, became arrogant and adopted that same attitude of superiority. I'm not saying I'm doubting my atheism; that most certainly is not the case. However, I am becoming increasingly aware that my beliefs don't equal facts. Just because I believe something doesn't mean it's true or absolute. We as atheists claim to be skeptics, yet what I've often witnessed is anything but skepticism; instead, I've witnessed the opposite...people so certain they're right that there is no room for skepticism, especially when it's turned inward and used to look at one's self and one’s beliefs. It's easy to be skeptical of the other guy's beliefs, but what about your own? What makes you so certain...certain you are right and the other guy is wrong?

Am I willing to step back from my beliefs and scrutinize them, allowing for the possibility that they may be wrong? Are you? Doing so is the only way to be open to more possibilities and new, perhaps better beliefs. Inward-guided skepticism allows for growth; certainty stunts growth. Certainty also demands that things are done from our perspective—from our worldview. It’s my way or the highway. Btw, this is the exact type of thinking that occurs in the bully’s mind—or worse, an abusive person. You will see it my way; you will do it my way, or else; the results of which look a lot like some of the posts and comments from both sides that show up in my news feed or in posts and comments in websites devoted to such topics. Statements that call into question the sanity of the person who holds a belief opposite to the one posting, or altogether announces their insanity and puts them down as a person.

We often say that a christian cannot separate their beliefs from their person, and that their beliefs often become their identity, and look down on that practice, and yet, that is precisely what someone does when they criticize or more accurately define someone by their beliefs. What frustrates us at times becomes the very thing we do when criticizing them—we do not separate their beliefs from their identity. “They are mental.” “They are so ignorant.” “They are delusional.” And the list goes on… Are their beliefs stupid, or at least questionable? Some very well may be; for instance, the belief that all of humanity is depraved, wicked and evil, and deserving of hell fire because of a poor dietary choice made by ancestors millenniums ago is certainly questionable at best, and may be a stupid one. However, I better not state or think that the person holding that belief is stupid simply because they hold that belief. For one, I, as well as many here, once held that or very similar beliefs. Does that mean we were/are stupid? If we hold any expectations that people should separate their beliefs from their identity, we had damn well better make sure we are doing the same when the shoe is on the proverbial other foot!

I want to leave you with a few questions which I hope will challenge you as much as they do me.

·         Do we hold so tightly to our beliefs that they hold us in captivity?
·         Do we perceive our beliefs as just that, or as facts?
·         Have we become arrogant? Have we adopted an attitude of superiority?
·         What does a debate about beliefs between us and someone whose beliefs are opposite ours look like?
·         Are we willing to concede that we really don’t know, and therefore become open to beliefs beyond those we currently hold?
·         And finally, are we willing to be respectful of those whose beliefs differ from ours and value them as a person as much as we do someone whose beliefs mirror ours?  

Let’s not forget—at the end of the day, we are all in this together; we are all doing our best to make the most out of this journey of life. Your beliefs have become one of your coping mechanisms to do so, as is the case with the person whose beliefs are polar opposite of yours. Let’s be respectful of each other, regardless of one’s beliefs and let’s focus more on loving others instead of trying to prove them wrong while simultaneously proving ourselves right. A good personal mantra, and one I try to live by, albeit far from perfectly is “Bring a little joy into the lives of those whose path I come across today.” 

What an amazing journey this life would be if we all practiced that same personal mantra!  

Thursday, September 27, 2018

God Is A Just God?

For a variety of reasons, I have not posted anything for too long a time. No internet, I moved, I threw away the power cord to my computer thinking it was to an old laptop…

The good news is, I’m settled in, have internet, and bought a power cord, and am ready to post regularly here. And without further ado—which is a nice way of saying without any more bullshit, here is my next post…

Just: guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness

(Retributive) justice is a theory of justice that holds that the best response to a crime is a punishment proportional to the offense, inflicted because the offender deserves the punishment… ~Wikipedia

The term “just” is used by theists to describe their deity… “God is a just god.” This is often their defense of him when anything that seems unjust in the bible is mentioned. It is important that this deity, who is going to judge everyone (according to christianity) and in so doing determine the eternal fate of every person, be a just god. Anything less would result in a vindictive, cruel, anger-driven, control-freak bully of a deity who would readily punish billions. Without justice, there would be no analyzing the crime in order to make sure its punishment is deserved—that the punishment would be fitting for the crime.    

The springboard for this article is hell, and god sending people there. The punishment—an eternity (as in never-ending, forever, without end) of the most unimaginable pain and torture and burning, by a fire that is never quenched—a fire which includes brimstone. According to, brimstone means “burning stone” or, “the stone that burns.” When a plain brimstone is exposed to the air, nothing happens--but if a match is put to it, it will burn in a peculiar way, like a liquid fire, and it emits noxious fumes. The stone melts like wax but the dripping is a peculiar thick fire, like a piece of wax on fire.

In this case, the crime is rejecting god’s sacrifice for mankind and not placing one’s trust in Jesus. The “crime” of not believing, or not “accepting” this free gift of god’s sacrifice for our sins. Sins which we inherited, according to the biblical narrative, from our great, great, great…grandparents. A sin in which we had zero culpability—a sin which transpired and sealed our fate thousands or billions (depending on which version one believes) of years ago. 

For the sin of our ancestors of merely eating the fruit god said not to eat, the consequential “sin nature” all of us “inherited”, and for not believing such nonsense, the “just” punishment is fire and a torturous, burning, waxy-like substance melting and dripping all over you while it itself slowly burns, oozing across your flesh, burning every square inch of your body, slowly, torturously, agonizingly, not unlike lava from a volcano—forever and ever, with absolutely no end to the horrific pain and suffering. Screams. Tears. Weeping. Sobbing. Extreme anguish. Pain beyond anything anyone has ever experienced or imagined. Eternal separation from family, friends and loved ones who escaped the horrific nightmare. Gnashing of teeth (brought on involuntarily by excessive, extreme anguish and pain). 

Think of the worst pain you have ever experienced... That pain is merely an inconvenience compared to the pain that hell inflicts on its citizens forever. Hell is non-ending. No relief. 50 billion years in, and you’re still burning, still experiencing the worst pain imaginable, still having molten, burning brimstone slowly dripping over your entire body. Another 50 billion years. Another. Another. Another… Revelation 14.11: “The smoke of their torture rises forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night…”

The very nature of the Garden of Eden story makes the entire hell as punishment that much more horrific and unjust. A “just” god who put the tree in the center of the garden, commanded them not to eat from it, and then dictated that another of his creation develop the ability to form sentences and to use that new-found ability to tempt Eve—to lie to her and to trick her into eating the fruit. All the while, that same god who set them up is standing by, watching, doing nothing to intervene. The same god who is described as all-knowing (omniscience) and all-powerful (omnipotent). This of course means that he knew long before he created Adam and Eve what the outcome would be, and yet still moved forward with his stellar plan. It is difficult to see this plan as being just; instead, it reeks of injustice.      

How is this never-ending fiery hell just? How is it “proportional” to the crime? Does the offender (the sinner, in this case) deserve hell? Does the punishment fit the crime?

These are all good questions—questions that beg to be asked. And it is in the answering of these questions where theists come up short of anything reasonable, logical, and that actually explains how hell fits the crime of non-belief. The answer often is that god is a just god, with no good explanation of how or why that is the case.

When someone or something is declared to be something—in this case, god is declared to be just, simply by virtue of that declaration, the validity of said claim is at best compromised. If something can be attributed to someone simply by declaring it to be so, the entire concept of having a particular quality loses all credibility and is diluted to be nothing more than a mere matter of “because I said so.” 

And to compound matters, this is most often the “proof” offered up to demonstrate that god is indeed just. He is just because the bible says he is or he is just because he is god. It doesn’t take much to see the flaw in this thinking. One must be sold to the idea that god is just in the first place; otherwise, the “proof” would leave one doubting, at best. 

If this serves as proof that god is just, a scrutiny of that reasoning will leave its integrity in jeopardy when applied to anyone outside of the bible—to anyone other than god. According to The Nizkor Project on, during an interview, Hitler said about himself, “Do you realize that you are in the presence of the greatest German of all time?" If we employ the same logic that theists will employ to prove god is just, then isn’t it only logical to do the same in the case of Hitler and to declare him to be the greatest German of all time? He’s the greatest German because he declared himself to be. 

But wait a minute, you may object. “Just because someone claims to be something doesn’t automatically make them so.” And I totally agree; in fact, that is my point. A study of Hitler and his actions (and a very short study at that) is all that is necessary to debunk his claim of greatness. Millions of Jews slaughtered in gas chambers because of who they were. An inhuman man, undaunted by the torture and suffering of millions, all the while believing himself to be superior and to be doing god’s will. It’s not difficult to see that Hitler’s claim to be the greatest German ever is a ridiculous one at best. So how does god fare in this same test? Does a study of god and his actions debunk or validate theists’ claims that he is just?  

Just as we did in the case with Hitler, let’s do a short study of god and apply the same logic as we did with Hitler. Not long after creating mankind, god somehow comes to regret having made man and decides to wipe out his creation. Genesis 6.6-7: So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.”

This is the point in the biblical narrative where god kills all but eight people, including the vast majority of the animals he had created. It’s interesting to notice here the reason god gives for regretting having made mankind in the first place, and for ultimately deciding to wipe them out. Verse 5: “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.”

His reason to wipe man out is because they were evil, wicked people. For just a moment, let’s suspend reality and logic, and go with that reason and even consider it a valid and right one. It still leaves the problem of the animals. Christianity teaches that people have souls and free will—something it teaches animals do not have. As a result, animals cannot make the choice to reject or to deny god; the mere thought is ridiculous. Yet there it is in verse eight. God decides to destroy the animals—even the birds of the sky. It’s interesting to contrast this scripture that shows god destroying even the birds with Matthew 6.26, which says, “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.” Jesus is encouraging believers not to worry about their needs by pointing out how that god even takes care of the birds of the air—the same birds of the air he destroys in the flood because of man’s wickedness. In keeping with the theme of this article, is that just? Does the slaughter of the majority of all animals fit the crime—the crime they had nothing to do with?

And then there’s the issue with mankind. The flood would have wiped out everyone in its path indiscriminately; innocent babies, born and unborn, would die alongside the most wicked. The same question again begs to be asked. Does the punishment fit the crime? Did babies deserve to drown for the evil of the adults? Once again, the theme of punishing the innocent for something the guilty did prevails. 

And speaking of innocent babies, god is at least consistent throughout much of the old testament in not sparing them, and instead ordering the slaughter of innocent unborn babies as well as infants. We see this in Hosea 13.16. God announces the sentence following a guilty plea for the people of Samaria. In it, he declares, “The people of Samaria must bear the consequences of their guilt because they rebelled against their God. They will be killed by an invading army, their little ones dashed to death against the ground (some versions say rocks), their pregnant women ripped open by swords.” The punishment (directed by god) is that everyone be killed. Not even the children—born or unborn, are spared. God orders the death of all unborn children—murder by sword. And the method to be employed to murder their infants? Dash them against the rocks! Remember, it is god who ordains these murders, including the method by which they should be murdered. 

In 1 Samuel 15.3, god again orders mass murder. He commands, “Go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Don't leave a thing; kill all the men, women, children, and babies; the cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys.” Once again, god orders the murders of everyone; and, once again, not even children are spared. Not even the animals. What the hell did a sheep ever do to god? And the cause of god’s wrath and his punishment? I’ll let god say it for me. From the same scripture: “Because their ancestors opposed the Israelites when they were coming from Egypt.” Notice that the ones being punished were not the ones who had committed the offense which “warranted” such horrific consequences. The ones who committed the crime were the ancestors of the ones being punished; the people being punished weren’t even alive at the time of the crime.

Punishing people for crimes committed by someone else is a common theme with god. We first saw it as mentioned earlier when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, and thereafter, all mankind has been doomed. Guilty of another man’s crime. Sentenced to death. To a fire that never ends. Ceaseless torture. For something in which you and I played no role. Unless you go by what christianity says—that we were born wicked and therefore deserving of hell. For simply being born, we inherit this wickedness brought on by the actions of someone who lived long before our existence. Justice? A just god? Did you ever wonder what it would look like if god weren’t just? Would it look any different?

One final example of god’s justice (or injustice, as the case may be). In Ezekiel, chapter four, god is having a discussion with his prophet Ezekiel. At the center of the debate is what was a very common theme with god—the Israelites sin and god’s anger in response to that sin. This is where god comes up with the stellar plan of having Ezekiel bear the sins of the people; yet another example of god punishing the innocent. He is instructed by god to lie on his left side for the sins of Israel and then on his right side for Judah—one day for each year of their sins. Those sins: 390 years’ worth for Israel and 40 years’ worth for Judah. If you’re keeping track, you’ve already figured out that this poor guy had to lie on his left side for 390 days, and then on his right side for 40 days. And of course, due to the severity of the peoples’ sins, god had to make sure Ezekiel lie there for the duration of that time. How did he do this? He tied him up, of course! Ezekiel 4.8: “I will tie you up with ropes so you won’t be able to turn from side to side until the days of your siege have been completed.”

Of course, Ezekiel is going to need to eat during this time, so god instructed him to gather certain foods, some of which he would use to make bread. “But you need a fire to bake the bread”, perhaps you’re thinking. And you would be correct. God, who has a history of coming up with stellar plans, once again, does not disappoint. The fuel for that fire to bake the bread? Human shit! (I shit you not!) Ezekiel 4.12: “While all the people are watching, bake it over a fire using dried human dung as fuel and then eat the bread. Just, or just gross? 

In chapter five, we learn that god’s anger has not only not been satisfied but burns stronger than ever—an anger that god himself describes as a jealous anger. In chapter five, god lays out a list of the horrific things he is going to do to punish his people.

“I (god) will cut you off completely. I will show you no pity at all.” And as a result, here is what god would go on to say he would do to them: 1) I will scatter my people with the sword. 2) A fire will then spread from this remnant and destroy all of Israel. 3) I will punish you publicly while all the nations watch. Because of your detestable idols, I will punish you like I have never punished anyone before or ever will again. (Hmm…what about hell?!) 4) Parents will eat their own children, and children will eat their parents. 5) A third of your people will die in the city from disease and famine. A third of them will be slaughtered by the enemy outside the city walls. And I will scatter a third to the winds, chasing them with my sword. 6) I will turn you into a ruin, a mockery in the eyes of the surrounding nations and to all who pass by. You will become an object of mockery and taunting and horror. 7) I will shower you with the deadly arrows of famine to destroy you. The famine will become more and more severe until every crumb of food is gone. 8) And along with the famine, wild animals will attack you and rob you of your children. Disease and war will stalk your land, and I will bring the sword of the enemy against you. And then, god concludes this list of horrific punishments by saying, “I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Again, the question must be asked, “Does the punishment fit the crime?” Is this an example of justice in action?

Of course, as alluded to earlier, christians will state (as proof of god’s just nature) things like “God is a just god because the bible says he is” and “God is just because he’s god.” While these statements are presented with conviction and resolve, what they are lacking is actual proof or evidence; instead, belief is considered to be evidence. “I believe it; therefore, it is fact.” The statement “God is just because he is god” is problematic on many fronts. It goes hand-in-hand with similar statements about god; statements such as “God can do anything he wants, because he is god.” This blanket statement gives god a signed, blank check, if you will, which allows him to do and say anything, without the possibility of being unjust or unloving. In this context, no matter what god does, he is just, good, and holy and perfect. A pastor once told me “God is god—he can do whatever he wants. If god himself were to rape a child, he would still be good, righteous, just, and holy…because he is god.” In that context, he was actually saying that the act of child rape, when committed by god, would be a righteous, moral, and good act.  

With “logic” such as that, there is no room for reason and actual logic. Why does god get a blank check when it comes to his actions? Why is god considered just simply because he is god? Why does the title “god” automatically make him just?

The problem with this thinking is that a virtue is ascribed to someone (a deity in this case) merely by declaration, with no earning or deserving it, and without a shred of evidence or proof. “I am just because I say I am” becomes “He is just because he says he is” and ultimately “He is just because he is god.” This illogical “reasoning” or more accurately rationalizing gives way to an “anything goes” mentality. This is why we see apologists and christian laymen defend the horrific atrocities mentioned earlier (and many more within the pages of the bible) with no thought or consideration of the facts or to the horrific nature of those atrocities. “God is just because he is; therefore, whatever he does is just, no exceptions.”  

This kind of irrational thinking leads to statements about god like the one mentioned earlier wherein someone declared that god could rape a child and still be perfect. This leads to the defending of god, no matter how egregious his actions. This also explains why christians can look you in the eye (without batting an eye) and declare that you are going to hell. They worship a god who has committed countless atrocities and yet is considered to be just. Therefore, they are just in declaring your eternity to be one in a fiery hell. 

The problem with this reasoning is how one goes about “proving” and declaring god to be just. It doesn’t begin with an examination of the evidence; rather, it begins with the already established declaration (and belief) that god is just, and then works backwards from that “fact.” Everything is seen through and interpreted in that light—god is just, so whatever action god has taken is just. There is no examining the evidence with an open mind, but rather, a defending of or justifying those actions, no matter how absurd and unjust they may appear to be. There is no attempt to determine justice from injustice; instead, there is only a scrambling to defend the horrific nature of the atrocities committed by their “just” god. The bible is approached with a pre-determined belief, and any resulting debate of those issues is strictly to defend that belief.  

And so, god is declared to be just. Not because his words and actions are those that would be indicative of a just deity. Not because they warrant it. Not because he has demonstrated the virtue of being just. Not because he is deserving of it. Simply because he is declared to be. And that blank check is signed, sealed, and delivered! 

What do you think?

Do you believe god is just, or do you believe god, as presented in the bible, is unjust? I’d love to hear your thoughts on why as well as your thoughts about what you have just read.