Religion and Violence

Dr. Avalos is a professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and the author of several books about religion. He is a former Pentecostal preacher and child evangelist. He has a Doctor of Philosophy in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. Avalos is an internationally recognized opponent of neo-creationism and the intelligent design movement, and is frequently linked to Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist and proponent of intelligent design who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007.

Dr. Avalos is a professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and the author of several books about religion. He is a former Pentecostal preacher and child evangelist. He has a Doctor of Philosophy in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. Avalos is an internationally recognized opponent of neo-creationism and the intelligent design movement, and is frequently linked to Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist and proponent of intelligent design who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007.

This post is a continuation of my learnings from the 2013 American Atheists Convention. The next speaker I will discuss is Hector Avalos, and his ideas on how religion can be a cause of violence.

I always brace a bit when the subject of religion and violence come up, as I have from time to time heard some hyperbolic statements about how all wars are caused by religion. Such statements are not true historically or in any other way, and Dr. Avalos made it clear that he was not proposing that all violence is caused by religion or that religion does always leads to violence.

With that being said, Hector rejects up front the claims of the moderately and liberally religious that the violent fanatics are not following a true form of their religion, on the basis that this is merely a faith-based claim and not grounded in any evidence. You could make just as valid a case to say that the more violent version of the religion is the true form, and that the peaceful members are hertics and hypocrites. It is a wonderful thing for religious believers to be peaceful, but this in and of itself does not prove that it is the ideas of the religion lead to their peaceful behavior.

The core idea of Hector’s talk is that when religious ideas cause violence, it is because they have created a scarce resource. Things like water, oil, and diamonds are normally what people think of as resources over which wars may be fought; however, the scarce resources created by religion are usually much more ethereal then any of those items. Here is a short list.

  • Salvation
  • Sacred Space/Land
  • Group privilege
  • Access to God’s will.

As an example of how violence can be caused around “access to God’s will,” read Deuteronomy 18:20.

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I [God] have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

One has to wonder how would anyone else, not themselves being privy to what God might have spoken to this person, would know which prophets are true and which were lying. And of course anyone speaking in the name of one of those other gods was automatically out. And notice that the penalty against such people who spoke for God without proper authorization was the ultimate in violent acts. They will be put to death.

Dr. Avalos also cited a similar text from the Koran.

For an example of how sacred land can be a scarce resource over which the religious wage battle, one only needs to look at the current and ongoing situation in Israel/Palestine. The fact that rival religious groups hold sacred claims to the same land, on which they are therefore unwilling to compromise because the claims are sacred, is clear enough to demonstrate that religion can cause and perpetuate violence over such a scarce resource.

Salvation, at least as taught in non-Universalist Christian churches, is a scarce resource as it is considered vitally important to a person’s temporal and eternal well-being and is not evenly distributed. Christian teachings (which vary depending on the sect) teach that one must do and believe certain things in order to obtain it. One kind of example of violence brought on by belief in non-universal salvation can be seen in the behavior of certain parents who abuse or abandon their non-believing children. And not even necessarily because the parents don’t love their kids, but due to the idea that if the kids do not believe the parent’s religion they are in danger of eternal damnation if drastic and harsh measures are not taken by the parents. Even in less drastic situations, differences in opinion about religious claims can lead to tremendous amounts to hurt and anger. If it were not for such uncompromising and “sacred” claims about the ethereal and unknown, much suffering could be avoided.

In response to the ways religions can and do cause violence, Dr. Avalos recommends that we totally repudiate and reject any and all scriptures that advise or excuse violence, and not try to reinterpret them as the moderate and liberal religious do. For the record, I think he is right.

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Living the Life of Reason

To live more rationally.

It’s not really a New Year’s Resolution, but something that has been on my mind a lot lately. What does it mean to live the life of Reason? Yea, I capitalized it, though that seems a bit archaic and, well, 18th century. I am not a woman of faith, but of reason. Truth is I never put much store by faith. I will accept something tentatively without evidence or reason for a while, but if evidence is not forthcoming I will eventually drop it and move on to something else. With a mindset like that, it is only natural that I rejected religion and am now an atheist.

I was raised to accept things by faith. It is easy. Lazy even. When I was a child I naturally believed what the authority figures told me, whether they ware teachers, parents, or the evening news. Questioning did not come naturally to me, at least not until what I was being told felt bad or contradicted what I wished to be true. What I thought should be true. I would accept things on faith. When I prayed and I felt good and felt forgiven it was proof to me that the prayer was effective and that the God I prayed to was real. But as I got older this “proof” became less and less effective, as it was not backed up by anything else that I did not recognize as my own internal state.

I still feel the influence of these teaching of faith, and I face daily the temptation to believe things based on how I feel at the moment. That can be maddening at times, since I have some crazy mood swings. There are days when I am energized and want to take on the world, and there are other days when the world is black and I wish I could just sleep and never wake up. Of course, I have never actually tried to prevent myself from waking up, because I always have Reason to tell me that I am in a depressed state and the world will look brighter tomorrow. Reason is the beam of light at the end of the tunnel.

My decision making is still largely based on how I feel in the moment. My tendency is to gather information and analyze up to a certain point, then I get overwhelmed by the information and the work and end up just deciding based on how I feel. This method has actually served me well in many decisions. It saves time and effort. In some cases though, I need more information, and more analysis. Should I change careers? Would I be happier and more satisfied doing something else? What about going back to college? I’ve found this in my professional life too…making assumptions about what feels reasonable can come back and bite you later. It HAS come back and bit me.

To me, living the life of Reason means more than merely rejecting superstition. That is now the easy part, second nature (though it was not easy at first!). It’s time to move on now, and keep applying Reason to all my other beliefs. Beliefs about myself. About politics, environmentalism, finances, everything. About morality, ethics, human rights, feminism, daily living. Assume nothing. Question everything.

So, as part of my New Year reflections, I am pondering what it means to live the Life of Reason.

What it means:

  • Pausing to think though my actions, rather than just being compelled by the feeling of the moment.
  • Riding out mood swings with a sense of sanity.
  • Being more in control of myself.
  • Pausing to question and check up on claims before believing them and sharing them on Facebook.
  • Always learning more.
  • Having the courage to scratch the surface of my core beliefs without fear of falling into a void (or going to hell, whether in the metaphorical or literal sense).

What it does not mean:

  • Requiring absolute certainty before making a decision. That way leads to paralysis.
  • Rejecting emotion. Emotion is important, and necessary for decision making. Logic is important, but without emotion and compelling reasons to act it is blind and lame.
  • Being an insufferable know-it-all.

I’ll probably think of more things that living the life of Reason means over the next few days, but this is a start.

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Abortion Access Trouble in Mississippi

Mikel:

Since I have discussed abortion access on this blog before. I am afraid some of my readers may think that just because abortion is legal in America since Roe v. Wade, that the fight for women’s right to autonomy and healthcare is over and we can just relax. Having a right to something means absolutely nothing if you do not have access.

4000 Years for Choice

State Representative Bubba Carpenter recently told a group of local county Republicans that “We have literally stopped abortion in the state of Mississippi,” and that “the other side [is] like, ‘Well, the poor pitiful women that can’t afford to go out of state are just going to start doing them at home with a coat hanger.’ That’s what we’ve heard over and over and over. But hey, you have to have moral values.”

I hope I am not the only one who finds this quote shocking. When your moral values include forcing desperate women to unsafe and unsanitary medical procedures because that is the only way they can access them, you might need to rethink the basis of your morality.

Originally posted on Everysaturdaymorning's Blog:

In September 2011, Operation Save America* started their States of Refuge* campaign. The stated goal was “…to establish the first abortion free states since Roe vs. Wade.”* The targeted states were those with only one abortion clinic at the time. This included Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. With help from anti-abortion legislators, they are nearing their goal in Mississippi.

Center for Reproductive Rights has detailed the fight over a TRAP law that might close the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in January 2013.

  • House Bill 1390, which was signed into law on April 16 and partially blocked by a federal judge in July 2012, imposes medically unwarranted requirements that any physician performing abortions in the state be a board certified or eligible obstetrician-gynecologist with admitting privileges at an area hospital.
  • Although all the doctors currently providing abortions to women at the Mississippi clinic are…

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More on the danger of faith

I just now found this post though The Atheist Experience blog, and it is so beautiful that I just have to share it. The post is from “Sincerely, Natalie Reed” and is called God Does Not Love Trans People. In this post she discusses the issue within the transgender community regarding religion. Since transgender people have been so victimized by religion, why do so many still cling to it so tightly? This same discussion is also relevant to women, racial minorities, and other groups who have been victimized so often in the name of faith.

Faith is the opposite of skepticism. Faith is “just knowing”. Under ideal circumstances, a person derives their conclusions from observations, facts and thinking things through. If new perspectives, new ideas, new considerations, new arguments, new observations or new facts come along, we adapt the conclusion. Faith asks us instead to work backwards. We have the conclusion already. Thought, perspectives, observations, facts and interpretations are structured to support the conclusion. Facts that contradict it are either denied, or re-interpreted and re-framed until they can fit with the original conclusion. For instance, if the initial conclusion is that God created man and woman, and for a man to don a woman’s clothing is a sin, then suddenly finding yourself trans puts you in conflict with the conclusion your faith states MUST be the case. So instead of reconsidering the initial conclusion, and accepting that maybe the whole God thing isn’t quite right, you either adapt the facts (suppressing your trans identity and attempting to conform) or you re-interpret and contort your perspective until it all fits together somehow. He made you this way because He loves you. He made you this way to test your strength. He made you this way because suffering brings you closer to Him. Etc.

I recommend that you read the entire post. It is long, but worth it.

In particular the stories of transgender people fascinate me, because I was so ingrained with the ideas of binary sexuality (you must be a man or woman, period!). It was even harder for me to drop the cis-sexism than it was to walk away from religion, since the idea is so engrained in all aspects of our culture. It’s an assumption taken on faith that few people even consider the possibility of questioning. It was only though my contact with the feminist movement and through reading the blogs and stories of transgender people that the assumption began to crack. When you do some reading about sex, and the development of sexuality and the development of sexual identity and preferences, it becomes clear that human sexuality exists on a spectrum and is definitely not binary. (I recommend Darrel Ray’s Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality for more information.)

We need to always question our assumptions and not merely take things on faith. Particular when taking things on faith causes so much suffering for good people.

The personal is political: Women’s health choices VS religious freedom?

English: One of the symbols of German Women's ...

Women’s health issues are controversial. In recent years, conservative politicians and religious leaders have been leading a push to make health services for women harder and harder to obtain. For instance Rick Santorum has advocated that states should have the right to ban birth control. Now, as adamantly pro-choice as I am, I can see why some people might be squeamish about abortion. It took me a lot of reading and listening to women’s stories, as well as a few hours volunteering in the chaos outside the Louisville abortion clinic on Saturday mornings to come to my stance. However, I seriously cannot understand how anyone could possibly also be in favor of restricting women’s access to birth control. Unless, of course, their ultimate aim is to take away from women the ability to control if they will have babies, or when, or how many. And if a woman can’t control her fertility, how can she have control of her life?

Recently, the Obama administration has mandated that employers cover birth control in their insurance policies, and the conservatives are having a fit.

Under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, most employers and insurance plans will have to cover birth control free of charge as preventive care for women. Churches and houses of worship do not have to follow that requirement, but administration officials recently announced that many religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals, colleges and charities must comply after a year’s phase-in period.

The wave of protest that followed has clearly taken the White House by surprise. Catholic and Protestant evangelical leaders criticized the decision as infringing on freedom of religion. Some religious liberals have called it politically risky for Obama in a close election year.

Now let’s be clear about this, there is still an exception for churches and other “houses of worship”, which generally hire people who are in agreement with their creeds and beliefs anyway. But to mandate that a nurse working for a Catholic hospital should be able to have birth control covered by insurance? This is a restriction on freedom of religion? What about freedom for these women to have access to the health care they need? This is the sort of thing that reaches into me and pulls out all the frustration and anger I have ever held towards religion! Why can’t they just let people make their own decisions about what services their health insurance should cover?

It is probably not news to anyone by now that the conservatives have been trying to shut down Planned Parenthood. Nevermind that federal funds do not, by law, go into funding abortion care. Or that the vast majority of services that Planned Parenthood provides are such controversial things as pap smears, cancer screenings, STI diagnosis and treatment. Oh yea, contraception too, which I believe counts as preventative care. Having been raised getting my information on PP mainly from Focus on the Family, even I was shocked to find out just last year that only about 3% of PP’s services have anything to do with abortion. Planned Parenthood is the sole provider of a multitude of health care services for so many American women, especially those without health insurance.

But here is the take of Scott Walker, who attempted to shut down Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin. (SLIGHT CORRECTION: This is a Forbes article paraphrase of Scott Walker’s position.)

No doubt, the women who will be denied access in the four counties where no such screening will be available, can comfort themselves in the knowledge that, while they may die of breast or cervical cancer, at least they won’t have to expose themselves to some perceived controversy over the local Planned Parenthood treatment facility.

That is just mind-boggling.

And then there is the whole debacle with Susan G. Komen. Why would an organization dedicated to fighting breast cancer retract funding and support for an organization that does a lot of breast cancer screenings for underserved women? Lately they have retracted that decision under tremendous backlash but one has to wonder what were they thinking?

When in the world did it become a religious right to deny health care to employees? And what is it with the conservative politicians lately? Do they envisioning a future where women must stay at home to care for a gaggle of children, imprisoned by biology, while the (wealthiest) men get to hold all the political and economic power? How is it that such personal, private choices are so political?

How could a 12-year-old girl deserve hell?

WARNING: Things will get a bit personal in this post.

I will be talking about my experiences with religion as relates to my self-esteem and self-confidence. Will I be blaming all my insecurities on religion? Well, no, though I think there are areas where religious messages I received as a child took advantage of and exacerbated my natural insecurities. It’s probably only in very recent years that I’ve realized how much some of these messages have messed with my head.

Lets start at the natural starting point, the Christian sum-up of the human condition: Romans 3:23 : “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Yes, I know there is context around this one, but this verse was very often quoted on its own so I will leave it that way. Feel free to look it up if you like.)

So, what could a 12-year-old girl (as this is about the time I started really paying attention to this) have done to “fall short of the glory of God”? This is the message I was just starting to absorb, right in the midst of developing my personal identity. I would think and think and try to remember what I had done wrong so I could confess it, because believing you had not sinned meant you were a liar and full of spiritual pride. (see 1 John 1:8) Oh, there it is. It’s just inescapable…it was almost a relief to be able to name some way I had sinned because then I would at least not be guilty of pride. Oh, and if you didn’t feel bad about your sins your repentance wasn’t genuine right? So my religious reflections were often reflections on my guilt and unworthiness.

I can just see Christians out there saying “Wait, no! You misunderstood the message!” But really, I was only absorbing what I was told and carrying it to its logical consequences, and could you blame me for taking what I was told both seriously and literally? I didn’t have a lot of extra-curricular activities growing up, so I spent a lot of my time in quite thinking and reflection and when I thought of these messages I got from church I could come up with no other conclusion.

I was told that I shared the blame for this. Something that supposedly happened 2000 years before I was born? It makes no sense. But what a guilt trip!

But, you might say, Jesus took care of that right? “God loves you!!!” Still, the idea that “God loves you” doesn’t help confidence if it is coupled with the idea of “you are sinner and deserve punishment.” What is it when someone says they love you but also tells you that you are unworthy of love? I knew I would never really measure up. And just about every Sunday morning, this message would be reinforced. Both in the weekly altar calls and in testimonies from others in church services who talked about how when they tried to take control of their lives everything fell apart and nothing was right until they tearfully came crawling back to God.

I determined I would never make their mistakes.

In the midst of trying to erase my doubts about God, I was being filled with doubts about myself. My own ability to succeed and thrive, and to get though Middle School with my sanity intact. I never did well socially at school, partly to do with my fear of doing anything wrong or breaking any rule (to step out of line was sin!). And also partly because my parents didn’t have a lot of money and it violated my sense of fairness and justice to beg them for expensive designer clothes as some of my friends advised. I feel the need to mention that my religious upbringing was not totally bad. While I never understood the stupid status games played in Middle School, and was never popular there, I found plenty of acceptance among my mother and her group of friends from church. They didn’t care if I didn’t wear makeup, or curl my hair, or wear the tight jeans that were in vogue at the time. When I was a teenager, I got along much better with adults than with my own peers. This was, no doubt, one of the factors that kept me from sinking into serious mental problems.

As you can see, the issues I had with the Christian theology was with the message itself and not with the people. The people, at least the mature ones, were generally wonderful. But this message: That I messed up because I was inherently evil and depraved and not because I was immature and still learning how to behave? And that my guilt is tied to some act of independence and rebellion that my first grandmother once committed? I now know that when a child tells a lie or behaves selfishly it is not because they are evil, but because they are immature.

This concept of sin gets in the way of personal understanding of why we do what we do, and how we change ourselves when we do things we do not like or that have bad consequences. Modern psychology (and honest reflection on one’s own mind for that matter) reveals that quite often we just don’t understand the real causes behind what we do–we do it, and then come up with the rationale after the fact. This is why people so often make the same mistakes over and over and over. It takes a lot of work and self-reflection to overcome the negative patterns. Merely attributing the wrong to “sin” and being sorry for it and resolving to repent is not good enough, and only results in believers getting caught in a cycle of “sin,” guilt, and repentance, and keeps them chained in whatever religious tradition they happen to be in.

And you know what? It’s ok to trust your own reasoning, because your mind is not depraved and sinful. The human brain is imperfect–since we are always stretching it beyond its evolutionary purpose (survival and reproduction). So we should always we willing to consider that we could be wrong. It takes courage and self-confidence to risk being wrong. But it is not a sin to be wrong, and if you find out you are wrong you can always change your mind. Don’t like your behavior? Don’t be mired in guilt, but try to understand your patterns and behaviors so you can make changes. And get help if you need it…this stuff can be hard. There are real solutions to these problems.

And one final point: there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that could make a 12-year-old child deserve hell, whether literal or metaphorical. For a trusted adult to teach a child otherwise is, frankly, abusive.

EDIT: Just to make sure I am absolutely clear on this point, no one ever personally threatened me with hell when I was a child or teenager. I did have experience one or two pastors and sunday school teachers who seemed to be fascinated with “hellfire and brimstone,” but the fact that my parents openly rejected that sort of fear tactic lessened its impact on me. However, even when it was not discussed, hell was always a part of the Christian belief system I was raised in, always lurking in the background as what was waiting for you after death if you did not commit your whole heart and soul to Jesus. So it was always an issue, even if it was not discussed often. 

Here is the talk from Dan Barker from Skepticon IV. If you do not know Dan Barker, he is a former Evangelical Christian pastor and missionary who is now an atheist. His talk is not exactly what I am saying in the post, but it is very closely related and he says it so well. :) (If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, the main point starts about the 20:00 minute mark.)

Answering “A Christian’s Response to Homosexuality”

From http://lifeofafemalebiblewarrior.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/a-christians-response-to-homosexuality/

There are three passages in the Old Testament (Gen. 19: 1-13; Lev 18:22; 20:13) and three in the New Testament (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; I Tim. 1:10) that have traditionally been read as prohibiting homosexuality.

In this post, I will look up each of these passages and give my own response, followed by a general conclusion at the end. Like I have made clear in my post Why I am an Atheist: Secular Morality vs. Divine Command, I do not give any credence whatsoever to Biblical authority on anything much less morality. However, given that I am interested in what Christians believe due to my early immersion in the religion, and the fact that these controversies are affecting people’s lives even today, I feel a desire to respond.

Gen. 19: 1-13: I see no prohibition about homosexuality here. Maybe only a prohibition about allowing guests who have entered your home to be gang raped by a mob. But then, Lot seems to have little scruple about sending his virgin daughters out to be raped instead (I guess he felt he would have to send out someone?) I see this not as a message to modern Christians that homosexuality is immoral, but a message to everyone today that the morality in the Bible is just plain twisted.

Lev 18:22: This is an Old Testament law against male homosexuality (it says “do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman”) though I notice it says nothing about lesbians.  Couched right between the rules against adultery and bestiality.

Lev 20:13: Essential the same as Lev 18:22, but with slightly different wording. And followed by specific instructions not to sleep with animals, see their siblings naked, or “take” their brother’s wife (Though wasn’t there a rule requiring the brother to sleep with his deceased brothers widow so the deceased brother would have an heir? I’ll have to look that up later…).

Rom. 1:26-27: Really not sure how to interpret this one. It sounds like it says God made people gay because they were degenerate sinners? I just have to quote the whole passage here… I remember this passage from Bible quizzing, but come to think about it I’m not even sure who Paul is talking about, unless it is just people who don’t believe in what he is preaching. But that doesn’t make much sense because being an unbeliever does not cause one to be attracted to members of the same sex. It sounds like just an inflammatory rant against those who didn’t believe his message. Not only are the disbelievers gay, but also they lack all natural affection, and are generally evil.

1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

1:23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

1:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

1:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

1:29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

1:31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

And it also seems strange that Paul would condemn homosexuality as “unnatural” when he also said that the “natural man” was evil.

1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10: Paul lists below those who will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (presumed to mean, these people don’t go to heaven? The phrase “kingdom of God” is not really defined very well anywhere in the Bible.)  Besides, what does it mean “effeminate”? Some people have translated this as “homosexual” but I have to wonder if this is due to their own prejudice more than what the word actually means. Perhaps an “effeminate” man doesn’t fit into the clear-cut gender roles required by Paul’s Christianity? Similarly, I don’t get what “abusers of themselves with mankind” is supposed to mean either and if this has anything to do with homosexuality or not. I’ve heard masturbation referred to as “self-abuse” but I see it as no such thing. Could Paul’s ickyness towards sex be what is really being revealed here?

6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

I Tim. 1:10: Meh, pretty much more of the same…lumping gays (I guess) in with sinners, murderers, and menstealers (??).

1:9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,

1:10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

1:11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

From what I can see here, it looks like the Old Testament law prohibited homosexuality, along with other abominations like the eating of shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12) and the wearing of mixed fibers (Leviticus 19:19). These laws should be irrelevant to the modern Christian since they are supposedly no longer under the Old Testament law. Or so I have heard. As for the New Testament passages (All coming from the same person in fact, assuming that letters to Timothy are not forgeries as suspected by many scholars.) I don’t see much here besides Paul’s distaste towards sex, especially when coupled with his admonition to his followers that it is better for them to be celibate and not to marry. (1 Corinthians 7)

In conclusion, regarding gay marriage, I see nothing in the Bible prohibiting it at least for modern-day Christians who are supposedly no longer “under the law” as Paul put it. I see assumptions but no declarations that marriage is between men and women. Though if you really look at the Bible, this “one man, one woman” notion is scarcely to be found. Also there is nothing saying that other sexual “sinners” like fornicators or adulterers should be restricted from marrying or doing anything else really. Regarding Paul’s libelous lumping in homosexuals with murderers, liars, and other sorts of seedy people, I only see his own prejudice and ever more reason why notions of “Biblical authority” should be tossed into the historical trash-bin of really bad ideas.

EDIT: I have been trying very hard not to edit posts after I have already published, because I always seem to think of one more thing to say after I have published. But it’s a point I have to make:

NONE of these passages that speak badly of homosexuals or lumps gayness in with murder and lying has anything to do with Jesus, or was attributed to Jesus. They were all either Old Testament passages or were written (or at least attributed) to Paul, who never met Jesus in the flesh and only made a very untestable claim to have had a vision of Jesus. 

And now I will go back to my intention to make no further edits to posts after publishing.

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Why I am an Atheist: Secular Morality vs. Divine Command

What makes an action good or bad (or neutral)? Atheists are asked by theists, quite frequently, where we get our morals. However, I think that the Biblical theist has a much harder time when it comes to morality than the atheist. This dilemma for the theist is most elequantly stated by Plato as Euthyphro’s dilemma: Is something morally good because it is commanded by God, or is it commanded by God because it is morally good? (my paraphrase. Click the linked text for further detail.) Unlike the Divine Command theory of morality, which states that moral duty comes from God’s or a god’s command regardless of how an act or belief looks in light of secular reason.

The Biblical story that is most cited in discussions about secular morality vs Divine Command morality is the one where God commands Abraham to kill his one and only son as an offering. If you are not familiar with the story, I recommended the illustrated version of The Brick Testament here: God Demands Child Sacrifice. So, if God were to tell you to kill your child, what would be the proper response? According to Divine Command theory, which is championed in the Bible, it is to not question God’s will but to do whatever it is he said. (That Isaac was spared at the end is irrelevant, because Abraham clearly fully intended to carry out the command and was considered righteous for that reason. ) According to secular morality, which is generally followed in modern cases such as that of Andrea Yates, the proper response if you think God wants you to kill your child (or anyone’s child!) is NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! And it appears that most Christians that are put to the question actually agree with secular morality on this one.

The modern version of the Divine Command theory that I encounter most often comes from self-proclaimed “Biblical” Christians who believe in the authority of the Bible as the final say in all matters of morality. To an unbeliever like me, who does not trust the men who wrote the literature that came to be included in the Bible, nor the counsels of men who determine which of these writings would be considered as authoritative scripture, this assertion is absurd to the highest degree. However, there are plenty of people who, for whatever reasons, still consider the Bible to be a source of authority.

A recent prime example of this is found in the political debate over the issues of homosexuality and gay marriage. Conservative Christian politicians like,  every single GOP primary candidate, is pounding on this issue that homosexuality is a “sin” and that gay couple should not be allowed to marry or raise kids or adopt kids for really no reason whatsoever other than what they believe religiously. (Or, to be more accurate, what they think their voters believe religiously.) All of the studies that have been put forth to say that kids raised by homosexuals are harmed in some way have been exposed as the crap that they are, as pointed out most eloquently by  Al Franken (see Sen. Al Franken Slams Focus On The Family During DOMA Hearing and watch the video). The motivations here are purely religious and political. This is what it looks like when a “Biblical” idea of morality is put ahead of human happiness and autonomy, and above the wellbeing of kids who would otherwise be adopted into a loving home.

This example of how “Biblical” Christian morality to be out of step with modern society and rational morality is one more reason why I am now an atheist.

For further reading on the contrast between theistic moral beliefs and humanism, and a talk on why secular morality is superior to “Biblical” morality, see the links below.

American Humanist Associations Consider Humanism Campaign

Atheist Community of Austin: The Superiority of Secular Morality

More State Fair Conversations

This post is a continuation of the last post on State Fair conversations. In the course of talking to the Evangelical woman and man who visited Wednesday night I also had an interesting conversation with the guy. This discussion was regarding the question of whether or not is was moral for God to cause/allow people to suffer. He offered the typical response I have heard to this question: that God has the right to do anything he wants with humans because he created us and he owns us. Then he gave this as an example: If he built a beautiful handcrafted chair, he would be perfectly in his right to chop it up with an axe and use it for firewood if he so desired. This is because he made the chair, and it is his to do with as he pleases.

This same sort of analogy of God’s ownership relation to humans is in the Bible too. In Romans Chapter 9, Paul compares humans to clay that is shaped by God (the potter) to whatever purpose God desires, even if it’s for the purpose of wrath and destruction. Paul also makes it clear in this passage that the purpose for which this clay is formed has nothing to do with either the desires or merits or “works” of the clay. The clay just has no right to talk back to the potter because, well, the potter is God and can do anything he wants with it. This is all very well when you are talking about clay and potters, but clay does not feel happiness or sorrow or pain or joy. Clay has no interests of its own — only the potter has interests in the clay.

Speaking of ownership rights, there is also a passage in Exodus (I said Leviticus before, but it’s actually Exodus 21:20) that says that slaveowners may beat their slaves without any reprisal, as long as the slave gets up again in a few days, because the slave is their property. (For a nice summary of slavery rules in the Bible, visit Bible Verses Rarely Read on Sunday.) In other words, as long as a person was considered property, the owner could do what he wanted to them, short of beating them to death. There was clearly no indication in the Bible that humans have any right to live free of the threat of pain and terror.

Since the comparison of humans to wooden chairs or to clay is obviously flawed, I offered up what I think is a much better analogy. Not too long ago there was a movie where the main character hears narration in his head that not his voice and it is driving him crazy. As it turns out, he is only a character in a book, whom the author intends to kill off in some horrible and tragic way at the end of the story. So I asked this question of this Christian guy: if you had the power to write a novel in which the characters were real people who had real families and feelings and who could feel pleasure and pain, do you think it would be alright for you to decide to just strike one of them with cancer or some other horrible painful disease? Or to harm them in other ways? After all you would be their creator, and you would own them.

When I asked him this, he was visibly uncomfortable and clearly saw that there was a problem with this scenario. It’s easy to say that you have the right to chop up a chair that you make and that you own, but clearly human beings and other sentient creatures are not like inanimate objects that do not suffer. He still tried to work around it and say it was different in God’s case. In response I said that it sounded to me like a rationalization for a really horrible and immoral belief, and he admitted that he could see why I would think that. So it looks like I got him to understand my point of view on the subject, and I was very happy with this conversation.