God IS dead, but that’s beside the point

There is a Christian movie coming out in a couple weeks called “God’s Not Dead”. I really don’t care if Christians make a movie which affirms their beliefs and values. What bothers me about this film is it spreads lies and stereotypes, and that many Christians, including some I know, seem to eat it up.

The premise of the film is that a Christian student goes to university and finds his atheist philosophy professor trying to force his views on everyone else. The Christian student bravely stands up for his beliefs, and accepts a debate challenge from the professor. Throughout the movie and the debate we see that the professor knows that God exists, but pride and hurt caused him to rebel against him. In the end the Christian student triumphs, what a David and Goliath story! Trailer below:

If the story seems familiar to you it’s because you’ve probably seen it before. The brave Christian student taking on the atheist professor is a popular Christian trope/meme, it’s gets copied and pasted and spread around facebook and the internet despite never having happened. Anyway, below are my main criticisms of the movie based on the trailer.

1)Christians are a persecuted Minority: The trailer alone presents three cases of athiests persecuting/bullying Christians, and if they emphasize it that much in the trailer I have to assume it’s going to be a big part of the movie. Newsflash: Christians are not a minority in the United States. Numbers may vary based on which study you look at, but around 75% of the population is Christian. Do you really think 75% of the population is being oppressed by less then 20% of the population? It seems unlikely. What’s more likely is that the Christian majority will be even more pronounced in the government, since there aren’t enough atheists to elect politicians who share our views. Hell, let’s just talk for a second about the fact that this supposedly oppressed group is able to put together and promote this movie, a very expensive undertaking. And it’s not just this movie. There are several more big budget Christian movies coming out soon, like Son of God and Noah. They can make these movies because they have the resources and because there is a huge demand for them in the population. Ask yourself how many atheist blockbusters you’ve seen.

Some Christians will point to cases where they aren’t able to do things they used to as them being persecuted. For instance, many public schools used to have teacher led Christian prayer. The reason this was removed of course is that it’s a case of the government endorsing one religion over others, and of religions being treated differently. This isn’t an attack on Christianity, it’s a reversal of unfair privilege, and wouldn’t be possible without the support of a huge number of reasonable Christians. The fact is, atheists are FAR more likely to face bullying than Christians. Why, studies have shown that we are as distrusted as rapists (Due to how we are portrayed and talked about in the Christian community, which is why I’m making a fuss about this movie). Let me ask if you have ever heard of a Christian student being denied from forming a Christian club at her school, and then being bullied for being a Christian. Because that same thing happened to an atheist just recently, and frankly happens all the time.

Let’s look at the university campus itself. Now I’ve only personally been to one university, so my experiences aren’t authoritative. I will admit that the number of atheists is higher among university students and staff than it is among the general population. However, at my university, there are more than a dozen Christian student groups and I don’t even think there is an atheist group. Professors would get fired or sued if they mocked or attacked religious beliefs. It just doesn’t happen.

2)Portrayal of the Atheist: Since atheists are a minority, and an invisible one at that (you can’t tell someone is an atheist by looking at them), people’s perception of us is largely influenced by what other people say about us. If you go to a church for years where the pastor says certain things about atheists you may tend to believe them, even if you and your pastor have never actually sat down and had a conversation with an atheist.

From the trailer I can tell this movie perpetuates several popular stereotypes about atheists. The atheist character is an atheist because he’s angry at God. The atheist character is a conceited dick. The atheist character tries to force his views on others. Not all atheists are like this.

3)Narrative: Many people will see this movie and think it’s an accurate representation of the conversation/debate on religion. They might not think about the fact that the film was created with a goal in mind, and that every character and every piece of dialogue was written to accomplish that goal. The atheist character and what he says is not indicative of our best arguments, or even our most common views. Rather the atheist character, like a puppet, says what the Christian creators of the film want him to say so that the atheist position can look foolish and be demolished by the Christian character in the film. If you want an accurate representation, watch an actual fucking debate, not a movie about a fictional one. Or even better, talk to an actual atheist! Or even several! We’re not as bad as we’re made out to be.

I’m an atheist, I don’t think there is a God. But that’s not the problem I have with this movie. The problem I have is that I think it will make it more difficult for atheists and Christians to get along and have meaningful conversations.

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Respecting Beliefs

There is a general consensus in society, and even among many atheists, that respecting someone’s beliefs is a good thing. That being said, I don’t think people really know what they mean when they say it. I respect someone’s right to believe whatever they want, however in my experience when someone says ‘respect my beliefs’ they mean more than this. I feel what they want is for me to say that their beliefs are plausible and moral. But when it comes to most religions, I don’t believe that. I can make a pretty good argument against it actually, but I’ll save that for another post. Now I suppose I could lie and say I respect your beliefs so I don’t hurt your feelings, but frankly I think it shows more respect to the actual person if I am honest. Rather than treating them as a child which needs to be coddled I treat them as someone who can take criticism, is open minded, and can get along with those they disagree with.

I realize there are people who really just believe the moral parts of their holy book. They pick and choose. So I can’t really call their beliefs immoral. However if they then say they believe the Bible is the word of God and every word is true, as they often do, than their belief is logically inconsistent because of all the parts they ignore.

I suppose the reason it’s even an issue is that religious people identify with their religion (which is one of the ways religion makes it difficult for people to leave it). It’s hardly my fault that they do this, beliefs are conclusions about reality and for them to mean anything you have to be willing to stop believing them if the evidence warrants it, meaning you shouldn’t be attached to them and you certainly shouldn’t use them as the basis of your identity.

Why do they need our validation of their beliefs anyway? It seems kind of childish. I don’t demand they respect my perspective. Generally I feel that any thing or person which demand respect doesn’t deserve it.

Now to be clear I don’t think atheists should be dicks to believers. We can be both respectful to the person and honest about their beliefs. The fact that we find the belief to be immoral or implausible doesn’t mean we think the believer is evil or stupid.Many of us who are former believers realize to what extent we were influenced by the community we grew up in, as well as the influence of the belief system itself. And as someone who isn’t attached to my beliefs, I would gladly change my opinion regarding the plausibility or morality of religious beliefs if I had a reason to do so. I’m open to that discussion. I’m even open to my own beliefs (or lack thereof) being called silly or immoral, providing that can be backed up, because I would want to know if that were the case.

Sorry for rambling. What do you think?

To Believers: Doubt Faith

It seems to me that the most common definition of faith is the ability to believe in something when it is difficult to do so. I think I’m being fair by using that definition. So what can make it difficult to believe something? Perhaps the thing you’re trying to believe is incredibly unlikely or has never happened before, perhaps there isn’t much evidence for the belief or maybe there is even evidence against it.

I once had someone tell me “Even if you could prove that God didn’t exist, I would still believe.”. Such was his faith. But I ask you, why is faith considered a virtue? Couldn’t it be that the harder something is to believe, the more likely it is not to be true? Is it not possible that such strong devotion to a belief can keep you from knowing the truth? After all, how can you know whether the beliefs you hold are true if you are not willing to doubt them, when there is no circumstances under which you would be willing to find them false? Strong enough faith makes facts irrelevant, makes truth irrelevant.

In church faith is espoused a virtue, and doubt is often warned against or considered the devil’s work. But which is better at finding the truth, doubt or faith? Well, let’s see. How has faith advanced our knowledge? Trick question, it hasn’t. By definition faith is incapable of advancing knowledge. The only way faith can lead to the truth is if you already happen to have it. But how likely is that? By looking back on our history you can see that we rarely, if ever, get something completely right the first time. If we had faith in all our beliefs like we did for our religious ones, we might still believe that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it. Now, how has doubt advanced our knowledge? Realizing that we may not be correct, investigating further, and abandoning our old beliefs for ones that are closer to the truth, this is how ALL advancements in knowledge are made. All of philosophy and science is based in doubt, and so all the understanding and advancements in technology that come from them are due to doubt. I think it is clear then, that doubt is better at finding the truth and it is doubt that should be considered a virtue.

So what does this mean for your religion? Well, if you care, if you really care whether your religion is true, than you should doubt it. Faith is just telling yourself it’s true, the only way you can know is by doubting it. If your religion is true, further investigation should only strengthen your belief. If it is false, then you would have nothing to fear from disbelief, and wouldn’t you want to know? My goal here is not to convert people to atheism, it’s just to get people thinking for themselves. If you continue to believe after doubting, that’s fine by me. But remember, to doubt, to search for truth requires that you be willing to abandon your beliefs if there is sufficient cause. Furthermore, you must not be biased when searching for the truth. The truth does not conform to our desires. I was so worried about bias when I began searching that I temporarily suspended my religious beliefs, sure that if they were true my search would lead me back to them. I encourage you to do the same.

“True” Christians

(sorry for not posting in a while)

Have you ever noticed that when a Christian wishes to distance himself from the beliefs or activities of another Christian he will claim with all confidence that the other Christian is not a “true” Christian? This bothers me SO much. As if Christianity were one coherent set of beliefs! And the sheer arrogance and ignorance that goes into such a statement! People have been arguing for centuries over what “true” Christianity is. You can’t be a true Christian if you dance or drink, or if you baptize people incorrectly, or if you have the wrong attitude towards gay people, or really if your beliefs differ in any way. How arrogant do you have to be to say with 100% certainty that everyone else is wrong, especially when there is really no way to prove that, and they think the same about you! But I guess it isn’t unexpected though, as this is the same kind of arrogance displayed by claiming that all other religions are wrong. As nice as it is to hear Christians disown groups like the Westborough Baptist Church, we should explain to them it isn’t as easy as that. The bible can be used to justify pretty much anything depending on what parts you emphasize, so basically anyone who believes that Jesus died for their sins is Christian. Don’t worry, we won’t hold you accountable for what other Christians do, but they ARE Christians.

Sluts and Sexuality

More and more I’m encountering the opinion that slut-shaming is unacceptable. Though it may be unpopular, I’d like to express why I can’t get 100% agree with this sentiment. Please read everything before judging.

Sex is natural, sex feels good. There is nothing wrong with sex, if it is safe and between consenting adults. I would never shame someone for enjoying sex. However, society has warped normal sexual behavior to it’s extremes. On one side you have the conservative sexual opinion, wherein sex is just for reproduction, sex before marriage is immoral, and anything kinky is right out. Essentially you have people choosing to follow unnecessary rules, and judging others for not following them. Not cool. On the other extreme you have the consequence of the hyper sexual media. The media, whether it is tv shows or pornography, presents a schema that men and women subconsciously follow. There are far too many men who treat women like objects or means to an end, and far too many women who allow themselves to be treated that way. On the other hand there are also examples in the media and real life of women who use sex and sexuality to manipulate men, which is also bad. Many people are either addicted to sex, or they rate sex far to highly on the list of things important to them. There are people who will put sex before relationships, family, career, education, morality, etc. I think overemphasizing the importance of sex to the point where there is nothing noble in your life anymore should be shameful, and I reserve the right to shame people for it. It does pain me that there is no male equivalent for the word slut, in my opinion there should be.

In summary, the word slut is a derogatory term describing someone’s sexual behavior. I believe it’s been misused, too many innocent people have been caught in the crossfire. But I feel like it would be a shame to abandon the word when it could be appropriated to rebuke those who can’t balance sex with the other parts of their lives, who value bodies above minds and care more about self-gratification then other people. Let me know what you think.

http://imgur.com/gallery/3lGJZ

God, Dog, and Death

My dog died recently. Her name was misty. She was a shitzu, and we had her for over 10 years. She was grey and white, with an ugly/cute face and a kinked tail. She was scared of thunderstorms and fire-crackers. She found you when you were sad, and hid when people were angry. She could sit, shake a paw, and lie down. We tried teaching her to roll over, but she only ever rolled halfway. We gave her a treat anyway. When we said ‘squeak’ she would find her toy and bite it to make the same sound. She would growl at guys but not girls. She was good at communicating, I could tell just by eye contact if she needed to go outside and if she was hungry she would let us know by picking up her dish and dropping it on the ground.

Misty was my dog, and she never hurt anyone. If anything is innocent, she was. But she got cancer. It obstructed her lower intestine, eventually making it impossible to expel waste. Her last days were painful and uncomfortable. Made less so by humans, but still.

I know I’ve probably brought up the problem of suffering before, and I will bring it up again. I wanted to talk about this specifically because while some can dismiss the suffering of humans as deserved because of original sin, the suffering of animals is another matter.  I simply don’t understand how someone can look at the evidence and say that this is the plan of a loving God. In a universe with a loving God, my dog’s cancer makes no sense. I dare someone to argue otherwise. However in an uncaring universe, a universe that simply is, my dog’s cancer makes perfect sense. It doesn’t need to be justified. Our world is full of bad things happening to good and innocent people and creatures. Shit happens, all the time.  That’s one of the main reasons I’m an atheist, it’s a worldview that is more compatible with the evidence. The bright side is, we can make the world less shitty. In fact anything that has been done to make the world less shitty has probably been the work of humans. I know humans have often made things worse too, but I think people are overall too pessimistic about humanity. I guess what I’m saying is I’m thankful for the role that knowledge, technology and kindness has in our lives. Prayer has never made my life better, I’ve received no miracles. I have however received the benefits of the discoveries, inventions and kindness of humanity.

To Believers: A Case for Secular Government

 

The Case for Secular Government

Are you a christian or follower of another religion? Chances are pretty good that you are. If you are, I’d like to convince you of the need for secular government.

What is secular government?

Despite common misconceptions, a secular government is not an atheist government. The goal of secular government is not to get rid of religion, but to keep religion and government separate. This means that neither should have authority or influence over the other. By keeping religion and government separate we can guarantee the rights of people of all religious beliefs.

What might happen if church and state mix? 

If church and state are mixed it hurts both. The worst case scenario is a government that would attempt to control the religious beliefs of the population. They may ban religion (yes this is an example of church and state mixing, if they were properly separated this could not occur because neither would have authority over the other), or force it’s people to follow a certain religion, or even a specific denomination of a religion. The teachings of churches, synagogues or mosques might be monitored and regulated.  But even if that doesn’t happen, a government might exert pressure or influence to promote or discourage people from following a religion. The beliefs of a religion could also be put into law, forcing people who don’t follow that religion to obey it’s commandments.

As a religious person, why should I care?

Well, if you are a member of a minority religious view you should care because your religion could be discriminated against. I can see why people who belong to the majority religious view have a harder time seeing the danger, since they share many of the beliefs that are being favoured by the government. But you may not always be part of the majority, and unless church and state are properly separated you may find your religious rights under attack in the future. Furthermore most of the believers I know hold to the values of the golden rule and free will. By that I mean that they would not do to others anything they wouldn’t want done to themselves, and they think people should have the right to choose whether or not to accept and follow a religion. Since no one wants to be discriminated against on the basis of religion, it follows that anyone who holds these two values should be in favour of secular government.

Isn’t our government already secular?

There are countries that are less secular, such as theocracies in the middle-east. There are also countries that are more secular, especially in Europe. Our country is supposed to be fairly secular, but unfortunately there are many people in government and public service who do not recognize the importance of church state separation.

Is there actually any discrimination going on? Can you give me specific examples?

There is and I can. Take for example the public school system. People of all religions, and even atheists, pay taxes that go towards education. People of all religions, and even atheists, send their children to go learn, hoping that their teachers will only teach them facts and not personal or religious opinions which may contradict the parent. And yet very often, as I have personally witnessed, religious opinion and religious practices find their way into the classroom. This is especially concerning because children are vulnerable to influence and trust what their teachers tell them. Once again, this might not seem like a problem to you if the teacher shares your religious belief. But what if he didn’t, what if the teacher taught your children to follow the hindu Gods instead? You wouldn’t like that. Now realize that there are parents who don’t believe in your religion, and who feel equally violated when it is taught to their children. When school libraries only offer books on one religion, when only one religion is represented in prayer and other activities, how is that not preferential treatment of one religion over others by the government? When teachers offer religious advice to students, or give religious instruction, how is that not the government influencing your child’s religious views? It shouldn’t happen, but it often does.

So you want to take religion out of schools!

No, students should always be free to practice their religion and express their religious views no matter where they are. No one is going to ban students from praying or confiscate bibles. We just think it isn’t the place of teachers or any government official to promote or discourage any religious view.

But what about tradition?

Tradition is a horrible argument. Just because you’ve been doing something one way for a long time, doesn’t make it right.

But this is a Christian (Muslim, Jewish, etc.) country!

Even if 99.9% of your country follows the same religion and was founded based on that religion (which is unlikely), it doesn’t change the moral fact that it is wrong to interfere in someone’s religious beliefs.

Okay, so what can I do to help?

Your voice and your vote are extremely important. First of all, if you support secular government you should let your friends and family know. This will make people realize this isn’t just an atheist thing, it’s something everyone can get behind. Secondly, if you don’t want the government to influence your religion, your religion can’t influence the government. Let me give you a specific example to show you what I mean. Many Christians would like it if gay marriage were illegal, but when asked why they can only offer religious reasons. If these Christians succeeded in making gay marriage illegal it would be an example of the government forcing people to follow the commandments of a religion they don’t necessarily believe in. If you think that’s wrong then you have to make sure when you pressure the government on an issue that your reason for doing so is not based in your religion.