“The doctrine of the sacredness of the soul sounds vaguely uplifting, but in fact is highly malignant. It discounts life on earth as just a temporary phase that people pass through, indeed, an infinitesimal fraction of their existence. Death becomes a mere rite of passage, like puberty or a midlife crisis.
“The gradual replacement of lives for souls as the locus of moral value was helped along by the ascendancy of skepticism and reason. No one can deny the difference between life and death or the existence of suffering, but it takes indoctrination to hold beliefs about what becomes of an immortal soul after it has parted company from the body.”
–Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011), p. 143. Continue reading →
I haven’t truly prayed in years, and today even when something bad happens, something that would send the faithful to their knees, it doesn’t occur to me to seek divine guidance or intervention. It isn’t that I don’t worry or don’t seek help and comfort from others, it’s that prayer no longer seems any more helpful than consulting a horoscope, or reading chicken entrails, or offering a burnt sacrifice, or any other ancient mystical means of dealing with life’s uncertainties.
As much as believers talk about prayer as submission to God’s will, prayer—at least prayer of supplication, which I think is the most common kind—is by its very nature an attempt to alter or control the course of events. You’re asking God to do something: cure someone’s illness, get you that job, preserve that marriage, elect that candidate. Even if you end with “but your will be done,” everyone but the strictest Calvinist is praying in the belief that there’s a God who allows himself to be influenced to some degree by human requests. Otherwise what’s the point of asking for anything? Continue reading →
Here are a few points you may find useful when discussing equal marriage with people who oppose it. Christians often argue that marriage has always been properly between one man and one woman. This, they say, is “biblical” marriage, and they claim that Old Testament polygamy was not endorsed by scripture and never part of God’s eternal plan.
But the idea that there’s an unchanging, divine marital template that transcends culture is easily refuted. Today’s understanding of “traditional marriage” is radically different from what the Bible actually commands. Continue reading →
Here’s a blast from the past for those of you who grew up evangelical in the 1970s. This is the trailer for “A Thief in the Night,” a 1972 film that inaugurated the “end times” genre later exploited by the “Left Behind” books and movies. It’s been said that “Thief” has been seen by 300 million people worldwide, and I’m inclined to believe that number. In its day there was nothing like it, and evangelical churches used it as a “witnessing” tool (“Invite your unsaved friends!”).
So what’s the winning formula behind this mega-hit? First, take the paranoid theology of “Left Behind,” subtract budget, subtract professional production, subtract even a Kirk Cameron-level of acting ability, add a cheesy soundtrack and an early-seventies grindhouse vibe… oh, and film it in Des Moines, Iowa. Continue reading →
“I cannot understand why we idle discussing religion. If we are honest—and scientists have to be—we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. Continue reading →
In a recent post titled “Down the Creationist Rabbit Hole,” I remarked that I grew up creationist and later changed my mind due to the evidence in favor of evolution. Regarding the difficulty of getting people to seriously consider evidence, a commenter replied,
I wish it was just a matter of presenting the evidence and waiting for it to sink in for most people; unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. I do understand that nobody wants to look like a fool and nobody wants to lose face while debating, but it seems like people should eventually let other superior opinions seep in and change their mind… perhaps I’m being to idealistic.
And why is that so rarely the case? We can talk about cognitive dissonance or the theological implications of evolution (for one thing it makes nonsense of Paul’s main argument for the necessity of the atonement; see Romans 5:12 and following–meaning that there’s a whole worldview at stake for believers who know their Bible), but another big part of it is that in our culture, changing one’s mind is seen as a sign of weakness and unsteadiness. And the bigger the issue, the more the change bothers other people.
Unless you believe two things with absolute certainty, 1) There is a heaven, and 2) I am going there, you live with the idea that death is the end.
Maybe you don’t fully accept the idea. Maybe it’s only a possibility in your mind. But even if you have a faith, if you ever doubt it all—there’s death lurking inevitably in your future, and the chance that it will snuff out your existence like a candle. Continue reading →