Here’s an excellent post by Valerie Tarico. It’s really not surprising that many Christians condone torture, considering that the religion is built around a divine threat of torture. How could one categorically condemn something that god does?
When conservative Christians claim that the Bible God condones torture, they’re not making it up. A close look at the good book reveals why so many Christians past and present have adopted an Iron Age attitude toward brutality.
The first half of December 2014 was painful to many moderate American Christians who see their God as a God of love: A Senate inquiry revealed that the CIA tortured men, some innocent, to the point of unconsciousness and even death; evidence suggested that this torture extracted no lifesaving information. A majority of Americans responded by giving torture the thumbs up, with the strongest approval coming from Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Faced with moral outrage, including from within their own ranks, Christian torture apologists took to the airwaves and internet, weaving righteous justifications for the practice of inflicting pain on incapacitated enemies.
Just days after winning their Supreme Court case, Hobby Lobby sponsored an ad in multiple newspapers across the US. Titled “In God We Trust,” it’s a collection of quotes from the “Founding Fathers” and others that purports to show that the United States was founded as a Christian nation with a Christian government. None of this is new or surprising. But one of the quotes caught my attention. More about that in a minute.
If you follow the link above, you’ll see many of the usual quotes from the usual suspects. But my purpose here isn’t to show how Hobby Lobby is guilty of quote-mining, or to show that an honest assessment of the Founders would lead to different conclusions. (If you’re interested in that, see the Treaty of Tripoli, for instance; also see the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s comments on the ad here.) Continue reading →
“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’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 →
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.
Several days ago The Great Antagonizer posted a critique of the “God works in mysterious ways” meme, explaining how it functions as religion’s rhetorical “get out of jail free card” when bad things happen to good people. It reminded me of how the Bible’s Book of Job answers the question: a terrible answer, but kind of a funny story (in a perverse way), and one that sheds light on some of the inner workings of religious faith.
A Christian blog recently featured a post titled “There Is No God, And I Hate Him,” and it got me to thinking about one of the things that believers often throw at us infidels. I commented there but want to develop it a little more here. The blogger complained about “evangelistic” atheists, writing (in part):
I mean really, what’s the point? If there is no God, then eventually the sun will burn up, our world will be gone, everyone will die and that’s it…
And we know what rhetorical brickbat is coming next, don’t we?
I don’t normally go to creationist blogs looking for fights, but when a church posted a little animated video yesterday, titled, “Evolution is impossible, really funny!!” temptation got the better of me. At any rate, it’s an opportunity to share something really cool (if you don’t already know about Tiktaalik roseae, the “fishapod”) and to say something about the peculiar style of argumentation that’s become common among evangelicals.
The post is here, with a video that features a cartoon fish who gets the idea to jump up on land and evolve into humans. As the fish flops around helplessly on dry land, the ‘camera’ pulls back to reveal the bones of other fish who have apparently tried the same thing.
Ha, ha! See? Evolution is impossible! A fish would die on dry land!
I rolled my eyes. I grew up with this kind of pat-yourself-on-the-back ignorance. Continue reading →
Detail of the “Pale Blue Dot” photo, showing Earth as seen from Voyager 1. NASA, via Wikimedia Commons
You’ve heard the claim from Christians—that atheism strips life of its meaning. No divine plan, no eternity, only the finality of death. How could you find joy in such a pointless existence? Why even get out of bed in the morning? This is a subjective question, but let me explain how I look at it. An analogy came to me while I was looking down from an upper-story window onto a snow-covered lawn.
Someone had trampled a message into the snow, “I [heart] U,” and I realized that while you probably couldn’t read the words from the sidewalk, you could see them perfectly from a fifth floor window. In fact, I realized the whole lawn could best be read from here. I saw neat lines of crisscrossing footprints and could tell where each walker was heading, and with what stride. I saw clumps of ornamental grass bent down under the weight of the snow… a feral cat disappearing leisurely into the bushes… a squirrel racing up a tree… a young woman talking animatedly on her phone, holding it with one hand and gesturing with the other, smiling, and then hanging up and walking on quietly, hands stilled… another squirrel racing up that same tree. Continue reading →