When   you   understand  why   you
dismiss   all   the   other   possible   gods,
you  will understand why I dismiss yours.
– Stephen Roberts

I was an Evangelical Christian for some 25+ years, attended an Evangelical Seminary, helped establish a Reformed Baptist Church, and even preached now and then so I think I have a pretty good understanding of the Evangelical mindset. What I find amazing, on this side of my deconversion, is how stuck many Evangelicals are in their partiular worldview. That particular worldview is re-enforced from the pulpit, Christian books and magazines, conferences and the Church community. Any breach of it is condemned and sometimes “interventions” may even be done to maintain the status quo. As a result, when Pastors and other leaders speak about other worldviews they do so from a position where they lack any real understanding of their opponents arguments and claims. While this works fine within their circle, it often seems bizzare and comical to outsiders. Such is the case with a recent article posted on the “Christianity Today” website by Heather Tomlinson entitled “Ten quick responses to atheist claims”. In this article Tomlinson attempts to quickly answer 10 atheist claims and fails miserably because she is stuck in the Christian worldview. Let’s look at each of these claims and her answers. For convenience, I will put her words in italics. I’m not going to quote the entire article so I highly recommend going to the link to look at the full context.

1) You don’t believe in Zeus, Thor and all the other gods. I just go one god more than you, and reject the Christian God. The problem with this idea is that ‘gods’ such as Zeus and Thor are not comparable with the biblical understanding of God.”There is a vast distinction between all of the Ancient near eastern gods and the God of the Bible,” said Prof Lennox… The God of the Bible created the heavens and the earth”.

The problem here is that Tomlison is stuck in her worldview believing that her god is the correct one and her god, not any other god(s), created the world. If you do not believe in the Christian god, this argument falls flat and is unconvicing. Any religion can say: “Your god is incorrect. Mine is the true one(s) and my god(s) is the real creator of the world.” Simply pointing to your holy book as proof, isn’t proof. It is a belief without evidence. Christians reject all the other gods for the exact same reasons Atheists reject theirs; although, it is hard for them to see it because, of course, their god is true.

The statement that “The God of the Bible created the heavens and the earth” ignores all the accumlated scientific information on how the universe and our earth formed, which requires no supernatural explanation whatsoever.

2) Science has explained everything, and it doesn’t include God. Science cannot answer certain kinds of questions, such as ‘what is ethical?’ and ‘what is beautiful?’… “God no more competes with science as an explanation of the universe than Henry Ford competes with the law of internal combustion as an explanation of the motor car,” says Prof Lennox.

Science can’t (yet) explain everything, but so what? Religion explains nothing. Religion’s explanation is since I don’t know, God did it. That isn’t an explanation. It is a cop out. Science says, I don’t know about this, so how do I devise experiments to learn about it. Science isn’t certain. As better techniques and understanding comes about, revisions are made. This makes people who believe in the unchanable nature of god and his “word” uncomfortable. Yet even there, that unchangeable “word” has changed multitudes of times through history, just at a slower pace than that of society. The more science learns, the more we understand about the world around us. Sometimes science requires revisions and that is the beauty of science. It is self-correcting. As Carl Sagan has said (Cosmos):

There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That’s perfectly all right; they’re the aperture to finding out what’s right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny.

In response to Tomlinson, science is starting to understand what makes us think something is beautiful and is making impacts into the why of ethics. Just do a Google search on the science of beauty. And the quote from Prof. Lennox? The physics of combustion engines does explain the motor car and Ford used those physical laws, among others, to design his car. Without an understanding of those laws there would be no car. It isn’t magic, but it is science!

3) Science is opposed to God. There are certain conceptions of a ‘god’ that might be opposed to science, but not the Christian God. There might be certain kinds of ‘gods’ that are invented to explain things we don’t understand, but they’re not Christian…

This is another area in which Christians so believe that their god is the one true one, they forget that other religions also believe their god(s) to be the one true one. To say, “some gods” might be in opposition to science but not the “Christian god” because it is the true god is extremely biased. If you believe your god is the one true one, it’s just a self-evident “truth”. But there are no self-evident truths without evidence. In reality, while there are some deeply religious scientists, science is opposed to god.

As science learns more and more about the workings of the universe, god becomes smaller and smaller and Christian theology becomes less and less tenable. The earth is 6000 years old – nope, try some 4.5 billion years old. God created Adam and Eve – nope, try evolution on for size. The earth is the center of not only the solar system but the universe as well – nope, the earth revolves around the sun and we are pretty much an insignificant world on the outskirts of a huge galaxy.

Some theories (and a theory in science is a “fact” supported by volumes and volumes of evidence, not wishful thinking) are so damaging to Christianity that the Christian must either reject the theory in spite the evidence or accept it with the result of changing orthrodox Christian understanding of major doctrines. For example, evolution destroys the concept that God created Adam and Eve. Without Adam and Eve, there was no fall from innocence and grace into a state of sin that was so bad, god had to send a Savior. Without the Adam and Eve story, the whole Christ story makes no sense at least in the orthodox sense. And we can go on and on. God did it, isn’t an explanation.

4) You can’t prove that there is a God. This kind of statement ignores that there are different kinds of ‘proof’… That’s the kind of ‘proof’ we can present: arguments to bring someone beyond reasonable doubt. For example, rational arguments such as those from philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, the personal experience of Christians, and the witness of the gospel accounts in the Bible.

Interestingly, the different kinds of proof listed are actually arguments against Christianity. The personal experience of Christians is no more compelling than the personal experiences of those in any other religion. Just Google personal testimonies of -fill in any religion- and you can read moving, compelling testimonies from any religion or, for that matter, the lack of religion. Of course, they are all “fake” because only Christian ones count! And what exactly is the witness of the gospel? Not one of the gospels was written by an eye-witness, they are anonymous1, they contradict each other, and major branches of Christianity disagree on how to interpret them including key doctrines such as salvation, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc. Their “witness” is empty. In addition, a quick Google search can find solid critiques of the “rational” arguments of Plantinga and Craig. For example of a quick overview read “Is Alvin Plantinga for real? Alas, it appears so” by biologist and philosoper Massimo Pigliucci. In reviewing Plantinga’s view on the Problem of Evil, Dr. Pigliucci say:

“Seriously? The argument boils down to the fact that Plantinga, as a Christian, finds the Christian story “magnificent,” that is, aesthetically pleasing, and that’s enough to establish that this is the best of all possible worlds. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find a world with so much natural and human imposed suffering “magnificent” at all, and it seems to me that if an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good god were responsible for said world he ought to be resisted at all costs as being by far the greatest villain in the history of the universe. But that’s just me.”

5) Faith is believing without any evidence. Christian belief has never been about having no evidence: the gospels were written to provide evidence, as the beginning of Luke’s attests. The end of John’s gospel says, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”… John’s gospel shows that Christianity is an evidence-based faith.”

Faith is about believing without evidence. If there were evidence faith would be unnecessary. You don’t have faith in Gravity! The gospels are not evidence. They are religious propaganda for Christians. As mentioned above, they contradict each other and there is no outside, independent confirmation of anything Jesus said or did. Not one contempory historian makes any reference to Jesus and this, in spite of the many “great” works he did and the supposed buzz generated by him. In addition, as mentioned earlier, the gospels are not eye-witness accounts. The gospels are proof only to the Christian community which goes out of its way to attempt to make unharmonious events, like birth of Christ and his crucifixion, appear harmonious. Not one Christian would look at another religions holy book and believe that it speaks the truth about god, so why should a non-believer accept the god in the Christian holy book? Even scripture says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) Hoped for and not seen are not evidence, they are wishful thinking.

6) Faith is a delusion. I’d no more believe in God than I would in the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas or the Flying Spaghetti Monster… What lies behind all these delusion claims is the Freudian idea of wish fulfilment that we believe what we hope to be true. This works brilliantly providing there is no god. But if there is a god, then atheism is wish fulfilment.”

Yet, as we have seen, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” If that isn’t wish fulllfillment, I don’t know what is. Is Atheism wish fullfillment? Even if it was, and I don’t think it is since any type of evidence for god would eliminate atheism, that doesn’t make Christianity true or mean that faith isn’t a delusion. However, even if there is a god, isn’t wish full-fillment to believe that your particular version of god is the one true saving one?

7) Christianity claims to be true, but there loads of denominations and they all disagree with each other, so it must be false… “There are all kinds of different kinds of teams in football, but they all play football,” said Prof Lennox.

Actually this is compelling evidence against Christianity. These aren’t minor disagreements but disagreements that were considered so major that a break from the parent denomination was deemed necessary in order to be “true” to God and his word. Arminianism, Calvinism and Pelagianism are completely different gospels. Each of those major theologies vehemently opposes the others. While Arminianism is the prevalent theology among Christians today, go back only a few hundred years and Arminianism was declared heresy. Protestantism was also a herasy according to the Catholic Church and resulted in thousands of deaths in the name of God and his pure word. Yes, there are different football teams and they do play together BUT they use the same rule book with the same interpretation of the rules. If they used different rules they couldn’t play together! Christians, by definition are believers in Christ, but that Christ can be a very different God with different rules and regulations, every one supported by their understanding of Scripture.

8) The Bible is immoral. If you want to question the morality of the Bible, what basis does that morality have? There can be a serious contradiction within atheist criticisms.

First of all, criticism of anything isn’t a bad thing. Having our views challenged forces us to think through issues and problems. It forces us to evaluate evidence in support of or against particular ideas. Secondly, the Bible is immoral. Sorry, it is and is only made moral by selective reading of what the reader thinks is moral and rejecting those things the reader of the Bible disagrees with. Third, I hate to point this out, since Tomlinson has to know this, but there are also serious contradictions within Christian criticisms!

What does the Bible say about these issues? What does the Bible say is moral? (Good luck, depending on your denomination you can get widely different views.)

  • Homsexuality?
  • Divorce
  • Remarriage?
  • Slavery?
  • Death to Witches?
  • Torture and death of unbelievers?
  • Genicide?
  • Keeping the Sabbath holy and the penalty if you don’t.

Just to name a few. At one time a person was put to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Is that moral? How about the genocide? Is that moral? How about the torture and death of those who went against the doctrines of the Catholic Church? After all it is better to be tortured to repentance than being tortured for ever in hell. Is that moral? What about killing a child for the act of disobedience?

Even now, you can argue either way for many of these items. When a book can be made to say anything at all, it basically says nothing. Of course, the answer is that those who disagree with “my” interpretation of the Bible are wrong and going against god’s word, but isn’t that the point? That people serious about the Bible can disagree on these moral topics? So, what kind of moral guide is the Bible?

9) Surely you don’t take the Bible literally? Some atheists (and a few Christians) have a very black and white idea of how to interpret the Bible. You either have to take it ‘literally’ or chuck it away, they think. That ignores the reality of language and how it reflects truth.

Ahhhh, now we are getting somewhere! This is where the literalists (athough they only take literally what they want) have an easier time of it than those who aren’t. If you take things literally, then you have an anchor. The Bible that says “this” and that ends the discussion. Once you take that away, you are standing on sinking sand. What is allegory? What is parable? What is plain talk and a simple command? What should be taken at face value and what is just an example? What was for the Jews then, Christians then, and for us now? Who is to say what this allegory or this parable means? Who is to say “god hates divorce” isn’t really valid today? Who is to say Pauls rant against homosexuality is valid today or just a sign of the times not to be taken seriously? Who says what is solid, unmovable truth and something to be done away? Whose interpretation do we say is the true one? Again, if a book can be made to say anything you want, it really says nothing.

10) What is the evidence for God? You can debate the existence of God until the cows come home. It can be very interesting, especially when you go into the detail and explore the subject in depth. But for an atheist… Prof Lennox advises to ask them the most important question:”Suppose I could give evidence for God, would you be prepared right now, to repent and trust Christ?”

Actually, while I can’t speak for all atheists all the ones I know, myself included, that answer is yes. We value evidence. If you can show your god is true, with evidence, not some quotes from your special book, we would accept your god. That problem is, there is no proof of god. The Problem of Evil, as an example, shows that if there is a god, he is a monster.

The world works and operates as if there where no god. There is no evidence, ever, of the laws of nature being suspended through the action of an deity above those laws. Christians reject the miraclous claims of other religions just as those religions reject the Christian miraculous claims. Give me solid evidence and I would re-join the fold. But right now, I see no compelling evidence for the Christian or any other god.

Once again let me say that your special book, filled with contractions and errors, capable of being interpreted in thousands of different ways with vastly different outcomes, and telling a miraculous story supported by no external evidence is NOT evidence to anyone outside your faith.

For more detailed information about some of the points above see some of my previous posts:

General
Pascal’s Wager
The Resurrection – Really?
Was Adam a Real Person?
Does Christian Doctrinal Diversity Matter?

No Unity Here Series
No Unity Here – Part 1: The Charismatic Gifts
No Unity Here – Part II: Baptism
No Unity Here – Part III The Lord’s Supper
No Unity Here – Part IV: Worship

Why I’m an Atheist Series
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 1
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 2. The Perspicuity of Scripture – NOT
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 3. Is a King Above His Law?
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 4. The Problem of Evil.
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 5. Biblical Genocide.
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 6. Errancy.
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 7. Evolution.
Why I’m an Atheist. Part 8. Worship.
Why I’m an Atheist. Wrap Up.

  1. I am fully aware that many Fundamentalists argue that the Gospels are eye-witness accounts.  For a good overview of why scholars don’t believe the traditional authorship of the Gospels see: “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels” by Matthew Ferguson. ↩︎
“Old Christmas” from the 1843 Illustrated London News

“Old Christmas” from the 1843 Illustrated London News

“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” Benjamin Franklin

It’s that time of year again when the mythical war on Christmas is waged in the minds and hearts of some believers and cries of put Christ back into Christmas are heard thoughout the land.

Frankly speaking, there is no war on Christmas. Not getting your way as a preferred religious group is neither persecution nor a war on your religion. Anyone is free to celebrate their special holiday any way they want and there is no conspiracy to prevent such celebrations. It can be helpful to note that Christians do not own the month of December as can be seen in this list for 2015 (some holidays change dates because of the calendar that is used in a specific religious system):

Dec. 7 to 14: Hanukkah — Judaism
Dec. 8: Rohatsu (Bodhi Day) — Buddhist
Dec. 21: Solstice — Wicca/Pagan
Dec. 23: Mawlid el-Nabi — Islam
Dec. 25: Christmas — Christian
Dec. 26: Zarathosht Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathustra) — Zoroastrian

It can be argued that the celebration of the Winter Solstice is the oldest of these holidays. It was obvious to many early Christians that December 25th was originally a pagan holiday that was “stolen” by the Church to help Christianize a pagan celebration. Consider the following:

  1. It is almost certain that Christ was NOT born on December 25th. The spring and fall have both been given as more realistic time frames since Luke mentions shepherds tending their flocks (Luke 2:8).
  2. There is no record of the early church celebrating the birth of Christ and, as such, no record or tradition of his birth was preserved. In fact, early church fathers such as Origen (185-232) believed that only sinners and pagans celebrated birthdays. Origen didn’t list Christ’s birth as a Church holiday. (Natal Day)
  3. The English Parliment banned both the religous and secular celebrations of Christmas from 1644 to 1659.

    “Both the religious and secular celebration of Christmas was forbidden by the English Puritan republic, but by no means everywhere with success” (Christmas Under the Puritans)

  4. In Massacusettes, the Puritans saw Christmas as a pagan festival with Christian trappings. Christmas was made illegal in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681. Anyone caught celebrating it was fined 5 shillings.(Christmas Celebration Outlawed)
  5. A.W. Pink (1886-1952), an influential Calvinist author and bible teacher, said:

    Christmas is coming! Quite so: but what is “Christmas?” Does not the very term itself denote it’s source – “Christ-mass.” Thus it is of Roman origin, brought over from paganism. But, says someone, Christmas is the time when we commemorate the Savior’s birth. It is? And WHO authorized such commemoration? Certainly God did not. The Redeemer bade His disciples “remember” Him in His death, but there is not a word in scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, which tells us to celebrate His birth. Moreover, who knows when, in what month, He was born? The Bible is silent thereon. (XMas (Christmas))

  6. Charles Spurgeon, arguably one of the greatest Baptist preachers, said:

    We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon on Dec. 24, 1871).

    When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas, Whitsuntide, and other Popish festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them, but not till then. It is as much our duty to reject the traditions of men, as to observe the ordinances of the Lord. We ask concerning every rite and rubric, “Is this a law of the God of Jacob?” and if it be not clearly so, it is of no authority with us, who walk in Christian liberty. (from Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David on Psalm 81:4.)

    (Charles Spurgeon Quotes on Christmas)

  7. Robert McCurry, a Baptist pastor, got it right when he published an article on “The Origins of Christmas”. So in case you were thinking this atheist has it all wrong about Christmas being a pagan, not Christian, holiday, here is what Pastor McCurry said:

    Why Christmas? The majority say, “Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.” Why a Christmas season? Most will say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Really? No, not really — the manger scenes, Christmas carols, and religious activities notwithstanding. Interestingly, Christmas is not a Bible word or even a Bible subject.

    It is a historical fact that the season and day now known as Christmas preceded the birth of Christ by hundreds of years. Christmas was adopted from earlier heathen winter solstice celebrations celebrating the sun, including the Roman festival of Saturnalia celebrated from December the 17th to the 24th; Celtic Yuletide which was a twelve-day long festival of feasting around November/December; the Roman New Year celebrated on January the first when greenery was used to decorate houses in celebration of the birth of the undying sun, and presents were given to children and the poor. The Roman catholic church “Christianized” this pagan festival by substituting the birth of Christ for sun worship and named it Mass of Christ.

  8. It wasn’t until the 1870’s that Christmas became an official holiday in the U.S. (Federal Holidays: Evolution and Application)
  9. In 1999 Ganulin vs U.S, atheist lawyer Richard Ganulin filed suit saying that Christmas was an illegal holiday since it was a government sanctioned religious holiday. He lost his case but it was no win for the Christians crying put “Christ back in Christmas”. The ruling saw Christmas as a secular, NOT religious, holiday. In fact, Judge Susan Dlott wrote the following poem in her decision (Judge rhymes to refute a Yuletide lawsuit):

    The court will address
    Plaintiff’s seasonal confusion
    Erroneously believing Christmas
    MERELY a religious intrusion.

    Whatever the reason
    Constitutional or other
    Christmas IS NOT
    An act of Big Brother!

    Christmas is about joy
    And giving and sharing
    It is about the child within us
    It is mostly about caring!

    One is never jailed
    For not having a tree
    For not going to church
    For not spreading glee!

    The court will uphold
    Seemingly contradictory causes
    Decreeing “The establishment” AND “Santa”
    both worthwhile “CLAUS(es)!”

    We are all better for Santa
    The Easter Bunny too
    And maybe the great pumpkin
    To name just a few!

    An extra day off
    Is hardly high treason
    It may be spent as you wish
    Regardless of reason.

    The court having read
    The lessons of “Lynch”
    refuses to play
    The role of the Grinch!

    There is room in this country
    And in all our hearts too
    For different convictions
    And a day off too!

It’s pretty clear that the holiday we now call Christmas was adapted from earlier pagan holidays celebrated at the same time. The holiday has no relation to the birth of Christ since the time of his birth is no where to be found in the Bible. Actually, it is pretty disingenuous to call for putting Christ back in a holiday that orginally had nothing to do with him. Still, I get the reason behind that cry, as believers (and non-believers alike) see the excesses of the season, but it has been like this for as long as the Winter Solstice has been celebrated. It may not have been excess commericalism but excesses have always abounded, be it food, drink, dancing, gaiety, partying, cards, gambling and every other thing that at one time or another went into the season.

I’m not even sure what putting Christ back into the season means?

  1. Refusing to celebrate at all since it is a Christianized pagan holiday?
  2. Removing the “pagan” Christmas tree and other decorations from your house?
  3. Eliminating the gluttonous feasts many have in favor of a simple meal?
  4. Giving to the poor instead of spending money on gifts for your own family?
  5. Going to a Church service?
  6. Forcing everyone to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays?
  7. Putting a Christmas Creche in front of every house and public building?
  8. Removing Santa Claus from the holiday?
  9. Other?

Here are a couple of suggestions:

Celebrate this holiday season any way you want. If you want to say Merry Christmas, then say it but don’t get upset if someone, who realizes the multitude of holidays this time of year, just says Happy Holidays. It isn’t being politically correct, it is being sensitive to other cultures and religions. You, as a Christian, don’t have a monopoly on the season.

If you want to put Christ back in the season, whatever that means to you, do so for yourself and your family. However, if someone wants to celebrate in what you consider wild excess, let them as long as no one is getting hurt in the process. It isn’t just about your season and means of celebration. For some, it isn’t about a baby in a manger, as much as that may offend you.

This is a season that can accommadate the fundamentalist, the evangelical, the non-Christian, people of vastly different faiths and beliefs, and even the atheist. It is a time for family and comfort and a cartoony character called Santa Claus. If you want to throw in (and if we are honest this is what most Christians do) or make center stage a baby in a manager, go right ahead. I have no wish to prevent you. This season can handle all of this. In one way, it is deeply personal and in another it is a community (family, town, state, church) celebration.

Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas to All.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas


Additional Posts on Christmas:

Why This Atheist Likes Christmas
Robert Ingersoll’s Christmas Wish
Santa Claus?
Is Christ the Reason for the Season?

prayer-for-healing1-300x175Most of us live in a religious world.1 Whether people take it seriously or just give it lip service, religion is all around us. In spite of the fact that some religious groups love to play the minority and persecution card, religious overtones and sentiments are everywhere, from the “god bless you” after a sneeze to the “you’re in my prayers” whenever life gives you lemons. They are part of society’s vernacular, whether the non-religious or atheist likes it or not. We can accept it, fight it, be offended by it, or ignore it, but we can’t get away from it.

I’ve been confronted by the truth of this by recent events in my life. Roughly 6 months ago, my wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 Oral Cancer. It’s been a crazy ride since then. We’ve had outpourings of support and concern from family, friends, and acquaintances, both religious and non-religious. Most of my friends know I’m an atheist but my wife is a devout Christian (a story best left for another time). So how does someone respond to a person in crisis given very disparate world views not only between my wife and me but also between many of my religious friends and family? I’ve been asked by believers and atheists, how I feel when a person said they would pray for us. To date, I’ve been silent on the subject, but I think it is a question that deserves a response. Other atheists may disagree with me, so I am not speaking for a group. I am just giving my feelings on the subject.

The Positive

First, my wife is a believer, so she relishes the support received when someone says they are praying for us/her. She actually believes something tangible happens when someone prays, so praying people are encouraging to her. I may believe that prayer does nothing tangible; but, frankly so does the sentiment of “You’re in my thoughts” often expressed by non-believers. While in one sense both are not going to change the outcome of this cancer, in another, both are genuine responses from people who are showing that they care and are doing what they can to be supportive, encouraging and empathetic. In this, I am deeply grateful for the outpouring of caring people. Whether they are offering prayers or thoughts, doesn’t really matter to me. What matters is that they have taken time out of their busy lives to express their concern. I am not in the least offended by the prayers offered by religious family and friends. I simply put them in the same category I do with anyone showing concern. I’m grateful that they took the time to show that they care.

The Negative

Having said that, there are negatives that I feel. These negatives aren’t directed toward anyone praying for us, rather they are directed at the religous system that seems to blind people to the implications of their belief. I’ll be touching on several of these.

Is God Sovereign or Not?

The biggest problem with this whole issue of prayer is whether god is sovereign or not. If you believe he is sovereign over all things, then everything that happens is according to his will. In this case what is essentially happening is that god gives you cancer so that he can heal you and everyone gets to say how great and wonderful he is. If god doesn’t heal you, everyone still gets to say how great and wonderful he is and how he works in mysterious ways! “God” wins no matter what happens. Yes, it is stated crudely, but in fact, if god is sovereign this is exactly what is happening. Of course, if he is sovereign, then everything is happening exactly as he wishes it too, including all the pain, suffering and evil in the world. Frankly, this is the act of a caprious, psychpathic entity. However, if god isn’t sovereign, well, why bother praying because he is essentially impotent to help or his help may or may not be effective.

Is Prayer a Numbers Game?

Is prayer a numbers game? Does it matter how many people are praying? The more the better? Are believers trying to force the hand of god and wring out a cure from him?2 Is prayer just how god works out his plan? If prayer is a numbers game, than pity the poor believer who has few friends or a small prayer chain. If it is a numbers game, what a cruel caprious god. “Well, I would have healed you but you were short one prayer!” If it isn’t a numbers game then all the prayers in the world, won’t change a thing. It’s a sharp double-edged sword.

Theodicy (The Problem of Evil)

Related to the sovereignity of god is the whole issue of the problem of evil, as Epicurus is thought to have said:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God? (Epicurus)

The Christian answer is that man sinned and fell from grace and so all the pain and suffering in the world is mankinds fault, not god’s. This is a pitiful excuse. If man did fall, it’s because that is exactly how god made him and if god is omniscient then he knew, in advance, that this was the outcome of his grand “experiment”. Only a caprious psychopath would create a world knowing all the pain and suffering that would be in it AND blame the creature for acting the way he made them. It would be like a programmer writing a program that does Point of Sale being upset that it doesn’t do DNA Analysis. If there is a god then evil, suffering, pain and, yes cancer, are there because of him. I couldn’t call such an entity good or benevolent in any sense of the word, especially when he uses his creation as a scapegoat.

The Tyrannity of Why?

One of the worst things a believer goes through during intense suffering, for no apparent reason, is the question of why? Why has god allowed it? What does he want me to learn from it? Did I do anything to deserve it? Is it sin in my life? Is it a test, like Job? Is it to build character and to learn something? These questions add to the pain and agony that a suffering believer is already going through. That anquish, in some ways, can be worst than the actual disease and if one is not healed, the why is even more burning. Did I not pray hard enough? Was I that bad? What is the purpose of dying after all the struggle and pain? The why guestions go on and on as one searches scripture and prays for an answer. There is no comfort in the Book of Job, where Job was suffering essentially because of a bet between god and satan – wonderful – suffering over some cosmic bet. That’s one sick god, especially since an omniscient god would know the answer in advance and should have no need to prove it to anyone.

As an atheist, I have none of these questions. Basically, we are biological organisms and sometimes we just don’t work right. There is no entity causing it. There is no cosmic reason why. (There is a biologoical reason!) Shit happens. The world isn’t out to get us or cause us pain. Anything we get out of suffering is what we choose to get out of it. Anything we learn from it is what we decide to learn from it. There is no cosmic answer and I’m fine with that.

Is Suffering Good?

Last in this list, is the question of whether suffering is good for anything. Sure, it can change our lives and make us more sensitive and caring to those who are also suffering. On the other hand, we all know people who have gone through “the valley of the shadow of death” and returned grumpier and naster than ever. The book of Job is the Christian’s guidebook on suffering, where a righteous man was toyed with by god over a bet. In a sick bet, where Job lost his wife, family, servants, livestock and his health, his suffering was to bring glory to god. This is a truely sick story whose moral is essentially that god can do anything he wants to his creation because, well, he is god. I know I’ve used the term several times before, but psychopath is the only term that comes to mind:

Psychopathy (/saɪˈkɒpəθi/) (also known as, though sometimes distinguished from sociopathy /ˈsoʊsiəˌpæθi/) is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behavior. (Psychopathy on Wikipedia)

The other big example of suffering in the Christian belief system would be the suffering of Christ, who supposedly died for our sins because god couldn’t forgive us without the pain and suffering of a perfect sacrifice. Yet a few hours of suffering, as bad and horrible as it may be, is relatively insignificant compared to weeks, months, years and even a lifetime of suffering many people undergo. This is especially true if you know it is all temporary and you will be raised in glory in a few days and because of it the world will be saved! I saw my wife suffer for months and, let me tell you, it is extremely difficult to see someone you care about be in pain and suffering and not be able to do anything. However, god doesn’t seem to have an iota of compassion, at least compassion enough to lift a hand, say a word, and heal. So much for an omnibenevolent god.

It’s too early yet to know whether this cancer has been beaten and all the trauma and pain of treatment was worth it. I do know that regardless of what happens, many will be praising god. He will either be praised for healing her or be praised for working in a mysterious way as a justification for a lack of a healing. Unfortunately, many will ignore the many men and women, doctors and scientists, who worked hard to wrought out a cure. It’s pretty amazing that god’s healing ability seems directly proprotional to scientific and medical advances! The men and women who have devoted years of their life to understanding, studying and treating cancer are the true heroes of this this story.

Additional Posts on Similar Topics:

Confirmation Bias in Prayer
Prayer – It Still Doesn’t Work
Learning to Love to Pray?
Why I am an Atheist Part 4: The Problem of Evil
What was God Thinking?

Footnotes

  1. I understand that there are countries that are more secular than religious but in the “world” I find myself in, the United States, religiousity is the norm.
  2. The Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8 seems to indicate that pleading with god for answered pray, at least for justice, works. Reality tells us – not so much.

What is more important to a believer than worshiping the god who bestows all kinds of blessings (and curses) upon a believer’s life? Almost all religions have some type of worship ritual and it seems that all kinds of gods require, or rather demand, such behavior among their devotees. It is no different in Christianity. Worship plays a core part in any Christian’s life. Surely, there should be little controversy over such an important aspect of belief, especially when the Christian god demands it:

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. (1 Chronicles 16:29 )

Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. (Psalm 99:5)

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ” (Luke 4:8)

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23 )

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24 )

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29 )

However, if you are looking for Christian unity in worship, you would be gravely mistaken. This is another area where there are strong divisions and radically different theologies of worship. Broadly, as I have pointed out elsewhere Why I am an Atheist Part 8: Worship, there are two major ways of looking at worship:

  1. Worship is for god. As such, god and only god dictates the terms of worship (what pleases and displeases him) and going against those terms is, essentially, treason and results in god’s displeasure.
  2. Worship is for man. As such, man decides how to worship god by deciding what gives him (man) the most pleasure in his worship of god. Under these terms, god has little say in his worship and really doesn’t care how worship is conducted or cares only in the broadest sense, such as you must have a pure heart. God doesn’t get involved with the details of worship.

The difference between these two views is not just a matter of cosmetics, but of radically different views on what is “acceptable” worship. For example many contemporary worship services feature dance, skits, drama, slide shows and other effects designed to draw the worshiper into the service. Are they acceptable? For one camp, the answer is yes, for the other the answer is no. In fact, the Regulatory Principle group sees these forms of worship as anathema – something so displeasing to god that doing them actually incurs his displeasure. Consider:

The Scripture says of them (Israel), “For they served idols, whereof the LORD had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing.” and “And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight” (vs. 12: 20). Oh how fearful a thing it is for the children of God to participate in the idolatrous worship of the world! Dare we think that God is any less displeased with us today than he was with Israel if we engage in false worship? I believe the answer is obvious—He is as displeased over our idolatry as that of ancient Israel. How dare any professing Christian remain in religious Babylon with all its pagan ceremonies, observances, forms and rituals! … Just because we are Baptists do we think we can bring innovations into the meeting house and not suffer the consequences? Do we know better than God what to teach and how to conduct worship? Five Kinds of Worship Displeasing To God

The same principles which are manifested in these Old Testament examples are still applicable today. God has revealed to man the kind of worship which pleases Him and still expects men to worship in that fashion. Actually, the only way that man can know that His worship pleases God is for God to reveal to man what He wants. We cannot know God’s will except as it is revealed to us; however, through revelation, we can have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Apart from God revealing to man the kind of worship which He will accept, man could never know what pleases God. … Watch the papers and look at what is being done in the name of religion. Singing groups with their guitars, cymbals, drums, piano and organ are being used in worship; the audience to which they play is generally entertained by music which appeals to the easy listening or country western style of secular music. Consequently, the music which is presented in these programs has this kind of flavor as well. Or, consider the buildings of many Catholic churches. They display ornate buildings; some churches even have very valuable jewels embedded on the crosses in the buildings. Such things appeal to man’s desire for show. When man is left to worship according to his own desires, he offers as worship to God what pleases the man. For this reason, God found it absolutely necessary to reveal to man the kind of worship which pleases Him. Worship (II): Divinely Revealed Worship

Yet, even with these warnings how do you know what is acceptable? The Bible knows nothing of modern technology, instruments or methods. Are they simply wrong because the Bible is necessarily silent? How could it be used as a guide in this area? An ancient guide is no guide at all when it comes to modern technology. Then again, with a book as flexible in it’s meaning as the Bible, maybe current contemporary worship can find a biblical defense. Consider this:

Early worship utilized the experience of communion much more than many evangelical churches today. On a regular basis they actually passed a piece of bread around the room and each person pinched off a piece and ate it. That is so different from the once a quarter pre-packaged communion wafers that some churches use today. Even baptism was an experience in the early church. … The Psalms was the early hymn book of the church. When we read it we see that a number of instruments were used, not just one person playing the organ. And a number of people were leading the worship, not just one “worship leader.” All those people who were involved were part of the experience, not just observers of someone else doing it. Even the songs themselves were experiential. The early church sang songs TO God not just songs ABOUT God. … The reality was, first century worship was VERY experiential. And if we want our worship services to be biblical then they need to be experiential too. Can Post Modern Worship Be Biblical?

It’s amazing how a book considered by many to be god’s word to mankind, can be used to support radically different opinions. There is no clarity here, which, of course, results in deep divisions within the body that calls itself Christian. Even within the two broad worship camps, there is controversy as to what exactly is appropriate for worship. This is primarily because, as important as worship appears to be to the Christian god, in the New Testament he did not dictate how he wanted to be worshipped as he did in the Old Testament. If god cares about how he is to be worshipped, as the first camp believes, this is a grave oversight for an omniscient god.

To drive home this point, let’s look at 3 specific areas: the day of worship, music and images.

Day of Worship

Should worship be conducted on Sunday or Saturday — choices, choices. It may seem like a simple thing but the debate can get heated, after all if god does have a specific day he wants his people to worship, you would think they could get it right. Of course, like all things in the Bible, it would have been a simple thing for an omniscient god to simply inspire one of the writers to clearly tell his followers what the appropriate day was, but it’s much more fun to watch them fight about it.

Sunday

This is the traditional day of worship for Christians and is the day the majority of Christians worship. Consider what these authors have to say:

The Truth: The universal record of history, from the Resurrection of Christ, Christians have always worshipped on the first day of the week (Sunday) and never on the Sabbath (7th day). Sunday is not a Christian Sabbath or a day of rest, or a holy day to be kept. All churches teach one of four positions on the day that Christians worship.

Why, then, does the Lord’s church worship on the first day of the week? The answer is simple: because the Scriptures authorize it. The first day of the week, therefore, is the day of worship of the New Testament church. On that day, worship according to the divine pattern must be offered. Do you observe the Lord’s day? Worship (III): The Day of Worship: The Lord’s Day

VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. Westminster Confession of Faith. Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day

Saturday

However, for some groups, the majority is just plain wrong. Worship needs to be on the true Sabbath – Saturday.

In reviewing the few passages that supposedly support Sunday worship, a web site by the United Church of God states:

Scripture contains no other passages that mention anything remotely resembling weekly religious services on the first day of the week. The New Testament was written over a span of more than 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and nowhere does it even hint at the day of rest being changed to Sunday. Was Sunday the New Testament Day of Worship?

And again:

This blessing from God, enshrined in one of the Ten Commandments, did not change. The seventh day of the week—observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset—has continued as God’s commanded holy day for rest and worship. Even though misguided people later initiated a change to worshipping on Sunday, God’s command was never rescinded, nor was there biblical authorization for a change to the first day of the week. God’s Days of Worship

In addition, things get get a bit nasty when you are fighting over the “clear” word of god:

There is nothing wrong with worshipping God every day of the week, but substituting Sunday for the Sabbath day as the main day to do it, is totally contrary to the word of God, and is evil. Note 2: You may ask, “What should I do if I have been involved in regular church attendance on Sunday, instead of the Sabbath day?” Forsake it, and start to keep the Sabbath! We Can Worship God Any Day Of The Week

Everyone needs to realize that God COMMANDS us HOW to WORSHIP Him!! He tells us that we MUST worship Him “in Spirit and in truth!” (John 4:24) Jesus, as The Word God, also tells us that He HATES it when we worship Him the WRONG way!!… It is the same with “keeping one day ‘holy’ ” when GOD TELLS YOU upon which Days to worship Him!! When a person tries to worship the True God on Sunday when He has COMMANDED them to worship Him on the Sabbath Day, He HATES THAT ABOMINATION because SUNDAY was set aside by the pagans to WORSHIP THE SUN, a creation by Jesus Christ (when He was The Word God)!! We Can Worship God On Just ANY Day? Give Me a Break!

Maybe it doesn’t matter

Then again, maybe it just doesn’t matter as these Christians think:

Its not the WHEN we worship, but the WHO we worship! If one wants to congregate to worship on Saturday or Sunday, or even Monday they have the freedom under the new covenant to do so. Please don’t insult our intelligence or distort the Bible’s instructions to perpetuate the myth that Sunday is the Mark of the Beast, a replacement of Saturday. It is not. Worship is a way of life not a particular day of assembly over another day. What Day Are We Allowed To Worship On

Drawing from these verses, I view this question of the Sabbath similar to the tithe. As followers of Christ, we are no longer under legalistic obligation, for the requirements of the law were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Everything we have, and every day we live, belongs to the Lord. … not out of any forced obligation, but joyfully, willingly, we set aside one day each week to honor God, because every day truly belongs to him! Finally, as Romans 14 instructs, we should be “fully convinced” that whichever day we choose is the right day for us to set aside as a day of worship. And as Colossians 2 warns, we should not judge or allow anyone to judge us regarding our choice. Why Do Christians Worship on Sunday?

Obviously, the specific day of worship is not that important. What is important is the clear biblical mandate that worship is for the whole person every day of the week WordTruth Press

So, once again, the “clear” word of god is anything but clear. While it appears, to many Christians, there is unity on the day of worship, this is not the case: Saturday, Sunday or it doesn’t matter. They can’t all be right but they can all be wrong!

Music

Many Christians wouldn’t think that there was a controversy over music in a church service. The general worship style of most evangelical churches is filled with music, instruments and song, mostly what is now thought of as praise music. Yet, there is a long history of conflict in this area. For example, let’s look at the organ, a stable of traditional worship services. When it was first introduced it was seen by many as nothing less than heresy.

Robert L. Dabney, an influential Presbyterian minister said:

There is one fact connected with the introduction of organs into those of our churches which have adopted them, which is exceedingly distressful. It is the reason which we always hear assigned, among other reasons, for their introduction, and which we believe has been in every case the most operative one. It is always urged: “we must have an organ to keep pace with other churches in attracting a congregation, and in retaining the young and thoughtless.” … If we are authorized to add to God’s worship, forms purely of human device, in order to make it more palatable to sinners, to what corruptions shall we not give entrance? … We believe that all such artifices, of human device, to catch popularity, are inconsistent with the genius of the Presbyterian Church, derogatory of her honor, and blasting to her interests Against Musical Instruments in Public Worship

John L. Girardeau a Southern Presbyterian minister in the 1800s also wrote on The Heresy of Instrumental Music in Public Worship

Nevertheless organ music became a mainstay in many churches and now the controversy has moved on to more modern instruments and no instruments at all. Many of those who believe instruments should not be allowed in worship are particularly scathing:

If we could remember that music in Christian worship is not for the purpose of entertaining, but for teaching and for exalting, we would have no trouble seeing why God demanded vocal music and left out instrumental music. Instrumental Music in the New Testament Worship Service

From the above Scriptures, we can now “clearly” answer this question, “Can Christians use musical instruments in worship and still be pleasing to God?” Ten Reasons Why Instrumental Music Is Wrong In Worship.

The answer for this author was a resounding no! After listing the pros and cons of instruments in worship another author concludes:

Instruments are not just an aid to singing, but an additional, different form of praise to God. They violate the New Testament teachings about truth, spirit, and understanding in worship. Those who use them are not following God’s plan but have changed His plan to satisfy their own entertainment and enjoyment. Instrumental Music in Worship: Does God Want Singing or Playing Instruments?

Yet another author, looking at the same biblical passages concludes that:

Many of the Psalms mention “stringed instruments” and in one case, “flutes” at their start, implying (or so it seems to me) that the Psalm was accompanied by instruments (e.g., Psalm 5: “To the choirmaster: for the flutes. A Psalm of David”; Psalm 6: “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments . . .”). Therefore, John Calvin’s contention that a Psalm can only be properly sung is not even consistent with what the Psalms themselves teach (see also Psalms 4, 54-55, 61, 67, 76; cf. Hab 3:19)…. We also have the evidence of the extensive musical instrumentation accompanying the ark of the covenant (where God was specially present, in a way somewhat like eucharistic presence at the Mass), as described in 1 Chronicles 15. There is no hint of disapproval in the text, as if this was something frowned upon by God as idolatry… Since God doesn’t contradict Himself, the entire “no instruments at church because they are idols” argument must, therefore, be abandoned. Biblical Evidence for Musical Instruments in Worship

However, it’s not just a matter of instruments but also of the music itself. Some believe that the Psalms only should be used in worship:

The purpose of this booklet is to present the evidence in support of the following proposition; namely, that in the worship of God the inspired book of Psalms should be used to the exclusion of the uninspired compositions of men. The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God

Some believe that the music used in many contemporary churches is sinful:

Such music touches the emotions, often in a profound way: it is meant to. If Praise and Worship did not create fuzzy feelings, it would not be so popular. Perhaps you think, “It’s not that bad. After all, it only sounds like the ‘soft’ stuff.” Is our God the kind of god that is sung to as a woman being seduced by a man? Is God adored in Scripture with soft caresses and tender kisses? Is eroticism acceptable worship? Praise and Worship stirs the emotions– but which emotions; and are those emotions properly worshipful of God? Oh if only our emotions could be touched by James 4:4, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” God is not glorified by his enemies. And He is neither praised nor worshiped by the vast majority of Praise and Worship music. Why Praise and Worship Music Isn’t

And others believe that the music used should be more traditional and “meaningful”:

I am frankly astonished that the worship wars rattle on. The army of praise choruses, light shows and worship bands have left the Psalms, the organ, and our father’s hymnal decimated. The war for all practical purposes ended quite some time ago, and I am on the losing side. It is now harder to find a church that hasn’t bought into contemporary worship than it is to find a church has never been through a split. The landscape is littered with the meeting places of the victors…My objection to drums and guitars is not that they are drums and guitars… The issue isn’t the instruments, but the music…Our worship problems do not flow from drums and guitars. They flow from the sad truth that we are shallow, insipid, easily played, safe, boring and sentimental. Is there anything wrong with drums and guitars in church?

I ask again, if this is such an important aspect of the worship of god, why is Bible so unclear on the subject. Some may object that it is clear and those that don’t see it their way are sinning against god. Yet the fact that there are so many different interpretations of the same passages, show that the Bible is anything but clear on the subject. There is no unity here.

Images

Another area of controversy in worship is the use of images. These can range from simple crosses found in many Protestant churches to elaborate crucifixes and statutes found in Catholic churches. They can even extend to the use of slide shows and stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes. I remember, as a child, reading one of my mothers anthropology textbooks on the Pygmy people and their amazement that the Catholic missionaries worshiped statutes! (I wish I could remember the name of that text.) That same amazement was one of the issues that many Protestants had with the Roman Church during the Reformation and that controversy still exists today.

Of course Catholics and Anglicans don’t see it that way:

The Church absolutely recognizes and condemns the sin of idolatry. What anti-Catholics fail to recognize is the distinction between thinking a piece of stone or plaster is a god and desiring to visually remember Christ and the saints in heaven by making statues in their honor. The making and use of religious statues is a thoroughly biblical practice. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know his Bible. Do Catholics Worship Statues?

The concept of using images in worship finds its origins in the Old Testament. The Temple contained numerous visual images, including the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. The Temple Solomon built for the Lord contained many carvings of trees, gourds, flowers, and angels (1 Kings 6). It is clear that God did not forbid images used in the Sanctuary to glorify God.The use of Images, Signs, and Symbols in Anglican Worship

Not so much with many Protestant denominations:

I have argued above that the second commandment prohibits any visual representation of God by the hand of man. This is essential to the definition of idolatry. The visual aids in the OT (notably the Tabernacle and its furnishings) originated from God and they were strictly temporary shadows which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. … The second commandment that prohibited the use of images in worshipping God in the OT remains in force in the NT. God would not have other gods beside Himself. Neither would he give his glory to lifeless images. The Use Of Images In Worship… Is It Biblical?

Not only does the second commandment forbid the use of images in worship; not only does the second commandment forbid the making and representing of any of the three persons of the Godhead by means of images; but the second commandment also forbids the religious making, or using of all man-made actions, gestures, symbols,or ceremonies in God’s worship. God teaches us in the second commandment that when man brings what he has made (whether actions, gestures, symbols, or ceremonies) into worship, he forms an image according to his own authority by which to worship God. God calls that idolatry… Before leaving this text, don’t overlook the sobering warning issued by our jealous God (jealous for worship that is authorized by Himself alone, and not invented by man): “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” Who are those who hate God according to this text? It is not only the atheists and humanists. It is all those who (regardless of their profession) bring to worship anything that is instituted by man rather than by God. Foundation for Reformation: The Regulative Principle of Worship

Some even think that those who associate with believers who have icons (idols) in their churches are unsaved:

The Old Testament condemns idols, even if they are supposedly directly to the true God. The Old Testament condemns even the possession of icons. The truth is that New Testament also condemns idols. And the truth is that God does not want to be represented by things made by man. Furthermore, the truth is that since no one knows what Jesus (or God the Father, either) looks like–all ICONIC REPRESENTATIONS OF GOD ARE NOT SPIRIT and are not true. The early church is warned not to associate with any “Christian” who is involved with idolatry. The New Testament warns that idolaters are considered to be heathen and will be judged as such. What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons?

Idolatry is a serious charge in any church and once again we see that the Bible still is not a reliable guide as to what constitutes this charge. Can you have images in church? Apparently the Bible can be bent to mean yes and no.

Summary

We have seen that as important as worship is to the Christian faith, there is considerable disagreement over the elements of worship and how to properly worship god. There is disagreement, sometimes hostile, as to the day of worship, the musical elements in worship and the place of images in a worship service. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are strong disagreements over the use of specific prayers such as the Common Book of Prayer and the place of sacraments (or even if sacraments are scriptural). Not to say anything about the downright nasty fights over the scriptural basis for Charismatic or Pentecostal worship.

As important as worship is to Christians and for as much time as they invest in the endeavor, it is still another area in which there is no unity between many denominations. Isn’t that a gross oversight for a god who demands worship and has made it clear, at least to some, that unacceptable worship will be punished? Then again, maybe he doesn’t care at all because it’s all made up in the first place!

 

Can a person claim to a member in good standing of a religious organization yet not believe it’s core doctrines? The short answer is “No.” The long answer is, “It’s Complicated.” Obviously, I think, a person is being disingenuous to claim membership in a church and not believe the core doctrines of that faith. In this case a person is essentially thumbing his or her nose at god saying: “I don’t care what you say I should believe, I’m going to believe what I want.” Yet, after making such a statement, which the Bible might describe as a “high-handed” sin, the same person claims to love and believe in the very god he won’t obey! Disingenuous is not a strong enough word. Even hypocrite is weak. However, I think if truth be told, the vast majority of believers fall into this category. In a poll recently conducted in Ireland, it was found that many Catholics just don’t believe core church doctrines:

THE MAJORITY of Catholics in Ireland do not attend Mass regularly and significant numbers do not believe in key tenets of the church’s teaching, according to an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll… When it comes to the church’s teachings, many Catholics do not subscribe to key tenets such as transubstantiation. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) believe the blessing of bread and wine during Mass only represents the body and blood of Christ. Just over a quarter believe it is transformed (26 per cent). (The Irish Times)

Transubstantiation

Transubstantiation, the doctrine that the bread and wine blessed during the Mass actually turns into the body and blood of Christ, is a core Roman Catholic belief (No Unity Here – Part III. The Lord’s Supper). How can a person claim to be Catholic and not hold to this doctrine? This kind of insincerity caused Richard Dawkins to state:

“If they don’t believe in transubstantiation then they are not Roman Catholics,” Dawkins told the audience in the National Concert Hall. “If they are honest they should say they are no longer Roman Catholics. (Richard Dawkins calls for Catholic “honesty”)

While there are intelligent Catholics who believe in transubstantiation, in Ireland (and probably other countries) almost 3/4 of those very “good” Catholics don’t believe this core Catholic doctrine! Again I ask – “How can this be?” One way of looking at this discrepancy is to take the tack of Colum Kenny who says:

But the teachings of Jesus cannot be reduced to a neat set of club rules or medieval doctrines. How their truth is articulated is through the hearts and lives of Christians. The Eucharist is at the very heart of how Christians understand their faith and their church and themselves. Generations of Irish people have found consolation and meaning in the act of Communion, while not understanding or not fully accepting convoluted medieval theories about it. Such Christians have been as much a part of the Church as is any bishop…The gospels tell us that Jesus referred to such consecrated bread and wine as his body and blood; he bid his followers to do as he had done and to eat and drink in memory of him. But did he mean that Christians who did so would literally be eating his body and blood? Such an idea of “transubstantiation” seems barbaric to some people, with its echoes of human sacrifice and cannibalism, and simply unnecessary to others… Even the medieval church authorities recognised the problem of arguing that a literal transformation occurred…Transubstantiation never made much sense to many believers. It makes even less sense today unless it can be reinterpreted and integrated into our scientific knowledge of physics and psychology. (Is the Church a club with rules you accept or leave?)

Actually Mr. Kenny, that is exactly what the Catholic church teaches and what you are expected to believe, regardless of whether it makes sense to you. According to Catholic doctrine it is the Church, not you, who interprets the teaching of Christ and reveals them to you. It is clearly stated by the Catholic Church:

The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. (#85 Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Mr. Kenny, if you can’t accept this teaching, why the heck are you a professing Catholic?

Moral Issues

This problem isn’t just limited to Ireland or the doctrine of transubstantiation. On the topic of birth control, which the Roman Catholic church opposes, there is the following disparity between belief and official Church teaching:

Eighty-nine percent of American adults say birth control is morally acceptable, according to a Gallup poll taken May 3 through May 6. Notably, 82 percent of Catholics are fine with birth control, the survey found. Catholic groups have been the most outspoken against the mandatory birth control coverage included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. (A 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use or have used unnatural birth control.) (Most Americans, Even Catholics, Say Birth Control is Moral)

On the topic of abortion, which again the Roman Catholic church opposes:

The institute (Alan Guttmacher Institute) found that more Protestant women obtained abortions than Catholics: Forty-three percent of women over age 17 in the 2000-2001 survey said they were Protestant, while 27 percent said they were Catholic. But Catholics were more likely to get an abortion: The abortion rate for Catholic women was 22 per 1,000 women; the rate for Protestants was 18 per 1,000 women, according to study author Rachel K. Jones. (Abortions: Comparing Catholic and Protestant Women)

There are also differences between official Roman Catholic doctrine and church members when it comes to premarital sex, the death penalty, and abortion:

More than six in 10 Catholics say premarital sex is morally acceptable. Ditto for the death penalty.Fewer Catholics, but nearly half, buck the church and say homosexual relations between consenting adults are morally acceptable. The fewest, three in 10, say abortion is morally acceptable when the woman’s life is not in danger.Fifty-two percent of Catholics who attend church weekly say premarital sex is morally unacceptable.For instance, 56 percent of Catholics who attend church weekly say the pope has influenced their religious beliefs, and 52 percent say he’s influenced their moral views. But majorities even of these most-churched Catholics say the pope hasn’t influenced their personal behavior or their political opinions.(U.S. Catholics Admire, Disagree With Pope)

So, once more, how can a person claim to be Roman Catholic (or any other denomination for that matter) and not believe what the church teaches? This is a bigger problem for Catholics than many Protestant denominations since the Catholic church believes that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth. When he speaks ex cathedra, he is speaking for god and his pronouncements are infallible:

Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error when, exercising his office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he solemnly declares that a teaching on faith or morals is to be held by the whole Church. (Papal infallibility)

When the church says that during the Mass the bread and wine becomes the literal body and blood of Christ without any obvious change in its material structure, it means just that. It means that this is what God Himself has stated. When the Pope says birth control is wrong – it is WRONG. It doesn’t matter what a member of the church thinks or feels, if you are a Catholic, the teaching is that birth control is a sin. When the church says premarital sex is wrong. It means you can’t be a Catholic in good standing if you are living in “sin” with your significant other. How can a good Catholic partake in a Mass, which calls upon the magic of transubstantiation as the highlight of the Mass, and not believe it is happening? How can a “good” Catholic live with their significant other without the benefit of marriage? How can that “good” Catholic boy or girl use birth control? Can these people be called Catholic, let alone a “good” Catholics. Well, no, they can’t. But, of course, the real answer is “It’s Complicated!”

It’s Complicated!

It’s complicated because of 2 basic reasons:

  1. Many believers, especially in Western countries, want to believe in god on their OWN terms. In other words, they basically believe in a god of their own making. A god who is made in their own image. You can thank the Protestant Reformation for that! So god is reduced to who I want him/she or it to be. What the “church” says, isn’t so important. In fact, this is one reason why we have some 36,000 to 38,000 Christian denominations. Most people aren’t going to go out and start a new denomination, so they stay put and believe what they want. But why? Why not be honest and just leave or find a denomination that believes what they do? Well, that’s where the 2nd point comes in.
  2. For many people, religion isn’t so much about belief in a specific type of god or doctrine, but rather it is a social connection with others who believe, roughly, the same thing. I’m not saying that spirituality isn’t important to church goers. What I am saying is for many spirituality is mixed with the social element and it is this social element, rather than doctrine, which glues many to a particular denomination. If doctrine was more important, then the religious would gravitate toward a denomination whose doctrine they care about. (This is more common in some evangelical Protestant churches.) What is difficult for some people to understand, is that for many Catholics (and probably other religious traditions) your identity is wrapped up with your “religion.” You are a CATHOLIC, irrespective of what you actually believe. It is part of a cultural tradition of belonging, not primarily of believing. This is why rejection of the label “Catholic” isn’t a rejection of “god” in so much as it is a rejection of a social tradition and the people that make up that tradition.

Religion can shape a person’s identity:

Similar to other forms of identity formation, such as ethnic and cultural identity, the religious context can generally provide a perspective from which to view the world, opportunities to socialize with a spectrum of individuals from different generations, and a set of basic principles to live out. These foundations can come to shape an individual’s identity. (Religious Identity)

This identity also has some big benefits, including feelings of happiness and well-being, two powerful forces that are often-time mistakingly attributed to god:

Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction, … friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient in religion that makes people happier. (Social Ties Link Religion to Life Satisfaction)

In a strange sense, a person who rejects the Church is rejecting their heritage which is much, much more important than the rejection of some invisible, nebulous god. This doesn’t mean that god or faith isn’t important, it is just less important than culture, heritage and identity. Years ago, when I left my old church, that hardest part was the rejection from everyone I once thought were friends.

Conclusion

So today’s Catholic can be comfortable not believing what the Pope and Church tells them to believe, live a life the Pope and Church says is sinful and still proudly claim to be a Catholic in good standing. But folks, this is dishonest. For people who pride themselves on their moral superiority and their dedication to the 10 Commandments, this hypocrisy has to stop. If a person can’t believe in the god expounded by their religious authorities, then they need to be honest and leave. Richard Dawkins is correct in stating,. “If they are honest they should say they are no longer Roman Catholics” (or Baptists or Methodists or whatever).

If you are in this situation, stop thinking it doesn’t matter. It does matters if you stay in religion or church that you don’t believe in. Imagine what would happen if everyone who was “Catholic” but didn’t believe in the doctrines or practice of the church would say – enough! What if they packed up and took their money and membership with them? Would the church still view birth control as wrong? Would it still insist on a incomprehensible doctrine such as transubstantiation? Would they still protect pedophiles? Even if they did, wouldn’t you feel more comfortable knowing you are no longer supporting something that you don’t believe in?

The hardest part of being honest and leaving, is the social cost. That is a high price to pay for many people, but believe me, it is an excellent way to find out who your true friends really are. It may be hard on family, but for many families, blood is indeed thicker than an invisible friend or a religious social club.

—————————

I’m not really trying to pick on Catholics in this post, although they are the focus of the article. You can basically switch out Catholic for any Protestant denomination and write the same post. And while most Protestant denominations don’t have a practical doctrine of infallibility in their leaders, as with the Pope, in practice, the pastor is pretty much put in the same category. Maybe he or she isn’t infallible but close, very close.

Doubt and unbelief cannot be overcome by logical reasoning and proofs. The only treatment for doubt is punishment. (Promise and Deliverance S. G. De Graaf. Volume I. Page 65)

But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:31

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Rom 1:20

One incongruity that exists in Christianity is the relationship between evidence (apologetics) and faith. On the one hand you will find many Christian apologists trying to defend their faith by a series of approaches that supposedly give evidence or support for their particular brand of Christianity. On the other hand, there is the emphasis on faith in “coming” to Christ even though faith, by definition, means “belief that is not based on proof.” Even the Bible says this in Hebrews 11:1 where faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). Some apologists will try to minimize this incongruity by stating there is enough evidence to bring you to faith and allow you to see that it is a rational and logical way to proceed. This is what Paul was getting at in Romans 1:20 (quoted above) – that by looking around at the world and looking at the wonder of creation, it clearly demonstrates that there is a god and we are without excuse for failing to believe. This is a position taken by many believers and may even have been a powerful argument at one time. For example, this quote is typical:

Paul tells us that the unbeliever is without excuse. God reveals Himself in two ways, directly through His Word and indirectly through a general revelation. God’s presence can be discerned through His creation. The very workings of the heavens proclaim that God exists. The marvel of life shows His hand. The more we learn about the cosmos that more we see the intricate design of creation. Anything designed to the procession of the universe cries out for a designer. (They Are Without Excuse)

Actually, not so much any more. With the advent of modern science, such a argument is vacuous. We know much more about the beginning of our universe and the evolution of life on this planet than the ancients ever did and, frankly, god can be easily left out of the equation. It is no longer “obvious” that there is a god that created all things. You can, of course, invoke a creator deity, but such a deity is not necessary to explain the universe or life on this planet. (e.g. see A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss and The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins)

Once you get rid of Christianity’s red herring called evidence, it all comes down to faith. The Bible makes it clear that without faith “it is impossible to please him” (Heb 11:6, NASB). Every once in awhile someone in the Christian world, with brutal honesty, tells us what they really think about logic, proof and evidence. S. G. De Graaf (1889-1955) was such a person. He was a Reformed (Calvinist) minister in the Netherlands who wrote a massive 4 volume work called Promises and Deliverance. In it, as quoted above, he clearly stated that “Doubt and unbelief cannot be overcome by logical reasoning and proofs.” Actually, this makes complete sense coming from a Calvinistic and Reformed point of view. In this theology god is completely sovereign even in the area of salvation. God picks whom is to be saved and it is impossible to resist his call to salvation. All that He calls will come to Him as is seen in John 6:37-39:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

Resistance to this call then is not about evidence and not about proof but about plain old sin. It is also a resistence that is ultimately futile. So all the proof in the world falls on deaf ears. Luke 16:31 (quoted above) basically says the same thing. That even if someone rose from the dead (a forbearing of unbelief in light of the supposed resurrection of Christ), we are so hard hearted that we would still refuse to believe. Here, proof and logic are inconsequential. The only thing that will get someone’s attention is punishment. As De Graaf says, “The only treatment for doubt is punishment.” Basically, reason and logic don’t work, only punishment. This has the “ring” of truth to it if you are on the believer’s side of the fence. After all, the believer has faith so it is very tempting to trivialize unbelief as sin instead of lack of evidence. Even the apologist William Craig Jr. said:

…For not only should I continue to have faith in God on the basis of the Spirit’s witness even if all the arguments for His existence were refuted, but I should continue to have faith in God even in the face of objections which I cannot at that time answer… What I’m claiming is that even in the face of evidence against God which we cannot refute, we ought to believe in God on the basis of His Spirit’s witness. Apostasy is never the rational obligation of any believer, nor is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. God can be trusted to provide such powerful warrant for the great truths of the Gospel that we will never be rationally obliged to reject or desert Him. (The Witness of the Spirit as an Intrinsic Defeater Defeater)

I maintain that logic, evidence and proof are the only things we have to determine truth in this world and the best way (not the only way) to do this is the Scientific Method. As Maimonides said: “It is not proper to abandon matters of established knowledge that have been verified by proofs… and depend instead on the teachings of individual sages who may have possibly overlooked what was essential to these matters… a man should never cast reason behind him, for the eyes are set in the front, not in the back.” (quoted in Doubt. A History)

If there is no compelling evidence for god. If the universe can be explained without a creator. If life evolved and was not created. Do we need to invoke a creator being? And even if we do, that doesn’t mean god cares one iota about man. And even if he does, that doesn’t mean the Christian has it right. And even if Christianity does, which of the 34,000 to 38,000+ variants are true? In other words the idea that logic, evidence and proof are inconsequential and all that really matters is faith, is a quaint idea that has a bit in common with Pascal’s Wager. For both ideas to work, the assumption has to be made that the choices are unbelief and belief in the Christian god. Add other religions to the mix or a large number of conflicting Christian theologies and suddenly your world goes topsy-turvy. The true choice isn’t between unbelief and the Christian god but between unbelief and 100’s of gods and between belief in a god or gods and disbelief in all others. Pascal’s Wager breaks down when you realize there are other religions making claims of heaven and hell (reward and punishment) outside of Christianity.

Faith breaks down likewise. Faith in what or who? Faith in what god? Faith in what religion? Faith in what theological system? What Christian concept of god and Christ and salvation should you believe? If you are only going by the “internal witness of the Holy Spirit”, frankly, you are screwed. Even the Bible says that god sometimes places or allows to be placed a lying spirit in man’s heart (e.g. 2 Thess 2:11, 1 Kings 22:22). It also frighteningly states that there will be many who think they are believers, but god will tell them “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23). If there is a god that is capable of this type of deceit, then there is no “internal witness” that can be trusted.

Without evidence, proof and logic how do you know what is true? After all, practitioners of most religions believe theirs to be the one true one. How do you know your faith and your god is better than theirs? And if you say your Holy book tells you so, just remember that the other religions have their Holy books too! In a world where it is obvious that religion is a multiple choice affair, the requirement for faith as a selector is outdated and naïve. Furthermore if there really is a god who cares about the truth of what you believe, faith is down right dangerous.

What about the concept of punishment for those that don’t believe, by faith, in a particular god? I can say it no better than the Islamic sage Ibn al-Rawandi (9th century) who said:

A God who inflicts illness upon his slaves cannot be counted as one who treats them wisely, nor can he be said to be looking after them or to be compassionate toward them. The same is true concerning he who inflicts upon them poverty and misery. Also unwise is he who demands obedience from a person who he knows will disobey him. And he who punishes the infidel and disobedient in eternal fire is a fool. (Medieval Islamic Sceptics)

A god who requires a person to believe without evidence and then punishes that person for not believing is a malevolent being. For a Calvinist it is even worst since they believe in a god which is completely sovereign when it comes to salvation. If this god doesn’t select you then you aren’t going to be saved; yet, this god will hold you accountable for a choice you cannot make and punish you eternally for it! That makes malevolence seem loving in comparison.

I don’t disbelieve because I want to sin. (Whatever sin means, since it is a purely religious concept and varies greatly even within the Christian framework.) I disbelieve because I find no compelling evidence to believe in a god. As to the Christian god, I find a large amount of evidence that the god described in the Bible and by most Christian theologies, simply doesn’t exist.

 

Another controversy within the Christian community is that of baptism. If you believe the Bible, Jesus gave a simple command:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-28:20 NIV)

Now, I ask you, how many ways can such a simple command be messed up? Apparently, a lot! With this simple straight forward statement comes controversy, church splits and bitter downright hostile disagreements. Christians can’t agree even agree on who should be baptized, never mind how they should be baptised or what baptism even means! Such a simple concept, that god could have easily clarified, is left open to mutliple intepretations and meanings. If you are going to give a command – “go an make disciples..baptizing them in..” doesn’t it make sense to clarify what you are commanding? How hard would it be to add: “And by baptizing, I mean…”? Strangely an omnipotent and omniscient god couldn’t see the outcome of leaving definitions out of a command. Probably because it wasn’t an omnipotent and omniscient god that had anything to do with the command! Let’s look at the controversies:

How Should a Person be Baptized?

How many ways can you possiblity use water on someone? Well there are several and they are all represented in the various modes of baptism.

  • Aspersion – This is more commonly called sprinkling. Water is simply sprinkled on the skin, usually the head.
  • Affusion – This is a little more intense than sprinkling as it is the literal pouring of water over the head and is most common in churches practicing infant baptism.
  • Immersion – Strictly speaking this is when a person stands or kneels in water and water is poured over them during baptism. Less technically, it is often used as a synonym for submersion.
  • Submersion – Submersion is where the body is submerged under water and is common in many evangelical churches where believers baptism is performed.

You may rightly ask whether the mode of baptism matters. Well, yes and no. Some denominations, clearly do not care and leave the choice to the individual. For instance the Methodists teach:

“Let every adult person and the parents of every child to be baptized have the choice of sprinkling, pouring, or immersion” (The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Church).

For other denominations it is clearly important. What it comes down to in these denominations is how you view scripture. If it is the inerrant word of god, then you are compelled to try to do what god supposedly commands. Figuring out exactly what is commanded is a good trick given the contradictory nature of the Bible. But once that is “figured out” by a given demonination or church, they are usually inflexible and totally sure of their intepretation. For instance David E Pratte says:

Sprinkling and pouring are human in origin. They are changes from God’s plan. Only complete immersion can be practiced according to Jesus’ authority.

What if you once received sprinkling or pouring instead of immersion? Gospel baptism is immersion, not sprinkling or pouring. If you have not been immersed, then you have not obeyed Jesus’ command! You have followed only the doctrine of men.

If you now wish to obey Jesus, you must do what He said to do: be baptized (immersed) as described in the passages studied above. He who believes and is baptized will be saved – Mark 16:16. (The Action (Mode) of Baptism: Sprinkling, Pouring, or Immersion?)

According to Mr Pratte, if you were baptized by the wrong method, you haven’t been baptized. Daniel R. Vess, using the same logic, goes even further:

Does sprinkling, pouring, or immersion meet the Bible requirement for baptism? Bible baptism requires: Water (Ac. 10:47); much water (John 3:23); going down into the water (Acts 8:38); coming up out of the water (Mark 1:10; Acts 8:39); a burial (Romans 6:3,4); a resurrection (Romans 6:5; Col. 2:12); a washing of the body with water (Hebrews 10:22) and a birth of water (John 3:5). Only immersion meets all the requirements. Sprinkling and pouring are inadequate substitutes for immersion, and even worse, they are additions to the Word of God (Rev. 22:18,19).

If you have not been immersed in water you have not been baptized. If you have not been baptized you have not been saved: “He that believes and is baptism will be saved, he that does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). (Is Sprinkling or Pouring Baptism?)

Here the correct mode of baptism is directly linked to ones salvation. Get it wrong (sorry Catholics) and you aren’t even saved – you are going to burn in hell! Does the mode of baptism matter? To these people and others, the answer is YES and they are willing to condemn entire Christian denominations that practice anything less than full immersion (submersion) as unbelievers.

Who Should be Baptized?

If you think the controversy over the mode of baptism gets a little intense, you haven’t see anything yet. The topic of who should be baptized is explosive! It seems simple. From the command of Jesus, it appears that baptism is linked with disciples (“go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them…”), so only disciples should be baptized. However, nothing in the Bible is clear or simple, as much as individuals would like to argue otherwise. As with the mode of baptism, there are several choices as to who should be baptized, encompassing almost every possible combination. In general, the categories are:

  • All infants
  • Infants of believing adults only
  • Believing children and believing adults
  • Believing adults only
  • A Believer(s) and his/her entire household regardless of belief

Entire demonimations have been formed around the topic of who should be baptized and to some extent, “who” may also determine the mode of baptism. If you believe that infants should be baptized, most likely you are not a proponent of baptism by submersion!

A good overview of the issue of who should be baptized from an infant or believer dicotomy and from an “infant” or “household” view is “A Better Case for “Infant Baptism” by William Shishko. I reference this article for two reasons. The first is that it fairly shows that two groups can disagree about core doctrinal issuses and still be cordial. The second is I think that it is fairly obvious the extent to which the scriptures are contradictory and confusing on this important issue. A lot of assumptions have to be made in order to support a particular viewpoint since there is no clarity in the bible alone. For instance, when it comes to the household baptisms recorded in scripture, you have to make the assumption that infants were included or even part of the household since the Bible is silent. Again, how hard would it be for an omnipotent and omniscient god to “inspire” the writers of scripture to include a simple statement: “… all their household was baptized including all the men,woman, children, servants and their infants…”!

Bryn MacPhail says it this way:

…we must readily admit that neither side of this debate has as much supporting evidence as we would like. What we’ll call ‘the Baptist position’ has plenty of evidence to support the practice of ‘believer’s baptism’. However, what is missing is overwhelming evidence to support ‘believer’s baptism’ to the exclusion of infant baptism. And those who endorse the baptism of Christian children must admit that this endorsement is made by reasonable inference rather than according to a clear mandate. What I mean is that there is no verse in Scripture that reads, ‘You shall baptize every child born to Christian parents’—there is no explicit biblical mandate to baptize children. By the same token, there is no verse that reads, ‘You shall not baptize children; you may only baptize those who profess faith in Jesus Christ’—there is no explicit verse forbidding the baptism of children. So, again, in the absence of explicit New Testament instruction on this matter, neither side of this debate has as much supporting evidence as we would like. (The Biblical Basis For Infant Baptism)

However, as nice and polite as this discussion can be, this conflict can get downright nasty. Usually this is by those who profess some type of believers baptism since almost everyone who holds to infant baptism also holds to believers baptism for those not baptized as infant. For example:

The insistence on trying to use circumcision and household as the basis for this doctrine is damaging enough, but this is compounded by a total disregard for all the other many Scriptures which clearly teach water baptism is only for believers in Christ…no Christian should have anything to do with infant baptism for any reason. In fact, such is a baptism in name only. If such a person who was previously “baptized” as an infant should become a real Christian, he is commanded like all others to undergo true Christian baptism. Moreover, the mode of Christian baptism found in the Bible is immersion. (Infant Baptism—Is It Christian by Dan Corner)

Infant baptism is not a Scriptural doctrine. It is not found in the Bible. There is not one example in the Bible of one single baby being baptized. We will show that baby baptism is of pagan origin. It is my purpose in this article to set forth my reasons for saying, as I often have said, that…INFANT BAPTISM IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SENDING MORE PEOPLE TO HELL THAN ANY OTHER RELIGIOUS ERROR. From my point of view, it is a dreadful thing to baptize a baby and let him grow up believing that by that baptism he has been saved and is on his way to heaven. (Infant Baptism Exposed! It’s History and Harm by William Pettingill)

Being baptized as an infant doesn’t show that we understand God’s word and can apply his knowledge to make sound Christian decisions when Satan attacks. An infant can not understand what this type of dedication will entail and therefore should not be baptized. Baptism is a personal choice that should only be done after someone has dedicated his/her life to God. It is not a decision that should be made lightly. And it is certainly not a decision that should be made by someone else, such as the parent of an infant child. (Is Infant Baptism Christian? by CRAOM)

Infant Baptism is nothing, has no saving efficacy, delivers no grace, confers no faith, is a symbol of nothing. It is absolutely and totally pointless. It leads to ritualism, confusion and false security. (Is Infant Baptism Biblical? by Grace To You)

The fact is, infant baptism is no more than a human tradition. It has no higher authority than fallible man. It represents a digression from the New Testament order of things and ought to be abandoned by conscientious people who respect biblical authority. There are eternal consequences associated with advocating this error. As Schweitzer acknowledges: “[I]f Christian baptism is only for those who have enough faith to repent and believe, we are wrong and hypocritical to baptize anyone who is too young to exhibit these qualities.” (“We Baptize Babies” – A Response by Wayne Jackson)

Infant baptism is an evil, because its practice is unsupported by the word of God; because its defense leads to most injurious perversions of scripture; because it engrafts Judaism upon the gospel of Christ; because it falsifies the doctrine of universal depravity; because it contradicts the great fundamental principle of justification by faith; because it is in direct conflict with the doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration; because it despoils the church of those peculiar qualities which are essential to the church of Christ; because its practice perpetuates the superstitions that originally produced it; because it subverts the scripture doctrine of infant salvation; because it leads its advocates into rebellion against the authority of Christ; because of the connection it assumes with the moral and religious training of children; because it is the grand foundation upon which rests the ration of church and state; because it leads to religious persecutions; because it is contrary to the principles of civil and religious freedom; because it enfeebles the power of the church to combat error; because it injures the credit of religion with reflecting men of the world; because it is the great barrier to Christian union; because it prevents the salutary impression which baptism was designed to make upon the minds both of those who receive it, and of those who witness its administration; and because it retards the designs of Christ in the conversion of the world. These, mainly, are the charges I prefer against infant baptism, and I believe that I have proved each one of them conclusively, if so, it is a great and unmitigated evil. It not only does no good, but it does evil, immense evil, and only evil (The Evils of Infant Baptism by Robert Boyt C. Howell)

What is the Meaning of Baptism?

As with the other aspects of baptism, there are also disagreements on the meaning of baptism. Is it:

  • A sign of obedience to a command of Christ?
  • Is it necessary for salvation?
  • Is it a symbol of identifying oneself as a believer in Christ?
  • Does it actually confer salvation?
  • Is it an obsolete – something for another time and age?
  • Is is a sign of the New Covenant that replaces the Old Testament’s sign of circumcision?

To some extent, how a Christian views the mode of baptism and who should be baptized, impacts the question of the meaning of baptism. For instance, if a Christian believes in infant baptism, it would be difficult to believe that it is a means of identifing oneself (as an infant) as a believer in Christ; although it may be looked at as identifying the parents as “in Christ” who are being obedient to Christ in baptizing their infant. As might be expected, those who see it as actually confering salvation are in direct opposition to those who see baptism in some symbolic sense.

Most of the hostilities in this area come over the question of whether baptism actually does something. For instance the Roman Catholic Church believes that baptism removes the taint of orignal sin and actually accomplishes several things (abbreviated list from A Guide to Catholic Baptism):

Baptism does five things specifically.

  1. It forgives all sins that may have been committed prior to a person’s baptism including original sin and it relieves the punishment for those sins.
  2. It turns the person into a newly adopted son of God and a member of Christ.
  3. It brings someone into the flock of the faithful and brings them to share in the royal priesthood of Christ (1Pet. 2:9-10).
  4. It gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers and it also brings about the sacramental bond of the unity of Christians.
  5. Last, but certainly not in the least, it leaves and indelible spiritual mark (character) of belonging to Christ on the soul. Nothing you can do will take away this mark even if you sin a million times.

Most protestant denominations would strongly disagree with #1 and #5 and may have problems, to varying degrees, with the other points. However “Baptismal Regeneration” (salvation is linked to baptism) is also believed by several Protestant groups as well (see Baptismal Regeneration). I’ll deal with this topic more in depth when I tackle the topic of the varying views of salvation; but, for our purposes right now, it is enough to show that there are strong disputes over what baptism means and accomplishes.

For instance, on the other side, is the more common Protestant view that baptism is a symbolic identification with Christ:

Why do we have to be completely covered by water when we are baptized? God chose immersion in water because it is a very powerful way of showing us that our sins must be forgiven. Believers realise that they need saving from sin and require God’s grace. They go under the water in baptism, and die to an old way of life. They come up out of the water to a new life. In baptism, believers identify with the death of Jesus Christ, who died for us. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, they also rise from the waters of baptism…(Baptism in Christadelphian Bible Mission)

If the meaning of baptism could be boiled down to one word, that word would be identification. Baptism speaks primarily of a personal, public identification with Jesus Christ. (What does Baptism Mean? by Ray Pritchard)

Conclusion

Even though the topic of baptism and the command to baptize appears to be fairly straight forward, it is far from it. Deep divisions and even church splits are caused by a little water – to sprinkle or not, to baptize infants or not, to save or not. The supposed word of god, in spite of what the church wants you to believe, is not clear on even such a basic issue. But why take baptism so seriously? Obviously, some denominations don’t, but the closer one gets to believing the bible is the literal word of god, without error, the stronger one has to hold “fast” to the “truth” as they see it. If the bible is without error… If your interreptation is correct… If god cares about the “truth” contained in his word… It follows that any interpretation that doesn’t agree with yours is not only error it is heresy! It can’t be otherwise.

It’s hard to understand this passion unless you lived it; but, understanding it is the key to breaking the spell of belief and faith in an imaginary god.

I had planned on continuing my series on Christian unity with a look at baptism. That article is still in the works and will be posted soon; however, I was side tracked by the March issue of New Horizons Magazine. Emblazed on the cover were the words “Adam. Man or Myth.” This immediately grabbed my attention. In the past I have maintained that evolution destroys the traditional foundation of Christianity. I stated:

The big issues as I see are:

If there was no real Adam and Eve and no real Fall, then how did sin enter the world? This sin is supposedly grievous enough that it required a Savior/Redeemer.

If there was no event which caused a Fall, what is the point of a Savior/Redeemer? What was he to Redeem us from? (Why I am an Atheist – Part 7: Evolution)

In fact, it is one of several reasons why I am an atheist today. I was very interested to see what a conservative Christian denomination (The Orthodox Presbyterian Church) had to say. I was not disappointed. Here is a sampling of quotes from a couple articles in the magazine:

My thesis is simple: by questioning the historicity of Adam, one must revise the doctrine of original sin with serious modifications. Even recent purveyors of theistic evolution, who question the historicity of Adam, recognize this to be the case… if Adam is not the responsible agent for casting the human race into a condition of sin and misery, then at whose feet should we place the blame for our human predicament? Does it not follow, if one removes the historicity of Adam from the equation and if our historical forefather Adam is not responsible for our condition of sin and misery, that someone else must bear that responsibility? It seems to this author that the necessary consequence is to make God responsible for the evil we observe in the world. (Should we still believe in a historical Adam? by Bryan D. Estelle)

If it is not true that all human beings descend from Adam, then the entire history of redemption, as taught in Scripture, unravels. The result is no redemptive history in any credible or coherent sense… If Adam was not the first man, who fell into sin, then the work of Christ loses its meaning… By now it should be clear that questioning or denying the descent of all humanity from Adam as the first human being has far-reaching implications for the Christian faith. It radically alters the understanding of sin, particularly concerning the origin and nature of human depravity, with the corresponding abandonment of any meaningful notion of the guilt of sin. It radically alters the understanding of salvation, especially in eclipsing or even denying Christ’s death as a substitutionary atonement that propitiates God’s just and holy wrath against sin. And it radically alters the understanding of the Savior, by stressing his humanity, especially the exemplary aspects of his person and work, to the extent of minimizing or even denying his deity. (“All mankind, descending from him…”? by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

At least these two authors understand the issues involved. They understand that if Adam was not a real person and the Fall was a not real event, Christianity has no legs to stand on. The problem, of course, is science – man evolved. Therefore, they are compelled to stand against science or to re-interpret science to fit their theology; hence, the Creationist and Intelligent Design movements. You can’t understand these movements without understanding their theological underpinnings. They are vital to help support a failed theological system. They also understand this:

Science is perceived as forcing us to acknowledge that, on a literal reading of this passage, some details simply do not cohere with the view that all human beings descend from Adam and Eve… scientific findings are being given priority in the sense that they are seen as necessitating a rejection and consequent reinterpretation of what has heretofore been considered certain, as well as basic, biblical teaching. In that regard, let’s not suppose that we are faced here with yet one more “Galileo moment,” where Christians need to adjust their thinking and get on board with science. Plainly at issue here is not an aspect of our ever-changing understanding of the physical workings of our environment and the universe at large, but perennial and unchanging matters that are basic to who we are as human beings—what it means to be created in God’s image and the kind of relationship with him that that entails… Scripture, not nature, always has priority in the sense that in it God reveals himself, as the Belgic Confession also says, “more clearly and openly,” particularly on matters basic to our identity as human beings and our relationship to him. (All mankind, descending from him …”? by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

While a nice rhetoric device, the distinction Gaffin makes between a “Galileo moment” and “matters that are basic to who we are as human being” is no distinction at all. The geocentric model of the universe was a vital Christian doctrine. It was supported by scripture and showed the importance of man in the created universe. Man (earth) was the center of the universe. How could it be otherwise? After all man was god’s masterpiece of creation. To have it otherwise demoted man to nothing more than “cosmic dust.” The issue was about who we are as human beings. Bruno was burned alive as a heretic and Galileo was ostracized by the church. While scientifc facts can be ignored for a time, resistant is ultimately futile. Christian theology had to be revised to accept the new heliocentric model. (see The impact of the transition from a geocentric universe to a heliocentric universe for a quick overview)

It is no accident that this issue of New Horizons Magazine also had an article on “Evaluating the claims of scientists” by Vern S Poythress. In it he states:

…many modern scientists have strayed from the truth. They think of law as an impersonal mechanism. This kind of thinking is a form of idolatry, conforming to the Bible’s description in Romans 1:22–23: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.…” In ancient times, people made physical statues to represent false gods. Now, people often exchange God for a substitute in the form of an allegedly impersonal, mechanical law. This kind of substitution is still a form of idolatry…Does it really make a difference whether we believe that the laws of the universe are God’s speech rather than an impersonal mechanism? It does. The regularities that modern scientists discover approximate God’s word or God’s law governing the present providential order of things. But the Bible distinguishes the present providential order from the way things were during the time when God created the world, as described in Genesis 1–2. So God may have acted differently during that time. Indeed, he may still act differently later on in history, when he responds personally to the personal needs of his people. He can work miracles, as he did with Noah’s flood and with the plagues in Egypt. God is not restricted in his actions by allegedly impersonal, natural law.

This tactic is not new. First you quote scripture showing that we are fools to reject god and his scripture and then you say, with no evidence at all, that god did things differently in the past, by-passing the laws of nature. It works among the faithful. They, after all, have special revealed knowledge. Knowledge that god gave them that tells them what he actually did and how he acted. What I find amazing are the following statements by Poythress:

Darwinists rely on several assumptions. Not evidence, but rather a philosophical presupposition, has excluded God from the process…. Might there be some alternative explanations for the striking similarities? The term “intelligent design” belongs to an approach that stresses that similarities between living things may be due to common design features… We have always known that we look somewhat like monkeys. Now we know that our DNA is like monkeys’ DNA. So what? Quantitatively, we have much more evidence of a relationship. But we still have the same fundamental question, namely, what kind of relationship is evidenced? The evidence has to be interpreted. And the interpretation always takes place within a framework of many assumptions about the nature of the world and the nature of scientific investigation. If a scientist assumes a Darwinist framework of impersonal law, he is going to infer confidently that humans and monkeys have a common ancestor and that gradualistic, purposeless evolution is the explanation for the analogies. But a Christian not already committed to such a framework should contemplate another possibility, namely, that all of life reflects not only common design from God, the supernatural Designer, but also a pattern of analogies reflecting on earth the original pattern of God the Son as the image of the Father… The world around us tells us to accept the latest scientific pronouncements as the product of experts who know much better than we do. As Christians, we must not overestimate our knowledge or our expertise. But we have in the Bible a divine message that we can trust. We ought to use its guidance. The Bible criticizes modern science for its idolatry. Assumptions about the nature of law and assumptions about what counts as an explanation or what counts as relevant evidence play a major role in science.

No evidence? Use the bible NOT science? I find these statements curious coming from a person who believes a theological system that, in reality, has no evidence for it. Where is the evidence for the supernatural? Where is the evidence, outside of biased religious texts, for the view that Christianity is the one true religion? Where is the evidence for creation de novo that the Christian system demands? Where is the evidence that the bible is the inspired word of god? It contains scientific errors, historic errors and a moral system that is abhorent to anyone but the most hardened Christian fundamentalist. In fact, outside the bible, you will be hard-pressed to find any contemporary evidence for an historic Jesus. In spite of all the wonders that he supposedly did, there are no eye-witness, non-religious accounts supporting his life as detailed in scripture. Where is the evidence for Christianity as god’s true religion? Where is the evidence, other than a personal feeling it is true, that the bible should be believed over science? If it has errors in things we can check, why should we believe it when it comes to claims that we cannot check? In fact, where is the evidence for a god, any god? I am talking about scientific evidence here. Without evidence there is no good reason, outside of a particular religious bias, to pick a particular creation myth (in this case Christianity) over any other religious creation myth. You might as well believe that man and woman were created from two trees as in the Norse myth of creation! After all, nothing is impossible for god.

In contrast, “all” science has is evidence. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Science has a massive amount of fossil evidence, including transitional forms, for evolution. There is also the genetic evidence, so casually dismissed above. Not only do we share genes with our primate ancestors, we have recently shown that we share genes with an extinct branch of hominids – the Neanderthals (for example see What Were the Consequences of Early Human & Neanderthal Interbreeding?) The evidence for evolution extends from geology to palentology to molecular genetics. It is truely one of the best attested facts in all of biology. Dr Tim White a Paleontologist at the University of California at Berkeley has said: “A denial of evolution – however motivated – is a denial of evidence, a retreat from reason into ignorance.”

In my blog post referenced above, I list several good books on evolution. I suggest starting there. If you are interested in human evolution, the following books are a good starting point:

Conservative Christianity can fight human origins all it wants, but resistence is ultimately futile. There are those, including the Catholic Church, that recognize this fact. For instance Denis Lamoureux acknowledges that the Adam story is a myth (Was Adam a Real Person? Part I). He states “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” He is wrong. Not about Adam, but about whether it matters. As the authors above have shown, eliminating Adam as an historic person guts Christianity of its most core doctrines and reduces Christianity to nothing more than another philosophical or social system. Ultimately, science will win.

In this series of posts, I’ll be showing some of the doctrinal diversity that exists within the Christian framework.  Some Christians treat these differences as small internal squabbles of no real consequence since they agree on the larger Christian “core” doctrines. However, I think we will see that these “squabbles” aren’t so inconsequential. Some groups look at them as “core”, while others see anyone not believing as they do as believers in serious error. They are second class Christians bordering on heresy, if not actual heretics. In many cases the conflicting beliefs are radically incompatible with each other and have a direct impact on faith and practice. It should be noted that each camp can support their beliefs by various scripture passages and believe that their interpretation is the one true, god-ordained belief and that other interpretations are seriously flawed. Those interpretations are going against the word of god and thus perverting what god himself has said. The results are a lot of heated debates, church splits, new denominations and other devisive (them vs. us) behaviors.

My contention is that such doctrinal variety and diversity shows that the supposed “word of god” is unclear, murky and confusing.  There is no guarantee that any group has it right and a lot of evidence that they all have it wrong. After all, can you really believe that a sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god who desperately wants to communicate with his creation in order to show them the ONLY way to salvation can bungle the job so badly? As we will see, even a “core” belief such as “what must I do to be saved?” has radically different, incompatible answers. If there is a god and the Bible is his inspired, inerrant word then he shows himself to be an incompetent communicator at best and malicious at worst. Of course, I believe that it shows the Christian god to be no god at all and the Bible to be just the ramblings and thoughts of ancient man – neither better nor worst that any other past mythology.

It should be obvious that I’m not attempting to show which “belief” or doctrine is the “correct” one.  Indeed, there is no correct belief since all Christian doctrine is simply made-up with some scripture verses and unending commentary as support. It is staggering when you think about how much has been written about, how many wars have been fought, how many people have been killed and martryed over made-up doctrine and belief! None of it can be supported. None of it can be proved. How much tragedy has been caused in the history of the world over vacuous, imaginary beliefs that supposedly came from an invisible, inaudible god?

Let’s start with something “easy” such as speaking in tonques or the charismatic gifts. Bradley correctly describes the differences as follows:

There are two basic views when it comes to the charismatic gifts debate. One of these views is the cessationist view, which basically claims that charismatic gifts such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing among other things ceased to happen after the New Testament. On the opposite side of the spectrum there is the continuationist view, which claims that such gifts have continued all the way until today and that Christians are still able to perform such gifts in their lives. (The Charismatic Gifts Debate)

Of course, even this description is simplistic.  Within these 2 basic camps are a wide variety of beliefs ranging from cautious disagreement to an “if you don’t agree with me you aren’t a true believer” attitude. George Knight in the article “Facing the Charismatic Challenge” in New Horizons Magazine says:

One of the most important differences between the Reformed, and the Pentecostals and some charismatics, is the belief of the latter that the book of Acts is our guide for the special gifts and that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as it appears in Acts, occurs as a special act subsequent to regeneration by the Spirit… How then are we to interact with our charismatic fellow Christians? When the opportunity is appropriate, we should talk with them in an understanding way and try to show them from Scripture that the supernatural special gifts have ceased because they have completed the tasks God assigned to them. When they point to their own lives as proof positive of their charismatic thinking, we should try to point out to them other ways of understanding their experiences… We must be eager to protect the Christian flock from the error of the charismatics. But, at the same time, we must embrace those who are caught up in that error as brothers and sisters in the Lord and seek to lead them away from that error. (Facing the Charismatic Challenge

Error? Explain their experience in other ways? What of Mr. Bradley’s suggestion:

I think the best way to find out is for one to experience it himself. When a person sees someone healed (or perhaps is the person being healed) it will become much more obvious that God still does these things. Or if someone is prophesied over they just might fall to their face and worship God, declaring that God is there (1 Cor. 14:25). Most of the charismatic gifts that Christians practice are Biblical and until a cessationist tries to experience it, they will have a hard time understanding or believing it, which is not only their loss, but also the Holy Spirit’s. (The Charismatic Gifts Debate)

Or is David King right?

The mania for the miraculous that one finds among charismatics has the effect of making God’s promised means of grace look dull and uninteresting to many. There is a great danger in this. If we despise what God does use in preference for dramatic “ministries” carried on and hyped up by the will and energy of man, we will get man-made “blessings” instead of God’s real work. Paul warns that when the man of lawlessness is revealed, his coming will be “in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9–10). (Are Charismatic Gifts for Today?)

Or maybe CARM’s position is the one to take:

The issue of whether or not the charismatic spiritual gifts are for today has caused much debate and division in the body of Christ. The extremes are amazing. There are groups that say that if you do speak in tongues, then you are under demonic control and are not saved. On the other hand, some say that if you do not speak in tongues then you are not saved. What’s more, both extremes use scripture to support their positions. It is my opinion that the charismatic spiritual gifts are still in effect. I do not believe they ceased with the apostles or with the completion of the Bible. (Have the Charismatic Gifts Ceased?)

Maybe Jim Feeney has it right?

Speaking in tongues? Prophecies? Healings? Discerning of spirits? These and other supernatural signs and spiritual gifts were commonplace occurrences in the early Church. On that the Bible record is clear. But should we expect such spiritual gifts in our churches today? A growing number of Christians responded “Yes!” to this question during the twentieth century and up to the present time… and expect God to confirm His word with “signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:4) (Gifts of the Holy Spirit Are for Today!)

We can go back and forth like this for days, but there are a few things to note:

  1. All of the articles above site scripture to support their claims, sometimes using the same verses with radically different understandings.
  2. All of the authors are confident in their understanding even calling the other view an error, seeking to please man rather than god, not taking the scripture (or god) seriously, etc.
  3. The reformed position (Calvinistic) attempts to belittle personal experience in favor or a more “intellectual” scripture based approach.
  4. The Charismatic side attempts to show that personal experience validates the scripture and hence is true.

I find the downplaying of “personal” experience as a means of validation in the Reformed, non-Charismatic camp very interesting. The fact is that the entire Christian faith is experience oriented.  Notice the word FAITH.  Without it, you cannot be saved and faith, by definition, means there is no evidence. It appears that in some Christian camps personal experience is ok to “come to Christ” but it isn’t appropriate to validate the things of Christ – an interesting and inconsistent position.

Why is this debate important? Simply speaking, if god did intend for the Charismatic gifts to remain, then opposing them is opposing god – a serious charge.  Yet, if god intended them to end with the early church, claiming that these gifts are for today is also opposing god and attributing to him something that he has done away with. Both obviously cannot be true and one party sees the other as going against the dictates of god. This is why this debate rages and is taken seriously by all parties.  It is also why this is not just a petty squabble!

Strangely neither camp sees that the Bible is not clear in this regard; rather, they see that their scripture is clear but the interpretation of the other side is faulty. Indeed, they fail to see that god is an incompetent communicator, incapable of clearly presenting his will and plan to man.  How hard would it be to say something like this: These gifts will end a decade after my death.” Or “Everyone will know you are my children because these gifts in your life will be present until I come again.”  Of course, if there really was a Christian god, he would not be so competent. I maintain that this is just more evidence that the Christian god does not, in fact, exist.

I find it interesting when a church, any church, or religious organization cries “persecution.”  Recently Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic  in the Roman Catholic Church (I love the pretentious titles the Roman Catholic Church gives its officers.) said:

“It is a war,” he stated, describing the battle lines between “a culture of secularization which is quite strong in our nation,” and “the Christian culture which has marked the life of the United States strongly during the first 200 years of its history.”  He says it is “critical at this time that Christians stand up for the natural moral law,” especially in defense of life and the family. “If Christians do not stand strong, give a strong witness and insist on what is right and good for us both as and individuals and society,” he warned, “this secularization will in fact predominate and it will destroy us.” But the cardinal also thinks persecution may be looming for the U.S. Church. “Yes, I think we’re well on the way to it,” he said, pointing to areas of social outreach – such as adoption and foster care – where the Church has had to withdraw rather than compromise its principles.  This trend could reach a point where the Church, “even by announcing her own teaching,” is accused of “engaging in illegal activity, for instance, in its teaching on human sexuality.” Asked if he could envision U.S. Catholics ever being arrested for preaching their faith, he replied: “I can see it happening, yes.” (Cardinal Burke reflects on his first year in the Sacred College)

Bill Donohue agrees:

Catholic League President Bill Donohue told LifeSiteNews that Cardinal Burke’s remarks were accurate and not exaggerations.  “Secularism has become militant,” he said. “Many elites are taking an aggressive secular approach. They have lined up against the Catholic Church and other Christian churches particularly for their stand on moral values.” (Vatican Cardinal Burke: ‘We’re well on the way’ to Christian persecution in the U.S.)

My first reaction to this news item was poppycock! It takes a lot of moxie for any religious group to cry “persecution” especially when directed at secularism and atheism.  The Pew Research Center published on Nov 21, 2011 the results of a study examining Religious Lobbying in Washington D.C. (Lobbying for the Faithful: Religious Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C).  They found:

The number of organizations engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington, D.C., has increased roughly fivefold in the past four decades, from fewer than 40 in 1970 to more than 200 today. These groups collectively employ at least 1,000 people in the greater Washington area and spend at least $390 million a year on efforts to influence national public policy.

In addition to formal lobbying groups with Washington D.C. offices and staff, the same study reports:

…religious advocacy undoubtedly is conducted, formally and informally, by many individuals and groups beyond the 212 organizations included in this report. Numerous other religious groups send delegations to the nation’s capital, organize campaigns from a distance, join coalitions and contact legislators in their home districts as well as in Washington. For example, the American Family Association, based in Mississippi, operates an extensive legislative alert system that identifies legislation relevant to its members and urges them to contact lawmakers, but it does not have a Washington office. This study focuses on formal, institutional efforts by groups with paid staff and physical offices in or near the nation’s capital. Given the limits of the study, it is likely that the findings reported here underestimate the full breadth and depth of religious advocacy in Washington.

This is in comparision to secular and atheist groups which the same study found:

Just 1% of the advocacy organizations in this study reflect an expressly secular, atheist or humanist point of view, though nonreligious Americans (atheists, agnostics and unaffiliated people who say religion is not too important or not at all important in their lives) make up 10.3% of all U.S. adults.

Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, looks at this study in light of the “persecution” claim here: 5 Reasons the Religious Right Should Stop Whining About Being Persecuted.

I’ve looked at the claim that the media is biased against Christianity here: Media Bias Against Christianity.

With this kind of influence and clout, persecution is hardly the term I would use. Yet, upon reflection, the comments made by Cardinal Burke are encouraging. In spite of the small numbers of people actively involved in the secular and atheist movements and in spite of our pitful lobbying efforts when compared to the efforts of the religious, WE ARE HAVING AN IMPACT!

Groups such as American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation,  Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Secular Coalition for America, and many others are fighting back. They are saying ENOUGH and, amazingly enough, they are being heard. Religious incursion into public and civil areas where they once held uncontested power and influence is being challenged.

Respected men such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett amoug many, many others openly talk about atheism and challenge religious belief and the foolishness of faith. Billboards and bus sign campaigns have successfully been deployed letting closeted atheists know that they are not alone.  Several atheist books have gone on to become best sellers.  The Internet has greatly expanded the ability of a person to find arguments against religion and to “fact-check” sermons.  The days when a preacher could bamboozle his congregation are rapidly coming to an end.

We are having an impact on society and the religious establishment doesn’t like it.  They aren’t used to being challenged and having the foolishness of their beliefs exposed. Faith requires unquestioning obedience – challenge the vacuous nature of faith and belief starts to crumble. So, if you want to redefine persecution as “not getting your way” I suppose you can say, in some warped sense, religion is being persecuted.

As encouraging as these signs are, we still have a long way to go. Atheists are still a hated minority. Republican candidates for the current presidental election in the U.S. are still falling over themselves trying to show how “Christian” and “god-fearing” they are. There are still places in the U.S. where you can lose your job or be actively persecuted by religious believers for being an atheist. The battle has not been won by either side and religion still has the advantage.

Get involved in the fight.  Join me and thousands (hopefully 10’s or 100’s of thousands) of others this March in Washington D.C.

Lobby Day for Reason – Secular Coalition of America – March 23, 2012
This is an event to allow atheists, agnostics, humanists, and secular Americans to directly lobby their members of Congress on the issues that matter to us.

The Reason Rally – March 24, 2012
The Reason Rally is an event sponsored by many of the country’s largest and most influential secular organizations. It will be free to attend and will take place in Washington, D.C. on March 24th, 2012 from 10:00AM – 4:00PM at the National Mall.

American Atheist Convention – March 25 – March 26, 2012
This year’s theme: “Come out! Come out! Wherever you Are!” We will be concentrating this packed-to-the gills convention with help in all aspects of coming out of the atheist closet to your friends, family, and co-workers.

I’ll be at all 3 events.  I hope to see you there.