Category Archives: Religion and Atheism

Distinct from Biblical Studies. Includes studies in origins and nature of religious ideas; posts on religions in history and contemporary world (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism.) Should this include post-biblical Christianity and rabbinical Judaism of late antiquity, the direct outgrowths of Second Temple era? Also includes various types of Christianity (e.g. fundamentalism) and debates with atheists. Posts on atheism and atheist world views per se are also included, of course. It does not include Islamism as the matrix of terrorism — that goes into Politics and Society. But here we get into a grey area. Compare social attitudes towards and criticisms of Islam related to Islamism and terrorism.

Definition of a Christ Mythicist

A commenter suggested I post what I would consider an appropriate lede for a Wikipedia mythicism article. Here it is:

A Christ mythicist is one who believes the literal truth of the myth of Jesus Christ as set out in the epistles and gospels of the New Testament, or who believes that those myths, even if they have only limited or no historical foundation, nonetheless contain symbolic or spiritual value for those of the Christian faith.

 

How Should Christians Spend Their Time?

Eucharist
Christus mit der Eucharistie

We sold our house in Iowa last summer. After working on it for months, getting it into shape, we decided it was ready to put on the market. Surprisingly, it sold in a single day. A couple came to look at the house the evening it was listed, and they immediately put down an offer. Joy and panic ensued.

Over the decades, like all good Americans, we had accumulated a vast amount of junk. Well, not all of it was actual junk, but we tend to hang onto objects just for the sake of hanging onto them. In the month between selling and vacating that house, I drove back and forth between Amana and Cedar Rapids over and over.

Some stuff we donated. Other stuff we threw away. The rest went into storage.

On those late afternoon trips, heading back to the RV park, I usually listened to audiobooks or lectures. But once, I had wrongly estimated the remaining time and was left with silence. While searching through the FM radio dial for something worth listening to, I came upon two radio stations.

The first was a protestant evangelical station. The minister was telling his audience that Christians should spend as much time as possible every day reading the Bible. It is the word of God, he explained, and you can’t make any better use of your time than being in the presence of the word of God.

I flipped to a frequency nearby, which turned out to be a Catholic station. We apparently have a significant population of Roman Catholics in the area, enough to warrant a station devoted to Catholicism. I’ve driven all over the Midwest, and I can’t recall ever stumbling upon a Catholic station until I lived in Cedar Rapids.

The speaker on the Catholic channel said that if Christians could manage it, they should spend a part of every day in the presence of Christ, that is to say, taking the Eucharist. Imagine living every day in the body of Christ, partaking of his love and sacrifice to humankind. What could be better?

It struck me that I had accidentally found — minutes apart — an explanation of the greatest divide between the two branches of Christianity. One focuses on the “Word of God,” while the other focuses on the “Body of Christ.” For Protestants, the Bible tells them the good news that Christ died for them. But for Catholics, the Bible is a supporting pillar of the faith, but neither the end goal nor the vehicle to salvation. read more »

Sam Harris still appealing to the equally bigoted

I haven’t the patience to sit through any more of Sam Harris’s ignorance and special pleading so I’m glad PZ Myers has done the “honours” or at least has cited some one else who has done the (surely painful!) work:

Sam Harris’ very special pleading

(Who IS this Sam Harris fellow, anyway? Why does he even have a platform alongside names I can understand being of some note, like Richard Dawkins?)

Christians Condemned for Doing Good if they Feel Good Doing It

A recent post by Jim West (The Church has Fetishized Poverty) reminds me of my bad old days when I believed in Christian “righteousness”. It comes from someone who would deplore any association with cultism or even fundamentalism (I think) but it drills hard into a believer’s guilt feelings in a way to stop them doing genuine good in the world, and it rips scripture out of context to justify its agenda. The post begins:

People: the church should give all its money to the poor.

Jesus: nah. Use that expensive ointment on me.

People: but the poor, the poor, the poor….

Jesus: shut up. If she wants to use her money for me, it’s cool.

You have probably identified what’s wrong from the outset. Jesus is about to die and excuses great expense on him for that reason. In normal circumstances, of course, Jesus said something quite different:

Mark 10

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Would Jim West accuse Jesus of “fetishizing the poor”? It appears so.

But here comes the killer: read more »

Life After Faith Can Be Hard

I concluded my previous post with “Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?” That sounds flippant, perhaps. In reality life after years of relying on the crutch of faith can be very difficult at first. One no longer has a pole that enables getting over the impossible bar. Self-doubts can come back at the most inconvenient moments.

Chance had me listening to a radio interview with a psychologist who had a fundamentalist background and who had written a book, a “guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion.” Everyone is different so my own experiences of psychological recovery would be relevant to only a few others, but Marlene Winell’s book covers a wide range of insights and exercises or pathways for people damaged by their religious experiences to recover and enter “normal life” as healthy, “normal” individuals. I especially appreciated her various suggestions relating to seeing oneself as a child, lovable, accepted no matter what, as a pathway to overcoming self-loathing and maintaining a positive and healthy self-acceptance.

No doubt there are many other books that are on the same topic and that others have found very helpful in their recoveries. But Winell’s Leaving the Fold was the one that helped me and to which I often returned to keep on an even keel.

Feel free to add other books that you or others you know have found especially helpful in psychological, emotional recovery after religious indoctrination and negative pressures.

(Ed Babanski has a book by the same title, Leaving the Fold, but I think that has a slightly different emphasis. It is a collection of various types of testimonies of former fundamentalists who have found different directions after their life of faith.)

 

 

 

The Faith Trick

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself.

Writing about the “tongues trick” reminded me of another “awakening” I had towards the end of my religious life.

I had been thinking a lot about the New Testament instructions that tell us how good works are the “natural” consequence of faith in what Christ did for us on the cross, yet at the same time we are not saved by works. Works are the fruit of our salvation (or “promise” of salvation if that’s what a particular church taught), not its cause.

But I had to admit to myself that often I was wanting to do “the right thing” because, I believed, it was required of me and if I failed to do it I would be condemned. (Of course I could repent and be forgiven but that led to an endless cycle of always doing “the right thing” for mixed motives, partly to avoid judgment. But that’s not what the “good works are the fruit of being saved” message was about.

God’s grace was supposed to transform us, change our nature, so that we wanted to good works entirely as a result of his grace. There was no more judgment or fear to be involved. No stick, no carrot. Only a boost of energy to want to do the right thing “naturally” because of God’s grace. Like a child running off and just being “naturally good” for a little while after being given a big hug and an ice-cream.

So I prayed again, and came to understand that the one who loved and accepted me was the greatest being in the universe, etc, and that such a being “totally accepted me”. That’s grace, forgiveness, acceptance.

Filled with such an awareness I could not help but be awed into humility and totally thankful. Gratitude was so strong it spawned tears of joy and humility.

With such an awareness, with that sort of deep faith in Christ, my inner being, my thoughts and desires, were all changed. I was at peace. Joyful. I wanted only to do good and life a life of good works. All fear of judgment and need for “effort” was gone. The “fruits of the spirit” really were “fruits”, results, the outcome, the “works of/from faith”.

Then it hit me. It was not Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit that was responsible for any of my changed “born again” life. It was all me. It was my belief in being accepted and forgiven that was the cause of my “new” and “transformed” person.

Okay, my faith was in Christ, but it dawned on me that I could have exactly the same faith relationship with a totem pole if I had a different set of holy books or teachings, and the results would be exactly the same.

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself. And that’s where my newfound confidence and peace and joy was coming from. Also where my desire to simply be kind to others, with no need to dwell on wrongs, was coming from.

So I began to think. Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?

 

 

 

The Tongues Trick

Edward Babinski has an interesting post on the miracle of speaking in tongues on his Scrivenings blog. He used to be a tongues speaker and his description of “how it’s done” particularly interested me. It confirmed my interpretation of my own single experience with glossolalia. I was never part of a church that sanctioned tongues speaking, certainly not in church services. The Worldwide Church of God cult of which I was a member for too many years taught tongues speaking was from the devil. Nonetheless, there was a time when during intense fasting and prayer I did find myself speaking in tongues and it pulled me up with a start. I don’t recall now if I consciously decided I’d give it a try or if it somehow subconsciously came upon me in my “intense” state at the time. What surprised me how easy it was. I really could speak in what sounded very much like another language. (None of Ed Babinski’s beginner steps for me!) I wasn’t just babbling a few syllables repetitively but it really sounded as if I was speaking in sentences with “meaningful” phrases, intonation, the lot.

I knew then that it was nothing but something I could do if I just set my mind to it and “stepped out” with “my tongue”. It was very obvious to me that there was no spiritual possession involved. I realized probably anyone could be taught to do it.

Evolution and missing links; fundamentalist discovers the real world; Muhammad; Detering and Trump

From Rosa Rubicondior

Three-toed Skink Is an Evolutionary Intermediate

Which came first the lizard or the egg? – The University of Sydney

Today from the the reptile world, we have a very nice example of evolution in progress, or at least in a state of dynamic equilibrium between two characteristics, each of which could be advantageous in different circumstances.

This example is an Australian skink which appears to be so finely balanced between egg-laying (oviparous) and live-young bearing (viviparous), that one individual has been observed doing both in the same pregnancy. Several weeks after laying a batch of three eggs, an individual three-toed skink, Saiphos equalis, was seen to give birth to a live young. . . .

From Julia Bainbridge on Salon.com

Life after fundamentalist Christianity: One former believer’s struggle to find clarity and himself

. . . . “Even though I still had my small bubble around me, we were what Christian artists would call playing crossover venues,” he told “The Lonely Hour.” “We were out there playing bars and meeting people all over the country that my parents warned me about or that the church cursed. I’m becoming friends with them and I’m having these beautiful, wonderful experiences with them. So I started to question my religion: Is this what they were worried about? Like, just normal people? That definitely started to challenge my long-held beliefs even further.” . . . .

Reading James’ story made me wish I had never given up music lessons so I, too, could have been in a band and learned lessons far sooner than I did. There’s also a link to the audio interview with James.

Just an image here. Go to the post on the “untold story” or John Loftus’s site for the video.

From Debunking Christianity

Was Mohammad Real?

“We can’t be certain how the Arabs became Muslim”, says researcher Tom Holland. Fascinating! Was Mohammad (“the Praised One”) originally Jesus? Was Islam originally a non-trinitarian Christian sect that rejected the need for an atonement on the cross? The evidence from coins don’t lie. People do. This is extremely interesting and new to me. Makes sense. The first video is by the Atheistic Republic, who got me thinking. The others back it up.

Loftus refers to Tom Holland’s exploration of the question of Muhammad’s historicity, something I have done here, too — See

Come on, John. Keep up.

From René Salm’s Mythicist Papers

Rene Salm is continuing to augment a database of Hermann Detering’s legacy:

This is the first of several posts that will review Dr. Detering’s life and scholarship according to the available material on- and offline. It is carried out from afar and in an admittedly impromptu manner. I invite readers to add data, links, or corrections—simply send me an email with the information and I will consider adding it to the CV. The Wikipedia article (German here) is a good place to begin, and Detering’s own brief VITA in German is on his website here.

These posts are deceptively short. However, they are dense with links that offer the interested reader avenues to explore a good deal of material.

If possible, I would like to add a personal impression of Dr. Detering’s character, work, and family life. Any reader who knew Hermann personally, and for some length of time, is invited to email me his/her impressions which I will review and certainly consider uploading.

Oh no, from Salon.com, some frightening news!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar team up with Rand Paul to praise Trump for Syria withdrawal

Won’t Trump see their support as enough reason to change his mind and go back into Syria in force?!! Why can’t they just stay quiet and make him think they oppose him on everything?

How “Case for Christ” Author Lee Strobel Fabricated His Best-Selling Story — The Old Road to Damascus Myth

http://nrb.org/news-room/media_source1/church/former-atheist-lee-strobel-his-own-words/

I’m probably one of the last persons to catch up with this interview but at least to have it on record that it did make a blip on Vridar here it is, an interview by Valerie Tarico with David Fitzgerald:

How “Case for Christ” Author Lee Strobel Fabricated His Best-Selling Story—An Interview with Religion Critic David Fitzgerald

It’s another tale of — can you believe it? — pious fraud, telling lies for God.

It reminded me of our old cult leaders conversion story. How he (Herbert Armstrong) was facing another business failure when his wife turned “religious fanatic” by deciding to keep the seventh day sabbath, and how he spent days in the public library trying to marshal all the evidence to prove her wrong, that God did not require Christians to observe the seventh day sabbath, and emerging as the humbled, contrite, servant of God, discovering his wife was right all along, and then placing himself into God’s hands for whatever purpose he willed. I have no doubts the story was all bullshit, or at least mostly b.s. The theme is just too conveniently matching the oh-so-common story of religious conversion through countless ages, of the hostile opponent confronting the “truth” and being forced, against his or her will, to recognized he or she had been on Satan’s side all along. It’s the old Paul on the Damascus Road myth. Nice story, but I would be surprised if many stories that follow that narrative could ever be proved to be “true”. I have little doubt that those who recycle such stories are highly selective in what details they select to place in the story and that even those are coloured to become something almost beyond recognition from the real situation.

Another interesting detail in the interview is the story of the so-called conversion of atheist Anthony Flew.

 

 

 

Religion as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

H/T Internet Monk:

Scrupulosity: Where OCD Meets Religion, Faith, and Belief

By

Many people mistakenly think of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) solely as a condition in which people wash their hands excessively or check door locks repeatedly.  There are actually many sub-types of OCD.  In this ongoing series, Kevin Foss, MFT of the OCD Center of Los Angeles discusses Scrupulosity, in which an individual’s OCD focuses on issues of religion, morals, and ethics. Part one of a four-part series.

. . . . .

While Scrupulosity may at first appear vastly different from the traditional presentation of OCD, those with religious, moral, and ethical obsessions experience the same Obsessive Compulsive Cycle as others with OCD – obsession, anxiety, compulsion, and relief / reinforcement.

Triggers for Scrupulosity can be any thought, image, feeling, place, person, etc., that cues an obsession. For example, seeing an attractive person at church may result in sexual thoughts, which in turn trigger an obsessive desire to “undo” that thought in an effort to be pure, holy, and clean. If the scrupulous individual upholds an exaggerated belief that lustful thoughts in and of themselves will automatically result in eternal condemnation, the cycle begins.

. . . . .

Those suffering with Scrupulosity hold strict standards of religious, moral, and ethical perfection. For example, if held in a black and white view, certain passages in the Bible and other religious texts may carry with them intense burdens of condemnation. In holding a strict view of these religious verses, the Scrupulosity sufferer experiences not just intense guilt, but also anxiety about the threat of eternal punishment for having violated religious precepts.

It is a four part series.

I notice the OCD Center advertizes a book about “mindfulness” to assist one come out of the “scrupulosity” condition. I have had only limited experience with “mindfulness” and can only say it’s not a technique for me. No doubt others find it helpful, though.

 

A Compassionate Nation

New Zealand PM: We will Pay for Funeral Costs of Victims and Financially Support their Families

“We are very focused in ensuring you have the support that you need in the days and the weeks and the months that follow.

Many of those who have lost their lives will be the ones who will be bringing the income into their households. Many will have dependants and spouses. I want to give you assurance the through our system in New Zealand, through ACC, there is provision to provide for those families.

That provision exists regardless of the immigration status of those who have lost their lives and regardless of the immigration status of their loved ones. It includes the cost of burial. It includes support for lost income and that can last for not just months but it can last for years. So I give you that assurance”

In this image made from video, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, center, hugs and consoles a woman as she visited Kilbirnie Mosque to lay flowers among tributes to Christchurch attack victims, in Wellington, March 17, 2019. (TVNZ via AP) https://www.timesofisrael.com/new-zealand-pm-comforts-mourning-muslim-community-after-deadly-mosque-shooting/

 

 

Here’s an idea: Treat Believers with Kindness, not Contempt

Another one well worth thinking about from Valerie Tarico:

Decent people don’t jeer at others who are functioning poorly in some part of life.

With religious belief holding such an outsized influence on our society, it is reasonable that atheists, humanists and other freethinkers push back against religious superstitions, outdated social scripts and archaic rules. But one way we often do this is by ridiculing believers themselves, which is less reasonable. . . . . 

The post is on Valerie Tarico’s blog: Treat Believers with Kindness, not Contempt

The Truth About Islam and Democracy

We’ve posted about Islam, democracy and the different meanings of sharia law before. See, for example,

  • three posts posts based on Muslim Secular Democracy: Voices from Within by Associate Professor Lily Zubaidah Rahim;
  • quite a few posts citing John Esposito but one especially focused on the meaning of sharia based on Who Speaks of Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. 
  • and glimpses of conflicts within Islamic societies as large scale movements push back against some of the worst conservatism according to Riaz Hasssan in Inside Muslim Minds
Anwar Ibrahim ; Dalia Mogahed

Here are interviews with two prominent Muslims, a liberal opposition leader in Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim and then with Dalia Mogahed (co-author with Esposito). Take your pick between the podcast or transcript. (I read the transcript.)

The Intercept: Deconstructed (14th Feb 2019): THE TRUTH ABOUT ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY (WITH ANWAR IBRAHIM)

Some key points:

  • the anti-democratic states associated with Muslims are in the Arab world, the minority of Muslims. And it’s not hard to see why.
  • Sharia has a range of meanings and applications. It is among less well informed Westerners that it has a singular meaning. Any law that violates human rights is to be condemned. But we need first to know who and what, exactly, we are talking about in each situation.
  • Islam has bloody borders; a clash of civilizations. . . . both catch phrases are grounded in ignorance and selective amnesia.
  • Oh yeh — most Muslims love the fundamental principles of democracy. Most Muslims live in democracies and most of those who don’t live in a democracy want to live in a democracy.

 

Trump Movement as a Cult / 2

Continuing from Towards Understanding . . .

It does feel like something to be wrong. It feels like being right. — Kathryn Schultz per J. Quinton

Fifth point. The sins, the flaws, the character defects in the leader make no difference to the “true believer”. They are forgiven or in some other way excused and overlooked. Recall the David analogy. Religious leaders in particular love to preach it. David was “beloved by God” and a “man after God’s own heart” despite his treachery, adultery and murders. He is God’s instrument and it is not our place to question God. The same principle holds for the nonreligious political “cults”. Followers may wish their leader would be more mature, grow up, or whatever, but the positives in the man will always outweigh and render negligible the negatives.

Sixth. One research finding seeking to understand why some people join cults or extremist groups is that prospective members have fewer social ties than “the norm”. They are feeling less connected, less attached. Their world feels to be “falling apart” in significant ways. One thinks of fears or worries about increasing financial tensions (living standards are in decline; there seems no way to ever approach their parents’ standards of living), health problems (costs put proper care out of reach), shifting social expectations (e.g. how men should treat women), leaving them frustrated especially if they feel they have to face these things essentially alone. We saw where horrendous changes in welfare and security in 1920s Germany led. We have seen what happens to too many rootless second generation young immigrants from very different cultural backgrounds and their propensity to join anti-social gangs or more dangerous extremist groups. It’s not hard to identify among “Trump followers” a sense that everything in society is “broken”, a sense of losing hope and no clear light at the end of it all.

Seventh. And the antidote to #six is finding a “home”, “like-minds” with “like feelings” among one’s companions in the new movement. One finds a new family of like minds who understand and who offer support or at least agree on the solution. There is strong sense, from this moment on, of the world divided into “them”, the outsiders in the lost world of darkness and confusion and wrongs, and “us”. The “thems” may sometimes offer very smart arguments against specific beliefs of the insider or proclamations by their leader, but smart arguments will only come across as threatening and “surely deceptive” if they come from those on the “outside” representing the world that the new “inner group family member” has found problematic and left behind.

Eighth. People are judged according to what they represent, and arguments are assessed on where they appear to be coming from and for what they represent, too. Hence any rationalization or refutation can be found for any facts or arguments that are critical of one’s new “family” or place where one feels a sense of belonging. The force and emotion behind the arguments can be far more persuasive than what outsiders might see as the “cold logic” alone. In fact, the arguments for one’s new family-movement are highly emotional, perhaps clearly logical but logical delivered with heated emotion. Ad hominem attacks are par for the course; scoffing and sneering at the competence or intelligence of key leading “outsiders” is also routine. Fear, anger, outrage, — one’s own logical arguments and handy bags of facts are riding the crests of these waves.

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And continuing . . . .

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