Wednesday, November 27, 2013

You've got to have faith!

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6

Believe: to accept or regard (something) as true

Hope: to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true

Faith: strong belief or trust in someone or something

The number one requirement of God according to the book of Hebrews chapter eleven is that you have faith in him. In the two verses cited above from the same chapter you will notice that there are three key words that work together to the Christian meaning of the word faith. I have taken the liberty of identifying and defining those words. In order to please God you must first believe that he exists and that he rewards those who believe in him. In other words you must simply believe in him. But this is not just any kind of belief. It is a belief based on zero evidence and basically taking him in this case at his word (the Bible).

Once you accept that the Bible is the word of God and that he exists then based on how you interpret those promises in the scriptures and relate them to your own desires you will experience hope. You have accepted that the God's word is true and hope that he will fulfill his promises to those who put their trust in him.

Upon hoping again without seeing or having any evidence to believe or hope you begin to cultivate faith. Your trust and beliefs in God's words and your desires breed faith in what you have chosen to accept and believe from the scriptures as they pertain to your life. For a Christian this is not a problem and it is often claimed to be a reasonable position to take. But in reality, it is far from reasonable to believe in something out of the ordinary (supernatural) without empirical and objective evidence.

The Bible has a contingency plan for all of the most common doubts that you may raise about this whole faith without evidence thing. First as demonstrated in the text on faith above, belief without evidence is a requirement. You have to make a personal investment in the form of committing your life to an invisible being whose existence is no more evident than that of Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, Thor, etal. There is a well known quote amongst the faithful:"let go and let God."  In other words, stop trying to handle all of lifes problems on your own and trust in God to pull you through. When there doesn't seem to be a way He will make a way for you.

Upon further reflection though, this is not a situation that is unique to the Christian belief system. In fact, all religions that believe in some form of anthropomorphic god or gods have the same requirement! This is also true of hypnosis, astrologers, fortune tellers, etc. you must believe in order to receive. This makes belief in God not an objective truth but rather a subjective truth. In other words it's only true to those who choose to believe it. For the rest of us we are doing fine without belief in  superstitions, lore, and ancient myths.

Most people who claim to experience the "presence" of God in their lives don't realize that their experience is entirely psychosomatic due to suggestion. What you are experiencing does not come from God's holy spirit but rather from your own mind. Christians and other religionists tend to overlook the power of suggestion and the mind. Through both we can at times achieve incredible things. Why is it that in many religions they too claim to experience their gods, dead ancestors, etc? The answer is because it's all in your head. Once you've convinced yourself that God exists and you have accepted his so called guidance and protection for your life you will begin to feel as if he is there looking out for you. You will believe that he cares for you and is ever present to respond to your every need. This is not called a sensible belief it is referred to in psychiatry as a mental delusion.

psychosomatic :  of, relating to, involving, or concerned with bodily symptoms caused by mental or emotional disturbance 

delusion:  a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary 

The Holy Spirit/ comforter is said to be in you and will lead you to all truth. But the fact that there are so many Christian sects all claiming to have the truth while at the same time having such different theologies testifies against this claim. Either the Holy Spirit isn't doing his job or there is no Holy Spirit and believers are all equally deluded. 

The Bible teaches that in order for God to be able to work in your life you must first make an investment. That investment is having faith in what you neither see nor know to exist. Then you must accept it, submit to it, and surrender your entire being in the form of your will to it! Without you first meeting any of these requirements God is helpless. So much for omnipotence! 

4Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6He was amazed at their lack of faith. Mark 6:4-6  

When you really think about it faith, hope, and belief are things we all have even without the belief in gods. I always believe that things will get better, I always hope for a better tomorrow, and I have faith that if I try hard enough things will always work out for the better. But I also believe that you are the only one who can make your dreams and wishes come true. Sometimes we make it and sometimes we don't but the one thing we don't do is ever stop trying. The idea of an invisible man (God) living in some nonexistent realm outside of time and space makes absolutely no sense. The very idea of him being able to hear literally the prayers of billions of people simultaneously is beyond absurd. 

If you want to test your beliefs try using the outsider test for faith. It is a concept that has been put together by former pastor John W. Loftus. It basically asks believers to judge their faith and beliefs with the same critical mind that you judge other belief systems and religions. You can read all about it here.  This link will take you to other links about the outsider test for faith and help you find the book he has written on the matter. 

Without faith it is impossible to please him simply because he doesn't exist. There is no God or gods that are watching over or working against man. There is just you and the human will to do good and progress in life. Because of the randomness of life events not all things work out to our benefit or how we plan them but once we realize this fact we learn to overcome and adapt to our situations accordingly. Stop relying on gods, luck, or any other silly superstition you may hold and trust in yourself. Find the strength within yourself to not let life's hardships hold you down. 

Note: All biblical citations are taken from the New International Version of the scriptures and all word definitions are from the online version of the Merriam Webster Dictionary.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

God is not good!

1The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.2The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Psalm 14:1-2

Based on this text which theists love to lob at atheists every chance that they get, it seems that the religious idea of good and the secular idea of good are defined differently. According to this verse and many others like it man is inherently evil due to his so called inherited “sinful nature.” The Bible teaches that we have a dual nature composed of the desires of the flesh and the desires of the spirit. According to this our spirit knows its creator and longs to be reunited with Him. But our flesh rebels against God and refuses to submit to his laws. 

5Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:5-8

The word spirit is capitalized in this text because it is referring to the Holy Spirit which according to the scriptures will lead you to all truth and help you to overcome the desires of the flesh. In order to get a better grasp of these concepts in context I recommend that you read the entire chapter 8 of the book of Romans carefully. 

Jesus actually is made to confirm this with the words put in his mouth by the author of Mark.
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. Mark 10:18

The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines good as most members of society do. In reference to people a good person would be someone who by society’s standards obeys the laws of the land, is kind, helpful to others, and at times is considered a role model to those  he comes in contact with. A good person is someone who we would look up to and would want to emulate in our own lives. I am an atheist but I tend to do good deeds quite often without expecting nothing in return. I do these deeds because I understand the human condition and know that life is unpredictable and at times cruel. 

I believe that everyone is susceptible to picking up bad habits but how we handle them when they show up in our lives determines where we end up. At some point or another in our lives we have all been exposed to drugs, alcohol, or have been asked to partake in some form of criminal activity by bad acquaintances posing as friends. But as individuals we have to take responsibility for all the decisions and actions that we take in this life. You don’t need a god to tell you that murder, armed robbery, rape, pedophilia, etc. is wrong. Our society, culture, and laws of the land help us determine what is right and wrong. Unless you are some kind of psychopath or sociopath then you should be able to learn and understand the concept of morality. It has nothing to do with gods. 

Psychopath:  A person with an antisocial personality disorder, especially one manifested in perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior.
Sociopath: people displaying anti social behavior which is mainly characterized by lack of empathy towards others that is coupled with display of abnormal moral conduct and inability to conform with the norms of the society.

History is our best teacher regarding the origins of morals. For instance one of our greatest taboos is cannibalism. We think of cannibals as devoid of morals and we also think of cannibalistic behavior as abhorrent. But history has shown us that there were ancient civilizations where cannibalism was perfectly normal and in fact expected. You don’t need a degree in psychology or psychiatry to see through observation alone that morals are learned and not inherent. 

While many Jews, Christians, and Islamist insist that morals come from the gods they are quite often betrayed by their own natures. We hear about the misconduct or even sometimes the criminal activities of the religious on the news all the time! Christians claiming to have the Holy Spirit which according to the scriptures is supposed to help you become more spiritual and to reign in immoral thoughts and desires seems to have a hard time doing so! There are several possible reasons why people act the way they do.

One of the many reasons that in my opinion there are good and bad people is that they are either mentally ill, have suffered greatly as children and were taught abhorrent behavior, or come from cultures where certain activities like grown men marrying minors is commonplace. Notice that I did not add the final option to that list: the devil made them do it. The reason for that is because as an atheist I take responsibility for my own actions. If I commit a crime against someone it is only logical that I will soon find myself before a court of the law and would have to fulfill whatever punishment that court and the laws of the land impose upon me.

I don’t know about you but it actually feels good to do good deeds. I am a regular monthly blood donor in my city and I get this feeling of satisfaction knowing that my blood might be used to save someone’s life somewhere. I feel great every time I help a blind or elderly person cross the street. Or when you are able to give a homeless person a meal and are rewarded with the most beautiful smile of gratitude. I do good deeds and try to be a good person simply because I am a compassionate person and it feels good to be good.

Like most people I am no angel, and I have been bad. I once resisted arrest during a domestic dispute and an officer was hurt trying to restrain me. Afterwards I felt like shit and thought to myself that I could have handled that a lot better than I did. But just as good deeds are rewarding bad deeds also have their consequences. I picked up a felony assault charge in the second degree, had to serve four months in Rikers Island, was put on five years of probation, and was forced to undergo a twenty six week domestic violence counseling program which cost me out of pocket $35 dollars a class! Finally, I had to pay a $210.00 incarceration fee when I was released. Whoever said that crime doesn’t pay was wrong; it pays quite well. The consequences of stupidity can affect the rest of your life.

It’s ironic that believers and the Bible insist that God is the source of all morality and as Jesus said in the quote earlier only God is good. Anyone who took the time to read through the Bible from cover to cover would beg to differ. God murders many, punishes people with infertility, poisonous snakes, fiery hail, flood, and even utilizes the earth to swallow up many! How is this behavior considered moral and good? Man has shown himself to be more moral than the biblical and Koranic depictions of God could ever be. In fact by human standards God is a most immoral, unjust, and terrifying being! If God was to be a role model for humanity and we were to imitate his deeds against man we would eventually annihilate each other or we would have to build a hell of a lot more prisons than we currently have.

I consider myself a good person because I have compassion for my fellow man and I prefer the benefits of being good over the consequences of being bad. I don’t need the threat of a stalking deity looming over me to make me do good deeds and be on my best behavior. I don’t need the empty and ridiculous promises of eternal life to motivate me to being a moral and responsible person. 

2The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:2-3

This is one of the many things that the Bible and many other religious texts get wrong. Despite what you may think the world is full of good people as well as bad.

Note: All biblical citations are taken from the New International Version of the scriptures. All word definitions and other sources are linked to directly.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

JREF Million dollar challenge

Recently I was watching a show on the travel channel called The dead files. It's a paranormal show starring so called psychic medium Amy Allan and retired NYPD homocide detective Steve DiSchiavi. The team investigates paranormal cases involving hauntings and alleged demonic infestations in various settings such as bars, private homes, and other commercial locations. They approach each case from their two separate perspectives. Steve researches the cases from the perspective of a detective trying to solve a homicide and Amy uses her abilities as a psychic medium to sense what is going on at the location. Amongst her abilities she claims to be able to see and talk to the dead.

The interesting thing about the show is that in a recent episode Amy was asked the standard "why don't you use your gifts to divine the winning powerball numbers?" to which she replied: " It doesn't work that way we are not allowed to use our abilities for personal gain." Fair enough, but this got me thinking. If not for personal game why not take the James Randi Educational Foundations one million dollar challenge for free? Or better yet why not take it and then have them donate your winnings to the charity or charities of your choice?

                                                      James Rani/aka The amazing Randi

According to the faqs section of the website: "The Challenge was first introduced in 1964 when James Randi offered $1,000 of his own money to the first person who could offer proof of the paranormal. When the word got out, donors began stepping forward to help, and soon the prize had grown to One Million Dollars." This challenge has been ongoing since 1964 and to date no one has been able to claim the prize or demonstrate any so called paranormal abilities in a controlled and testable environment.

One of the most famous of psychics that Randi has been trying to take the challenge for years has been noted psychic to the stars and Montel Williams buddy Sylvia Brown. Of course she at one time claimed that she would take the challenge but has never followed through.  Randi has published videos and information about the Sylvia Brown fiasco on his site you can view and read that information here.

The way I see it is that if you are claiming to have psychic or paranormal abilities then just like a theist has the burden of proof of proving the existence of God a claimant of supernatural powers and abilities should be able to demonstrate his/her abilities under any conditions. But it seems that when it comes to psychics, mediums, faith healers, etc. they all are unable to perform when they are asked to provide evidence of their claims. I've heard an abundance of excuses by many of these claimants that simply amount to what we all suspected in the first place: that they are full of it!

Even psychics require that you believe in their abilities just like faith healers and other require that you have faith in their so called divine gifts. It's funny but in the Bible even the fictional Jesus Christ had this same problem. In fact, the Bible states that God also requires that you have faith in order for him to act on ones behalf.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6

53When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”58And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. Matthew 13:53-58

Note: All biblical citations are taken from the New International Version of the scriptures. All other sources are liked within the texts themselves.