On Atheism

Another post hidden in the bowels of the draft folder. I’m not sure why WordPress makes it so difficult to find these; it didn’t use to…

I have been following some bloggers who profess to atheism, and commenting on their blogs.  It is interesting how they sometimes respond to me.

As a Christian, I am definitely a “theist”; that is, someone who believes there is a God.  I find that there are two types of people who are not theists; those that believe there is no God, and those who have no beliefs about God.  I was brought up to consider that the first group were “atheists” and the second group were “Agnostics” (don’t know whether or not there is a God).  What is a bit disconcerting to me is that both people with belief there is no God and some of those who do not have any belief about God both claim to be atheist.  And when you ask them for clarification, they insist that it is a binary condition.  Either you believe in God, or you don’t.  Why is this?  I don’t know.  Perhaps they prefer the “bigger group” resulting from the combination of everybody who does not believe in God.  Perhaps the term “agnostic”, with its implication from translation of “lack of knowledge”, is disturbing to them.  Perhaps they are just so tired of some of the theists that they want to draw as far from them as is possible.  I’ve experienced some of the more obnoxious theists, so I could understand that, except I’ve also met a few believing atheists who were also obnoxious.

If you check out the current definition of “atheist”, it has indeed been broadened to cover both believers in no God and those who don’t hold any God belief.  Then the definitions note that there are qualifiers such as “strong” or “explicit” to cover those who believe there is no God and “weak” or “implicit” to cover those who have no beliefs about God.  And I would be fine with that, if the people used the qualifiers.  They seem not to.  There is also the concept of adding “Gnostic” and “Agnostic” to the terms “atheist” and “theist”, indicating where you “know” (believe) it or not.  Again, that would be satisfactory, but seldom happens.  So, I’m afraid I fall back on the original concept of the term, and assume anyone who claims to be “atheist” believes that God does not exist until I get some indication otherwise.  Note that some atheists jump on this assumption or even this definition of the term, and claim it is a “ploy” of “the Christians” to “marginalize” atheists by “turning them into just another religion”.  I’m going to inch out on a thin branch here and claim that ANY belief about God is qualification for being considered “religious”.

Another area of discussion is the relationship between “belief” and “knowledge”.  I’m often told, “belief is not the same as knowledge” and that is a true statement.  However, I claim that belief is a SUBSET of knowledge.  When you come right down to it, many of the things we “know” are actually beliefs.  If you got a “fact” from a book or a teacher or other expert, you certainly think you “know” it.  But unless that “fact” can be proven to anyone else, it remains a belief.  In order to be a “fact”, it must be undeniable.  Since “everyone” agrees that many beliefs are knowledge, I claim that beliefs about God are also knowledge.  Just not as reliable as many other beliefs.

Anyone who gives a belief, particularly one as nebulous as anything about God, the status of “fact” is at risk of being obnoxious.  In my opinion, a person is welcome to believe anything they want which cannot be disproved.  However, they must understand that if they cannot prove it, they should not be presenting it as “truth”, and especially not expending great energy trying to get others to join in the belief.  Discussing with those who have any interest, or presenting it as theory or belief, fine.  But browbeating people would seem to be a losing proposition.

How theists browbeat nontheists is fairly obvious.  There is the ever popular “I know the truth and you don’t, so quit being so stupid and listen to me”.  And of course, faulty logic, either starting with untrue or at least unprovable assumptions, or using invalid logical arguments.  Then there are the threats and insults.  “If you don’t believe ‘x’, God’ll whack you”.  “Since God doesn’t like ‘x’, we’ll pass a law so Man will whack you.”  “If you don’t know God, you can’t be moral”.  “You do something God does not like, so you are a bad person”.  Interesting approach from those who claim they are directed to “love their neighbor”.  Doesn’t love have an implicit assumption of overlooking “faults”?

How can atheists browbeat people?  Or more accurately, theists?  Aha, another possible reason that nontheists may prefer being known as atheists, to only get grief from one direction.  There is the “Christianism” mindset; lumping all Christians or even all believers in God into one group, with all the negative aspects of some imputed to all.  Sorry, this is just as invalid as racism or sexism.  Plus, the same people may also claim that “all Christians disagree with each other”, which seems contradictory.  The “I know the truth and you don’t…”  and invalid logic methodologies are used by some atheists as well.  Then there is the “science can’t measure it, so it does not exist”, and “any God must follow the same need structure as does Man” outlooks.  These views have proven to be wrong in the past, so it is not impossible they could be proven wrong in the future.

Techniques include:  questioning any evidence presented while holding their own evidence inviolate, attacking the words rather than the ideas, taking things out of context, misreading what was said (which we all do) and holding onto that misinterpretation even after being assured that meaning was not intended, and even descending into insults and name calling.  Come to think of it, theists have been known to use similar techniques.  I guess what it boils down to is ANY belief tends to make us defensive if it is attacked. It is just that beliefs about God do not have any proof, and so are bigger targets than beliefs with more support.

What is interesting is that some atheists attempt to convince theists that they are wrong with an intensity which is, well, as intense as that of some theists.  Even if it were not the case that the very (or at least original) definition of the word “atheist” implied a religious outlook, the behavior of some atheists sure do seem like the behavior of some theists.



Is Islam A Religion of Peace?

This is a claim which is commonly made.  Let us consider its correctness.

Now I know some Muslims, and they are among the nicest people I know.  Based on the Muslims I know, the claim has potential.  But wait.  Every time the news comes out, it seems like it has some people claiming (or claimed) to be Muslims killing innocent non-Muslims and even other Muslims, for reasons which seem to be religiously motivated.  This throws doubt on the claim, to the point where it becomes questionable to state that Islam is a religion of peace.  Yet there are all those Muslims who seem to be peaceful.  What is the disconnect?

One option is that there are actually two separate religions: Muslims (peaceful) and Radical Muslims (not peaceful).  In order to be separate religions, wouldn’t they pretty much need to have differing scriptures?  No, they both claim to be based on the Qur’an.  OK, another option is perhaps one group is misinterpreting or outright disobeying the scriptures.

From  http://quranexplorer.com/

“Prophet Muhammad (saw) was the final Messenger of Allah to humanity, and therefore the Qur’an is the last Message which Allah (swt) has sent to us. Its predecessors such as the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels have all been superseded. It is an obligation – and blessing – for all who hear of the Qur’an and Islam to investigate it and evaluate it for themselves. Allah (swt) has guaranteed that He will protect the Qur’an from human tampering, and today’s readers can find exact copies of it all over the world. The Qur’an of today is the same as the Qur’an revealed to Muhammad (saw) 1400 years ago.”

Thus, there is only one valid Qur’an source, and it appears that if we pick up a Qur’an, we can trust that it is complete and accurate.  So, let us do that.  Certainly, Allah is not fond of “infidels”, claiming He will punish them, but does He say it is ok for Muslims to kill infidels or otherwise commit violence against them?

From Surah 2 Al-Baqara, verses 190-191;  “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight you, and do not transgress. Verily, Allah does not like the transgressors. (190) Kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out, as Fitnah (to create disorder) is more severe than killing. However, do not fight them near Al-Masjid-ul-Haram (the Sacred Mosque in Makkah) unless they fight you there. However, if they fight you (there) you may kill them. Such is the reward of the disbelievers. (191) ”  

Fighting and killing does not sound peaceful except in the case of self defense.  This is not looking good for Islam, peace-wise.

From Surah 4 An-Nisa, verse 140:  “And it hath been revealed to you in the Book that when ye hear Allahs revelations being disbelieved in and mocked at, sit not down with them until they plunge in a discourse other than that; for, then, ye would surely become like unto them. Verily Allah is about to gather hypocrites and infidels in Hell together. (140)”

On the other hand, this sounds pretty peaceful.  If someone mocks Allah’s revelations, don’t hang out with them until the subject is changed.  Allah will take care of them.  This does not seem to say anything about going into their building and killing a bunch of people (as just happened in France).  This could be a case of the “Radical Muslim” misinterpreting or ignoring that which they call scripture.

There are many other instances in the scripture which seem to be violent and many which seem to be peaceful, at least as far as how the followers should be.  It seems, like most every religion, it is subject to selective adherence.  Basically, Radical Muslims may or may not be religious, but are provably not at all peaceful.  This form of Islam is NOT peaceful, and anyone who says it is, really is kind of a moron.   What about the rest of the Muslims?  Is their version of Islam one of peace?

Let us consider what “defines” a Radical Muslim, at least when compared with a peaceful Muslim.  Obviously, if one searches out and kills innocent children, women and men, that is the most obvious facet of the Radical.  Even a person who would not kill an innocent person themselves, but agree that killing such an innocent is acceptable would be a Radical.  The Radical believes that the entire world should be governed by “Sharia law”, which means the only law considered is that which it is claimed Allah specified.

So, what percentage of Muslims are willing and able to go out and kill innocent people?  Probably not many, less than 10%.  If that was the end of it, then perhaps we could pretty much conclude that the statement under investigation was pretty much accurate.  However, this minority could not operate without support, and if a person supports Radicals, that person must be considered a Radical as well.  Unfortunately, the number of Muslims who can legitimately be considered Radical is much larger than just the obvious killers.  Surveys taken in 2009 in countries with a significant Muslim population indicate that the number of Muslims who approve of killing non-Muslims, and even Muslims in some cases, or believe that the leadership of their country should be under Sharia Law, is often over 50%.  In some countries, this number is over 75%; in the best case, the United States, about a third of Muslims indicated views which identify them as Radicals.  Based on the surveys, it is extrapolated that of the 1.6 billion Muslims on the Earth, slightly over half of them are Radicals.  Not a minority, then.

The “minority” Muslims don’t seem to be able to, or in some cases, willing to, point out how they are following the scriptures and the Radicals are not.   Some do decry the extreme acts.  But none of this makes them “the religion of peace”.

At the current point of time, it appears that Islam is NOT a religion of peace.  Even though many Muslims are themselves peaceful, the religion itself does not preach peace and there are those who use it, seemingly validly, to encourage violence.

Finding God, Part 6

All of the (common) Western religions started with the Jewish people.  Thus Judaism is the “source” or at least precursor of these religions.  It’s scripture is the Old Testament of the Bible, particularly the first five books or the “Pentateuch”.  As mentioned in an earlier blog, this tends to be one of the better supported scriptures (about as well as scriptures CAN be supported).  It provides a history of how the world came to be and includes a guide for “righteous” living, as well as some insights into God.

The guide for living was called “The Law (of Moses)”.  Note that it was a guide for RIGHTEOUSNESS, not “salvation”.  The Old Testament seems to only describe life “immediately” after death, per the story where a poor righteous man was in “Abraham’s Bosom” and a rich unrighteous man was across a chasm suffering from thirst.  Furthermore, there was a mechanism to atone for unrighteous behavior, involving the sacrifice of a “perfect” animal.  The belief was, that by putting the “sin” on the animal, then killing it, the sin would be “covered” by the animal’s blood, and thus no longer be counted against the sinner.

Still, seems a simple enough system.  Memorize a number of rules (613, I think, with the “10 commandments” as the “Cliff Notes” version), follow them, and when you screw up, (as is almost guaranteed), perform the required sacrifice.  Oh, there is a couple of problems.  First of all, you think PETA is going to let you get away with animal sacrifice?  Even if you can avoid them, the Temple where the sacrifice is to be held was destroyed in 73 AD, and the alter (the Arc of the Covenant) lost.  And where are you going to find the required “priest from the line of Levi”?  We are not talking about someone wearing jeans…   So it appears that Judaism may not have been the road to salvation, and probably is not a reliable path even to righteousness today.

The Old Testament prophecies a “new covenant” (the Law of Moses was the “old covenant”).  This is Christianity, and its scripture is the New Testament, with the Old Testament as backup.  Christianity is clear that the goal is “salvation” for all eternity, not righteousness, and provides an indication on how salvation is to be acquired.  Basically, “sin” includes thoughts as well as actions, and it is made clear that God does not tolerate any sin in his presence (sort of like an allergy).  Since no person can pay the penalty for all of their sins (and everyone has at least some), no person can enter the presence of  God on their own.

The theory is that God caused part of Himself to be born and live as a human, and lived a life without sin, annoying the Jewish leadership to the point where they had Him killed.  Being perfect, this sacrifice was sufficient to pay the price for every sin ever committed or yet to be committed by every person who was, is and will be.  This part is pretty clear; how each of us can accept this gift is less clear.  It is clear that repentance (not only being sorry for every sin committed, but doing one’s best not to repeat any of them or add new ones) and a set of beliefs about God and Jesus is a key part.  But what “else”, if anything, is needed has various interpretations.

Several hundred years later, Muhammad, peace be upon him, was inspired to a new view of a monotheistic God, built on ideas and history from the Old Testament and New Testament.  This is Islam; the scripture is the Qur’an.  As opposed to the Testaments, which are generally considered to have been “inspired” by God, the Qur’an is generally thought to have been “dictated by God to Man (Muhammed)”.  In the highest view, it appears that the primary purpose of man is to worship God (Allah).  In the beginning, Islam tended to be spread by conquest, but left Jews and Christians alone as long as they did not fight the Muslims (adherents of Islam).  Eventually this changed to where violence against non-Muslims was not only allowed, but even required.

Unlike most other religions, which generally attempt to educate non-believers and then if they don’t “see the light”, leave them to their fates, Islam often attempts to “force” belief.  The problem is, although you can “force” behavior, you cannot force belief.  As a result, Islam often supports just killing off the non-believer.  Also, another primary goal of Islam is the creation of the “Caliphate” super state which imposes Sharia Law on everyone, Muslim or not.  It is a problem when you attempt to have God control people who do not believe in that God, not to mention how full of corruption Sharia law is and how destructive to those not at the top, particularly all women.

Like Judaism, Islam has a number of “rules” to follow which mostly seem doable, but it does not seem to be clear how one can “guarantee” they will go to paradise.  Other than dying while killing non-Muslims, of course.

Now we have come to the point where hopefully there is a path which allows you to “find God”.  We will look at this path in the next, final part.


Finding God, Part 5

Once the existence of the Supernatural and God is accepted, we need to turn our view inward.  If the Supernatural exists and God exists and caused us to exist, might not there also be a Supernatural part of us?

There is the body.  This is definitely Natural.  We know a great deal about it, and there is no doubt it is Natural.  When a person dies, the body is left behind, and begins to disintegrate.  It is just packaging to contain the real person.

The real person is a set of thoughts, memories, feelings, skills, prejudices, beliefs, opinions, habits and such things which are unclear how much of them are Natural and how much Supernatural.  And then there is the possibility that there is an “unknown” part of us which is completely Supernatural.  The Supernatural part or parts of us are usually referred to as the “soul” or “spirit” or even “ghost”.  These things all vanish from the Natural when the person dies.  Where do they go?  Ah, that is the question.

Possibly if there is a Supernatural world, and definitely if there is not, these parts of the person may just cease to exist.  How depressing, that this life is all there is.  And if there is a Supernatural and a God who made us, then it seems unlikely.  More likely is that for whatever reasons of His own, God “built in” a Supernatural aspect of each of us which continues on after our Natural death.

Now perhaps what we do in the Natural world is not a factor in what happens in the Supernatural world (the “all roads lead to God” concept).  This can be a pretty thought for those who prefer to behave “badly” in the Natural world or who are unwilling to “make a choice” from among the possible sets of “God approved” behavior.  But what if that is not the case?  What if what happens to “you” after death is completely dependent on what you did before death?

This is problematical, since there is no guaranteed set of instructions on how to behave.  There are many postulated sets of instructions, which not only differ from each other, but in many cases actually contradict each other.  This makes selecting the set of instructions to follow difficult and risky.  If you choose “wrong”, not only might your Natural life not be all it could be, but your Supernatural life could be totally trashed.

The various sets of instructions tend to be influenced by the cultures which were inspired to write them down (or generate them, in cases where “God” was invoked as a way of controlling the masses).  Thus, we can pretty much divide these sets of instructions on interaction with God (which we will call “religions” for convenience) into two classes, Eastern and Western.  Eastern religions have the sub-classes Indian  (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) and Asian (such as Taoism, Shinto and Confucianism) and can be polytheistic or even non-theistic, a confusing concept for a “religion”.  They often combine philosophy and metaphysics with the view of God or Gods.  The Western religions (such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are monotheistic.

If you want to know more about Eastern religions, Google awaits you.  In the next part, we will take a look at the Western religions.


Finding God, Part 3

Once the concept of God is accepted, then it gets somewhat difficult.  There are a wide variety of beliefs out there, and finding the one (or ones) which are “accurate”  can be quite a challenge.  Some of the classes of belief are “binary” and even contradictory, whereas others are merely a matter of degree.

If your concept is that only one God exists, that is monotheism, whereas the belief that more than one God exists is polytheism.

Another distinction is the “level” of God.  On one side, you have Gods who are merely “Super Human”, that is, human with “God powers”.  An example of this is the Ancient Greek Gods.  This is rather an unlikely situation, as this viewpoint usually requires that the Gods be very involved with humans, which would tend to be rather noticeable.  Not only that, but since the Gods have human foibles, much of that interaction may not be to our benefit.  This is rather a primitive belief system based on minimal understanding of Nature and Science, and has been largely replaced with knowledge and technology.

Thus most God beliefs today view God as being mostly “beyond our comprehension”.  Since we cannot know the Supernatural world, all we can understand of God is that portion of Him which intersects our Natural world.  Of course, the degree of intersection theorized varies from belief to belief.

Another binary concept is God’s time frame; some views have Him be temporal, having both a beginning and an end (some people believe this has already occurred).  The other view is that He is “outside of time”, that is, eternal, having no beginning and no end.

A spectrum of beliefs is God’s interest in us, from complete indifference and a “hands off” philosophy, to a significant focus and major amount of control.

The widest range of views is what God wants from us, and what we can get from Him.  In many cases, the view held here tends to identify the holder with a particular formal religion, although in some cases this results in a “personal” religion.

In the next part, we will consider the possibility that you have a Supernatural aspect.