Friday, June 27, 2008

God's green thumb

I was glad to see Andrew reappear on my blog. I was afraid that after our last exchange he was finished with me. I was not so happy to see that his post was filled with practically nothing but emotional arguments. I do not want to be rude here, since he is a good friend of mine, but it is necessary to point out a few things.

First off, quoting the Bible at an atheist is a worthless venture. Remember, I do not give it any credibility at all. I cannot - if I thought that the Bible was worth anything, I would have to be a Christian.

And secondly, Christians need to understand that atheists are generally not atheists because they are angry with god. To think so is like asking someone if they don't believe in Santa Claus because he didn't get everything he wanted last Christmas. I'm not angry with god; I just don't think he's real. More on that later.

But Andrew is genuinely concerned for my wellbeing, which I appreciate. Nevertheless, he fundamentally misunderstands me and my position. And, like most Christians who try to convert atheists, he does not know how to even begin to convince a skeptic. I cannot honestly speak for most other atheists, although I think that our reasons are similar. But I became an atheist through rational, logical thought. I will not be swayed from my position by anything less. My personal philosophy on god is a very intellectually honest one, and it will take honest intellectual discourse to change my mind. Phrases like "...God has been merciful for holding off your judgement, for giving another chance. You are recieving posts from Christians who love you and don't want you to be cut down. This may be your last season that God will fertilize His truth around you. Please repent and believe before it is too late for you." are not going to go very far with me.

I really hope that Andrew has not lost the capacity for rational thought. Every response from him has been rooted in the Bible and based almost completely on emotion. He needs to sell me the product before he goes quoting the manual at me.

But there was something from the manual that he quoted that was interesting. It was a parable that has always seemed to be absurd.

Andrew writes: "You want "proof" from God or some message from Him, then consider His word and how it is being fulfilled in your life right now. Every word will come to pass:

Luke 13
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish ...
And He began telling this parable: "A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any.
"And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?'
"And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'"
The parable breaks down almost instantly. I understand the concept of a worthless plant, that seems to be all the passage has to offer. If I am truly a waste of god's space and energy, then why does he let me live? Does he sit around biting his fingernails hoping that I start to bear fruit? Does he know (as he must) that the tree is genetically flawed and will not ever produce fruit? And if the tree is flawed, then whose fault is that really?

The implication I see here is that god created a tree that is unable to bear fruit and then is angry about it. This is not the only time that happens in the Bible. To me it just means that god is inept and does not understand basic biology. Or maybe it means that the people who wrote the Bible did not understand biology. In either case, it is not a particularly helpful story.

But I know that the point of the parable is that if you do not do as god tells you, then you will be cut up and destroyed, but there is too much subtext for me to ignore. This drifts into the subject of the illusion of free will, and I understand that this is going too far beyond the frame of this particular parable, but why not? It is a worthless bit of information otherwise, proving only what it assumes from the outset without bothering to examine anything at all.

One last item on Andrew's post before I change the subject: he is apparently afraid that atheism has become a merit badge for me, and if I were to change my mind and recant it would cause embarrassment to me. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I do get pleasure from atheism and enjoy my shiny new worldview, I only like it for the intellectual honesty it provides. My family would be overjoyed to learn that I was no longer an atheist. I have not adopted this as a point of rebellion. And my friends would not care one way or the other, since I do not go out of my way to mention it, although they always go out of their way to mention what church they belong to. Being an atheist is not quite what it was during the inquisition, but it is not the easiest thing to be in America, especially when moving to North Carolina, where the atheist population is well below the national average. So I will take Andrew's advice and cling to life. I will cling to the only life I know - this one. I will not participate in an absurd death cult that artificially shapes my actions and thoughts.

Jonathan also replied. He writes:

"It sounds to me like you’re asking me for evidence that the Bible is not some practical joke. I don’t believe that you have converted to atheism without looking at the evidence for Christianity. There is legitimate evidence and I believe you know it. My guess is that you want me to give some examples so that you can provide alternate explanations for the evidence. As if another explanation disproves that the Bible is true. It’s merely another hypothesis. And in your mind the possibility of God is so small that any other explanation for the evidence supporting the Bible (or anything that supports the existence of God) is the obvious answer."

He is right. I have examined the evidence for Christianity and I have found it severely lacking. I do agree that there is some kind of evidence, but I would hesitate to call it legitimate evidence. But I can let that pass. He is completely correct in his guess that any evidence he could present for the legitimacy of Christianity would not serve much of a purpose. This is not because I have closed my mind, but because I have opened it. I am, between the two of us, the only one who has proven that he can change his mind about god. And I do know all the supposed proofs of god and not one has the power to change my mind. If there was such knowledge available, it would be front-page news everywhere in the world. I'll admit that I was mostly just provoking when I asked for evidence, since we both know it cannot be presented.

But Jonathan is interested in the reasons for my assertion that god is evil.

It should be obvious by now that I don't grant the Bible any kind of authority: moral, historical or otherwise, but I will use specific examples from the Bible to show how the fictional character of god is reprehensible. I will do this in a later post.

For now, however, I will rely on a simple retelling of the Christian narrative. We are created by god, and in his image. And yet fundamentally flawed. Flawed from birth, in fact. Sinful in our very nature, created this way as a result of a curse. For biblical literalists, it is because of Adam's sin. So because of something that happened over 6,000 years ago, I am doomed to hell. That is unfair. But the original sin itself was eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So before Adam and Eve know the difference between good and evil, they commit a sin and we, 6,000 years later are still being punished? That seems a bit excessive, not to mention unjust.

But then there is the response of holiness and what god can and cannot allow into his kingdom. So if we grant that sin has been committed and it was out of god's control to prevent, and that somehow does not diminish his glory, then there is the problem of god's problem solving skills. Here is the situation as I understand it: we humans are evil and unable to be permitted into heaven due to our evil nature and god cannot admit us, even though he wants to. He wants to so badly, in fact that his solution is to take advantage of an absurd logical loophole that allows one perfect person to put as many imperfect people on the guest list as he likes. But the only way to find this perfect person is to do it himself. So he sends himself down to Earth to be tortured and humiliated and killed just so that he can let everyone in. How barbaric!

But honestly, is it really barbaric enough? I mean, how can one man's suffering be enough to pay for all the sins of humanity (assuming that god would truly want all of humanity to be in heaven - if not, and he has specific plans to torment some people, then there is another problem right there)? And the whole crucifixion story, as gory as it is, is a little thin. How is it possible that Jesus suffered any more than thousands of other people? Humans are very clever about torture, and we get better at it every year. I think that, if Jesus truly existed and died in the manner we assume he did, then there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people who have suffered more pain than him. Plus, he only died for three days. Big deal! If god asked me to be tortured horribly and die, but by doing so I would save the souls of all humanity, I think I would probably do it. Plus, he didn't stay dead for very long. It seems like a no-brainer to me. A case could be made that Jesus was just an opportunist who exchanged a few hours of intense discomfort for eternal life.

But ignoring that, return to the original premise: Adam sinned 6,000 years ago, so you are damned. Unfair. Then Jesus came 2,000 years ago and died to undo Adam's mistake. But we didn't ask for any of this. I didn't eat the apple. And I didn't ask Jesus to die for me. And how dare he assume that I would want him to? If I am at fault, then I should be held accountable for my actions. How can someone else take the blame for my error, much less everyone's error? But if I am not at fault, then why should I be damned in the first place?

This does not exactly prove that god is evil; it merely points out that he does not really understand the way things work, and has no concept of what is just or reasonable. Evil requires a higher standard, and I believe god rises to the challenge. In a later post I will go into specific examples in the Bible that address god's evil tendencies.

2 comments:

Allison Jarvis said...

Blah, blah, blah. You can talk yourself into anything.

I am not trying to "debate" anything with you. That was never my intention in any of my posts.

I'm just trying to warn you. Take it as a sincere and urgent warning to flee the wrath to come.

-Andrew

jljarvis said...

Nathaniel writes:
This is not because I have closed my mind, but because I have opened it. I am, between the two of us, the only one who has proven that he can change his mind about god. And I do know all the supposed proofs of god and not one has the power to change my mind.

You can’t change your mind about God any more than I can. I would hesitate to call that open minded. But I guess I can let that pass. You only changed your mind about God because you were finally letting go of something you never loved in the first place. You believed (i.e. that is you mentally assented to it), but you were not open hearted about it.

Nathaniel write:
But Jonathan is interested in the reasons for my assertion that god is evil.

I chose this path, by the way, because you hold to it so tightly that you are closed to any evidence that might support the existence of God. It seems to be to be the heart of your argument. I will not respond to all the accusations in one comment, so consider this the preface to my responses. I do not intend to try and prove that God is loving. I can’t do that any more than you can prove that your wife loves you. I’m sure you can give ample evidence, but I’m also sure I could explain all that away. I do plan to attempt to show a different slant as you may be compelled to do if I truly did believe and try to show that you’re wife doesn’t really love you.