Category Archives: Faith

Conversations with Friends: Possibly the Saddest Thing I’ve Read in a While

This friend is someone I haven’t known very long, but he is a seminary student, and I was drawn to his facebook page by the open discussion he has with theists and atheists alike about various topics.

I’ll call him CW.

His status updates often entailed provocative statements.  He never deleted or moderated dissenting opinions and seemed to welcome open debate.  This seemed like a good outlet for my desire to discuss religion with others so I joined in a few discussions.

They were good.  The first few were about hell and the Bible and God, and many of his friends were skilled at apologetics.  One quick thing I noticed about CW is that he was quick to ignore large statements I had made detailing an error in thought he had, and simply asserting that I had it wrong, or didn’t understand at all.

This puzzled me.

If I had it wrong, that’s unfortunate, but please point out specifically where I am wrong.  He never could.  One of the worst such occasions was “read your Bible”.  That’s it.  Implying that I had never read the bible or didn’t understand it, and this his understanding was superior, all without demonstrating it.

I felt that things we going well when CW was taking historical bible classes from seminary.  He was learning a lot of things that I had already studied that were quite damaging to Christianity. The fact that the bible was likely not a literal transcribing of events.  That the Torah was likely not written by Moses, nor was it likely that Moses ever existed in the first place.

Things were getting interesting on his facebook page as he espoused some of his professor’s teachings.  It made some of the bible literalists on his page squirm.  My friend was smart and I assumed that he was taking this knowledge in with the thirst for understanding that I knew he possessed.

But then something truly depressing happened.

I was distraught for almost a day over this.  In one fell swoop, in one facebook status, he basically denounced everything his seminary professors had taught him in deference to “the God he knew to exist”.  “How can anyone believe in a God that is weak like this” he said.  As profound as that statement was, he failed to reach the natural conclusion of that statement.  Oh, he denied belief in that God, but he embraced his own version of God, completely unsupported by anything other than what he believed to be true about his God.

“Blind faith at it’s worst”  I commented shortly after.  I was upset, and I didn’t feel like hiding my distain for what had just happened.  This is the faith that is so damaging.

When reality sharply presses against your faith, you can either let it be squashed, or you can pull it away and protect it, ignoring reality completely.   

When this happened with my friend, we had heated words.  We both apologized, but he concluded that “I have just finally come to the conclusion that faith is not something someone comes to by an ascent of the mind.”

And that was that.  The conversation is over.

To learn that there are people, smart people, in this world that will decide that furthering their understanding of a subject is not worth it if it threatens what they believe.  That knowledge is somehow evil, stemming from the Garden of Eden perhaps.

This is the true power of faith.  The true evil of it.  Convincing you that your own mind, and the minds of other rational people are the true enemy.

This was a wake up call for me.  Through my studies, I assumed that everyone would accept my position if I presented it in the way that I had learned it.  If we carved away all but true statements.  If we followed those true statements to their logical conclusions.  My reasoning is sound so this should be a simple matter of explanation.

Boy, was my bubble burst.  I was depressed about CW, who had lost something very valuable.  His mental vigor.  But I was more depressed about something else.

I had failed.

I did something wrong.  I didn’t explain something correctly, or maybe I derailed a part of the conversation.

But, in a few days after reading the conversation again and again I realized that I hadn’t failed.  There is nothing you can do against certain mindsets.  The mindset that “I can’t be wrong about this one thing” is something you can’t win.  I couldn’t have failed because there was no way to succeed in the first place.

This is something CW will have to come to without my prodding.  That faith isn’t a path to truth.  Believing something really hard, so hard that it’s above any criticism is irrational, and often leads to false conclusions.

I set my sights on the horizon though.  Maybe this wasn’t a loss, but a push.  And even if it is a loss, it’s not a reflection on my poor arguing skills or faulty logic.

And even if it were my fault, even if I drove this man into stubbornness, skepticism is growing worldwide.  I side with the Beatles:

The Marketplace of Ideas: Show Me Yours and I’ll Show You Mine

The post I wrote earlier tonight originally started as a big giant rant, but in writing it, I found that my ideas would be better communicated by splitting them up by subject.  Here is the second subject I had in mind.

I am a big fan of the marketplace of ideas.  You show me your ideas.  I’ll show you mine.  Let’s see whose sound the best.

To use a poker analogy.  You have your hand.  I have mine.  We can bet all we want, but if we really believe in our hand, I mean really believe in it enough to not get bullied out of the hand by overenthusiastic betting, then at the end of the day, we’ve gotta lay our cards down and see who has the winning hand.

In my conversations believers aren’t willing to do this.  They are either completely unwilling to showdown their entire hand (“I just believe I have the winning hand and you can’t convince me otherwise.  It’s just a matter of faith”), or they will show most of their cards, but claim to hold tight to the cards that actually “make” their hand.  They’ll show you the 7, 3, and J while claiming they still have two aces left that they aren’t going to show.  They will claim with absolute certainty to have the winning hand.

Maybe they actually do, maybe they don’t.  Who’s to say?

But there’s a lot to be said for why they wouldn’t be willing to show their cards in the first place.  If they actually do have the winning hand, what’s the harm of showing?  If their faith will actually stand up to the fire, why protect it?

I would say there are three distinct possible answers:

1.  They know that they aren’t the best cards.  This is possible, but unlikely.  I don’t think people typically hold strongly to ideas they know are wrong.

2.  They honestly have no idea what they actually hold and are embarrassed to be proven wrong.

3.  They are unwilling to risk the possibility they are wrong due to an emotional investment in their ideas.

I think the last two are especially probable, but this is a bad thing.  This keeps bad ideas alive.  This is what I seek to avoid.

We must get over our emotional ties to bad ideas.

We must not be embarrassed to admit defeat if that admission promotes better ideas.

Conversations with Friends: JN #1

Being new at being an atheist, I studied and studied every idea I could find on the matter of apologetics and counter apologetics.  I feel sufficiently caught up in order to talk to most believers and confront some of the popular sayings and mantras.  One thing I was not prepared for was the invincibility of faith.  It’s not, of course.  After all, there have been many converts, myself included.  But faith is a powerful foe.

I’ve been speaking on and off with two friends specifically about God.  One of them is a former youth pastor of my wife.  I will call him JN for anonymity.  He reached out to me in a very pastor-ly way.  Very nice, very friendly.

The stated purpose for him reaching out was just to ask some questions and see where my head was at.  I’m not sure what the end game actually is, but I figured this would be a good time to show that I was educated on the matters of God and stretch some of my brain muscles.  This should also go without saying, but a great bi-product of this type of discussion is that if there is a flaw pointed out in my thinking, I can correct it.  It’s a win-win for me.

At this point, this conversation has reached a few crucial nodes of discourse.

-JN thinks that faith in and of itself is beneficial.  I’ve pointed out it’s flaws, but the benefits haven’t been stated.

-JN believes that there’s no evidence that he could present to convince me.  While I agree with him in this particular moment, the evidence could be discovered one day that would convince me, or any other skeptic.

One important piece of agreement is the ways in which we can answer the argument from nonbelief:

Either

1.  God does not exist and believers are mistaken.

2.  Nonbelievers aren’t looking for evidence.

3.  Nonbelievers haven’t found the evidence for God’s existence, but believers have.

4.  God has not revealed himself to nonbelievers.

We can immediately rule out #2.  I would say that a lot of nonbelievers are looking for evidence of God, myself included.  If a theists questions this, we can merely ask for the evidence, and that should put that theory to rest.

#4 isn’t consistent with most God concepts.  Most theists would reject this one, while I am still open to the possibility that this could be the case.

#3 is where JN has landed.  Nonbelievers are looking, but looking in the wrong places, or in the wrong ways.  In this case, a simple matter of instruction should clear this up.  Ask the theists, show me God, or show me how to find the evidence for God.  They will say, “just open your heart” or “just believe”, but this isn’t evidence for God’s existence.  If it is, then this can be evidence for just about anything you wanted to believe.  Unicorns exist.  All you have to do to know that is to open your heart and believe that they exist.

I’ll use an analogy that my friend, JN, in this discussion actually gave me.  He said atheists are scanning the FM stations for God, and believers have found him on the AM band.

This is a great analogy.  Let’s expand.  The FM band in this analogy is the natural world, while God resides in the supernatural realm, the AM band.  Never mind, for the moment that God apparently manifests himself into the FM band from time to time which would be detectable by those of us scanning it.

So if the theist is claiming to see God on the AM band, wouldn’t the easiest way to reconcile this be for him to show me how to scan the AM frequencies.  Show me where the button on my radio is to change bands.

Instead, in this analogy, JN is basically saying “you just have to believe that the AM band is there, I can’t prove it to you.  You just have to have faith.”  This wouldn’t make sense at all if the AM band actually existed and if the theists actually had access to it.  He would just show me.  Or demonstrate that he could access it somehow.

In addition, there are millions of other people convincing me of other bands that exist.  There are muslims telling me to tune into the CM band.  Alien abductees telling me that their aliens speak to them on the ZM band.  And none of them can tell me how to tune my radio other than to just “believe”.

How can I reconcile this?

My only course of action is to deny that any of these other bands exist until someone has the ability to demonstrate to me how I can change my bandwidth.  Or at the very least that it is obvious that they are listening to another bandwidth.

But none can.

This defeats option #3 from above.  I am left with the fact that either #1, God doesn’t exist, or #4, he has not revealed himself.  In the case of #4, my life would be exactly the same as if he didn’t exist.