Sunday, April 27, 2008

Atheist Christianity (Why I want to be more like an atheist)

For quite some time now there has been a contest – or battle if you will – between Christianity and Atheism (for the purposes of this post, “Atheism” will be used as shorthand for atheism, agnosticism and all forms of non-religion). By this I am not referring to the “War on Christianity” that the Christian media is always talking about. No, I’m referring to a battle the Christians seem to be losing quite badly. I’m referring of course to the “who behaves more like a Christian” contest.

See I was brought up with some very black and white ideas regarding Christianity and Atheism. According to everything I was brought up to believe Christians are the best, most moral people in existence because they are: a) born again (hence not like all the unregenerate, spiritually dead people in the world), b) following the teachings and examples of Jesus and c) empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit. Atheists on the other hand had none of this and were therefore necessarily evil, morally bankrupt and untrustworthy (to put it mildly). After all, they couldn’t be moral, they don’t have God who is the basis for all morality! Every church I have ever been in taught that life had 4 basic questions:

1. Who am I? (What am I worth?)

2. Where do I come from?

3. Why am I here?

4. Where am I going when I die?

It seems so simple, Christianity gives answers of value, worth and hope but Atheism gives only scary, uncertain answers to those questions.

See I get all that, I fully understand every one of the Christian arguments and why they must be right. After all, you should see a clear difference between people who are helped and guided in life by God Himself and those who aren’t. What I don’t understand is why this doesn’t line up with reality. Coming from a Christian background/mindset I get how things are supposed to be and why. Problem is, when I look I see the opposite.

When it comes to marriage, no one should do better than a Christian right? Christians after all, understand that it is a holy covenant relationship, instituted by God and sacred in His sight [1]. To Atheists on the other hand it is just another legal contract right? One they will probably end in divorce with ease since they don’t put the same sacred value on it that Christians do right? Well, not according to the facts:


Variation in divorce rates by religion:

Religion

% have been divorced

Jews

30%

Born-again Christians

27%

Other Christians

24%

Atheists, Agnostics

21%

(http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm)


Unpleasant statistics indeed! However, when it comes to being law abiding citizens, Christians should really outperform all others right? After all, Christians have the Holy Spirit leading them AND they have God’s Law written on their hearts[2] not to mention several Biblical admonishments [3] to obey the law of the land! Surely Christians should do better than Atheists who have no moral absolute and are therefore morally relativistic and prone to do evil? Again, not according to actual reality:


Prison population by religion:

Denomination - Number - Percentage

Catholic - 29267 - 39.164%

Protestant - 26162 - 35.008%

Rasta - 1485 - 1.987%

Jewish - 1325 - 1.773%

Church of Christ - 1303 - 1.744%

Pentecostal - 1093 - 1.463%

Jehovah Witness - 665 - 0.890%

Adventist - 621 - 0.831%

Orthodox - 375 - 0.502%

Mormon - 298 - 0.399%

Atheist - 156 - 0.209%

So then:

Judeo-Christian Total: 83.761%

Total Atheists in Prison: 0.209% (156 of the 74731 total responses)

Note that atheists, being a moderate proportion of the USA population (about 8-16%) are disproportionately less in the prison populations (0.21%).

(http://www.holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm) Also these statistics are based on prison admittance forms so conversion in prison plays no role here.


Of course, the one area where Christians must surely excel is in loving their neighbour.
After all, that is the great commandment given by Jesus, second and like to loving God[4]. In fact we are to be known by how much we love one another! After all, according to the Bible we aren’t even allowed say that we love God if we don’t love our fellow humans [5]! So surely, only godless Atheists would belong to hate groups, never Bible believing Christians! Again, sadly not the truth:

Ku Klux Klan Membership:

Bible believing Christians: 100%

Atheists: 0%

The American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan note that only those of "Christian faith" can be members, and asks every new recruit "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" The White Camelia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan declare that "at some point God's people must take action in the defense of our Christian, racial and political beliefs". The Camelia KKK website also explicitly states "We base our beliefs on our Biblical interpretations, not ignorance, superstition or blind hatred." How does the Camelia KKK justify its opposition to "race-mixing"? "White Christian Israelites are under God’s law and covenant. The other peoples of the earth are under nature’s law, which God also created. . . Nature’s law, which is a creation of YAHWEH, dictates that kind reproduce after kind. The different people of the world were never supposed to mix." The Imperial Klans of America declares, "We are a gathering of White Christian men and women." The National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan website declares that they "reverently acknowledge the majesty and supremacy of Almighty God and recognize his goodness and providence through his Son Jesus Christ. We avow the distinction between the races of mankind as decreed by the Lord our God, and we shall ever be true to the maintenance of His Supremacy."

www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hangar/2437/nazis.htm [6]

Also it’s not just the KKK. Apartheid was run by Christians and ditto the AWB and many other hate groups.

As a Christian, I am often reminded of the need for Christians to be in charge of everything from governments to school boards. The reasoning here is that if Christians are not running things, the entire country and everything in it will deteriorate into a complete cesspool. Clearly, there should be an obvious difference between countries with a majority Bible believing Christians calling the shots and secular states with no prayer in school, evolution in the classrooms, the 10 Commandments out of the courtrooms and a minimal Christian population. But you can probably guess what is coming next by now:

USA Ranking on Adult Literacy Scale: #9
(#1 Sweden and #2 Norway) OECD

USA Ranking on Healthcare Quality Index: #37

(#1 France and #2 Italy) World Health Organization 2003

USA Ranking on Student Mathematics Ability: # 24

(#1 Hong Kong and #2 Finland) OECD PISA 2003

USA Ranking of Student Science Ability: #19

(#1 Finland and #2 Japan) OECD PISA 2003

USA Ranking on Life Expectancy: #29

(#1 Japan and #2 Hong Kong) UN Human Development Report 2005

USA Ranking on Political Corruption Index: #17

(#1 Iceland and #2 Finland) Transparency International 2005

USA Ranking on Infant Mortality Rate: #32

(#1 Sweden and #2 Finland) Save the Children Report 2006

USA Ranking on Human Development Index (GDP, education, etc.): #10

(#1 Norway and #2 Iceland) UN Human Development Report 2005
(http://www.craigslist.org/about/best/sfo/163437715.html)

  • These are just some of the statistics given. It seems the USA – the country with the largest population of Bible literalist, born again Christians in the world does not fare very well against completely secular countries like Japan, Norway and Sweden. Also when taking a closer look at the American statistics a strange trend appears – the higher the concentration of conservative Christians, the higher the number of divorces, teenage pregnancies, violent crimes, cases of sexually transmitted diseases… (http://www.stopthereligiousright.org/biblebelt.htm)

    In other words, the more Christians you have somewhere the less it seems like it. I’m not even going to mention the horrendous statistics regarding South Africa – a country that is 80% Christian…

    Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not trying to simply substitute one stereotype for another. Substituting “Christians good, Atheists bad” with “Atheists good, Christians bad” is a completely lateral move – the two statements are equally disconnected with reality. I know enough Atheists to know that the Christian caricature of them is wrong – they are not evil, immoral people you can’t stand to be around. Yet at the same time, this doesn’t mean there aren’t some utterly terrible Atheists out there. Certainly you will find your fair share of atheist skinheads in some of the various hate groups of the world. Certainly some people who don’t believe in God are also complete assholes. But then, I can say the same for Christians! While there are some amazing Christian people in this world who I greatly admire, there are also some truly horrible people out there who are Christian. All in all you find good and bad, saintly and truly evil in both camps.

    But that is kind of the problem here isn’t it? There is supposed to be a difference according to Christian dogma. After all, Atheism is simply the non-belief in God and it offers no guidelines for living or behavior. Christianity on the other hand does just that – it is supposed to offer a superior way, it is supposed to have transforming power. Why then does it seem that Atheists are doing a far better job at behaving “the Christian way” than the actual Christians? This is something Christians really cannot keep their heads in the sand about. After all, an effective means for critiquing a belief system and/or its adherents is to point out significant contradictions between how believers behave and the ideals they espouse. Big contradictions in this can suggest that they don't really believe what they say. With such an obvious disconnect between the Christian ideal and the Christian reality, is it any wonder so many are turning their back on the faith? It is nothing short of hypocrisy to call yourself the “salt of the earth” while behaving worse than those you call “heathens”. Clearly, it is fooling less and less people by the day.


    So what I am interested in finding out is why exactly are so many atheists so good at doing what Christians are so bad at doing? What is it that Atheists are doing right and Christians are doing wrong? Here are some of the (very Biblical) lessons Atheists have taught me:


    Seek real vs spiritual solutions

    The movie Apocalypto showed pretty graphically how gruesomely ineffective it can be to attempt to solve a real world problem by spiritual means only. In it, a South American tribe was suffering under a drought and thought this to be the wrath of the gods. To appease the gods they made one human sacrifice after another – the longer the drought went, the more people were sacrificed. Nowadays one finds that not much has changed when religious leaders blame the events of 9/11 on the acceptance of homosexuals or the 2004 Tsunami on rejecting Christ[7]. I think atheists are far more effective in this world simply because they don’t pray for things to happen, they make it happen. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against prayer at all. But the attitude of just praying and waiting for God to do the work while staying inactive (holy as it may seem) is not even all that Biblical! Read the Bible – sure, people prayed, they sacrificed, they cried out to God, BUT then they went forth and actually fought the battle/did the work/met the challenge head on. Addressing the spiritual side of things is fine and good but at the end of the day, a real world problem requires real world action to be solved.


    Live in the moment

    One of the best loved misconceptions Christians have about Atheists is that they live empty, meaningless lives with nothing to look forward to. However, after actually getting to know some atheists I have found this to be utterly untrue. In fact, while many Christians are happy to wait for the eternal while being passive and inactive in the temporal, most atheists grasp the most fundamental thing about the here and now – it matters greatly. Unfortunately, many good Christians miss this vitally important fact – after all, there is a reason we even have sayings like “he is so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly good”. Again, this is not the kind of life Christians were meant to lead! We are here on this earth for such a brief flicker of time, why squander it? If you actually believe that God put you on this earth, how can you not see your time here as vitally important? Your life here matters, what you do with it matters, wasting it is unacceptable, tragic and completely against the teachings of Jesus. If the here and now was not important, why would Jesus even have bothered teaching the parable of the talents[8]?


    Do what is right without waiting for guidance

    I think another factor that makes atheists far more effective at being a force for good in this world is the fact that they do things because it is right and because they are able. Christians on the other hand tend to not do anything unless God instructs or leads them to do it. This usually leads to a lot of sitting around and doing nothing. For instance, you can always tell which group of people in a church are “waiting on the Lord” for a marriage partner – they are the guys who stay single year after year after year. Again, the atheists manage act more Biblically correct than Christians. Take Nehemiah for instance. No angels appeared to him, God didn’t speak to him and he had no dreams and heard no voices. He did however see a problem in Israel and he was in a position to do something about it and so he did. He saw a problem and he fixed it because it was right and because he could. He did it so well in fact he got his own book in the Old Testament!


    Take personal responsibility

    Atheists can be forgiven for thinking that religion is a crutch for the weak minded. After all, Christians tend to use their faith as a way to duck personal responsibility all the time. They do something wrong, it’s because the devil tricked them into doing it. Alternatively, things are just passively accepted as the “will of God”. Grace and forgiveness to some Christians represent a license to do as much wrong as you like and get away with it. I think this is one of the biggest factors why atheists do so well against Christians on crime stats (among other things). The simple act of being responsible for who you are, what you do (and don’t do) goes a long way toward living a moral life and in this Atheists tend to have Christians beat hands down. Unfortunately Christians seem to have forgotten that personal responsibility is taught in the strongest terms by Jesus and the Bible. After all, if you believe in a God who will hold you accountable for your life, shouldn’t you be taking more personal responsibility in stead of less?


    So in conclusion, I think Atheists live more like Christians because they are actually living more like Christ prescribed than many Christians! Of course these are simply some of my thoughts, I would love to hear yours if you have any.



    [1] Matt 19:3-9
    [2] Heb 10:16
    [3] Rom 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 2 Pet 2:13,14,17
    [4] Matt 22:39
    [5] 1 John 4:20
    [6] It seems the page has been removed but can still be accessed via Google by using the “cached” option.
    [7] I’m not sure how widespread that was but I personally heard that claim from 2 different pulpits in two different cities.
    [8] Matt 25:15-30


    Sunday, April 13, 2008

    The peril of power

    Can I tell you tell you a secret? The very idea of Christians in positions of power scare me. I believe that the separation of church and state was one of the best ideas human beings have had in a long time. I don't want a Christian president, a Christian parliament or a Christian mayor. In fact, if I had children I probably wouldn't be too crazy about the idea of a Christian school board either. Of course this is not the sort of thing a Christian should say, so I have kept my opinion to myself, especially around my fellow Christians. According to my church (and every Christian leader on TV, radio or print media) I should be striving and praying for the opposite. But I can't, I just can't. See, in my few short decades on this planet I have learned something disturbing about Christians - they suffer from a substance abuse problem. This substance isn't drugs or alcohol however, it's power. It just seems that power goes straight to a Christians' head the moment he/she gets it and it tends to go badly downhill from there. We get drunk on power really easy and we tend to be really mean drunks. This power abuse problem makes Christians rather unfit to lead in my opinion.

    I received a fresh reminder of this over the weekend. See, one of my favourite pastimes of late has been to take part in discussions on a certain Facebook group. Up until now it's been a place where believers and unbelievers got together to but heads, argue and debate everything from the truth of the Gospels to the evidence for evolution. All was well until recently when a couple of new admins were appointed. One of these (a young zealous recent convert) actually banned someone for "thinking about swearing" (One of the group rules is no swearing - until recently that meant swear and your post gets deleted but you get to repost the same thing with out swearing.) Think I'm kidding? Here is a screenshot:
    Christians love to bring up the terrible massacres committed by Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and the Khmer Rouge to point out what horrible people atheists are. Usually, atheists will then mention the Crusades, witch trails and the Inquisition to show that Christians are not immune to behaving evil, to which the standard Christian reply is: "Ah, but that was the Catholics, not us." What a joke! You know the biggest difference between the medieval catholic church and the church of today? Power. They had it and we don't. If the church today had absolute power and could torture, imprison, banish and kill I don't doubt for a moment they would.

    Am I too pessimistic? I can't tell you how much I wish to be proven wrong. Certainly there are many exceptions but that is all they are. I'm not talking about individuals here, I'm talking about the group. And to date the group called "Christian" have managed to abuse every shred of power it received. Look back in history - the church no sooner stopped being the persecuted before they started becoming the persecutors. It didn't take Martin Luther too long after starting the Reformation and breaking away from the corruption of the Catholic Church to start persecuting others - especially the Jews. When the Puritans and the Huguenots fled Catholic persecution to the New World and Africa, did they treat the native population with Christian compassion and kindness? Hardly. Salem witch trails? Apartheid? KKK? Courtesy of Protestant Christians, every one. And so it goes, on and on and on. Even when the church had only the smallest amount of power, it was still abused. Why just a handful of decades ago right here in South Africa the well established reformed churches churches did all they could to see to it that those in pentecostal churches didn't get ahead. People were fired, disowned or simply never promoted for no other reason than belonging to the "wrong" church. I think that is what scares me the most about Christians in power - the fact that "different" seems to equal "wrong" and "wrong" seems to equal "target".

    Today is Sunday, millions of Christians worldwide went to church today. I wonder, how many pulpits taught love and compassion and how many taught fear, hate and distrust for those who are not like "us"? It seems that when the only power the church has left is words, it will often use that to kill rather than heal.

    I cannot count how many times I have heard it preached that Christians need to be in charge. That we need to occupy the upper echelon of every sector of society in order to make a difference. Yet looking back at history, the time when we did the most good was the time we had no power and no say in the running of things. Back in the first century AD, Christians were persecuted, hunted down and murdered. They were cast out of synagogues, banished from communities, often couldn't trade in marketplaces or have a position on the city council (unless you were willing to sacrifice to the patron god of the town hall or market). And you know what the amazing thing was? They changed the world. Everything was against them, they held no political power at all and yet they made the world a better place. They had compassion on the outcasts and the lowest of the low. They preached equality between slave and free, man and woman. They broke through culture barriers, they showed the world that there was a better way to live - a way of love, peace and compassion. Astoundingly, they did this without starting boycotts or petitions, without making any laws or attempting to destroy their opposition.

    These days it seems like exactly the opposite is true. Back then they had no power but they changed their world for the better - we have power, but it seems we are not making this world better at all. How did we get from there to here? Is there a way for us to go back?

    See I don't want this to be true. I don't hate my fellow Christians, I just hate it when we turn into monsters the moment we start wielding power. It breaks my heart and I don't think its supposed to be like this. Why can't we be consistently good? Why are we at our best when at the bottom but at our worst when at the top?

    When Jesus spoke about who was the greatest in the Kingdom of God, who did he use as an example? A soldier? A governor? No, a child - someone with absolutely no power or might. Maybe that's why the Bible doesn't call the Church a "general" or a "governor" or an "emperor" but instead called the Church a "bride". Without going off topic about gender roles, consider this. When the term "Bride of Christ" was first written down, the role of a bride was not that of leader but that of supporter, of influencer.

    I don't know, maybe the problem is that God never intended for us to be in charge here at all. What if God intended that we change the world, not in a forceful masculine way, but rather in a more gentle, feminine way - maybe more like a loving mother than a disciplinarian father? Maybe the Church was supposed to act as the servant, not the master...


    So Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, "You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.
    That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served - and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage." (Mat 20:25-28 The Message)



    Thursday, April 10, 2008

    The Christian Myth of Absolute Truth

    Growing up in the church I have found that over the years the Christian community has developed its own form of language – I call it Christianese. Now this may sound exactly like the language of the region to the casual observer but on closer inspection one finds that it at times give completely new meanings to familiar words. Now Christianese, like every other language does have its share of swearwords. Unlike regular swearwords, which are a total taboo in the church, Christianese swearwords are used often and by all. You use them to show distain for your opponents and you never want to hear them applied to yourself. There is the C word for instance – compromise. (You want to see a Christian go into a frenzy of repentance, use that one!) However one of the worst words in all of Christianese is the R word – relativism!

    Now when it comes to post-modern concepts like relativism, I get why we have it. We, as a society, certainly needed to move away the old school colonial era mindset of “We are white, we are right and the rest of you barbarians better learn to do things our way”. When it comes to culture, we need relativism I think. After all, different doesn’t equal wrong. Well, sometimes it does (when it comes to scientific fact vs. esoteric superstition for instance) but that’s still no reason to be a tool about it. See, that’s the thing, while in church you may hear how “the world” is all relativistic and evil with no right or wrong, that’s a little out of touch with reality. Atheist skeptics also decry relativistic thinking, the kind that says a fruity new age “remedy” like crystal therapy is just as valid as conventional medicine since all ideas are equally valid. All ideas are most certainly NOT equally valid, not when one can be proven right and the other wrong. Funny though how Christians are more than happy to get down with relativistic thought when it comes to the origins debate – when it comes to that then suddenly all ideas are equal and schools should totallty “teach both sides”…

    Of course “complexity” seems to be another Christianese swear word since simple black and white concepts make far better sermons. In fact, stark black and white seems to have become the cornerstone of the church. When Christians found some of their doctrines and ideas challenged by science and reason in recent history we missed a great opportunity to grow and expand our understanding. Instead we decided that in order to stay relevant (relevant is only a swear word when you don’t like what it implies. Kind of like “ass” in normal English) we had to be right and we had to be right all the time about everything. So then, we the Christians, closed ranks and declared that our doctrines, our culture, the Bible and our understanding of it was Absolute Truth – no room for different opinions or interpretations, that’s what the heathens do! No sir, no relativism here! If your beliefs are Christian they are right and if they are right they are absolutely right and therefore everyone else in the world is absolutely wrong.


    If you have ever debated with someone who has a passing knowledge of apologetics you can bet good money that sooner or later the subject of absolute truth will make an appearance. I think it was Ravi Zacharias who first used the: "Do you believe in absolute truth? If you don't, can you be absolutely sure about that?" line and since then various excitable Christians keep that line taped to their PC's in the hope of one day using it. I think deep down they believe that when they use it on an atheist it would immediately make his/her head explode - much like using the old "Every statement I make is false" paradox was used in old Sci-Fi movies to explode evil computer intelligences. The obvious problem with this brilliant argument is of course the annoying fact that no one except the most existential of philosophers would actually argue that there is no such thing as absolute truth - and even then only through a thick haze of bong smoke. No, I think we all believe in absolute truth. It’s just that no one thinks EVERY truth is absolute. But of course if you happen to be a highly excitable Christian, you may be under the impression that nothing is supposed to be relative and therefore you believe in only absolute truths. If someone therefore differs from you on any subject whatsoever then – since good Christians are the only people to believe in absolute truth and the rest of the world are evil and relativistic – that must also imply that they utterly deny the existence of absolute truth.

    But this line of reasoning has always annoyed me to no end. So then I started a survey on Facebook to collect some absolute truth. (I'll be honest, my original idea was to use the list to post a MASSIVE reply next time somebody used the "do you believe in absolute truth?" line. I still might.) By my definition, these would be things that are always true - for you, for me, for Inuits, Navaho's, Aborigines, in short, something anyone, anywhere will agree with you on because it is clearly observable and provable.

    So then, here are some of the absolute truths I have come up with so far*:

    • Spam emails for penis enlargement products will always manage to find your inbox
    • No one is so bad that a dog cannot love them
    • People getting tackled out of nowhere is always funny
    • Getting hit in the privates is never funny when it happens to you
    • A statement that begins with "I'm not a racist but..." will always end in an incredibly racist statement
    • The first casualty of war is truth
    • The only thing we learn from history is that no one learns from history
    • "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering"**
    • Everybody needs to be needed
    • Guns don't kill people, people kill people
    • Isolation is a poison to the soul
    • You will never be able to please everyone
    • Tori Amos is a musical genius
    • The pen is mightier than the sword, except in an actual duel to the death
    • No human being should be allowed to own another human being
    • The more you love someone the deeper they can hurt you
    • We always hurt the ones we love, especially ourselves
    • You simply cannot trust the media for the whole story
    • Hurt people hurt people
    • You cannot help the willfully ignorant
    • Crowds bring out the worst in people - none of us is as dumb as all of us
    • Innocence lost can never be regained
    • We have stereotypes for a reason
    • Ditto for clichés
    • No matter how long you live, people will surprise you
    • There are no limits to human stupidity
    • Everybody’s equal in the glow of radiation

    [Have more? Disagree with these? Let me know!]

    Notice the problem yet? Things like “Jesus was both God and man” or the “Trinity is both three and one” or the “Lord is my shepherd” and all other Christian "absolute truths" have no place on this list. Now this is the point where I usually lose my more excitable, hyperactive yorkie type brethren – you say something like that they assume you mean it’s all false. Not at all. I’m not saying they are not true, I’m saying that in order to be absolute truths they need to be provable, you need hard evidence and the burning conviction in your heart does not count. See these are not scientific truths, they are mystical ones.

    Now, I have been there and I have done that so I know how scary this sounds to someone who is fully convinced of the absolute truth of the Christian faith. But the thing is, it’s not scary at all, it’s exciting! Accepting this gives us a chance to grow, a chance to learn and best of all it means God still has a reason to speak to us because we don’t yet have all the answers. Being right all the time and having to have all the answers is a terrible burden and it serves no purpose. Some may think that if the Church can no longer claim absolute truth and inerrancy then it loses all the authority to lead and teach. Well, relevant as that sounds, I have to tell you – I have a sneaking suspicion the world out there already knows we are not absolutely right about absolutely everything. Aside from a handful of professional Christians I don’t think anyone is fooled by our statements. I think by now it’s pretty obvious that the world out there – you know, the one you are supposed to be reaching and impacting – sees right through this kind of hypocrisy. Don’t you think that a church that is willing to discuss, consider, change and admit faults will draw more people than it will drive away?

    Making statements of absolute truth that we cannot back up with proof is not helping our case. As a skeptic, I hate any form of disconnect from hard reality - it doesn't make you relevant to ignore evidence, it makes you ignorant. As a mystic, I’m OK with not being 110% sure of everything. It’s OK to not know, it’s OK not to be sure. It doesn’t make you a doubter, it doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your life, it just makes you less of a dick. Go on, embrace the mystery!




    * Originally this list started with the statement “Jessica Alba is smoking hot”. I stand by that statement as absolute truth since the undeniable truth is that she is hot. I'm not saying she is the hottest girl in all of history. I'm not saying she is the most attractive person alive right now. However, no matter what your gender, sexual orientation or species may be, it’s pretty obvious that she is hot. Bacterial life forms on asteroids will agree Jessica Alba is hot. However, since this is a temporary truth, (i.e. it will not always be true) I removed it. One day, Jessica will end up as the same pile of rotting flesh and bone as the rest of us and will only be “hot” to those with serious psychological problems.

    **It may have been spoken by a fictional green midget but you only need to open a history book or turn on the news to see just how true that statement is.

    Monday, April 7, 2008

    L.A.E (Life After Eden): Secrets and longing

    Once upon a time, a long time ago when I was much younger and far more foolish I dreamed of being able to prove my faith. I dreamed of finding that one overwhelming argument, that bit of undeniable logic, that mathematical equation even that showed that could vindicate all I believed to an unbelieving world. It is now many years later and I have found nothing of the sort. I have looked at every argument from the ethical to the mathematical and there was a plausible counter argument to every one. Even the work of CS Lewis - which to me is nothing less than sheer genius - can be pulled apart at the seams and discarded by those of sufficient intelligence. Now I have realized that this quest was folly to begin with. You simply cannot argue anyone into the Kingdom. You shouldn't want to. See the problem with getting someone to believe in Jesus with a good argument is that someone else may get that person to stop believing due to a better argument.

    Yet today, my quest long since declared folly, I came across what is possibly the closest thing to proof of my faith than I could ever hope to find. I stumbled upon a blog called Post Secret - a simple concept really, people from all over write their secrets anonymously on a postcard and send it in and it gets posted. Now I will resist the temptation to use words like "compelling evidence" but I have yet to find anything that so truly seems to point to the truth of the Fall (Genesis 3).

    Usually when we try to show how fallen humanity is we point to the news and the pain in this world, how humanity seems to be able to sink lower just when you think we have hit rock bottom. Certainly there were plenty of postcards to showcase this. The blog itself only shows one week at a time but I found a Facebook group dedicated to it and looked through 1049 of these postcards. From the person who admitted to finding a reasons for people to desert him because his father never gave one to the girl who told of how she has promiscuous sex in order to devalue sex so that she may be able devalue the fact that she was raped and the man who seems proud of the fact that he has a sexual relationship with his niece. These go on and on, in fact it would be fair to say that the bulk of these postcards demonstrate just how broken and lost humanity really is. But this is not what tells me the Fall must have been a reality.

    See every once in a while, buried between all the darkness would be something beautiful, an expression of love. On the Facebook group, each one of these would have a mass outpouring "I wish this one was meant for me". To me, this offers incredible proof of the reality of the fall of mankind. See the thing is when I read those I wished exactly the same thing. And here is the kicker - I have actually received similar expressions of love from others. It just wasn't enough or rather it was enough, just not enough to last me for very long. You see it's not that I am unloved or unappreciated, it's mostly that no matter how loved and appreciated I am, I never feel loved and appreciated enough. That is partially why I blog in the first place, that is why I fake things and try to come across more interesting, why I fish for compliments and why I always need more. I look into my heart and see a bottomless chasm aching for more - more love, more appreciation, more acceptance, more compliments more everything. And in the rare moments I manage to get outside of my own head I find this same inexplicable chasm in the hearts of others. We need to be special, we need to be needed, we need to be wanted, we need to be thought of as precious and worthy by others - not just the ones we are close to but even complete strangers. Scratch that, especially by strangers. Why else would we disregard the complements of those who love us and know us best but embrace the offhand comments of those who never met us? We struggle to belong and at the same time we struggle to stand out. Who does not dream/hope/believe that if someone just really got to know us they would realize just how special and worthy we really are? Who among us doesn't yet at the same time hold back due to the fear that if our wish was somehow granted and people got to see us as we really are we would be revealed as the frauds we secretly fear we are?

    My point here is simple: It seems that there is a bottomless pit in the human heart (maybe not in yours but certainly in mine) that simply cannot seem to be filled. No matter how loved and wanted I am, I always feel a yearning for more. There is a loneliness and a longing in me that I cannot seem to silence. Since it seems that I am not the only one I have to conclude one of two things (this is why I won't propose this as undeniable truth): Either there is a terrible programming error in the human genome OR once upon a time, long ago when humanity was new, this chasm used to be occupied by a Being large enough to fill it to the brim. A case could be made for both options I guess so I do not present this as any sort of absolute, incontrovertible truth. I for one believe that I have a need this great inside me because I was supposed to live in constant communion and fellowship with Someone great enough to satisfy it. I believe that this fellowship has been broken and this former blessing has become a curse. God once walked with us in a garden and we lost that and no matter what we do or drink or eat or learn or even pray we can never climb back up to the place we were before we fell.

    We can be content, we can be happy, we can live, love, be loved and we can worship, all to the point of being so filled that we can forget the dark chasm of the soul even exist. Just never for long though. Every now and again, alone in the dark, we realize that it is still there, has been all along and that everything we thought filled it was but a drop in the ocean. Its what drives us. After all, why else would be even have a word like fulfillment?

    [Now I use words like "we" and "us" but I realize I can only speak for "me". You are other and different and I am of course limited by that. I think thats the best part of the internet really, it shows us that others are not as "other" as we may think. I certainly saw a lot of comments to day which may as well have been spoken by me. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe I just happened to run into the one group who is similar to me and maybe I am blind to those who are nothing like me. Maybe none of this resonates with you at all. In that case, consider yourself wildly blessed! Please tell me your secret, I would love to know how you do it.]

    Sunday, April 6, 2008

    The Christian I am not - Part 2

    The Westboro Baptist Church

    Sometimes its hard to be a Christian. Oftentimes it feels as if there is a rain of criticism that starts to fall on anyone who dares take that name. But the worst part is not the rain. The worst part of all is what you find huddling under the umbrella of Christianity with you – the crusades, the inquisition, the witch hunts, the racism, the sexism, the paedophiles, the crooked evangelists and the money hungry swindlers. That is why I started this series of blogs. Even if no one ever reads it, at least I can sleep at night knowing I dared to step out into the rain to say: I do not agree with them, this is not what I stand for. To my mind, one of the biggest motivations for stepping out from under the umbrella in the first place is a small group from Kansas: The Westboro Baptist Church.

    So why should I (since I'm not an American and not a Baptist) care about a church of about 150 members (of which about 90 seem to be one family) half a world away? Because while they may be an absolute minority they are a very loud one! They were most certainly loud enough to make me aware of them half a world away. Their very loud message is a simple one: "God hates". According to them God hates lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews as well as populations it believes are supporting the aforementioned groups, including Swedes, Canadians, Irish, British, Mexicans and Americans. Of course according to them (and their website www.godhatesfags.com) the one group God hates more than any other is homosexuals. According to them nearly every tragedy in the world is linked to homosexuality: The war in Iraq? Due to gays. Mining disaster? It’s punishment because society is tolerant of homosexuality. It is this kind of belief that landed them in the headlines as church members started to picket military funerals and other disasters with picket signs saying “God loves dead soldiers” and “Thank God for dead miners”.

    Now from this is should be clear why the rest of Christianity needs to speak up against this. Certainly, many churches have indeed labeled the WBC as a cult and distanced themselves from their message of hate so I’m not implying that Christianity is giving its silent OK on this matter. But I do however feel very strongly that in a case this sickening and vile we all – not just some of our leaders – need to stand up and be counted. See, I have noticed something among the non-Christians (and especially the gay ones). In this regard they tend to view Christians the way we view the “quiet diplomacy” of African leaders towards the atrocities in Zimbabwe and Sudan. When something this wrong is not renounced in the strongest terms, people might get the idea that deep down you agree with it. And you know what? In this case they have good reason to be suspicious of Christians. Not many fundamentalists would dream of taking things as far as the WBC does but they most certainly seem to preach a thinly veiled message that gays are worse than any other sinner in the eyes of God. Following 9-11 Jerry Falwell publicly claimed that God allowed this act because of (amongst others) America’s tolerance of homosexuality. I myself have heard more than one evangelical Christian make the statement that homosexuality would be a capital crime if they were in charge.

    I don’t want to divert this topic into a discussion about the acceptability of homosexuality in the church because by doing that I would miss the big point I’m trying to make here: Regardless of whether you believe homosexuality to be a sin or not, as a Christian you should be utterly against this kind of hate mongering.

    Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that neither Jesus nor the 10 commandments once mentioned homosexuality. Let’s also ignore for a moment that homosexuality is never once mentioned as the most terrible sin anywhere in the Bible and that instead its always mentioned along side other things like immorality, greed and adultery (which you oddly never see Christians picketing against…). Let’s just focus on the two aspects that, according to Jesus, embody the entire law of God: Love God and love your neighbour. Is the homosexual your neighbour? Of course! When Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan He demonstrated that we are supposed to show love and compassion towards others – even those we may have some difficulty loving for whatever reason. It is a black mark on the reputation of Christianity when any group is treated callously and kept at arms length. Even worse, the church sometimes seem to go further and downright applaud their pain as a judgment from God! Where is the love in that? As if the heterosexual world has any reason to be self righteous! The church represents God to the world and when they seem to give nothing but dislike and condemnation for a group, who can blame that group for believing that God has nothing but dislike and condemnation for them too? Even if you believe homosexuality to be a horrible sin does that give you the right to deny someone access to God? This unholy attitude is not helping anyone. Instead it is akin to slamming the doors of the Kingdom in someone’s face and we do NOT have that right! We do not dare do that and still have the gall to call ourselves “God fearing”, for God did not sacrifice His Son for any one group exclusively. His commands were to love your brother, love your enemy, turn the other cheek, judge not lest you be judged, be kind, be patient, hold your tongue and be a peacemaker. The invitation is open to all.

    It’s a terrible tragedy that guys like the Westboro Baptist Church have lost sight of this. I hope that they realize the error of their ways before it is too late, I really do. Until then I must distance myself from them and declare that while we may both call ourselves Christian, I have no fellowship with them and I vehemently oppose all they stand for.

    1 John 4:20: If anyone boasts, "I love God," and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see?


    Friday, April 4, 2008

    The rise of The Secret and the failure of our fairytales

    I firmly believe that fairytales are important in the development of a child. They are far more than bed-time stories, they are lessons – lessons designed to teach the important truths of life in a way that even a child can grasp it. Granted, Fairytales were the products of their time and not every lesson should be followed. Girls don't need to live their lives waiting for a prince to come make everything OK. There are no happily ever afters and children really shouldn't accept magic beans from creepy strangers. But I maintain that there is a lot we can still learn from them. Especially tales like Stone soup or The Emperors new clothes teach us that there are smooth talking swindlers in this world who are out to take advantage of us by selling us nothing dressed up as something incredible. We should therefore be more careful, less naive and most of all we need to think!! Well, the fact that “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne is now the best selling self-help book of all time gives me the impression that either our fairytales have failed us miserably OR parents need to switch off the damn TV and start reading to their kids again!

    The warning signs were everywhere! It’s written by a television producer involved in reality TV – that’s a big red light right there! After all, these are people who specialize in taking fiction, repackaging it smartly and serving it up as “real”. Furthermore everyone of the “Secret Teachers” (a group of “life coaches”, philosophers, quantum mystics, people with unaccredited Ph.D’s (like “Dr” John Gray) and experts in things like feng shui and metaphysics) seem to have their own course in self improvement they would encourage you to invest in. Then there is the fact that it is blessed by Oprah – always a bad sign. But mostly, what should be nagging in the back of your mind is the time honored axiom “If something seems too good to be true then it probably is”.

    So what is “The Secret” all about? Well, basically it teaches that the whole universe obeys a principle called the "Law of Attraction". This principle puts forward that people's feelings and thoughts attract real events in the world into their lives; from the workings of the cosmos to interactions among individuals in their physical, emotional, and professional affairs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_%282006_film%29#Synopsis). Basically, if you want something bad enough, you will get it simply because you want it since the universe exists to cater to your every thought. Won the lottery? It’s because you wanted it more than the other 20 million people who played. Have cancer? Well that’s cause you wanted it! Raped, beaten and left for dead? You brought it on yourself! Home destroyed by a natural disaster? That’s your own fault for making it happen! See while the universe acts as your own personal genie it’s not very smart according to The Secret. Coupled with the power to grant your every whim, “the Universe” is somewhere on the sub-moron scale with regards to intelligence. How dumb is it? Well it cannot understand negatives (ex, “no”, “don’t”) so it’s definitely dumber than your average pet. See if you think “I don’t want to get shot and paralyzed in a shootout between police and robbers” the “Universe” hears: “I want to get shot and paralyzed in a shootout between police and robbers” and makes sure you get paralyzed in a shootout between cops and robbers. In other words the “universe” has the intelligence of a goldfish/pot plant. Just the kind of intelligence you want in charge of what happens to you, right?

    Now for someone to be making claims as bold as this then surely they must have plenty of support to back it. The Secret certainly claims to have the support of the facts so let’s examine these claims.

    Claim # 1: The Secret is an ancient truth

    Yes that’s right, this is not simply a secret it is the secret, the secret of the ages passed down through the centuries. Now besides being an incredibly good marketing tool (let’s be honest, to most people “ancient secret” equals “profound truth”) is there actually anything to back this claim? Well no. See the earliest document containing “The Secret” is supposedly the Emerald Tablet. You know, the ancient text written by the Egyptian god Thoth and/or the Greek god Hermes on an emerald that contains the secrets of alchemy. (Also apparently “The Secret”.) So really in order to fact check the source material for this all one needs to do is find a mythical object! Basically this is all the proof you will get. Apart from cherry picking from pieces of ancient documents (like the Proverbs of Solomon) and various quasi religious positive thinking books there really is no proof that this is an ancient secret. Even if it was, why would that make it true? Trepanning (cutting a hole in a sick person’s skull to let the demons out) is a very ancient practice too, should we give that another whirl too?

    In all fairness, I have to admit that this is in fact a rather old principle. The first time I came across it was in the Word of Faith movement (the Prosperity Gospel) dating back to the 60’s and 70’s. In fact if you had read books by the like of Kenneth Copeland and/or spent any time in a charismatic church, the three steps that act as the essence of the Law of Attraction: "ask, believe, receive" will leave you with the strangest sense of Déjà vu. So will all the instructions to “believe as if you have already received” and “know that you know that you know it will happen”. Really, when you get right down to it there is virtually no difference between Charismatic Christianity and The Secret – change “prosperity” to “reality creation”, dumb God down by a LOT and rename Him “The Universe” and you got The Secret! They even have the same total focus on getting more money and things! Look at Byrne's startling explanation of the spiritual significance of wealth:

    If you have been brought up to believe that being wealthy is not spiritual, then I highly recommend you read The Millionaires of the Bible Series by Catherine Ponder. In these glorious books you will discover that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were not only prosperity teachers, but also millionaires themselves, with more affluent lifestyles than many present-day millionaires could conceive of. (P. 109)

    Now look at the writings of any prosperity preacher – odds are you will run into the exact same claim. “The Secret” is nothing more than a get rich quick gospel repackaged as new age wisdom for a bored, unthinking middle class who wants to believe that you can get something for nothing.

    (Of course in all fairness there is actually another, even older, source that I know of that contains “The Secret”. You may have encountered it too long ago in a well-guarded book handed down through the generations named "The Little Engine that Could".)


    Claim # 2: The Secret is backed by authority

    Another statement that proves that “The Secret” is a fact is the allegation that all the great names of history knew and practiced it:

    The greatest teachers who have ever lived have told us that the law of attraction is the most powerful law in the Universe. … Great thinkers including Socrates, Plato, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Pythagoras, Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Victor Hugo shared it in their writings and teachings. (P. 4)

    Of course the only actual evidence given that any of these men wrote about or taught “The Secret” is a supposed Emerson quote: "The secret is the answer to all that has been, all that is, and all that will be." (P. 183). First problem with that quote is that it’s awfully vague and could really refer to any secret at all. Second problem is that no-one seems to be able to find the source for that quote. (See a pattern forming yet?) Besides if all of these great men shared it in their writings it would hardly be a secret! And since no one can find these references they must have kept “The Secret” a secret but the question then becomes how did Rhonda Byrne find out about it then?

    Well I have to admit, even though it has no apparent root in fact and reality it’s another brilliant piece of marketing. People are suckers for conspiracy theories, everyone wants to be in on the real truth and this book makes exactly that promise. It comes down to “There is this secret that can make you rich and happy right, and while they have always known it but it they have always made sure that YOU don’t find out about it but now I will graciously make this secret (that they have been keeping from you) known for a reasonable fee.” You have to be in awe of marketing that clever! It does however remind me of a rather apt quote by one of the great minds of history that was strangely absent from the book:

    "There are two things in the world that is infinite. The universe, and human stupidity. And I am not sure about the universe."

    -Albert Einstein


    Claim #3: The Secret is backed by science

    Of course, enlightened 21st Century citizens of the world that we are, Ms Byrne doesn’t expect us to simply believe The Secret because of esoteric, mystical reasons. Far from it! You see, as it turns out the Law of Attraction is somehow based on quantum mechanics, and is therefore scientific. See, its not magic, its science! Or is it?

    Quantum Mechanics is a highly mathematical theory which is extremely difficult to understand and, therefore, is a favorite of pseudoscientists. All that they have to do is claim that Quantum Mechanics supports their idea, in that way making the idea sound scientific, and scarcely anyone in their audience will be able to tell otherwise. See, in a way Quantum Mechanics is the new radiation. You know how back in the 50's & 60's radiation was wild and mysterious and not really understood so every comic book creator just used it to explain why superpowers happened? Well it seems that Quantum Mechanics has replaced radiation as that thing we don’t really understand but have heard just enough off to think it can explain the unexplainable. Now according to Rhonda Byrne “The Secret” helped her to understand Quantum Mechanics better than the leading minds of our age:

    I never studied science or physics at school, and yet when I read complex books on quantum physics I understood them perfectly because I wanted to understand them. The study of quantum physics helped me to have a deeper understanding of The Secret, on an energetic level. (P. 156)

    This is way they don't let you grade your own papers in College... But, to her credit, a couple of the contributors to the book are actual physicists. The best known one is John Hagelin, who got very few votes running three times for President of the United States on the Natural Law Party ticket, and currently is associated with the Maharishi University of Management. Both of these ventures are offshoots of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's transcendental meditation movement. In other words, Hagelin is an eccentric, to put it mildly. Now unlike Ms Byrne I have not received any help to understand what is arguably the most complex field of physics - I must not have wanted it enough... Therefore I will leave the debunking of this kind of Quantum Quackery to the experts:

    Michael Shermer, Scientific American, 1/2005 http://quackfiles.blogspot.com/2005/05/quantum-quackery.html , (this is a reposting of the original article on a blog. You can pay to read the original here: "Quantum Quackery"

    Victor J. Stenger, "Quantum Quackery", Skeptical Inquirer, January/February 2007


    In conclusion then, "The Secret" has no foundation in fact or reality. Clearly it doesn’t work, that much should be plain to anyone bothering to look at the world. Despite infinite numbers of Miss Whatever contestants asking for world peace, why do we have none? Who asks, dreams and visualizes harder than teenagers? Yet how many hot celebs end up sleeping with their nerdy fans? Let’s go past those who believe all the way to those completely convinced – why do those in asylums rule their straitjackets and not the world? Are these examples too trivial? OK, here is one that’s not. Why do we have a thing such as unrequited love in this world if The Secret and the Law of Attraction is supposed to ALWAYS work (according to Secret Teacher Joe Vitale anyway)? When you fall in love with someone you ask for them (in one way or another), you hope, dream and believe that they will love you back and you try to receive their love with all your might. Why o why then, since the “Universe” is as dumb as a box of hammers and doesn’t know any better do you not then always get the object of your affection? Also, the entire sentiment that one gets struck by death, tragedy and disease because you are asking for it just sickens me. If there was any truth to “The Secret” would we even HAVE the 3rd world? Would there be squatter camps, concentration camps and death camps all over the globe? Would prisons even have inmates if dreaming of freedom magically gave it to you?

    Now of course some would swear on their lives that the Law of Attraction really does work. Well, if it seems to work then maybe it’s because the very lesson that you could have learned (for far less money) from “The little engine that could” has some merit (as does all forms of positive thinking in one way or another): He thought he could do it, he worked towards his goal and he took the chance to prove he could do it when the situation presented itself. Amazing right?!! Also there is a lot of conformation bias (remembering and magnifying the hits and forgetting the misses) amongst those who claim it works. In this way "The Secret" is rather foolproof – if you get anything good then it’s due to "The Secret" working and if you don’t you probably just did it wrong. Then of course there is the often overlooked fact that just like prosperity teachings in the church, The Secret can work REALLY well – IF you happen to be a prosperity/secret teacher! Of course money seems to “just come to you” – you are taking up a collection for goodness sake!! Of course the results are no different. David Schirmer, the "investment guru" in the film, has his business activities under investigation by the Australian Securities Investment Commission (ASIC). This was reported on 1 June 2007 by A Current Affair in a segment titled "The Secret Con". The show initially confronted Schirmer in a segment titled "The Secret Exposed", aired on 28 May 2007, with complaints from people who say Schirmer owed them money. Turns out he was charging astronomical fees to teach his wealth gathering secrets to people, promising to invest a large sum (included in their class fees) on their behalf to show them just how great the system works. That’s the last anyone heard of their money.

    video

    In closing I beg you - remember what the fairytales taught you! There are a lot of people out there who will do their utmost to swindle you! THINK!! The Emperor is naked and so is "The Secret": it's an empty promise pretending to be dressed up as a profound truth. Don't be the emperor, be the kid who sees through the BS. Besides, believing in fairytales will leave you far less disappointed than believing the Universe to be your personal genie.

    For more of the official criticisms against “The Secret” you can look at the following list of grievances on Wikipedia.

    If you prefer something more light hearted, check out this humorous debunking of "The Secret" (that nevertheless completely destroys it) from some Australian skeptics: