I often hear those who support a Creationist view of the universe use the concept of beauty to support their position. “There is no way a sunset this beautiful happened by chance,” they say. “This definitely shows the activity of an intelligent designer.”
This article is not intended as a defense of an evolutionary process. Nor should it be considered an attack on Creationism per se. However, it is designed to demonstrate that the use of beauty as proof of the latter position may be all well and good for an opinion, but can in no way be considered proof. The reason why is because beauty is not a fact. It is, as mentioned, a concept. Christopher Hitchens, in his book God Is Not Great, recalls a story about an instructor, Mrs. Watts, who taught young Hitchens about nature and the Bible.
However, there came a day when poor, dear Mrs. Watts overreached herself. Seeking ambitiously to fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, “So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to our eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, orange, how awful that would be. (Hitchens 2)
Hitchens’ point was that nature did not change to suit the eye, but that the eye changed to suit nature. Perhaps more accurately, the human concept and expectation of beauty adapted to nature. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Truer words have never been spoken and fewer more illustrative ones.
Remaining with our nature theme, there are certain parts of the United States considered beautiful by some and reviled by others. For example, I have relatives in the southern state of Louisiana. They love the area and believe it to be beautiful. While Louisiana may have some attractive areas, most of what I’ve seen (and I have visited on several occasions) has been either unremarkable or entirely off-putting. On the other hand, I am from the state of Michigan and consider it to be a state with much to offer in the way of natural beauty. However, there are those from other parts of the country who consider Michigan to be the armpit of the nation.
A pattern begins to emerge—simply that people recognize beauty in that with which they are familiar. There are some commonalities, of course. Everybody loves a brilliant blue sky, because everybody has been exposed to a brilliant blue sky. Consider a science fiction movie that takes place on a planet featuring a red sky. We see that and think how terrible it would be if Earth had a red sky. How frightening and strange that would be! Yet it is completely reasonable to assume that those used to a red sky would think the same thing about our blue sky. Sunsets and sunrises are universal for humans. We love the red, yellows, and oranges that accompany them. However, if we were used to a brown and green rising or setting, what we now love would seem out of place and perhaps even sinister. We are accustomed to the features of our own planet and therefore consider them beautiful.
Douglas Adams, writing in his bestselling book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, includes a passage that, while not indisputably parallel to the topic at hand, is so charmingly demonstrative as to demand inclusion. In this brief passage, the earthling Arthur is talking with Marvin, a depressed and stoic robot. Arthur begins,
“I come from a planet called Earth, you know.”
“I know,” said Marvin, “you keep going on about it. It sounds awful.”
“Ah no, it was a beautiful place.”
“Did it have oceans?”
“Oh yes,” said Arthur with a sigh, “great wide rolling blue oceans…”
“Can’t bear oceans,” said Marvin. (Adams 135)
Humans love the familiar. It is more attractive to us. More beautiful. In general, we crave normality, predictability, and consistency. These qualities can raise our spirits when present and dampen them when absent.
When someone indicates a vision of natural beauty to me and says, “Are you telling me that such a lovely thing could have just happened? Surely it would take an intelligent being with inside knowledge of humanity to give us all these things that we enjoy and consider beautiful,” I must remark that the things of great beauty are such because they simply are the way they are. And if they were different, we would likely consider the alternative just as beautiful.
Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve,
2009. 2. Print.
Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Del Rey, 1998. 135. Print.
It is no great secret that I have distanced myself from Christianity. While I have many family and friends still in the Church, I make no pretense of being involved or even interested in the religious life of a believer. Yet I have been an outspoken critic of the faith and of religion in general. Some of the questions I get asked is, “Why do you care so much? If you are so removed from Christianity, why spend so much time criticizing it? Wouldn’t it be better to simply live your own life? Why try to ruin someone else’s peace?”
I recognize these as legitimate questions and in this article will attempt to answer them, as I do have my reasons.
There is nothing I believe in more than the freedom to believe as one might wish, even if I consider those beliefs to be without merit. I am not the final judge of what someone’s personal worldview should be, or their religion, or whether or not they should claim a religion at all. Superficially, Christianity falls into this category. Is it not a personal belief? And am I not therefore infringing on someone else’s right to believe by consistently presenting cases against it? Why can’t I just leave it alone?
Again, these are good questions that deserve an answer.
1. Is Christianity a personal belief?
A belief in Christianity is personal in the sense that a person can hold such a belief for themselves. It is not personal within the belief structure itself. Christianity is constructed in such a way that it must be seen as the only legitimate belief system available. This inevitably results in great exclusivity within the ranks and merciless condemnation of other similar constructs. Christianity needs to be the only way to the Truth. Without that, it becomes no better than any other creed or belief. Its very existence depends on being “the way, the truth, and the life” (King James Version, John 14.6).
The effects of this arrogance are clearly seen. Those who do not accept Christianity are condemned and told that they will necessarily spend the afterlife in eternal suffering. Often, those who reject Christianity are shunned, pushed aside, treated with prejudice, maligned, libeled, whispered about behind closed doors, and treated to a never-ending barrage of entreaty. Believers gather and pray for misery to strike the stubborn heathen in the form of holy conviction. Unbelievers are seen as less spiritually aware. Christianity is an excellent method of ego-stroking. It allows the believer to feel superior to all those who side against belief.
These factors show that Christianity quite easily becomes more than simply a personal belief and begins worming its way into the lives of unbelievers. If one is not Christian, one is not good enough and is not fulfilling their potential. If one is not Christian, one is doing themselves, their families, and those around them a great disservice. Unbelief is considered pure selfishness.
It gets worse than this. Christianity depends on conversion. Those in the faith cannot be content with making others feel bad about their lives or causing them to worry needlessly about their eternal fate. Christianity demands that believers seek out and convert unbelievers. It is in their creed. In the parable of the marriage supper found in Luke 14.23, Jesus says, “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (The emphasis is mine.) This and similar commandments are not suggestions. Believers themselves face a price if they fail in this regard. “When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezekiel 33.8).
In this more relevant sense, Christianity is not a personal religion. The believing individual cannot be content with having it for themselves. They are required to share it with everyone.
There are uncounted people (I know many) who struggle with this every day. It colors their lives in decidedly negative ways. The constant pressure to believe harms their lives, renders them unable to fully enjoy and appreciate their daily lives, and often separates them from family and friends.
Christianity is an insidious system. Many people, particularly those with a strict Christian upbringing, have no idea how to rid themselves of this loathsome burden. The religion they cannot accept has a hold on them nonetheless, exerting cruel control from afar. This is why it is necessary to confront Christianity head-on and to provide those struggling with the tools necessary to break the chains once and for all. Christianity claims to provide freedom. It does not. It is not satisfied with those who willingly accept it. It must own everyone else, as well.
2. Am I infringing on someone else’s right to believe?
No, I do not believe so. I am not saying and have never said that someone cannot hold these beliefs for themselves. One is welcome to believe whatever they wish. Unfortunately, this is not, as has been clearly stated, what Christianity does. I say, cling to whatever faith you wish. You might even talk about it with others. However, when you begin to say that everyone else must either agree with you or resign themselves to a hell, you have overstepped your bounds.
3. Why can’t I just leave it alone?
I feel this point has already been largely addressed. Having narrowly escaped a life within the grips of a fundamentalist regime, I have experienced the process of escape. I know it can be done, although not always easily. I feel a responsibility to those who now find themselves in the same position I was in some years ago. My specific goal is not to convert, but only to make it as clear as possible that there are options. People need to know all of the facts before they make a decision they may not find easy to fix later. Certainly, the Church is not going to provide these facts. Objectivity is not, and never has been, one of its strong points. This is why I cannot and will not be silent on this issue. As long as Christianity continues to forge shackles of required belief, I will do my best to break them.
King James Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011. BibleGateway.com. Web. 8 April 2012.
 The idea that the holy spirit will visit spiritual truths to hardened hearts, making them see the evil of their hearts to such an extent that they will be unable to eat, sleep, or function until they repent of their sins.
Why do intelligent people believe crazy things? In all fairness, it must be pointed out that “crazy” is often in the eye of the beholder. Something that makes absolutely no sense to one person sounds like genius to another. We see this in every election cycle, for example. One candidate seems like the savior of the republic to one voter, but looks like the anti-christ to the next. Some people love broccoli, others think it is something only the anti-christ would eat.
Yet often these types of disagreements occur over things which can be demonstrated as false, inaccurate, or at the very least so unlikely as to be so. Those of you familiar with my blog no doubt know I am talking about various tenets held by the highly religious, particularly those of the fundamentalist persuasion.
Having grown up in the Church, I met many (well, maybe a couple) people I still consider highly intelligent, those possessing the ability to critically analyze, ponder, and interpret. Some of these people (well, maybe one of them) are still in the Church, showing that having the tools does not equate to using them. Why do intelligent people who grow up in the Church continue to stay? Being a believing child is one thing, since the ability to critically examine comes later in life. However, once they mature enough to think independently, why do they not all depart? Naturally, this is my own perspective, but let’s examine what these people must believe in order to remain in good standing in the Church of which I speak.
Crazy Belief: Over the course of a week, a supreme being snapped his fingers and created the universe a few thousand years ago.
Why This Is Crazy: There is no scientific or physical evidence for a creationist or young earth viewpoint, yet there is for a more evolutionary process. It is one thing to choose between two equally unsubstantiated claims. It is quite another to look at two unequal ideas and choose the one with no support simply because one wants it to be accurate.
Crazy Belief: The Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God.
Why This Is Crazy: To accept the Bible as true and from God, you must believe in magic and ignore endless contradictions, inaccuracies, not to mention accept the authority of suspiciously anonymous writings. You must believe that praying can alter the laws of physics, that God approves of genocide, and that the majority of people, no matter how upstanding they may be, are going to burn forever in a place called hell.
Crazy Belief: Jesus is going to come back to earth and when that happens, believers who died will rise from the dead.
Why This Is Crazy: Other than the fact that we are all still waiting 2,000 years after Jesus promised to return during the life of that generation, we would have to believe that physical corpses, which have deteriorated to mere skeletons and piles of dust, will reassemble and break from their graves, jetting off into the sunset like a host of grisly spacecraft.
And there are many more. The point is, however, that smart people must believe not-so-smart things in order to be Christian. How is this possible? Does this mean that all Christians are actually stupid and their perceived intelligence was mere illusion? I know this isn’t the case, so the answer must be something else.
The human mind is a fascinating thing. When we are talking about spiritual belief systems, there is always a level of improvable foundation that must be constructed. In other words, we must say “I can’t prove this, but I’m convinced enough to use it as a cornerstone so that I may continue building my belief system.” There must be something by which all future conclusions may be reached. A standard, in other words. For example, you must first believe that humans contain a spiritual element. Otherwise, proceeding with a spiritual self-examination and consequent construction of a spiritual worldview is utterly pointless.
Christians, of course, are no exception. They must believe certain things if their faith is to work. The things many of us believe are crazy make perfect sense to them, because they are viewing them through the lenses of things they have already accepted. Prayer can change the laws of physics, because you are praying to the being who created those laws. If he created them, why could he not break them? The Bible is worthy of trust because God inspired it and therefore it cannot errors, and all questions regarding its veracity are really secondary given that assumption. It doesn’t matter how unlikely the Second Coming or the resurrection of the saints may be, the fact is that the Bible (and therefore God) says it is going to happen. Case closed.
This is why intelligent people can believe crazy things. It is because they have made a conscious choice to ignore certain basic problems and accept an existing belief system foundation (Christianity). This in itself may be considered proof of a lack of intelligence, and the point could certainly be made. As I mentioned earlier, “It is one thing to choose between two equally unsubstantiated claims. It is quite another to look at two unequal ideas and choose the one with no support simply because one wants it to be accurate.”
So there must be motives for accepting a faulty premise as a belief system foundation. Christians have many motivating factors. Here are a few consequences of not believing for those raised in the faith:
- You will go to hell.
- Your family might reject you.
- Your friends may leave you.
- All that energy you’ve poured into the church, religious education, and ministry would be in vain and shown as a waste of time.
- You will lose the confidence of knowing your future.
- You will be without a belief system that for now stabilizes your existence.
- Questions regarding the purpose of life become unanswered.
- You will likely lose the warm sense of community within the church.
- You will be called a sinner, heretic, heathen, lost soul, etc.
- You will be used in sermons to illustrate the cleverness of Satan and the allure of sin.
And the list goes on. So you can see that it might be shown, in a literal sense, for people to choose to ignore the lack of veracity inherent in the Christian foundation in order to accept its other precepts. After all, is it truly intelligent to willingly subject oneself to all the above-mentioned consequences? It may not be. The intelligent choice, from this perspective, may be to continue as things are. The question, however, is it honest? And if it is not, then one must recognize that to accept the faith in the face of a mountain of disputing evidence is to live a lie, thereby contradicting the foundation itself. So it is up to you. Which do you think is ultimately the more intelligent choice?
I am pleased to announce the release of a new essay, “Mere Lewis - A Critique of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.” In this essay I take a good look at the first half of the book, which is the part that attempts to prove Christianity on logical grounds. I address Lewis’s various points, including his insistence that the world is operated under the guidance of a universal moral law set up by God.
Lewis’s book is certainly an interesting read and more than anything illustrates the fact that Christianity is truly a faith. The attempt to prove it logically fails, however, and since this is the object of the book, it also comes up short. The purpose of this essay is not to ridicule Christianity. As mentioned multiple times, one is certainly welcome to accept Christianity or any other belief system based on faith or preference. When one attempts to prove factual a faith that demands acceptance or death, however, it becomes fair game. In fact, one could make the argument that others have a responsibility to refute or present alternative arguments to any attempt to force acceptance of a religious or spiritual idea on anyone. This is what Lewis does in Mere Christianity. He attempts to craft a case for Christianity so that skeptics will have no choice but to accept it, even if against their will. Religious belief cannot be proven. It is, and must be, a matter of faith to some extent and in some regard. That is, in fact, the beauty of spiritual matters. They are protected from the harsh lights of the laboratory and can provide hope and comfort. Hope only comes from unproven sources, after all, and humanity often needs it.
It is my opinion that Lewis has done Christianity a disservice with his book and jeopardized the freedom of those who resist. Mere Christianity proves nothing and simply muddies the waters for those searching for spiritual fulfillment. This is why this essay exists. Presenting a belief system for consideration is certainly a legitimate pursuit, but attempting to drive it down throats with the cudgel of intellectual process is another matter and requires extraordinary proof. The book falls well short of the mark and must therefore be challenged. This is the purpose of this essay.
Christian fundamentalism abuses innocent people honestly searching for truth in their lives. This skit illustrates this abuse. Watch as an honest inquirer brings his concerns to a church official.
Today’s post is a request, of sorts, but also an opportunity. Many of you already recognize the danger that the fundamentalist Christianity poses to people all over the world. I was a part of that culture for many years, having grown up in it and having no understanding that there was an alternative. Unfortunately, there are many people still stuck, living in the fear and repression that this sort of lifestyle entails.
I would like to start a groundswell of support for those people still trapped in this mire of religious deception. It will happen in several ways. First, for those of you who have managed to escape this prison, I want to invite you to share your stories. You can do this by commenting on this post, this page, or on YouTube. If you find yourself still trapped in fundamentalist Christianity, please use the same avenues to reach out for help. Contact me at the website or in the comments section. For those of you who do not fit in either category, you too can be of help by offering comfort, encouragement, and support.
Fundamentalism is dangerous. It is damaging to people and families. It destroys relationships and plays havoc with people’s spiritual, mental, and emotional well being. It is time people understood that alternatives exist. Please help me in this endeavor. Thank you.
Today I ask the question: “Why do so many people seem to want to believe in the doctrines of sin and hell?” Something so unpleasant, after all, should be viewed with great skepticism, and yet people cling to it and defend it to the hilt. Why do you think this is? Check out the video below and give me your opinion!
Christianity has always had an unhealthy fascination with blood, violence, and gore. The Bible’s Old Testament books are filled with such examples. Some of the most horrible stories are contained within the sacred pages of scripture, stories that, where they translated to the big screen via a Hollywood movie, would be condemned and boycotted by Christian groups around the country. The exception, of course, is Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. Somehow this exhibition of extreme violence and gore was okay by Christian standards, because it was about their savior, Jesus Christ, and his mission to save humanity.
In my Bible school days, a book on the recommended reading list was Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which contains stories of murder, torture, and sadism often surpassing those of the Bible. These were heralded as great examples, since those killed and persecuted were doing so because of their refusal to renounce their faith. We were all to take lessons from these stories. If these poor souls could withstand such pressure and horrors in order to obtain favor with God, then certainly we could deal with our comparatively easy lives to achieve the same such favor by remaining faithful to the cause.
The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament and, consequently, the human sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the New Testament have one thing in common: the shedding of blood and the destruction of one life in order to save another. The practice of blood sacrifice has deep ancient roots. In fact, Christianity has many such pagan similarities, not only those of sacrifice, but the basic symbol of the cross, which goes back to prehistoric times.
What is it about Christianity, and other similar religions, that causes it to cling so tightly to the idea of blood and suffering? In Christianity, the sacrifice of animals was made unnecessary through the crucifixion of Jesus. By dying on the cross, he made himself the ultimate sacrifice. This is very convenient in the modern age, when the vast majority of us don’t keep flocks of goats in the backyard. Yet the fact remains that Christianity is a religion based on blood and death. Yes, there is the resurrection, but such an act would have been unnecessary without the crucifixion.
Christianity is not merely the recipient of violence, however. Just as often it is the perpetrator. The Crusades were a brutal, ungodly effort to expand the reach of the faith. Christian explorers are guilty of destroying entire cultures through their cruelty and inhumane practices. Witness the conquest of South America or the expansion of the American West. Of course, the argument will be made that the responsible individuals were Christian only in name and not true followers of Christ. Yet the same people who make this point have no issue believing that terrorists are true representatives of Islam. Lest you misunderstand, I am not defending Islam; it has problems of its own. My point is that the lack of consistency in a belief helps prove the claims against it.
The reason religions have such a bloody past is because the religions themselves are constructed and adopted by human beings who have as their goal the domination of others. Religion is presented as the savior of all those who accept it and, therefore, those who do not are heretics who have relinquished their rights. We see this played out countless times, from wars in earlier times to the societal persecution and condemnation in our modern world. Religion is a dangerous entity and always oversteps its boundaries. It holds to a bloody history and often repeats it, because it becomes a secular endeavor, apart from anything its original prophets intended.
Believe it or not, I am not attacking modern Christianity or those who practice its more agreeable tenets. I am, however, suggesting that those Christians have a unique opportunity to reform the faith. It is my belief that we are seeing the collapse of Christianity as we know it and that those who recognize the deep flaws in the system will have the chance to rise from its ashes to reclaim the faith. This, however, can only be done by abandoning the dogmatic, unconditional furtherance of old ideas, eschewing the old reliance on blood and violence, and by examining the core ideas of love, tolerance, and enlightenment of Jesus the teacher – Jesus the man.
It is time to remove ourselves from the modern practice of ancient rituals and beliefs, and pursue a modern understanding of ancient spirituality. The concepts of original teachers are always obscured by the development of religion. We can see how Christianity developed in this way in the days immediately following the death of Jesus Christ. The corruption of his teachings began right away and has had two thousand years to dig its trenches. We now see the result. We must abandon mere tradition and embrace the original concepts with an openness to the unconventional, apart from the perpetuation of dogma, exclusivity, and hate.
“How do you know Jesus is the son of God?”
“Because the Bible says so.”
It doesn’t really matter what the issue is, they will eventually squeeze the references and specific passages in so they may prove their point. This, of course, is natural, because they have been raised to view the Bible as the ultimate authority. Each and every question can be answered if one spends enough time combing through scripture. The Bible is their ace in the sleeve, their trump card. They feel safe with the Bible there as a life preserver to catch them if logic fails.
What these believers should be asking themselves is, “What if the Bible wasn’t there? Would my opinions change? What if it wasn’t the inspired word of God? Would it still hold the same authority?”
These are not heretical questions and asking them does not necessarily mean one thinks the negative. God will not punish someone for entertaining such questions. Christians would do well, for their sake, to get used to the idea of forming their positions without the aid of scripture for the simple fact that many people they are trying to reach do not recognize the authority of the Bible. Therefore, using the Bible to prove a point in a debate doesn’t carry much weight.
If a Christian would say, “But I can’t disregard the Bible, because without it my worldview doesn’t mean as much. The Bible is my proof,” then they illustrated the problem beautifully. The Bible truly is the foundation of the traditional Christian faith, its handbook, and guide to living. It is of immeasurable value to their belief system and without it, the whole structure is in danger of collapsing.
Rather than scare someone into clinging to the Bible more closely, these facts should cause one to determine closer inspection of the text. After all, if it is all it says it is, then it will stand up under scrutiny. If it isn’t, and folds under deep and honest critique, then one would do well to reconsider their allegiance to it. After all, why would anyone knowingly choose to cling to something that is not what it claims to be?
I challenge every believer to undertake an honest re-examination of scripture. Not with the intent of proving or disproving, but with a desire to find the truth. If it is found lacking, then you have discovered a flaw in the system and this can only be healthy. If you end the search holding the same viewpoint, then you will no doubt have strengthened your faith.
Below I include some resources to aid in your study. They represent both sides, for fairness is essential, of the Bible and faith issue. I encourage those interested to find these books online or at your local library.
- Forged – Bart D. Ehrman
- Misquoting Jesus – Bart D. Ehrman
- Patience With God – Frank Schaeffer
- Who Wrote the Bible – Richard Elliott Friedman
- God Is Not Great – Christopher Hitchens
- The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
- The Dawkins Delusion – Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath
- The Reason for God – Timothy Keller