Tag Archives: christianity

Perpetual Paranoia

If one chooses to follow a god that harnesses the power to either reward him with a seat in Paradise or punish him for eternity in Hell, wouldn’t he be inclined to suffer from incessant spells of nervous paranoia? In the book of Matthew, Jesus claims that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Now there’s a threat if I’ve ever heard one. 

If one accepts this notion, it seems to me that he would be forced to subject himself to a level of anxiety that no one is truly fit to handle. Jesus is essentially saying here that if you intend to be materially successful, don’t plan on enjoying your time after death. Now, he also makes it clear that following the untouchable Ten Commandments is a requirement for the realm of eternal bliss. This is an even more frightening mandate; being poor on purpose wouldn’t be all that hard, despite the discomfort one would be bound to feel. But obeying the commandments under the scrutiny of a dictator who is always – always – judging you, is something that, if taken seriously, should make every Christian rattle with fear and anxiety

People, in their inclination to think wishfully, tend to ignore the fact that they are submitting themselves to an unseeable, dictatorial figure who proclaims his way to be unchangeable, unalterable, and perfect, and who threatens eternal damnation upon anyone who merely chooses not to believe in his power. It is a very scary and manifestly dangerous prospect to claim that one entity’s perspective is untouchable, that his word is an irrefutable law that not even the most intelligent among us are worth challenging. It is particularly scary and dangerous to conceive that this notion was in fact determined by humans themselves, ancient and uneducated and fanciful ones at that. My wording here may seem hyperbolical, but I would be surprised if someone could deem my statements inaccurate.

It is the willful action to soften these alarming facts with rhetoric of love and hope and joy that keeps otherwise rational people involved in religion; behavior that modern religious moderates have perfected. Yet from what post can they criticize the fundamentalists, the extremists, the terrorists? All of whom are mere examples of people who actually take their gods seriously. Through common sense and secularism, moderates have watered down their scriptures to embolden the good parts and dismiss the bad, twisting their way around atrocities and injustices and evil with the often cheap argument that the message was simply contorted in its interpretation. One can truly be dumbfounded by the way devoted moderate Christians attempt to interpret certain passages in scripture in a radically distorted way in order to make it acceptable by today’s secular standards. And all this effort just to justify the moral uprightness of a book written two millenniums ago. 

It should be vividly clear, and fortunately so, that these so called “holy” books are not inspired by an omnipotent entity who holds the power to banish us to Hell for all of eternity, but instead are manmade myths that have survived the admirable leaps of science and knowledge by riding the coattails of human desperation and frailty. Millions of religious moderates cling to their god for hope and comfort, yet ignore his true essence if he is who he claims to be, and similarly ignore the terrifying consequences of this rather unlikely possibility, either because they choose not to think that deeply into the issue, or because they have convinced themselves through arduous internal debate that it makes sense. Personally, I am extremely relieved to be rather confident in his nonexistence. To have someone watching me, judging me, critiquing me, shaming me, absolutely nonstop, and to truly believe that he has the power to cast me into a realm of eternal suffering if he so chooses, is one of the most horrifying concepts I can imagine, and is an obvious mechanism for people to assert their own will upon others. Inherently, I don’t think one can make a legitimate claim that this sort of figure is one of pure, unadulterated love; the power he so casually uses to threaten his subjects does not demonstrate love, but rather an insatiable appetite for power and control. He can throw you into the fiery depths if he so chooses, he has his hand in the most minute and trivial aspects of your life, he has the capability and will to watch you like a sleepless stalker, he demands not only that you believe in him, but that you love him and make him the unrivaled center of your universe and the first priority in each and every endeavor you take on, he created you in his image but you are inherently flawed, so all the burden is on you to fix yourself. But he loves you. This I know, for the Bible tells me so. 

If you can handle the pressure of carrying the full weight of this burden with you, every second of every day, without succumbing to a state of utter anxiety and fearfulness paranoia, then by all means, be my guest. But there are some of us who have chosen to liberate ourselves from the enslavement of this manmade divine dictator. And even with Pascal’s petty wager in mind, I assure you, it is worth the risk. 



The Illusion of Conscious Will

The Illusion of Conscious Will

In The Illusion of Conscious Will, Daniel Wegner attempts to explain the relationship between thoughts and actions. He says that it is sheer human nature to feel in control of one’s personal behavior. Human beings tend to think of themselves as the conscious agents of their actions, and given certain experiments done on subjects, it can be suggested that people feel more capable and comfortable performing a task when they possess a sense of self-mastery, or personal liberty in choosing one thing or another. However, Wegner argues that if scientists were to compile all of the environmental influences in a person’s life, they would be able to accurately predict the person’s actions before he does them. Fairly recently, there have been actual experiments in which neuroscientists found that they are even capable of tracking a person’s thought seconds before it reaches his consciousness, through various brain-monitoring devices. Such evidence would seem to indicate that free will is in fact some sort of illusion of the brain.

In his book, Wegner emphasizes that although a person feels like he is consciously acting, the feeling of conscious action itself is produced in the brain by stimuli that the person has virtually no control over. This supports his notion that people are quite literally products of their environment. If the sheer feeling that one is in control of one’s behavior is chemically produced in the brain, then how can we realistically claim responsibility for our own actions? In other words, free will is merely one of many different conscious experiences that one undergoes. The notion that it, in itself, is in experience, however, indicates that something external is manipulating it – something other than ourselves. He provides a helpful example of conscious will being manipulated through hypnosis. In the act of hypnosis, the actions are, in a sense, controlling the subject, rather than the subject controlling the actions. This, he claims, is evidence that one’s actions, even when he believes them to be authentic, are inherently involuntary on an intricate physiological level. 

This issue is deeply Humanistic, as it relates strongly to Humanism’s stance of rationality and humbleness in the face of humanity’s limitations. Therefore, Humanism is very well fit to accept the concept of free will as an illusion; morality is equally important regardless of whether or not people hold the capacity to make choices, because it pertains to the overall well being of humanity and not the condition of one’s individual soul. Its rival philosophies, mainly being various religions, have a much more difficult time making their ideologies compatible with this discovery. Most sects of Christianity, with the exception of Calvanism, highlight the significance of free will; it explains the presence of evil in the world and it is the means by which God can hold people accountable. Given that the scientific evidence on conscious will appears to contradict most theologies, Humanism’s rivals don’t seem to be able to stand against it on a logical level. 

Jesus: An Unimpressive Savior

According to Christians, Jesus is the son of God. Usually, Atheists spend time challenging the evidence for Jesus’ existence, the validity of his supernatural claims, and the originality of his teachings. All of these arguments are important in order to hold Christians accountable for their assertions. But let’s remember that Jesus did not claim merely to be a teacher of great morality – he, according to the Gospels, declared himself to be the actual human manifestation of God. This is a big time statement. But rarely do we hold him accountable for such incredible claims of divinity. Yes, he is said to have performed stunning miracles that transcended the material world, but how is any rational, thinking person supposed to accept this as true? Especially when one considers that several of the supernatural aspects of the Jesus story were borrowed from previous myths, and several other mythical characters, dating to before the period in which Jesus supposedly lived, shared his fantastical traits. No reasonable person, in my view, could count these petty acts of divine intervention as evidence for Jesus’s divinity.

Furthermore, if God was to actually take on the form of a human being, wouldn’t he have more to offer than Jesus did? And wouldn’t he make sure to adequately separate himself from other mythical characters of the time, you know, just to increase his credibility as the one, true source of eternal life? Wouldn’t he attempt to take a stand against some of the social issues of his day, like slavery, sexism, and homophobia? One would think that, at the very least, he would attempt to remedy these glaring injustices and deficiencies. Yet he suspiciously excludes these things in his apparently pious and wise sermons, and in doing so, has allowed his followers to be among the most avid advocates for social inequality in the following centuries. Though some of his lessons do entail some insightful pieces of wisdom, none of them are particularly groundbreaking. A great deal of wise teachers came before Jesus, teaching similar – and oftentimes far more enlightening – moral practices; Confucius, Epicurus, and Plato, to name just a few. Possibly even more alarming is that Jesus was seemingly too busy to promote the sciences or increase literacy or encourage independent thought. Are these not reasonable expectations for the son of the creator of the universe? Disappointingly, our savior and messiah offered no such insight. Instead of emphasizing the development of one’s mind and one’s ability to think rationally, Jesus was busy praying next to fig trees, ordering others to believe in him, and flaunting his magical powers by walking on water and then transforming this vital chemical compound into an alcoholic beverage. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though the man who is alleged to be God himself would use his time a little bit more wisely than that. Seriously, in a world already riddled with superstition, wouldn’t God try to avoid doing things that would encourage credulity? If God was to literally become human, I would hope that he would prioritize the teaching of science, literature, and math above gloating in his unimpressive abilities to break the laws of Nature and denouncing others for the courage to be skeptical. In many ways, it is what Jesus did not say, rather than what he did say, that casts doubt upon his alleged authority.

As mentioned, several other fine moral teachers came well before Jesus. Teachers that, I might add, did not fail to equal him in wisdom. One of my favorites was the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Demonstrating the courage to challenge the status quo with his own independent ideas of truth and morality, Epicurus denied the viability of the existence of any god, assuming what we would now call a Deist position. Ahead of his time, Epicurus believed that the most fulfilling way to live life was to value the natural pleasures that appealed to the human senses, rather than relying on false constructions of universes that bore no evidence to their name. In a letter to Menoeceus, he wrote, “We must take into account as the end all that really exists and all clear evidence of sense to which we refer our opinions; for otherwise everything will be full of uncertainty and confusion.” The uncertainty and confusion – in the forms of senseless violence and proud carelessness – that Christianity has produced, is abominable, especially given the fact that living a good, moral life without religion has repeatedly been proven to be possible. Epicurus, for example, – though not believing in any intervening god – vouched wholeheartedly for justice and goodness, merely because it was conducive to the flourishing of human life. 

The evidence is clear: morality existed far before Jesus, and in equally – or more – impressive ways, as well. These philosophers and moral teachers did not claim to be God, nor did they assert that the only way to Heaven was through them. So what would cause one to actually believe that Jesus was who he said he was? In order to believe this, I don’t think it is too much to ask to expect some revolutionary or groundbreaking information or wisdom from the person claiming to be the son of God. Yet none is given. In fact, Jesus’s omissions may speak even louder than his preachings, as one would expect God, at the very least, to provide some sort of intelligent insight into how the universe works, you know, because after all, he did create it. Right? I leave that to you.

Sheer Plausibility

Sometimes, when we argue about or discuss religion, we get so caught up in intricate details  that we fail to recognize the simplicity of the core issue. It involves questions that a 5-year old would be inclined to ask, and yet we bypass it, digging for deeper levels of logic that will support our argument or belief. It is the question of plausibility, the honest evaluation of one’s beliefs under the umbrella of common sense. It is my perception that religious people usually fail to take this approach, as their search for truth is often flavored with a strong sense of emotional influence, directing them towards the answers they desire. Here, I will make a case for the significance and appropriateness of evaluating the sheer plausibility of one’s beliefs – independent of the emotional bias that fuels the engine of faith.

Being the religion I am most familiar with, and the one that is by far the most prevalent in America, I will use Christianity as the guinea-pig of my argument. First, let’s once again establish the criteria for being a Christian: first and foremost, one must believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. This is the founding precept of the religion. Furthermore, one must believe that Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God, and representative of one-third of the holy trinity – the other two being the Father and the Holy Spirit. Although some liberal Christian thinkers now claim a separation between the miraculous aspect of Jesus’ life and the religion itself, I find it rather cheap to claim to be a Christian without attesting to the miracles that Jesus performed and was a part of. The claim that he was not involved in these miracles that transcended the laws of nature infers that he was not divine, which is the founding principle of the entire religion. Consequently, I find a belief in the miracle stories mandatory if one desires to call oneself a Christian.

Now that we have that settled, we can begin to make an honest evaluation of the plausibility that Christianity is true. Let’s start with one of the central claims that attempts to prove Jesus’ divinity. The incredibility of his life begins straight from the womb; Jesus is purported to have been born of a virgin. Since this claim is often brushed off without much critical thought, let’s take a moment to ponder it. His mother did not have sex. She did not go through the natural processes of bearing a baby that is required by nature. No, instead, God decided to secure the purity of his son’s mother and impregnate her through, well, we don’t know how. But since God did it, we don’t need to know. It goes without saying that this claim would be deemed absolutely absurd if not tied to the most popular religion in the world. And yet it is so widely accepted to believe this claim because, for some reason, God decided to make it happen this way. God: the lazy excuse we make for that which we cannot understand.

To truly grasp the magnitude of this absurdity, we must view it from the lens of modern-day intellectual reason. If God had happened to intervene in such a way in our current society, would it be accepted? Would people give the notion that a baby was born of a virgin a second thought if such news was circulated today? Of course not. This kind of information would be discarded immediately. Why? Because it is simply implausible, given our understanding of science. I think most of us would agree that this sort of thing simply would – could – not happen, let alone be accepted, in modern society. And the fact that these claims were made 2000 years ago does not in any way make them any more plausible than they are now.

So if such an event is clearly so implausible, what makes it so believable to millions, even billions, of people? Well, astonishing claims are given more credibility the further removed we are from the culture of the time period; the more time that has passed, the easier it is for us to believe. However, the interval of time being discussed should, if anything, only help us to dismiss these wild assertions. Think about it. The people who recorded these stories knew nothing compared to what we know now about the world today. Virtually nothing. The level to which they could be persuaded to believe, and more frighteningly, to do something, was preposterously high. And this is not surprising given their utter lack of understanding of what was around them. Since they did not possess the scientific explanations that we have the privilege of utilizing today, they were inclined to believe things that are unfathomably absurd. And they did – it is a salient characteristic of medieval times. So what makes being born of a virgin so different than any other fantastical claim that we so effortlessly disregard? Well, it is a religious claim, and as I will explain later, religion is given an unwarranted freedom to make historical and scientific claims that need no actual evidence to be accepted.

Despite the strikingly reasonable notion that such events were made up by a highly imaginative and irrational people, we continue to believe them. And the proposition that such stories were made up is so strong, in fact, that I am willing to deem it a historical fact. Here’s why: people in that time period were constantly connecting natural events to works of the divine. It was completely common for someone to claim such a miraculous occurrence and for it to be believed, because, to them, it was completely plausible; they did not know why or how the natural world worked the way it did, so their imaginative explanations for events are not shocking given the information available to them.

This brings me to my main point. We must interpret history from the perspective of someone living in the given time period being studied – that is the only way we can honestly analyze any event of the past. Consequently, when people in medieval history attest to having spectacular visions, divine dreams, etc., we try to correlate it to something that realistically could have been occurring, given their prior biases, view of the world, and lack of knowledge. For example, a vision of Zeus lighting up the sky with godly fury could, to us reasonable people, be interpreted as lightning, given our understanding of how people in that day in age thought. This is accepted protocol for analyzing and interpreting history. So the claims that Jesus was born of a virgin and that he turned water to wine should be interpreted as the fantastical claims that they are – just as we would judge a Pagan claiming to have seen visions of Zeus – not as some sort of miraculous truth.

However, such claims are impossible to reject because religion is given a free pass historically and scientifically. The miracle stories are justified as true by believers merely on the grounds that God willed it, and these beliefs are accepted in wider society on the grounds that they are religious. If we were to evaluate the miraculous Jesus stories without any religious attachments or bias, however, we could easily find reasonable explanations for why they were written and make a more free-minded judgment on if such events even occurred – in one way or another – at all. But as it is, Christians are given unmerited freedom in choosing what is true and what is myth, and in accepting this freedom, they render themselves completely dishonest from a historical and scientific perspective. But again, religion is excused from the standards of reason that every other element of society is subjected to, and this is an outstanding intellectual travesty that I believe needs to be challenged.

I hope I have made it clear that history is interpreted in different ways for different time periods, given the conditions and availability of information that people were subjected to. For this reason, it is completely appropriate for us to label the miracle stories of Jesus as either pure works of imagination or, more generously, as an honest interpretation of events for which the witnesses (if there were any, which is unclear) did not have the tools to understand. The fact that we accept these ancient myths as intrinsic truths is far more shocking than we like to think, and the only unsurprising element of it derives from the fact that so many people buy into it. However, if we have any fiber of mental independence, we must dismiss these outdated beliefs and we must come to the realization that they simply cannot stand in a world of honesty and reason; our modes of evaluating history do not allow it.

It is also important to note that, despite some people’s desire to separate religion and science, religion makes inherent, inescapable claims about the laws of science and the capacity for them to be broken, i.e. the virgin birth. Claims such as these are not just religious – they are deeply scientific, asserting a capacity for natural laws to be transcended by a higher power. For this reason, we must hold religion to the same standards as everything else, demanding proof, and above all, sheer plausibility.

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