Five Setbacks

1) Claims of exclusivity that compete for superiority create unneeded division and strife.

2) Morality based from rigid ancient commands falls short from benefiting a larger group of people. This is often related to an inability to recognize the vast diversity of human experience.

3) Miracles are by definition the most unlikely scenarios to ever consider. Those who propound that miracles occur often scoff at competing religious sources that want their moment in the sun. This reveals a very real bias at play.

4) In the absence of objectivity religion often relies heavily on philosophical underpinnings that only exist within the imagination. For instance: The teaching that God is immaterial and without a detectable substance or nature. This is a monumental assumption that brings no value to considering whether the existence of God is factual.

5) Religion in itself is dependent upon humans alone that embody particular beliefs. It appears to have no other lines of confirmation that exist beyond a reasonable doubt.

Suffering vs God (Part 1)

Does religion adequately answer the problem of human suffering? Many of my Christian friends are convinced that an eternal God that suffers on a cross does in fact somehow provide an answer. What is this answer? Well, for some it seems to be an explicit recognition on behalf of God that He in fact cares immensely and has therefore identified with humanity in a most intimate way.

This is a portrait of a God that puts Himself into the trenches in order to gather any and all that would simply call on His name. This is where unconditional love is said to shine and pour forth for the world to both see and know. This one instance after all is God’s absolute best toward His beloved children. So how does this stack up to the actual human predicament?

The first factor that would seem to bring this into question is the alleged strategy of this all-knowing, all-powerful God. In comparative terms we are being asked to believe that an insurmountably wise divine being planned to spread salvation to a suffering world via oral and written tradition from a rather obscure part of the ancient world? It puts this religion very much on par with all other oral and written traditions that most certainly have a completely different set of assumptions. There is automatically an unnecessary amount of competition!

Not only is this the case, but it limits Christianity to being a primarily human driven message. An all-powerful God chooses to limit a dire message that could supposedly save the highest estimated amount of people imaginable? An all-knowing God chooses to make salvation conditional upon whether or not someone worships Him in this lifetime? These two questions alone present a high number of hurdles to meeting this God’s supposed ultimate goal.

In my next segment on this subject I plan to delve in even more as to how Christianity has failed both in the present and in the past at remaining relevant with the actual suffering that we observe. This is a human problem worthy of human answers.

Human Desire & Awareness

As I reflect on my continued departure from having a belief in God I’m trying to pinpoint some of the important factors that bring believers and skeptics to diverge where they do. So I’ve been contemplating the difference between human desire and human awareness? It’s always in my nature to want to take a stab at these things because I’ve realized just how much I can understand others through understanding myself.

My theory about human desire is that any sane mind wants to see justice done right. We all want to see love and forgiveness expressed in their purest forms. These things are near and dear to us because our ability to reflect upon the past and recognize our faults is without a doubt a strong one. The desire for an ultimate relevance in regards to these things has no doubt been the endeavor of every religion to help try and solve.

Considering the indifference of the natural world toward our painful struggle our desire to live out the ideal scenario only grows stronger. So what is this ideal scenario? Does it exist outside of ourselves? Outside of our struggle as a human race? I happen to think that our struggle to survive as a species has in fact enabled us to hone in on the highest expressions of morality that we can come to.

The endeavor of morality itself does not seem to rest on one set of assumptions about the world. It is in fact adaptive and malleable depending upon human context. It relates so very much to the various conditions that humans find themselves in. The reality of suffering, sickness, and death plagues us all and it seems to relate far more to environmental factors than some kind of human depravity or curse.

It is rather interesting after all that if we are to accept a universe that is finely tuned that apparently this existence is far less finely tuned than it once was. This is due to the alleged birth of original sin. Prior to this was a supposedly perfect world that experienced no death, sickness, and very little to perhaps no pain. Theologians and Apologists often assert that if the existing dynamics that run our universe in the present were somehow altered by just a fraction, well, we wouldn’t even exist!

Since those who advocate this view are obviously inconsistent with their terms I am going to remain more open minded about how conditions have in fact changed and fluctuated very much since the very first conceivable moment in time. Also, to our dismay death, sickness, and pain seem to play an intricate role in human and animal evolution. Overall, nature through this allegedly defective and less perfect process has actually created the most advanced set of life forms to date.

All of this is to conclude that a positive desire for some kind of resolution within our struggle as a species seems to bring many to place their trust in some form of religion. I must point out that this yearning and painful growth that is inherent to all really does nothing to illustrate the existence of any kind of actual supreme being. This is why we must now delve into this idea of awareness.

What are you truly aware of in this life my friends? I am extremely curious in this regard because as I evaluate the awareness that I thought I possessed in the past and compare it to those who claim to be aware of God in the present there seems to be a pattern. The pattern that I observe is one in which the supernatural world is vast yet immensely subtle. God is inconceivably powerful and present and yet His spirit is like the wind that blows where it wishes. The implication being that not all people seem to be in tune with this God’s divine revelation.

Many conservative and less charismatic religious types describe their communion with God as being significant during times of quiet prayer and reflection. It might be something as simple as a Bible verse that seems to directly speak to that person’s present emotional state. Sometimes it’s the wisdom and intervention of a like minded friend about how to work out interpersonal problems in one’s closest relationships. Do such instances really deserve the connotation as some kind of divine voice, wisdom, and intervention in one’s life?

Are not these things deeply woven into the fabric of what it means to be human, regardless of one’s religious affiliation? We thrive on patterns and certain ideas that resonate to the core of our being! Such things to me provide a reversal of evidence about what kind of knowledge people actually possess about the divine. The kind of knowledge that we possess is one that is passed on via religious tradition. This tradition is then married to our desire for relevance and resolution within the human struggle.

Our awareness (or lack thereof) of the divine on the other hand reveals an inherent agnosticism that everyone possesses. Such knowledge of God is not accessible to us because if it was there would be far more consensus in the world about what and who this being is. In the absence of accessible knowledge of the divine there is seemingly no end on how one could view and formulate their definition of the supernatural realm. We ought not to take such diversity of belief lightly.

People Of Faith (Positive Light)

1.) People of faith are not gullible. There are exceptions to this rule among religious and secular thinkers alike. My honest take is that there is often very little that divides the skepticism of honest truth seekers on either side of the God debate. This is both a criteria issue as well as a question of where we are most comfortable starting out with the question of origins.

2) People of faith are not unwilling to change their minds. Again there are always exceptions to every rule but I am honoring my intelligent friends and family in this regard. Many people of faith undergo a very rigorous and carefully thought out transition from the theology of their youth to what they hold to in the present.

3) People of faith are usually not without a strong community of like minded friends. It is this kind of community that quite often has done well to lead efforts of compassion and aid to those in need. The secular community would do well to further emulate the positives that are reaped within a well rooted support structure of dedicated and loving people.

The Role Of Religion?

So what do you find captivating my friends? What ideas or demonstrations of love and purpose really draw you in and resonate to the core of your being? I ask this because I desire to narrow in just as much as anyone else on what we can actually know and treasure deeply within our existence. It is this notion in itself that unifies me with my religious friends.

Also, I feel the need to emphasize this friendship. In the last eleven months or so I have been going hard against the things that I once passionately believed in. My hope is not to convey this desire to eradicate every notion of religion and spirituality from people’s minds. I in fact am happy that people passionately disagree with me. At the heart of my atheism is a desire to find the best methodologies that advocate pure thought and the least amount of error when arriving at conclusions about life’s deepest questions.

I want to be wrong so as to know how I can be right about anything. This brings me to the topic of this discussion. What is the role of religion in this pursuit? Also, does religion arrive at its conclusions by allowing critical analysis from the onset? My honest opinion in this regard is that most religions to my knowledge do not spring from an endeavor of critical thinking. They spring from a claim of revelation and authority. In other words, religions appear to be built on a “he said, she said” type of foundation. It then creates a link of inspiration and authority from the first prophet to the very last. Even that process in itself is quite varied and controversial among religious adherents.

The way in which religion has evolved itself to start batting in the field of critical thinking is via the process of thousands of years of trying to create a closed system of Theology that appears to be internally consistent within itself. What makes this process look very suspect to the outside world is the vast majority of disagreement among Christians, Muslims, and Jews as to which closed system is the right one? There are of course multiple theologies with multiple scenarios for salvation and damnation. Some require certain works and rituals, others require rituals and creedal assent, others are only concerned with the simple question of what you ultimately take on by faith or creed alone.

This is due in large part to one significant fact. The way in which religion is both formed and propagated throughout the world appears to be very similar for every culture. Certain charismatic figures rise up and teach a certain view of God and the world and then pass this on to those who desire to zealously carry the torch. Any inconsistencies within the Scriptures that relate to a lack of information or clear contradictions are then minimized and put into an agnostic category. The passages that seem more clear and suitable to one’s closed Theological system are then highlighted and taken to bring more weight to the overall discussion.

Quite frankly, this makes the idea of establishing any kind of orthodoxy and ideological consensus absurd. Orthodoxy essentially translates over to whatever one picks and chooses as their system of authority and interpretation. It conveys the human knowledge problem that says, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It also conveys a lack of relevant facts that could actually put these questions to rest about what truly is orthodox or not? What religion now appears to lack the most is a consistent and coherent explanation as to why these ideas of the divine have evolved to become so amazingly diverse and contradictory from one another?

The theory of human evolution however, seems to have pinpointed a very important observation in this regard. Religion is born, propagated, diversified, and goes extinct in conjunction to those cultures that first brought them forth. Religion is as human as it gets!

Mind, Body, & Expectation

There are three factors that seem to play a large role in shaping human experience and perception. I’m particularly interested in how this plays out religiously and in the area of potentially muddled interpretation. The human brain and the bodily experiences that it interprets is rather susceptible to incorrect interpretation of the facts when it deviates from objectivity and consensus from others. In other words, this mind/body dichotomy that we wrestle with as well as a common factor implanted into the mind known as expectation can be rather misleading.

The best examples that I can think of relate to my own subjective past experiences. One particular phenomenon that fueled my former religious zeal was what I will call spontaneous moments of intense goosebumps and euphoria during times of posturing myself in prayer and worship of the Christian deity. This became an especially intimate and meaningful phenomenon to me when I was between fifteen to twenty years old.

I associated these experiences with what I came to believe was an undeniable connection to my God. It was never accompanied by audible voices, visible signs or messages, or really anything that happened outside of my own experience. It became my sacred place, what some Christians probably call their hiding place. This becomes most relevant to people with a Charismatic background or openness.

My friends, I want you now to picture what intimacy does within your mind? Certain feelings can often surface just by focusing on this subject alone. It doesn’t have to even be toward a God. Many of these euphoric moments have been created among family and our closest friends. Now, let’s hold this image and now expand it to a larger gathering of like minded people. Going to a good church where one feels accepted and a part of the larger family is a pretty great place for heightened euphoric moments to occur.

Let’s now get someone going on the piano, and that fellow over there with the guitar! This is perfect. Can we adjust the lighting a little bit so this feels just right? Ah yes, and the song content. This is so very important. This is not the time to be lulled by various Old Testament laws and geographical contexts. Let’s narrow in on the very best moments between Jesus and his disciples, between God and His creation. Let’s emphasize His greatness because He must be behind the majesty of the sun, moon, and stars. Also, we have all made grievous  mistakes! This God is said to erase them and remove them from us as far as the east is from the west.

When one is part of an established community of people that believe this then is it any wonder that there will be times of tears, joy, euphoria, and yes, even goosebumps on occasion? When confirmation comes from so many other wonderful people that are banking on the same ideas as you, it’s probably going to feel quite electric at times. This is what happens and occurs within almost every religious community structure on the planet regardless of its truth claims.

This is why I want to warn people not to bank on subjectivity and confirmation bias. If you are comfortable not questioning what is at the very core of your religious experience then you are probably not as concerned about the truth as you would like to think. Being concerned about the truth and adapting a skeptical mindset toward ideas that do not bear out with any measure of consistency is not only a tough process, but it may in fact be a challenge to let go of comfort and embrace uncertainty. Embracing uncertainty is rather unsatisfying if you are desiring the green fields of a heaven over the ground you are standing on as we speak.

Four Reasons Why Hell Is Absurd

1.) Humans are limited and finite beings. Our actions are not everlasting in duration or scope. The notion of a literal eternal hell assigns unending consequences to limited creatures. It is absurd to do this mathematically. There is nothing even or balanced within this notion of justice. One aspect of unfairness is an image of things being disproportionate and far beyond reasonable standards.

2.) In this perspective, God, who is defined as ultimate love becomes the sole arbiter of an eternal furnace of agony that is never satisfied. In other words, the being that is said to be the ultimate solution to human suffering and sorrow becomes the one who eternally keeps this a reality. If you believe in an eternal hell then you are in fact a supporter of unending suffering and pain. Do you see the lack of any solution within this view?

3.) A conservative and consistent interpretation of biblical texts about the Lake of Fire portray a disturbing majority of human beings that are not found in the Book of Life. This indicates a God of incompetence and enormous wastefulness. It becomes rather clear when one adds in every biblical instance in which God poured out wrath and judgment upon allegedly wicked persons. Free-will, determination, or something in between clearly illustrates a God that wills suffering and evil both directly and indirectly. An objective view of this God’s actions make Him the main driving force of destruction in this universe.

4.) Even if you do not believe in a literal hell of eternal conscious torment you still have the problem of God being the main instigator and mover of human annihilation, suffering, and evil. Again this is both direct and indirect. If He put it into motion, then He created the circumstances. If He created the circumstances, then He willed the possibility. If He willed the possibility, then it became a reality under His will and rule. This concept of evil literally unfolds and is born from the one who ultimately creates and causes. Even an allegedly free-will universe is set into motion, determined, and held together by its first prime mover. There is no abnegation of responsibility on the part of God.

Conclusion: Such realizations as I have illustrated above lead to unbelief in the biblical notion of God and hell. This is due to an inherent ineffectiveness at connecting justice to the actual human predicament.

Justice And The Notion Of Hell?

As one voice out of many others in the world I want my readers to know that I believe in justice. It comes from this ancient notion of balancing the scales and meting out a proper punishment that fits the crime. Nothing more and nothing less. As a human race we have failed rather miserably at executing fairness and justice in many instances. What else would keep our history books so, dare I say, suspenseful and interesting?

There has been a war of ideas raging for centuries about where justice should find its ultimate culmination. I personally am part of a minority of skeptical thinkers that has been gradually gaining a voice in the West since the periods of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Mathematically speaking this would mean that I am extending my thoughts to an audience that reflects a religious majority. Yet in my particular generation there seems to be a rise of teens and young adults that grew up in religious homes and for whatever reason find themselves on a path that isn’t so ready to jump back into the whole church thing. This doesn’t make you guys Atheists, it just means that you find yourselves in a big world so why not be curious and test the waters so to speak?

So I’m not here to be a fundamentalist Atheist that has only one singular mission of eradicating religion and spirituality from people’s minds. We all have a uniquely human right to think and believe whatever the hell we want to. I happen to love living in a world that challenges me with such a diverse set of ideas and beliefs. This is a very big proverbial sandbox to find ourselves in. Hey, look at this dude over here that practices Buddhist meditation, I wonder what kind of benefits I can glean through practicing meditation rather than rotting in front of a computer screen all day? There is an absolute wealth of information and knowledge that stems from ancient Eastern practices that have been around way before Moses is alleged to have come into the picture.

All of that being said I mainly want to narrow in on this idea of justice and fairness and how it should be contrasted with the idea of an eternal hell? I come from a previous religious background that teaches its adherents to believe in and propagate the notion that human beings must be warned about a very real and literal hell. A place of eternal conscious punishment and torment for the wicked. Now, as I’ve personally surveyed peoples responses to this idea of a literal hell there seem to be a few different common responses in the area where I grew up.

One such response is that it is simply ridiculous. You believe that God is love and that it was ultimately people that made up hell. You may have grown up in a church that mentions hell on occasion but you never felt compelled to embrace that part of religion. No one makes a big fuss about it, so why should you?

Another response from some of our folks that have had kind of a rough life is that hell does seem to make some sense. Someone like Hitler for example should probably be bubbling in the extra crispy forever fryer right about now! There have definitely been some humorous depictions in movies about how to deal with former Dictators. On the flip side you really couldn’t picture your stumbling drunk friend who only becomes more loving with every shot of Jack Daniel’s as being anywhere close to the eternal furnace. Fair enough, we’re all trying to figure this justice thing out together.

Then we have the fold that I just came from. Don’t forget to crack open your trusty Bible and follow along with the Pastor. Today we are doing a full doctrinal study on hell. This is going to be great! Fill up your coffee cups gentlemen, we are in for a wild ride through conservative Evangelical dogma 101. Also known as, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Does that settle it ladies and gentlemen? Well, it certainly didn’t settle it for this former aspiring Pastor. The more I drilled down on biblical ideas, the more questions I was compelled to raise. Almost any popular Bible story that comes to mind is far more gruesome than we learned in Sunday school. Sunday school gave us the kid friendly, readers digest version of what this ancient set of books actually conveys and teaches. I mention this not because we should be concerned about desensitizing brutality and bloodshed from age appropriate learners, but we should rather be concerned about the main instigator of biblical violence. Anyone want to take a guess about who the main perpetrator turns out to be? It’s a three letter word that starts with a capital ‘G’ and ends with a ‘d’.

I’ll provide one quick example. Just follow the historical map of ancient Israel’s battles and conquests. A death toll that adds up to millions and it was said to be perfectly acceptable according to their Jewish God to eradicate pagan religion by force. A jealous and holy God can see no other appropriate action to take than to use one group of people to slaughter men, women, and yes even their children in order to maintain dominance and eventually make way for a Messiah. It was then that a message of peace could be given to the nations. It’s all in our Old Testaments once we dust them off and give them a good glance!

In a biblical worldview it is only appropriate to turn the dial of human depravity up so high that all you can see after self evaluation from this set of principles is a blackened, broken, and rabid human nature both within yourself and others. It makes this whole idea of Yahweh using Israel as a tool for conquest more fitting and beneficial. It is a mentality that makes otherwise good and charitable people assent to divinely instituted torture, murder, and sometimes even rape.

This all gets bundled up into a neat little package known as divine command theory. At the heart of biblical teaching is submission of one’s mind and will to every command that is said to have sprung from the mouth of Jesus, God, and His inspired prophets. One must accept that in the case of the Bible’s God there is ample reason for this being to exploit and destroy humanity for succumbing to temptations and desires that He so carefully fine tuned to occur within His creatures.

Whether one ascribes to free will or determination this is a world in which the Bible fails to maintain relevance in comparison to the facts. The facts indicate that human beings are not innately aware of only one perspective of God or divine origins. Even when groups of believers remain faithful to their form of orthodoxy the human mind remains astonishingly fluid in its ability to create different nuances and shades of belief within the same criteria set. This is far more related to our evolution as a species in my opinion. We are very much the products of our own environments.

With all of this in mind we come to the notion of an eternal hell filled with unending torture and punishment. One has to wonder at a depiction of justice that punishes human beings eternally for finite actions? One has to ponder how love and compassion could ever be attributed to one who acts as the sole arbiter of an eternal furnace?

This is no solution to the problem of evil and in fact inflates human suffering to a proportion that we cannot even comprehend with meaningful justification. Those who hold to this perspective have crucified logic upon a false cross that shadows a false savior. It’s just an all around bad way think.

Perhaps the most important way to illustrate this type of absurdity is to ask those who are age appropriate and mature to simply imagine yourselves or someone you love in this predicament. A vast majority of Christianity does after all espouse a literal and eternal hell. Now consider the tension that exists among many denominations over what is considered holy or profane, good and evil, a pathway to grace or the way of death? Consider the fact that we are all worthy of someone’s notion of hell.

Do you have the picture just yet? At best the Bible indicates an extremely thin margin of people that shall enter into the gates of eternal life. This is due primarily to a verbal and mental assent to one set of ideas about a God whose track record in the area of justice, if taken literally, is rather dim. This being is said to have created paradise all the while standing by as a force of evil that He created deceived and spread death and violence to all people because sin must act as a poisonous virus for all who will ever be born. He is alleged to have drowned millions in a worldwide flood, thwarted human unity and progress by confusing language and communication, and chose one nation of people to exterminate surrounding pagan religion so as to eventually make way for peace?

Establishing cooperation and harmony is somehow overrated and perhaps a little boring for Yahweh. This is a God that had a raging lust for a particular piece of real estate in the ancient near east, this is at least what the story implies. This notion of acting as a missionary that gradually learns the culture and lives among a foreign people didn’t come until way later. In fact, this method of establishing peace and love is an afterthought even to Jesus.

Jesus explicitly stated in the New Testament that his concerns were primarily for Israel. He referred to Gentile women and men as being “dogs” in Matthew 15:21-28. Many apologists would like to lighten up this language to not imply discrimination on the part of Jesus toward a certain foreign woman, but this simply doesn’t fit the context of him first watching her beg and plead for her son to be healed while he initially refused to even talk to her and give her the time of day. In other words, he kind of toyed with her emotions, demeaned her personally, and then very reluctantly followed through with a miracle.

Many zealous believers will undoubtedly come to the defense of this particular Bible’s form of justice. Perhaps the question of the day is, “When will the pervasiveness of human irrationality become crystal clear within this ancient set of texts?” I ask this because the belief in an eternal hell would appear to be a prime example of sadism in its purest form. This is lightyears apart from an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

This is the assignment of eternal torture, pain, and agony to a human life that extends anywhere between zero to a little over a hundred years. Each separate instance of sin, yes, even a lustful thought is said to be worthy of a punishment that experiences no sense of relief forever and ever, amen! A good natured individual would search for equality and balance when meting out punishments. However, a psychopath on the other hand has no sense of this at all. This kind of mindset is so warped that it in fact exploits those who do feel pain and sadness.

It feeds off of others who experience these feelings day in and day out. Pleasure receptors continually are triggered within the brain just by silent observation of another suffering individual. What excuse does a God that is said not to possess a defective mindset have at all in relation to eternal punishment? It appears to be pretty sick no matter how we slice it.