Tag: Christianity

Eight Reasons Free Will Is Total Bullshit

 

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If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: God is not responsible for the evil and suffering in the world; that is caused by humans’ misuse of their god-given free will!  Sentiments such as “Don’t blame god, blame your own bad choices!” and “God isn’t responsible for the bad things others do to you!” abound in Christian literature and online enclaves, and they seems to make so much sense to the people who claim it – but what makes sense to the theist mind is often nonsensical in any other context, and this is no exception.  Under even mild scrutiny, free will is shown to be nothing more than an apologetic sleight of hand, glorifying an ostensibly loving and powerful god while simultaneously placing dramatic limits on his benevolence and ability.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is total bullshit.

1. Free will is not a universally held belief among Christians. As is the case with virtually every other claim made by Christians (and, to be fair, followers of every other religion), free will is not only not accepted across all denominations and adherents of Christianity, it is rejected outright by many as false teaching. Some Christians believe that humans are slaves to sin and are not free to choose not to sin, and that since god is the author of evil, it must simply be accepted. As explained by the kind folks at christianfallacies.com, “evil is a part of God’s eternal plan as so many scriptures illustrate . . . Free will is not needed as an answer to deliver God from the charge of evil because evil is not a problem for God, but for man, and man is in no position to question God about its existence.”  The non-believer is then left to ask, as with all other contradictory statements about the intentions and nature of god, what makes one of these claims true and the other one false – a question that I have yet to see any theist answer.

2. Free will and predestination are mutually exclusive. The internet is laden with dime-store theology that declares loudly and unambiguously that whatever is happening at any given moment is exactly what god intends. Try as one might, it’s nigh impossible to find pithy memes and articles that say, “God had a plan for you to be happy, but Monsignor totally blindsided god by using his free will to sodomize you when you were a child, and that threw a wrench into the whole thing. Sucks being you!”  On the contrary, we are told that god would not have allowed Monsignor to rape you unless he had a purpose for it.  Furthermore, given that “god is directing each one of your steps,” and since that claim does not come with an asterisk clarifying that ‘your’ refers to ‘non-pedophiles only,’ then he had to be directing Monsignor’s steps too.  There’s no room in any of this for anyone’s free will.

3. Semantic hoops of fire to make a divine plan compatible with free will are disingenuous. To hear some tell it, god’s plan is really just an idea, a hope, like the plans people have for the weekend, which can be fouled by the free will of other humans who are either ignorant of or averse to our own desires. In this version of “god’s plan,” god has no way to either communicate the plan to humans or to make it happen – it’s all just sitting there in his head while he crosses his holy fingers that our guesswork will cause us to stumble more or less blindly into doing what he wants us to do. This, of course, is entirely intellectually dishonest, because we all know that when theists speak of God’s Plan™ they are ascribing a much greater degree of control and intentionality than this weak excuse allows.  One must also wonder what kind of mean-spirited fool this god would have to be to make a plan that he knows in advance isn’t going to pan out, or to not at least tell humanity what the plan is so that we have a better chance of using our free will in a way that comports with that plan.  This is not the behavior one would expect of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god – indeed, it is not even the behavior one would expect of a marginally competent middle manager.

4. Free will is never used as an explanation for positive outcomes. We only ever hear about the importance of free will in discussions of why god allows evil or suffering. You can read elaborate explanations here or here or here or here or in many other places that god just had to give us free will because golly, he didn’t want to make an army of robots!  He wanted humans to choose to love (read: enslaves themselves to) him!  Let’s set aside for the moment that an omnipotent god wouldn’t have to do anything (and an omniscient one surely could have come up with a way to make non-automatons who were nice to each other).  If humans are free to choose, doesn’t that mean that sometimes they choose to do good things?  Why do we exonerate god in this child’s suffering by blaming her parents’ use of their free will to abuse her, but credit god for blessing that child who is thriving, rather than ascribe his success to his parents’ use of their free will to lavish him with love and opportunity?  To hold any water at all, free will has to account for both the good and the bad choices that people make.

5. The concept of free will leads to acceptance of suffering as inevitable. “Humans are sinful, flawed, fallible. Of course some of them will use their free will in sinful, flawed, fallible ways. I know, it’s truly awful when children get raped, beaten, neglected, tortured, or murdered.  But oh well, what are you going to do?  That’s just the cost of god making us free beings.”  Which leads us to . . .

6. A god that allows misuse of free will to cause human suffering has the wrong priorities. Most crimes have not just a perpetrator, but a victim – perhaps many victims. Do the victims not have free will?  Surely they did not choose the circumstances that led to their suffering.  Surely they did not choose to suffer.  When the parish priest is sodomizing the altar boy, why does the priest’s free will choice to rape matter to god, but the child’s desire not to be raped does not?  A god who always favors the evil over the innocent can be nothing but evil.

7. Free will does not cause natural disasters. Even if free will was an acceptable explanation for human-caused suffering (which it isn’t), it doesn’t work for the suffering caused by wildfires, tsunamis, floods, landslides, earthquakes, drought, famine, or disease outbreaks. In fact, a great many evangelicals will confidently declare that god does, in fact, send natural disasters as punishment for human sinfulness, such as some claimed with regard to Hurricane Katrina.  Ironically, they do not seem to recognize that killing, maiming, and impoverishing tens of thousands of innocent people (not to mention the devastating cost to non-human animals and the overall ecosystem) as a means of punishing a handful of guilty people is as far away from just and loving as their god could get.  More to the point, it admits outright that a significant percentage of suffering has nothing whatsoever to do with free will, but is caused directly and on purpose by god.

8. Science indicates that the notion of free will in the biblical sense – individual agency to make choices entirely free of unconscious influences – does not exist. Advances in neuroscience have severely eroded the notion that humans can freely choose their behaviors. Our genes, brain chemistry, parents, geography, and life experiences shape everything from our sense of right and wrong to our intelligence to our emotions and everything in between.  This is not to say that we are automatons who cannot behave morally and ethically, but it does allow us to see human behavior in a different, perhaps more dispassionate light and over time may lead us to more effective strategies for dealing with things like mental illness, violent crime, and other complex and nuanced problems.  Once again, the space of ignorance so long occupied by god has been replaced by scientific knowledge, achieved through observation, empiricism, and evidence.

It’s remarkable to consider the armies of people throughout history who have devoted years, perhaps their entire lives, to figuring out how to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with the notion of a loving, perfect, and just god.  The intellectual capacity wasted on such a fruitless and absurd endeavor is as mind-boggling as it is tragic – one can only hope that humanity will one day realize that those things are in fact irreconcilable, and rather than devote their lives to understanding why god allows suffering, put that energy into alleviating it.

Your Theology Isn’t Sophisticated So Just Stop It

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Image: Royalty-Free/Corbis

According to my own experience and an informal survey of every single other atheist that I know, the number one most frequent response to criticism of religion (especially Christianity) by believers is, “You just don’t know what you’re talking about.”  To wit:

  • “You cannot legitimately attack The Bible without a solid understanding of it. What I mean is that when you make claims ABOUT The Bible that are contrary to what it actually says it aptly demonstrates your own ignorance and illiteracy of it.”
  • “The problem with you atheists is that you don’t understand the will of The Most High.”
  • “My objection is not with what you do or do not believe, but rather that your post . . . appears to be written by a sophomoric liberal arts student with a chip on their shoulder.”
  • “This . . . illuminates the problem with majority of the article: a lack of understanding of what classical theists actually believe.”

And so on.  There’s no chance that maybe your religion is writing checks it can’t cash – if it stings or makes religion look bad, the only possible explanation is ignorance and a view of theology that is not sufficiently sophisticated.

This is complete and utter bullshit.

For one thing, this accusation is leveled even when the critique comes from a former pastor or priest, a lifelong believer who recently came to atheism, a seminary graduate, or someone with an advanced degree in comparative religion. Disagreement with any given theist’s understanding of scripture is tantamount to ignorance of scripture, no matter how much better the opponent actually knows it.  It is interesting to note that many theists take this tack not just with atheists, but with their fellow religionists as well, such as those “liberal” Christians who decry the behavior of the Westboro Baptist Church or Muslims who disavow child marriage.  Rarely if ever do we see an admission that those less palatable interpretations are legitimate, if unfortunate. Oh no, we are told – they’re just wrong.

For another thing, the vast majority of believers possess nothing resembling a “sophisticated” theology.  Let’s take Christianity in the United States as an example.

  • Three in four Americans believe that the bible is either the literal or inspired word of god. For Christians these numbers rise to a staggering 9 out of 10, with more than half (58%) believing that the bible is the literal word of god.
  • More than 40% of Americans believe that god created humans in their present form in the last 10,000 years. Another 31% believe that humans evolved but that their evolution was directed by god.  (Not surprisingly, these percentages correlate strongly with education.)
  • Among white evangelicals in the US, nearly 6 in 10 believe that natural disasters are a sign from god; more than half (53%) believe that god punishes whole nations for their citizens’ sins; and two-thirds believe natural disasters are signs we are living in the end times.
  • Nearly 3 in 10 Americans think god determines the outcomes of sporting events; among evangelicals this number rises to 4 in 10 who believe that god determines the winner outright, while about two-thirds say god influences the outcome by rewarding players of faith.
  • More than half of Americans say god is in control of everything that happens in the world.
  • The internet is replete with laments from Christian leaders (such as this article, or this one, or this one) that American Christians are increasingly biblically illiterate.

I don’t know about you, but belief in a god who sends earthquakes to punish people for having butt sex, chooses the winner of this weekend’s NASCAR race, and personally dictated the bible that you’ve never bothered to read does not strike me as especially sophisticated.

Here’s the real issue, though.  Ultimately, the claims of religion – the very story it’s selling – are wholly, unambiguously, ludicrously unsophisticated.  Christianity teaches that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent supernatural being created the entire universe for the express purpose of being worshipped by humans; but he wanted their worship to be voluntary, so he gave them the gift of free will; but he subsequently and for generations punished them severely for not using their free will the way he wanted them to (but already knew they would); so in order to forgive humans for using their free will freely he created himself in human form, executed himself in a bloody spectacle, then came back from the dead and ascended bodily into the sky where he now presides over all human affairs and passes judgment; and that those whom he deems worthy will spend eternity in heaven with him upon their deaths, and those he deems unworthy are condemned to hell to be tortured for all eternity.  The rest of the details are window dressing – regardless of whether you take communion, speak in tongues, handle snakes, work on the sabbatth, forbid dancing, or allow women to be clergy, if you are a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word you believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and in the crucifixion as atonement for sin.  In other words, you believe nonsense.

The amateur apologists who wag their fingers at us unsophisticated atheists have to compensate for the fact that the proposition of religion is absurd on its face.  The resulting theology, alas, all boils down to a single argument: We don’t have to understand because god.  Of course this does not prevent them from claiming to understand a great many things – indeed, claiming to know them – as they are forever making unequivocal proclamations about god’s desires, intentions, and emotional state.  But when push comes to shove, the argument invariably comes down to nothing more than good, old fashioned rationalization:

  • “That doesn’t apply because it’s the Old Testament.”
  • “God cannot be judged by human standards.”
  • “That has to be read in the context of history.”
  • “That’s meant to be metaphorical.”
  • “That’s caused by humans.”
  • “You are thinking in terms of the material world instead of in terms of eternity.”
  • “You must feel the holy spirit to truly understand.”

William Lane Craig himself trumpets the need for apologetics in a post-enlightenment world where “emotion will only get you so far,” declaring his dark arts necessary to counter the corrosive impacts of science and secularism on religious belief.  Said another way, the truth claims of religion are so manifestly preposterous in light of what humanity now knows about the universe that linguistic sleight of hand is required to ensnare the innocent and hold onto the indoctrinated.

No doubt this column will be met with a chorus of smug accusations of, “She doesn’t get it!  See how unsophisticated she is?!”  And those folks will simply be proving my point: If people won’t buy what you’re selling unless it’s wrapped in layers of double-talk and obfuscation, you’re selling a lemon.  That’s intellectual dishonesty, and there’s nothing sophisticated about that.

Let Them Eat Cake – Just Kidding! Let Them Starve

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Image credit AP/Rebecca Blackwell

I recently had the misfortune of encountering an article by one Peter Guirguis titled “3 Strange But True Reasons Why God Doesn’t Feed All the Starving Children in The World.” (I will not link to the article because I cannot in good conscience send traffic there, but intrepid readers will be able to find it easily enough.) The author explains in great detail why his god – who, you may recall, is supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent – prefers to let children suffer and die in agony through malnutrition rather than put his considerable talent to use to, you know, make some food. Alas that the title is rather misleading, given that the reasons he cites are not strange – at least not to those of us who are used to hearing theists make excuses for the failure of their god to alleviate starvation – and whether or not they are true is a matter of some dispute.

Reason #1: It Isn’t God’s Responsibility to Feed the Starving Children of the World

“Of all the times that I have read the Bible from cover to cover, I can’t think of a single Bible verse in which God makes a promise to feed all the starving children in the world.”

Well then, since there is no bible verse in which god is quoted as saying, “I promise to feed all the starving children in the world,” that totes lets god off the hook! Of course there are verses in which he promises to sustain us (Isaiah 46:4), prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11), meet all our needs (Philippians 4:13), give us plenty to eat (Joel 2:26), help us (Isaiah 41:13), satisfy the appetites of the righteous (Proverbs 13:25), and give us whatever it is we pray for (Mark 11:24); but apparently those should in no way be misconstrued to infer that god will actually sustain us, meet all our needs, give us plenty to eat, help us, satisfy the appetites of the righteous, or give us whatever it is we pray for. On the issues of what god was in fact promising in these passages and why he is seemingly constrained to doing only that which he explicitly promised, Guirguis remains silent.

He then goes on to spout the usual nonsense about how it is our job, not god’s, to feed starving children. Never mind that the majority of humans on earth live under circumstances that preclude their ability to influence whether, how, or where food is grown and distributed: They themselves live in or near poverty; or suffer food insecurity of their own; or lack access to information or freedom of movement or other resources; or haven’t the skills or power to implement political and scientific programs to improve food production and distribution; and so on. For most of us with the ability to take some action, the extent of what we can reasonably do is donate to the local food pantry or give money to NGOs, neither of which is going to eradicate hunger. Oh, and how humans were supposed to harvest, preserve, transport, and distribute adequate food across the globe to famine-stricken areas before the advent of modern technology (i.e., for the nearly the whole of human history) is anyone’s guess.

Reason #2 – God Isn’t Like Humans

Atheists make a mistake when they say things like, “If I saw a starving child and had the power to feed him and I don’t, then I am evil. That’s the same thing with God, He is evil because He has the power to feed starving children and He doesn’t.” The mistake that atheists make here is that they compare themselves to God, or they compare God to themselves. They put themselves in God’s shoes. God’s goals are different than our goals. His purposes are different than our purposes. His way of justice is different than the human way of justice.”

This is the claim that theists always make when confronted with the problem of evil: That we can’t apply our own standards of morality to god, which of course begs the question: Why not? And why, if nearly all reasonable and morally normal people would feed starving children if they had the power to do so, and many (if not most) theists at some point struggle with why their god does not do so, is the ethical instinct of all humankind chucked out the window and deemed inferior to a god whose actions are manifestly unethical?  Furthermore, this is not so much a reason why god doesn’t feed starving children as it is an admonishment that we should not ask for one.

Reason #3 – God’s Justice is Coming Soon For All

“While God does see hate crimes, rapes, and murders as sins, He also sees lying, cheating, and hating people as sins too. So since God is a just God, then He’s going to have to give justice to all if He were to judge the world today. That means that there would be a lot of people who would receive punishment for eternity for breaking God’s standards. So instead, God is saving His judgment for Judgment Day . . . So when you don’t see justice taking place immediately, it’s because God is giving everyone a chance to repent, and put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”

There is a great deal with that statement that is problematic, the most obvious being that it is entirely irrelevant to the question of why god does not feed starving children – unless Guirguis is saying that since Judgment Day will happen someday, there’s no point in feeding starving kids in the meantime. Regardless, it is yet more transparent rationalization of god’s inaction: “It may seem like he isn’t doing anything, but that’s just because he isn’t doing anything right now.  He has to wait and see how many more people will come groveling to him before he decides he’s ready to get his Armageddon on.” In other words, we can’t see god’s ethics, and we can’t see his mercy, and we can’t see his love, and we can’t see his justice, but we still somehow know he is ethical, merciful, loving, and just, so let’s all just accept suffering as inevitable in the meantime and STFU.

Let me be clear that I am not refuting the good Mr. Guirguis because I am seeking to refute the existence of god. Indeed, the god hypothesis has been resoundingly refuted (or at least sufficiently challenged) by many others before me so I have no need or desire to re-invent that wheel. My point is rather that religion – especially the Abrahamic ones – require people to question and suppress their own innate senses of right and wrong, empathy, and compassion in order to reconcile the action (or more accurately the inaction) of their deity. It desensitizes people to suffering and injustice – after all, if god is allowing it, he must have a reason, so who are we to argue? I can only hope that one day people will decide that if god is allowing suffering, maybe it’s his ethics that are questionable, and proceed to embrace and heed their own conscience.

Why I Am an Anti-Theist (and Why You Should Be Too)

I was an anti-theist before I had ever heard the term. Hell, I was an anti-theist before I even knew I was an atheist. As far back as I can remember, organized religion has struck me as an end unto itself, dissociated from whatever personal connections its adherents may feel towards their god and concerned instead with its own goals of self-preservation and self-perpetuation. Now, these many years later – years of life experience, watching the world in action, and reading lots and lots of history – this is no longer a gut impression but, it seems to me, an evidence-based worldview grounded in centuries of documented institutional religious malfeasance.

Let’s take the Catholic Church as an example. There were the Crusades, of course, which theists tend to dismiss as irrelevant due to having occurred hundreds of years ago, and which at any rate we can set aside in light of abundant, more recent examples. For the most egregious we have to look back a mere 75 years or so to World War II, when the Church was in bed with fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. From praying for the Reich from the pulpit to hiding Nazi gold to giving material aid to Nazi war criminals to help them evade justice after the war, the Church was complicit in the Holocaust even under the most charitable reading of history. (This, incidentally, is quite relevant to those who falsely claim that the Holocaust was an atheist undertaking – not only was Hitler himself a Catholic, even if he had been an atheist he did what he did with the full endorsement and backing of the Vatican.)

Then there was the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the most Catholic nation in Africa, in which 800,000 people were murdered in a mere 100 days, most by being hacked to death with machetes. Of the millions more who were injured, orphaned, and displaced, many thousands perished in the squalid conditions of refugee camps. Several members of the Church clergy have since been indicted or convicted of crimes against humanity for their roles in the genocide, including the priest who encouraged 2,000 people to take refuge in his church and then had it bulldozed with them inside.

And let us not forget the child sex abuse scandal, still unfolding after more than 20 years, that has resulted in individual dioceses paying out billions of dollars in settlements (and billions more on defense lawyers) to hundreds of thousands of victims molested and raped by priests – and that is in the United States alone. Not only did Church officials fail to protect these children, for all intents and purposes they knowingly sacrificed them in favor of protecting themselves by, among other strategies, moving perpetrators from parish to parish (to offend and re-offend); quietly paying off accusers in exchange for their silence; implementing policies making it harder to remove offenders from the priesthood; and lobbying state legislatures to block laws that would require priests to report crimes against children to secular authorities. They invested no less energy in protecting themselves financially, ensuring that every diocese was an entity unto itself and that no diocese could be held responsible for the judgments against any other diocese – and, most importantly, shielding the massive wealth of the Vatican from any claims by victims.

Any one of these things would be reprehensible for a person or institution to have committed. But the Catholic Church isn’t just any institution. It is an organization that proclaims itself to be The One True Church, led by the vicar of Christ on earth, the ultimate authority on righteous and godly behavior. It claims the right and wields the power to legislate the morality not just of its 1.4 billion followers, but of millions of non-Catholics in many parts of the world where it has the influence to ensure that secular laws adhere to Catholic doctrine. And it is corrupt and morally bankrupt to its very core.

Catholicism is by no means alone in its corruption, of course, but it does provide a compelling illustration of what plagues every other organized religion to greater or lesser degrees: The exploitation of power inherent in the possession of religious authority. If anything, religions are likely to be even more susceptible to this kind of corruption than secular institutions because of the cultural assumption that religious institutions and officials are by default imbued with integrity and entitled to respect, and that shies away from harsh questions or scrutiny.

While I tend to think that faith on its own does more harm to society than good for encouraging belief in that for which there is no evidence, I do not see faith as the enemy of civilization. Religion, on the other hand, presents a grave threat to human progress and indeed to our very survival. It is not faith but religion that builds wealthy institutions. It is not faith but religion that tells individuals to forsake their own better judgement in favor of other humans who claim to speak with god’s authority. It is not faith but religion that lobbies governments to pass or block laws; that trains billions of people how to use ancient scriptures as a pretext for claiming temporal power; and that deploys vast resources and global infrastructure to advance its own agenda.

Would the eradication of organized religion solve all of the world’s problems?  Of course not.  Would it alleviate many of them by removing barriers to freedom and cutting off avenues for indoctrination?  It’s hard to argue otherwise.  For history has time and again proven Steven Weinberg right: That in the morally normal universe, “you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

A Few Words About Apologetics

I caught some flak over my last blog post, Ten Reasons Why Christianity Makes No Sense, mostly from would-be apologists claiming that my arguments were “unsophisticated” and “show how little” I know about the bible. I even had one person cite what he claimed were marriage laws from Old Testament times to show how the prohibition against coveting one’s neighbor’s wife is perfectly reasonable as one of god’s highest priorities. I’ll admit, that one made me chuckle.

To the people who claim that arguments against religion in general and Christianity in particular must be “sophisticated” to be relevant, I have this response: Thank you for proving my point. From where I sit, the mere existence of apologetics reflects the weakness of the argument for Christianity. If someone needs to be a scholar on the marriage laws of the pre-literate Middle East in order to accept why “don’t check out your neighbor’s wife’s ass” makes the short list of divine moral instructions but “don’t rape your neighbor’s daughter” doesn’t, that simply demonstrates – rather explicitly, in fact – that the proposition is absurd on its face. When your claim requires elaborate rationalization and broad interpretation to be reconciled with a pre-existing notion of a loving and just god, it’s a clue that your claim isn’t a very strong one.

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Apologists and theologians in general love to tell atheists why their interpretations of bible passages that portray their god and their religion in a poor light are incorrect. But the contradictions and ambiguity of the texts themselves, and the myriad ways of reading them, belie that there is no wrong interpretation, and no right one either. There are thousands of sects of Christianity, none of which has 100% uniformity of belief, resulting in literally millions of interpretations  of what the bible is really saying. And yet, when an atheist points out the missed opportunity of the Ten Commandments to not issue proscriptions against rape and slavery, apologists expect to be taken seriously when they say we only think that because we are too “unsophisticated” to apply a more favorable interpretation.

I don’t debate apologists for this very reason. It is an exercise in futility and a waste of time to engage in a process in which one’s opponent, by making the argument at all, has already admitted defeat.

Ten Reasons Why Christianity Makes No Sense

When I discovered the online atheist community a few years ago, one of the things that astounded and humbled me the most was the scholarliness of so many activist atheists. I had never before been in the company of so many people so versed in scripture, so skilled in the arts of rhetoric and argumentation, so keen to identifying and deconstructing logical fallacies. I’m not going to lie: It’s often been intimidating to be surrounded by people whose expertise in such things is so far beyond my own comparatively unsophisticated approach. As time passes, though, and I learn more and more about these subjects, I find that my basic issues with religion in general, and Christianity in particular, have not evolved to more abstract ontological questions, but have rather crystallized my inability to reconcile even the most basic and fundamental principles of Christian faith.  The following, while not by any means an exhaustive list, represent what for me are the biggest head-scratchers.

1. Jesus didn’t die. Christians are always going on about how Jesus died for our sins, but if he came back after three days then he didn’t really die at all; more like being in a brief coma, which is a drag, but not exactly the ultimate sacrifice that the crucifixion is cracked up to be. And it wasn’t just his spirit that departed to heaven, but his actual physical being. If you go dig up a three-day old grave, regardless of what you think may have happened to that person’s immortal soul, odds are there’s still going to be a body in it. Jesus’ tomb, on the other hand, was empty, meaning that following his resurrection he was either a zombie or he was fully alive, neither of which is dead. Even more relevant is that when he was hanging there on the cross, Jesus knew that he was going to come back. He didn’t have to endure the fear of death that any other human being would have had to face or the uncertainty that presumably afflicts all but the most devout at the moment of death about whether there really was going to be an afterlife, or if this was lights out for good. Yes, he probably suffered physically, but he knew that death would be no more than a long nap and then he’d be up and at ‘em again. In any meaningful sense, he didn’t die.
2. Jesus didn’t have faith. Jesus was always rolling his eyes and scolding his disciples for not having enough faith. There are many verses to be found in the New Testament in which Jesus says some variation of, “Don’t trust your senses, don’t look for evidence, just accept it because I said so.” But if Jesus was the son of god, then faith wasn’t something he needed – he knew god and heaven were real because that’s where he came from, no faith required. How fair is it to command the rest of the world to accept something on faith alone, threatening eternal punishment to any who don’t believe it, when you yourself have no need of faith because you possess all the evidence?
3. Jesus didn’t take away my sins. Or did he? I am no logician, but if Jesus died to take away the sins of humanity, then doesn’t that mean that once he was crucified there was no longer any such thing as sin? If his “death” was the absolution of the human race, why do I still have to do what the bible says, or go to church, or even believe? Aren’t I already saved by his “sacrifice?” And if I am not, and there are still rules to follow and sins that could keep me out of heaven, then what, precisely, have I gained from it?
4. Jesus wasn’t a very nice guy. American Christians talk a lot about “family values,” but that concept doesn’t have much, if any, basis in the actual story of Christ. Jesus demanded that his disciples abandon their families and save all of their devotion for him and him alone – a rather narcissistic and not particularly family-centric expectation. Aside from seeming to be in direct contradiction to the commandment about honoring thy mother and father, abandoning spouses and children, while not against any commandments, still seems like a douchey thing to do, even 2,000 years ago.
5. Jesus’ dad was really not a nice guy. We all know that the bible is full of rape, murder, genocide, slavery, and every manner of atrocity – and not in a, “This is what our enemies do so don’t be like them” way, but in a “As long as you are one of mine, have at it” way. Then Jesus showed up and said, more or less, that the old laws still applied, and he wasn’t about to change them. Yes, he was willing to call out hypocrisy, and he did seem to care somewhat about social justice – at least with regard to poverty and leprosy – but otherwise he was still the enforcer of some rather distasteful rules. And don’t even get me started on Jesus being his own father – a concept that, in addition to being patently bizarre on its face, makes Jesus himself the very same god of the Old Testament that Christians like to dismiss as no longer relevant (except, of course, when it comes to hating gays).

Prayer

6. Prayer is contradictory. We are told that god has a plan for everything, but then we are told to pray – for our loved ones to get better when they fall ill, for safety in the storm, for the home team to win the big game. Does that mean god will change his plan if you pray hard enough, or the right way, or get enough other people to pray for the same thing? This seems to suggest that God doesn’t have much of a plan at all, since he’s apparently willing to simply do whatever gets the most prayers or favors those who ingratiate themselves the most or who have prayed the best – not to mention that it’s a rather arbitrary, even capricious, approach to human suffering. Further, people often say they pray for things like inner peace, strength, understanding, the solution to personal problems, etc. I don’t pray, but I do a lot of introspection in search of those same things, and then I do either what my conscience tells me is right or what my objectivity tells me has the best chance for the desired outcome. I suspect that people who pray end up doing more or less the same thing but attributing their conclusion to an outside agency – in which case, how strange is it to carve out your conscience, that innermost part of yourself, the very core of what makes you you, and say it isn’t you?
7. The bible doesn’t set the moral bar very high. Let’s face it: Don’t rape people, don’t own people, don’t hate people, and don’t hurt children are kind of no-brainers when it comes to morality. Our friend Jesus and his old man not only failed to make these things clear, but in many instances they encouraged, condoned, or commanded them. Sure, Jesus said a few things about loving your neighbor and being kind to strangers, but he also said that not believing in him was the worst offense a person could commit and that anyone who didn’t believe would burn in Hell for all eternity. And seriously, the Ten Commandments as a basis for all morality? Checking out your neighbor’s wife is worse than raping his daughter? Taking the lord’s name in vain is worse than owning slaves? Nice priorities. Add to this the fact that god himself does not follow his own rules, to which Christians usually respond that mere mortals cannot understand or judge the morality of god. But if the bible defines morality, and god has a different set of rules for himself than for humans, and we are not allowed to know or understand his rules except that we are expected to do as he says but not as he does, then how exactly does that provide any kind of moral baseline whatsoever?  For a group that loves to point fingers at atheists for supposed moral relativism, what could be more relative than that?
8. Christian love is rarely very loving. We hear a lot about Jesus’ love and god’s love and how god so loved the world that he gave his only son yada yada yada. We already covered the part about him not really giving up his son at all, and enough has been said by people smarter than I am about the questionable necessity of having a baby, leaving him be for 30 years, torturing him to death, and then bringing him back to life a few days later as a way of forgiving humanity instead of – oh, I don’t know, just saying “I forgive you.” We covered too that this supposed forgiveness isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if I’m still considered a sinner and an apostate and bound for hell for not believing. But if we set that part of the contradiction aside, how loosely are we defining love if we are applying it to the bible? “I love you so much that I will torture and murder my own son as a symbol of something I could just give you without the bloodbath. I love you so much that I will reward you with an eternity in heaven, but you have to suffer and die in this world first. Salvation is yours, so long as you swear your devotion to me and only me. And believe what I say even if it sounds like nonsense because I told you to. And admit that deep down you are a rotten piece of garbage who doesn’t really deserve my love. And if you don’t do all of these things you will burn in a lake of fire for all eternity. But seriously, I love you.”
9. Terrible things happen to good people. A quarter of a million people died in the tsunami of 2006. Twenty first graders and six adults were slaughtered at Sandy Hook. People die of starvation, are killed by war and disease, are raped or beaten by people who have power over them, and suffer in countless other ways. If there is an omniscient, omnipotent god who is also loving, as Christians would have us believe, why do these things happen? Why do children suffer and die? Why are there droughts and floods and famines and pestilences and earthquakes and wars? Why couldn’t god just make people nice? Why create natural disasters? Why didn’t he set forth better, clearer rules to eliminate ambiguity about how we are supposed to treat each other? God either intervenes or he doesn’t; god is either omnipotent or he isn’t. If he does and he is, then suffering exists because god intends for it to be that way. If he doesn’t and he isn’t, then he isn’t in control of anything, including the minutiae of how we live our daily lives. How is either a god worthy of worship?
10. It’s all just way too convenient. Got what you prayed for? He answered your prayers. Praise Jesus! Didn’t get it? He has another plan. Praise Jesus! Don’t have the answers? You’re not meant to. Praise Jesus! Figured out the answer? He chose you. Praise Jesus! Sad about the deaths of your loved ones? They’re in a better place. Praise Jesus! Sad about how much your life sucks? You’ll be happy once you’re dead. Praise Jesus! Honestly, when the answer to every question is exactly the thing that makes you feel best / most comforted / least in need of using your own intellect, should that not send up a huge red flag that maybe you’re not being completely objective?

I am not, of course, the first person to make these observations, and no doubt there are many who have made them better. But as someone who has lived an entire life without religion, the exercises of engaging apologists, philosophizing, or running ontological obstacle courses seem – perhaps naively, but seem nonetheless – to be almost beside the point when the most basic premises of religious belief are so deeply flawed and, not to put too fine a point on it, rather ridiculous. These irreconcilable contradictions explain a lot about why religious indoctrination is necessary at a very young age, and sadly, they explain a lot about why the world is in the sorry state it is: Because they make people adept at rationalizing the irrational, believing the unlikely, and justifying the immoral.

This article first appeared in Atheist Survival Guide in December 2014.