Out of Context

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“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”- Mark Twain

 

It can often seem like a mugs game to bring the bible into question during discussions with Christians. It never fails that when I post a verse from scripture that I think supports my argument, I’m immediately charged with taking that verse out of context. The arguments that ensue tend to deteriorate quickly and often frustratingly run in circles. When giving a critical analysis of Christianity in general, the religious faithful are quick to accuse me (and all atheists) of not doing my homework. But this is especially the case when I dare to tread on holy ground, which is the bible itself. It’s as if they assume I was never a Christian (which I was), never read the bible (which I have), and am just being exposed to it for the first time (which I haven’t). The general consensus among Christians seems to be that merely being a non-Christian automatically disqualifies one out of hand from accurately citing the holy book. This careless, outright dismissal proves to be little more than a dodge and it doesn’t excuse the believer from demonstrating this supposed misrepresentation.  

 

It’s confusing at times to know exactly what is meant by “taking it out of context”. Take the story of Elisha’s journey from 2 Kings[1] for example. It’s hard to imagine how a passage stating that God sent two bears to massacre forty two children in gruesome fashion for mocking Elisha’s baldness could be taken out of context. Not to mention how nonchalantly this terrible event is treated and how casually the story moves on. It was as if the children getting torn apart was a mere bump in the road. As if it was hardly worth mentioning. What else are we to interpret from this? In what other context could this be taken? It can hardly be disputed what those words say here. According to the story, either God sent bears to maul forty two children or not. Any extraneous interpretation the Christian wishes to read into this doesn’t do much to make the story less vile and horrific. When Christians offer a different “interpretation” to this story, what they are doing is offering more than the words say. Whatever addendum is made, however many excuses are made, the context is pretty clear. When confronted with the merciless brutality of a passage like this, they often instead focus their attention on finding a way to establish some moral meaning behind it, which ultimately proves to be too big a boulder to push in this case, or they argue that it was badly mistranslated.  

 

Translation is a tricky bit of maneuvering that seems to be the preferred tactic for the more indefensible passages found within the bible, as it is for the passage referenced above.[2] While I don’t doubt that there are occasional mistranslations interspersed throughout the bible, scholars and historians still debate over this very topic, we can hardly say that this alters the context as currently presented in such a significant way as to warrant disregarding entire passages on a whim simply for the purpose of recreating them to appear more acceptable or reasonable. Nor does it account for all the versions of the bible circulating today that translate these passages in a very similar way. Lest the Christian wishes the conversation to regress to the very origins of the bible. At which point it may be the case that we ought to disregard the entire bible altogether. This, of course, would leave the Christian at quite the disadvantage and hardly seems to be their intention. So instead of conceding the bible, many shamelessly commit themselves to an act of intellectual dishonesty and create their own “translation”. And in doing so, they in effect become the ones taking verses out of context, and in the most disingenuous manner, I might add. Tailoring the bible this way is not only indecorous of the Christian, but also immoral. The attempt to hide the horrific nature of this passage, and many others like it, by assuming translational errors ultimately can’t salvage the bible from failing to uphold what we would consider to be the most basic of humanities and common sense. Furthermore, what the Christian fails to realize is that this “lost in translation” argument creates far more problems for the believer than for the skeptic. The biggest one being that they have effectively stripped their bible of any practical reliability, and along with it, any argument for biblical inerrancy.

 

As I stated earlier, being a non-Christian seemingly disqualifies one from accurately referencing the bible. Maybe the problem is in how “accurately” or “correctly” is applied here. Historical implications aside for a moment, the meaning here appears to be supernatural. The Christian often claims that the only way to truly understand the bible is to believe in God, because they believe the bible is the word of God. So, according to the Christian, it stands to reason that if one doesn’t believe in God, then one won’t be able to interpret the bible correctly. Along with the obvious objection of circular reasoning, as well as being a thinly disguised attempt at unfalsifiability, it fails for another very big reason. One that I see as being the most difficult problem for the Christian to overcome. This is the problem of the many various denominations of Christianity. They all believe and interpret the bible differently in some key areas. All claiming the same justification from God. To put this into perspective, just think about how many millions and millions of people claim, and have claimed, that the bible is the word of God. And how millions and millions of these same professed believers disagree with other believers, who are just as sincere, on some significant points. The thing they all have in common is they all claim God assures them they are right. They also have the same explanation as to why the others are wrong. To try to account for every interpretation that is accepted as truth by the vast number of denominations would be far too exhaustive and it isn’t the non-Christians responsibility to do so. My business isn’t to sort out all these doctrinal disputes. It’s as if skeptics (atheists especially) are being saddled with the burden of needing to know every interpretation of every denomination just to even mention the bible in any critical manner. And when we fail to satisfy this imposed burden, the charge of misinterpretation and atheistic bias is assumed justified. But then this would mean the individual believer must also know all the varying interpretations as well. For the believer to be excused this, then they must concede that their own claim to “biblical truth” could not have been from the the same exhaustive search that they hold the non-christian to and either accept that it isn’t necessary or admit they could be wrong. All these problems the believer is now faced with not only render their original objection moot, it sheds light on the shear volume of inconsistencies contained within the bible, and as we see, thus further expounding the Christians own problems…

~ Rich

 

[1] 2 Kings 2:23-24 (NIV) 23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

 

[2] Apologists frequently attempt to re-invent this passage as if Elisha was being attacked by a mob of young men. In it’s original Hebrew, while the word na’ar (boy or youth) could mean “young man”, it is paired with the qualifier katan which means “little” or “small”. Translating literally as “small boys”. And they are telling him to “go on up, baldhead” or “get out of here, baldy” and Elisha turned around to curse them. This indicates that they were behind him and taunting him, not blocking his path or threatening him.

 

 

The Arrogance of Theism

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“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” – Thomas Paine [1]
“I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with ‘you’ in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.” – Christopher Hitchens [2]

As atheists, we have all at some point been charged with arrogance. While it is sometimes aimed at a generalization regarding attitude or conduct, it is more often than not about the simple fact that we don’t hold a belief that a god(s) exists. But let’s explore why this charge is grossly misplaced and why the theist should take a long, hard look in the mirror before accusing anyone else of such a disposition. Especially when we consider that those casting this accusation are the same people who claim the entire universe was created as part of a plan for them; all the while claiming to be so humble. It’s difficult to imagine the “humility” it must take to accept that humanity’s actions and beliefs are so relevant to the functioning of the universe that the very laws of nature are altered by them and their God will destroy everything completely when not satisfied. When it comes to arrogance, theists have it in spades. We see it in the way they tout their faith around with such pageantry and in the expectation that their faith be given special privilege. We see it even more in the way not having a belief in their particular God is to be treated. To simply not believe in God (which is seen as the rejection of God by many theists) is itself a sin, in fact, it is said to be the ultimate sin. Many consider non-belief to the work of Satan, or of other demons, leading us astray. Non-belief is the surest way to earn a one way ticket to hell for eternity and apparently justifiably so. According to theists, the rejection of a God that is so self-evident, so axiomatic, is not as simple as just rejecting the validity of this claim, it requires that we must “disprove” their God’s existence altogether. Often times God is regarded as knowledge that every human possesses and to not believe is simply to suppress this knowledge in rebellion. It is as if we willfully reject our very existence. We can begin to understand why any dissension from their ideology is considered a direct affront to their God when we see how the theistic worldview functions in the adherents life. God is everything good, without God there is no morality, without God there is no meaning, there is nothing without God, and so on.

As I mentioned, there is a profound arrogance in the way opposing views are regarded. I admit that I have taken no small insult from the likes of Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, and many of their contemporaries that continually misrepresent atheists and atheism in the most grotesque manner. While these supposedly scholarly theologians seem to let the basic definition of atheism somehow escape their grasp, they apparently have no problem attributing their contrived definition of atheism to the most heinous crimes in human history. The popular apologetic assumption is that simply discrediting any opposing views leaves theirs as the correct one by default. In defense of the theistic argument, the focus seems to be an attempt to portray atheism as an “irrational” position, but the very formation of this argument is itself irrational. Not holding a belief in a baseless, undefined concept that not only lacks scientific credibility, but that it’s very existence would seem to violate the natural laws as we know them, seems to me the rational position to hold. When we hear things like “the absurdity of atheism” or “atheism is unreasonable”, what is really being said is “the absurdity of not believing in my conceptualization of God” and “not believing in MY God as I envision Him is unreasonable”. They are devoid of any practical meaning when taken in the proper context. Intellectual honesty doesn’t allow for such fallacious argumentation and atheism essentially strips these arguments of their privilege and holds theistic claims accountable for justification under scrutiny, Atheism points out that in religion[3], facts and truth are often operating in two separate spheres and reason is replaced by faith to connect the dots. While it could be said that these are problems within particular religious ideologies, theism in general is at the heart of it.

Now to address one of the prime examples of the arrogance of theism, we’ll take a look at the false dichotomy that’s being circulated ad nauseam by theists that one either believes in something (God) or in nothing (atheism). This clever bit of sophistry is merely a convenient attempt to put atheists in a situation of defending a position of “nothing” while theists get to enjoy the lofty position of “something else out there”. But let’s put this in its proper context. Theists are not simply arguing for a “something”, they are claiming to know what this something is and claim to even know it’s will. They make such unsubstantiated assumptions that this something possesses intelligence and other anthropomorphic qualities such as emotions that conveniently fits their particular religions concept of what God is. While there are variations in these concepts, theists seem to all be in agreement that this something is an intelligent, loving, authoritarian deity that created everything and is itself beyond natural laws and is transcendent of space and time while also simultaneously able to interact with the natural universe. We must then assume that this “something” exists in some unfounded, unknowable supernatural reality and can interact with the natural world unabated by natural laws, and this is to be believed on anecdotal evidence, speculation, and faith. By what right is their position so privileged as to encompass all of what this something might be and claim that their something is the only possible something and that their something is excused the same standard of justification and to subject their belief to the same investigations that all other scientific proposition are subject to? Theists are claiming to know more than the most brilliant minds that exist, or have ever existed.

I want to make one very important point here, it is ultimately the atheist that is free to inquire what else might be out there, and not the theist, as they are bound to their presupposition with no escape or be guilty of apostasy. Nothing about atheism suggests there is “nothing” else, nor does atheism rely on such dubious conjecture to fill the gaps in our knowledge. The theistic position ultimately ends the search for whatever something else might be out there. It is an end to investigations and to thinking critically as it purports to already have the answer. Also, the arguments in favor of theism are less than convincing. Atheists are constantly confronted with Intelligent Design as if this is some profound, enlightened argument that is irrefutable proof for an intelligent creator of the universe. For the sake of argument, even if the “design” argument is to be accepted, this still only leaves us with evidence for a designed universe. It speaks nothing of what the “designer” may actually be. Positing God is not only presumptuous on the theists part, it doesn’t have any explanatory power. Nevertheless, the best a theist can hope for with this argument is to infer a deistic conceptualization of God, the God being invoked by theism is a far cry from say, the kind of “god” Spinoza proposed. This problematic argument proves to be a very weak platform for theists to launch a defense from and we see that it fails for several reasons. By following the evidence, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that things can simply appear designed. The human mind looks for patterns and we see examples of this in all sorts of other apophenia. Here is no different. But theists insist on committing to fallacious argumentation and intellectual dishonesty to tailor scientific evidence to fit an otherwise unsubstantiated conclusion. Theists operate from extreme presumption and hubris, using scientific terminology to expound supernatural concepts to appease a deeply held religious belief. Ignoring that it ultimately collapses under scientific scrutiny, they opt for equivocal word games or a complete dismissal of contrary evidence. We would be hard pressed to find a better example of this than with the war between creationism and evolution.

Another display of extreme arrogance by theists, and in my opinion one of the most insulting, is the assumption that we can’t have meaning and purpose without a belief in their particular god. I personally see this as a hindrance to any practical application of these terms. According to theism, what purpose does THIS life ultimately serve? I matter to my loved ones around me and they matter to me regardless of any deity. Furthermore on a larger scale, we all matter as part of a functioning society in whatever capacity we can, which ultimately reverberates through the entire world. Such as a doctor matters to his or her patients, using treatments developed over time and perfected by others. The people who maintain bridges matter for safe travel everyday using tools and technology developed and made by others. Everyone involved with getting food to our table to feed our families. Our purpose is in doing our part to take care of one another as well as ourselves and ensuring we do everything we can to make the world a better, safer, healthier place to pass on to the next generation. While the universe will continue functioning without us, we as a species cannot function without our contributions and the responsibility falls on us and us alone. To posit that there is some alternate purpose that is beyond this reality is to undermine this very important point. The level of arrogance displayed to assume these things are not meaningful enough on their own and there has to be something more beyond this is quite disheartening. It reduces these meaningful things to merely serve as a pathway to salvation for the believer, to gain favor from their inculcated concept of god when facing “him” to be judged (even though this deity supposedly has no spacial or temporal properties). The afterlife becomes their sole purpose to either spend eternity in paradise or, in many beliefs, in eternal torment (which none actually think they are personally going there). The doctrine of salvation only extends to the individual, ultimately making it a self-serving proposition with no thought for the future. The believer is then  exonerated of any moral responsibilities that promote growth, human dignity, and the deep respect for human life that ensures the greatest amount of human well-being for the future while also alleviating the suffering of the next generations. Atheism has no such restrictions and in fact provides the open-mindedness that is needed to promote such values that is essential for a society to flourish. The fact that theists attempt to portray atheism as nihilism is to say these everyday meanings and purposes are illusory and is an insult to those of us who live meaningful and purpose-filled lives. The theist cannot account for how an absence of their belief diminishes these values. True meaning and purpose is not predicated on an afterlife and is found here in reality. If the theist wants to argue this, then lets see if they would actually follow the disgusting example of Abraham with his son Isaac. While this usually gets a rehearsed apologetic response as to why they are excused of this, it is still sad to see how someone can put God before their loved ones and defend such an ugly doctrine.

We should also take notice of the arrogant attempts by religions to monopolize terms like “God”, “morality”, “faith”, “love”, “belief”, and the list goes on. Basically everything good and worth valuing is considered to be their God. We won’t even get into the absurdity of how a “creator” that’s purportedly responsible for all of creation is somehow not responsible for all the evil, chaos, and suffering also. The idea that we can only be good with God is of the highest arrogance and nothing is more demeaning to our basic human dignity that this. But I will address the issue of morality and religion later as I can’t give it the treatment is deserves here. But back to the topic at hand, there is a sense from believers that their god is the ONLY possible one while looking at other religions as silly, contradictory, or self-defeating. Dismissing the dogmas of other religions out of hand, but expecting preferential treatment of their own. The point they seem to miss is that many of the same flaws they find in other religions are also found in their religion, and why theism is an untenable position. Theism’s inherent absolutism renders its outrageous claims immutable and is precisely why theism is unscientific. We don’t need “absolute” certainty to reasonably reject the claim that God exists, or any supernatural deity. We get along in life just fine without such presumptions. The pretentiousness of the theist is really displayed in the way they adhere to this antiquated, speculative belief with such pomposity, despite all of theism’s glaring flaws and lack of evidence. When we inquire openly and honestly about not only the veracity of the claims, but also what purpose does it really serve, we see the true nature of arrogance and why it is that atheism is on the other side of the spectrum. Theism ultimately leads to stagnation with potential for very real consequences, and the level of arrogance it takes to ignore that is disconcerting, to say the least. I think that it is clearly the case that theism takes far more arrogance than atheism is even capable of.

– Rich  

[1] Thomas Paine, Common Sense 1776

[2] Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22 2010

[3] “Theism” is not necessarily “religion”. They can, however, be used interchangeably here.

A Uterus from Nothing (part 3)

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We had our first sonogram last week. Witnessing the heartbeat and seeing the little fetus brought to life exactly how amazing of a gift science gave to us. That’s right, I said science. Ever since I started this process people have had plenty to say about the lack of credit I give to God.  In support groups, acquaintances will tell me that I have been blessed by God with a miracle baby… this doesn’t bother me… I know that they are just excited and expressing it the best way they know how. On the flip side- it was brought to my attention that though some of the believers in my life are excited for the baby, and happy for us, they don’t want to read negativity here. This does bother me.

When I discuss this pregnancy and give credit to scientific advancements and my body’s reaction to them- I am doing so in a positive way. During this exchange it was explained to them that I am sorry they don’t enjoy reading but if the content makes them uncomfortable, it is probably best they don’t read it. Apparently this is not the right answer and instead, since they don’t like it, I shouldn’t write it. This is not going to happen- I am excited to document my pregnancy and express my gratitude to the scientific community for making it possible.

I have loved observing each change in my body during the past few weeks of pregnancy. I knew I would change physically and heard that mannerisms and moods will change as well- but experiencing is believing! It blows my mind that a simple burst of hormones could make someone who ordered extra bacon on everything suddenly not desire any meat at all. And no, I have not been craving loaves and fishies… so I think we can take God out of the equation.

So far I was able to go from tests revealing that I was having anovulatory menstrual cycles… to taking a medication watching follicles grow and an egg releasing…to seeing a fetus growing inside of me… this is not a miracle, it is my body and science working hand-in-hand to make the impossible, possible… and this just the beginning. I still have to see a specialist to find out how my Epilepsy medications will effect me and the baby in later stages of pregnancy. That happens in a month or so and I am pretty sure that I will not need an exorcism. I will be receiving genetic testing to make sure the baby is developing properly and to see if we have risk factors that will need special observation and care. I put my trust in the doctors and plan to do everything that is medically necessary to keep my baby safe.

Unlike believers, when I work for something and accomplish a goal I give credit where credit is due. I don’t believe in the typical copout that we are powerless against God and he makes all the decisions and is responsible for all accomplishments and failures.   I am proud to say that it was me, Rich and a slew of doctors who made it possible for this fetus to grow. Up to this point it has been an amazing ride and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead.

A Uterus from Nothing (part 2)

Success! That is right, not only was science able to make my body ovulate when it wasn’t doing it on it’s own… but now the couple of atheists are pregnant! Only 5 weeks and 1 day… so it is very early, but I can’t bear to keep it to myself.

Since sharing the news with friends and family, mixed reactions have occurred. Of course everyone has been happy and supportive… but not everyone gives the credit to science. For instance one of Rich’s friends said that God keeps giving us all of these signs… we are just refusing to see them. Apparently in his eyes it is God who brought Rich and I together in the first place and now  God has also given us the chance to have this baby. Rich said “but she was taking the medication, it  made her ovulate, we timed our sex and that is how we became pregnant.” His friend begged to differ stating that the medication didn’t have to work, God made it so.

Ok, so say this is true. God chose Rich and I to become parents… why the heck would he do that? Within the privacy of my PCOS support group walls I see women struggle with what they might have done to deserve being barren. They pray EVERY DAY to have a child. They take the same measures as Rich and I… They have the same condition I do and yet, God decided we should have the baby. It just seems unfair. If anything, it shows you’d be better off not believing because then God would have reason to “show himself” through these “miracles”… since of course he can’t just show up in your living room to prove his existence. No he has to test you… he tests the strength of those who believe by putting them through emotional hell and (apparently) proves himself by providing joy through “miracles”to those who don’t… how could anyone have respect for a God like that.

Just as before, I am in awe watching science at work. My blood tests are showing beta levels jumping high, just as they should. I can feel my body changing due to the shift in hormones and yet somehow I am supposed to credit someone other than my doctors and the many, many scientists who researched my condition and provided me with the tools to make this happen… I simply refuse. Heck, even the fact that I didn’t have to look for a faint line on the pregnancy test and then wonder if my eyes were deceiving me is crazy, it simply stated “pregnant”… that’s technology that I doubt God came up with. Certainly if he did exist he’d be fixing all of the disasters that occur each day and not making it easier for me to discover my pregnancy. Yeah, I am going to say this is also man made, not to mention AMAZING!

Now to be clear, I am not typically the type to get combative if someone “blesses me” or congratulates me on “my miracle”, just as when people prayed that we would conceive, I take it is as a kind gesture and say thank you. It is only when someone insists that God played a role that I feel the need to speak up. I am not on a witch hunt to knit-pick every religious reference… no, I simply want to document it here and since religion and spirituality are already creeping in at this early stage, I imagine it will only get more intense as the pregnancy progresses. This is going to be an amazing experience for Me and Rich and I look forward to sharing it with all of those who read our blog.

Disproving God’s existence isn’t my job.

I like you both and you make valid points. But really, aren’t you going to an awful lot of effort to disprove God’s existence? I find that so very sad. You seem to be very intelligent people and yet you hang your hat upon, what I surmise, you wish to be remembered for challenging people who believe in God.
Go down to the Philippines and help rebuild a house; hug a child who has lost her entire family, her world. Go to Somalia. Go to South East North Carolina. Better yet, go to………..

Cyn

This was left as a response to the couple of atheists blog. I dismissed it as a comment because I felt it served a better purpose as the focus of a blog… on the misconceptions of some believers. Cyn has been notified that I will be writing this, I hope they check it out.

First and foremost- Atheists are not out to disprove the existence of God. I am not sure when this atrocious accusation became so popular, but Rich and I hear it all of the time in debates and I feel the need to kick out the leg they think they are standing on.

In order for Atheists to be required to disprove God, there would have to be proof of God… and there isn’t. It is that simple. Believers have the burden of proof. They are claiming that there is something more out there dictating our lives and so before this needs to be disproved, it has to be proven. For me, as an Atheist, I am simply attempting to keep these beliefs out of our public policy.  I am not even a militant Anti-theist and I don’t believe my words or actions ever display something different.  When it comes to religion, believe what you want, but don’t claim it to be a truth and stop asking me to substantiate your argument…because I am not going to do it.

Cyn speculated we want to be remembered as people who challenged others belief in God. This is simply a way of making what we do a negative instead of allowing it to be positive… again, I won’t allow for this. I don’t see what I do in my local community or through this blog as simply “challenging” those who believe. I see it as educating those who perhaps never had access to information other than the religion in which they were raised. I am a firm believer that if you are able to come to the conclusion on your own, without bully tactics or being born into it, well c’est la vie! Adults have the right to research, learn and decide what works for them- so as ridiculous as I think it may be- I never “challenge” for the sake of “challenging”. Cyn said that they like me and Rich, but to make such an accusation shows that they know nothing about us, or at the very least, me. All of my friends of faith will tell you that I never belittle them. I open myself to discussion, I am glad to give information when requested, but never do I force my atheism onto them- as I find that practice to be just as dogmatic as any religious practice.

Moving on to the final portion, where I was directed to all of the things I could do instead of educating others on social issues. First off- kettle, kettle- black, black… as Cyn had plenty of time to hate on my blog while they could have been hugging those poor children and rebuilding houses. I am not going to give this part much weight as I don’t believe it deserves it. I could gush about my favorite charities and causes and all the good I do… but frankly that isn’t the point and I don’t need my good deeds to be justified to anyone.

So there you go. I hope this has cleared up any confusion that  Cyn or anyone else had concerning couple of atheists agenda. I’d join in and say you can “go to ……” but I am not the one that believes in that stuff… so I will just say, thanks for reading.