Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “atheists”

Ridiculous beliefs

I came across this when someone retweeted it on Twitter, with the comment “Ridiculous beliefs”.

I agree.

The problem is, though, that I cannot recall ever meeting anyone who actually believes that.

Can you call something a “belief” if no one believes it?

If any member of the Orthodox Church said they believed such things, they would, sooner or later, be told that they were heretical. The whole thing is heretical, and every single clause is heretical.

The Roman Catholic Church, I should think, would have a similar reaction. I don’t know if they still have the Inquisition, but they’d revive it pretty quickly if lots of people started saying that they believed that stuff.


Well, it’s a bit harder to say with Protestants , because there are so many different varieties of Protestantism that it is conceivable that there is some sect, somewhere out there, that might believe one or more of those things. But, as I said, I haven’t actually met anyone who believes them.

But, in one sense, that would be beside the point. It’s obviously a caricature, and it’s not meant to represent any beliefs that anyone actually holds.

So what is it meant to represent?

What is it supposed to communicate, about what, and to whom?

Perhaps we could try to deconstruct it.

Here are some of my attempts at deconstruction. If anyone can come up with other ideas, please add them in the comments.

1. My first thought is that it is a piece of “feel good” propaganda by militant atheists for militant atheists. By caricaturing Christian beliefs, and presenting them as ridiculous, they can feel smug and superior when comparing themselves with Christians. So it enables them to feel good about themselves. Some may be aware that it is a caricature, others may not, but that doesn’t matter much, because the main point is to feel superior.

2. The second one is a little more sinister. This is that it is propaganda by by militant atheists for ordinary don’t care atheists, for agnostics, for anyone who is not a Christian, and who is ignorant about Christianity, with the aim of getting them to reject Christianity because they reject a caricature. It is possibly calculated to stir up hatred for Christians. In other words, it is a caricature verging on “hate speech”.

But in deconstructing it, we need to go a bit deeper than that.

Where did the caricature come from? What is its source?

A friend of mine, now a retired Anglican bishop, once wrote the following about Christian mission:

The Church exists for mission, not merely by words, but by representing Christ. Its work is not to convert, that is the Holy Spirit’s work; ours is to preach (Mark 16:15). `Think not of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.’ We bear witness, whether they hear or whether they forbear’ (Ezekiel 2:5 etc.). Our task, and it is quite sufficient to keep us going without bothering about the consequences, is to make sure that if people reject Christ, they reject Christ and not a caricature of him, and if they accept him, that they accept Christ and not a caricature. If they reject, we remember that Christ got the same treatment – in fact half our problem is that we require something better than the success of Christ. We are not to cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) – we are not to try to `fix up’ people’s salvation against their will; `to try to force the word on the world by hook or by crook is to make the living word of God into a mere idea, and the world would be perfectly justified in refusing to listen to an idea which did not appeal to it’. This is the way we seek Christ’s success. The Church is not to be like a mighty army, pressing on regardless; it is more like a bloody doormat – a phrase which could even fit the Master of the Church himself, for it is only by the cross and precious blood of Christ that we are what we are, and he himself is the way on which we must tramp and maybe wipe our boots as we come to the Father (John 14:6). This is the kind of Saviour we represent.

And I suggest that in many ways the caricature has come from Christians themselves, from Christians who have done some of the things suggested in the paragraph I quoted — tried to fix up people’s salvation against their will, tried to make the living word of God into a mere idea, tried to present a caricature of Christ rather than Christ himself.

And that is in fact the original sin, because it goes back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve presented a caricature of God to the snake.

God said to Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden but one. And the snake asks what God said, and Eve said that God had told them not to eat from that tree, but also not to touch it. That is an extensive exaggeration of what God said. An ogre God sounds more impressive than the true God. And right up till now there have been Christians who have presented an ogre God.

I was once at a church youth group where an evangelist was speaking. At the time there were some popular bumper stickers on cars that had a picture of a smiley face, and the legend, “Smile, God loves you.”

The evangelist denounced these in no uncertain terms.

“That’s wrong,” he said. “God doesn’t love you, he is very angry with you because you’re a sinner. He was so angry that he killed His Son.”

That was presenting an ogre God, a caricature. And one doesn’t have to take the caricature a whole lot further to get to the statement, in the picture above, “I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself.”

So I would say that if atheists want to reject Christ, then it is better that they reject Christ rather than that they reject a caricature of him, or even accept a caricature of him.

But it is much more important that Christians should not present a caricature in the first place.

Aids, Atheists, Condoms and Catholics

Some prominent British militant atheists, like Polly Toynbee and Richard Dawkins, have accused the Roman Catholic Church of being responsible for the deaths of millions of people in Africa from Aids, because of their teaching that the use of condoms (and other forms of contraception) is morally wrong. This, claim these atheists, has caused millions of Africans to die from Aids.

Hat-tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: Is the Pope Responsible for the Deaths of Millions of Africans? for the link to this article:

Shameless Popery: What Impact Does Catholic Teaching Have on AIDS in Africa?

This is a common meme. Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins used this same argument to argue that the Catholic Church was in the running for the major institution that “most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world.” So let’s tackle this argument head-on: Is the Catholic stance against contraception responsible for the AIDS-related deaths of millions of Africans?

Well, why not see what the data says? After all, these are the same atheists who routinely crow about being interested in real knowledge and reason, rather than faith. So let’s put their faith to the test. If the Catholic Church’s teachings against condoms are causing millions of Africans to contract AIDS, we should expect to see heavily-Catholic countries with far higher AIDS rates than their non-Catholic counterparts. So I decided to compare the rates by region and by country.

The post is quite interesting for the comparative statistics and graphs it gives for the rates of Aids infection, though one could perhaps argue for a long time over the accuracy of the statistics and the reasons for the differences.

But there is really no need for these statistics to show that the arguments of the atheists are not merely wrong, but also remarkably stupid.

I think it is generally accepted that Aids is a sexually-transmitted disease (STD). And one of the main reasons for its spread is sexual promiscuity.

The Roman Catholic Church, however, teaches that sexually promiscuous behaviour, such as fornication and adultery, is morally wrong. If using a condom is regarded as morally wrong, so is fornicating.

So why should people like Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee assume that people who have chosen to ignore their church’s teaching by committing adultery will suddenly start observing it by not using condoms while doing so?

They might well not use condoms while committing adultery, but it is highly unlikely that their church’s teaching on contraception will influence them when they have already chosen to ignore its teaching on adultery.

Or perhaps they think that Tom Lehrer’s satirical song about the Irish lass who murdered members of her family one by one is a serious piece of sociological research:

And when at last the police came by
Sing rickety-tickety-tin
And when at last the police came by
Her little pranks she did not deny
To do so she would have had to lie
And lying, she knew, was a sin, a sin
Lying, she knew, was a sin.

Your very own atheist bus slogan generator.

Bus slogan generator

Atheists have started advertising on buses in the UK. Do you want to see your
own message on the side of a bus? Well now’s your chance.

Hat tip to Bishop Alan, who said: Gadget of the year! An Atheist Bus slogan generator, to help you make your very own atheist bus.

So here’s mine:

Your very own atheist bus slogan generator.

Bus slogan generator

Atheists have started advertising on buses in the UK. Do you want to see your own message on the side of a bus? Well now’s your chance.

Hat tip to Bishop Alan, who said: Gadget of the year! An Atheist Bus slogan generator, to help you make your very own atheist bus.

So here’s mine:

Atheist evangelism

A group of people in Britain are engaging in “atheist evangelism” by sponsoring bus advertisments with the slogan “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.

Simon Barrow: People are as likely to be sceptical about the ‘atheist bus’ as they are about being sold religion:

This week the ‘atheist bus’ project finally gets wheels. After scrambling around for a few thousand quid, the money has finally come in to perambulate an inspiring message (‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’) around our streets, bringing merriment to millions…

To those without a huge vested interest in promoting or dissing religion, this probably looks a slightly odd initiative. Frankly, the slogan is a bit anodyne. It’s the non-believing equivalent of ‘God may very well exist. Now have a nice day’. But it will probably still be enough to upset counter-evangelists of the kind who like to tell everybody they are going to hell for not subscribing to their particular doctrine, and who think atheism is very, very naughty.

Simon Barrow also comments about it in his blog FaithInSociety, and several others have also commented on it. In fact, so many people have commented on it that further commentary might seem to be redundant.

I tend to agree with Bishop Alan’s Blog: London Atheist ads: Shome mishtake?, when he says: “Perhaps this particular ad is more agnostic than atheist, and we still have to await a genuinely atheist poster ad.”

But what interests me are the values expressed by the ad, which are assumed rather than explicitly promoted. They are not really atheist values, because there can be no specifically atheist values, since atheism is the absence of something. Atheists may have all kinds of values, and all kinds of reasons for holding them, but the values and the reasons for holding them owe nothing to atheism. Marxism-Leninism, for example, is strongly atheist, but the values it espouses are not based on atheism, but on a particular theory of economics and history. Ayn Rand, who detested Marxism-Leninism, and proposed an alternative, capitalist ideology, was also an atheist. One could multiply examples, but the point is clear — there are no specifically atheist values.

I don’t know whether the sponsors of the bus ad are calling what they are doing “evangelism”. But “evangelism” means “spreading good news”, and the sponsors clearly believe their message is good news and they are spreading it, so it is evangelism of a sort.

But what is the message that they intend to convey? And what is the message that people receive?

I can’t speak for others, but I can say what message I receive from the ad. Whether it is what the sponsors intended to convey, I don’t know. But if any of them read this, perhaps they can tell me if I’ve got it right or wrong. And if the intended message doesn’t get across, then it means that there is either something wrong with the sender, or with the message, or with the recipient.

So what is the good news?

“Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy: There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.

And that sounds like another message I’ve been hearing a lot on TV lately:

“You only have one life, so make it a full one with world-class entertainment.”

Both messages seem to have the same underlying values, the same basic message:

Eat, drink, and be entertained, for tomorrow we die.

The advertisements are being placed on British buses, so they will be read by rich and well-fed Westerners. Simon Barrow notes elsewhere (Cold water, buses and shared humanity | Ekklesia) that it raises interesting issues about “the extent to which the philosophy reflected in the bus slogan – ‘There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ – is widely shared (much more than many church leaders seem aware), and so on.”

And yes, that philosophy is widely shared in prosperous Western societies, even if that prosperity is under threat of a recession.

And we see on TV how people “enjoy life” in Britain — teenagers getting drunk. They send each other inane messages on their cell (mobile) phones, with scarcely a thought about the fact that in parts of the Congo armed groups are fighting to control access to coltan, one of the ingredients that makes such “enjoyment” possible, and that people, including teenagers and young children are being enslaved or killed as a result.

Will the message on British buses come across to people in strife-torn Congo as good news, so that they can “enjoy life”, and have a full one, with “world-class entertainment”?

Oh yes, the message, the philosophy, of the slogan is widely shared in the rich West.

So how do I interpret it?

There is probably no God, so go ahead and enjoy your life, even if it is at the expense of other people. There is probably no God who cares about them, so you don’t need to care about them either.

Forty years ago I was studying for a Christian doctrine exam, and instead of reading the text books for the course I read a book written by a Methodist minister in Zambia, Colin Morris. It was called Include me out: confessions of an ecclesiastical coward, and this is how it began:

The other day a Zambian dropped dead not far from my front door. The pathologist said he’d died of hunger. In his shrunken stomach were a few leaves and what appeared to be a ball of grass. And nothing else.

Colin Morris’s book wasn’t aimed at rich well-fed atheist evangelists, but rather at rich well-fed Christian ones, and at ecclesiastical bureaucrats, and he challenged them to think about how the message they put across, in words or deeds, in what they did and what they didn’t do, could have come across as good news to “an ugly little man with a shrunken belly, whose total possessions, according to the police, were a pair of shorts, a ragged shirt, and an empty Biro pen.”

There is probably no God, so it doesn’t really matter if your leaders, using your taxes, rain down bombs on people in Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, just so long as you continue to enjoy a full life, with world-class entertainment. There is probably no God who cares about them, so don’t let their plight interfere with your enjoyment of life.

Some of the things Colin Morris said 40 years ago are just as valid today, and they apply to all rich well-fed evangelists, atheist as well as Christian, including me.

Much theological writing is a highly elaborate conspiracy against that little man with the shrunken belly and his skeletal brethren. It is an exercise in endless qualification, dedicated to showing why we cannot take the words of the Galilean Peasant at their face value or follow His example simply. Let some Manchester bus conductor murmur that he can follow the words of Jesus but cannot follow the words of some of the men who followed Him, and he will earn himself a lecture. This would be to the effect that Jesus cannot be understood except within the whole framework of the History of Salvation and that he did not actually say many of the words reported of him in the Gospels, so he must take our words for what is fact and fancy, because we know!

The biggest problem for Christians with the philosophy behind the bus advertising is not that it is unacceptable, but that its message of hedonism is accepted all too easily by so many Christians. Again, to quote Colin Morris:

Our failure towards the little people of the earth is more than a lapse of simple charity for which sincere contrition can atone. When our Churches have crumbled and our vestments have rotted and the wind blows through the ruins of our ecclesiastical structures, all that will stand and have eternal significance are creative acts of compassion — the effectual signs of the presence of the Kingdom.

Because the Gospel is simple, the judgement is immediate. It awaits no historical summing up of all things. It can be put plainly and in first-person terms. I saw a starving man and there was no gnawing pain in my belly. I saw a hunchback and my own back did not ache. I watched a pathetic procession of refugees being herded back and forth sleeplessly, and I slept well that night.

Atheist irrationality and social blogrolling

Look Who’s Irrational Now –

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

‘What Americans Really Believe,’ a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

Hat-tip to Stephen Murray.

I wouldn’t really have paid much attention to this, were it not for the high proportion of militant atheists on Scoutle, a relatively new social blogrolling site that I’ve been trying out. As a result of that, I’ve seen an unusual number of atheists posts trumpeting about how rational they are, and how irrational everyone else is. An agnostic friend had a run-in with some of them about a year ago, and told me how irrational he found them, so there’s not much new there. It’s just interesting to see a bit of research backing up the anecdotal evidence.

As for Scoutle, well, it’s an interesting blogging tool, and perhaps will improve once more people are using it and it has a bigger variety of members. The idea is that instead of going looking for interesting blogs on Google or Technorati or Amatomu and such sites, you send a “scout” out on Scoutle to go and do the looking for you. Your scout then presents you with a list of possibly interesting blogs, which you can then confirm or reject. I’m assuming that it learns from these confirmations and rejections and learns to revise its choices — a bit like Stumble-Upon, only for blogs instead of ordinary web pages.

Though it has some quirks (like showing lots of militant atheist sites to a Christian blogger like me), I’m willing to give it a go because some of the other sites that are supposed to do something similar seem to have been misbehaving recently. , for example, has been quite slow. If you want to find out what they are saying in the blogosphere about Thabo Mbeki’s ousting as president, you want to read it today, and not wait until Technorati gets round to pinging the blogs in two weeks time.

Another one that is disappointing recently is BlogExplosion. It is really a sort of manual version of Scoutle. You select a category of blogs you want to see, and a category of blogs you don’t want to see, and it shows you the former and not the latter, and a few others thrown in for variety. In my case, I want to see blogs on books and literature, and don’t want to see ones on business. But the last few times I’ve used it, it’s shown me blogs on anything but books and literature, and very often repeats the same ones I saw last time, and worst of all, some of them haven’t been updated since the last time I saw them. While you are looking at blogs on BlogExplosion, it shows your blog(s) to other people, so when I do that I try to do it just after I’ve posted new things on my blogs, so that the people who read them won’t see the same old posts umpteen times. At least it gives you the option to say “don’t show me this again”.

As I said, Scoutle does much the same thing, but the process is automated. You don’t have to go through five dull blogs to find one interesting one. Scoutle is supposed to find them for you. So if you’ve got an interesting blog, please join Scoutle now!

Atheist’s bizarre attempt to convert Christian

One sometimes hears of fanatical Christians with over-enthusiastic in-your-face proselytising, but it seems that Christians don’t have a monopoly. Atheists sometimes resort to such methods too.

clipped from
AN ATHEIST subjected a devout Christian woman to a “relentless” campaign of harassment in which he smeared dog faeces on her car and urinated on her doorstep.

Timothy Brown, of Edwin Avenue, Woodbridge, may seek medical help after a year-long bid to change Helen Watson’s religious beliefs.

Brown, 37, who is married and has a child, pleaded guilty at South East Magistrates’ Court in Ipswich yesterday to racially aggravated harassment between September 1, 2007, and September 10 this year.

The ordeal began in September last year after Mrs Watson had placed a religious fish sticker in her car.

After that point, she would regularly find that another sticker had been put on top of it with words such as “myth”, “deceived”, “sucker” and “fiction”, which she said were derogatory to her religious views.
blog it

Hmm, Clipmarks doesn’t seem to work tto well. Let’s try “Blog this”:

EADT – Atheist’s bizarre bid to convert Christian:

AN ATHEIST subjected a devout Christian woman to a “relentless” campaign of harassment in which he smeared dog faeces on her car and urinated on her doorstep.

Timothy Brown, of Edwin Avenue, Woodbridge, may seek medical help after a year-long bid to change Helen Watson’s religious beliefs.

Brown, 37, who is married and has a child, pleaded guilty at South East Magistrates’ Court in Ipswich yesterday to racially aggravated harassment between September 1, 2007, and September 10 this year.

Hat-tip to Solomon Hezekiah.

The atheism meme

Hat-tip to Elizaphanian for this one.

Q1. How would you define “atheism”?

Being without God or gods

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

No, my parents were atheist/agnostic.

Q3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?


Q4. What scientific endeavor really excites you?

Alternative energy sources

Q5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?

Give them a better sense of intellectual history, especially Christian intellectual history (ditto from Elizaphanian).

Q6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?

You can’t do it unless you’re called, and if you’re called you can’t do anything else (ditto).

Q7. What’s your favorite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

I don’t have any favourite theistic arguments (ditto).

Q8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

er… bearing in mind where I’m coming at this from, probably that God=meaning (ditto).

Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

Since I’ve never heard of Dennett, I’ll pick him. He can’t be worse than the other three, though I admit that I might think better of them if it weren’t for their admirers (“There is no god, and Sam Harris is his prophet”)

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

Anyone who believes in the God that atheists don’t believe in.

On the futility of arguing with atheists

Elizaphanian has been posting a series on atheism, and reading the comments on one of his posts has convinced me more strongly than ever of the futility of arguing with atheists.

An agnostic friend of mine came to the same conclusion, and I blogged about it in Militant atheism goes West. Since he puts the case much more convincingly than I can, I won’t repeat his arguments here.

But one thing I will repeat. A blogging friend wrote in his LiveJournal about the new brand of atheist TV evangelists. He has now deleted his LiveJournal, so links to it will no longer work, and I hope he won’t mind if I reproduce his post on That fool Dawkins

Rational debate about the existence/ non-existence of God, and the ethical implications thereof, is good. It belongs to human dignity to seek to discern what is true.

There is an academic discipline which studies questions such as what constitutes a warranted belief, what religious language ‘means’, whether it has a possible reference and what it means for our conceptions of the good life. That discipline is philosophy. There is also an academic discipline whose remit of study includes the atrocities committed in the name of religion. That discipline is history.

So why, when Channel Four want to air a programme about these issues do they give air-time to a biologist with no training whatsoever in either discipline? Moreover one whose previous pronouncements in this area have only been published because he has piggy-backed on his (justified) scientific reputation and which, considered in their own right, are unworthy of a moderately bright A-level student..

Yet another example of the ignoring of the humanities in mainstream culture and, in spite of the irrationalism of our age, the persistence of the Victorian cult of the polymath scientist. Boo, hiss.

it seems to me…: the god delusion: a source criticism

Anyone who has done courses in Biblical Studies at university or done postmodern literary studies should find this exercise in deconstruction interesting: it seems to me…: the god delusion: a source criticism.

It seems that the book The god delusion is based on two very different and sometimes contradictory sources, H and A, which have been drawn together by a redactor, R, who tries to harmonise them.

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