"Yolanda" commented :
= = = Rosemary and "Gina", I know I have to be careful how I post because I know that you do not believe what I believe. I cannot possibly present tangible evidence when faith is the foundation of what I believe. I will say this again. It is not my job to convince you. He will reveal Himself to you. It is not my job to defend Him. He does not need defending. I do, however, understand why you have questions or better yet why you believe the way you do. - - - My response to "Jim" has to do with the difference between doctrine and truth. As a believer he understands where I am coming from. As non believers you never will. = = =
"Yolanda", you make the usual naive theist's mistake of assuming that we don't believe in a divinity right now because we have never believed in one. You wrongly assume that we have never believed that a divinity has revealed himself to us, or that this divinity is in any way similar to the one you currently believe has revealed itself to you.
Like many "de-cons", I was once a very sincere and active evangelical Christian who "saved souls", read the Bible every day (in small carefully chosen bits nominated by the Scripture Union) and, finally, began studying for the Christian ministry.
I had an enquiring mind and sought to learn as much as I could about the faith. What the leaders of my faith told me did not, always compare favorably with knowledge that I gained from other sources, with my understanding of what was fair and humane or with the application of the rules of logic and reason, This led to some very uncomfortable doubts which I had a hard time suppressing and ignoring. Unfortunately for my faith, my sense of morality included an
intellectual integrity which was relentless in its insistence that I
follow where the evidence led, not where I wished it would go.
Preparing myself for the ministry was my final undoing.
I actually got to read ALL of the Bible, in large sections. I learned how the Bible was put together, who wrote it as well as when and why. I learned about the culture, history and surrounding beliefs at the time when the books, or parts of the books, were written. I got to note and compare all the Biblical contradictions.
I discovered that there were two distinct gods (Yahweh and El) and a pantheon (the Elohim) written about in the first books of the Christian Old Testament and that these had all been simply translated as "god" in the revisionist texts prepared by people with a vested interest in making these writings consistent with the monotheist emphasis of later writings.
I noted the many instances where archeology and other branches of science either do not support or flatly contradicted passages and statements in the Old and New Testaments. I learned about the differences in the findings of the archeological digs with an overt Christian bias and those which were attached to secular universities. I learned that the Christian groups actively suppressed dis-confirming evidence or avoided searching for it. I got to hear what Jewish scholars had to say about the way that Christians interpret their holy books. I learned why the Jesus figure could not have been the Jewish Messiah or, if he had been, why he could not have therefore also have been the Jewish god.
After all that there was no way I could believe that the Christian Bible was the literal, or even the non-literal, "word of god". In order to do that I would have had to suppress everything that I had learned, ignore reason and commit intellectual suicide.
I got to read about church history and the blood-thirsty and sadistic way in which Christian doctrine and the Biblical cannon were decided. I reluctantly decided that the early Christians were not people that I would have liked. In many instances I could not admire their moral standpoint. St Paul's misogynist, sexist and racist views were deeply offensive. What Jesus had to say about divorce was cruel in the light of my experience of the world.
I got to read of the horrific and monstrous things attributed to the Yahweh god in the Old Testament and had to admit that such actions were not ones that I would want others to emulate. I could not get away from the fact that many of his actions and commandments would be condemned as evidence of evil if they were performed by humans. I got a mental headache from trying to twist my mind around the idea that actions which appeared to be intrinsically evil were somehow "good" if performed by a god who was defined as "good", simply because humans failed to understood the total perspective of the being that was also defined as "all knowing". How could a wise and all-powerful divinity allow such stories to be circulated as models of god-like behavior if they could be used to support behavior which was evil if performed by humans? Something had to give. The god I had been taught to believe in simply could not exist with all the attributes which humans insisted he must have: all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise. Or he did not exist at all.
I got to read the fantastic and horrendous things that Christians through the ages were convinced had been revealed to them by their version of the Christian god. The sadistic examples of godly behavior in the Bible did nothing to help. I discovered the rabid racism preached by Catholic Popes and the Protestants Calvin and Martin Luther. It was clear that Nazi anti-semitism was not a fabrication of Hitler, as I had been taught by the Christian faithful, but a doctrine which had roots Christianity. The churches provided very fertile ground for the Nazis who simply translated these religiously derived prejudices into real life.
After comparing the vastly different ways in which pious and sincere religious people interpreted the Bible and the will of their god I could no longer believe that Christians were led by the spirit of that god into all truth, as promised by one of the author's of the Christian Bible. There is no reason to think that a divinity that would allow this level of confusion and war-engendering disagreement is worth worshiping, even if it existed.
I got to teach Australian tertiary-entrance level (US college level) compulsory "clear thinking" classes. I became very familiar with the basic logical fallacies. I recognized their use among the apologists for my previous religion. I learned that in a court of law concerned with discovering the truth, unscientifically verified human testimony is recognized as the weakest form of evidence and, in many cases, is inadmissible. I compared with this the realization that the whole basis of religion is built on this kind of flimsy "evidence": unverifiable human testimony and subjective personal experience.
Later on I studied professional level psychology. The complex statistical methodology that underpins all of the research in the discipline is founded on the knowledge that the human mind is an extremely unreliable source of valid and accurate data. I discovered how the brain convinces itself of things which can be shown to be objectively false and how it protects the person from perceiving, understanding, learning or recalling things that threaten the person's familiar world view, comfort level or the positive perception of themselves as intelligent, wise, sophisticated, loving, attractive and moral.
I went on to study specialist neuro-psychology. I learned that brain scans of people who have "mystical" and "religious" experiences show that the part of the brain (behind the right ear) which is able to differentiate between "self" and "non-self" is turned off while during the time that they have these sensations. I also learned that the hemisphere (right) which deals with reality checking is impaired and the memories of these events are stored without the crucial data which enables them to be properly evaluated for truth value after the event. Such abnormal brain states are caused by temporal lobe epilepsy (St. Paul, for example), near-death experiences, oxygen deprivation and specific brain injuries to the right-temporo-parietal junction and the contiguous parietal lobe areas. They are also self-induced by less pathological means, such as deep meditation, contemplative prayer,chanting, reciting mantras and repetitive phrases (Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, Amen), clapping, dancing and other repetitive body movements. They can be induced by others using charismatic hypnotic speech techniques (preachers, evangelists, sales people, mentalists) especially if accompanied by low frequency sounds, emotionally arousing music, musk-based smells and incense, and a sequence of events designed to build tension, anxiety and expectation and then provide sudden release.
People's strong subjective conviction that they have truly experienced the divine (rather than simply imagined it) is thus worthless because their brains are unable to process the data properly, either during or after the event.
You have none of this background. You do not, therefore, have any valid justification for believing that you "understand why you have questions or better yet why you believe the way you do."
Since I once believed as you do I have a much better case for arguing that I understand why _you_ believe the way you do, including the incredibly arrogant and completely unjustifiable belief that you understand where _I_ am coming from. Someone has told you "how atheists think" and you, naively and uncritically , believed them.
You have no cause for your assertions until you can demonstrate that you have objectively researched (reading material written by exponents of both theist and atheist viewpoints) the basis of your beliefs.
You would need to cover the authority of the Bible (scholarly critiques of the books and authorship), the history of the development of the biblical cannons (there are at least three different ones still in common use among various branches of Western and Eastern Christianity), the evolving history of church dogma and the suppression of "heresies", the recent history (largely in the United States) of the fracturing of Christianity into thousands of sects, sub-religions and a myriad of vastly different "personal relationships with Jesus/Mary/god/saints", basic logic (valid critical thinking and logical fallacies), social psychology and the unreliability of human perception (the basis of illusions and delusion, selective attention, memory filters, cognitive dissonance, cognitive bias, dogmatism, authoritarian personality, social influence, persuasion and suggestibility), the psychology of religion (brain scans of people undergoing religious and mystical experiences), and religious neurology and psychopathology (pathological and disease states which produce illusions of the presence of god or the belief that one is god, or the conviction that one has been spoken to or visited by good or bad supernatural beings (aliens, Jesus, Satan, Yahweh, Mary, St. Ambrose, etc.)
When you can demonstrate that you have objectively investigated the basis of your beliefs (reading both sides) then you may have some cause to argue that you understand why I believe as I do. Until then you are simply advertising your intellectual immaturity, the depth of your ignorance, your childlike willingness to believe what you are told by others in the absence of solid tangible objectively measurable proof and your ability to be fooled by your imagination and your cognitively biased senses.
- Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM