Why I Am Not A Christian
I have read many articles and books by the same title, "Why I am not a Christian." I thought it may be appropriate to express my own personal view on the subject.
My thoughts on this come from two directions. The first is my inability to believe in the Christian doctrine due to the total lack of evidence to support it, which is dwarfed by the massive amount of evidence that refutes it. The second is my understanding that even if Christianity were supported by evidence, I couldn't agree with the basic tenets that are foundational to the Christian faith.
Living correctly, we will continue to ask new questions as time goes on, and we will strive to answer existing questions. As long as we have unknowns, there will be a place for the superstitious to insert a god as the answer. But what do we mean when we say god? When I ask someone to give me an operational definition of god, one that can be tested for accuracy and therefore possibly falsified, I get no reply. When I ask them to just describe god, I receive logically incoherent statements which are subjective to each persons whims. To say he/she/it is your personal god, is an understatement. It is sufficiently difficult to get two Christians to agree on a description of god, let alone two individuals of different faiths. If there is a god in reality, as opposed to a creation in our mind, we should at least be able to agree on a definition. As I said above, a definition which can be tested for accuracy. Without some form of verification, the supposed definition is nothing more than an idea. Without a logically consistent definition of what god is, how can we hope to have any meaning when answering a question with "god." We are attempting to answer an unknown with the "more" unknown.
Believers come in many forms, two major forms are the deist and the theist. The Deist believes in a god, creator of the universe, who set everything in motion. This god has since removed itself from our lives. It doesn't listen to our prayers, care about sin, or have a relationship with us in any way. A Deist is relatively harmless because they don't attempt to use their belief to control other peoples lives. A deist lacks the personal and emotional attachment to their god. For instance, a Deist has no religious basis for legislating against gay marriage, contraception, abortion, stem cell research, science education, etc. Contrary to what many Christians in this country believe, many of the founding fathers were deists. This is evident in their writings which were specifically anti theistic. Remember that this was a pre Darwin time so they were not privy to information we now have explaining the complexity of life. I have no belief in a Diest god, but by definition above, it doesn't matter!! Even if we could define this deistic god, it's separation from us is identical to its non existence.
The other form of believer is the theist. A theist believes in a personal god, a god who not only created the universe, but remains highly involved in our personal lives. Exactly like Santa Claus, this god knows everything we think and do. Theistic gods are celestial dictators, quite able to convict us of thought crime. Theism, like all supernatural belief structures, is man made. However, with the "personal involvement factor," it provides an avenue for the theist to impose their beliefs on others. Theists are demonstrably unable to keep their beliefs to themselves. They attempt to legislate their beliefs into law, so that others will have to live by their rules. Ironically, they feel their god is unable to accomplish this without their help. Theism is dangerous to society because of the divisiveness it causes. Simply put, believe as I do or suffer eternity in hell. The conflict begins with the realization that there are thousands of mutually exclusive theistic belief structures on this planet. Christianity is just "one" of these and contains thousands of individual sects of its own. The one thing they all have in common is the belief that theirs is the only true path to salvation. Logically, they cannot "all" be right. So which belief system do we choose? As it turns out, statistically, our belief system is picked for us. In the major majority of cases, it is determined by where we're born geographically and the religious belief of our parents. By the time we reach an age of self awareness, the indoctrination is complete. This is why the religious community is so adamant about religious training at an early age, (literally starting at birth with baptism). This is also why it is so easy for us to dismiss other belief systems as "crazy" and at the same time hold our own with such esteem. Obviously, if any of these belief systems had any evidence whatsoever, evidence that could be verified in any reliable way, all of the other belief systems would disappear.
Religious indoctrination is very difficult to overcome. Because it begins in childhood, it becomes part of a persons identity. The ego does not want to admit to the fact that we could have been wrong all this time. Not only that, it means that all of the authoritative figures in your life, may also be wrong. Another major consideration is the fear factor. Religious indoctrination makes it very clear what happens to those who doubt. The thought of spending an eternity in hell is a very powerful motivator. Religion insulates itself by suggesting that even questioning is a bad thing, while identifying faith as a virtue. Faith means believing something without, or even contrary to the evidence. Why is this considered a virtue? I cannot imagine any other subject area in our daily lives where we would be willing to surrender to these precepts. Why are we willing when it comes to religious faith? Why would an omniscient all loving deity, one who wishes for us to know him, require us to believe in him on faith? It would be so easy for him to provide evidence convincing to us all. I do not know what that evidence would be, but an omniscient being certainly would. With a god in heaven, none of this makes any sense. However, if we consider the alternative, that there is no god, it makes perfect sense. Man learned long ago, when we put ourselves in a position to speak for god, we will enjoy incredible power over others. Religion has enjoyed power over the masses for ages. It convinces us we are broken, then offers us the cure. Maintain the faith for a ticket to heaven. Avoid doubt, avoid questioning, do not attempt to eat from the tree of knowledge. Education is the one thing that will bring down their house of cards. If they had any evidence to support their claims, they would be comfortable in our learning. This is why they inhibit our progress.
While it is logically impossible to prove a negative, the scientific community has demonstrated that belief in theistic gods is inconsistent with reality. Of the religions that have holy texts, many of the statements made in those texts about the world we live in, have been proven to be false. I will use the bible as an example because I am assuming my audience are mostly Christians, however the other holy books contain substantial errors also. These holy books are considered the foundational documents for their respective religions, the inspired word of god. As the inspired word of god, I would expect the bible to be consistent with reality.
The bible describes the universe as being three tiers, the waters above, the land we live on, and the waters below. The bible describes the earth as being flat with pillars at the four corners of the earth to support the heavens. The bible states that the stars above are embedded in a firmament. The bible advocates the geocentric earth, the earth at the center of the universe with all the heavens revolving around us. Science has proven all of these statements to be false. The bible fails to mention anything that was not common knowledge to first century humans. For instance, there is no mention of electricity, germs, viruses, atoms, molecules, spherical planets or stars, weather patterns or even disease and infection. The word "brain" is not mentioned even once in the bible making it a truly "brainless" book, however in the KJV, unicorns are discussed nine different times. The bible condones genocide, infanticide, incest, misogyny, and slavery. (People who call it the good book, have not read the book.) I often hear the argument claiming the New Testament corrects all the injustice of the Old Testament. Let us not forget, they are both in the canon. Also, remember Mathew 5:17-19 where Jesus affirms that he has come to fulfill the law of the Old Testament. As bad as the Old Testament is, it fails in comparison to the concept first introduced in the New Testament. That would be the concept of Hell and infinite punishment for a finite crime. The book is perfectly consistent with a man made document written by first century or earlier humans, complete with all of their ignorance, prejudices, and customs which we consider morally appalling today. The book contains no foresight which could have, or can in this day help us advance as a species. On the contrary, Christianity has impeded our discovery every step of the way. Imagine the damage to our advancement during the Dark Ages. The book burnings, the stagnation of the scientific community. Anything that didn't concur with religious dogma was muted or destroyed. It is not unreasonable to conclude that we would have a cure for cancer and many other diseases by now had it not been for religious beliefs against science. Presently, religious belief is inhibiting progress with stem cell research. This is currently the most promising field of medical research, and our hands are tied. We have advanced beyond the book, in spite of the book. To maintain belief in the book as the inspired word of god means forgoing all of the progress we have made over the last two millennia. Many fundamentalist believers would have us do just that. They would have us return to the Dark Ages, where we attain all of our knowledge from just one book, where we give up all of our responsibility and accountability, and put our lives in gods hands.
There are 7 billion people on our planet. Of those, there are 2.1 billion people who identify as Christian, 1.4 billion Muslims, 1.1 billion Hindus, 1.1 billion who don't identify with any faith, and approximately 12 to 14 million Jews. The reason for the low numbers of Jews is because they don't market their faith the way others do, you have to be born of a Jewish mother to be a real Jew, and the tenets of their faith are difficult to maintain. For instance, let's not forget, male Jews have to be circumcised. Christianity on the other hand, is very easy to follow. All you have to do to be a Christian, is believe in Jesus Christ as your savior, no circumcision required. Paul was instrumental in allowing Gentiles to become Christian. This provided the uncircumcised a path to salvation. Is it any wonder that Christianity spread much faster than Judaism. The path of least resistance. But even with 2.1 billion adherents, Christianity has spread pretty well as a human endeavor, but fails miserably as part of gods plan. Even if Christianity is true, it means that over two thirds of the world population is condemned to eternity in hell simply because they are praying to the wrong god or, like me, have no belief in god. I would expect better from an omniscient deity.
The above are just some of the reasons why I cannot believe in Christianity. Now I will explain why even if I could find some reason to believe it, I would not want to be an adherent of the faith.
The concept of Original Sin. The story goes, a talking snake convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge. This happened after god told Adam and Eve to partake of anything in the garden of Eden except the fruit of the tree of knowledge. As stated above, ignorance is a noble thing when it comes to faith. Knowledge is dangerous. It is a lot easier to control the ignorant. Now god, being omniscient, knew all this was going to happen ahead of time. He knew about the snake. He knew they would eat the fruit. He knew he would punish mankind for it. Because of this transgression, mankind for eternity is saddled with original sin. Men have to work in the fields, women suffer pain during childbirth, and worst of all, snakes have to slither on the ground. So to overcome this Original Sin, and be allowed in heaven, you have to be baptized. This is a convenient way for the church to label people. The concept I cannot agree with is the notion that all of us are somehow held responsible for a supposed transgression committed by someone else. Think of this in our current society. Someone I don't even know commits a crime,( in a different time and a different land), because I happen to be a fellow human, I am responsible!! Is this just?
The opposite of Original Sin is the concept of atonement. As this story goes, we are all sinners. It started with Original Sin and just went down hill from there. Again, god knows all this ahead of time. So in the infinite wisdom held by deities, god sends his son, who also happens to be himself, to earth to be a human sacrifice. An all loving god cannot just forgive us for the sinning he set us up for. He has to sacrifice himself to himself. This sacrifice is an atonement for our sins. I do not agree with the concept of one person paying for another persons crime. If Jack commits murder and Jane agrees to go to jail on Jacks behalf, allowing Jack to go free, has justice been served? Would you be comfortable with that?
Any god worth worshipping, would not require it. Just like any person of authority in our lives, they either earn our respect through their character, or they don't. They cannot demand respect from others and expect to receive it. People may subjugate themselves to a person of authority, but this is not respect. The same is true with gods. They cannot demand our worship and expect genuine worship. When we assign god as the author of all the good in the world, we must be ready to also assign him as the author of all the pain and suffering. Gods are typically described as omnipotent beings. Any omnipotent being that would willingly allow all the pain and suffering we experience in the world, does not deserve to be worshipped. The Christian god also requires us to love him, and at the same time fear him. I find these concepts incompatible. This is god saying, believe in me, love me, worship me, follow my commands, or I will punish you for eternity. For us to agree, is a classic case of battered child syndrome. An eternity in heaven worshipping a god with a huge ego sounds like another form of hell to me.
According to Christian doctrine, unbelief is the one unforgivable sin. The punishment is infinite, an eternity burning in hell. Does the punishment fit the crime? Does it make a difference that belief must be based on faith? According to doctrine, we can commit any other sin imaginable and be forgiven. All we have to do is ask for forgiveness on our death bed by accepting Jesus Christ as our savior. Where is the justice in that? No wonder Christianity is so easy to sell.
I desire that all people are accountable for their own actions and I choose to be accountable for my own actions. Other people are not responsible for my actions and I am not responsible for theirs. The above three paragraphs are in direct conflict with this personal responsibility and accountability.
When I talk about an omniscient, omnipotent, all loving deity and how it is inconsistent with all the pain and suffering in the world, the reply I get from believers is the free will argument. This argument says that god loves us so much that he gave us free will. He didn't want us to be a bunch of puppets. He allows us to choose for ourselves if we want to believe or not, be good or not, etc.
First of all, human free will has nothing to do with all the pain, suffering and death caused by natural disasters such as typhoons, hurricanes,volcanoes, etc. let alone all the innocent children dying of cancer and other forms of disease. Are we brave enough to label these as "acts of god" when we see 150,000 corpses on the beach? How is this consistent with "all loving"? If our reply is something like "god works in mysterious ways", it reinforces my argument, that when we say "god", we have no idea what we are talking about.
Another problem with free will. If we don't believe in Jesus Christ as our savior, according to the Christian faith, this is the one unforgivable sin. If we do not believe, we will suffer an eternity in hell. If we will be punished with eternal fire for not believing, is it really free will?
Finally, I have to ask. If there is a heaven, when we get there, will we have free will or will we be a bunch of puppets? If we have free will in heaven, will there be pain and suffering? Most would agree, heaven is a place with free will and everything is wonderful. No pain or suffering of any sort. So why did our all loving god not make it so on earth, in this life?
We are all products of our education and experiences. Our thoughts and reactions are directly related to these two variables. FMRI brain scans have shown that we react to stimuli fractions of a second "before" we are consciously aware of the stimuli. Free will and the deity that supposedly grants it, have every indication of being an illusion.
So why take the time to write all this down? Why do I care? Why can't I just believe what I want and let others believe what they want? What is the harm?
I witness harm attributed to religious belief on a daily bases. We have people martyring themselves by becoming human bombs. We have perpetual wars over holy ground. We have parents withholding medical care from their children due to religious belief, and kids are dying as a result. We have other people defending the parents rights to do this. We have adults absolutely terrifying children with the threat of hell, simply for not believing. We have religious institutions convincing people they are unworthy sinners, our only redemption possible through begging and worshipping at the feet of the deity that supposedly created us this way. We have parents physically beating their children because the bible tells them to. We have people with a cavalier attitude towards our planet and our environment, because they think god put everything here for us to use up. They count on the rapture to save them before it all implodes. Religion inhibits education, specifically science education, because it uncovers the false dogma that belief thrives on. People use the bible to justify all forms prejudice and bigotry towards their fellow humans. As stated earlier, religious belief is socially divisive. Religion teaches people to be content with injustice in this world, with the hollow promise of a better life in the afterlife. Finally, religious belief convinces people that the search for truth is not as important as maintaining faith.
Unfortunately, we do not hold our beliefs in a bubble. Our beliefs inform our actions. While everyone does have a right to hold their own beliefs, the moment they act on those beliefs in a way that affects the lives of another, then we have a right to inquire on the reasonableness of that belief. The list of negatives I have included above is by no means all inclusive. Even if we avoid all the pitfalls above, we are still guilty of providing legitimacy to the idea of believing unsubstantiated claims, if we don't question their connection to reality. It is quite possible to maintain respect towards the person while questioning their claims. We do it all the time in other areas of discourse.
I have no doubt that many religious people are good people. I have no doubt that many religious groups do a lot of good in our society. I argue that these people would do these good deeds regardless of their belief in a deity. Steven Weinberg said " With or without religion, 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." Genuine altruism can only be demonstrated without an expectation of rewards in heaven or fear of punishment in hell.
Some people say they just "want" to believe. I hope they have enough intellectual honesty to at least examine what it is they believe. It takes courage to overcome the fear of hell and to admit that we might be wrong about our beliefs. The truth is worth the journey. The realization that life is not predestined, that we are responsible for our own futures, is very liberating.
My goal in writing this is not to convert anyone to non belief. My goal is to encourage people to think critically, ask questions, and search for truth. This is the only way we can make informed decisions, decisions based on reality. I would not expect or desire anyone to just believe what I say. I would expect them to critically examine any and all information and verify the claims being made. That being said, after my examination of the evidence, my conclusion is non belief in any deities. This was not my intended outcome. It was a conclusion based on evidence. This does not mean the journey is complete. I continue to learn, as we all should, and I will follow the evidence wherever it leads.