Posts Tagged ‘Afterlife’


20reasons-e-book-72

by Chaz Bufe

A few years ago Sharp and Pointed posted the full text of 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity in two parts after releasing it as an e-book. That was a bit inconvenient for readers, so here it is in full.

I’m currently updating and greatly expanding 20 Reasons, and See Sharp Press will release the new version in book form as 25 Reasons to Abandon Christianity in about a year. Here’s the full version of the original.

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Preface

This essay briefly looks at many of the reasons that Christianity is undesirable from both a personal and a social point of view. All of the matters discussed here have been dealt with elsewhere at greater length, but that’s beside the point: the purpose of 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity is to list the most outstanding misery-producing and socially destructive qualities of Christianity in one place. When considered in toto, they lead to an irresistible conclusion: that Christianity must be abandoned, for the sake of both personal happiness and social progress.

As regards the title, “abandon”—rather than “suppress” or “eliminate”—was chosen deliberately. Attempts to coercively suppress beliefs are not only ethically wrong, but in the long run they are often ineffective—as the resurgence of religion in the former Soviet Union demonstrates. If Christianity is ever to disappear, it will be because individual human beings wake up, abandon their destructive, repressive beliefs, and choose to be here now, in the only life we have.

1. Christianity is based on fear. While today there are liberal clergy who preach a gospel of love, they ignore the bulk of Christian teachings, not to mention the bulk of Christian history. Throughout almost its entire time on Earth, the motor driving Christianity has been—in addition to the fear of death—fear of the devil and fear of hell. One can only imagine how potent these threats seemed prior to the rise of science and rational thinking, which have largely robbed these bogeys of their power to inspire terror. But even today, the existence of the devil and hell are cardinal doctrinal tenets of almost all Christian creeds, and many fundamentalist preachers still openly resort to terrorizing their followers with lurid, sadistic portraits of the suffering of nonbelievers after death. This is not an attempt to convince through logic and reason; it is not an attempt to appeal to the better nature of individuals; rather, it is an attempt to whip the flock into line through threats, through appeals to a base part of human nature—fear and cowardice.

2. Christianity preys on the innocent. If Christian fear-mongering were directed solely at adults, it would be bad enough, but Christians routinely terrorize helpless children through grisly depictions of the endless horrors and suffering they’ll be subjected to if they don’t live good Christian lives. Christianity has darkened the early years of generation after generation of children, who have lived in terror of dying while in mortal sin and going to endless torment as a result. All of these children were trusting of adults, and they did not have the ability to analyze what they were being told; they were simply helpless victims, who, ironically, victimized following generations in the same manner that they themselves had been victimized. The nearly 2000 years of Christian terrorizing of children ranks as one of its greatest crimes. And it’s one that continues to this day.

As an example of Christianity’s cruel brainwashing of the innocent, consider this quotation from an officially approved, 19th-century Catholic children’s book (Tracts for Spiritual Reading, by Rev. J. Furniss, C.S.S.R.):

Look into this little prison. In the middle of it there is a boy, a young man. He is silent; despair is on him . . . His eyes are burning like two burning coals. Two long flames come out of his ears. His breathing is difficult. Sometimes he opens his mouth and breath of blazing fire rolls out of it. But listen! There is a sound just like that of a kettle boiling. Is it really a kettle which is boiling? No; then what is it? Hear what it is. The blood is boiling in the scalding veins of that boy. The brain is boiling and bubbling in his head. The marrow is boiling in his bones. Ask him why he is thus tormented. His answer is that when he was alive, his blood boiled to do very wicked things.

There are many similar passages in this book. Commenting on it, William Meagher, Vicar-General of Dublin, states in his Approbation:

I have carefully read over this Little Volume for Children and have found nothing whatever in it contrary to the doctrines of the Holy Faith; but on the contrary, a great deal to charm, instruct and edify the youthful classes for whose benefit it has been written.

 3. Christianity is based on dishonesty. The Christian appeal to fear, to cowardice, is an admission that the evidence supporting Christian beliefs is far from compelling. If the evidence were such that Christianity’s truth was immediately apparent to anyone who considered it, Christians—including those who wrote the Gospels—would feel no need to resort to the cheap tactic of using threats to inspire “belief.” (“Lip service” is a more accurate term.) That the Christian clergy have been more than willing to accept such lip service (plus the money and obedience that go with it) in place of genuine belief, is an additional indictment of the basic dishonesty of Christianity.

How deep dishonesty runs in Christianity can be gauged by one of the most popular Christian arguments for belief in God: Pascal’s wager. This “wager” holds that it’s safer to “believe” in God (as if belief were volitional!) than not to believe, because God might exist, and if it does, it will save “believers” and condemn nonbelievers to hell after death. This is an appeal to pure cowardice. It has absolutely nothing to do with the search for truth. Instead, it’s an appeal to abandon honesty and intellectual integrity, and to pretend that lip service is the same thing as actual belief. If the patriarchal God of Christianity really exists, one wonders how it would judge the cowards and hypocrites who advance and bow to this particularly craven “wager.”

4. Christianity is extremely egocentric. The deep egocentrism of Christianity is intimately tied to its reliance on fear. In addition to the fears of the devil and hell, Christianity plays on another of humankind’s most basic fears: death, the dissolution of the individual ego. Perhaps Christianity’s strongest appeal is its promise of eternal life. While there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim, most people are so terrified of death that they cling to this treacly promise insisting, like frightened children, that it must be true. Nietzsche put the matter well: “salvation of the soul—in plain words, the world revolves around me.” It’s difficult to see anything spiritual in this desperate grasping at straws—this desperate grasping at the illusion of personal immortality.

Another manifestation of the extreme egotism of Christianity is the belief that God is intimately concerned with picayune aspects of, and directly intervenes in, the lives of individuals. If God, the creator and controller of the universe, is vitally concerned with your sex life, you must be pretty damned important. Many Christians take this particular form of egotism much further and actually imagine that God has a plan for them, or that God directly talks to, directs, or even does favors for them.1 If one ignored the frequent and glaring contradictions in this supposed divine guidance, and the dead bodies sometimes left in its wake, one could almost believe that the individuals making such claims are guided by God. But one can’t ignore the contradictions in and the oftentimes horrible results of following such “divine guidance.” As “Agent Mulder” put it (perhaps paraphrasing Thomas Szasz) in a 1998 X-Files episode, “When you talk to God it’s prayer, but when God talks to you it’s schizophrenia. . . . God may have his reasons, but he sure seems to employ a lot of psychotics to carry out his job orders.”

In less extreme cases, the insistence that one is receiving divine guidance or special treatment from God is usually the attempt of those who feel worthless—or helpless, adrift in an uncaring universe—to feel important or cared for. This less sinister form of egotism is commonly found in the expressions of disaster survivors that “God must have had a reason for saving me” (in contrast to their less-worthy-of-life fellow disaster victims, whom God—who controls all things—killed). Again, it’s very difficult to see anything spiritual in such egocentricity.

5. Christianity breeds arrogance, a chosen-people mentality. It’s only natural that those who believe (or play act at believing) that they have a direct line to the Almighty would feel superior to others. This is so obvious that it needs little elaboration. A brief look at religious terminology confirms it. Christians have often called themselves “God’s people,” “the chosen people,” “the elect,” “the righteous,” etc., while nonbelievers have been labeled “heathens,” “infidels,” and “atheistic Communists” (as if atheism and Communism are intimately connected). This sets up a two-tiered division of humanity, in which “God’s people” feel superior to those who are not “God’s people.”

That many competing religions with contradictory beliefs make the same claim seems not to matter at all to the members of the various sects that claim to be the only carriers of “the true faith.” The carnage that results when two competing sects of “God’s people” collide—as in Iraq, Ireland, the Indian subcontinent, and Palestine—would be quite amusing but for the suffering it causes to the innocent.

6. Christianity breeds authoritarianism. Given that Christians claim to have the one true faith, to have a book that is the Word of God, and (in many cases) to receive guidance directly from God, they feel little or no compunction about using force and coercion to enforce “God’s Will” (which they, of course, interpret and understand). Given that they believe (or pretend) that they’re receiving orders from the Almighty (who would cast them into hell should they disobey), it’s little wonder that they feel no reluctance, and in fact are eager, to intrude into the most personal aspects of the lives of nonbelievers. This is most obvious today in the area of sex, with Christians attempting to deny women the right to abortion and—ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence—to mandate ineffective abstinence-only sex “education” in the public schools. It’s also obvious in the area of science education, with Christians attempting to force biology teachers to teach their creation myth (but not those of Hindus, Native Americans, et al.) in place of (or as being equally valid as) the very well established theory of evolution. But the authoritarian tendencies of Christianity reach much further than this.

Up until well into the 20th century in the United States and other Christian countries (notably Ireland), Christian churches pressured governments into passing laws forbidding the sale and distribution of birth control devices, and they also managed to enact laws forbidding even the description of birth control devices. This assault on free speech was part and parcel of Christianity’s shameful history of attempting to suppress “indecent” and “subversive” materials (and to throw their producers in jail or burn them alive). This anti-free speech stance of Christianity dates back centuries, with the cases of Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno (who was burnt alive) being good illustrations of it. Perhaps the most colorful example of this intrusive Christian tendency toward censorship is the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books, which dates from the 16th century and which was abandoned only in the latter part of the 20th century—not because the church recognized it as a crime against human freedom, but because it could no longer be enforced (not that it was ever systematically enforced—that was too big a job even for the Inquisition).

Christian authoritarianism extends, however, far beyond attempts to suppress free speech; it extends even to attempts to suppress freedom of belief. In the 15th century, under Ferdinand and Isabella at about the time of Columbus’s discovery of the New World, Spain’s Jews were ordered either to convert to Christianity or to flee the country; about half chose exile, while those who remained, the “Conversos,” were favorite targets of the Inquisition. A few years later, Spain’s Muslims were forced to make a similar choice.

This Christian hatred of freedom of belief—and of individual freedom in general—extends to this day. Up until the late 19th century in England, atheists who had the temerity to openly advocate their beliefs were jailed. Even today in many parts of the United States laws still exist that forbid atheists from serving on juries or from holding public office. And it’s no mystery what the driving force is behind laws against victimless “crimes” such as nudity, sodomy, fornication, cohabitation, and prostitution.

If your nonintrusive beliefs or actions are not in accord with Christian “morality,” you can bet that Christians will feel completely justified—not to mention righteous—in poking their noses (often in the form of state police agencies) into your private life.

7. Christianity is cruel. Throughout its history, cruelty—both to self and to others—has been one of the most prominent features of Christianity. From its very start, Christianity, with its bleak view of life, its emphasis upon sexual sin, and its almost impossible-to-meet demands for sexual “purity,” encouraged guilt, penance, and self-torture. Today, this self-torture is primarily psychological, in the form of guilt arising from following (or denying, and thus obsessing over) one’s natural sexual desires. In earlier centuries, it was often physical. W.E.H. Lecky relates:

For about two centuries, the hideous maceration of the body was regarded as the highest proof of excellence. . . . The cleanliness of the body was regarded as a pollution of the soul, and the saints who were most admired had become one hideous mass of clotted filth. . . . But of all the evidences of the loathsome excesses to which this spirit was carried, the life of St. Simeon Stylites is probably the most remarkable. . . . He had bound a rope around him so that it became embedded in his flesh, which putrefied around it. A horrible stench, intolerable to the bystanders, exhaled from his body, and worms dropped from him whenever he moved, and they filled his bed. . . . For a whole year, we are told, St. Simeon stood upon one leg, the other being covered with hideous ulcers, while his biographer [St. Anthony] was commissioned to stand by his side, to pick up the worms that fell from his body, and to replace them in the sores, the saint saying to the worms, “Eat what God has given you.” From every quarter pilgrims of every degree thronged to do him homage. A crowd of prelates followed him to the grave. A brilliant star is said to have shone miraculously over his pillar; the general voice of mankind pronounced him to be the highest model of a Christian saint; and several other anchorites [Christian hermits] imitated or emulated his penances.

Given that the Bible nowhere condemns torture and sometimes prescribes shockingly cruel punishments (such as burning alive), and that Christians so wholeheartedly approved of self-torture, it’s not surprising that they thought little of inflicting appallingly cruel treatment upon others. At the height of Christianity’s power and influence,  tens of thousands, quite possibly hundreds of thousands, of “witches” were brutally tortured and burned alive under the auspices of ecclesiastical witch finders, and the Inquisition visited similarly cruel treatment upon those accused of heresy. Henry Charles Lea records:

Two hundred wretches crowded the filthy gaol and it was requisite to forbid the rest of the Conversos [Jews intimidated into converting to Christianity] from leaving the city [Jaen, Spain] without a license. With Diego’s assistance [Diego de Algeciras, a petty criminal and kept perjurer] and the free use of torture, on both accused and witnesses, it was not difficult to obtain whatever evidence was desired. The notary of the tribunal, Antonio de Barcena, was especially successful in this. On one occasion, he locked a young girl of fifteen in a room, stripped her naked and scourged her until she consented to bear testimony against her mother. A prisoner was carried in a chair to the auto da fe with his feet burnt to the bone; he and his wife were burnt alive . . . The cells in which the unfortunates were confined in heavy chains were narrow, dark, humid, filthy and overrun with vermin, while their sequestrated property was squandered by the officials, so that they nearly starved in prison while their helpless children starved outside.

While the torture and murder of heretics and “witches” is now largely a thing of the past, Christians can still be remarkably cruel. One current example is provided by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Its members picket the funerals of victims of AIDS and gay bashings, brandishing signs reading, “God Hates Fags,” “AIDS Cures Fags,” and “Thank God for AIDS.” The pastor of this church reportedly once sent a “condolence” card to the bereaved mother of an AIDS victim, reading “Another Dead Fag.”2 Christians are also at the forefront of those advocating vicious, life-destroying penalties for those who commit victimless “crimes,” as well as being at the forefront of those who support the death penalty and those who want to make prison conditions even more barbaric than they are now.

But this should not be surprising coming from Christians, members of a religion that teaches that eternal torture is not only justified, but that the “saved” will enjoy seeing the torture of others. As St. Thomas Aquinas put it:

In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful and that they may give to God more copious thanks for it, they are permitted perfectly to behold the sufferings of the damned . . . The saints will rejoice in the punishment of the damned.

Thus the vision of heaven of Christianity’s greatest theologian is a vision of the sadistic enjoyment of endless torture.

8. Christianity is anti-intellectual, anti-scientific. For over a millennium Christianity arrested the development of science and scientific thinking. In Christendom, from the time of Augustine until the Renaissance, systematic investigation of the natural world was restricted to theological investigation—the interpretation of biblical passages, the gleaning of clues from the lives of the saints, etc. There was no direct observation and interpretation of natural processes, because that was considered a useless pursuit, as all knowledge resided in scripture. The results of this are well known: scientific knowledge advanced hardly an inch in the over 1000 years from the rise of orthodox Christianity in the fourth century to the 1500s, and the populace was mired in the deepest squalor and ignorance, living in dire fear of the supernatural—believing in paranormal explanations for the most ordinary natural events. This ignorance had tragic results: it made the populace more than ready to accept witchcraft as an explanation for everything from illness to thunderstorms, and tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of women paid for that ignorance with their lives. One of the commonest charges against witches was that they had raised hailstorms or other weather disturbances to cause misfortune to their neighbors. In an era when supernatural explanations were readily accepted, such charges held weight—and countless innocent people died horrible deaths as a result. Another result was that the fearful populace remained very dependent upon Christianity and its clerical wise men for protection against the supernatural evils which they believed surrounded and constantly menaced them. For men and women of the Middle Ages, the walls veritably crawled with demons and witches; and their only protection from those evils was the church.

When scientific investigation into the natural world resumed in the Renaissance—after a 1000-year-plus hiatus—organized Christianity did everything it could to stamp it out. The cases of Copernicus and Galileo are particularly relevant here, because when the Catholic Church banned the Copernican theory (that the Earth revolves around the sun) and banned Galileo from teaching it, it did not consider the evidence for that theory: it was enough that it contradicted scripture. Given that the Copernican theory directly contradicted the Word of God, the Catholic hierarchy reasoned that it must be false. Protestants shared this view. John Calvin rhetorically asked, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?”

In more recent times, the Catholic Church and the more liberal Protestant congregations have realized that fighting against science is a losing battle, and they’ve taken to claiming that there is no contradiction between science and religion. This is disingenuous. As long as Christian sects continue to claim as fact—without offering a shred of evidence beyond the anecdotal—that physically impossible events (“miracles”) occurred (or are still occurring), the conflict between science and religion will remain. That many churchmen and many scientists seem content to let this conflict lie doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Today, however, the conflict between religion and science is largely being played out in the area of public school biology education, with Christian fundamentalists demanding that their creation myth be taught in place of (or along with) the theory of evolution in the public schools. Their tactics rely heavily on public misunderstanding of science. They nitpick the fossil record for its gaps (hardly surprising given that we inhabit a geologically and meteorologically very active planet), while offering absurd interpretations of their own which we’re supposed to accept at face value—such as that dinosaur fossils were placed in the earth by Satan to confuse humankind, or that Noah took baby dinosaurs on the ark.

They also attempt to take advantage of public ignorance of the nature of scientific theories. In popular use, “theory” is employed as a synonym for “hypothesis,” “conjecture,” or even “wild guess,” that is, it signifies an idea with no special merit or backing. The use of the term in science is quite different. There, “theory” refers to a testable, well-developed, logically consistent explanation of a phenomenon, and an explanation that is consistent with observed facts and that has withstood repeated testing. This is very different from a wild guess. But fundamentalists deliberately confuse the two uses of the term in an attempt to make their religious myth appear as valid as a well supported scientific theory.

They also attempt to confuse the issue by claiming that those nonspecialists who accept the theory of evolution have no more reason to do so than they have in accepting their religious creation myth, or even that those who accept evolution do so on “faith.” Again, this is more than a bit dishonest.

Thanks to scientific investigation, human knowledge has advanced to the point where no one can know more than a tiny fraction of the whole. Even the most knowledgeable scientists often know little beyond their specialty areas. But because of the structure of science, they (and everyone else) can feel reasonably secure in accepting the theories developed by scientists in other disciplines as the best possible current explanations of the areas of nature those disciplines cover. They (and we) can feel secure doing this because of the structure of science, and more particularly, because of the scientific method. That method basically consists of gathering as much information about a phenomenon (both in nature and in the laboratory) as possible, then developing explanations for it (hypotheses), and then testing the hypotheses to see how well they explain the observed facts, whether or not any of those observed facts are inconsistent with the hypotheses, and whether or not the hypotheses can generate accurate predictions. Those hypotheses that are inconsistent with observed facts are discarded or modified, while those that are consistent are retained, and those that survive repeated testing and can generate accurate predictions are often labeled “theories,” as in “the theory of relativity,” “the theory of gravity,” and “the theory of evolution.”

This is the reason that nonspecialists are justified in accepting scientific theories outside their disciplines as the best current explanations of observed phenomena: those who developed the theories were following standard scientific practice and reasoning—and if they deviate from that, other scientists will quickly call them to task.

No matter how much fundamentalists might protest to the contrary, there is a world of difference between “faith” in scientific theories (produced using the scientific method, and subject to near-continual testing and scrutiny) and faith in the entirely unsupported myths recorded 3000 years ago by slave-holding goat herders.

Nearly 500 years ago Martin Luther, in his Table Talk, stated: “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.” The opposite is also true.

9. Christianity has a morbid, unhealthy preoccupation with sex. For centuries, Christianity has had an exceptionally unhealthy fixation on sex, to the exclusion of almost everything else (except power, money, and the infliction of cruelty). This stems from the numerous “thou shalt nots” relating to sex in the Bible. That the Ten Commandments contain a commandment forbidding the coveting of one’s neighbor’s wife, but do not even mention slavery, torture, or cruelty—which were abundantly common in the time the Commandments were written—speaks volumes about their writer’s preoccupation with sex (and women as property).

Today, judging from the pronouncements of many Christian leaders, one would think that “morality” consists solely of what one does in one’s bedroom. The Catholic Church is the prime example here, with its moral pronouncements rarely going beyond the matters of birth control and abortion (and with its moral emphasis seemingly entirely on those matters). Also note that the official Catholic view of sex—that it’s for the purpose of procreation only—reduces human sexual relations to those of brood animals. For more than a century, the Catholic Church has also been the driving force behind efforts to prohibit access to birth control devices and information, and abortion—to everyone, not just Catholics.

The Catholic Church, however, is far from alone in its sick obsession with sex. The current Christian hate campaign against homosexuals is another prominent manifestation of this perverse preoccupation. Even at this writing, condemnation of “sodomites” from church pulpits is still very, very common—with Christian clergymen wringing their hands as they piously proclaim that their words of hate have nothing to do with gay bashings and the murder of gays.

10. Christianity produces sexual misery. In addition to the misery produced by authoritarian Christian intrusions into the sex lives of non-Christians, Christianity produces great misery among its own adherents through its insistence that sex (except the very narrow variety it sanctions) is evil, against God’s law. Christianity proscribes sex between unmarried people, sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, bestiality,3 and even “impure” sexual thoughts. Indulging in such things can and will, in the conventional Christian view, lead straight to hell.

Given that human beings are by nature highly sexual beings, and that their urges very often do not fit into the only officially sanctioned Christian form of sexuality (monogamous, heterosexual marriage), it’s inevitable that those who attempt to follow Christian “morality” in this area are often miserable, as their strongest urges run smack dab into the wall of religious belief. This is inevitable in Christian adolescents and unmarried young people in that the only “pure” way for them to behave is celibately—in the strict Christian view, even masturbation is prohibited. Philip Roth well described the dilemma of the religiously/sexually repressed young in Portnoy’s Complaint as “being torn between desires that are repugnant to my conscience and a conscience repugnant to my desires.” Thus the years of adolescence and young adulthood for many Christians are poisoned by “sinful” urges, unfulfilled longings, and intense guilt (after the urges become too much to bear and are acted upon).

Even after Christian young people receive a license from church and state to have sex, they often discover that the sexual release promised by marriage is not all that it’s cracked up to be. One gathers that in marriages between those who have followed Christian rules up until marriage—that is, no sex at all—sexual ineptitude and lack of fulfillment are all too common. Even when Christian married people do have good sexual relations, the problems do not end. Sexual attractions ebb and flow, and new attractions inevitably arise. In conventional Christian relationships, one is not allowed to act on these new attractions. One is often not even permitted to admit that such attractions exist. As Sten Linnander puts it, “with traditional [Christian] morality, you have to choose between being unfaithful to yourself or to another.”

The dilemma is even worse for gay teens and young people in that Christianity never offers them release from their unrequited urges. They are simply condemned to lifelong celibacy. If they indulge their natural desires, they become “sodomites” subject not only to Earthly persecution (due to Christian-inspired laws), but to being roasted alive forever in the pit. Given the internalized homophobia Christian teachings inspire, not to mention the very real discrimination gay people face, it’s not surprising that a great many homosexually oriented Christians choose to live a lie. In most cases, this leads to lifelong personal torture, but it can have even more tragic results.

A prime example is Marshall Applewhite, “John Do,” the guru of the Heaven’s Gate religious cult. Applewhite grew up in the South in a repressive Christian fundamentalist family. Horrified by his homosexual urges, he began to think of sexuality itself as evil, and eventually underwent castration to curb his sexual urges.4 Several of his followers took his anti-sexual teachings to heart and likewise underwent castration before, at “Do’s” direction, killing themselves.

 

11. Christianity has an exceedingly narrow, legalistic view of morality. Christianity not only reduces, for all practical purposes, the question of morality to that of sexual behavior, but by listing its prohibitions, it encourages an “everything not prohibited is permitted” mentality. So, for instance, medieval inquisitors tortured their victims, while at the same time they went to lengths to avoid spilling the blood of those they tortured—though they thought nothing of burning them alive. Another very relevant example is that until the latter part of the 19th century Christians engaged in the slave trade, and Christian preachers defended it, citing biblical passages from the pulpit.

Today, with the exception of a relatively few liberal churchgoers, Christians ignore the very real evils plaguing our society: poverty; homelessness; hunger; militarism; a grossly unfair distribution of wealth and income; ecological despoliation; corporate greed; overpopulation; sexism; racism; homophobia; freedom-denying, invasive drug laws; an inadequate educational system; etc., etc.—unless they’re actively working to worsen those evils in the name of Christian “morality” or “family values.”

12. Christianity encourages acceptance of real evils while focusing on imaginary evils. Organized Christianity is a skillful apologist for the status quo and all the evils that go along with it. It diverts attention from real problems by focusing attention on what should be private sexual matters, and when confronted with social evils such as poverty glibly dismisses them with platitudes such as, “The poor ye have always with you.” When confronted with the problems of militarism and war, most Christians shrug and say, “That’s human nature. It’s always been that way, and it always will.” One suspects that 200 years ago their forebears would have said exactly the same thing about slavery.

This regressive, conservative tendency of Christianity has been present from its very start. The Bible is quite explicit in its instructions to accept the status quo: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” (Romans 13:1–2)

13. Christianity depreciates the natural world. In addition to its morbid preoccupation with sex, Christianity creates social myopia through its emphasis on the supposed afterlife—encouraging Christians not to be concerned with “the things of this world” (except, of course, their neighbors’ sexual practices). In the conventional Christian view, life in this “vale of tears” is not important—what matters is preparing for the next life. Of course it follows from this that the “vale of tears” itself is quite unimportant—it’s merely the backdrop to the testing of the faithful.

The Christian belief in the unimportance of happiness and well-being in this world is well illustrated by a statement by St. Alphonsus:

It would be a great advantage to suffer during all our lives all the torments of the martyrs in exchange for one moment of heaven. Sufferings in this world are a sign that God loves us and intends to save us.

This focus on the afterlife often leads to a distinct lack of concern for the natural world, and sometimes to outright anti-ecological attitudes. Ronald Reagan’s fundamentalist Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, went so far as to actively encourage the strip mining and clear cutting of the American West, reasoning that ecological damage didn’t matter because the “rapture” was at hand.

14. Christianity models hierarchical, authoritarian organization. Christianity is perhaps the ultimate top-down enterprise. In its simplest form, it consists of God on top, its “servants,” the clergy, next down, and the great unwashed masses at the bottom, with those above issuing, in turn, thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots backed by the threat of eternal damnation. But a great many Christian sects go far beyond this, having several layers of management and bureaucracy. Catholicism is perhaps the most extreme example of this with its laity, monks, nuns, priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, vicars general, cardinals, and popes, all giving and taking orders in an almost military manner. This type of organization cannot but accustom those in its sway—especially those who have been indoctrinated and attending its ceremonies since birth—into accepting hierarchical, authoritarian organization as the natural, if not the only, form of organization. Those who find such organization natural will see nothing wrong with hierarchical, authoritarian organization in other forms, be they corporations, with their multiple layers of brown-nosing management, or governments, with their judges, legislators, presidents, and politburos. The indoctrination by example that Christianity provides in the area of organization is almost surely a powerful influence against social change, a powerful influence against freer, more egalitarian forms of organization.

15. Christianity sanctions slavery. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the African slave trade was almost entirely conducted by Christians. (Today, it’s almost entirely conducted by Muslims.) Christian slavers transported their victims to the New World in slave ships with names such as “Mercy” and “Jesus,” where they were bought by other Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Organized Christianity was not silent on this horror: it actively encouraged it and engaged in it. From the friars who enslaved Native Americans in the Southwest and Mexico to the Protestant preachers who defended slavery from the pulpit in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, the record of Christianity as regards slavery is quite shameful. While many abolitionists were Christians, they were a very small group, well hated by most of their fellow Christians.

The Christians who defended slavery and engaged in it were amply supported by the Bible, in which slavery is accepted as a given, as simply a part of the social landscape. There are numerous biblical passages that implicitly or explicitly endorse slavery, such as Exodus 21:20–21: “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” Other passages that support slavery include Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9–10, Exodus 21:2–6, Leviticus 25:44–46, 1 Peter 2:18, and 1 Timothy 6:1. Christian slave owners in colonial America, and the preachers who provided them with “moral” guidance, were well acquainted with these passages.

16. Christianity is misogynistic. Misogyny is fundamental to the basic writings of Christianity. In passage after passage, women are commanded to accept an inferior role, and to be ashamed of themselves for the simple fact that they are women. Misogynistic biblical passages are so common that it’s difficult to know which to cite. From the New Testament we find “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church. . . .” (Ephesians 5:22–23) and “These [redeemed] are they which were not defiled with women; . . .” (Revelation 14:4); and from the Old Testament we find “How then can man be justified with God? Or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4) Other relevant New Testament passages include Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:7; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 11:9, and 14:34; and 1 Timothy 2:11–12 and 5:5–6. Other Old Testament passages include Numbers 5:20–22 and Leviticus 12:2–5 and 15:17–33.

Later Christian writers extended the misogynistic themes in the Bible with a vengeance. Tertullian, one of the early church fathers, wrote:

In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die. . . . Woman, you are the gate to hell.

One can find similarly misogynistic—though sometimes less venomous—statements in the writings of many other church fathers and theologians, including St. Ambrose, St. Anthony, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nazianzum, and St. Jerome.

This misogynistic bias in Christianity’s basic texts has long been translated into misogyny in practice. Throughout almost the entire time that Christianity had Europe and America in its lock grip, women were treated as chattel—they had essentially no political rights, and their right to own property was severely restricted. Perhaps the clearest illustration of the status of women in the ages when Christianity was at its most powerful was the prevalence of wife beating. This degrading, disgusting practice was very common throughout Christendom well into the 19th century, and under English Common Law husbands who beat their wives were specifically exempted from prosecution. (While wife beating is still common in Christian lands, at least in some countries abusers are at least sometimes prosecuted.)
At about the same time that English Common Law (with its wife-beating exemption) was being formulated and codified, Christians all across Europe were engaging in a half-millennium-long orgy of torture and murder of “witches”—at the direct behest and under the direction of the highest church authorities. The watchword of the time was Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” and at the very minimum tens of thousands of women were brutally murdered as a result of this divine injunction, and the papal bulls amplifying it (e.g., Spondit Pariter, by John XXII, and Summis Desiderantes, by Innocent VIII). Andrew Dickson White notes:

On the 7th of December, 1484, Pope Innocent VIII sent forth the bull Summis Desiderantes. Of all documents ever issued from Rome, imperial or papal, this has doubtless, first and last, cost the greatest shedding of innocent blood. Yet no document was ever more clearly dictated by conscience. Inspired by the scriptural command, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” Pope Innocent exhorted the clergy of Germany to leave no means untried to detect sorcerers . . . [W]itch-finding inquisitors were authorized by the Pope to scour Europe, especially Germany, and a manual was prepared for their use [by the Dominicans Heinrich Krämer and Jacob Sprenger]—“The Witch Hammer”, Malleus Maleficarum. . . . With the application of torture to thousands of women, in accordance with the precepts laid down in the Malleus, it was not difficult to extract masses of proof . . . The poor creatures writhing on the rack, held in horror by those who had been nearest and dearest to them, anxious only for death to relieve their sufferings, confessed to anything and everything that would satisfy the inquisitors and judges. . . . Under the doctrine of “excepted cases,” there was no limit to torture for persons accused of heresy or witchcraft.

Given this bloody, hateful history, it’s not surprising that women have always held very subservient positions in Christian churches. In fact, there appear to have been no female clergy in any Christian church prior to the 20th century (with the exception of those who posed as men), and even today a great many Christian sects (most notably the Catholic Church) continue to resist ordaining female clergy. While a few liberal Protestant churches have ordained women in recent years, it’s difficult to see this as a great step forward for women; it’s easier to see it as analogous to the Ku Klux Klan’s appointing a few token blacks as Klaxons.

As for the improvements in the status of women over the last two centuries, the Christian churches either did nothing to support them or actively opposed them. This is most obvious as regards women’s control over their own bodies. Organized Christianity has opposed this from the start, and as late as the 1960s the Catholic Church was still putting its energies into the imposition of laws prohibiting access to contraceptives. Having lost that battle, Christianity has more recently put its energies into attempts to outlaw the right of women to abortion.

Many of those leading the fight for women’s rights have had no illusions about the misogynistic nature of Christianity. These women included Mary Wollstonecraft, Victoria Woodhull, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Margaret Sanger (whose slogan, “No God. No master,” remains relevant to this day).

17. Christianity is homophobic. Christianity from its beginnings has been markedly homophobic. The biblical basis for this homophobia lies in Genesis, in the story of Sodom, and in Leviticus. Leviticus 18:22 reads: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination,” and Leviticus 20:13 reads: “If a man lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

This sounds remarkably harsh, yet Leviticus proscribes a great many other things, declares many of them “abominations,” and prescribes the death penalty for several other acts, some of which are shockingly picayune. Leviticus 17:10–13 prohibits the eating of blood sausage; Leviticus 11:6–7 prohibits the eating of “unclean” hares and swine; Leviticus 11:10 declares shellfish “abominations”; Leviticus 20:9 prescribes the death penalty for cursing one’s father or mother; Leviticus 20:10 prescribes the death penalty for adultery; Leviticus 20:14 prescribes the penalty of being burnt alive for having a three-way with one’s wife and mother-in-law; and Leviticus 20:15 declares, “And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast” (which seems rather unfair to the poor beast). (One suspects that American Christians have never attempted to pass laws enforcing Leviticus 20:15, because if passed and enforced such laws would decimate both the Bible-Belt population and the cattle industry.)

Curiously, given the multitude of prohibitions in Leviticus, the vast majority of present-day Christians have chosen to focus only upon Leviticus 20:13, the verse calling for the death penalty for homosexual acts. And at least some of them haven’t been averse to acting on it. (To be fair, some Christian “reconstructionists” are currently calling for institution of the death penalty for adultery and atheism as well as for “sodomy.”)

Throughout history, homosexuality has been illegal in Christian lands, and the penalties have been severe. In the Middle Ages, gay men were sometimes burned at the stake in continental Europe, while England adopted the marginally less horrific form of execution, hanging. One member of the British royalty caught having homosexual relations suffered an even more grisly fate: Edward II’s penalty was being held down while a red hot poker was jammed through his rectum and intestines. In more modern times, countless gay people have been jailed for years for the victimless “crime” of having consensual sex. It was only in 2003 that the Supreme Court struck down the felony laws on the books in many American states prescribing lengthy prison terms for consensual “sodomy.” And many Christians would love to reinstate those laws. Having failed in the U.S., American evangelicals are now pushing foreign governments to impose brutal anti-gay laws. Their most spectacular successes have come in Uganda and in Russia (where the Putin government has also imposed anti-blasphemy laws).

Given continued Christian homophobia,  the ongoing wave of gay bashings and murders of gay people should come as no surprise. Christians can find justification for such violence in the Bible and also in the hate-filled sermons issuing from all too many pulpits in this country. If history is any indication, the homophobic messages in those sermons will continue to be issued for many years to come, as will the violence stemming from them.

18. The Bible is not a reliable guide to Christ’s teachings. Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, was written at least 30 years after Christ’s death, and the newest of them might have been written more than 200 years after his death–and all of them by authors with little, probably no, written documentation to guide them. As well, these texts have been amended, translated, and re-translated so often that it’s extremely difficult to gauge the accuracy of current editions—even aside from the matter of the accuracy of texts written decades or centuries after the death of their subject. This is such a problem that the Jesus Seminar, a colloquium of over 200 Protestant Gospel scholars mostly employed at religious colleges and seminaries, undertook in 1985 a multi-year investigation into the historicity of the statements and deeds attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. They concluded that only 18% of the statements and 16% of the deeds attributed to Jesus had a high likelihood of being historically accurate. So, in a very real sense fundamentalists—who claim to believe in the literal truth of the Bible—are not followers of Jesus Christ; rather, they are followers of those who, decades or centuries later, put words in his mouth.

19. The Bible, Christianity’s basic text, is riddled with contradictions. There are a number of glaring contradictions in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, including some within the same books. A few examples:

“. . . God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”
(James:1:13)
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham.”
(Genesis 22:1)

“. . . for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever.”
(Jeremiah 3:12)
“Ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn forever. Thus saith the Lord.”
(Jeremiah 17:4)

“If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”
(John 5:31, J.C. speaking)
“I am one that bear witness of myself . . .”
(John 8:18, J.C. speaking)

and last but not least:

“I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
(Genesis 32:30)
“No man hath seen God at any time.”
(John 1:18)
“And I [God] will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts . . .”
(Exodus 33:23)

Christian apologists typically attempt to explain away such contradictions by claiming that the fault lies in the translation, and that there were no contradictions in the original text. It’s difficult to see how this could be so, given how direct many biblical contradictions are; but even if these Christian apologetics held water, it would follow that every part of the Bible should be as suspect as the contradictory sections, thus reinforcing the previous point: that the Bible is not a reliable guide to Christ’s words.

20. Christianity borrowed its central myths and ceremonies from other ancient religions. The ancient world was rife with tales of virgin births, miracle-working saviors, tripartite gods, gods taking human form, gods arising from the dead, heavens and hells, and days of judgment. In addition to the myths, many of the ceremonies of ancient religions also match those of that syncretic latecomer, Christianity. To cite but one example (there are many others), consider Mithraism, a Persian religion predating Christianity by centuries. Mithra, the savior of the Mithraic religion and a god who took human form, was born of a virgin; he belonged to the holy trinity and was a link between heaven and Earth; and he ascended into heaven after his death. His followers believed in heaven and hell, looked forward to a day of judgment, and referred to Mithra as “the Light of the World.” They also practiced baptism (for purification purposes) and ritual cannibalism—the eating of bread and the drinking of wine to symbolize the eating and drinking of the god’s body and blood. Given all this, Mithra’s birthday should come as no surprise: December 25th; this event was, of course, celebrated by Mithra’s followers at midnight.

Mithraism is but the most striking example of the appearance of these myths and ceremonies prior to the advent of Christianity. They appear—in more scattered form—in many other pre-Christian religions.

A Final Word: These are but some of the major problems attending Christianity, and they provide overwhelming reasons for its abandonment. Even if you dismiss half, two-thirds, or even three-quarters of these arguments and the evidence for them, the conclusion is still irresistible: It’s time to abandon Christianity.

Endnotes

1. A friend who read the first draft of this manuscript notes: “My moronic sister-in-law once told me that God found her parking spots near the front door at Wal-mart! Years later, when she developed a brain tumor, I concluded that God must have gotten tired of finding parking places for her and gave her the tumor so that she could get handicapped plates.” As Nietzsche put it in The Anti-Christ: “that little hypocrites and half-crazed people dare to imagine that on their account the laws of nature are constantly broken—such an enhancement of every kind of selfishness to infinity, to impudence, cannot be branded with sufficient contempt. And yet Christianity owes its triumph to this pitiable flattery of personal vanity.”

2. The Westboro Baptist Church directly addresses the question of its hatefulness and cruelty on its web site (www.godhatesfags.com): “Why do you preach hate? Because the Bible preaches hate. For every one verse about God’s mercy, love, compassion, etc., there are two verses about His vengeance, hatred, wrath, etc.”

3. The repeated mention of this sin in medieval ecclesiastical writings leads one to wonder how widespread this practice was among the Christian faithful, including the Christian clergy. One 8th-century penitential (list of sins and punishments) quoted in A.A. Hadden’s Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents states: “If a cleric has fornicated with a quadruped let him do penance for, if he is a simple cleric, two years, if a deacon, three years, if a priest, seven years, if a bishop ten years.” Similar lists of sins and penalties can be found in many other penitentials.

4. Given his religious background, and that his cult mixed Christianity with UFO beliefs, Applewhite was quite probably aware of the divine approbation of self-castration in Matthew 19:12: “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs , which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”


snakeoilcover

 

(Excerpted from Spiritual Snake Oil: Fads & Fallacies in Pop Culture, by Chris Edwards)

Dinesh D’Souza’s book, Life After Death: The Evidence, is a Frankenstein’s monster of half-baked assertions, tweaked fallacies, and glaring contradictions all held together by the single thread of a new Christian narrative. These problems will all be dealt with in due course. However, the most important thing that any reader, atheist or religious, will take from his book is that science is the supreme arbiter of truth. D’Souza’s clumsy attempt to provide “empirical evidence” for the afterlife is not really a work of science at all. Instead it is an attempt to enshroud religion and science in a new narrative, one that is not detrimental to faith. But even a casual reader will be able to sense that this fails. By ceding the grounds for “truth” to scientific method, and by subjecting matters of faith to matters of science, D’Souza has posited a new revelation. In the Gospel According to D’Souza, the divide between reason and religion is only, like our lives on Earth, a temporary aberration. A better time is coming; one where the lion of science and the lamb of religion will lie side by side and the believer’s faith will be rewarded with intellectual fulfillment.

D’Souza’s entire book is a case study in contradiction. First of all, the main thesis of the book is that there is solid empirical evidence for the existence of the afterlife. Yet, mega-pastor Rick Warren wrote the Foreword. (Warren, who believes in talking snakes, invisible people, and the walking dead, blames the rise of atheism on “public gullibility.”) Also, for some reason, D’Souza includes a chapter about near-death experiences and then dismisses them but claims to keep an open mind. Why include evidence that he himself discredits? After his “scientific” case for the afterlife, D’Souza then includes a chapter about why it is good for people to believe in the afterlife even if it can’t be conclusively proved to exist. One could search through peer reviewed science journals for the rest of this life and the next and not see a similar argument made for the existence of neutrinos.

The main philosophical argument that D’Souza (and Warren) makes goes like this: No one knows what happens after we die, even scientists are guessing, so when we are dealing with the unknown at least Christians and religious people have faith, which is better than nothing. In other words, when there is an absence of evidence it is best to bet on faith. He sums up this up by illustrating how he quieted one of Daniel Dennet’s followers at a Q and A session after a debate. After a wordy explanation of David Hume’s philosophy, which states that in the absence of evidence that no claim can be made, D’Souza writes:

When I heard the student’s question, the first thought that occurred to me was that his so-called principle of parsimony not only wiped out religious claim; it also wiped out atheism. Consider the statements “God does not exist” and “there is no afterlife.” Are these statements inherently true? No. Nor can they be shown by external verification. Consequently they, too, are incoherent by this standard…Well, then, I said, by your own criteria the principle is meaningless. We can toss it out and not bother with it any further.
This was a good moment for me…. (29)

It is unclear why this was a good moment for D’Souza. First of all, he needs to understand that his argument is out of alignment with his claim. He’s claiming a belief in an all-powerful deity, and the best he can come up with is to say this can be proved with the statement, “there is no evidence for the deity, which means that his non-existence and his existence are equally plausible.” That’s pretty thin ice for a very big god to be standing on.

Secondly, in regards to the afterlife D’Souza doesn’t understand that atheists don’t make absolute statements. We merely assess odds. For example, looking at the afterlife is like looking at a locked door to a room without windows. If a rationalist and someone who believed in the supernatural were standing outside the door they could assess odds as to what is happening inside. The rationalist would concede that he doesn’t know what is going on in that room, but that it’s a pretty good bet that whatever is in the room is acting in accordance with the law of gravity. The supernaturalist, in contrast, could insist that Jesus and the twelve apostles were drinking beer and eating jalapeños in the room while levitating a foot off the floor—and that because the rationalist couldn’t prove that they weren’t there was a 50/50 chance that they were.

The point here is that the burden of proof falls on the positive, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and that D’Souza offers no proof whatsoever for his extraordinary (afterlife) claim. Instead, he makes the bizarre assertion that absence of proof is somehow proof.

Oddly, D’Souza responds to the atheistic criticism that one can justify faith in any bizarre idea in this way:

A little scrutiny of these examples will quickly show that the craziness here is entirely on the part of the atheists. We have combed the earth without locating a single unicorn, we seem justified in rejecting unicorns…Celestial flying teapots are also very unlikely, as are Flying Spaghetti Monsters, but our derision is prejudicially solicited by the particular examples chosen. Teapots do not fly, and past is an unlikely ingredient to produce flying monsters. (27)

I might add that seas don’t part, men don’t rise from the dead, serpents don’t speak, and virgins don’t give birth. But that is beside the point. Here D’Souza makes a properly worded rationalist argument against absurdities like unicorns and pasta gods. He says they are unlikely and, since we haven’t found any evidence for them; they probably don’t exist. This is exactly what atheists say about god and other supernatural beings. But D’Souza then makes a very strange argument:

On the other hand, if we modify the examples slightly to involve matter and energy that is undetectable by scientific instruments yet is presumed to exist in order to account for the motions of the galaxies, we have just described “dark matter” and “dark energy,” widely accepted by scientists today. (27)

How the purported existence of dark matter works as proof of the afterlife is beyond me. I suppose D’Souza’s vague point is that since things (apparently) exist that can’t be scientifically measured (yet), that heaven could exist and be made of the same stuff. It’s a bit like saying that since we know there are tiny particles like quarks, then there must be microscopic horses. The two have no connection. Besides, dark matter is something that is posited in order to make sense of observations of gravitational effects. Likewise, before we had technology capable of detecting high frequency sounds above the human hearing range, it would have been acceptable for a bat-watcher to assume that such sounds existed so that he could explain bat behavior.

The problem of assessing statistics and odds is endemic in D’Souza’s book. Oddly, for a book that is supposed to be about the afterlife, the author insists on bringing up traditional (and thoroughly discredited) arguments for the existence of a god or gods. He spends considerable time going into detail about the “fine tuning” of the universe, and then tries to state that scientists, blinded by that pesky scientific method, are afraid to resort to a supernatural explanation. The message is that the odds that the universe is fine tuned for human life are so bad as to require some “tuner.”

Clearly, the universe is equally fine tuned for the existence of smallpox and venereal disease as it is for the existence of puppies and chocolate milkshakes. An African orphan dying of AIDS and malnutrition will find little comfort in the recollection that a series of highly unlikely events had to occur for her to be in her state of agony. Still, this “fine tuned” argument is often used by theologians to prove there is some power, nice or not, somewhere out there. The trick that D’Souza is playing here is simply to take an ordinary statistical principle and make it seem cosmic and mysterious.

The recipe for this statistical trick is simple. Simply state the odds that should be calculated before an event after the event. If you want the event to appear even more unlikely, begin adding complicating factors (which is very easy to do after the fact). Pretty soon, (voila!) you’ve made an ordinary event appear to be extraordinary.

D’Souza’s claim that in order to explain how our solar system is set up “just right” for life to exist on our planet, scientists must assume a fanciful polyverse is outright false. Life is here, the odds against life existing before the fact are meaningless after the fact.

D’Souza also tries to make the case that almost all cultures have a vision of the afterlife, going back to pre-Christian societies. Well, all cultures also produced language. Does this mean that each culture was tapping into a mysterious “language realm” or is it better explained by the fact that all humans share a voice box and flexible tongues?

Chapter six of D’Souza’s book begins with the old Platonic trick of reifying verbs:

[A]sk yourself, how much does your mind weigh? What are the dimensions—length, width, and height—of your consciousness? (92)

He might as well be asking how much running weighs, or what are the dimensions of eating. Thinking is a description of what the brain does. It is not a thing to be measured. This reification of thinking is a serious problem. How can “thinking” go on without a brain any more than “running” can go on without legs? States of consciousness can be changed by altering, through disease, education, experience, or trauma, the stuff of the brain. When the brain dies, consciousness ends—its supporting “hardware” is gone. Similarly, when the legs are gone, it’s safe to assume that running stops. Sure, it might go on in some nether realm, but, I mean, come on.

Even worse than his misunderstanding of statistics is D’Souza’s shocking misreading of evolutionary theory. I say it is shocking because D’Souza is neither a creationist nor a proponent of Intelligent Design. D’Souza seems well aware of the fallacy inherent in William Paley’s “Watchmaker Argument,” and his argument is just another form of the hourglass fallacy I detailed in the chapter about Deepak Chopra.

In chapter six, D’Souza attempts to fuse faith and evolution by citing two scientists, Christian de Duve, and Simon Conway Morris:

[T]hey insist that evolution among several species has followed predictable pathways. Eyes, they content, have evolved on separate evolutionary lines on multiple occasions. Placental and marsupial mammals are not closely related, and yet they have developed with similar structures and forms. Morris writes that “each group has independently navigated to the same evolutionary solution.” Duve and Morris don’t deny the factor of chance, but they insist chance itself follows a largely predetermined trajectory. (104)

This is where, D’Souza implies, god hides. Scientists can’t see it because they are trained not to look for supernatural causes, but it is there. D’Souza breaks up the big god that creationists and ID’ers so covet and puts the pieces in the cells. We have here not a single big god but trillions of tiny gods.

D’Souza is right that there is a principle which guides evolution—there are two in fact, which explain how complexity evolves, but there is nothing mysterious about them. The principles are “survive” and “mate.” The reason that eyes develop in so many animals is because it is useful for animals to detect visual (electro-magnetic) sensory data in a way that best suits their purposes. This is why flies and humans, both of whom have eyes, perceive and make sense of light in different ways. It’s the same with the other senses. Think of a rotting carcass. For humans, the smell is revolting. For vultures, it’s the olfactory equivalent of a dinner bell.

Virtually every page of D’Souza’s book is lousy with fallacies and false metaphors, and to point every one of them out would require a book in itself. It would also be to miss the point. D’Souza is not seriously trying to meld logic and faith. He’s trying to change the prevailing narrative in secular society, which is that religious dogma has given way to scientific truth. In a society that cherishes medical and technological advancement, one can hardly challenge the precepts of science any longer. The only thing left to do is to assert that religion and science are compatible.

The problems with trying to create a narrative around such notions are legion. First of all, atheism and science cannot be separated. Science is the daughter of atheism. Smallpox was only cured when people began looking at the disease as a natural phenomenon and dismissed any supernatural cause. In fact, everything that works in the world is a result of atheism. One has to begin with the assumption that there are no supernatural entities that interact with the world and then one can proceed. For example, despite what the tired cliché says, everyone in a foxhole is an atheist in practice. If they believed that a divine power would stop the bullets flying at them, they wouldn’t be in the hole.

Secondly, science has taken human knowledge further and further away from the narrative of the religious texts. This has been true in the Western world since Galileo. How can D’Souza square this circle? Early on he writes:

As an atheist friend of mine quips, “How can these Christians be against logic and inventions?” Actually, Christians aren’t opposed to either. Rather, they recognize that, to a large degree, science and reason have become enemy-occupied territory. Science and reason have been hijacked by the bad guys… (12)

However, D’Souza claims that if Christians will only embrace reason and science they will see that “it stunningly confirms the beliefs that they held in the first place. What was presumed on the basis of faith is now corroborated on the basis of evidence, and this is especially true of the issue of life after death.” (13)

If this is the new narrative, then it has serious problems. D’Souza tries to explain his point by stating that the authors of Genesis, for example, claimed that the universe had a starting point and did this despite the pre-Hebrew idea that the universe was eternal, and that this controversial notion has recently been confirmed by science’s Big Bang theory. This is an outright con. Will science one day come to prove the biblical assertion that the Earth was made before the Sun?

Occasionally, by chance, scientific theories and conclusions seem to coincide with ancient, vaguely worded mystical claims or predictions. But there are major differences. Scientific theories and conclusions are always orders of magnitude more specific than mystical claims and predictions. As well, science advances, mysticism doesn’t. Scientific understanding of the universe is constantly improving, while mystical (in D’Souza’s case, Christian) understanding of the universe has not improved in two thousand years.

D’Souza, spends a lot of time in his book explaining how quantum physics presents a universe which acts in ways we don’t understand, and he then builds a rope ladder to the moon from this.
His odd syllogism seems to be:

A. The universe doesn’t make sense
B. Therefore things that don’t make sense sometimes are true.
C. The afterlife doesn’t make sense so it must be true.

D’Souza then tries to dismiss the claim, based on quantum physics, made by Stephen Hawking, that the universe doesn’t need a starting point. Why does D’Souza dismiss this? Because it doesn’t make sense.

Anthropologists might more plausibly point out that the brain evolved for the purpose of survival in the wild in Africa. It is capable of abstract thought, but only after rigorous training. So it’s not surprising that the workings of the universe defy common understanding. It was not created to be understood nor were we created to understand it.

D’Souza’s theme about science supposedly proving what had once been presumed by faith is the only coherent thread in the book. He writes:

So what does modern physics have to say about the Eastern and Western conceptions of life after death? In Newton’s time, the verdict was decidedly negative. Today, however, the situation is completely different. Modern physics has expanded our horizons and shown how life after death is possible within the existing framework of physical reality. The materialist objection has proven to be a dud; in fact, modern physics calls materialism itself into question. In a crucial area, and sometimes against the objections of the scientists themselves, modern science has proven itself not the foe of religious believers, but an unexpected ally. (89)

And here is the New Narrative: Up until now, science has made a mockery of faith. However, this can only be because we have an incomplete understanding of the universe. As our understanding grows, we’ll see that science will come to prove the precepts of faith to be true. We are just now entering a stage where the spotlight of science has become broad enough to reveal that religious truths were right all along. This whole religion versus science thing has just been one big five hundred year misunderstanding that will be cleared up now that science is getting its act together. This process of reconciliation has been delayed only because close-minded scientists are trained not to see the supernatural.

One might add that very few people in the world, a very few scientific specialists, truly understand quantum physics. Dinesh D’Souza is not one of them. And the chutzpah of D’Souza in citing concepts he probably does not even vaguely understand as “proof” of his wishful thinking is breathtaking.

It is not possible to argue that god or the afterlife exists and that there is evidence, but that faith in him or it is required. An all-powerful god who wanted his existence to be known would not rely on inferences and statistical fallacies for his proofs. If he existed and wanted to be found, there would be no debate. A measurable afterlife would be something we could directly detect, not something we should believe in. D’Souza encourages Christians to embrace reason and science and trust that eventually this will support their faith. Maybe they will grasp what D’Souza didn’t, that you can’t have your faith and prove it too.

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“[T]he conventional afterlife is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.”

–Stephen Hawking (quoted in The Guardian 9/23/13)