Question from Son of David:
Hello, why don’t you have a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? The Son of God. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. – John 3:16
Answer by SmartLX:
Because I’m an atheist.
All right, let’s try that again with a bit more detail. Because…
I don’t believe that Jesus is in any sense alive or capable of having a personal relationship with anyone at this point. I don’t believe a god exists, you see. Following on from that, If Jesus lived then he lived right around two thousand years ago, and I don’t believe he was the son of a nonexistent god. When he died, I don’t believe he was resurrected or that he had a soul, so based on that nothing remains of him now but some as-yet-undiscovered/unidentified human remains, plus a very popular tale. To have a one-sided relationship with half a skull and a story does not strike me as beneficial for either party, me or Jesus.
Your question combined with the core Biblical claim is of the form, “Why have you not reacted to this situation in the obviously necessary way?” It’s simply because I don’t think the situation is as you claim. I do not accept the supernatural claims of the Bible, so Bible-based assertions mean nothing to me. So what do you do when they don’t work on people, I wonder?
Question from Jacob:
Hello, so it’s me again, got some more questions for ya. Throughout history, there have been many reports of supernatural phenomena. Most of them usually have a religious undertone, for example, some people levitate others do healings, sometimes divine or demonic figures appear. In any case, these reports range from various cultures and time periods seen by hundreds of thousands of people which continues to this day. How could someone have imagined all this?
Answer by SmartLX:
“Someone” didn’t. Millions of people across the globe imagined it all cumulatively over a period of millennia. That’s a lot of imagination.
To say it’s all pure imagination is an oversimplification, of course. Here are some more specific sources.
– Unexplained phenomena will be rationalised in terms of whatever faith-based supernatural concepts people hold, simply because it’s in the right category. It looks like magic, my god is magic, therefore my god did it. This is a formal logical fallacy, but it’s as far as many people’s thinking goes.
– When religion holds social or political power, it affects the historical record. If priests claim an occurrence, or claim credit for an event on behalf of the ruling god, few dare dispute them.
– Any supernatural effect which is faked, or exploited for material gain whether faked or mistaken, is far more effective when linked to the majority religion. It goes from a curiosity to a possible call to action, and compels believers to consider it very carefully. They must think, “Why did my god do this, and how should I react?” This gives it a much bigger profile in the public consciousness.
Similarly to my approach to prophecies, each claim of a supernatural event has more possibilities than the false dilemma that it was either genuinely supernatural or it was made up from nothing. Once you consider a few of your favourite stories from the standpoint of just how many different ways they could have come about, the sheer number of supernatural claims throughout history is severely tempered by the high probability that any given event was something other than an act of God.
Question from Jerry:
I was recently debating a good friend of mine and asked him to justify Christianity or show evidence that it is the one one true religion. He claims that it is the only religion that demonstrates itself to be the best possible logical and rational choice based on worldview analysis. Worldview analysis is a tool to sift through the basics of each and all religions without having to take years of comparative religion courses or study to separate the religion which has the best chance of being true, based on the evidence. I’m researching a rebuttal to his strong argument by reading up on Naturalism, Structuralism and the ideas of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, as I believe my friends’ attempt to compare Poetic (Metaphorical) Truth with Physical or Natural Truth to be flawed. I was wondering how many different approaches there are to counter his position?
Answer by SmartLX:
Worldview analysis is a tool for evaluating a community’s values, priorities and outlook, developed by a scientist who’s a Christian but appears to use this tool for secular purposes. The version that’s applied to try and rank religions is either unrelated or a major bastardisation. Here’s an example where you answer a bunch of questions from the perspective of a given religion’s doctrine, and compare the answers to your own values.
If your friend is throwing around terms like “poetic truth” as a serious rival to empirical fact (likely “physical/natural truth” in his terminology), the criteria on which he rates different worldviews are going to be worthless to many. He also recognises that religions need to commandeer and redirect the meaning of the word “truth” to have a decent chance of being established as “true” themselves.
I think the most important thing is for you to distinguish at any given time which of two questions is being asked: what worldview best reflects reality, or what worldview is best or nicest to have. I think your friend’s system will drive the discussion towards the latter whenever it can, because the latter legitimately does not require evidence. Christianity may be a beneficial worldview for one’s physical and mental wellbeing in a number of scenarios regardless of whether it’s true, the following two most obviously:
– If Christianity is the majority religion, and especially if non-Christians are looked down upon or actively persecuted. It sucks to be in any victimised minority.
– If the tenets of Christianity match your own values very closely, in other words if Christianity gets a very high score when you do the questionnaire above. To believe that the universe as a whole reflects your own outlook can be a big boost to the ego.
If your friend is arguing along these lines, he’s answering your question by attempting to justify Christianity as a lifestyle choice, not verify its supernatural claims. And even if his reasoning on this is rock-solid and you eventually realise it would be better for you to be Christian, it’s only going to get you so far. You could live as a Christian, worship, donate, evangelise and all the rest of it, but if nothing has actually convinced you that God is real and Jesus is his still-living son then you would be a false Christian. And hey, maybe he’s okay with that, but I don’t think I would be if I were a believer.
Question from Alexia:
I would like to know if atheists ever have moments of fear over the idea that they could potentially be wrong, and that there is a nasty afterlife waiting for them? I, as an agnostic theist, do. I feel that if I were to stop believing (the idea has crossed my mind) that I may regret it.
I have had dreams before of seeing hell, and my grandfather had a Near Death Experience where he saw hell and was tortured by evil creatures. I have noticed that in many dreams, near death experiences, and so called revelations, people often report seeing demonic creatures in this so called hell. I would like to get the perspective of atheists. Why is it that if Christians are raised to expect Satan in hell that they never report seeing Satan in these visions, but they commonly report multiple strange beings or creatures attacking them and enjoying it? I read a book from the 1980s about Near Death Experiences by Raymond Moody, and even he says in his research that negative experiencers often report demonic creatures from interviews conducted early on in Near Death research.
What might be the reason for why many of these visions people have involve evil creatures, when the bible says nothing about that? People from the early 1900s have been giving consistent reports with people today in 2017. What would you say, percentage wise, are the odds that a literal hell exists, given the consistency of so many peoples’ “visions” and “revelations” of hell? Is there really going to be multiple reptile looking creatures who enjoy peoples’ misery and torture them forever, swearing at them, taunting them, or is there something else at play here?
Answer by SmartLX:
Atheists do get these moments of fear, but not usually forever. For those like myself who had faith and lost it, the fear of God’s wrath often outlives the belief even though it’s irrational to be afraid of something you no longer believe in. (It’s part of the phenomenon I call “faithdrawal”.) This is to be expected, since emotions can easily defy rationality. I personally avoided this completely by hardly thinking about religion at all for over a decade before realising I was an atheist; my emotional attachment to God and faith had faded away so it didn’t try to reassert itself.
In previous articles like this one I’ve answered the general argument based on the similarity between people’s visions of the afterlife, so read through the link and also just search the site for ‘nde’ to find more on the subject. Here I’ll address the particular question about Satan and lesser demons in Hell. Most Christians get most of their mental images of Hell not from the Bible but from other media, everything from Dante’s Inferno to Constantine to The Simpsons, and sadistic torturer demons have been a fixture in this material for centuries. While you can imagine individual demons looking and behaving any way you like without challenging your theology much, Satan is a major figure on whose appearance the subconscious might be uncomfortable taking a firm position. Thus Satan conveniently does not put in an appearance for people who are just passing through.
And then there are the Christians who do report seeing Satan, which doesn’t really help any argument based on this not happening.
Question from Marilyn:
Why do Atheists celebrate Christian holidays?
Answer by SmartLX:
By and large, we don’t. Take a look at this list: atheists don’t celebrate Lent, Pentecost, The Assumption of Mary, Christ the King, All Souls’ Day, All Saints’ Day or over 20 others. And that’s without considering the individual saints’ days that occupy literally every day on the calendar.
You are of course referring to Christmas, Halloween (All Hallows Eve) and possibly Easter. There are two main responses to this.
1. In most Western countries, Christmas and Easter have state-designated vacation periods including at least one public holiday each, often several. These are holdovers from attempts by governments to emphasise their religiosity in eras gone by. Atheists in these countries get these holidays too, whether they value the reasons behind them or not, so they usually just enjoy them as time off work.
2. Atheists do often actively celebrate Christmas and Halloween, and in some cases Easter. This is because these holidays have developed cherished traditions that have almost nothing to do with their religious origins: the gift-giving, the novelty costumes, the chocolate eggs and so on. To support these traditions an encyclopedia of secular mythology has sprung up around each, not believed at all by anyone over a certain age but still enjoyed as a shared seasonal game. Santa brings the presents in December, the Easter Bunny brings the eggs in March/April, and all manner of monsters break loose in October. That’s all fun no matter what you believe.
I do hope that no one reading this thinks the honest answer to Marilyn’s question is, “because atheists secretly believe in Christianity”, but I know for a fact that many do think so. Some people just won’t live with the thought that there are others who disagree with them about an important thing.
Question from Vlad:
Last night I got together with a few friends, and we were talking about how in Islam for example, there is very little imagery (if any) of the prophet Muhammad or Isa (Jesus) but how in Christianity, there are numerous depictions and drawings of Jesus. One thing I found curious was that many of the so-called visions people have of Jesus in dreams, or even according to some individuals “in real life” generally cater to the images they were brought up to believe. A Christian living in Texas, for example, who believes he or she encountered Jesus, is likely to describe him as having long dark hair, pretty light skin, a thin build, etc. However, I brought this up during our conversation, and one of my friends (who is very religious) told me that Jesus did actually look like the way he is depicted in photos. I know quite a few people on here may not even believe Jesus ever existed, but assuming he did, I would have thought that he would have likely looked less “European”. My friend told me that recently, a cloth with Jesus’s face on it was discovered apparently where he was buried, and there are documentaries about this. Apparently carbon dating was done to prove that this cloth existed around his time. He said the only thing they could not verify was Jesus’s skin colour, but that it is actually known what his physical structure looked like. I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with these recent claims, but I would like to know, what would your opinion be on this? Does this give these visions any more credence?
Answer by SmartLX:
Islam, or the widely practiced version of it, expressly forbids depictions of Muhammad. That was the whole basis of the furore surrounding the Danish cartoons depicting him, and the resulting attack on the publication in which they appeared. That’s why there are so few images of him. As for Jesus in the Muslim tradition, he’s only a relatively minor figure in that mythology, and not being able to depict Muhammad makes it difficult to express images of any of the other figures regardless.
The “cloth with Jesus’s face on it” was the Shroud of Turin, which I’ve covered before. Its whereabouts have only been traced definitively back to the 14th to 15th century, and the majority of carbon dating tests done on it so far place its origin around that time. The Christian image of Jesus had mostly been standardised by the 6th century, so if the shroud is a fake then it creators were already working from the image we’re familiar with from so many paintings.
There are claims that those tests were invalid because they were supposedly done on newer patches of cloth, but even the strongest advocates of the shroud’s authenticity can only point to a test which indicates a date range that includes the time of Jesus, but also includes the year 1000 BC and the year AD 1700. In other words it’s useless.
Coming back to your question about people’s visions of Jesus matching the image on the shroud, they also match the accepted image of Jesus from all the art. Even if the shroud is genuine, the supposed visions would only be amazing just for matching the shroud if the shroud were the only surviving source of that type of depiction of Jesus. To sustain the claim, a Christian would have to go on to claim that every famous artist who painted that kind of face for him had a similar vision, because otherwise the face comes to people’s minds for other reasons than that Jesus has paid them all a visit.
Question from Dylan:
As an Atheist, do you have that feeling/thought deep down that tells you there has to be a God? I was an Atheist for my whole life and fought with the idea of god, even though I felt it was right. I couldn’t bring myself to believe because I didn’t have cold hard evidence right in front of me and obviously didn’t want to waste my life on something that may be false. Long story short I found faith during some hard times, I accepted Jesus and have never felt the same.
I just wanted to say that if you do have that feeling deep down that God is real, give it a chance. From one human to another, faith has changed my life entirely and after stumbling upon your site I felt compelled to share this with you. Sorry if you’ve already completely made up your mind, I just thought I’d give it a shot. Just keep in mind that sometimes the heart knows best.
Enjoy your Sunday and take care mate.
Answer by SmartLX:
I didn’t have that feeling even when I was a Christian. I just accepted what I was told and assumed God was real right up until I realised that some people didn’t believe, and some of the theology (though I hadn’t learned the term) didn’t really make sense to me. This led to a minor crisis of faith at age 11 and I just stopped thinking about it all. A couple of times I reassured myself that certain coincidences were God at work, but they were just so trivial and the argument felt hollow, so I dropped it again. Finally I took stock as an adult and realised my belief had faded entirely, and the world made more sense without a god than with. My heart did not object, and I felt no disappointment. Rather, I felt freed.
Faith does change lives, I wouldn’t dispute that. It even changes some lives for the better overall, though of course it has its drawbacks from a secular perspective. But it’s not the only thing that can effect that sort of positive change, and the change does not depend on the god actually being real because it may simply be all you, with a new attitude. But it’s all good, do what you’re compelled to do.
Question from Jacob:
Hey, So this post won’t be on any specific miracle, but mainly on those of the Saints before they can be canonized. Many of these miracles go through some very careful Investigations by the Vatican. So how does a skeptic explain so many of them?
Answer by SmartLX:
Go and read about some specific saints from post-Biblical times and the miracles attributed to them. I’ll wait.
There’s no good evidence for any of them, but to the Church doesn’t need the evidence to be good. The miracles that supposedly occurred during the saints’ lives are anecdotal, but many of the saints are canonised based on events that occur after their deaths. Amazing medical recoveries after praying to the right figure are probably the most common “miracle” and, as in the case of 19th century saint Francis Xavier Bianchi, the required evidence for even this is mere testimony before Church-appointed “judges”, and not by the doctors but by the patients themselves.
The position of “devil’s advocate” is a real thing in the Church, but its role even at its most active seems to have been to seek clear evidence of hoaxes and signs of a potential saint’s poor character, because being utterly discredited was about the only thing that would stop the rise of a new saint once the process was in motion. The judges could disregard anything that turned up if they chose. And then in 1983 Pope John Paul II changed the role of the position and removed nearly all its power, and the rate of canonisation skyrocketed. Relatively speaking, it’s an open door now.
The sheer number of miracle claims would be more worrying to skeptics if there were any indication that the average quality of the claims were beyond the level that only an already devout Christian would accept. There’s no such indication, so skeptics only pay attention to the few that Christians really push as being incontrovertible. Even those are all eminently controvertible.
Question from Sheena:
Hello, I’m currently studying Year 10. I would like to ask you a few questions with my Religion major assignment. If it’s okay.
Here are the questions:
1. What is your name?
2. What is the reason you became an Atheist?
Hoping for your immediate response.
Answer by SmartLX:
Sure it’s okay Sheena, but wow, that’s all they told you to ask? But then I suppose “why” is the only question that’s really on one’s mind when faced with a person whose position is so different from one’s own.
1. My name’s Alex, and you can give them any surname you want and they’ll accept it. Alex is a very common given name. Or be honest and say you asked a public blogger, this site will prove you right and they’ll understand my unwillingness to throw my whole name around.
2. I was a self-professed Christian until about the age of 11-12, when I was suddenly shocked by the fact that I didn’t have an answer to the Problem of Evil: why evil exists in the world if there’s a God who’s all-powerful, all-knowing and absolutely good. (Years later I didn’t just find one answer but far too many different ones; it became clear that no one really knows. But that was after the fact.) It was too hard to think about and I had teen things to focus on, and I moved from a Catholic primary school to a secular high school, so I didn’t consider religion seriously for almost 15 years. Without the constant reinforcement from within and without I barely prayed, I only went to church for Easter and Christmas and zoned out both times, and I only read the Bible when tracking down quotes (like the speech from Pulp Fiction).
Then in 2006 I read about Richard Dawkins and New Atheism, when journalists were all writing their first articles on the subject. Without reading any of Dawkins’ work or knowing any of his contemporaries’ talking points, I suddenly asked myself whether I still believed in God. It turned out that I didn’t, my simple opinion was that His existence no longer seemed likely. I was by definition an atheist. You should note that this is when I realised I was an atheist – the point when I became one could have been any time in the preceding years.
I recognised that this was a pretty big turnaround, so THEN I started digging into the meat of the debate to see if I was missing something. I searched the Web for the best arguments in favour of God, or any other god. Every one of them was plainly flawed (as I’ve chronicled in my Great Big Arguments series). There were certainly plenty of people willing to defend the arguments, but their defenses just weren’t convincing. I hadn’t known of this general weakness in the “apologetic” as a Christian boy, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t even know the arguments, I had merely accepted what I was told. I’d only known atheists existed because my father is one, and he only ever told me on two occasions.
So there you have it. I’m an atheist because I took a break from religion long enough to lose my emotional connections to it, and when I returned to the subject it was easier to see that faith was not intellectually justified. If the right justification finally came along it would be a different story, but I’m still waiting. In the meantime I live my life as if there is no god, and from that perspective much to do with religion appears pretty rotten.
Question from Douglas:
Do people who commit suicide go to heaven? Just watched the movie “The Discovery” on Netflix.
Answer by SmartLX:
Obviously The Discovery is a science fiction story, not a documentary, but like all good sci-fi it’s intended to provoke people to think about the real world and where we’re headed. Besides, (MILD SPOILERS) where they go in the movie isn’t exactly heaven so it doesn’t inform this question much.
I don’t think people who commit suicide go to heaven, because I don’t think there’s an afterlife, let alone a heaven, for anyone to go to. The identity is destroyed with the shutdown of the brain and it no longer exists to go anywhere.
Regardless, I’m against people committing suicide in most cases because of its straightforward consequences in this world: your own life ends with no possible chance of improving your circumstances or anyone else’s, and lasting anguish can be inflicted on those you leave behind.
I say “most cases” because I’m also in favour of voluntary euthanasia or assisted/accompanied suicide, when a person has reached a measured conclusion that continuing to live is too painful to justify any potential benefits. Organisations like Dignitas do a good job of making the decision and the action carefully considered, rational, compassionate processes with a minimum of drama.
I’m aware of course that religious approaches to this question are very different. If taking life is a sin, then suicide gives one no time to absolve or atone for the sin of taking one’s own life, so the shortcut to heaven is barred. This has a practical religious purpose in both the religious and secular view. For the religious, suicide prevents one from serving the mysterious purpose one’s deity has for one. For anyone on the outside looking in, it’s a simple way of preventing belief in an ideal afterlife from sending a religion’s followers to an early grave and depopulating the religion.
The exception which gives a religious rationale for suicide is sacrifice. If you get something important done by putting yourself in harm’s way, this might very well be your holy purpose, whether to be a martyr who gathers support or to take a lot of unbelievers with you. So really, there are religious reasons both to die and not to die and you can twist it any way you want, which is dangerous.