NDEs: One Man’s Last Bastion of Belief

Question from Kamil:
Is it worth it to believe in religion if the only reason I have to believe is NDEs? I mean, I know you might say no one can tell me what to believe, and I can’t choose what to believe, but the thing is, the nearest NDE study coming out that is supposed to be really large isn’t coming out until probably 2021, which is a long time.

The ONLY thing that compels me, as obvious from my posts, to believe is the NDEs, I see many of hell, many of Jesus, and I fear rejecting fully, in case I do end up getting punished for it. However, if I knew for a 100% fact NDEs were not really the soul leaving the body, I would have absolutely no reason at all to believe, nothing else is compelling at all, or makes any sense. The religious texts don’t make sense, filled with inconsistencies, and contradictions. The idea of “something can’t come from nothing” is not compelling, because then where did God come from? If God can always exist, then why can’t a few particles or even the smallest amount of energy exist? Even if that were debunked, it still wouldn’t mean a God exists. The story of Jesus at surface level seems like a fabrication, or at least part of it.

I believe a man named Jesus existed, and walked on earth, and gave advice/help to people. However, I find it hard to believe that he performed real miracles (maybe he was a good magician), that he came from a virgin birth, or that he really rose from the dead. However, then I am somewhat afraid to question that out of fear. I also find religion somewhat annoying, so when I first started questioning things, I was a tad rebellious. I am afraid that this may partially be contributing to my view to “want” to dump religion, sadly. I know that is biased, and that is also why I am not sure fully where I stand. However, honestly, it is probably 70% the fact that I don’t believe most of it, 10% of me is somewhat stubborn and wants to forget religion, and 20% is just this fear of what if, and in that it is the NDEs that make me uneasy of dropping it.

Should I really wait until 2021 before I can (potentially depending on the results) sincerely call myself an atheist, or should I take everyone else’s word and say “NDEs are just in the brain” and reject it? I know I keep asking this, but it really does seem that NDEs prove Jesus over other deities, I know I live in a Christian part of the world, and maybe other NDEs haven’t been recorded, or people just don’t post them. People from other faiths just say NDEs are not real, but that’s not tackling the issue. If NDEs are hallucinations which are culturally based, then a Muslim should report seeing Muhammad, as their brain would pull from their knowledge of religion. However, getting beside the point, what should I do? Should I wait for 2021 or should I not?

Answer by SmartLX:
After all the arguments for the supernatural or divine nature of near death experiences presented by you, a few other determined repeat contributors and a host of one-offs, the case for this still appears to be very poor. Therefore I wouldn’t judge NDEs to be a worthy reason to believe in gods and an afterlife. That’s not really how it works though; you didn’t decide to believe in them for good reasons or otherwise, you were convinced by what you had read and all our exchanges have been attempts to rationalise this after the fact.

You reject major Christian doctrine and the divinity of Jesus on an intellectual level, and yet you fear to deny Jesus out loud. This nakedly baseless fear is part a seldom discussed but very common phenomenon which I’ve named faithdrawal. Faith is maintained far more by emotion than by intellect, so this is the element of it that dies hardest. Fortunately, without constant reinforcement it fades inexorably.

I may have confused your past writings with those of others, but regardless there are discussions here of all the components of your summary argument for Christian NDEs. You do not understand why Christian NDE claims are so common and other types are almost non-existent if the experiences aren’t really caused by Yahweh and Jesus, but this is your inner argument from ignorance and the core fallacy you ignore through cognitive dissonance. Explanations have been presented, such as the Muslim doctrine that NDEs of Muhammad don’t happen which keeps Muslims from reporting theirs, and the runaway success of the Christian NDE meme in our culture which invites mistaken claims and outright lies, so there is no argument from elimination to be made, but since the alternatives don’t resonate with you the completely undemonstrated supernatural explanation still seems likely to you.

Don’t wait until 2021, because nothing will change as a result of that study. If it supports NDEs as an almost uniquely Christian phenomenon, you will allow it to renew your latent faith and ignore other explanations. If it does not, you will focus on any unanswered questions, of which there will be many. Think through this now and get it over with.

Focus on this, if you will: if there is no God and no afterlife, there is no punishment waiting after death, and if you are confident that religion is wrong then you have nothing to fear. If you did not want or need NDEs to be genuine, if you thought about them through my eyes or those of another indifferent person you’ve discussed them with, how likely would they look? How much of all this is just you holding on for literally no good reason that anyone else can see?

Spoiler: the first time you really ponder this, whether now or later, you will get angry. Let it happen, go think about something else, and come back to it, multiple times if you must. Accept that there are things about your own way of thinking that you do not understand, and take it slow.

A Passively Ominous Screed

Question from “once an atheist”:
I have to be very careful what I say because the comments I get from the atheists might backfire and I wouldn’t want them to get in trouble. Call it karma, luck, repercussions, god, it always happens when someone tries to touch me with their unbelief, or harm me with their insults. I was once an agnostic atheist like my parents were before in a 30 second span of time, they were changed forever. It’s amazing to me how many people with exceptional IQs cannot establish the truth in their lives. The smarter you get, the more of a fool you become in God’s eyes. It’s in the rule book that almost everyone knows. I believe the Dead Sea Scrolls might have been embellished by people who wrote them. I could be wrong. The rule book of life (KJV Bible) is supposed to be used to uplift people not make them hate and tremble at the sound of the word god for he is love. Don’t believe it? Jesus says he would rather have mercy than sacrifice. I have seen so many people condemn other people because they wont do exactly what the rule book says. And now I could condemn atheists and agnostics if I wanted to but I’ll just meditate more and learn to love all humans because karma or god really doesn’t need me to judge or convince others, he’ll do it all himself just like he did it to my folks. I wasn’t proselytizing them. I prefer to think with my heart instead of my head now.

“In the beginning was the word and the word was with god and the word WAS GOD” and the word became FLESH and dwelt among us”

Answer by SmartLX:
It’s hard to address this, since there’s not a formal question or challenge, so I’ll just pick up on a few points.
– Your warning that any attack on you will be met with divine retribution will not frighten or dissuade any non-believer. Kids have to believe there’s a boogeyman before the threat of it can be used to make them eat their vegetables.
– Christianity has a long history of anti-intellectualism, concurrent with a long history of claims of intellectual superiority. You’re clearly on the “smart is bad” side.
– Jesus may have wanted mercy, but the God of the Bible wants fear. That’s why “God-fearing” is a compliment.
– I’m sorry for your loss, whatever happened to your parents, but their atheism probably didn’t make it happen. It just fits your story to say it did.

Nasir Siddiki, Jesus, and Shingles

Question from Spivak:
I would love to know your impression of this video, do you believe it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1DL9ANF-m4

Answer by SmartLX:
For those who don’t feel like watching, Nasir Siddiki claims that he called out to Allah and Muhammad for help as he was dying of an extreme case of facial shingles combined with chicken pox. Jesus answered instead, he got better, and after 90 minutes in the shower his blisters were all gone and he doesn’t have a mark on him. (To save you a search, shingles leave scars and bad shingles leave bigger scars.)

That’s a straight-up medical miracle, for which there is no evidence presented but his own testimony. He does name the hospital, Toronto General, so this would be on record there if anyone has the ability to check, but doctor-patient confidentiality probably makes that difficult. I do note that the only appearance by his doctor is via the guy playing him in the re-enactment.

To establish an impossible cure there has to have been evidence that the illness existed, and was as severe as described, in the first place. Here’s a relevant story I don’t get to tell often: a Native American healer named Bobby Runningfox once touched my friend’s abdomen and announced that he had cured a small cancer. It had not been detected before his act, and whether he was genuine or not one would not expect to detect it afterwards. So as far as anyone can say, he touched my friend and did nothing.

The other similar claim that comes to mind is the minor character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who accuses a suspected witch: “She turned me into a newt!…I got better.”

There’s another interesting angle on Siddiki which has nothing to do with the medical aspect, brought up by this video. A Muslim has gone through another video where Siddiki tells the same story, and attempted to debunk the claim that Siddiki was actually a Muslim before the event. This responder does the same with many such “ex-Muslim” videos, and frankly appears to be reaching in some parts, but perhaps someone more familiar with Islam can say if there’s anything to it.

The Virginal Consensus

Question from Kaitlyn:
I need some help with a question that is really confusing me. I just watched a video regarding Jesus in the Bible. It said that Matthew and Luke wrote about how Jesus was born, his miracles, and his resurrection. It also was said that they may have not known each other. How were they able to write about the same thing, for example that Jesus came from a virgin? Even though they don’t have the exact same story, how could they both all of a sudden think he came from a virgin? I am an atheist, but I question all theories because I would rather be 100 percent about everything before completely crashing it down. This question is one I can’t find myself to answer on my own, and is really making me question what to believe. Please, some help would be awesome! Thanks.

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s quite a lot going on here. Your question touches on several different issues of Biblical authorship, so I’ll address them separately.

If the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke were in fact written by the apostles Matthew and Luke who knew and followed Jesus, then of course they knew each other and could collaborate on their accounts. As you probably know, though, these gospels were written years or even decades after the given timeframe of Jesus’ crucifixion, and very possibly by other people.

Though the authors might not have known each other, they could have had access to the same accounts from earlier on. As it happens, a popular hypothesis is that the authors of Matthew and Luke shared two principal sources, which explains much of the overlap: the Gospel according to Mark, and an as-yet-undiscovered and therefore hypothetical second document known as the Q source. To summarise, there are credible alternative explanations for the claims made by Matthew and Luke ‘independently’ to the false dilemma of pure coincidence or divine advice.

When the Book of Isaiah, which contains the prophecy relating to the Messiah’s birth, was translated from Hebrew to Greek, the word almah regarding the mother was translated to parthenos. The easiest way to explain the significance of this is that the equivalent of the word maiden, which might mean ‘virgin’ in some circumstances but otherwise just means ‘young woman’, was changed to the word virgin and all ambiguity was eliminated. (The literal Hebrew word for ‘virgin’ is betulah, which wasn’t used.) The Greek translation was made around 200 BC(E) and was therefore available to all the authors of the Gospels if they did basic research. Even if the above hypothesis is wrong and ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ had no common direct sources for the life of Jesus, they both knew that the Messiah’s life had damn well better match the centuries-old prophecy’s call for a virgin mother.

The Khabouris Codex: cool name, but proof of God?

Question from Abishek:
Does anyone know the truth about this “Khabouris Codex”?
Some Christians on the internet use it as proof that the New Testament is divine. I am confused, please help me in this.
Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
This was a new one on me. The Khabouris or Khaboris Codex is a manuscript of the New Testament (except for five books) dating back to the 12th century. It contains a note to say it’s a copy of a second-century manuscript, which if true gives it serious bragging rights as one of the most authoritative sources of the NT text in Jesus’ own language of Aramaic.

That doesn’t seem to be what’s important about it for the purposes of proving the divinity of the text. Since it was acquired from Kurdistan in 1966, the manuscript has been physically used to assist in religious healing and spiritual instruction. Reading from it has been claimed to cause minor psychological miracles; the main example is that regularly concentrating on the text in Aramaic – without understanding Aramaic – is said to make one more mature. It was even used in an attempt to calm violent prisoners. It’s a proper Christian relic, with minor powers such as you’d see on items in the ‘relic’ or ‘trinket’ category in a role-playing game. It’s most likely in a private collection at the moment.

The Christians you’re referring to may be arguing for the divinity of the New Testament from any of a few different angles. It might be the idea that the text has barely changed over thousands of years, which is dependent on the unverified claim of the Codex’s own source. It could be the discovery of the Codex, as a new revelation from God. It could be any of the abilities the Codex supposedly displayed after it arrived in the West, which are highly subjective in nature. It could be some passage which differs from the modern Bible and can be interpreted as making a unique prediction about subsequent events. None of these seem to be anything to worry too much about, honestly, but if you have more details of their claims (or a link to their website) please fill us in using a comment.

If you don’t believe in a god, why bother?

Jackie comes to us with this question…

hi, I just wanted to ask you guys that if you guys do not believe in God why bother and created a Blasphemy Challenge? why bother with something that does not exist? For example: If do not believe my husband is cheating on me 100% and to my knowledge there is no evidence that he is cheating on me, but every time he gets home I fight with him accusing him of cheating. That sounds ridiculous. Why fighting for something that inst there. So why the challenge? Maybe because you guys are not 100% sure that there is no God? Or you guys just don’t want to believe in God because you guys do not want to follow God’s instructions? Its ok if you guys dont. God made us with free will. You choose to follow Him or not thats all just simple. Why the hate for something that does not exist? ( that does not exist to guys af course) Hope you guys answer my question. Thank you guys for your time. I look forward to see your email with your thoughts. Best wishes =D. Sincerely, Jackeline P.S God bless you guys.

I see this question on Twitter all of the time and I find it, admittedly, a bit strange. To me, it should be obvious that since atheists don’t believe in gods, we can’t hate them. So why does this question get around so much? Are believers that naive? Do they really think we hate their god, and if so, why do they think that? Is your preacher telling you this? Why is he/she perpetuating a lie? Who keeps saying atheists hate gods? It’s certainly not atheists.

The reason the Blasphemy Challenge was created was for several reasons. First to show Christians that we do not fear their god (because we don’t believe it exists) and to show this lack of fear, what better way then committing what is referred to as “the unforgivable sin” which is to deny the holy spirit. The second reason was to show atheists that there are others just like them who don’t believe, and to feel a sense of unity. It was a great success. Lot’s of people took the challenge, it got publicity in the news, and a broader dialog was created.

Atheists do not hate gods. What we hate is the way religion pushes itself on to others. Take the phrase “One nation under god” in the pledge of allegiance for example. Most Christians today don’t realize that the original pledge never said “under god”. Here’s a video of the cartoon character Porky Pig saying the pledge before it was changed in the 1950’s….

Why was the pledge changed? Because of the great “Communist scare” of the 1950’s. The fear of communists was so strong that pressure was put on the government by religious lobbies and organizations to change the pledge to reflect the differences in our political structure and communism. Never mind that it doesn’t actually reflect the beliefs of all Americans.

I could go on to give you more examples of how religion interferes with personal liberties. Dry counties, decency laws, laws against homosexuals, laws against atheists holding public office, laws against women controlling their reproduction, public displays of religion on government property, forced prayer at schools, laws that withhold the progress of science, Religion can also be abusive by teaching that men have the right to lead women, that the natural desire for sex is wrong and that even touching oneself makes you less then human, and that child abuse is permitted (spare the rod and spoil the child).

For these reasons and more atheists speak out against religion. Atheists in the U.S. want this to be “One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” not just the religious.

So no, atheists don’t hate your god. We just don’t want your god belief to be pushed on us. Hope this answer helps.

 

Do you admire any Christians?

JimmyC asks….

There are many negative stereotypes about Christians. And, unfortunately many of those stereotypes prove to be true. Are there any Christians in your past or present that you admire and feel are misrepresented by the stereotypes? Thanks

Great question Jimmy and very original. We haven’t had that one here yet. Thanks.

There are many people who are christian that I admire. They range from my friends and family to politicians. What makes a person admirable to me isn’t what faith or political side they swing towards, it’s how they treat other people. I don’t care what a persons faith or lack of faith is as long as they lend a hand to someone who needs one. Christianity teaches that “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8 KJB) but few Christians actually practice this, which in turn creates the stereotype you’re referring to.

Jimmy Carter is a great example to me of a devout christian who practices charity. Instead of sitting on his ass after his presidency, he went out and built homes. He helped feed the hungry. He works toward improving the conditions of those that society has brushed aside. He also believes in the separation of church and state. If more Christians, hell, if more people of faith were like him, atheists wouldn’t have as much of a problem with them.

 

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, defeated?

Question:
The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible contains a long list of supposed contradictions in the Bible, but apologetics sites such as LookingUntoJesus.net have published articles reconciling every single one. Is there any remaining argument against the total internal consistency of the Bible, as befitting its divine origins?

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve referred to this many times, but it’s always deserved its own piece.

The shortest answer is to point out the fact that the SAB contains links to the responses in each of its articles concerning an apparent contradiction (this one, for example, has three). Why would it do this if the responses in any way undermined the point it’s trying to make?

I’ve read a lot of the responses, and as far as I can tell they all take the same approach. Using this particular interpretation of the relevant passages, they say, there is no real contradiction. Very well, I say, but what is the evidence that this interpretation is the correct one, i.e. the meaning intended by its unknown author(s)?

More to the point, is it more likely that the 2000+ identified passages are each meant to be understood in the specific way a modern apologist has decided, or that the separate authors collectively got a few things wrong here and there when it’s all considered together? If you presume or presuppose not only the existence of God but the divine authorship of the Bible then of course it must be interpreted in whatever way means it’s not wrong, but the whole point of arguing for its incredible consistency is to advocate that it’s the word of God, so you can’t invoke this in the middle of that very argument or you’re “begging the question”.

So, with the thousands of SAB articles and thousands of attempted refutations, where does it ultimately leave us? There are thousands of potential contradictions, each one of which might indicate that the Bible was written by fallible people. For every one of them there’s at least one interpretation that makes it look at least okay. If we say for the sake of argument that no two of these reconciliations contradict each other either, then there is at least one reading of the entire Bible that is internally consistent, but there are still countless others that are self-contradictory, and no objective way to choose between them. Therefore it’s not certain that it’s perfect, and it’s not certain that it’s imperfect, so all we can do is consider probabilities. That approach, in my view, is not favourable to the book.

Unpleasant Family Discussions

Question from Chance:
I grew up Christian, I’m not anymore. I don’t consider myself anything, just a human.

My question is how can I deal with my family that is all Christian and talk down to me? It’s starting to piss me off, but I’m always the bigger person. I’m kind when we debate ideas and religion, but they are the total opposites. Any opinions?

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s not a lot to go on here. If your family sees you as lesser or inferior as a result of your apostasy, it’s likely because of their underlying assumptions about the nature of believers and non-believers. You may wish to go beyond a discussion of the religious topic at hand and question their treatment of you directly, because it will very quickly lead back to the topics of faith and reason.

Comment with some extra information if you like. How do these exchanges begin, and how do they usually end? How do you go about being the “bigger person”? In what ways are they unkind, and what triggers this behaviour?

Fear of the Devil – as an atheist

Question from Evelyn:
So I recently accepted being an atheist and I’m fine with it. But even though it’s easy for me to accept that there probably isn’t any God and I’ve been praying to dust this whole time, I still find myself panicking at the thought of Satan. I still have the same fears as when I was religious, and I find myself quickly making sure I didn’t commit blasphemy, or praise the devil. I figure it’s from all the fear techniques people from my religion used to get people to follow them. I wasn’t in any cult religion or anything, just Christian. But looking back the way it was fed to me was quite like the manner of a cult. Anyway, I just want to know if you have any tips for my irrational fear of the devil coming to eat my soul. Thank you!

Answer by SmartLX:
Welcome to faithdrawal, which is the best word I’ve ever invented.

This happens to a lot of people because fear of Hell and Satan goes beyond the intellectual. You’re not frightened of him just because they’ve told you he’s there, or else you’d have stopped being frightened when you became an atheist. Rather it’s been drilled into your subconscious to the point where your emotions bypass rational thought entirely and you simply behave as if there’s a devil. There’s no particularly insidious technique the religious use to achieve this, they just speak and preach to you as if it’s all true until you internalise it as an unspoken assumption.

Fortunately, this kind of conditioned fear needs regular reinforcement to persist at the same strength, and as an atheist you’re not getting that reinforcement anymore. (Some evangelists threaten atheists with hell in an attempt to reach lapsed believers with some last-minute reinforcement, and sometimes it probably works on individuals, but generally speaking it’s a futile effort.) It’s still bad now, I know, but it will fade over time until you calmly look back on your prior fear and see it for what it was, namely unjustified and needless.

If you want to try to speed up the process to save yourself some stress in the long term, equip yourself with a little ridicule. Satan has shown up in popular culture quite a lot recently (try this list), and in nearly every case some aspect of the concept of Satan is held up to the light and found to be silly in some way. There’s not that much media openly ridiculing all religious faith (yet), but criticising and lampooning specific ideas within specific doctrines is fine, and the Devil is a prime target. Go check out some different takes on the character. My personal favourite is Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, who makes a raucous but really quite robust case that he’s actually the good guy.

Finally, just take a moment of self-awareness whenever you find yourself afraid of something you don’t really think is there. The more you catch yourself at it, the less you’ll end up doing it. And don’t worry, because right now is worse than it’s ever going to feel again.