Reasons for my de-conversion (4 of 4)
I hope I have adequately described our inherent weaknesses in cognition (Part I), emotions (Part II) and dogmatism (Part III). Perhaps I can now continue with some of the reasons why I dismiss the notion of a personal god.
First, much of the ontology of Christianity is dependent on the Bible. The veracity of the Bible must be established before notions such as Heaven, Hell and sin can even be submitted for evaluation. Do not quote the Bible to “prove” to me the existence of these entities. I reject the Bible as “god’s word” for several reasons. As I list these reasons, Christians will contend that I am taking things out of context, yet I have spent years begging to see some objective, consistent and reliable standard of hermeneutics being practiced among Christians. None has emerged. This is the beauty of the “scriptures” of all successful religions; they are all ambiguous enough to provide deniabilty when backed into a exegetical corner. This lack of unity in exegesis I’ll introduce later as a failure of the Holy Spirit.
1. Moral ambiguity.
Polygamy, incest, rape and slavery are just a few of the practices condoned or encouraged in the Bible. Extravagant and elaborate apologetic arguments are employed, and usually track back to the incoherent notion that “God’s ways are not our ways”.
2. Philosophical dilemma
Persons who have not heard of Jesus are, nonetheless, eternally condemned for what the Bible claims is a clear manifestation of his eternal power and godhead in nature. In addition, a finite number of sins committed by a soul who had no choice but to be born sinful are given infinite punishment.
3. Internal textual discrepancies
While a bit over-ambitious, the site http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/ is a good source. I was so intent on finding truth in the “word of god” when I was younger that I learned Greek and read the Greek NT through eleven time. I will not spend time on the alleged discrepancies here.
4. False claims of fulfilled prophecy
Having read Josh McDowell extensively when I was young, I was dismayed to realize his misuse of probability theory, and the selection bias endemic to apologists in general. There have been so many historical events that an omniscient and omnipotent god could have unequivocally and clearly stated in scripture rather than playing silly games with vague terms.
5. Canonization and textual criticism
Unlike I was led to believe when I was young, there was not the unanimity often claimed when it came to the canonization of the Bible, nor is there the consistency claimed across manuscripts from which the Bible was compiled.
6. Dependence on prior mythology
Several mythical religious characters preceding Jesus closely parallel the Gospels account of Jesus to a suspicious degree. See http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jcpa5.htm
7. Disagreement with and hindrance to science
I’ve written a paper on this you can find at http://philstilwell.com/methodologicalnaturalism.pdf.
8. Falsehoods about a “godless” life
When I was in Christianity, I was told that those without Christ were hedonistic perverted beasts that walk after their own lusts. Imagine my surprise when I discovered atheists who were happily married, involved in charity organizations, and giving back to society to a degree not common to Christians. I was told that, should I ever leave Christianity, I would be unhappy, and have no purpose. I remember during my first year in the philosophy program at the University of Kansas, I asked a guest speaker why so many philosophers committed suicide. I got blank stares and felt embarrassed after getting to know the happy philosophers in my department. And many of them went out of their way to assist students financially, emotionally and academically, all without the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
9. Unfulfilled promises
- Intercessory prayer
There are several verses that promise something about prayer, but when asked for what can be expected of god, Christians redefine answered prayer into the entire set of possible outcomes. Christians have no criteria to distinguish what event is answered prayer and what is merely natural cause and effect. God does not heal amputees, and there exists statistical evidence to dispute the notion that intercessory prayer is effectual. See also the following promises concerning prayer.
Matthew 17:20 & 21:21; Mark 11:24; John 14:12-14; James 5:15-16
Though there were many miracle that god gave to demonstrate his might 2 to 3 thousand years ago, the closer alleged miracles come to scientific scrutiny, the fewer miracles there are. Why this inverse relationship?
- Unity of the spirit
There exist no more unity among Christian churches than among secular organizations.
- The Holy Spirit and truth
Christians exhibit actually less valid logic in their arguments, exhibit no more world knowledge than non-believers, and radically disagree on what many of them consider critical doctrines.
- Power over sin
This is a bit personal. I struggled many years with sexual impulses, and spent hours on my knees begging for god to give me victory. In spite of my sincerity and submission to god that many would vouch for, I repeatedly failed to gain control. It was not until I left Christianity that I finally overcame this. The problem was that I was depending entirely on god and the Bible, and did not spend time assessing who I was sexually. My Christian upbringing supplied the overwhelming sense of guilt that often results in sexual deviation by those immersed in religion. I have since come to a satisfying sense of my sexual self, and have very healthy relationships now in stark contrast to those in my Christian past.
To extend this notion, it is informative to examine rates of incarceration and divorce among Christian nations such as America and non-Christian nations such as Japan or Sweden. The statistics you’ll find on the Web.
Other indicators of the power of god over sins of the flesh might include rates of obesity among Christians as opposed to non-Christians. Based on my observations, there is no power of god at work in this respect, but a statistical study is needed to confirm this.
Let me address one further pertinent issue. Cognitive scientists have been recently more focused on this phenomenon we call religious experience in which an inexplicable sense of well-being and euphoria, often translated into “the joy of the lord”, bears witness with the individual that they are indeed experiencing the presence of god. These scientists have produced identical feelings by stimulating various parts of the brain in the lab. Before we can properly assess god, we need to assess our ability to objectively assess! If we have a predisposition to believe, we must invest time and focus on setting aside our subjective emotions, and develop an objectivity that includes essential skills such as logic and critical thinking. This is not innate. There are no shortcuts such as a plug-and-play “faith”.
Let me conclude by restating my current disposition towards religion and the possibility of a god. I’m a bit annoyed at the Christianity that exudes arrogance and condescension. A subset of Christians glory in their blind faith and pompous proclamations of their monopoly on truth. I have no problem assuming an equal arrogance in stating how wrong they are.
However, most Christians are no different than I was. I still believe they are in error, but many of them are good benevolent people. As someone who espouses the beauty of an altruistic lifestyle, I admire them. While the kindness of some Christians is based on less-than-noble incentives such as god’s anger or god’s approval, some Christians seem to really enjoy helping others as I do. However, I would be happier if they found the satisfaction and intellectual integrity that exists in a “godless” life that is based on reality.
I’m still open-minded, so if any of you have arguments for god you think I’ve overlooked, please state them. And I hope you have read my arguments with equal open-mindedness.
- Phil Stilwell