How to Protect Yourself from Evil- An Alpha Perspective

Today’s topic was “How Can I Resist Evil” at the Hope Lutheran Church’s Alpha class.  This was supposed to explain to us what it meant to recognize evil and how to best counter this evil when we come across it.  I’ll go into some of the explanations of evil (Satan) and what it is we are supposed to do with that evil.

Well first off she started the sermon with a logical “proof” that was apparently self-evidently true.  “If there is an absolute good, then there logically has to be an absolute evil” and that is why we must accept that there is an evil “force” out there that is out to get us.  The problem with this is obvious first off, this only applies if you believe in an infinite good in the first place and there is no maxim that says there must be an absolute evil as an entity. As darkness is absence of light, evil could be the absence of good in this example; and it certainly isn’t sentient.  However, she labeled this evil as Satan as laid out in the bible and went through pains to show that god was “perfect” and Satan was created from god; therefore Satan is less than god and is not as powerful.  She reiterated this time and again most likely in case someone asked the obvious question: “if god is all powerful why does he suffer Satan or evil?” Well that question still stands, but we’ll get to some of the most grievous contradictions later, but for now we are supposed to understand that Satan is powerful, but not ALL powerful.  It’s “Common sense” as she says that Satan has to exist in this fashion.  Problem here is of course, we all accept that “Evil” or “Bad” exists….but not everyone attributes a sentience to that evil. That’s……weird.

But god made Satan.

Anyways, Satan is leading demons and is fighting a spiritual war against the forces of heaven. We poor hapless humans are caught in the cross fire and have to do what we can to defeat the demons. I know you’re probably thinking this is all figurative, but it doesn’t seem so. There are actually demons out there, they are actually cast out of people, and they are actively here to harm you and me. This is interesting stuff if we’re supposed to rely on evidence and be critical thinkers concerning the bible.

Evidence I ask? Well she’s got it in spades! The bible is our evidence for Satan, so we can easily prove the bible correct by using the bible.  No problems there. The other piece is its tradition. All Christian teachings throughout the ages have had some sort of devil figure either in literature or art that showcased the battle against evil.  If Christian theologian’s and writers believed in Satan during the Middle Ages and before, then obviously it must be true. Another bit was that not everyone believed in demons back during 1st century Palestine.  She mentioned a ruling class that didn’t believe in the dogma of the religion, but ran the churches for profit. She reviled them as “Fakers” and since they didn’t’ believe in the devil (or god) then obviously Satan was winning over them. Evidence for this is in the bible which can readily be fact checked with the bible.  Really, this is the other piece of evidence, discounting that other more coherent and older religions have claims just as similar or different as you can imagine.  This one Christian doctrine is the True One.

Moving on to more relevant sources of evil, she mentioned that demons and Satan are constantly in action all around us! She used the example of the copying machines in the church.  Whenever an important outreach event is about to happen there always seems to be a problem with the copying machines.  There is no way it is a coincidence since it always happens whenever the church has need of them.  It’s not as if the additional use and constant attention have anything to do with jam-prone machines in the first place, no! It’s demons and/or Satan.  A Christian radio station wouldn’t show up in a woman’s car, as it kept fading out to icky talk radio. Again, Satan at work, trying to turn this woman away from god! Pornography shows up on a church members’ computer that he knows he never viewed (It was later found out to be a computer virus). SATAN put that virus there! You get the picture-anything that we don’t want to happen is Satan, anything we DO want to happen is god. Very, very flimsy stuff.

Now we move on to another part that I especially had to snicker at.  She warned against people turning away from god in a search for more power via the occult.  She mentions astrology, sorcery, witchcraft, wiccans; these are all forms of Satan that seek to take power away from god and into human (Satans!) hands via super natural methods.  She particularly pointed to astrology and Wicca as a very harmful thing and how it was a disgrace that so many young women in particular were turning to Wicca and that right here in Des Moines (!) there were these groups going on! She marked them all as evil and said those of us who may or may not have looked at the horoscope/astrology/Wicca/sorcery/etc. should pray for forgiveness. ?  I’d hate to know what she thinks of Harry Potter or World of Warcraft.

One example she gave was of a bright young woman who claims to be a “witch” and wanted to cast spells to help people.  She thought that it was so sad that this girl was so bright, yet was leading down a path of evil. I mean, we all know how fickle young girls are and they may be trying to do something “Good” and may do something bad with their spells! They should certainly stay away from this kind of thing, because sorcery in the hands of a young person is dangerous.  One question I wish I could have asked the pastor: How is that any different than prayer? If a young girl wielding sorcerous powers is so dangerous since she’s wont to use her powers for evil, how is that any different than praying to god for a boy to like her, or a Facebook post to be erased? It’s the same thing, just not the pastor’s flavor.  I don’t know what is more troubling the fact that this pastor thinks astrology and sorcery are a threat to her church as real things or that she can’t tell the difference between her prayer and another form of “prayer”.  Oh and she mocked the psychic hotline as people that are silly and are misled…kind of like calling in to BTN or Pat Robertson or any other Christian prayer group, don’t you think?

Ok winding down now, we go back to Genesis and the idea of original sin and how Satan is there to trick Adam and Eve.  Now I read some the wording here and god says basically “don’t eat this fruit, or you’ll die”. Then Satan the snake comes up and says “Hey Eve, you should totally eat that fruit because it’s good, etc.” So Eve does. And they don’t die. Did god LIE to them? Beh,semantics.

Anyway, the reason I bring this part up is to show how backwards this thinking is in the Christian religion. God made a tree that would doom Adam and Eve. God makes Satan, knowing he’s going to trick the humans, and has Satan go do his trickery thing. Then god punishes everyone, but it’s not a curse. He CURSES Satan by doing the snake thing, but here merely JUDGES the humans with all the original sin, etc.  So it’s a JUDGEMENT when god does something evil, but a CURSE when Satan does it. Oh sorry, you weren’t cursed with cerebral palsy, you were JUDGED! Get it right. One way to look at this scenario is that god created a situation in which he knew he was going to have to bring the pain down on Adam and Eve, and he conveniently made Satan his scapegoat.  Satan technically told the truth, eat the fruit and you will know right and wrong. They did, and it made them recognize that they were “naked” if you take the bible in its figurative language. Then they were punished for it. The reason this scapegoating type thing is important is because the pastor said that is what Satan does. He points fingers, he shoves the blame away, the same way a person does when they do something wrong. However, this is exactly what god has done if you are going to maintain an internally consistent story. He creates a no win scenario, blames it on Satan, beats HIM down, then smites some humans. Who is the real evil one here?

But we can all relax! All this is alright because Jesus died on the cross for all our sins. All the apples eaten, the demons in copier machines, the pornography on computers, and yes depression (she blamed clinical depression on Satan too) are all simply water under the bridge. Just arm yourself in the breastplate of righteousness, the helm of salvation; the shield of faith (No science and reason getting in here!), and the Sword of Spirit and you can never be defeated.

Or reasoned with as a rational human being, you take your pick.

Jason Benell

 

 

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Words and Actions Have Meaning

How many times throughout the day do we say things without really meaning what the words themselves mean? “I’d die for a drink of water right now”, “he’s drop dead gorgeous”, “It’s raining cats and dogs out there” etc.  You know, those little sayings that we use in every day speech that we don’t really mean, but they certainly get our point across.  We don’t really think of those things as serious issues to get hung up on. I mean, no one is going to stop you and say “HEY, it’s not REALLY raining cats and dogs, it’s just raining very hard”, unless they were intentionally being obtuse.

However, when it comes to religious sayings we have to take a second look at these things. Do people really mean “Oh my god, I hope you suspend the laws of physics so I can make this trick shot” or “Jesus protected me during the car accident”? Maybe, maybe not, but the point is that words and ideas do indeed have meaning and we recognize that every day.

Let us look at another example; a current presidential candidate, Michelle Bachmann.  She has said: “I will not seek a higher office if God is not calling me to do it. If I am called to serve in that realm I would serve, but if I am not called, I wouldn’t do it.” Do you think Bachmann really means that she won’t serve unless she perceives her god is telling her to? Now, when we consider religious sayings, these little things we say every day can start to have more of an impact.  Do we want someone in charge of things if they have to get an OK from a voice that only they can hear? I think not.  Granted, this is an extreme example, not everyone that uses these religious sayings can be put into such a controversial position, but the point still remains. Words have meaning.

If we look again and again at all of our societal norms and mores we have to consider what we are really saying. When we have a Medal of Honor ceremony, why do we have a prayer? What does that mean? Why do we need to invoke a god to celebrate a heroic soldier? Why do we consistently lie to our children about tooth fairies and Santa Clause?  Even when we tell children that Santa clause or the Easter bunny is real, what does that say about how much we value what is true?   When does it stop being a funny small saying and become a dangerous way of thinking? When does a child’s Santa Clause turn into Bachmann’s god?

The point of this rambling message is that we should take more care and notice when things happen in our society and even in our speech. If we as a people think it’s alright to discriminate against people based religion as long as it isn’t overt, then we are still saying it’s alright to discriminate. So let it rain cats and dogs, and go ahead and die for that drink of water, but when it comes to letting religion into your culture, hold your words to a higher standard.

 

Jason Benell

Atheists at the Straw Poll-A Mighty Fine Shindig

Well, that was a fun Straw Poll for the atheists that were there. This Saturday I, along with some of my fellow atheists, attended the Ames Straw Poll to participate in the presidential election process. I was one of the people holding the atheist banner: “Keep Religion out of Politics” along with a snippet of the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…..” It was honestly a great chance to meet and greet with people from many different political backgrounds and views, and indeed a great chance to see why people have such a problem with people like me. Being told I’m “disgusting”, “going to hell”, “pathetic”, and that I “need a life” just for attending the Straw Poll really can make one cynical about Iowa politics. It wasn’t all bad though, I was also told I’m “heroic”, “American”, “knowledgeable” and simply “a nice guy” from several other people as well, even from people that disagreed with us atheists. Many of those people that held religious views different from my own still saw the value in our message, which gives me some hope.

However, that wasn’t why I was there; I was there to see how the political process unfolds in our great state of states. I was also there to bring attention to the fact that religious ideology should not be the cornerstone of any candidate’s campaign.

You see, you can be a Republican, or a Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, or any other political ideology in between and still agree with a separation of church and state. In fact, it’s required; it’d be unconstitutional to have a specific religion favored over another. This also includes religion over irreligion, theism over atheism, and vice versa; it works both ways.  Keep in mind this is regardless of what any political figure has said in the past; this is a requirement of a free and equal constitution that contains a 1st and 14th amendment as we have in ours. I do indeed wonder why it was such a rough time for us atheists that were simply there to remind Straw Poll attendees that the 1st amendment in fact exists.

When candidates like Michele Bachmann tell her supporters that she is called by god to run for an office, or when Herman Cain criticizes Obama for not mentioning God enough, these are not the qualities we should be looking for in a candidate. We should be looking for legislation based on the consequence of that legislation not on how a particular candidate feels about their religion directing their ideology. Imagine how horrible it would be if every person in power supported legislation not based on how it affected the citizens but rather how their religious training guided them. That would not be the kind of country I doubt anyone would want to live in, regardless of their religious or political beliefs. It’d be inherently unjust because laws and equality go out the window when someone’s personal feelings about religion begin to dictate law for all citizens.

So if you were out at the Straw Poll this last weekend and you saw us atheists and were curious to know exactly why we were out there, the answer is quite simple: We care about our state and we care about the Constitution.  We care enough that we don’t want our state to be represented by the candidate who can be the most Christian or who can be the most vocal. We want policies based on their results, not on their religious ideological basis, and we want the 1st amendment respected by all presidential candidates.

Jason Benell

Press Officer

Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers

press@iowaatheists.org

Iowa Straw Poll Needs Rationality

Lately we have seen quite a bit of buzz concerning the Conservative Republican candidates for president coming to Iowa and campaigning for support.  One of the biggest platforms that any of these candidates has is that of religiosity and a strong faith in a Christian god.  Some have even gone so far as to sign a controversial pledge from the Family Leader concerning same sex marriage in Iowa, which indeed described slavery as preferable to same sex marriage.  This platform can also be seen in much of the more recent political rhetoric concerning abortion and same sex marriage or concerning how Christian teachings should be brought into school classrooms.  What is especially troubling is that Iowa is seen as a barometer for political support, yet the GOP candidates come here to see who can “out Christian” who.  This needs to stop and it needs to stop now.

For one, it makes our state look bad. It makes us look like a bunch of people that don’t care about other important issues like the economy or foreign policy, but that Iowans only care about social policies. This is obviously not true, and I encourage all politicians and media sources to stop feeding into this social policy war and focus on what Iowans really care about; making our state and country a better place to live. It also makes us look like a state that does not understand the Constitution.

The very real reason this needs to stop is because much of what is advocated is downright unconstitutional.  If we were to allow Christian teachings, or any religious teachings, over the teachings of any other religion, non-religion, or philosophy, we are tainting the very law itself. We are telling our citizens that our law derives not from the consequences of peoples’ actions, but from a specific religious belief that has been codified.  I can hardly think of anyone that would like to live under a law that tells citizens their religious or non-religious beliefs are illegal or at least not protected.  I think the vast majority of Iowan’s get this, but a very loud minority does not seem to and these are the ones being courted by Conservative GOP candidates. These people seem to think that if we allow THEIR specific religious beliefs to come into law that it is somehow a more just society or a society more in line with the “founding fathers”. This is definitively false, and we don’t need founding fathers to show us this to know that we must have a separation between church and state.

One point that has sprung up on this topic again and again has been the idea that “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution. It doesn’t have to; it is self-evidently true that there MUST be a separation of church and state if we are to have a law that applies equally to everyone.  We could not have Christian law ruling in Des Moines and Jewish law in Ames and still adhere to a equal protection clause in the Constitution.  I mean, could you imagine the problems transporting pork and livestock between the two cities?  Let’s not even get into literature and other media, and woe unto any couple that wishes a divorce.  These are some silly examples, but very real examples nonetheless. We cannot have religious doctrine intertwining with civil law but rather the civil law must be, and generally is, created with the consequence of that law in order to further the happiness and productivity of all citizens.

I think most Iowans understand this point and strive to keep a rational head on our shoulders. Going forward, let us keep our law secular, the way it was intended and avoid being swayed by charismatic religious Conservatives looking for your vote. Go into the polls with a clear head and a rational mind, Iowa and prove to the country we are worthy of our political position.

Jason Benell

Press Officer

Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers

 

Faith the Bedrock of Bad Ideas that Religion Rests Upon

In an attempt to encourage less religious backed belief, promote the separation of church and state, and remove backward thinking from our political landscape, atheists will often attack religion as a source for much of these problems. Christians trying to drive out evolution from class rooms, Catholics demonizing the use of contraceptives, both trying to legislate away women’s rights, the list goes on. There is something from pretty much any religion that someone not of that religion, or someone that tries to be more rational than others, can pick out as problematic and try to counter. However, there is one important point that I want to make as someone active in the atheist community.  The root of these problems, the bad legislation, the hate speech, the removal of rights, and fear based ideology; they aren’t summed up by “The Church” or “Religion” in general. No, the answer is much simpler and much more problematic-the problem is faith itself.

The belief in things without evidence, the idea that you “know” something because you simply “know” it and that this idea is unassailable and to do so is the gravest of insults, this is faith.  This idea of faith lies at the heart of so many bad decisions and actions throughout human history it’s ridiculous that faith isn’t an epithet in our modern vernacular.

Now, faith doesn’t have to be specifically faith in a religion to be harmful, faith is harmful in nearly all instances. How so? Well, let’s take a look at patriotism as a prime example. “America is the best country therefor our actions are justified” or “America is God’s country, therefor policy X is correct” or even “America is the land of the free and liberty is priority number one, so the US would never have used conquest, subjugation, or shady means to prosper”. These are all ideas that may or not be commonly held but that are actively harmful because they rely on a presupposition that the individual just “knows” their statements to be true.   They are actively harmful because they foster the idea that in this case America is the best and any possible evidence that violates these beliefs will become immediately suspect or outright denied because hey-this individual has faith that they are right.  You’re a fool to question their faith in this case.

This applies to anything though, not just patriotism, but rather, ANY –ism. Racism, sexism, capitalism, socialism, patriotism are all examples that can and have been taken to extremes, not based on evidence, but based on a blind intrinsic belief that they are correct.  So when I say faith, I mean it in a broad sense, believing something to be true without rational evidence based approaches and a presupposition of certain things to reach an end argument.

So to turn this back to why this is important for rational individuals to consider I will point out that rationalism is the opposite of faith. Why does a rational person believe something? Because they have evidence to show that it is more than likely true, not because they just accept it to be true alone and without question.  The reason the idea of faith can muddy the water when attempting to counter religious dogma is because rationally, atheists know that religious beliefs are fundamentally hollow. Since religious beliefs rest upon faith, but manifest themselves through religion, faith is the foundation of these dogmatic religious teachings. This is why we must separate the two if we are to make any progress in the long term against religious crusaders and bigotry. We must separate and discuss not only religious dogma, but faith itself.

Faith is the true problem in our church/state issue. Faith is the true problem with the same sex marriage attacks from the religious right. Faith is the true problem with the proliferation of AIDS and the withholding of contraceptives.  Faith is the true problem with the movement to deny women’s rights in concern to her own body. We can attack religious belief as long as we like, and we’ll be 100% correct in saying that the Bible or Koran or Torah is inconsistent and contradictory.  You will have no argument from me on the ridiculousness of religious belief. However, in order to actually make progress, in order to actually get people to see just how hateful or wrong they are, we need to not point out the flaws of religion, but point out the folly that is faith.

Believing in things without evidence is not a virtue. Faith is not a good thing; faith is a very bad thing.  Whether it is faith that your car will never break, faith that your favored political system is better than others, or faith in an old man in the sky, none of these are good things for the individual or society. Rationality and consequence based reasoning are the cure to this nonsensical approach to life. Otherwise why do people change their oil? March for social change? Not believe in ALL old men in the sky stories? Because we know that rationality is important, we’re just afraid to get people to apply it to their religious faith.  Faith is the ultimate surrender of your mind, the ultimate capitulation of reason.

So remember, pointing out the flaws in religion is necessary and important, but we must also remember to denounce faith as well. When someone says “just take it on faith” or “this is my personal faith”, you know that person has simply run out of answers and the willpower to find them. They’ve given up a bit of their personhood in order to feel better about themselves, and the sooner we end this nonsense; the sooner we end religious nonsense as well.

 

 

 

Why does it matter to YOU what I believe?

So why do all those atheists have to be so vocal? This is a question I know a lot of people have written about, and is certainly a question I’ve been asked by my own family.

“Why does it matter to YOU what other people believe?”

But you see, I think this is phrasing it the wrong way. It’s like me accusing other people of thought crime and I will be swooping in to correct their “incorrect” thinking. That isn’t what being a vocal atheist is about at all. Rather, I’m more concerned with myself believing things that are true, and demonstrably true, versus things that simply make me feel good. This doesn’t mean that he, or she, or they have to believe the same way I do, but it does mean that I want to live in a society where we value things that are demonstrably true.

We live in a  republic so we all get to cast a vote and shape social policy to some extent, so by participating in a society with me and I with others, everyone makes policy calls based on what they believe.  If we think that smoking is bad, we make laws that curtail the negative effects of smoking without infringing on people’s ability to smoke as they see fit.  We look at studies using science and determine which things are harmful and make policies to mitigate that harm.  Now, let us move onto larger topics like justice, freedom, and the happiness of our population.

If I believe that the only way to be a good person and a functioning member of society is to believe in god, I’m going to vote that way. Setting aside Constitutional rights and things like that, at its most basic form it comes down to shaping policy in a way that is in line with my world view, which is what voting is kind of supposed to do. But what happens if that belief restricts other citizens’ freedom? What if it diminishes their happiness? Well, then we should do what we do with smoking, right? We should look at the effects of our policies and adjust course from there to ensure greater freedom, justice, and happiness for all citizens, right?

Well, just about everyone believes that is true in almost every case except a scant few-those pertaining to their religious belief.  Forget legality, forget justice and happiness, forget even freedom; this is one sector of policy for most people that the testability doesn’t matter.  This policy reduces the freedom of another group? Doesn’t matter, my religious beliefs are right and I need to be free to have them at the expense of others.  Voting this way is unjust to a large part of our citizenry? This law must stay in place because my religious belief trumps justice.  As you can see, when religion and faith are the foundation for policy and belief you inevitably run up against the edges of freedom, justice, and yes, even happiness.

So why are atheists so vocal about this? Well if anyone, even a theist person, takes time to think about their religious belief you can easily see how it will inevitably count some people “in” and some people “out”, and they have to figure out a way to make that work.  However, secularists and atheists have a better alternative than trying to make these things work within a faith-based framework.  Why not drop it all together and return to the consequence based reasoning we (try to) use in every other facet of our society? Why can’t we see faith and believing in things without evidence as inherently harmful and just ditch it all together so that our society can flourish for everyone?

This is really the fundamental reason atheists are so vocal about this. Setting aside the persecution, the derogatory remarks, the marginalization, and all of this, atheists are most upset about faith and religion being seen as exempt from serious consideration and somehow not responsible for their negative outcomes.  As you can see, other people’s religious belief can directly impact their fellow citizens, no matter their level of faith.   So yes, I’m vocal, yes I’m going to be out there, and yes, I’m going to ask people why they believe because as can be seen throughout the world, the less faith, and by proxy religion, there is, the more free people are, the more just a society, and the happier they may become. Knowing what is true is always better for everyone than just believing in what makes you feel good.

Jason K.

Should Religion Be Abolished?

This is in response to Don Severs’ point that religion should not be abolished, but rather should be freed from its own corruption.  He contends that religion in and of itself should not be abolished and that it is night impossible. I agree with him to an extent, but this is a response I have to his position, perhaps a bit more pointed than what he initially said here.
The only issue, if you could even call it that, with Don’s position is that of saving religion from itself. I think what Don is proposing is a very noble and even good endeavor-to rescue religion from the corruption that it suffers from. However, I have a very hard time separating that corruption from religion. To me at least, it seems that any attempt to transform “religion” is a futile endeavor because it necesserily involves changing the people that adhere to it. Now, this can be done and has been done many times over, but the seed of corruption is always there. That seed is Faith  [in the supernatural sense]. Unless you abolish faith and remove it completely from any personal philosophy or religion you will never be completely free. You will always be forced to concede that things are the way they are because [insert Faith based reason here], which I think we would all agree is not a good philosophy to adhere to when making tough decisions concerning morality and ethics.

This is why I advocate a trimming, if not abolition, of religion. I am a realist, I know religion would never be abolished, nor do I think it really should be completely. And of course, we mean religion in its broadest terms, there are certain specifics of theist religions that I think we agree SHOULD be abolished. However, we are at a point, I believe, where any concession to religious ideology or zealotry has long reaching and far flunt negative effects. Our civilization at this point literally has the power to change the world as we know it, to cure diseases, to feed everyone, and to leave our atmosphere. We can do so many amazing things and there are still people attempting to hobble our attempts at a more peaceful and just world. Not because they are explicitly evil or wish ill upon others (though some are and do).  But because of certain religious beliefs we see more harm coming to our fellow humans, for example, that two same gendered people don’t deserve legal protection. That women don’t have a right to their own body.  That scientific progress is inherently bad and should be discouraged. That their plot of land is better than any other plot of land simply by virtue of it being their plot of land.  The only answer to these kinds of harmful beliefs is first reasoned disapproval and then abolition of the foundation of such beliefs.  So perhaps it is not the abolition of religion proper but rather the abolition of dogma and faith that is my focus, but it is abolition none the less. Giving any quarter to these beliefs legitimizes them and gives rise to even further ridiculousness.

Now, when it comes to respecting religion as an means to good ends as Don references in disaster releif and charity, those are all great! Great things can come from religious groups and ideologies and we should not stand in the way of these efforts. What we should do is show how these efforts are not dependent on faith or religious ideology and can be had without any sort of dogma. They are separate and at times [i]despite[/i] their religious convictions that such good is done in our world.  The more we separate goodness and morality from religion by both example and activism the more we chip away at the idea that religion is inherently good or moral. Furthermore, it lays bare the fact that we can and do have goodness and morality without religion and we can show that much of the progression made in our civilization has been in spite of religion, not due to it.

 

Jason K>