Don't Encourage Him!

2007-01-09 12:20 - Religion

I was recently reading a blog post from a friend of mine. To paraphrase, they said simply that though they're an atheist, if someone wants to pray for them, they are fine with it. I immediately disagreed, and failed to get my point across in a discussion about it. I eventually came up with an idea, which prompted this short piece of fiction:

Sally, my wife, has dragged me to the Davidson's again for Sunday dinner. Her and her socializing.

It's not so bad, really, April sure can cook. What gets to me, though, is their kid. Lewis. He's retarded. Lewis is usually well behaved. But, you can tell that the cogs in his head don't always line up quite right.

After dinner, the four adults are sitting in the living room, chatting and gossiping. Okay, well, the women are. Me and Doug are just smiling, nodding, and waiting the night out. I shouldn't be surprised, but Sally brings up that bum that lives next door to us, Mr. Shaw.

"Sally, don't bring up that Shaw! The asshole overturned our garbage cans just last week! I don't want to hear his name!" I shout.

Suddenly Lewis bursts into the room. "Asshole! Asshole asshole! Shaw is an asshole!" he begins chanting.

Lewis doesn't really know what he's saying. He heard one of the magic words, though. He might be dull, but he catches on. He's learned over time how to get a reaction out of the adults. None of the four of us realized he was listening in on us from around the corner. We all thought he was upstairs in his room. Now, he's leaping around, repeating, "Asshole asshole!"

"Lewis, stop that!" Alice scolds him.

"Yeah, you sing it out loud! That Shaw is an asshole!" I join in. It took me an hour out in the cold to pick up that mess. Sally tried to convince me it was just the wind, but I know Shaw was just making trouble.

"Asshole!" Lewis shouts, giggling and jumping.

"Don't encourage him, Carl!" Sally says, and hits my arm for emphasis.

So, what's the point I'm trying to make? It's pretty simple. Religion is irrational, and dangerous. It's quite hard to pin down what it is that is dangerous about religion. It's easy to point to extremists, make some sort of statement about 9/11 and 72 virgins and martyrs ... but such an argument will just as soon be shrugged off. "Of course, those are the extremists. Plenty of people find good in religion. Not everybody is a suicide bomber."

Well, it's more insidious than that. Religion is irrational. Religion encourages wrong thought, encourages blind faith and poor decisions, rather than intelligence and reason.

Anyone who believes in an invisible magical man in the sky is irrational. Especially those who have been brought up to believe it from childhood will accept it as some sort of fundamental truth. They'll pick up one particular book, call it divine, and begin rationalizing away it's incongruities and falsehoods. They have to, they've built their life on it. They have to believe that God is listening, and that prayer makes a difference. Without it, they are a hollow shell.

So fine, they pray, no damage done. But what happens when they believe so strongly that the earth is only 6,000 years old, and that God created it all in seven days that anything else must be wrong? Might they push their own views where they don't belong? Perhaps science? Perhaps schoolrooms? Might they poison the minds of others, especially young people, with their irrational ideas?

Well of course, that's just what they did. The battle over "Intelligent Design" in the American classroom over recent years is a direct and perhaps inevitable consequence of the irrational minds that religion breeds. It's just one of the shades on the gradient from prayer to terrorism to crusade and inquisition. All the while, the people engaged in such activities posses a fervent belief that they are doing right and good. Does it still seem that way, externally?

I, for one, would prefer if you would not pray for me, thank you very much. I'd prefer to forgo the encouragement.


dont encourage him
2007-01-11 10:08 - bgalbreath

I found your site because a co-worker needed a stopwatch, couldn't find one that used to be in the office, and I said I would search for an on-line stopwatch she could use. You come out number 2 or 3 in a google search under "on-line stopwatch"

Read your latest, and will probably read back a ways. I share your disbelief, and used to argue more along your line emphasizing how much destruction religious beliefs have caused, but I guess I'm mellowing in old age and don't feel as strongly as I used to. I think that religious impulses arise from somewhere deep in our evolutionary development, and have my own speculative just-so stories about how that all made sense in paleolithic times. I think it's too deep-seated to suppress. At best, we can try to channel it into benign forms of expression. If someone tells me they are praying for me, and if I assume they really intend to help me, I would take it as a well-meaning but probably ineffective gesture on their part, and thank them for it. I habitually wish people I deal with "Good Luck" but don't believe I have any power to enhance other people's luck by saying those words. If someone reacted angrily to my good wishes and said, "Who do you think you are? Do you control people's fortunes? How dare you think I need good luck or your well-wishes?" that would probably put me off. The prayer (unlike me) supposedly believes his verbal incantations really to tap into genuine power. I doubt that the belief is expungable for almost all who have it, but if someones seemed on the fence, I might expose him to some of the studies that have been done about the effectiveness of being prayed for (there seems to be little or none, if I recall correctly).

The Distinction
2007-01-12 10:08 - arantius

Thanks for your input, bgalbreath. My intention here was not to magically convert believers from their faith; I simply had an idea about how to express one of my opinions. But, I think while you have (lightly) disagreed with me, I see you making my own point, when you try to draw a comparison between praying for, and wishing "Good luck. When you say, "The prayer supposedly believes his verbal incantations really to tap into genuine power," there's the point.

If a friend/coworker/whatnot of mine mentions something they're trying to do in conversation, I'm quite likely to say, "Good luck!" in response. But that's just well-wishing. Just like, "I support you," it has no implication that the words themselves have power. They are simply a vocalization of empathy, or a similar emotion. It's one person bonding with another, forming (or strengthening) a social relationship, which does have the potential to create real outcome. If I just say, "good luck," to someone, and improve their mood by letting them know I care, perhaps now they'll be feeling happy, and do well, rather than being worried and distracted, and doing poorly.

Prayer, on the other hand, is quite different. It relies on an external supernatural power to intercede. When people believe so strongly that that supernatural power is going to intercede, just because it was asked, I feel that becomes dangerous. The general point that I was making is that though a lot of religious things are benign, or even beneficial, they all encourage these irrational behaviors, in one way or another.

what I believe
2007-01-17 18:00 - bozette2

hey there, I have been playing the games on your website quite regularily recently and just now (while taking a break from exam studying) found that you also write blogs... so now I would just like to share my opinion as freely as you have both shared yours. First of all I believe that of all things irrational, blogging is high up there on the list. Are you truely interested in every random thought that everyone has to say, or every funny story that happened to any John Smith? I doubt it, because everyone wants to talk about themselves and their beliefs but rarely is anyone open to anyones elses thoughts or beliefs. Your athiest friend however seems to be open to things like that and it will be of great benefit to him/her. So if you really want true "intelligence and reasoning" then heres what I believe and you can take it or leave it. what do you lose in leading a christian life? under your assumption that there is no God, then you lose an hour a week but you would still make good friends in the process. however, I believe in God and His son Jesus and The Holy Spirit and because of that, and a little bit of faith, I will live eternally. When you lead a life that honours God, there is nothing that you could lose. and just so you know, theres more to it than believing in "an invisible man in the sky" just because thats what you grew up hearing about... God wants to build a relationship with you, He loves you, and He would love to hear about all of your random thoughts and funny stories. If you would only direct your blog to God in prayer you would experience His change in your life and you would become a new person. I just think that you should try it, call out to God and ask him to show himself to you and you will see Him. Not in a light from the heavens sort of way but maybe you will see him in the faces of those you love, in the wonders of nature, maybe you will see him in someone as you walk down the street. He says that the only way you should test him is by asking him to show himself to you. He will change your life. I will pray for both of you and for your athiest friend as well, and I dont mean that in the good wishes kind of way, I mean that tonight as I talk to my Father in heaven, I will pray for him to watch over you and guide you into His loving arms, for you will never find a better place than that.

another view
2007-02-01 17:36 - Laimelde

Though I am not athiest, I share many of the scepticisms that arantius and bgalbreath have talked about, and they are mainly the reason that I moved away from Christianity some years ago, despite being raised in a close and loving Christian family (two of my aunts are even ministers!). The idea of an all-powerful God who could do anything he wanted, including fulfilling our wishes, healing the sick and feeding the hungry, or raining down destruction.. but yet didn't and doesn't... it really didn't sit well with me.

These days I am pagan, and whilst I don't necessarily believe all the gods and goddesses are real, they are a useful way to find a connection with the earth and each other. And the earth, of course, is the whole point: without it, we cannot survive. It makes sense to honour something on which we rely so heavily for our livelihood. Note that was 'honour', not 'worship', 'obey' or 'bow down to'.

Back to the original point though, if someone offered to pray for me, I wouldn't be bothered about it, probably just smile and say Blessed Be :P They may intend to give you more than 'good luck' wishes, but if I don't believe their God exists, then the offer loses its meaning and comes back to, well, good wishes. And yes, all religion is irrational -remember its original purpose was to explain the inexplicable, that which couldn't be rationally explained. Therefore, it is irrational by nature :D

2007-06-22 22:06 - willedinduction

There is something interesting about truth. It is that truth cares little about what we think. Truth about whether communicating with a Creator is something tangible or imagined is indifferent to our opinions. What we believe about the effectiveness of prayer does not make it more false or more true, much like what we believe the sum of 2+2 is. Truth is indifferent. What we do know from logic is that something cannot both be true and false at the same time.

Let me illustrate. Take the name after the quote at the top of your blog. In reality Bertolt is spelled with a t at the end, not a d like you have it (a simple mispelling which you will correct I'm sure but allow me to use that as an example). Now, we can tell others that Bertolt is spelled with a d all day long. We can even meet on Sunday mornings and convince or brain wash others that Bertold is the correct spelling. We can believe it however much we want, until we're blue in the face, it will never make it true. Now bear with me and let's pretend that Bertold (incorrectly spelled) is a fake god that people have made up and pray to. Would the fact that millions of people incorrectly believe that, make him the one true God? Of course not. The one true God (the one spelled with a t) remains who he is regardless of our beliefs. That one true God if he exists (and I'm not trying to prove that he does here) has a certain set of attributes pertinent to himself and one of these attributes may just be that he cares enough to listen when a person who knows him talks to him. Bertolt is dead and the spelling of his name can be historically verified. Prayer as bozette2 describes, only makes sense if one believes in the only one true God and the attributes associated with him (spelled correctly if you will). A God whose attributes would have to be that he is personal, caring, everpresent and powerful enough to do something about what human persons ask of him. Otherwise I agree with you that it's all pointless.

In life, I'd venture to say it is to our advantage to shed as many false beliefs as possible and gain as many true beliefs. That is the reason you will either want to correct the spelling of Bertolt to the correct one or delete the quote altogether after reading this.

Now why would some Christians believe in something as silly as talking to an invisible entity? Good question. I'd suggest to the reader here that the Bible is the most historically and archeologically verifiable document ever found to date and that perhaps they have good solid reasons to do so.

In response to skeptic Laimelde above: To the one who follows Christ, God is said to indeed be the all-powerful and one true God. However, being all-powerful does not mean he can do irrational or impossible things, such as making round squares or creating married bachelors. I'm certainly glad he is not fulfilling everyone's every wish. Christianity as I understand it says that God created the world and that it is broken. As you suggest the sick need healing and the hungry need food. Christianity says that Jesus is Immanuel "God living with us." God, the Bible suggests, took on human form in the person of Jesus and lived with his creation in order to provide a way to fix the world. Prayer is said to be an integral part of that process. God has a plan through Christ and our wishes for world peace or the end of hunger or poverty may not be in the order we might wish.

I hope I didn't bore you too much. It's late and I tend to talk philosophy a lot, but remember: “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.” - Blaise Pascal.

2007-06-22 22:13 - willedinduction

By the way perhaps you use a rotating quote script and have nothing to do with the spelling of the persons' names. The illustration would still stand.

The Bible is true?
2007-06-23 10:43 - arantius

"...the Bible is the most historically and archeologically verifiable document ever found to date..."

That's a mighty bold statement. Where's the archaeological evidence that the Earth is approximately 6000 years old? Where's the historical confirmation that there was some guy who could turn water into wine, summon fish out of thin air, heal lepers with his touch, and so on and so on? Where's the verification that a group of people walked through the sea, while it was magically split open to reveal a dry path through the middle? I've selected the most fantastic examples, but I believe the same can be said for a much wider selection.

True Beliefs?
2007-06-24 13:17 - willedinduction

I woke up this morning and thought of you Arantius. Ever seen the movie The Matrix where everyone thinks they're living in the real world when in fact they're laying in a pod while their lives is being fed to them via a tube jammed in the base of their neck?

I'd venture to say that some people live like that. Take Albini, a fictitious character. Albini spends his life walking around without thinking much about the reality of the world around him. He spends a lot of time watching TV programs like Entertainment Tonight, E!, reading things like People magazine, or playing video games. There is not a huge amount of time left for Albini to think about deeper things in life.

Albini has been pretty successful. He has a good job, he doesn't steal or hurts anyone. Albini thinks his life is real and he holds a certain set of beliefs that works well for him. One problem is that in reality Albini lives in a pod with a tube in his neck. There is something much more important than whether a particular set of beliefs works for you. Is it True?

People throughout the planet hold very different sets of beliefs, but beliefs are not exempt from logic's law of non-contradiction. What we believe about something cannot be true and not true at the same time and in the same sense.

To get around that, people tend to pick and choose what they want to believe. That's called the smorgasbord or buffet approach. A little bit of this and a bit of that over there. Sounds good, it works for me. Except Truth starts to look a bit like themselves and they're led by their beliefs instead of what is in fact true.

Like in everything, we should look at the evidence and check our facts objectively. Our beliefs are now based on the most accurate proof we can honestly find.

Jesus claimed to be God himself, contrary to any other leaders in history. Would it make sense to back up that bold claim with equally bold extraordinary events? So far, makes sense to me.

Now you take into account that Jewish tradition was to transmit information orally (not via blog) and accurately (without legend creeping in) for centuries, and that the New Testament of the Bible has been tested over and over by archeological finds (tntc - look them up) and evidence exists outside of the Bible to support its facts, i.e., the existence of Jesus Christ is recorded by Josephus, Suetonius, Thallus, Pliny the Younger, the Talmud, and Lucian. New Testament texts are dated to within the same generation of the facts themselves giving everyone a chance to contradict or write against its claims. Instead, nothing.

Some say that Bible claims cannot be proven. Of course they can. It's a book, full of facts. Some are verifiable by physical evidence like archeology and some are believed on the basis that the whole account seems to be telling the truth. Kinda like if you tell me you had a cup of coffee this morning and I trust you and I have no reason to disbelieve you, I would believe that the fact that you had a cup of coffee was true. Until someone disproves that fact or you become untrustworthy.

I come from France, one of the most liberal, anti-god countries in the world. I arrived in the US at age 17 and at 25 I finally decided to look at the evidence for myself and build the case either way. So far, the evidence leans heavily towards a loving Christian God. This is not an opinion solely based on a study of the facts surrounding the events of the Bible, but rather it is supported by other discoveries in many areas of study.

I don't want to be an Albini. You remember the poster "He who dies with the most toys wins"? (sadly I owned one of those in College). I'd rather die with the highest number of true beliefs.

This is getting ridiculous
2007-06-24 18:35 - arantius

"... people tend to pick and choose what they want to believe. ... we should look at the evidence and check our facts objectively."

Interesting that you say this, as you are so clearly demonstrating this practice yourself, right here with this very comment.

".. Jewish tradition was to transmit information orally and accurately (without legend creeping in) for centuries..."

Where's your evidence that oral records remained accurate, without "legend creeping in" for hundreds of years? What even is the point of this statement? You're obviously picking and choosing your beliefs here, and not checking your facts objectively.

"... the New Testament of the Bible has been tested over and over by archeological finds (tntc - look them up)."

You've misspelled archaeological again. Besides that, you are the one making extraordinary claims here, you need to do the research work, not me. Thanks to the context I can guess that "tntc" stands for "the new testament" something, but I can't find anything better than that. The only real things I can find are Texas Nature Tourism Council, or Too Numerous To Count.

"New Testament texts are dated to within the same generation of the facts themselves ..."

I fail to see how this statement, true or false, means anything. It's possible to write a work of fiction, regardless of the date.

"... some are believed on the basis that the whole account seems to be telling the truth."

Oh? Well, I say that there is really a Louvre in Paris, that there really was a Leonardo Da Vinci who made paintings among other things, and there really were a Knights Templar, not to mention that the rest of the book is filled with clearly true facts, so therefore The Da Vinci Code is wholly and completely true. What's that you say? One single book can have some true, and some non true content, at the same time? Amazing! Your argument about a cup of coffee is pointless. Of course you believe that. It's an unremarkable statement. If, however, I told you that I walked on water on my way to work, you'd be less ready to believe me. Just like I am, the Bible.

"... the evidence leans heavily towards a loving Christian God."

Give me one, single, piece of that evidence. Any particular thing that cannot be explained by less complex mechanisms. I'd also challenge you to explain:

I could go on, but I've already done a fair deal of work here as it is. I think one of the most damning points of all is the massive number of religions, each of which believe so fiercely that they are right and everyone else is wrong is the primary point against religion in my opinion. Even the most common religion, when grouping all those different versions of Christianity together, is only one third of the world. Note, then, that the next third, Islam and Hinduism, are the closest thing to sworn enemies you can get. How many of you have killed each other for your silly ideas?

2007-07-07 18:53 - killdeer

I quite enjoyed reading your article, but you did some questions in one of you comments. I can answer some of them for you, and I have some questions for too. So you know, I am Catholic.

1) There is no archaeological evidence that the Earth is approximately 6000 years. Where in the Bible, or any other holy book does it state this? Why did you state this?

2) It is said that God created the world in 7 days. I believe that they are not 7 days that we are familiar with (24 hours). There is archaeological evidence that dinosaurs died out millions of years before humans were on the Earth. On His 7th day, He created Adam and Eve, and by now, the dinosaurs have been dead millions of years (which he made on the 4th day). So I believe that God did not create the world in 7 days, but in millions of years. Also, where do you think that humans came from, if God did not create us?

3) You said, and I quote, "Where's the historical confirmation that there was some guy who could turn water into wine, summon fish out of thin air, heal lepers with his touch, and so on and so on?". First of all, He is not “some guy”. He is the son of God. Second of all, the historical confirmation is the Bible, which Catholic people honour very much. These are considered to be miracles. There is one modern day miracle, it is called the Santa Fe miracle (guess why). This is something to go on.

4) Scientists are still working on it, but they think they have something to believe that the Red sea way actually parted. I think that this is a little far fetched. But, it's not just Catholics that believe this happened. The Jewish Believe not just this, but the whole Old Testament.

I want to know, what do you believe? If you do not believe anything, how can you be ok not knowing?

2009-05-09 09:47 - Calum

Having read this entire thread, finishing with your post killdeer, i really cant see how you have answered ANY of the valid questions arantius posed?

I mean come on, how can you say they are "not days we are familiar with" - humans wrote the Bible. Why would these human beings describe the length of time as seven DAYS if what they actually meant was millions upon millions of days? Why not say "God created the Earth is seven super-aeon-days" if that is what 'actually' happaned?

Also, you cannot use the word you are defining it the definition - equally, you cant validate the Bible by saying "the Bible says so" whether you honour it or not.

I probably could go on for a lot longer but i doubt this will be read as it is.

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