The FFRF and the Separation of Church and State

The Freedom From Religion Foundation catches a lot of flack from religious people. No surprise there. Given their name, they sort of describe their mission right from the word go.

Stephen was one of those who the FFRF had offended. He was incensed that the First Amendment advocacy group had taken up the cause of a person who was experiencing some type of religious overreach. Rather than sympathize with this person, Stephen felt the FFRF was instead, promoting an “atheist” religion by means of some kind of atheist inquisition. He also was convinced that the USA is a “JudeoChristian” nation, therefore Christianity should be allowed some measure of overreach.

You’ve probably heard these claims before. Today’s post is my response to Stephen:

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Dear Stephen, I can tell you are frustrated, but I think if you take a step back, you might recognize that all is not lost.

First, there is no such thing as the “atheist religion.” That’s a contradiction in terms. “A-theism” (I use the dash to highlight the two parts of the word) is simply the state of not believing the god claims of all the other religions. It’s basically the exact opposite of claiming that a particular god is real.

Second, the United States is a secular nation, not a Judeo-Christian nation. It is true however, that the US has hundreds of millions of religious people in it. It’s important to distinguish between the law and the majority. Our secularism protects your beliefs about your god as much as it does a Hindu’s beliefs about her gods, a Jew’s beliefs about her god, a Muslim’s belief about her god, and so on, as well as protecting an atheist’s right to not have any of those god beliefs foisted upon her, or anyone else for that matter, by the state.

Finally, our nation is intended to be an open marketplace of ideas and the actual Inquisition, in which Christianity was mandated by the authorities under threat of death and torture, is thankfully long gone. We live in a time when the expression of ideas is protected. And just think, without exposure to other ideas, how would you know if you were wrong? So by defending the First Amendment, the FFRF is protecting all of us, including you.

Progress, Stephen, is a good thing.

The Story of Mike and his son, Alex

Mike was one of the best car mechanics in Bloomington.

He’d been working on cars for the better part of two decades. He was making a great living, had a wonderful, supporting wife named Linda, and a steady stream of returning customers. But Mike and Linda were not able to have children of their own, so knowing that he had no one to pass his business on to, to say that Mike was discontent, would be a massive understatement. Mike and Linda were getting old.

This sad situation led Mike and Linda to make some…shall we say…questionable decisions. You see, Both Linda and Mike desperately wanted a family. One day, Linda had an idea. Linda’s housekeeper was a young and attractive woman named Natalia, and over the years they had grown very close. Since Linda couldn’t have children of her own, and since Natalia was so close to the family, she thought, why not let Mike sleep with Natalia, with the hope that Natalia might carry Mike’s child?

Mike loved the idea, and frankly, so did Natalia. Alas, nature did what nature does, and a child was born. They named him Billy.

As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, Linda become increasingly enraged with jealousy. She couldn’t stand the sight of Natalia nor Billy. Mike could see Linda’s hatred starting to bubble up.

Now here’s where things started to get a little bit weird.

Mike was getting really old, and he was starting to hear voices in his head. For him, this seemed perfectly normal. But to those around him, it was a bit freaky. He was starting to have serious, back and forth conversations with himself.

One day, Mike pulled Linda aside and told her something.

“Linda,” said Mike, “we’re going to have a baby of our own!”

Linda was of course, incredulous.

“Mike, I’m an old woman. You’re an old man. Have you completely lost your mind?”

“Linda, I don’t question the voice. And the voice told me it is to be,” said Mike.

And wouldn’t you know it, Linda got pregnant! Turns out, she wasn’t too old to have kids after all. But this had a slightly unintended side effect. Mike was now convinced that the voice in his head had some kind of magical power.

So, Mike and Linda finally had a child of their own. They named him Alex. And while there was still some tension between Natalia and Linda, with both Billy and Alex being Mike’s sons, Mike reassured them both that the voice in his head was telling them that everything was going to be great!

Until one day, when the voice told Mike that Alex had to die.

The voice in Mike’s head had grown…insecure. After all the good that it had brought to Mike, with the growing shop, the wife, the mistresses, the kids, it was beginning to question Mike’s devotion.

“Mike, the next time you’re in the shop with young Alex,” the voice said, “I’m going to need you to do something for me.”

“What is it?” answered Mike, hesitantly. He didn’t like the tone the voice in his head had adopted, but he had grown to trust its every instruction.

“Mike, I’m going to need you lay Alex across the large anvil in the back of the shop. Then you need to file the edge of spark plug so that it comes to a fine point. Finally, you need to use the ball-peen hammer, and drive that spark-plug right into Alex’s little heart.”

Do you think Mike balked at his own insanity? Do you think he dropped what he was doing and called an ambulance to come pick him up immediately for a psychological evaluation?

No.

Mike did exactly what Mike told Mike to do.

The next day, the young Alex was in the shop, watching as his dad filed the spark-plug down to a pencil sharp point.

“Dad,” said Alex, “what are you doing?”

“Following instructions my son,” said Mike, wild-eyed, as he turned to face his son, hammer in one hand, spark-plug in the other.

He lunged for Alex. The boy was no match for the much stronger mechanic, whose hands had grown powerful over decades of working on car engines.  He grabbed the child and lashed him to the anvil in the back. The boy was screaming and crying, but it was no use. He was tied fast to the cold steel.

Mike was breathing in and out in great gulps of air. His adrenaline was surging. He loved his son dearly, but he felt he must follow the commandments of the voice!  He stood over the child, placed the spark-plug over the boy’s tiny sternum, raised the ball-peen hammer high above his head, and just as he was about to plunge the metal into Alex’s rapidly beating heart, the voice spoke to him.

“Mike! Mike! It’s me. Your voice. Hang on,” said the voice.

Mike stopped mid swing.

“You don’t really have to kill him. I was just checking to see if you really liked me,” it said. “Wow. I mean, you were really going to do it weren’t you? You were about to kill your own kid!”

The voice was giddy.

Mike said, “But you told me to do it?”

“I know, I know, I just wanted to test you. Listen, never mind that you should be arrested for attempted murder and probably locked away for the rest of your life in a mental health facility for the criminally insane, and never mind that Alex will need countless hours of therapy and will probably suffer from PTSD for the rest of his life. What matters is, that you love and worship me!”

Mike had a hearty laugh, and went on to become the founding figure of the two largest religions in the world.

Dear Pascal, what if Hinduism is true

Image source: freethoughtpedia.com

Sooner or later, when you’re talking to a Christian apologist who is trying to convince you that you’re wrong and they’re right, you’re going to hear something like this:

“If you’re right, then we both lose nothing. But if I’m right, you’re going to spend eternity in a lake of hellfire!”

That statement is the essence of the good old Christian apologetics gambit known as Pascal’s Wager.

It was deployed against me just this past week, during a conversation I was having on Twitter with RDH_HDP @ RickeyDale07. Ricky and I went on for quite a while so if you follow me on Twitter, I think you should be able to see the thread. (I’m a returning Twitter user, so I don’t know if the mechanics are the same as they were when I took my hiatus…it would be great if someone could let me know if you are able to read our conversation.)

During our exchange I was doing what I normally do. I was using the Socratic method to help Ricky understand why his reasons were deficient.

Eventually we got to Pascal’s Wager. I had asked Ricky how could he know if his beliefs were incorrect, and he said:

“I am not wrong…but let’s consider for a moment the possibility. If I am wrong, when I die…I lose nothing. If you are wrong, you will die and lose EVERYTHING.”

All CAPS were his, not mine.

There it was. Mr. Pascal. When an apologist tries this line of reasoning, I just normally flip it. By flipping it, I show my interlocutor a couple of things. One, I show him that it’s not a convincing argument. And two, it’s a great way to reinforce the unreasonableness of an epistemology that one uses to support his belief that a god is real, by using the outsider’s test for faith.

The outsider’s test for faith is a dialectical technique whereby one essentially asks, “why can’t the same methods you are using to arrive at your god belief, lead someone else to arrive at a completely different god belief?”  It’s a way to hopefully get people to stop and think about why they believe as they do.

On this day, I countered Ricky’s deployment of Pascal’s Wager with my own:

“You do lose everything, if at the end Karma is real and yet you’ve spent your life telling people they are going to Hell if they don’t believe the same god claims as you.”

I flipped the wager by using Karma as the incentive. The ease with which Ricky dismissed my wager might have given him a clue as to the ease in which I dismissed his wager, but alas, his mind was singularly focused this day, and he kept marching in the same evangelical direction:

“I lose nothing…,” he said, and the rest was a sermon.

A mind rusted shut for so many years is tough to pry open, and Pascal’s Wager isn’t exactly the best WD-40.

Merry Historical Christmas

On this day we in the Western world celebrate the birth of a Middle Eastern man who would grow up to become a radical Jewish prophet, who would be executed by the Romans for sedition, and around whom people would create a brand new religion. Within a few centuries, this religion would became the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

We don’t actually know the date of his birth, but as Alexander the Great had demonstrated, religious syncretism works well. It made sense then for early Roman rulers, with the Empire scattered to the far reaches of Europe, to co-opt pagan Winter Solstice celebrations and declare the birthday of their state religion’s founder as being at roughly the same time as these existing celebrations.

Religious syncretism means you don’t change the date. You don’t change the rituals. You just slip your own purpose right alongside what’s already there and ride that joyous celebratory wave!

So enjoy the day and have a Merry Christmas everyone!