Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Category: Conversations with…

Free de-baptisms

It was Orientation Day at UWA. Clubs (like the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society) set up booths and attract members. So do churches.

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It’s not my idea. I think I saw it here first.

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Where did I say that? Oh, yes: here. Why are atheists so rude?

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Click for larger images. Or put your favourites in comments.

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Response to a Facebook friend, re: exclusion of LDS kids in gay families

Here’s an old mission companion, on a thread about this:

Mormon Church to exclude children of same-sex couples from getting blessed and baptized until they are 18

Children living in a same-sex household may not be blessed as babies or baptized until they are 18, the Mormon Church declared in a new policy. Once they reach 18, children may disavow the practice of same-sex cohabitation or marriage and stop living within the household and request to join the church.

The policy changes, which also state that those in a same-sex marriage are to be considered apostates, set off confusion and turmoil among many Mormons after the policy was leaked online. The changes in the handbook for local church leaders for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were confirmed Thursday by church spokesman Eric Hawkins.

My former companion says:

>I received a witness of he Church as a young 19 year old as I pounded the streets of Perth with many of you.

Thank goodness when we knocked on doors, we didn’t have to say, “Hi! We’re missionaries from the Church of… er… your parents aren’t gay, are they? Good, we’ll continue.”

I’m wondering how missionaries today will keep from inadvertently teaching someone who isn’t eligible.

>I believe in God and I believe the LDS church is his church. If this is what God has decided then it’s not for me to argue.

I would say that this cruel and unfair policy is convincing evidence that either

  • LDS leaders are operating from a source other than a just and fair god — be it their own prejudices, or their own principles, or
  • the god that Mormons worship has an inordinate concern with the sexual behaviour of humans, but is unconcerned with justice. And, in my view, is not worth worshipping.

Or perhaps both.

>Maybe I’m too simple in my views but what I fought for as a 19 year old when I laboured with you all then has not changed now.

Our views should change as we get older. As Paul said, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” I think homophobia is a childish thing, and worse, it harms people. In my life, I’ve made gay, lesbian, bi, and trans friends, and some co-workers. I’ve learned that there was a commonality to our life experiences, and that any prejudice I might have felt toward them was my own problem. And I’ve sorted it out. I’ve learned that every member of a society has the right to equal treatment.

Sadly, the LDS Church hasn’t learned this — speaking of the church collectively and not individually, of course. It has formed harmful and cruel policies, and now it has doubled down on them. Well, as an exMo, it would be easy to say, “What do I care — I’m no longer in the church.” But the climate of homophobia fostered by the LDS Church is having a harmful effect on LGBT people, especially the ones in the church. It is setting children against parents — a potential convert will have to leave the supportive environment offered by gay parents, turn their backs on them and denounce their relationships. Wow. That’s cold.

Kids (even straight kids) in blended families won’t be able to participate in the church they’ve grown up in, because one set of parents is in a gay relationship. Suddenly ineligible. And this is contrary to AoF2; the kids will be responsible for the actions of their parents.

Does all of this seem right to you?

Fortunately, most people in “the world” are starting to operate from a position of kindness. They are showing more compassion and love than the LDS leadership is currently capable of.

You may be too far into the LDS community to see how regular people regard this. When I tell my neverMo friends about this, or who they see it in the news — yes, it is hitting the news — they’re horrified. And it confirms to them that the church is a homophobic organisation. It is — as we call other groups when they exist to promote bigotry — a hate group.

The leadership will eventually change on this issue, just like they did with race and the priesthood. They’ll walk it back with an anonymous essay on the website, if we still have websites then. Until then, they (and you) are on the wrong side of history. They’ve chosen exclusion and bigotry.

What will you choose? Understanding and compassion? Or obedience?

Don’t take the candy

I met this Jesus guy while waiting for a train.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots more cartoons here.

More fun with Christians

The further adventures of me, talking to members of Christian clubs on campus.

This happened pretty much verbatim, until the part where I talk to them together. From there I made it up.

Coffee with a liberal Christian

I recently had coffee with a Christian friend, and the subject was religion. I was all geared up for battle, but he had to go and spoil it all by being a non-fundamentalist non-loony liberal Christian, and a good guy whose conversation I quite enjoyed! ¿What fun is that?, I ask you.

Not being a fundamentalist means that he avoided making strong claims, and he didn’t have to defend so many indefensible things. He doesn’t hate gay people, thinks that not every part of the Bible is meant as history, and recognises the difficulty in discerning the intentions of biblical authors. Wouldn’t it be somewhat better if more Christians were like this?

The one thing he kept saying, though, in response to my questions was: “I don’t know.” Was the flood literal? Will people get resurrected in some form after death? He didn’t know. And he seemed rather relaxed about that.

It’s good to say when you don’t know, if you don’t. People should do that in the sciences, too. But if there’s something you don’t know and it’s a scientific question, you can find out by experimentation and observation. If it’s a religious or metaphysical question, what do you do? Interpret inconsistent texts? Try to have a revelation? Those approaches have only ever yielded contradictory results. Metaphysical questions can’t be resolved by observing physical reality, which is why every religion has a different answer to metaphysical questions. There’s no court of appeal. Notice the difference between religion and science. Scientists eventually reach consensus; religions come to schism.

My Christian friend was honest about not knowing. What I wanted to communicate was that religions don’t provide a reliable way to know. And they really should, if they’re going to claim that they have the answers to life big questions.

Why I engage

I had an online discussion (or perhaps a “run-in”) with a Mormon guy who I disagreed with on some issue. The issue isn’t important (gay people). What was interesting was his way of dealing with the disagreement. His response was essentially: I don’t expect you to agree with me. I’m a Mormon. You’re an ex-Mormon atheist. Our worldviews are too different.

Now I think this is a cop-out. I’m very open to hearing other views, and if they’re based on sound evidence and logic, I’ll even change my mind. But his “different worldview” view allowed him to miscast my reasons for not accepting his argument. It wasn’t that his reasons or his argument weren’t good ones; no, no. It was that I wasn’t open to change, or that our views just weren’t reconcilable.

I think this is projection on his part. While reason and evidence would change my mind, I seriously doubt that it would change his. He’s the one who is immune to reasoned argument because reason isn’t how he arrived at his religious opinion. And if he tries to use secular arguments, they’ll be hollow because they’re not his real reasons. He’s just using them to justify his religious reasons. He hauls out the secular reasons when he’s talking to secular people, but if those arguments are faulty, it won’t affect him at all. He’ll just shrug and keep believing.

I mentioned the discussion to an ex-Mormon friend who knows him, and to my surprise she said essentially the same thing: What did you expect? He’s a Mormon. He lives in Provo, for crying out loud.

I find this baffling. Here I am on the blog, and a lot of readers probably agree with things I write because, after all, we can’t read everything, and we like to pick things to read that make us feel good about our worldview. (Or I do.) But I’m also happy to engage with readers who disagree, and in fact I hope I get a lot of them. I learn a lot more that way, and it’s more interesting. But I feel like I’m standing on a chasm, shouting to ideological opposites.

Is there any point to discussing things? (Have I done any good on the blog today?) Or are we doomed to be divided into two camps that can never understand each other because of our different worldviews? I don’t think so. I think there’s a point to engaging in the Great Debates for two reasons.

First, people do change their views. I have, quite a lot, and I’ll do it again. Engaging with others is my way of saying that maybe no one’s beyond hope. Okay, maybe an online discussion won’t change the committed, in which case I’ll still keep arguing and discussing because I’m not trying to convince the committed — I’m trying to convince uncommitted bystanders.

The other reason I engage is that if I’m wrong about something, I want to know about it. How is it that I can say so confidently that there’s no evidence for the Book of Mormon? that that arguments for gods are uniformly awful? Because I’m here on the blog, and anyone who wants to can tell me something I don’t know, and I’ll consider it and change my mind if necessary. It’s not just meme propagation. It’s my continuing education.

If you attack the Church, you are attacking me.

Many times, when I make criticisms of religion (or a religion), various practitioners take it personally and say that I’m attacking them.

My answer is: No, I’m not attacking you; I’m attacking your church. If you can’t tell the difference between your church and yourself, then you have made a serious mistake. What that means is that you are identifying too closely with the organisation. You have conflated your goals, your future, and your identity with those of the group. You need to fix this. It’s not healthy to confuse your own identity with other things that are not you. (It is understandable that high-commitment religions are slow to correct this tendency. It works overwhelmingly to their advantage.)

Many religious folks are able to differentiate, and I quite enjoy talking to them. Many thanks if you’re one of these. I have a harder time with the internalisers. I’ve just had an multi-day online discussion where I started with this notion:

Churches are (among other things) safe places for weak ideas. They’re like shelters for ideas that can’t defend themselves.

I thought this was an interesting idea. I’d always considered that ideas keep religions going, but this was the opposite — the idea that churches exist as social life-support systems for their ideas — and it hinted at a commensal relationship. I was hoping for a bit of discussion on the topic. Oh, that it were possible.

It didn’t take long before a believer insisted that I was just ‘having a go’ at religion and that I was implying that all religious people were ‘weak-minded fools’. I don’t think this, but if someone wanted evidence to the contrary, it was not to be found from his comments. He insisted (without evidence) that angels and demons were real, that science ‘didn’t know everything’, and that his ‘feelings of the Spirit’ were different from ordinary feelings, and ought to be evidence enough for anyone. Moreover, he was unwilling to consider that his subjective feelings might be in error. All of this was couched in the most tormented reasoning; over the course of 200 comments, he committed the bandwagon fallacy, special pleading, and terminal logorrhea. Well, that’s not a fallacy, but ad hominem attacks are; he surmised that I must be a terrible partner if I needed evidence for everything. Not to mention the argument from ignorance — what proof did I have that God didn’t exist? In short, all the devices, defense mechanisms, and poor reasoning that has kept him (and will keep him forever) anchored to his faith. And he managed all this while misreading my initial premise. If he wanted to demonstrate that religious believers were not weak-minded fools, he could have done a better job than he did.

I am not, by nature, a poker of hives. I dissect poor ideas unsparingly, but I try to go easy on actual people (previous paragraph excepted). I don’t expect believers to like it. But there needs to be a way to say “I think you’ve got this wrong”.

So if I criticise a religion, what reaction would I expect its members to have? That depends.

  • If I’m right, accept it, and move on with a determination to do better.
  • If I’m wrong, please tell me. But in the process, don’t make me right.

Conversations with the Priest: My feelings are truer than your feelings

Latter-day Saints believe that their church is the Only True Church on the earth. That’s not such a drastic claim. Even though not every religion comes out and says it, most religions would say that their system (if not their own particular denomination) is true and all other are in some sense less true.

I was talking to The Priest about this, and I asked him, “Let’s say I told you that Apollo pulled the sun across the sky in a chariot. Would you accept my claim?”

He had to allow that he wouldn’t.

“Why not?” I asked. “On what basis would you reject my religion and accept yours? Or what about Muslims or Hindus with their claims?”

His answer was that he’d read and studied things, and the Holy Ghost had confirmed to him (via those wonderful feelings and experiences) that his religion was true.

“Well, they’ve read and studied, too!” I said. “And they have strong feelings that their religion is true. Are your feelings somehow more valid than theirs?”

There isn’t really a good answer to that, and to his credit he didn’t try to invent one. But imagine the cheek of taking that kind of approach!

When Mormons claim to have the One True Religion, they don’t really mean to be arrogant, truly. They sometimes allow that all religions have some truth (oh, what a generous admission), but they have more. Well, that would be all right, if they had better evidence than flimsy feelings, but they do not. So for churches that use emotions as evidence, that means that their proof is the intensity or the frequency or the persuasive power of the feelings they have. Other people in deadened and benighted religions may have spiritual feelings, sure, but they’re just not as real or powerful as their feelings. Their feelings just aren’t as valid.

That conversation was an eye-opener to me. I never realised how breathtakingly arrogant that view is, but it is. And it’s not exclusive to Mormons. It’s indulged in by every religious believer who says that their nebulous claims trump other people’s nebulous claims.

NB: The Priest is not a real person. He’s an amalgam of many religious people I’ve spoken with. I only write down a conversation with “the Priest” after I’ve heard the same claims from at least three different people. As a result, the dialogue is almost entirely made up, in order to make myself sound smart. Or it could be 100% accurate. I forget.

Conversations with the Witnesses, part 1

A couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came by today, elder gentlemen. Here’s how it went, as close as I can remember.

Stage 1: Door Approach

ME: Hi, guys! Come on in.

JW: Oh, we won’t come in. We’re with a group. But we wanted to ask you some questions about Christmas.

ME: Okay.

JW: Do you know when Jesus was born?

ME: Well, it sure wasn’t December 25th.

JW: That’s right. And do you know where Christmas traditions came from?

ME: Christians mostly just stole it from pagan rituals.

JW: Right again!

ME: W00t!

JW: Jesus never said to celebrate his birthday. We’d like to share a message about Jesus with you.

Stage 2: Hostage Negotiation

ME: Well, guys, here’s the problem. You try and stay away from pagan rituals, which is fine, but you’ve essentially traded one Bronze Age mythology for another. I prefer to stay away from mythologies altogether and stick with something more empirical, like science. Why would we want to get information about the world and the universe from people who didn’t even have telescopes?

JW: Well, in 2 Timothy 2:16, it says “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”

(Sorry, that’s not exactly what it said. I couldn’t be bothered to find the NWT online.)

ME: So… the Bible is true because the Bible says that it’s true?

JW: (Pause.) No, it’s also true because the Bible contains predictions that have been fulfilled in every detail.

ME: Oh. Like what?

JW: It contains prophecies about the Messiah, which Jesus fulfilled.

ME: You’re serious.

JW:

ME: That’s part of the same story. You can’t use the story as evidence for the story! ‘Oh, look! A prophecy in the first part of the book… was fulfilled later on in the same book!’

I used to be a Mormon. They claim that the Book of Mormon fulfills prophecies in the Bible. But in both cases, someone could have just written down a story that tied up some loose ends. Why would you reject the Book of Mormon and accept the Bible?

Stage 3: Disengage

JW: You don’t have faith in the Bible, then?

ME: No, I’d say not.

JW: We’ll just be on our way then. But we’ll leave you this publication.

ME: Thank you very much, and enjoy the… next couple of weeks.

JW: Goodbye.

Conversations with the Priest: The lucky hat

The Priest was another try at reviving my sense of spirituality. He’s a good chap. He really does try. He’s hoping that I’ll get a Big Feeling and realise the error of using evidence and reason. Imagine if I did have a big teary spiritual experience. That would just show that I’m as susceptible to emotional thinking as anyone else. I already know that.

This time he was talking about prayer.

“I’ve found that the Lord never lets me down,” he said. “I always get what I pray for, if I’m praying for the right thing. It doesn’t always happen immediately, though.”

“No, it sure doesn’t,” I said. “Remember that fast that happened last year, to end the drought?”

“Ahem,” he said.

“There’s still a drought, isn’t there?” I said. “And have you heard anyone mention it in church since?”

He looked uncomfortable. “Yes, well… we have had an increase in precipitation….”

He was moving the goal posts, but I ignored it.

“I have something that works like that,” I said. “I have a lucky hat. I believe that when I wear my lucky hat, lucky things happen to me. One time I found some money. Another time, I found a parking spot right where I wanted. It’s the hat that does it.

“It doesn’t always happen immediately, though.”

My lucky hat uses the same principle as prayer, the Secret, and all other superstitions. It uses selective observation, or counting the hits and ignoring the misses. And it uses the power of having no evidence and believing what you like anyway.

“You know,” said the Priest, “you’re asking for empirical evidence. I admit that such evidence isn’t available. But I think the Lord does it that way on purpose… to see if we’ll exercise faith in him. If we had evidence, it wouldn’t require us to have faith.”

I said, “That’s exactly what I would expect someone to say if they couldn’t support their claims with evidence, but they didn’t want to abandon the claim.”

NB: The Priest is not a real person. He’s an amalgam of many religious people I’ve spoken with. I only write down a conversation with “the Priest” after I’ve heard the same claims from at least three different people. As a result, the dialogue is almost entirely made up, in order to make myself sound cool. Or it could be 100% accurate. I forget.

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