Is Religion Camera Shy?

I’m trying to put together a one-on-one interview series with people of all different faiths and so far I’ve contacted two Christian pastors, a Mormon, a Buddhist, and the administrator at the Jewish temple in Springfield. I let them know that I’m not interested in debate but want the opportunity to ask some probing questions about their religion(s) and give them the chance to give as detailed answers as they want. In every case, I was told that they’d be happy to talk to me but would not be willing to be recorded either on video or audio. What gives?

I’m wanting to discuss their religion in a candid, open format with no argument or ridicule and none of them are willing to go on record? What good is a religion if you’re secretive about it? How do you expect other people to understand you and your beliefs if you’re not willing to open up to an audience? This would be a great opportunity to dispel some misinformation, explain some myths, and relate to people why you believe your religion is based on truth. I just don’t get it.

I’m wondering how I can get believers to open up and help me with my educational project. I’m really hoping to someday be able to gather a representative sample of the world’s religions and put together a nice series of videos that can bridge some gaps. I just don’t understand why there’s so much resistance.

Where should I be looking?

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Heaven is Real…First Glance

A while back (quite a while) I had come across a blog post here regarding the book “Heaven is Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.”

It’s the story of Colton Burpo, the four-year-old child of the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska (looks like they’ve only recently installed their WordPress site and not updated it), who during emergency surgery is said to have gone to Heaven to sit in Jesus’ lap and have angels sing to him until he was resuscitated. The book tells of the claims and observations made by the child while he was dead/unconscious that seem to defy logic and support the idea that the Biblical god is for real. So far I’m only 11 pages into it but here are my observations so far:

Colton, like me, was brought up in the church by a pastor and presumably indoctrinated from birth with ideas of Heaven and Hell, Jesus and Satan, angels and demons, and all of the cute little songs that kids learn in Sunday School. Whatever he did or didn’t see during the time when he was dead/unconscious would have been influenced heavily by this because it’s a cornerstone of his upbringing and the foundation of his family’s faith. He doesn’t have to think about Jesus or angels, it’s just part of his immature belief system.

The author (the father, Todd) states in his introduction, “Now, as a pastor, I’m not a believer in superstition.” I completely acknowledge that in this context he’s talking about superstition relating to “chills” or “bad feelings” about a road trip, etc. – the kind of superstition that drives baseball players not to change their socks or whatever. However, Todd most definitely believes in superstition. He believes that the ritual of praying will affect the outcome of an event. He believes that going to church on a regular basis will affect the strength of his faith. He believes that reading the Bible on a regular basis will affect his relationship with god. These are all ritualistic, superstitious practices. If Todd began wearing the same pair of socks whenever he preached because he thought it made his sermon better, it really wouldn’t be a stretch above and beyond what he already believes. The only difference would be that it’s not prescribed by the Bible.

Colton says that while he was in Heaven sitting in Jesus’ lap the angels were singing songs to him like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” That’s a nice thought, but doesn’t it seem a little silly and maybe too convenient that the angels would just happen to be singing the Sunday School songs Colton knows? I know this seems like a weak objection and I’ll readily admit that, but think about it: angels are ethereal creatures who live on a completely different plane of existence. They would presumably have the capability of singing songs to this child (not even the child, but the child’s soul) that would comfort him. Perhaps “Jesus Loves Me” qualifies as such, but “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho?” Really? That just seems ridiculous to me…and by that, I mean it’s merely my personal opinion that nobody else has to adopt.

Obviously, I’m skeptical to the claims this book has made and will be making. It’s no secret I don’t believe in Heaven or god. However, I intend to continue reading this book with as open a mind as I can muster and give it due consideration. I’m really curious to see why there’s all the buzz over it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it all stems from the fact that people who already believe in this find that it provides the sort of evidence that they not only accept but latch onto in order to bolster their beliefs. I doubt this story would do much to convince someone who didn’t already believe before they started reading the book but like I said, I’m only 11 pages into it.

I’ll keep you posted.

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All’s Right With the World

I was sitting behind a car at a stoplight today and it had a huge sticker in the rear window:

I had no clue what this was so I looked it up. Apparently it’s from an anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion. I guess NERV is an organization that fights angels…? Someone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Regardless, that’s not the point. I got to thinking about the statement being made.

“God’s in his Heaven, all’s right with the world.”

First, I guess there isn’t a single place I’d rather that god be – if a god exists. The implication I see is that if god were somewhere other than Heaven, all would not be right with the world. I mean if you look at what happens when god starts messing around on Earth, it’s pretty safe to say that humans are better off when he stays home and calls in sick.


Second, you can interpret the word “right” in different ways. For instance, people have been asked to imagine what we would expect the world to look like if there were no god(s) personally involved. Natural disasters, murder, predation, diseases, not enough habitable land mass…that kind of thing. If that’s how you’d expect the world to be without gods then it’s reasonable to say that everything is, in fact, right. The world is working exactly how we’d expect it to work, so god must be in his Heaven and staying out of trouble.

Now, if you were to interpret the word “right” as how you’d expect the world to work if there were god(s) involved then I think you’ve got a strange concept of the purpose of a personal god. If your idea of a personal god is one who designs a world purposely so that more than 70% is uninhabitable by humans inside of a universe that is more than 99.99999999999999999999% uninhabitable by most anything then your god must be a prankster or a child. If you believe in a malicious god or an immature god then I guess everything’s fine for you. Carry on.

I, for one, feel that because I think most definitions of gods are detestable or ridiculous it is much better for everyone if those gods just stay their asses in Heaven and don’t interfere with what’s going on down here. We may be brutal, selfish, and ignorant animals but from what I’ve seen we’re capable of righting more wrongs in more effective ways than any god. If I were the praying type of person, I’d probably pray something like:

Dear god(s),

Thank you for staying out of our business down here. We’ve got it pretty much under control.

Amen

So aside from all of the god stuff in this post, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that my life is great and all really is right with my world. Have a great Monday, everyone!

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God Hates Japan

In the wake of the hateful, spiteful, and ridiculous comments made by compassionate, intelligent Americans a new Web site has been created called God Hates Japan. It’s not what you think. Apparently a guy named Alejandro Suarez put it together to counter the terrible statements of the faithful that god is punishing Japan for attacking…I dunno, his chosen people or something, back in 1941. It sounds too stupid to be true, right? Think again. There are tons of morons out there claiming this as the truth.

It almost makes me sad to be a human with these idiots. Anyway, the site has two links to two secular charities – Doctors Without Borders and the American Red Cross. I suggest you take the time to donate whatever you can to help with relief. Japan came to our aid during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, but nobody really remembers that.

Give until it hurts!

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God Made You Wrong

I’ve been involved in some discussion about circumcision and recently read a review of a TV show on “Praying the Gay Away.” Discussion on either of these topics can get pretty heated but there’s kind of a theme to it all. In either case there’s this strange kind of admission by theists that god made a mistake when he made you. That is, you either have more penis than he wanted you to have or you’re attracted to people to whom he’d rather you not be attracted. Doesn’t anybody find this odd?

In the Old Testament god laid out his provision for slicing up infants’ penises for some reason even though god supposedly creates each male in the womb and adds the foreskin to the little guy. If god finds the foreskin to be such a problematic piece of anatomy why didn’t he just omit it in the design? What’s with the genital mutilation? And why has our society come to accept that it’s anything other than an archaic, barbaric, religious practice and made up lame excuses as to the usefulness of circumcision in hygiene, AIDS prevention, and fertility? How come none of these people making these excuses would advocate elective cosmetic surgery of any other type on infants? That’s what circumcision is, after all.

The struggles of a homosexual in resolving his/her identity with his/her religion seem to be illustrative of the most painful mental torture one could undergo. You realize that your attraction to the same sex is not a conscious decision so you must have been made that way but you realize that your god hates it when you entertain your natural desires. In order not to displease your god you must deny your nature – which, presumably, he instilled in you when you were created. Yet there are religious homosexuals out there struggling on a daily basis to suppress their true selves in favor of pleasing an intolerant deity. Why??

When you say that god needs you to remove your foreskin or that he’s not OK with you being attracted to the same sex, you’re admitting that god makes mistakes! Not just one or two mistakes, but millions and billions of them! Is your god perfect or not? Is your god loving or not? Seems to me the best way to resolve this conflict is to admit that it’s your own personal bias causing these dilemmas and that your god is imaginary. Get on that, m’kay? Thanks.

Actually, consider this: instead of your god having made you wrong…maybe you made your god wrong.

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More Facebook Hypocrisy

I can’t figure out why something like this is necessary:

Is Jesus going to give you an extra pillow on your bed in the afterlife for re-posting this? Are you going to convert someone to Christianity by declaring you have an invisible friend? Doubtful. And what kind of irks me is that if I were to counter with something like this:

I personally believe in humanity. One Facebooker has challenged all others to put this on their wall. Nietzsche said, “There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to give some of it away to imaginary beings.” This is a simple test. If you love humankind and you are not afraid to show it, re-post this…

I would get backlash because I’m voicing a view that is contrary to the forwarded e-mail mentality surrounding the above Facebook post. Is there a reason I shouldn’t post what I’ve written above? Not really, aside from the fact that it’ll be taken as a retaliation against believers who are forwarding this other thing around (which it obviously is). There’s also the problem of some of the Jesus posters being my family members. That would make it a little less comfortable.

The biggest thing keeping me from actually hitting the “post” button is that I’m not a freaking sheep who just forwards crap around for the hell of it. What would either of these Facebook statuses hope to accomplish? What practical use would either of them have? In my mind, none. They’re just a stupid spam message clogging up the news feed when I could be seeing more important things like what color my friend’s baby’s poop was or how good their sushi was at lunch. You know, things that actually mattersilly

Should I post my counter status or not? What do you think?

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Billboards: Nothing’s Too Hard…

Billboards abound in Springfield bearing the words of the “Nothing’s Too Hard For God” campaign.


This guy needs help because he’s not god.

Well, duh! God’s supposed to be omnipotent! Are Christians the masters of pointing out the obvious or what? But what does this mean for people who aren’t omnipotent? It’s almost like a slap in the face.

Having financial troubles? If you were god you’d be able to blink them away. BUT YOU’RE NOT GOD!

Having marital problems? If you were god you’d be able to make yourself a new wife/husband. BUT YOU’RE NOT GOD!

Are you lonely? If you were god you’d be able to create some friends. BUT YOU’RE NOT GOD!


BWAHAHAHAHAA!!!!

Yep, that’s right. You are powerless to change your circumstances, you aren’t smart enough to handle your finances, and you aren’t good enough to maintain meaningful relationships. You’re dirt and unless you call on god to fix it for you, you’re totally screwed. So what are you waiting for? Get to praying!

The problem is, praying doesn’t really do anything. It might give you some time to quiet your mind and reflect on your situation but it’s not going to make your troubles magically disappear. It’s only after you’re done praying and get off your knees that something will actually get done. So get off your knees and get to work!

Again, I have to ask why these billboards are so incredibly sensible and allowable but something like this symbolizes a detestable oppression of cherished ideas:

 

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My Family Might Hate Me

My mom has very advanced Multiple Sclerosis. It’s eating her from the inside out and she’s powerless to stop it. There’s no cure, no reversal, no relief. It’s just us watching her slowly and uncomfortably crawl toward the end of her life. Having lost the ability to move herself around (even if she had a wheelchair she couldn’t get from point A to point B without help), she relies 100% on my dad for her care. It’s inevitable that she’ll die relatively young (she’s just now 60 but her mom is still alive and coming up on 90). It is this truth that causes me grief, but not for the reasons you might think.

I have grief over my mom’s impending death because I don’t want to go to her funeral and my family will undoubtedly hate me for it. You see, I understand the concept of death and I don’t need closure, nor do I need someone patting me on the back telling me she’s in a better place, etc. When she dies she’ll be gone forever, I get it. I’ve come to terms with that fact and I can be at peace with it when it happens.

I’ve only been to one funeral in my life and that was because it was a high school friend who died while I was a sophomore. It was also while I was a Christian. I cried over my friend’s death and prayed to god for understanding into why she was taken so young. I felt so sad for her family and I felt her loss in the hallways at school. I wondered if she was in Heaven or if she was – god forbid – suffering in Hell. The possibility of her soul in torment ripped me to shreds. It was a bad time for me and god never found the time to get back to me and offer something in the way of comfort or understanding.

I didn’t go to any of my grandparents’ funerals. My family was upset when I refused to be a pallbearer at my grandfather’s (my mom’s dad) funeral. I simply didn’t want to carry a box containing a corpse – is that so bad? Regardless of whether or not the corpse was my grandfather it was still a corpse. No thank you. I have fond, happy memories of my grandparents that aren’t muddied by death. I think the experience of being at the funeral would have changed that for me.

As an atheist I find it much easier to cope with death. It’s a part of life and it happens to everyone irrespective of their beliefs. I’m not completely numb to the loss of a loved one, I just find more joy in my memories of them alive than grief in their loss. Instead of thinking they live on in some ethereal plane of existence I allow them to live on in my mind, just the way I want to remember them, and I find that this keeps them closer and dearer than believing that I’ll see them again.

I don’t want to remember my loved ones wearing makeup in a coffin. What good is that going to do me? What possible joy can I find from that? Why would I allow my love and memory of them to be stained by some grotesque* ritual?

Everyone keeps telling me that the funeral isn’t for the dead, but for the living. I don’t agree. I think every day is for the living. Every single day I can give support and comfort to the ones I love and help however I can if they need it. I don’t need to designate one special day to do this. What makes a funeral day so special? Why are condolences and hugs confined to a couple of hours on a specific day in a specific location? Why not have them available all the time?

Just because I don’t want to attend the funeral doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a part of the family. Just because I don’t want to attend the funeral doesn’t mean I don’t love my mom. To be honest, once it happens my mom isn’t going to care if I’m at her funeral or not. Neither will my dad, my brother, my sister, or anyone else when their time comes (assuming that I outlive anybody at all).

Some people take this attitude as a slight. They think it makes me cold and callous. While I don’t agree, they’re certainly entitled to their opinions. I’ve already explained that I’d rather have their life than their death in my memories and it’s very sound reasoning to me. I’m happy with it. I just know from past experience that this will garner me negative attention from my Christian family members and I’m not looking forward to it. If I can respect their beliefs and their desire to have a funeral for my mom, why can they not respect my beliefs and my desire not to go? I hope I’m wrong about it, but I fear I’m not.

That being said, I’m reasonably certain – barring major obstacles – that I’ll travel up to Iowa to be there for my family after the funeral (maybe even before, but not during). I’ll share stories of how funny and intelligent my mom was and how much I loved her. I’ll tell the story about how she (unintentionally, I’m sure) threw me down a flight of stairs for calling her an “old hag” and we’ll all laugh about it. And life will go on. Is anything wrong with that?

Do your views on death conflict with your family’s? Do you have any beliefs that your loved ones condemn?

* I find the funeral ritual to be grotesque but I realize not everyone does. Please realize this is my opinion only and that I do not condemn those who find it useful for the mourning process.

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