Saturday, 11 August 2012

An undercurrent

More empathic readers might have noticed a subtle shade of irritation and frustration in some of my posts.  I’ve tried to keep everything light, but occasionally despite all my best efforts an element of darkness has crept in – especially at those time when I have had to repeatedly listen to someone babble on while transcribing a tract from a podcast or a debate, or I’ve been struck by something that is sufficiently ridiculous as to interfere with my hackles.

These readers might have formed an opinion that I don’t like theists, Christians in particular.  Sure, there are some I don’t like, but it would be inaccurate to say that I dislike all Christians, let alone all theists.  It should also not be assumed that I like, or agree with, all other atheists.

I thought it would be helpful to identify just what it is about certain theists that really get my goat.  I should also point out that it is particularly irritating when they get, then slaughter, then burn and then offer up my goat.  If you want to sacrifice a goat … get your own goat for heaven’s sake!

Anyway, here are the qualities of theists that I like:

·         Mature
·         Beset by doubt
·         Thoughtful
·         Consistent
·         Humble
·         Pro-science
·         Tolerant


A mature (that is reserved, quiet and unassuming) theist is willing to discuss their faith if asked, but doesn’t impose that faith on others.

I can’t quite understand why some believers think that they have to convert others.  There is plenty of opportunity for me to check out the various religions in my own time and to arrive at the best one, if there is a “best one”.  If a theist’s personal religion is correct, then it should be abundantly clear that it’s correct.  With respect to the religion that I am most likely to be confronted with, Christianity, there is plenty of evidence that a large number of the practitioners of this religion believe that it’s a personal relationship with their god that matters.

When people come knocking on my door trying to convert me this just seems like more evidence that the religion in question is a meme, an orally transmitted virus.

Beset by doubt

At least from my perspective, and that of Augustine, much of what a theist believes is impossible.  If these things were not impossible, or at least vanishingly unlikely, they would not be miraculous.  The scarce evidence that supports theistic belief is tenuous, generally inaccessible and inconsistent.  The vast majority of theists believe that their god is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, yet he allows the horrible suffering to continue day after day, year after year, century after century.  Their god is usually considered to be omnipresent, or immanent, yet the vast majority of them rarely, if ever, feel his presence.  Their god is inscrutable, or at the very least enigmatic, so even if he is there, a theist should have not the slightest clue as to what their god’s true intentions are.

A theist who isn’t struggling with doubts simply hasn’t thought it through.

Some of my best friends are Christians who struggle mightily with their doubt.


Being thoughtful is closely related to being beset by doubt.  Many people avoid ever having doubts by not thinking too hard.  There is even a term for it: “over-intellectualisation” (note, this is not the same as the psychoanalytical term “intellectualisation”).

The bar for some people is set very, very low so that if their train of though is approaching a problem, they simply shut down intellectually.


Avoiding hypocrisy is one aspect of consistency, but I do think you can be inconsistent without being hypocritical.  An inconsistent, but not quite hypocritical, theist is one who espouses a belief but it really only manifests on Sunday mornings.  While there are clearly issues with fundamentalists of whatever stripe, I can’t personally get my head around the concept of Sunday theists.  If someone believes in a god with all the omni-attributes, how can they reconcile that belief with their weekday behaviour?  To me, a fundamentalist is a little more consistent on one level – especially if they live and breathe their faith.  To have belief in a god and to spend most of your time ignoring that god just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Hypocrisy applies to those who are stronger more consistent believers and who do things which are inconsistent with the teachings of their religion.  Those who believe the Bible is inerrant but still cherry pick from it, ignoring the inconvenient parts.  Those who ignore the words of their messiah while steadfastly refusing to turn the other cheek.  Those who fail the humility challenge.

I guess it also applies to those who fail to stone unwed mothers, but I’ll give them a pass on that if they struggle with doubts over some of the more difficult parts of the Bible.


As I understand it, included in the set of requirements to qualify for heaven is humility.  You only get into heaven if you are humble.  Being a theist who believes this but does so arrogantly is somewhat incautious, isn’t it? 

Note that as an atheist I am allowed to be arrogant since there is no punishment lined up for me.  If I get punished eternally, it will be for failing to believe.


As I understand it, theists do not claim to know the mind of their god, or have a thorough understanding on the grand plan.  Therefore, a theist doesn’t really know what a universe that was made by God would look like.  I know that theists are pretty sure that such a universe would look like our universe.

They have no reason to be anti-science because science just works out how the universe operates.  They should see it as a glorious vindication of their god.  But if they ignore how the universe operates, they are ignoring the wonder of their god’s creation.  That’s surely got to be bad, right?

Perhaps being too focussed on things of the flesh, or worldly things, might be bad.  Nevertheless, if such a fabulously intelligent being as a theist’s god made this universe, then that god put a lot of intellectual effort into the enterprise and theists should be appreciating it!  Implying that the creation methods brought to bear must have be simple enough for the average layperson to understand is seriously underselling their god.


If some sort of god exists then, for some reason unbeknownst to anyone else, that god put some effort into not making that fact inaccessible to us via the deductive capabilities that were (hypothetically) granted us. While the evidence for evolution is not 100% complete, it is more than sufficient to indicate that it is not necessary to have a supernatural creator of the life which teems on our planet. Our current understanding of the “natural laws” – meteorology, chemistry, physics, astrophysics, biology, and so on – is such that intervention by that (hypothetical) creator is not necessary to explain any of the multitude of mysteries that confounded our ancestors. Focussing on Christianity for a moment, it is a curious fact that throughout the first gospel (Mark, which the rest draw on) Jesus repeatedly compelled his followers, and others, to not speak of who he was or of the miracles he performed.

It seems pretty clear, at least to me, that if a god created the universe then that creator planted a lot of evidence during the creation process in order to lead us to think that the universe occurred naturally and therefore does not want us to know that the universe was created.  If a hypothetical creator wanted us to know, we could have been created with that certain knowledge pre-inserted into our brains – a sort of theological homing instinct like a salmon or a pigeon allowing us to home in on precisely the right form of divinity.  The theist generally argues for an omnipotent god, an omniscient god, who therefore not only can install a theological homing instinct but also knows that it’s possible.  But apparently the god chose not to.

An omniscient god must also realise that some people won’t go along with the cosmic plan and it stands to reason that that must be acceptable.  If it wasn’t, being omnipotent and omniscient, the god could easily fix it.

But, ok – granted, there might be some inscrutable reason as to why fixing what should be a minor issue for an omnipotent and omniscient god isn’t high on the agenda.  And it might be true that a creator might be somewhat annoyed that creation is filled with people who are, generally, quite naughty.  And it further might be true that certain types of naughty people (the disbelievers, apostates, blasphemers and so on who never get around to apologising in the right way to correct god) are going to be rather uncomfortable for eternity in a hell of some sort.

If this is the case, then the theist’s god already has everything carefully planned out and does not need help.

Is there really a need to make the short period of not being tortured worse than it has to be?  In the view of a theist, non-believers suffer even during their time on Earth due to their disconnect with god and have nothing to look forward to other than an eternity of knowing that they screwed up big-time.

The only logical conclusion I can draw about people who want to victimise other people who don’t believe in their god correctly is that they don’t believe in their god either (and hence cannot rely on their god adequately punishing people in the afterlife).

Focussing briefly on Christianity again, Jesus gave sage advice a few times about the need to avoid intolerance: something along the lines of “Judge not, lest thee be judged” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.  As I understand it, it is up to god to judge, not humans.  If a theist presumes to judge in the stead of god, then that is considered to be a sin.


Theists who manage, or even just aspire, to have these characteristics are fine by me.


Oh, and I have a special place in whatever organ is supposed to be the repository of contempt for Pascalian Gamblers. If you honestly believe purely because you think that it’s the best return on your investment, then may the Grand Pixie have mercy on your soul.


And another thing ... Josh the Honest Searcher did have a thing about why being told that you are going to hell is not as bad as it might immediately appear.  After all, if a guy in a white coat tells you that you are killing yourself with cheap scotch and cigarettes, you should not get upset - you should engage that person to work out if they are a doctor, if so if they are a doctor in a relevant field and work out if there is some good hard evidence to support the argument that you should move to more expensive scotch and cigars.  This is fair enough, and the first time someone tells you that you are going to hell, you should perhaps engage with that person to see if they have evidence to back it up.  And maybe even the second time.  The third time, when the evidence is "this ancient book which is riddled with inconsistencies tells me it's so", then you perhaps should be slightly less accommodating.

When you get to the tenth time, or twentieth time, you are more than justified in gently shutting the door in their face with a quiet "thanks but I'm not interested".

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