Monday, December 16, 2013

#85- Context: The primary excuse for believers.

Context in 1 picture

I will never forget the first time I was shown this example.  It was simple and brilliant.  Now I am showing it to you.  This example is important because it conveys my understanding of context to a believer.

The middle figure is the star of this picture.  Read from top to bottom, the middle figure looks like a "13".  Read from left to right, the middle figure looks like a "B".

The analogy is that one must consider the surrounding information to fully understand how to read the middle figure.  In terms of religious discussion and reading, it means reading the passages before and after a certain verse at the very least.  Often times, it means reading the previous chapter, book, etc.  If this is not done, the verse in question my suffer from personal distortion.

Understanding how to deal with context was part of my education.  We had to read passages and answer questions based on what we read.  It was not difficult to me back then and it is not difficult for me now.

Context is the most popular excuse that is used to apologize for the actions of the gods in the holy books.  The inquirer always seem to be unable to piece together the necessary clues to get the same perspective as the devotee.

This is not to say that this that context is always clearly understood.  For example, both the Bible and Qur'an are NOT written in chronological order.  This is almost never expressly told to the reader.  Those who are not aware of the surrounding circumstances that are not spelled out in the books may indeed get lost.  But this is only a problem for those who choose to study the textbooks in-depth.  Contrary to what Muslims say, one does not need a command of ancient OR modern Arabic to understand the gist Qur'an.  For many people, the main idea is clearly conveyed in the text in their native language.

I highly encourage everyone to read these holy books to get their own perspective of them.  There is nothing wrong with forming your own opinion even if it is unpopular.  The essential thing is to be ready to demonstrate that you took context into consideration and are able to differential fact from opinion.

Just keep in mind that the gods have been silent for a long time and probably won't speak for themselves...ever.

#84- Nature Points to MY Religion/God!

"Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made? And at the Sky, how it is raised high? And at the Mountains, how they are fixed firm? And at the Earth, how it is spread out? Therefore do thou give admonition, for thou art one to admonish." [Al-Qur'an 88:17-21]

"Verily, in the alternation of the night and the day, and in all that Allah hath created, in the heavens and the earth, are signs for those who fear Him." [Al-Qur'an 10:6]

"Do ye not see that Allah has subjected to your (use) all things in the heavens and on earth, and has made his bounties flow to you in exceeding measure, (both) seen and unseen? Yet there are among men those who dispute about Allah, without knowledge and without guidance, and without a Book to enlighten them!" [Al-Qur'an 31:20]

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." [Romans 1:20 NIV]

"Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy."
[Acts 14:17]

The verses  above are from the Holy Qur'an and Holy Bible respectively.  They are often used as proof that nature as we know it demonstrates a god exists.  The person who uses these verses almost always refers to their own favorite deity.

I wish I had comparable examples from other religious traditions but I think this kind of thinking is uniform throughout the world.  The thought of an author expressing their knowledge of the world in poetry or metaphorically is almost never considered by believers.  If a mistake or an anomaly is found within a phrase then it is usually assumed that the reader misunderstood the verse.

This is the kind of thing that has led to the current tug-o-war in the debate between Creationists and advocates of the natural world.  Creationists MUST have some sort of agent working behind the scene toiling at the mechanics of the known reality.

The verse in the Christian book of "Romans" is often used to demonstrate that people actually believe in the Jewish gods whether they admit it or not.  This "book" is attributed to the character "Paul".  Paul does not concern himself with how nature works.  He is a religious writer and is superstitious.  How exactly can a person derive that an agent with "eternal power" and is "divine" had anything to do with nature?  That is not spelled out but this pompous and presumptuous claim is just thrown out there.

Even if the audience accepts the premise that nature proves that gods are possible, it does not follow to explain which gods.  Perhaps this is the reason that reading the entrails of livestock became so popular with some worshipers.

Accepting gods just opens up more questions.  The two religions sampled here are cousin religions.  Both are spin-offs of Judaism.  Judaism is itself a hodgepodge of various local myths.  If you get a group of Muslims and Christians in a room to hash out the details that they derive from nature you will get a variety of results.

The gods never seem to be able to defend themselves.  They always seem to need proxies to pander to humans who are skeptical of claims.  I think that there is a very good reason for that.  That reason is that the believers are just making things up as they go along.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

#82- T-Shirt and Jeans Christianity

The majority of believers that I meet are nice, ordinary people.  That goes for the Muslims, Jews, Christians...everybody.

There is a particular type of Christian that I am focusing on for this entry.  I call these Christians the "T-shirt and jeans" Christians.

Senior Pastor Bob Coy
The t-shirt/jeans crowd is different based on what I have experienced.  These people tend to be super nice and welcoming.  I've been to a couple mega-churches and they were of the t-shirt/jeans variety.  The pastor rarely wears a suit.  They tend to promote a "come as you are" disposition when it comes to fashion and behavior.

This group of people are very interesting to me for several reasons.

 First, their hospitality is very attractive.  They are usually extremely nice AND it is genuine.  They just love to get together in and out of church to do miscellaneous activities.  They promote a good, warm family atmosphere.  That can be enticing to someone who comes from a broken home, a hostile environment, or someone who is looking to socialize.  Sometimes they have mechanisms in place to embrace and welcome new or potential members.  They are usually pretty good at receiving visitors.

The second thing that impresses me about the t-shirt/jeans group is their organization.  My experience at South Florida's "Calvary Chapel" makes it the gold standard for the t-shirt/jeans Christianity for me.

That church is massive.  Their size is made possible by excellent management and order.  The discipline, cleanliness, and hospitality that the church possess permeates the air.  They run a school along with other activities within the borders of their property.  It is like a "one-stop shop" of all things warm, fuzzy, and of course, Christian.

Finally, I like the amount of activities that these organizations tend to have through their "ministries".  The term ministry is "Christianese" for a group.  Technically these groups are supposed to go out and "minister" to people; especially non-Christians.  Most of the time, these groups just end up being groups of people who are in the same situation or demographic.

Two examples of popular ministries that can be found in many churches across different denominations are "Singles Ministries" and "Youth Ministries".  As the names imply, they are for single church members and young people of the church respectively.  The singles ministries are often supposed to be safe and fertile grounds for Christians to "pick up" other single Christians.  The singles ministries tend to be less disposed to proselytizing outside the church.  Most of the members are already Christians.  They usually sell Jesus as a mandatory pre-requisite in order to date another person in the group.  If members hook up, it is often done in a public way.  Then, they are encouraged to eventually marry.  Once the couple is married, they leave the singles ministry to another ministry.

The youth ministry has always been my favorite because I joined one at my former church.  These tend to cater to the likes and needs of young people.  Therefore, there are plenty of activities in and outside the church environment for the kids.  Most young people are not in the singles ministry but they do end up "picking up" from the members of the youth ministry.  The youth ministries are usually high in indoctrination and tend to be more proactive in passing out Jesus to non-Jesus lovers.

Other popular ministries include: the music ministry, the dancing ministry, and the ushers.

The few t-shirt/jeans churches that I've been to also tend to have high-quality media and technological gizmos working in their favor.  One church in Broward County, Florida (Potential Church) even has an app for smartphone users.  This is the kind of stuff that impress me and separates the "mom and pop" corner churches from the modern churches who "get it".

Perhaps when I was going through my de-conversion process I would have stuck around longer in one of these churches.  I'm sure that some of the bigger, more established, and sophisticated tshirt/jeans churches may  have in-house apologetic mechanisms to deal with doubt and skepticism.  At the end, I think it would have only been a matter of time before I still came out on the other side as atheist.