Tuesday, November 10, 2009


While walking my dog, I noticed a bunch of religious tracts littered along my block. It seems someone put propaganda on the windshield of the cars in the area.

So, I picked up all of them that I saw and threw them away. I even took the pre-litter I saw still on people’s windshields; I think it’s safe to say the owners of these cars know all they care to about Jesus.

I kept three, the ones least wet. They’re so precious, I feel compelled to share excerpts of them.

My favorite has quite a wonderful message on the cover:

Entertainment, Amusements, Fun
What Does God Say?
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves…,lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;” (2 Timothy 3:1,2a,4b)
First of all, I love a nice, short Bible passage taken out of context almost as much as I like using ellipses to redact portions you don’t like. Here’s the full quote from the KJV, verses 1-5:

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

One might almost be able to accuse modern Christians of many of these… Anyway, I guess these particular Christians are against fun. Also, I love the implication that we’re living in the “last days.” The pamphlet continues:

One of man’s principal goals in life is happiness. Happiness can be elusive. Many are seeking happiness in pleasures and entertainment [not Christians, who like pain and boredom?]. They seek to satisfy themselves by doing what “feels good.” What feels good may actually be detrimental to one’s character and inner spiritual well-being. [Kind of like how religious people follow their “feeling” on God? And atheists are just supposed to leave believers alone because their faith makes them “feel good?”]

Then there’s a paragraph about how money can’t buy things that make you happy. Then there’s a paragraph about how amusement parks, TV, movies, music, the internet, and even books (at least the “shameful” kind) are ruining society. Then there’s more stuff about how we are driven to earn more and nothing is ever enough.

Then there’s a gem:

As this selfish drive is pursued the following happens: churches languish, welfare programs are left to the governments, and the homeless may be fed but not cared for. Even more tragically, children are not finding the security of a stable home.
So here we have the foundation for conservative thought when it comes to welfare: ending government welfare puts that power in the hands of churches, where they think it belongs. When people have no secular charity to turn to, they get stuck going to a church. There’s no magical reason getting aid from a church is better than getting it from the government.

They use the tactic of juxtaposing a completely unrelated tragic to their claim, in order to draw some sort of connection. How does the “selfish” drive of people to economically succeed cause churches to languish and welfare to be administered by a cold, uncaring government that will apparently spit in poor people’s soup? And how does any of that relate to at-risk children in broken homes?

Religious people love to do that: merely mention a problem in society and then link it to our “lack of” or “disappearing” faith. Forget trying to convince a believer that they’re in the majority. They have so much time on their hands not helping people, they divide themselves up into “true believers” and… frankly I don’t know if they have a name for it, I guess “fake Christians,” or maybe “Catholics.”So even though most of America believes, our problems clearly stem from the fact that most “Christians” are doing it wrong.

Another tract I have here is titled “Why Must I Suffer?” I have never found theodicy to be a particularly compelling argument, but I imagine it’s a popular one among neophyte atheists.

Theodicy is the question of evil; in a world created by a good and loving God, why are there bad things? The simplest formulation of non-theism stems from this dilemma, and is credited to Epicurus:

God is all powerful and good, but evil exists. Therefore:
1. God is good, but does not have the power to prevent evil.
2. God is has the power to prevent evil, but chooses not to.

God either cannot or will not prevent evil, and is therefore unworthy of praise under Epicurus’ model.

However, these are flawed arguments because they overlook a concept central to Christian theology. The make a long discussion short, Christians explain theodicy away using the concept of “free will,” a power possessed by humans which is outside the influence of God and allows sin into the world.

This view is never explicitly stated in the Bible, but theologians point out that it does explain why God is always asking, or commanding, people to do stuff – rather than just making them do it like a puppet. You have characters like Mary and Abraham asked to do things, which they willingly choose to do (or almost do). Then you have characters like Jonah who deny the request and experience God’s wrath until they agree to obey.

Of course, none of this explains natural disasters, but I don’t even want to imagine the rhetorical gymnastics required to explain that. The whole pamphlet I have in front of me focuses instead on the suffering we inflict on each other, which I concede is greater at this point in history than the toll taken by nature. I will therefore overlook the injustice of nature’s wrath for the purposes of this discussion.

Besides blaming people for most of the ills of the world, this pamphlet exhibits the most annoying (and damaging) response to suffering: the old “well you think you have it bad…” routine.

People who are suffering don’t want to hear about someone who has it worse. If I sprain my ankle, I don’t want a friend to diminish my pain by telling me about they’re brother’s hair dresser’s cousin-in-law whose leg was blown off by a land mine while picking linden berries.

This pamphlet mentions Joseph from Genesis, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. Yeah, I guess being unemployed isn’t as bad as that… and yet I don’t feel any better. By the way… why isn’t slavery a sin? God really dropped the ethical ball on that one.

The third and final pamphlet I kept to look over is titled, “Peace of Mind in a Troubled World.” I should preface this by saying I hate peace of mind; your mind should always be at war. You should never declare an intellectual ceasefire. The minute your mind settles, you become ignorant. You will bar new ideas from challenging the established order to which you cling. Worse, you will likely bend and twist all that you perceive in order to reconcile it with your flawed outlook.

That being said, I can’t say I disagree with this pamphlet. Religion will indeed give you peace of mind. Religion rarely changes. It reiterates itself over and over, relying on repetition over rhetoric. Anything said often enough appears true.

Science, on the other hand, provides no peace of mind. Opinions are always changing. Wasn’t Pluto a planet? What happened to the Brontosaurus? What the hell is quantum entanglement? If you aren’t paying attention, your “scientific knowledge” quickly goes stale. Science has the shelf life of a loaf of bread; religion is more like a Twinkie, with a creamy salvation middle.

Science doesn’t say what we want to hear, either. We aren’t important in science. Science says we are just one of trillions of life forms on a planet circling just one of trillions of stars in the Milky Way, which is one of just trillions of galaxies. Science is the cold hard pursuit of truth, a journey with no final destination; religion is the warm and cozy fireplace back home.

Religion is indeed the gift of peace of mind. Scientists should thank religion for soaking up the ignorant like a sponge. Without religion, the scientific world would be populated with all those mentally-stunted people who would otherwise gravitate towards faith. It would be best if science did not fall prey to the intellectual laziness of religion.

Science has a responsibility to never get comfortable. But that’s science, not atheism. Atheism also carries with it a burden of responsibility. It’s our job to help clean up the mess religion makes, one pamphlet at a time.

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