A Trip Down to Memory Lane....
A while back, I decided to take a break from my philosophical discussions and musings and decided to unwind by chatting in MIRC. First, I went to #Pampanga Channel to find nice people to chat with. Unfortunately for me, no one was replying. I then just decided to play an MIRC trivia game out of boredom. After getting bored (again) from answering trivia questions, I then went on jumping from one chat room to another, trying to find people I can casually chat with. Out of all of them, I have met one interesting lady. Our conversation went from MIRC to Yahoo Messenger.
As we chatted, she asked if she could see another picture of mine since she was not satisfied just seeing my tiny picture in my avatar because the photo, she complained, was “cropped” which until now, I have no idea what she meant. LOLZ. Then I decided to just give her my Friendster account so that she could glance through on some of my other photos. I never wanted to enter a debate that night since I really just want to relax and float in the ethers of cyberspace. But, even when I tried to avoid religious debates, they find me. I then, remembered that my atheistic stance was all over my Friendster profile, cluttered in almost every lines of my profile message. Uh oh, big mistake. LOLZ.
Then after discovering the atheistic side of me, she went on to say that although she respects my atheistic “beliefs”, she still thinks that I am wrong. Then it was revealed that she is a Born Again Christian. Now, I smell the aroma of debate. Indeed, life is what happens when you are busy planning something else. I sensed her kindness so I decided to politely point out that atheism is not a belief but rather the lack of belief. I then told her that one of the reasons I do not subscribe to a God belief is because of the incoherence of the concept and the absurdities that the concept itself entails. She then challenged me to enlighten her on what I mean by her God being “incoherent”. As a result, I then had to ask her to give me a definition of her God so that I may know what sort of God concept I am dealing with. There are numerous definitions of God out there that I really do not wish to assume what God she believes in. Even among Christians, definitions of God vary.
She went on to say that God is not a “concept” but rather that he is “real”, which is not really a definition but just a naked assertion. To clarify, concepts can have existence in reality. We have a concept of what humans are. Simultaneously, we also have humans as existing entities in reality. So, there is nothing wrong in calling God a concept. Furthermore, if we do not have a God concept how can we recognize what a God is? If we have no concepts, how can we recognize anything at all?
She then told me a few things about how God affected her life, that God can only be known through a relationship with him, and among the usual stuff that one would often hear from a Born Again Christian (which, I must admit, I was also guilty of). None of these are definitions of her God so I was unable to pinpoint to her the incoherence I was talking about. She then resorted to a gentler version of Pascal‘s wager, asking me if I were to die tonight, would I know where I’m heading? Having heard already this appeal to threats of punishment and rewards countless times in the past, I just smiled as I type on my keyboard something along the lines, “What happens when I die? Everything stays the same, minus me.”
She then went on to discuss something about Voltaire, a well known atheist, a figure I am also acquainted with. She claimed that Voltaire was said to have been mumbling about “being burned” and uttering “fire, fire” sometime in his deathbed. I really do not know where she obtained this information but this misinformation is nothing but falsehoods. I have also pointed out that there are also other versions of the story, including one where Voltaire supposedly recanted his atheism. I am actually saddened that Christians, who are supposed to be lovers and defenders of “truth”, should resort to this sort of intellectually dishonest propaganda to bolster their case. Joseph Lewis writes in his essay, Ingersoll the Magnificent:
“For many years religious journals and ministers have been circulating certain pretended accounts of the frightful agonies endured by Paine and Voltaire when dying; that these great men at the moment of death were terrified because they had given their honest opinions upon the subject of religion to their fellow-men. The imagination of the religious world has been taxed to the utmost in inventing absurd and infamous accounts of the last moments of these intellectual giants. Every Sunday school paper, thousands of idiotic tracts, and countless stupidities called sermons, have been filled with these calumnies.
While theologians most cheerfully admit that most murderers die without fear, they deny the possibility of any man who has expressed his disbelief in the inspiration of the Bible dying except in the agony of terror. These stories are used in revivals and in Sunday schools, and have long been considered of great value.
I am anxious that these slanders shall cease. I am desirous of seeing justice done, even at this late day, to the dead.”
Afterwards she narrated a very touching story of the workings of God in her life. I need not go into details but only note that it was indeed a very touching story of how she managed to go through various difficulties on her life which, she believes, were all due to her God.
After hearing the story, I felt a deep loving care for her, a mere stranger. I have long since realized my deep sense of empathy which is my fundamental driving force for my altruism. Her testimony only reinforced my long passionate desire to do every means in my power to make this world a better place to live. Unnecessary pain and suffering may not be completely eliminated, but I would try my best to lessen them and put them at minimal in my own little way. Religionists may believe that divine justice and eternal bliss await them in the afterlife, but I am strong in my conviction that they are mistaken and are placing their faith on false hopes. We only have one life to live, believer or not, I will try my best to contribute in making your one-time existence here as meaningful and joyous as possible.
Another case in point, Christians and adherents of other religious faiths as well, should realize why appealing to testimony is a poor way in proving that their God/s is/are real.
Evangelical Christians (myself used to be included), believe that the best evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity are the wonderful and inspiring testimonies of changed lives and of people whose hearts were touched by God. They are proud to say that Jesus changes lives and transforms them for the better to produce “good fruits”. These, they claim is the “real” evidence.
That is all good and well. I am not denying the many cases of the Christian faith changing people’s lives for the better. I am also not disputing that Christian faith has been able to give fulfillment and meaning to many people, made them happier, and turned them into a more morally responsible people. In fact, I would consider myself as an evidence of that, for when I was a Born Again Christian, my life became more meaningful and the Christian Faith gave me peace of mind, personal satisfaction and a sense of purpose.
However, those who use this argument almost NEVER consider, acknowledge, or take into account the following facts which are just as true as the premise of the argument. 1
1) First, just because a religion or belief system has changed people’s lives for the better doesn’t mean that the teachings or doctrines of the system must be true and infallible. Nor do they erase all other similar testimonials of all other religions and belief systems. Richard Carrier in his article, Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story, put it well when he stated:
“Any belief system that involves a radical break with past belief toward a positive acceptance of new hope or wisdom will have a powerful transformative effect on a person, whether their new belief is true or not. I myself "converted" from an all-but-areligious childhood to Taoism, and its effect on me was certainly profound. Am I so ignorant of the world that I would actually claim that "only the true Tao could have such a transforming power in a person's life"? No. I am more honest than that, and more aware of the ways of the world. I was overcome by the genius and beauty of a belief, and the hope and wisdom it granted in a shining moment of revelation. But after long examination I found it was not the correct world view, that there were flaws only visible to careful study.”
2) Second, what these Christians also NEVER acknowledge or even realize is that there are also MANY people whose lives were changed for the better through other religions or systems of belief. I could EASILY bring up the SAME kind evidence of changed lives and testimonials from other belief systems, religions, pop psychology fads, self-help groups, Alcoholics Anonymous groups, New Age sects, Wiccans, even from Atheists/Agnostics, etc. I have known practitioners of Buddhism, Islam, New Age, alternative non-organized spirituality, etc. who can testify that their lives had been changed for the better in many ways as a result of their beliefs/practices. Anyone who wants to find such testimonies can easily do so by walking into the worship buildings of other religions, seeking testimonies over the internet, reading about them from books in the library/bookstore, etc. However, just because those testimonials are true and sincere does not mean each of those belief systems and practices are right for everyone. The same goes for the Christian faith too.
However, Christians prefer not to factor this in. And if confronted with these testimonials of other religions, belief systems, and spiritual practices, their response is to claim that they mean nothing if not based on the Bible, and that Satan could be behind them because he can appear “as an angel of light” and is the “father of lies” according to the Bible (implying that even religions that do good are still inherently evil since they do not acknowledge Jesus as the only way to God).
The problem for them is that claiming that Satan is behind the testimonials of other religions/spiritual practices DOES NOT erase or invalidate them. They seem to think that claiming that Satan is behind it is some kind of a “magic eraser” that can delete all contrary evidence! Not only is it a total cop out, but it’s insulting to others as well. I would ask them how they would feel and how they would like it if I used the “Satan is behind it” explanation to explain away their evidence of Christian testimonials too?
3) Third, many people throughout history have sincerely tried the Christian faith, found it lacking or unfulfilling, and then left it too. Many of these deconverts were sincere, believed in and loved Jesus with all their heart, etc. Yet, for one reason or another, the faith failed them. It either didn’t live up to its promise, was too closed-minded for their evolving minds which sought to broaden itself, didn’t make sense, had too many contradictions/discrepancies to continue rationalizing away, etc. Although there are no exact statistics for the number of people who convert and deconvert from Christianity each year, I would say that the number of deconverts is nearly as many as the converts. They are so common in fact that I have met them everywhere. This is to be expected though, because in reality, no single belief system or religion is right for everyone. People are different in many ways and on different levels of intellectual/spiritual evolution. Therefore, there are going to be some people are just not compatible with the Christian religion, for any number of reasons. In other words, it’s not for everyone, contrary to what Christians think. This is not only true for religion, but for career paths, organizations and social groups as well. No one is compatible with everything, and no group/organization/belief is suited for everyone. That’s the reality.
Now, to be fair, this should count as evidence against the validity of Christianity as well. Yet, the Evangelical Christians NEVER seem to count it as points against them, nor do they acknowledge this fact at all! Instead, if someone has fallen away, they are considered “backsliders” and presumed to be lovers of sin and pleasure, or else were deceived by false religion, secular passions, or Satan. It’s never the fault of the Christian religion of course. It’s another classic case of blaming the victims (much like Amway and multi-level marketing companies blame those who fail the “business system” rather than the inherent flaws of the system).
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Of course, I wasn't able to say all these points to her. Some ideas cannot be easily explained in just a few words.
Nevertheless, our disagreements are not that important compared to the wonderful friendship that has sprouted between the two of us. I have made a good friend from a stranger I only met once. And that is not even in the context of a personal encounter. Indeed, friendships are cultivated better by the quality of time spent together than the quantitity of time spent together.
1Credit goes to Winston Wu for articulating my exact points and contentions on the so-called “Arguments from Testimony” in such lucid detail and manner that I think it will be better to just refer to his work than to repeat superfluously what is already an excellently done job.