26 November 2011


Jesus for the Non-Religious
by John Shelby Spong

Although it is always fun for me to read books about atheism or freethought ---those that I can read while nodding my head in 100% agreement, it is also good to read other points of view, perhaps to understand another philosophy or even to scoff at its ridiculous assertions.  In this book, I managed to do both.  Because I assumed it was written for "non-believers," I thought it was written from an atheistic point of view.  However, I was wrong about that, yet found that I was in agreement with the author throughout much of the text.

 The author, a former Episcopalian bishop, considers himself a Christian, but he does not believe the Bible is inerrant and he certainly rejects many of the religious practices and beliefs of various (perhaps most) Christian sects. He is writing the book for those who have rejected religion as it is taught and practiced in most churches today and for those who may still have faith but who have given up on organized religion. Note that the title is not Jesus for the Non-Believer.

In this book, Spong is apparently expanding on Dietrick Bonhoeffer's radical vision of "religiousless Christianity" written from his prison cell in Nazi Germany.

When I read the introduction, I had the impression that the author was going to try to convince readers to follow Jesus, but I'm glad I read on because the book explains the life of Jesus in a secular way, rejects Biblical miracles that defy the laws of nature, and points out numerous inconsistencies. He also acknowledges many of the negative results of religion, from hatred of other religious groups, wars, guilt and self-hatred while pointing out that Jesus's actions rejected many of the prejudices of his day.

 And speaking of prejudices, Spong points out that although society has made enormous strides in ridding ourselves of prejudices, the one institution that still clings to old traditions is religion, by not allowing women full participation in church leadership, by condemning homosexuality, by demonizing other religious views, to give just a few examples. At its worst, churches blame the "liberation" of women, gays, and other such groups for the downfall of marriage, the loss of ethics and morals, and all other ills of society.

I found this book very interesting and informative. It explains the origins of many Biblical stories, how they came about, how many New Testament tales retold stories found in the Old Testament, how they were changed and exaggerated. And except for the author's frequent mentions of God and his Christianity, I see very little of the "Christian" that I grew up with.

Although I did not agree with everything in the book, Spong's views are actually refreshing in comparison to what we often hear spewing from members of the Religious Right.

 In discussing racial, gender, and sexual-orientation prejudices, the author states. "Debated prejudices are always dying prejudices. The debate is actually part of the death process." He wasn't speaking specifically of the debates about the existence of God, but those debates are going on now. Perhaps such belief is slowly dying.

Spong thinks that if the church does not change, if it will not break from its tribal mentality in which it believes its own version of God is better than everyone else's, it will die out. That can't happen soon enough for me.


A few passages from the book:
From Chapter 20:

"The word 'atheist'... does not mean, as people commonly assume, one who asserts that there is no such thing as God.  It means, rather, that one rejects the theistic definition of God. It is quite possible to reject theism without rejecting God."

"...The theistic definition of God has been all but destroyed by the advances in knowledge that created the modern world..." 

"Modern people today function as atheists, yet they still struggle in the religious dimension of their lives to grasp tightly an artificially respirated theism. What people need to hear and to embrace is that the theistic definition of God was never about God; it was always about human beings desperately in need of a coping system that would enable them to live with the anxieties of what it means to be human."

"I am a God-intoxicated human being, but I can no longer define my God experience inside the boundaries of a theistic definition of God... So in order to get to the essence of who Jesus was... I must get beyond the traditional theistic definition of God that I now regard as both simplistic and naïve, to say nothing of being wrong."

From Chapter 21:

"The signs of the death of a theistic understanding of God are all around us. Many of us will not allow ourselves to see them, because we have no alternative and would rather live with an illusion than try to embrace reality. It will not work, however, because once an idea of God begins to die, it is like Humpty Dumpty: 'All the king's horses and all the king's men could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.'"

"...Theism as a way of understanding God has, I believe, actually served to diminish our humanity.... theism seems to give rise to inordinate and destructive religious anger."

"A cursory look at Christian history will provide ample evidence to support the conclusion that there is a very high correlation between religion and killing anger.  Religious people are loath to face this fact, but it is painfully and obviously true. One has only to listen to conversations about religion among people holding competing views to see how quickly anger surges... Religious discussions become war zones that not infrequently make street brawls look civilized."

In discussing the hostility the author has received himself, including hate mail, abusive phone calls, threats against his family and 16 credible death threats, Spong says: "The fascinating thing about this kind of abusive behavior is that the hostility typically comes from fellow Christians ---in my case, some of them well known in evangelical and catholic circles. None of my death threats came from an atheist, a Buddhist, or a Muslim. They were most often delivered by Bible-quoting Christians who defined themselves as true believers, men and women who said they were acting in the defense of or on the instructions of God."

23 November 2011


On Greta Christina's Blog she writes:

"One of the most common criticisms lobbed at the newly-vocal atheist community is,
'Why do you have to be so angry?'"

In a long, but well-thought-out post, ATHEISTS AND ANGER Greta Christina explains:
1. Why atheists are angry;
2. Why our anger is valid, valuable, and necessary
3. Why it's completely fucked-up to try to take our anger away from us.

I am often mildly angry, but after reading this post ---and the many reasons why we should be angry --- I'm surprised flames aren't shooting from my head 24/7.

Find her Anger and Atheists post HERE.
Find her response to comments on her Atheists and Anger post HERE.

Greta Christina's Blog (old) ---the above post in on this older blog

21 November 2011


To most Christians, the Bible is
like a software license.
Nobody actually reads it.
They just scroll to the bottom
and click "I agree."

(I have no idea where this came from. I've seen it on several websites.
If anyone can enlighten me on its source, I would be glad to add the information to this post.)

14 November 2011


Snowbrush wrote:

If I were to make a list of things that I would like for believers to know about atheists, the first one would be: “To deny god is not to deny the possibility of meaning. Kindness, patience, nobility, a passion for truth, and every other virtue are no less important to atheists than they are to theists. The difference between them is simply that the one attributes our knowledge of right and wrong to god, and the other to the social evolution of the species to which we owe our existence.”
---used with permission from Snowbrush's blog which can be found HERE.

See the post on which he wrote the above HERE.
See Snowbrush's take on Does God Exist? HERE.

13 November 2011


In my previous post, I reviewed the book Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi who made his case for agnosticism by giving arguments for and against those who are certain about the existence or non-existence of god.

Although he made some good points, I found most of his book to be based on his own opinions which he calls "common sense" and that Bugliosi expressed many opinions about things he admitted he knows little about.

In other words, he is doing what he accuses both theists and atheists of doing, making arguments without irrefutable or convincing evidence.

But perhaps that is the point.  Much of what everyone believes is opinion and therefore he may be correct in that agnosticism is the only way to be honest with oneself.

Bugliosi had me thinking about the labels I have given myself. I usually call myself an atheist, but also refer to myself as an agnostic, skeptic, humanist, and/or freethinker.

I do not believe in any of the gods, past or present, that I know about. There have been thousands of gods worshipped around the world throughout history. I don't know all of them, so I admit there may be one or more that would be credible to me.

I have rejected (as has almost everyone else) Isis, Thor, Zeus, Juno and other such gods. We consider these god stories to be myths and I have never found a god story that I believe any more than the stories I know about the gods of ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome or Scandinavia.

Because I was brought up in a Christian home and surrounded by (mostly) Christians everywhere I have lived, I know the most about the god that Judeo/Christians worship. I do not and cannot believe in that god. Among other attributes, that god is supposed to be all-knowing, all-good, and all-powerful. I cannot justify an all-good and all-powerful god who allows thousands of people to suffer and/or die from diseases, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and droughts and even kills 2,476,633 himself (according to Steve Wells who counted each person killed by god in the Old Testament) ---for he is neither good nor powerful if he either will not or cannot stop such suffering from happening. (Epicurus, 341-270 BCE, pointed this out over 2000 years ago and Bugliosi discusses the argument in his book, as well.)

I do not believe in the divinity of Jesus because I cannot suspend belief in the laws of nature to believe that a star led wise men to his birthplace, that his mother was a virgin, that he walked on water, fed a multitude with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, made the blind see, rose from the dead or raised others from the dead, or turned water into wine.

That does not preclude the existence of another god somewhere, but certainly not the one I was taught I should worship.

In conclusion, I am an atheist because I don't believe in any god as s/he has been presented to me by any major or minor religion.

I could become a deist if I were presented with irrefutable evidence that god exists.

However, I doubt that I would ever join any organized religion for, in my studies of religious history, I have learned that nearly all organized religions, despite their claims that their particular religion teaches good morals, will do just about anything to keep their religions going, whether it be distorting the teachings of their founders, torturing or killing adherents of other religious beliefs, hiding sexual abuse, demanding members tithe or pay indulgences, demonizing non-believers, shunning or excommunicating those who have left their congregations, isolating their followers from other belief systems, trying to keep or grab political power, making outrageous claims of miraculous healings, keeping their followers dependent and/or ignorant, brainwashing children, blaming others' "sins" for the ills of the world (are you paying attention Pat Robertson?) or instilling fear and guilt in followers ---to list only a few.

I am an agnostic in that I don't know with absolute certainty if a god does or even could exist; however, I lean very strongly toward the opinion that s/he does not nor could not.

12 November 2011


Divinity of Doubt: The God Question
by Vincent Bugliosi

Bugliosi is a lawyer and claims to approach his exploration of theism vs. atheism as a lawyer would, by seeking and weighing evidence. He comes to the conclusion that we all must, in the end, admit that we don't know if there is a god.

In making his case for agnosticism, he indicts god and organized religion while also prosecuting the intellectual poverty of atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

His main objection to the writings of atheists is that they have not proven their points any better than theologians. He also points out that they are, without irrefutable evidence, as unflinchingly certain of their atheism as fundamentalists are, without irrefutable evidence of the truth of their particular brands of religion. In other words, lacking evidence, we all use faith in coming to our conclusions about the existence of god, or lack thereof.

Bugliosi claims that atheists are as absolutely certain about the lack of god(s) as the religious are about the existence of god.

I beg to differ, for I think there are many on both sides of this issue who are not as certain as he presumes. I know a few religious people who claim to have absolute certainty and know the whole truth about the existence of god and/or the divinity of Jesus. However, most of the religious people I know do have doubts and uncertainties ---some more than others, of course. And, although there are atheists who claim absolute certainty that there is no god, most of the atheists I know do not have such a strong opinion and leave open the possibility of changing their minds if presented with irrefutable evidence.

However, most of the book is an indictment of religion, especially Christianity and he spends the most time on Catholicism, probably because he was brought up in a Catholic home and knows more about Catholicism than other branches of Christianity. He is especially vehement in his criticism of a church that traditionally makes much fuss about sin, yet did little or nothing to rid itself of sexually abusive clergy.

He explains why god may or may not exist, punching holes in arguments on both sides of the question. For this, I commend him, for he is willing to take on theists and atheists knowing he will offend and be criticized by true believers in both camps.

However, he uses mostly tired old arguments we have all heard before. In addition, he admits he knows little about biology, the cosmos, or mathematics but is not shy about expressing strong opinions based on "common sense" about evolution and the origin of the universe and also plays with mathematical probabilities, even while he accuses the theists and atheists of expressing opinions, not facts, without enough evidence to suppress all reasonable doubt.

Bugliosi admits that he is opinionated. With a sarcastic, condescending tone (which may or may not be attributed to the reader on the audio book,) he exhibits his lack of regard for anyone who disagrees with him, be they respected theologians or revered scientists considered to be experts in fields in which he has no expertise himself. Since so much of the book is based on Bugliosi's opinion, his opinions aren't worth more than yours or mine, nor any better than the opinions of those he skewers in this book.

But perhaps that is the point.  Much of what everyone believes is opinion and therefore he may be correct in that agnosticism is the only logical way to be honest with oneself. 

What do you think?

Please see my next post: WHAT AM I? ATHEIST OR AGNOSTIC?

02 November 2011

HINDUS BEHAVING BADLY #1: Treatment of Widows

In my attempt to show that being religious
is not a guarantee of moral behavior,
this post is just one in my series of reports featuring
the bad behavior of religious people, past or present....

Look for other posts showing the bad behavior
perpetrated by members of other religious groups.

This is my first post about Hindus. I was prompted to write it after viewing a movie called "Water" directed by Deepa Mehta.

Mehta received death threats while working on the film. Sets were burned and filming was disrupted by Hindu fundamentalists. George Lucas paid for a full-page ad in Variety to support Mehta in her struggle to make the film when Indian authorities shut down the production in India. It was later resumed in Sri Lanka under a different title to avoid attention.

The film takes place in the 1930s and begins when a young girl, Chuyia --age 7 ---is widowed and, by tradition, sent to live with other impoverished widows, where they wear white and have their heads shaved to "mark" them, and must beg in the streets. They are outcasts in a society with a religious tradition that believes even a widow's shadow is bad luck.

Of course, the fact that a child was married is appalling in itself, yet according to Holy Hindu Scriptures Chuyia is destined to live in a widows' ashram the rest of her life, for when a woman's husband dies, she has three options. One is to marry her husband's younger brother, if his family agrees. Or she may kill herself on his funeral pyre. Her third choice is to live a life of celibacy, discipline, and solitude among other widows and be shunned by the rest of society. But Chuyia is so young that she naively expects her parents to take her home.

She befriends a beautiful young woman, Kalyani, who is being pimped out by the head of the ashram (an older widow) to earn money to feed the residents. Yet, a man from the upper castes, Narayan, falls in love with Kalyani and wants to marry her. Although a new law is controversial, it permits widows to remarry.

When asked why widows are thrown out of both their own family's home and that of her dead husband, Narayan, gives the following explanation:
"One less mouth to feed, four less saris, and a free corner in the house. Disguised as religion, it's just about money."

There is some romance and even moments of humor in the film, but it is in no way a "feel good" movie. It is sad, appalling and maddening.

According to Roger Ebert:
"The unspoken subtext of 'Water' is that an ancient religious law has been put to the service of family economy, greed and a general feeling that women can be thrown away. The widows in this film are treated as if they have no useful lives apart from their husbands. They are given life sentences. They are not so very different from the Irish girls who, having offended someone's ideas of proper behavior, were locked up in the church-run "Magdalen laundries" for the rest of their lives. That a film like 'Water' still has the power to offend in the year 2006 inspires the question: Who is still offended, and why, and what have they to gain, and what do they fear?"

Although the film takes place in 1938, widows are still ostracized in India;

Read more about "Water" and watch a trailer on the Internet Movie Database.
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