Tag Archives: Atheism

2014 – Another Year In Denial

ISIS

So it’s been another big year for religion.  As such, it’s almost impossible to list all of its ‘achievements’ but below are some ‘highlights’:

In terms of wars, we’ve seen the growth of ISIS as they conquered large areas of Syria and Iraq, murdering, enslaving and raping tens of thousands of people in the process, and beheading four western journalists and an aid worker. We’ve witnessed yet another outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine, resulting in the deaths of approximately 2,200 people, many of whom were innocent non-combatants. There has been a continuation of the bloodletting in the Central African Republic between Christians and Muslims, causing an unknown number of civilian casualties – but 5,000 is considered a very conservative estimate. Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamic group, have moved on from hit and run attacks to holding territory in the North East of the country, displacing over half a million people while doing so, and murdering at least 2,000 just between January and June of this year (a total number for the whole year is unknown), to say nothing of their habit of kidnapping and raping pre-pubescent girls by the truckload. Finally, the fight against the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to rage, with atrocities a regular occurrence, the worst of which we learned about only 2 weeks ago when 132 school children were shot and killed with automatic weapons at a school in Peshawar (9 teachers were also killed). Of course, though I will not make the case here, one could also argue that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is in part religiously motivated. Certainly much of Putin’s disdain for the West is linked to our increasingly secular, humanist and moral outlook that flies in the face of his professed and apparently sincere Orthodoxy.

With regards to religiously inspired terrorist attacks on Western soil, in the last few weeks alone there have been deadly strikes in Ottawa, Canada, in Nantes, France and in Sydney, Australia.

One thing that should instantly leap out at you from the above information is that this is truly a global struggle, with every continent regularly falling victim to attacks by individuals or armies high on religion. Last year of course, we had to endure the assault on the oilfield in In Amenas, Algeria, the Boston Marathon bombing in the US and the vicious murder of Lee Rigby on the streets of London, England, to name but three corners of the globe forced to mourn the loss of innocents.

In a sane universe, something like the following would make sense:

In response to the threat of religiously motivated violence, the world’s 2 billion atheists, along with the moderate faithful and the many leaders across the West in particular, are decrying these outrages against humanity in no uncertain terms. They are highlighting the obvious link between some religious texts and the actions of certain groups and individuals and demanding that these scriptural passages are universally rejected as simply wrong and pronounced as incompatible with a desire for a peaceful, moral and tolerant world. They are not only insisting that all religious leaders drive through reform from within their communities but furthermore are doing all that they can to intercept the passing on of terrible ideas to the next generation by attempting to ensure that every child receives a modern, secular education, free from religious dogma. Finally and more generally, the separation of church and state is being steadfastly defended and reinforced.

Unfortunately however, we appear not to live in this sane universe, but one parallel to it, where truth and logic are strangers. Here is David Cameron’s response to the massacre of 132 children in Peshawar:

“There is not a belief system in the world that can justify this sort of appalling act. I think what this shows is the worldwide threat that is posed by this poisonous ideology of extremist Islamist terrorism. It is nothing to do with one of the world’s great religions – Islam, which is a religion of peace.”

Here is US president, Barack Obama, on ISIS:

“ISIS is not Islamic because Islam is a religion of peace.”

After the self-appointed Iranian Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, a man previously known for his habit of writing crude letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, walked into the Lindt Café in Sydney (incidentally, an establishment I have visited myself) with a shotgun and a black flag with the Shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith) written on it, and murdered two innocent people and shot a policeman in the face, Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, spoke these words:

“(Man Haron Monis) is a deeply unstable person with a long history of violence and mental illness… I guess one of the encouraging things is there are less and less of people trying to explain and justify terrorism in the name of religion.”

This mindless currying of favour with the public, rather than making nuanced arguments, is not only popular with politicians; some celebrities are also big fans, as was demonstrated recently by ‘Affleck-gate’. In the video below, mediocre American actor Ben Affleck loses both his marbles and his manners when he calls comedian Bill Maher, and author and neuroscientist Sam Harris “gross” and “racist” merely for articulating some of the undeniable intolerance and inequality that exists in parts of the Muslim world toward women, free-thinkers and homosexuals:

Video Link

At this moment in time, there appears to be no discernible plan at all by Western politicians to find a way out of the circle of violence.  I’m sorry to have to sign off the year on such a low.

 

“Islamophobia; a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

– Someone on Twitter


The War On Terror And Why We Should Care About Everyone

world

Over the past few days I’ve had to endure numerous tweeters and bloggers pondering whether the west should intervene in Northern Iraq, predicated upon concerns over cost, imperialism, what we might hope to achieve, how long it might take, the lives of our soldiers – almost everything in fact other than what ought to be worrying us; the lives of those poor Iraqis who are being starved, shot, beheaded, crucified, buried alive, raped and so on by the tens of thousands.  Of course, it goes without saying that if a group like ISIS took control of northern Europe for example, everyone in the developed world would know why America, let’s say, should intervene militarily, as indeed they did in June 1944.

But I think what has made this latest catastrophe in Iraq particularly unpalatable to me is that public opinion only seemed to turn in favour of air strikes against ISIS when it became apparent that Christians were being threatened in large numbers.  I thought perhaps I ought to check a calendar in case I’d entered a parallel universe where the year was 1400.  Having the love of Jesus in your heart sure seems to harden it in ways unfamiliar to myself at least.

So why wouldn’t the West help people in need if they have the resources to do so, regardless of the skin colour, nationality or religious belief of those who are in danger?  Why do we seem to have more concern for people who were born within the same lines drawn by other people (not God) on a piece of paper, or for people who worship the same God?  Why do we proudly boast about this?  For me, these questions run to the heart of the problems the world is currently facing, whether the subject is the economy, poverty, climate change or terrorism.  For sure we cannot hope to prevent scenarios such as that in Iraq re-occurring unless we begin to come up with the right answers to these questions – or in other words, until we begin to acknowledge what our responsibilities really are.

The status quo is nothing new.  Flagrantly misguided and irresponsible (to say nothing of outright mean and selfish) attitudes toward the wellbeing of other people have been writ large in recent years.  There is almost unanimous agreement that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq was a terrible mistake, and that now we have cleared Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps, we should leave and allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, as they surely will.  In Iraq, we are currently witnessing what happens if a tyrannical regime is ousted, advanced weaponry is stock piled, and then the liberators leave before properly securing it – i.e. before ensuring that a nation has its infrastructure fully rebuilt, its army well trained and its governance stabilised.

The truth is that the events that have led to the ISIS incursion are almost comical.  All that was needed to avoid it was a change of emphasis.  We should have prioritised actually doing a good job for the people of Iraq.  One can only wonder what conversations take place amongst ordinary Iraqis with regards to the Allied effort over the past 25 years.  For sure it’s too awful to even try to estimate how many lives might have been saved, including those of Allied soldiers, had we finished the job the first time around in 1991.

So firstly, I want to reiterate unapologetically that I think it is a good thing that we (finally) freed the Iraqi people from the tyranny of the Baathist regime, which essentially held Iraqis hostage to the will of the Hussein crime family for the worst part of 30 years, while continuously threatening the borders of neighbouring countries.  The oil money went straight into the pockets of Baath party thugs or was paid out as rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers – clear evidence of sponsorship of international terrorism by the way.

Though millions in Iraq lived in squalor due to 12 years’ worth of crippling sanctions imposed by the West in order to curtail Saddam’s military ambitions, he built countless palaces and mosques of ever increasing grandeur.  Freedom of speech was non-existent, thousands were being murdered regularly at Saddam’s behest to crush any hint of rebellion, and WMD’s were being vigorously sort after from North Korea and other pariah states.  Having gassed 250,000 people with chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan, no one should be under any illusions as to whether Saddam would have used such weapons again had he managed to get hold of them – the only debate should be where – or where first?

As for those types predisposed toward spouting inane drivel about the so called stability in Iraq under Saddam, maybe they might pause to ask themselves whether the families of the million and a half or so who died in the wars he started with Iran & Kuwait miss ‘that’ stability.  What a shame it is that we didn’t have the nerve or the will to win the peace after winning the war.

Perhaps even more astounding is the insistence that Allied forces leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, regardless of the situation and in spite of the fact that the current Afghan government has nowhere close to the means required to defend itself against a resurgent Taliban.  Why would anyone believe it to be a good thing for Afghans to again be exposed to such feudal brutality?

Mullah Omar’s men ruthlessly enforce Shari’a.  If a woman is raped in Afghanistan, they are immediately in even more danger the moment their ordeal of sexual assault is over because they are very often brutally punished for the perceived dishonour they have brought upon their menfolk by having sex out of wedlock – and sometimes they are stoned to death for it.  All women are forced to live their whole adult lives in a cloth bag with only a thin slit to look out through and they are forbidden from gaining an education or having a professional career.   Those who are caught attempting to defy these suffocating restrictions are most commonly attacked by having acid thrown in their faces, causing hideous disfigurements and occasionally death.  As if having their public lives mandated isn’t bad enough, Afghan women also have their home lives decided by other people.  Their husband is chosen for them (and the husband-to-be’s family pay a dowry, which equates to them paying for their son to rape an often pre-pubescent girl) and women must be a virgin on their wedding night or face violent reprisals from their communities, essentially meaning that they can never experience a loving relationship or have sex with someone of their own choosing.

I cannot think of any endeavour that should be more pressing upon our consciences than to try to protect the women of Afghanistan from having to live this reality, yet it seems to be almost an article of faith that we should leave them to the mercy of pious men as soon as possible.  Why aren’t feminists angry?  If nothing else, in an environment such as this, what does anyone imagine might be the mind-set of the next generation of men who are raised to subjugate women and only read one book?  Doesn’t anyone think that this might become a problem for us again one day?

We really do have to stop being so tribal.  We really must stop thinking of ourselves as British or American, as Christian or Islamic or whatever.  It’s meaningless.  Every life must be considered equally important for its own sake.  That might shake some people’s sense of identity but just think; instead we could identify ourselves with something far grander – the whole of planet earth.

There was a time when villages battled against each other, before realising it was counterproductive.  Later, whole regions, such as counties in England (Yorkshire against Lancashire for example) used to fight.  Then people turned their suspicions on neighbouring countries until, at least in the developed world, it became obvious that millions of people were dying for nothing, exemplified never more so than by the pointless bloodbath of The First World War.  Finally now, we have entered a new era – often controversially termed the clash of civilisations.  But with thousands of nuclear warheads in existence, most with a destructive force 30 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (just imagine the catastrophe), we really cannot afford to continue to be so childish or short sighted any longer.  We must start to think of ourselves primarily as members of the human race, with mutually shared goals to survive, flourish and minimise suffering.

Of course I’m not suggesting that we should intervene immediately everywhere that tyranny exists.  In many circumstances, thankfully, diplomacy is the best option.  However, we must get to grips with the fact that sometimes such a human emergency can unfold that immediate, decisive action is the only correct and effective course of action.  Turning a blind eye is not a moral choice.  Doing nothing does not mean that nothing happens, it just means that something else happens.

How long will it be before a crude nuclear device reaches our shores?  Many experts put the timeline for such an eventuality at less than ten years.  We are in much more danger than a lot of people seem prepared to acknowledge and isolationism is not the answer.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not western intervention that offends the likes of ISIS & Al-Qaeda, it is the uncovered face of a woman, homosexuals, the continued existence of Israel, and non-Muslims.  The extremists have been murdering dissenters for over a thousand years.  As Sam Harris pointedly asked: “What sanctions did we have in place in the year 900 AD?”

Check out the recent Vice News videos regarding ISIS on YouTube.  These people are truly terrifying and they mean business.  Here is their latest report:

Video Link

Our goal must be to encourage the formation of more stable, democratic governments and thus allow educated, secular communities to flourish.  This will undoubtedly take a very long time.  But we have no choice other than to commit to this path because the alternative is to un-movingly watch mass graves being dug from afar and await the next assault on our homelands?


Another Letter To A Believer

Dear Friend,

You told me that you read my previous letter, in which I challenged the logic of your beliefs.  Allow me now to anticipate the only other way to defend religion that I have ever encountered; that we need religion to be moral.

Before I deconstruct the arguments for this line of defence, it is necessary to make some broader observations with regards to this approach.  Firstly, as with the provision of consolation, arguing that religion makes us moral says nothing with regards to its truth.  Every religious person who is genuinely good may simply have been duped.  Indeed I would say that they certainly have been.  Further to this, I will argue in this letter that they are good in spite of religion, not because of it.  Secondly, it always pains me to have to point out what a dreadful world it would be if people were only good because they feared God’s wrath or hoped for his generous rewards.  Albert Einstein summed it up;

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

So does a belief in God make us behave better?  Are we less likely to be violent if we have faith?  Do religious people treat their fellow human beings with greater tolerance and compassion?  Who is more charitable – believers or atheists?

All we have to answer these questions are the facts.  Facts are everything because they tell us what is really happening, as opposed to what some people may wish to be true or what members of in-groups simply tell each other.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first of all.  Almost every war that has been fought in the past 1,000 years has been a religious war, from The Crusades (1095-1291) to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), through to the Catholic on Muslim genocide in The Balkans (1992-1995).  The Second World War, whilst not explicitly religious, certainly had its worst crimes inspired by religion.  Germany was overwhelmingly Catholic or Lutheran, and both of these are steeped in anti-Semitic traditions.  It is without question that this eased the path to implementing the Final Solution.  Hitler himself was a catholic, and invoked his faith in many of his speeches.

Today, the greatest risk to the destruction of large areas of our living space (and of course the instant death of millions of people) comes from three main threats; a dirty bomb (essentially a small, crude, nuclear device, perhaps as small as a briefcase) delivered by Jihadists, a full scale thermo-nuclear exchange over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or similar between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, both of whom are armed to the teeth with primed nukes, that are pointing almost exclusively at each other.  We should have no doubts in our minds that these are overtly religious conflicts, contrary to the insistence of many misguided liberals and much of the religious lobby.  How can we be sure of this?  Well, because this is what those involved in these disputes tell us.  To provide just one of many available examples, here is an excerpt from the Hamas charter:

“It is necessary to in steal in the minds of the Muslim generations that the Palestinian problem is a religious problem, and should be dealt with on this basis. Palestine contains Islamic holy sites. In it there is al-Aqsa Mosque which is bound to the great Mosque in Mecca in an inseparable bond…I swear by the holder of Mohammed’s soul that I would like to invade and be killed for the sake of Allah…”

If we can be sure of anything it’s that if we manage to destroy ourselves, it will be for the sake of an imaginary God.

When moving away from the theatre of war and its causes, it can likewise be shown that violence occurs most commonly (though of course not exclusively) among the religious on our streets and in our homes.  In America, where various polls inform us that four out of five people believe in God, only 0.2% of prison inmates profess to be atheist.  When ranking the US States by murder rate, almost all of the traditionally Christian bible belt States appear in the top half of the list.  In France, over 70% of prison inmates identify as Muslim.  Trends such as these are reflected unwaveringly across the entire world, by country and within their own demographic spread.

Surely though, the religious are more charitable?  Unfortunately, every non-bias study that has ever been conducted shows there is a perfect negative correlation between religiosity and the money donated per capita on an annual basis.  As Daniel Dennett noted:

“Needless to say, these results strike so hard at the standard claims of greater moral virtue among the religious that there has been a considerable surge of research initiated by religious organisations attempting to refute them.  One thing we can be sure of is that if there is a positive relationship between moral behaviour and religious affiliation it will soon be discovered, since so many are eager to confirm their traditional beliefs about this scientifically.  Every month that passes without such a demonstration underlines that it just isn’t so.”

And what of compassion and tolerance?  What does religious scripture demand relating to these noble traits, and is it reflected in how religious people act toward their fellow humans?

Let’s start with slavery.  Religious people are often credited with being at the forefront of the abolitionist movement in America.  Whilst on the surface this may appear to be the case, we should pause to question what really motivated them – was it an adherence to scripture?  What does the Bible have to say about slavery?

“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have, you may buy slaves from the nations that are round about you.  You may also buy from strangers and their families who have been born in your land, and they may be your property.” (Leviticus 25:44)

Was the New Testament, often (mis)credited with righting the wrongs of the brutal Old Testament, any better on the subject of slavery?

“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

“The slave who knew his master’s will and did not act will receive many lashes” (Luke 12:47)

Jesus clearly expected us to keep slaves and to beat them.  Oh merciful Lord!

Abolitionists did not have scripture on their side.  As with other social reforms, it was in fact the pressure of modern secular values and ethics that drove change, in spite of religion, not because of it.  The doors have only ever opened from the outside.

Two of the greatest struggles of the twentieth century with regards to social reform – those of equality for women and homosexuals have been, and are still being fought, almost entirely against religious groups. When we examine religious doctrines, it’s easy to see why.

Things start pretty badly for women in the Bible.  They are at first an afterthought, born from the spare parts of man, and not even given a name.  Eve, as we know her, is then the instigator of the original sin, and so responsible for the burdens of mankind until the end of days.  The subordination of women to men in the eyes of God is clear and their only purpose and chance of saviour comes as a wife and a mother.  There is nothing else in this life for a woman in the good book except to serve men.

The Koran makes great play of the impurity of women, especially during menstruation, so much so that men must not come into contact with them.  The Koran also informs us that the word of two women is required to equal that of one man.

“To the male goes the equivalent of the portion of two females (of inheritance).” Koran 4:11

“Men are in charge of women because Allah hath made one of them to excel over the other…so good women are obedient.  As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart and scourge them.” (Koran 4:34)

The first prayer a Jewish man must recite every day includes the giving of thanks to God for not making him a woman.  These attitudes, combined with the dogma of the virgin birth (an event we now know was not even in the original transcripts that eventually made up the Gospels, but rather was added later via what appears to be a deliberate mistranslation to enhance the case of Jesus’s messiah status), its illusions of purity and incitement of fear of female genitalia, have had terrible consequences for women through the ages, up to and including our own.

In Western societies, whilst it is bad enough that some countries did not give women the vote until after the Second World War (France, 1945, Belgium, 1946, Switzerland, 1971), there has been the constant need for women to fight for control over their own bodies, and to remain vigilant in the face of the ever present threat from the Godly.  In Ireland, where the Catholic church still calls the shots, abortion is illegal, and a tide of archaic reforms are creeping their way across the Bible belt in America, cynically obstructing women from access to sexual health information, birth control, even preventing rape crisis centres from advising on abortions.  In Ohio for example, laws have just passed that effectively cut off state funding to planned parenthood clinics and women are now obliged to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds before they can have an abortion – ultrasounds they must pay for themselves.

In societies that have been, or still are influenced by the teachings of Mohammed in particular, female genital mutilation (FGM), honour killings, dowry payments, gang rapes, acid attacks, niqabs, forced arranged marriages, lashings or even stonings due to a suspected lack of virginity (even after being raped) are things that we have become all too familiar with.  The honour of man before Allah is more important than the life or freedom of the lowly, lesser, impure woman as depicted in the Koran.

Homosexuals have fared little better under the gaze of the religious.  Once more, scripture is the source of their on-going misery:

“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”  (Leviticus 20:13)

Study after study (see: http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society.aspx) shows us that well over 90% of Muslims the world over believe homosexuality to be morally wrong on the basis of doctrinal instruction.  The Talmud informs us that a man without a wife is only half a man.

As a result, religious lobbies in Western societies have continually campaigned against the legal rights of homosexuals, against their equal treatment in the public sphere and against their admittance into armed forces.  Unconscionably, it took until 2011 for America to allow openly gay people to join their military.  Only this year (2013) have France and England legalised gay marriage, much to the dismay of almost every key religious figure, including the new, supposedly liberal, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Elsewhere, homosexuals are actually in danger of arrest or worse.  Russia has just made public displays of homosexuality illegal after a despicable campaign by their Orthodox Church and there are currently nine countries, all deeply religious societies, where the ‘crime’ of homosexuality is punishable by death (Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Somaliland, Mauritania, & The Maldives).  Uganda is on the brink of becoming the tenth, due in no small part to the efforts and the funding of evangelical Christians in America. (see: http://www.godlovesuganda.com/film/story/)

There are many other areas of public life where religion also imposes its dubious morals at the expense of the suffering of others.  The great Catholic cover-up of crimes of sexual abuse against children within their midst I have written of previously, and the religious obstruction of embryonic stem cell research, currently one of the most promising areas of medical research because it has the potential to produce cures for so many chronic conditions, is breath-taking for its arrogance and callousness.  It is essentially saying that a small cluster of cells in a petri dish should be of greater concern to us than a living person who is in pain or dying.

Approximately 100,000 children die each year from cancer, and many of them without access to painkillers.  A belief in God means believing that this is his will and that it is the best thing that could happen.  Furthermore, you must also believe it is righteous for many of these children to go on to suffer for all eternity in the fires of hell for being born to parents who worshipped the wrong God (or no God at all).  If it is not obvious to people that such interpretations of these tragedies are repugnant, then there may be no helping them.

It is time we came to our senses and ceased trying to make this awful outlook on life compatible with our innate desires to minimise suffering and maximise happiness.  It is time we are all honest enough to accept that some belief systems are simply ill-equipped to promote the sort of universal kindness we must surely aspire to.

Sam


A Letter To A Believer

Last week I had the extremely depressing experience of learning that someone I have worked alongside at a charity for almost a year, someone I greatly admire and respect for their kind, easy going nature – and for their intelligence, believes in God.  It really bothered me though, so when I got home I wrote an email to my friend.  Below is a slightly adapted version (to protect identities and make it relevant for everyone) of that email.

 

Dear Friend,

Never have I been so distraught to learn that someone is a believer in malicious, intolerant fairy tales.  You’re so kind and smart!  We didn’t have time to discuss what it is that you actually believe in detail, but you did say that you think God exists, that the bible is true and implied that praying works, so I’m going to challenge some these ideas in the hope of convincing you that these statements are not compatible with the real world.

Firstly, one hopes that you do not believe, as it says in the bible, that the world is around 6,000 years old and therefore that humans once walked around with dinosaurs.  This is of course as false as the assertion that I can fly – and both can be proven to be false beyond the doubt of any rational person.  The fact that life on earth is 4.6 billion years old and that all life has evolved from simple cellular structures, is beyond dispute.  If you don’t know this then please read a book on evolution.  This certain fact means that all life on earth is related.  You and I are cousins.  We are both cousins to that dog we met today.  The virus that was on your chest during the spring time is also your cousin (and mine, though I’m not so keen to meet that particular relative!).  These are all facts that can be proven.  They are unanimously accepted as true in the world of science.  The debate is over because the evidence is so overwhelming.

But isn’t it a wonderful thing?  What better reason is there to all be kind to one another and to be kind to animals, than the knowledge that we are all related and that we all get just one shot at this life.  To understand the true wonder of nature, how everything around us came about, how precious life is, how truly lucky we are even to be born (and how unlikely it was – your own existence is as close to a miracle as you will get), is mesmerizingly beautiful.  Ultimately, as everything on earth is a product of the big bang, it means that we are all quite literally made of stardust.  This is amazing!  How can you think that this is not enough (or feel sorry for me, as you said you did)?  What more do you want!?!  Looking up at the stars whilst gazing across the Grand Canyon and knowing that everything you see, including yourself, is made of the same ‘star stuff’(as Carl Sagan put it) ought to be more than enough for anyone.  In any case, it’s all we have.

You said that the bible is true, but you must know, aside from there being absolutely no evidence for such a statement, that the God of the bible condones genocide, infanticide, stoning women to death simply for not being a virgin on their wedding night, slavery, torture, homophobia, misogyny, even, as I said, killing people for eating seafood.  This is all true.  You are free to go and look it up.  The girl who overheard us, and interrupted on your behalf, said that these things were “true for then.”  You seemed impressed by this, but you must surely see that this is one of my best arguments!  Indeed these were people who knew nothing of the world as we understand it now.  They thought the earth was flat and would have been amazed by the engineering feat of a push bike.  We all tacitly accept that we’ve moved on.  So move on.  Biblical explanations of our world are merely the best guesses of people who didn’t understand that we live on a cooling planet with a thin crust, and so imagined volcanoes and tsunamis were the wrath of God.  They didn’t understand the germ theory of disease, and so mused that illness was a punishment.  It’s understandable that they thought such things.  But now we know the real answers.

You said that praying had helped you through some tough times – that God is a source of consolation.  The first thing you must acknowledge here is that this says nothing about the truth of his existence.  This could simply be a placebo (and I concede that on the surface it appears to be so for many people).  But it comes at a price.  A price paid by science, medicine, technology and politics every day.  If it wasn’t for religion we may have had penicillin and the microchip by the year 1600.  It really amazes me how anyone imagines a lie to be the best source of consolation.  Psychologists call this ‘spiritual bypassing’.  Understanding the truth and the nature of reality is the best source of consolation.  In this space, one can properly grieve and move on.  It is psychologically unhealthy to turn to invisible friends for comfort.  We must learn this truth if we want to be mentally stable.

You asked “what is truth?”  It is a common trait of religious people to believe there is some deep mystery behind the word.  But in reality we all understand its meaning, and (for the most part!) this is reflected in how everyone behaves.  Truth is what can be demonstrated to be true.  We know that two plus two equals four.  We know that if we touch something hot it will burn and that if we do not eat and drink enough we will feel unwell.  We trust planes to fly, our mobile phones to work.  You show your belief in these laws of physics, chemistry and biology, and demonstrate your understanding of them to be true every moment of every day.

You spoke of having faith as though it is a gift that I am unfortunate not to have.  But faith is merely the suspension of your critical faculties.  It’s believing in the absence of evidence – or in spite of evidence to the contrary, and you do not behave in this way in any other aspect of your life.  Ignoring undeniable evidence is nothing to be proud of.  Again, to quote Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary explanations.”  Faith just doesn’t cut it.

You should also question why you have this faith.  I mean really question it, not just unthinkingly reach for the lazy answer that it is a gift from God.  Ask yourself whether it is plausible that you think this way only because your parents and the society you were brought up in influenced you.  When we consider that almost everyone in Iran is a Muslim, almost everyone in Italy is a Catholic and almost everyone in Israel is Jewish, is it possible that these things are merely an accident of birth?  Is it possible that they are traditions simply passed down from generation to generation?  Is it possible that faith is in fact more comparable to a virus than a gift?

Finally you spoke of numbers.  You said that more people believe than do not.  I’m not so sure of the statistical accuracy of this.  Certainly in western Europe it is about 50/50 and almost all of China and Japan rejects the Abrahamic traditions at least.  But there are other problems with this statement.  You must observe that there was a time not so long ago when almost 100% of people believed in God in western societies.  The reason this has changed should be obvious to you.  We are literally educating ourselves out of a belief in superstitions.  Also, even if 99% of people believed in God right now, this would still not be convincing.  There was a time when everyone thought that the world was flat, but they were wrong.  Facts and evidence trump all else.

I hope you know that I mean no harm.  It’s just that being sceptical is such a wonderful thing that I wish to share it with you.  It’s true that we don’t know everything, such as how it all got started, but that doesn’t mean God did it.  There are infinite possibilities.  It is far more honest and humble to say that you don’t know and that you are awaiting the evidence, than simply to credit God (which God?).  The truth is that you understand my position far more than you let on.  Historians have identified somewhere around 2700 Gods that mankind has invented.  You know exactly how it feels to be an atheist with regards to 2699 of those Gods.  Some of us just go one God further.

Regards,

Sam


THE UNBELIEVERS – Official Movie Trailer

‘The Unbelievers’ follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues.

Also starring:  Cameron Diaz, Ricky Gervais, Adam Savage, Penn Jillette, Woody Allen, Eddie Izzard, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, Ian McEwan and Stephen Hawking.

Release Date: The World Premier is on 29th April in Toronto, Canada.

 

Watch the trailer below (1 min 47 secs)