Promoting logic, reason, and skepticism
I sent an e-mail to the owner of a Christian tract site asking if I could order custom tract booklets instead of just two-sided tracts, although I admitted that my religious views likely conflict with theirs. It's a business, so of course I'd be paying for it. I predicted that I'd be refused service before sending the first e-mail, but I sent the e-mail anyway mostly for amusement but also in case they might actually work with me. Here's how it went; I'm currently waiting for another reply and will update this as new messages are sent.
Message 1 - From Me on Nov 23, 2011, at 10:56 AM
I'm interested in ordering custom tracts from your site. However, I have a few questions before I get started. Can I order custom tract booklets, or only two-sides tracts? Also, there's a good chance that my particular views are different from the people who will be involved. Will I be discriminated against and refused service for holding different views?
Message 2 - From Him on Nov 28, 2011, at 1:17 PM
Thanks for contacting us Roger!
We DO offer booklets and folded tracts, however the booklet tracts are MUCH more expensive than the 2 sided tracts. I'd be happy to get you a quote if you know more specifically what you'd be wanting to do.
As for your different views, as long as they didn't contradict foundational Christian principals, or if they were in reference to non-essential doctrines, there would not be a problem to print them. However, if your views would be considered "heretical" to the historical Christian church, or subvert the essence of the Gospel, then we would not be able to help you. If you would give us a little insight as to your views, i could be more specific.
Let us know how else we can help!
IN His Grace, BY His Grace,
[removed for privacy]
Message 3 - From Me on Nov 29, 2011, at 12:43 PM
To give you an idea of what I'm looking for, I'll send you a pamphlet and images of the front and back of a business card tract. I designed the pamphlet so that it's meant to be read starting with the rightmost column on the first page, followed by the second page as usual and then the first two columns of the first page. These are a bit expensive and time consuming to print and fold by hand, and space is limited. I used a business card company to print 1,000 of my business card tract designs, but space is even more limited here. A booklet tract would be best for mass-producing detailed messages with attention given to each point.
It is apparent that my views would conflict with yours, but I considered the possibility of your business not discriminating against customers based on religious views. If I won't be turned away, I am interested in that quote. What I have in mind in terms of length is difficult to say since I've never attempted to make a booklet tract. It would be easier to see what I'm doing as I'm making it so I know how much space I have to work with, but perhaps 10-15 pages would be sufficient depending on the page and font sizes.
Pamphlet: Side 1 | Side 2
Tract: Side 1 | Side 2
Message 4 - From Him on Nov 29, 2011, at 6:37 PM
I'm afraid to tell you that your views are 100% in conflict with my views. Printing something that goes against everything I believe would be disingenuous. I simply cannot in good conscience print that material, so giving a quote would be irrelevant.
As you would imagine, I find that there are many holes in the arguments you put forth. I do find it surprising that an atheist such as yourself would try to persuade others with the use of a tract like this. Kind of seems a waste of time. If the Bible is correct, people who don't have their sins forgiven will spend eternity in a lake of fire. If atheism is correct, then when we die absolutely nothing will happen - we get to rest. Why the bother of convincing people of this view?
I'd be happy to discuss your views in any depth if you wish, but unfortunately, i cannot help you with your printing needs.
Message 5 - From Me on Nov 29, 2011, at 9:30 PM
Pascal's Wager is a false dichotomy that assumes only two possible outcomes: a given branch of Christianity is correct, or there is no god. On the contrary, there are over 4,200 religious views in the world or at least have been over the course of human history. It's not a matter of accepting the existence of a god versus not accepting it; disregarding the existence of non-theistic views such as deism and pantheism, monotheism and polytheism alone offer so many conflicting notions about the supernatural that even if one believed in "a" god, the amount of choices is overwhelming.
Some say that religion can only bring about positive change. If one believes in god, even if god isn't real, there's the feeling of always being watched and therefore further incentive to not do what one perceives as wrong. Belief and assurance in a positive afterlife make it easier to accept death and the loss of loved ones, even if there is no afterlife. Yet, accepting a premise as absolute truth with absolutely no proof is intellectually dishonest; even worse, actively engaging in any of the major monotheistic religions requires sacrificing the only life anyone is guaranteed to ever have.
The harm caused by religion can be evident everywhere from an "average" Christian who attempts to live a Christian lifestyle to extremists in Africa who kill their daughters for being suspected witches. The latter can be ignored because every group of people has good and bad representatives, but I find it saddening when a friend posts on facebook that without god she wouldn't even be able to breathe. She believes she truly deserves to spend eternity in hell, but it is only by god's grace that she has the opportunity to go to heaven or is even alive. I feel that many Christians are dependent on god like some people are dependent on drugs; without god, they feel like they are nothing and capable of nothing. Parents tell their children that they're flawed beings in the eyes of a loving god and that they are deserving of eternal torture.
It's important to have standards of evidence and to be aware of the confirmation bias so that it may be avoided. If I wanted to sell you beach-front property in Nevada, you would have good reason to be skeptical. Based on what you know about the world, the chances of such property even existing would be relatively small. It may exist, but I'm sure you would want evidence of such a place before even considering a purchase. You would want to see it. Sure, not everything that exists can be seen, such as gravity, but that doesn't mean it can't be proven.
When people accept the existence of god without any evidence, refuse to consider the possibility that they're wrong, and deny any conflicting ideas solely on the basis that they contradict their presuppositions, this is what I would call delusion and complete intellectual dishonesty. If Christianity is true, people shouldn't be afraid to question it. If light is shined on the truth, it will be even more apparent that it's true. Yet, the majority of Christians I've known are terrified at the thought of even questioning their beliefs. Ironically, people of other religions are expected to do the exact same thing in order to convert to Christianity, lest they burn for eternity for choosing the wrong collection of superstitious beliefs.
The lack of evidence against the Judeo-Christian god isn't the only reason to disbelieve. There are also philosophical flags that are raised when considering the implications of its claims, such as the ones mentioned in my current materials. God judges imperfect beings to standards of perfection with an eternal fate based on a finite period of time, basing this decision on belief and acceptance of Jesus rather than actions, motives, or any other factor. A loving god wouldn't create a universe in which the only alternative to believing a specific thing without providing proof for that belief is eternal torture. Even a finite period of torture would be barbaric, but god supposedly doesn't give any second chances after death. When people face god and learn that they had the wrong beliefs but now finally have a reason to know the truth, it's too late. Even spiritual death like the JWs believe would be closer to the description of a loving god, or perhaps letting everyone who desires to be with god to go through a period of learning not to sin or simply being cleansed of their sinful nature.
But since Jesus is supposedly the way, the truth, the life, and the only way into heaven, god's omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence clash into each other. An omniscient god would know what it would take to convince each individual of his existence as well as the need to accept Jesus as savior, since the wages of sin is [sic] death. An omnipotent god would be able to make this a reality, such as personal revelation including but not limited to the kinds of communication with humans that occurred in the OT. A benevolent god would carry this out with the best interest of each individual in mind. A god who loves sinners but not sin would pardon the sin and/or make the door to heaven visible to everyone. This would not violate free will — especially of those who desire to know the truth — since knowledge of existence does not imply lack of choice to comply. Knowing that god is real — which many theists claim to know — would not force people to obey god's commands.
The reason I leave tracts and engage in religious debate is that I think it is healthy for people to question their views and try to better understand conflicting views, religious or otherwise. This of course includes atheists, who should be willing to consider god should proof of one's existence ever arise. I've also learned a lot about different views by debating and researching, although I admittedly still have a lot to learn, mostly with non-Christian theologies. If you have any proof of this god's existence that isn't fundamentally logically flawed (such as god of the gaps, Pascal's Wager, and so on), I would be happy to see, hear, or experience it. I used to be a Christian and passionately religious when I was younger, so I know what it's like to believe and to have a personal relationship with god. I know how it feels to be saved and to see close ones come to know Jesus. But after realizing that god most probably does not exist, my mind was freed, and I now have standards of evidence that everything — including and especially god — must meet.
Message 6 - From Him on Jan 2, 2012, at 1:08 PM
I'm so sorry for taking so long to get back to you. Thanksgiving and Christmas are our busiest time of the year, and it has been hectic. I did want to reply to your email and address some points that you brought up.
First, it appears sadly that you had a false conversion. It may be offensive to you to hear that, but its an unfortunate reality. You see, Christianity is not just some belief, and if you believe it, you're in. It's a supernatural changing of a person's nature from one that hates God and Jesus Christ to one that loves Him. If God doesn't exist (like you believe now) then your heart was never changed (nor could it have been) so your experience was not genuine. If God does not exist, then Christianity is a hoax and nobody is genuine. If you DID have a true conversion, then you would be admitting that God is real, and therefore your current position is false.
I agree with you about Pascal's wager. The entire premise is flawed. Whether there are more than two options is irrelevant; it should never be used with Christianity. Christianity is not about "giving it a try" and "hoping for the best" it's not about "having a better life" or "insuring for the afterlife" It's about the lordship of Jesus Christ and wholly giving your all to him in repentance and faith. Anything short of that is a false Christianity.
Also, the fact that there are over 4,000 religious views (i would estimate MUCH higher than that) is irrelevant. Many incorrect answers does not mean that there isn't a correct answer. There are an infinite number of incorrect answers to the question "What does 2 plus 2 equal?" That does not diminish the fact that the correct answer is "four".
You say that "accepting a premise as absolute truth with absolutely no proof is dishonest.." This is what baffles me. I think there is an infinite amount of proof that God exists, however you reject even the thought. When you look at a building, even though you have no idea who the builder is, you wouldn't for a minute assume that the building happened on it's own. It took a designer, a builder. Same with a painting. There's no way to have a logical painting without someone to paint it. If something as simple as a building or a 747 jet HAD to have a builder and designer, then how could something that is infinitely more complex, such as even a common earth worm, have come about without a designer. It's logical suicide to make that leap of "faith" into atheism.
One thing i would agree with you on is that religion has done very much harm. However, you see religion much differently than I do. All over the world, religion is man trying to please God. Christianity is different in that it knows that man can never please God, but he comes to save us anyway. True Christianity has ever only been a help to society. Anyone killing their children is in no way a true Christian. Heck, even Hitler claimed to be Christian. We KNOW that was not true. That's like claiming to be vegetarian, and yet eating a juicy steak for dinner every night. One's claims are validated by their actions. Anyone claiming to be Christian, but acting differently is no more a Christian than a goat.
You marvel at those thinking they are not good in God's eyes. It amazes me at how good you must think that you are. Have you even bothered to look at the Ten Commandments? I know you don't believe in them, but if you're anything like me, you have most likely broken every single one of them. The first says that you should have no other gods before him. You don't even believe in God, so you've broken that one. The second is to not create any idols. This also includes putting things in front of God in importance. He gave you life, breath and everything you hold dear, yet you make it your duty to try to "educate" people into believing He doesn't exist. You have broken that commandment too. How about the seventh commandment, committing adultery. Jesus even took it a step further and said that if you even look with lust, you've committed adultery in your heart. If you say you've never done that, then you'd be breaking the ninth commandment about bearing false witness (lying). It's not that we've just broken a few of the commandments... It's that we've broken ALL of the commandments. It's not that we sometimes sin, it's that we do nothing BUT sin. And after all this, a loving God STILL offers forgiveness?? Wow.
It all boils down to this. It's not about evidence. You KNOW there's a God. It comes down to obedience. You just don't want that God telling you what to do. It's a tough think to think about, and our natural tendency is to want it our way.
I fear that your thinking is ultimately pragmatic. If you can't understand something, then it doesn't exist. God's omnipotence, benevolence, and omniscience fit perfectly with one another. The problem is that you think man is inherently good and refuse to look at yourself as an example. Once you see things how they really are, God's love looks simply amazing. Then it all makes perfect sense. When you think that people DESERVE heaven, then it looks like God is a tyrant and is preventing them from getting there by making all these rules. If people were inherently good, i would agree with you. Knowing myself, i know that to be the farthest thing from the truth.
I hope you had a blessed Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a happy new year.
Message 7 - From Me on Jan 7, 2012, at 1:31 AM
No problem; at first I thought you wouldn't reply, but I know how busy the holidays can be.
I've heard from many Christians that I wasn't a true Christian and was never saved because if I was, I wouldn't have "left." I don't find this notion offensive because I understand this point of view completely. Being saved is a life-changing and powerful experience where a person is fully transformed and born again. Being such a powerful and important event, it would seem inexplicably absurd to in the near future consider it a false experience if it were in fact genuine. However, becoming an atheist wasn't a matter of thinking, "I believe in Jesus but no longer choose to follow him." Rather, I stopped believing in god, and with that I stopped believing in sin, salvation, heaven, hell, the soul, and everything supernatural altogether.
If god doesn't exist, it doesn't mean that people can't feel like they're saved or feel the effects of that god. Children can fear the boogeyman or feel Santa's presence without them existing. Christians can fall to their knees in tears without their beliefs being true. So can Muslims, Hindus, and so on. Even though I don't believe in god now, feeling saved was possible in the past because I did believe at the time. I'm not defending my salvation because I feel it has an effect now, because I don't believe in an afterlife; rather, I am responding to a common claim that true Christians can't become non-Christians. As much as many Christians would like to deny it, it does happen. There are true Christians who are passionate about their faith, who have a personal relationship with god and strive to follow Jesus' teachings, but for whatever reason eventually stop believing.
In general, there are two predominant types of atheists. There are those that have never been religious and can't understand why anyone would believe in anything supernatural, and there are ex-religious atheists who have been on both sides of the fence. I'm the latter, and to my surprise many atheists have also been religious at one point. It seems that I was probably more deeply religious than most other atheists I've known (which aren't many), but my point is that ex-Christian atheists are more common than many people might think, since when a religious group talks about conversions, it's usually limited to people converting to that religion.
Even I wouldn't completely say that Christianity is a hoax if it's implied that people intentionally deceive others. I don't doubt that many — possibly the majority of — pastors are genuine. There may be some that fake belief for money, popularity, or power, but I'll assume that most believe what they're preaching and aren't scam artists. I don't doubt that Christians believe that Christianity is true. It's very evident that they do, especially when they are willing to throw their lives away for it. But to clarify, I used to be a genuine believer and did believe that I deserved to go to hell, but through god's grace and Jesus' sacrifice, I could be forgiven and avoid the fate I deserved as a sinner. The difference is that now I don't believe, so I don't believe that anyone is "saved," nor do I believe in sin for which people need saving.
One thing I find amusing is that every branch (and sometimes even individual denominations within each branch) think they're the only true Christians, and other Christians are false. I haven't thoroughly studied other religions, but from what I've gathered Christianity seems to be the most divided religion of all. It can be argued that every person has an individual view of who god is and what a true Christian (or member of their own religious view) should be like. As your analogy suggests, no matter how many different beliefs there are, there is ultimately only one truth. However, I find this to be evidence against a loving, merciful, just, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god, as such a being would not hold people accountable for believing the wrong thing, especially without making it extremely clear to every person what the truth is in a convincing way.
The argument from design — including the watchmaker argument and Ray Comfort's divine painter analogy — compares things that appear in nature by natural laws with things that are designed by living organisms. Ants build anthills; bees build hives; birds build nests; and humans build houses. These homes do not form on their own, but ants, bees, birds, and humans do. Not spontaneously, of course, but there are natural explanations for how entire galaxies form as well as how life through non-random natural selection is capable of diversifying over time.
I'll go further with the analogy. As you say, does a Boeing 747 form on its own in nature? No, but it also doesn't form on its own when people make them. It requires resources, planning, and time. Looking only at life in its current form is like looking at a finished 747 and assuming it poofed into existence as-is without being built piece by piece. Likewise, humans and other life forms didn't poof into existence in their current forms. Looking at a finished outcome of a natural event can give the illusion of design. Life and the universe are both diverse, complex, and beautiful; but the current picture is a result of billions of years of gravity, nuclear fusion, massive supernovae, harsh fights for survival in a world that surely wasn't designed for its inhabitants, and a select few species surviving several individual and mass extinctions.
Accepting an intelligent designer not only requires faith in the existence of the designer, but it also often requires rejection of contrary evidence. Galileo was persecuted by the Church because of his discovery of our solar system being heliocentric rather than geocentric; if the Earth in fact moves around the Sun, then the Earth isn't the center of the universe, making it a bit less special. Likewise, the theory of evolution has been under constant attack by theologians because if humans weren't created in their current forms, then we're also not as special and not as likely created in god's image. There are some Christians that do accept evolution and simply say that god used it to create humans, but to my observation most don't for the sole reason that it contradicts their views of how god created everything.
On the contrary, atheism doesn't require faith because there are no atheistic beliefs, only a non-belief in any god. Some atheists do believe that there is no god, but to my knowledge they are the minority. Many other atheists and I are surprisingly open to conflicting views; but because of a tendency toward skepticism, it will take more to convince an average atheist of an extraordinary claim than it will to convince an average person who already believes in extraordinary claims. I would like to take this opportunity to also clear up a common misconception about atheism, that being its relationship with science. Atheists don't "believe" in science like theists believe in religion. If something comes along that challenges or even disproves evolution, our understanding of gravity, or any other scientific principle, I won't attack it for blasphemy or stand by cherished scientific beliefs for the sake of tradition. Science actually benefits when new discoveries are made that influence previous understanding. Also, atheists don't necessarily view science as an alternative to religion, just like not all Christians reject science.
A very common tactic for a group is to put its favorable members in a spotlight and dismiss its unfavorable members as not being true members. If I'm correct, radical Muslims who believe that suicide bombing is a ticket to heaven don't see non-radicals as true Muslims. This is possible because of so many different notions of what a true member is. I've heard dozens of different definitions of what a true Christian is. I had my own definition when I was one myself. Some say that a true Christian is one who strives to be like Jesus in every possible way. Some say that true Christians make spreading the word a priority and that anyone who doesn't isn't genuine. Some say that true Christians don't celebrate pagan holidays such as Christmas. What most of them have in common is a lack of hesitation to dismiss individuals that give the group a bad image.
I don't think that I am "good" in the sense of being flawless, although my views of good and bad are different from those of Christianity. One thing worth noting is that Christianity accepts the notion of absolute morality, where anything god commands is the only morally correct action, and anything god does is the best possible action given his moral authority and omniscience. God could command everyone to give their first child as a sacrifice to him, and not doing so would be a sin punishable by eternal torture. Any hesitation would be labeled Satan trying to deceive people. Your reply will likely be that god would never command such a thing (despite him directly killing the firstborn of Egypt), but that wasn't my point. With absolute morality, god doesn't command something because it's morally good; what he commands becomes morally good because he commands it.
With that said, I'm very familiar with the original ten commandments as well as Jesus' "revision" of those. Yes, I've done the things you've mentioned, as have Christians. But are they sin? Do they warrant eternal torture? This is where I disagree and where god's qualities come into conflict. In order for sin to exist, god must exist. Since I don't believe god exists, I don't believe sin exists. Even if sin did exist, hell is an unjust punishment that is infinitely excessive for sin. Christians argue that sin is eternal because it is a transgression against an eternal being, but ultimately people are sinful by nature, which means they can't help the way they are; also, sins happen during a finite period of time, whereas hell is an eternal punishment with no second chances or post-death forgiveness. Would a loving parent lock a child in a basement for pouting or disobeying an order and torture him for the rest of his life? No, that would be absurd and inhumane. Even a brief period of torture would be cruel and unjust. Yet, this "loving" god supposedly created a universe in which this is the only alternative to happening to believe in a single tale among thousands. Judging humans for the way they're made is like painting toys red and then smashing them with a hammer for not being blue. People are cursed from the start, thrown into a confusing mix of mostly false views, and tasked with choosing the correct one with the threat of eternal torture if they choose wrongly.
Actually, if there was a god I would want to know about it. I don't want to stop existing after I die; it's just that I'm not convinced that any form of existence after complete death exists. I would love to be reincarnated as a new person, go to an eternal paradise, or even be a wandering spirit with some form of awareness after death. Unfortunately, what is true is more important to me than what I want to be true. As much as I want to continue existing after death, I have no reason to believe that I will. I don't believe that god exists, but quite frankly, if one did, I would hope that it wouldn't be the Judeo-Christian god and that instead it would be a loving, merciful god that wouldn't sadistically torture its own children for not believing the correct thing. But if this god is real, then the main reason to follow it is fear. It would take bowing to a ruthless dictator, telling it how great it is while surrounded by death, suffering, and the screams of loved ones from a lake of fire.
I don't think that man is inherently good. I don't see myself or any other person as a perfect being. Yet, it would take the lowest possible standards to see humans as deserving of eternal torture, regardless of what they have done. Even Hitler, in my view, is not deserving of never-ending punishment. Perhaps that makes me more loving and forgiving than god is. When people wrong me in some way, I don't wish for them to die or to suffer. Unlike god, if someone lies to me or deceives me, I don't torture them or even want to. I also don't make people go through a ritual in order to be worthy of my forgiveness.
I did have a good Christmas and hope you did too. I celebrate it in a way that is closer to its roots than the Christian celebration of Jesus' birthday; even if a man named Jesus that the character of the New Testament is based off of did exist, historians agree that his birthday was not December 25. Of course I didn't go to church, although I did consider going to hand out some of my materials. I'm still looking forward to any proof that you may have that god exists, although if he does and is benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, he'll know what it will take to convince me of his existence and will do it. Until then, I will see my current position of the non-existence of god and all other supernatural entities as the most probable truth with all things considered.
Jul 7, 2012
Created the My Views page