Monday, June 22, 2009

The Atheist Test

Bad enough that I had to give away my left arm to get my car out of the mechanic's shop. But now, this other guy-- he's trying to force a conversation with me. I wasn't quite in the mood and his chattiness added to my frustrations. I was about to give away my precious arm in exchange for the repairs on my clunky car.

Couldn't he just let me suffer my pain in peace and quietness?

Don't get me wrong, the guy was very friendly. Very likable guy under any other set of circumstances.

But the moment I walked up to the counter, I knew deep within myself that he had an agenda. I just wasn't sure what that agenda was.

And I didn't feel like dealing with whatever agenda he had while preparing to give away my left arm.

He went on about how hot it was outside.
He went on about how cool it was inside.
He went on about how the fellow sitting behind me had been waiting a very long time to retrieve his car.

(Oh great. That means I'll be waiting a while, too.)

Then almost on cue, the mechanics pull up with the fellow's car. The poor guy that was waiting all this time is finally set free. He waves goodbye as he leaves me all alone with "the talker".

Now the guy goes on and on about how the other fellow finally retrieved his car and can now go back to work.

I finally give in --

"Yeah", I say. "Now he's got to hurry back to work so he can earn enough to pay for his car repairs."

"Ain't that the truth. Man, you know, it's good that we're finally in the middle of the year. Now your finally making money for yourself".

I suppose he saw a puzzled look on my face, so he continued.

"Did you know that half the year we just work to pay our taxes? You only make money for yourself in the second half of the year".

I began to wonder to myself what he was trying to sell.

And I knew it was coming, whatever it was.

Some financial service? Some medical plan? A dental plan? Expired meat from the trunk of his car?

He wanted something from me. What was it?

My other arm?

"Man I tell ya, these taxes are getting so high. Why, when I was doing missionary work in . . . ."

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

Ah Ha! He was gearing up to witness to me! I knew it!

" . . . when I was doing missionary work in (some foreign European country) the people complained about paying super high taxes. All the socialist programs took up half their money. That's where we're headed here in America before too long".

What was taking that clerk so long to come to the counter?

Maybe losing a left arm won't be so bad after all.

A quick glance at the notebook resting in his lap reveled yet another book tucked inside. I caught a glimpse of that unmistakable image of a cross on the cover of his book.

Now, I must say again that the guy was very kind and friendly. He even got the clerk's attention for me so I wouldn't have to keep waiting. A very kind gesture. I had no idea the clerk was sitting in a little room just behind the cash register.

So, I have nothing against the guy.

But I knew he was trying to force a connection with me from the moment I walked in. I knew he wanted to try and convince me of something before we parted ways.

And for some reason, that realization bugged me.

I made my transaction for my vehicle and bled money all over the counter.

Then I started out to my car so that I could hurry back to work. Now I gotta try to stop the financial hemorrhaging.

Couldn't get out the door fast enough.

"Oh, before you go, I'd like to leave you with something . . ."

I'm too nice to say "no", so I took his little pocket sized religious tract.

I thanked him and shoved it into my pocket.

What an odd feeling! I've witnessed to so many people in my life. So awkward to be on the receiving end!

When I arrived back to work, I sat in the parking lot for a moment. I pulled out the tract and took a glance.

A picture of Einstein, a banana and a coke can jump out at me, along with the tract title:

The Atheist Test

"Ooooh boy", I thought to myself. "Now this is going to be fun".

So, my next few posts will discuss the arguments against atheism found within that little religious tract. Then, I will share my reactions to those arguments.

And of course, your reactions are welcomed too.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Money, Money, Money

I went to church again this past Sunday. (Yeah, what's up with that?!) This time, we went to a Missionary Baptist Church as opposed to a Pentecostal Church. My roots are in the Missionary Baptist church, so I was quite familiar with the scene. The visit brought back a lot of memories.

You can be sure that since I went to church, my mom was involved. But the choice of venue was my wife's influence.

While my wife maintains she doesn't agree with the Bible, she still finds comfort in the atmosphere of church. She enjoys the sense of community and belonging. A pleasant church visit can conjure nostalgia.

At least, until the misogynistic rhetoric starts up. Then, she's ready to go home

And on the way home, she puzzles over why she even bothered to darken the doorway of church once again.

We were first time visitors with this congregation; I enjoyed the anonymity very much. No sense of obligation.

Funny that the pastor decided to preach about stewardship that Sunday morning.

Overall, the sermon wasn't bad. He was very entertaining and witty. He didn't yell at us like some preachers do. But he was adamant that the congregation gave feedback-- preferably in the form of amen and that's right preacher, now ya talking!

So, I was actually enjoying everything. I wasn't even arguing against the preacher in my head. I was being a good little church mouse.

Until he said . . .

The Bible contains more versus pertaining to money than versus which pertain to salvation.


He made this statement in an attempt to support his teachings about tithes and offerings-- and of giving in general.

He was attempting to say that God really, really cares about money. God takes his money seriously. And you're in serious trouble if you don't pay God what you owe him.

The pastor argued that the Bible speaks so much about money because so few people worship God over their wallets. He claimed that the Bible needs to spend a lot of words warning people against transforming money into an idol god. This is why the verses about money outnumber the verses about salvation.

I haven't verified his statement about money being mentioned more than salvation. But if this is true, I personally find that fact disturbing.

No wonder people argue about how to be saved! The Biblical authors spent more words ensuring they were properly paid!

But this giving that the pastor preached about goes way beyond money. You have to give not only your money but your time. Your children. Your best.

Your soul.

"No man can server to masters", he preached. "You will either love one and hate the other. You can not serve God and mammon (money)".

When I was a believer, I would earnestly call Jesus my master. But now that I've lost my faith, I sometimes wonder if the church is simply about the business of making us all slaves.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

If . . . Then . . .

So, I started thinking to myself . . .

If God does exists, then God endorses a particular scripture text.

After making that statement, I wondered about the validity of it. Particularly, I wondered about whether God's existence necessitates his endorsement of a particular scripture text.

If God does exist and God does endorse a particular scripture text-- then, which text do I need to obey? By what criteria can we tell?

If we use miracles as our criteria, how do we validate these miracles if we were not living when they happened? We cannot exactly disprove them either. But, if we consider that miracles are hard to come by today, we cannot be blamed for thinking that miracles were hard to come by a long time ago.

If our criteria is prophesy, can we test to see if historical accounts of a secular nature also give testimony of the prophecy's outcome? Also, how do we know that the alleged prophesy was not written in hindsight?

What if the alleged prophesy was never written to even be prophetic?

If God does not exist then obviously no scripture text could ever be endorsed by him (or her) at all.

And that is precisely why scripture tends to be non-effective towards most atheists. If God does not exist, then he cannot endorse any religious text at all. Thus, all religion happens to be an anthropic phenomena.

God could exist and not endorse any religious text at all. Perhaps no religious text suits her (or his gender neutral) fancy and therefore inadequately informs us what God really wants out of us. That would then suggest that she (or he) doesn't mind much if we come to the wrong conclusions about religious faith. Or maybe we're all in for one helluva ride!

Hey, can "he" be gender neutral? "She" can't be gender neutral either, right? Not in English anyhow . . . I suppose . . . oh, never mind.

Reminiscent of the Sound-off segments from the Disevangelists blog, any thoughts about the above premises and it's possibilities:

A) God exists and endorses a specific scripture text.

Can we prove or disprove that. If so, how?

B) God exists, but God does not favor the scripture text that you read.

If that is true, can scripture still be inspired of God even if it only partially delivers the correct message to humanity? Do we just get the important lessons and try our best to have a good relationship with God and our fellow man? Or are we all in trouble because no one has been obedient enough to declare God's 'true' words yet?

C) God does not exist and all scripture is just made up.

Can one prove or disprove that scripture is made up? If you can prove that scripture is made up, does that still mean God does not exist? Which scriptures are made up and why isn't the one you favor legitimate?

On what grounds do atheists really say God is non-existent.

By the way, I miss you guys over there at Disevangelists. I know you've all been quite busy in your personal lives. I understand. I'm just sayin' . . .

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Feuding Faiths?

Again, I'm sharing another e-mail forward. But this time, I'm contrasting this e-mail anecdote with words from President Barack Obama.

First, the e-mail:

Subject: Muslim Belief, why Jesus trumps allah

This is a true story and the author, Rick Mathes, is a well-known leader in prison ministry. The man who walks with God always gets to his destination. If you have a pulse you have a purpose.

The Muslim religion is the fastest growing religion per capita in the United States , especially in the minority races!!!

Last month I attended my annual training session that's required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths, who explained each
of their beliefs.

I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say.. The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video.

After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers. When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and asked: 'Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the
world and, that by killing an infidel, (which is a command to all Muslims) they are assured of a place in heaven.. If that's the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?'

There was no disagreement with my statements and, without hesitation, he replied, 'Non-believers!'
I responded, 'So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded
to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can have a place in heaven. Is that correct?'

The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.'

He sheepishly replied, 'Yes.'

I then stated, 'Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope John Paul commanding all
Catholics to kill those of your faith or Dr.. Stanley ordering all Protestants to do the same in order to
guarantee them a place in heaven!' The Imam was speechless!
I continued, 'I also have a problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me!

Let me ask you a question: Would you rather have your Allah, who tells you to kill me in order for you
to go to heaven, or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to heaven and He wants you to be there with me?'

You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame. Needless to say, the organizers and/or promoters of the Diversification training seminar were not happy with my way of dealing with the Islamic Imam, and exposing the truth about the Muslims' beliefs.

In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the President! I think everyone in the U.S. should be required to read this, but with ACLU, there is no way this will be
widely publicized, unless each of us send it on! This is your chance to make a difference...

Rick Mathes maintains that this event actually happened from sources that I've read.

Now contrast that events of that e-mail with an excerpt from President Obama's speech in Cairo, Egypt June 4th, 2009:

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do — to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar University — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson — kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores — that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

If you're interested in the rest of President Obama's speech, I highly recommend watching it or reading the transcript. He says a lot of timely things in my view.

So, which does our world more good? Stories like that e-mail I shared, or words like that of President Obama?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Even Some Penguins Oppose Proposition 8

Okay, so you won't see penguins marching around with picket signs protesting California's Proposition 8, but apparently penguins have been observed exhibiting homosexual behavior for some time now.

Interestingly, German zookeepers were monitoring a specific male couple that made attempts to mate with each other. This 'gay' couple also tried to take rocks and attempted to hatch them as though they were eggs.

Boy, they really wanted to start a family.

And even more interestingly, a heterosexual penguin couple abandoned their egg for whatever reason. The egg was given to the homosexual penguin couple. They cared for it until it hatched.

Now the male couple cares for their brand new little chick.

A happy family.

So is nature trying to teach us something?

Read the story for yourself here: 'Gay Penguins' Rear Adopted Chick