Rationality Now Rotating Header Image

Christianity

Finding Life’s Meaning

Ocean Sunset“Nothing in this world has meaning without a life devoted to God.”

Variations of that phrase can be heard from Christians of all stripes. It’s a common statement frequently directed toward atheists, letting them know in no uncertain terms that their lives cannot be truly meaningful without religion… without faith… without God.

After hearing that point (far too often), I began to wonder just what “meaning” religion brings to the table. For simplicity, I’ll refer to Christianity in particular, but other faiths probably have similar concepts.

I think a distinction needs to be made between the meaning of life and meaning in life… why we exist versus what we do with our existence. Christians make claims with respect to both issues (though generally the same claims for each). I do not.

So what is the meaning of life for Christians? What meaning is there in life for them? Here’s a small sampling from various sources.

You were put on this earth for one, and only one, reason, and that is so that you can have a living relationship with God. Every other reason is meaningless. This relationship with God is the Meaning of Life.
SeekersTrove.com

Rather, real meaning in life is when one begins to follow Christ as His disciple, learning of Him, spending time with Him in His Word, the Bible, communing with Him in prayer, and in walking with Him in obedience to His commands.
GotQuestions.org

What is the real purpose of life? “Fear God and keep His commands.”
Our main concern in life must be to work in God’s kingdom and have a right relationship with Him.
The Gospel Way

So, this is what man is here for, to serve and worship an Almighty God for a few short years in order to obtain a life forever and forever in glory with Him. It is the duty of man, it is the meaning of our life.
Joel Hendon on SearchWarp.com

[The meaning of life] is to love God by choosing to have a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.
All About Worldview

Some other passages attempted explanations for why God actually created humans (the meaning of life), but they were usually either weak (he wanted to have man serve him) or vague and circuitous (because of events regarding Lucifer and the “Angelic Conflict”).

What I get from all those quotes (and from many others that I didn’t include) is that what gives life meaning for Christians is serving and worshipping God… and in one case, fearing him. It seems that, without subjugating yourself to God, life is pointless.

(more…)

Attack and Defense

Imagine No Religion - FFRF BillboardOne annoyingly common accusation levelled against atheists is that they “preach” atheism with evangelical fervor and promote atheism in an attempt to rid the world of religion. There are various versions of this claim, but a common thread is an implication that atheists have suddenly decided to make their lack of belief known by attacking the poor persecuted Christians (or Muslims or Jews, etc).

A couple days ago, I read this opinion piece by Reverend Eric Strachan which makes a similar accusation with special emphasis on the recent bus ad campaigns in London, Calgary, and Toronto. He mentions “the Christian era,” referring to something that was in the past.

In the Christian era there was a bit of a stigma associated with not believing in the existence of God, but in this postmodern era, with the focus on individual autonomy, and a move away from institutional religion, atheists by the score have come out of the closet, and they’re “preaching it, brother,” with evangelical fervour!

He seems to imply that we no longer live in “the Christian era.” It seems an absurd statement in a country where 85% of citizens are still admittedly some type of Christian… where Christians are continually making attempts to create legislation based on their 2,000-year-old holy book… where sham science organizations like the Discovery Institute continue to push their agenda to destroy science education in this country in favor of the supernatural.

As for the “stigma” involved, there is no minority group with a more negative stigma than atheists. In repeated surveys, atheists rank significantly below African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, and homosexuals in public acceptance. So Reverend Strachan’s statement seems to indicate a bit of ignorance regarding the current social stigma associated with atheism.

(more…)

“Prayer hotline… Please hold.”

PrayerPrayer is such an important part of religious life. Whether it’s praying to thank a god for bestowing his blessings or praying to ask for something or praying to help someone else, prayer is used constantly and touted as being the “direct line to God” for those who pray.

It seems the fact that it doesn’t actually do anything is irrelevant. I will acquiesce and admit that perhaps prayer helps the mental state of the one doing the prayer, much like meditation, but other than that… nothing.

Even Christians know that prayer doesn’t work, but you won’t get them to admit it. Daniel Florien at Unreasonable Faith makes this point that really drives it home. If Christians (and practitioners of other religions) really believed that prayer worked, they wouldn’t have to bother doing many things that the rest of us take for granted: see the doctor, drive to work, pay the bills, go to school, etc. They could just pray.

I recently had someone tell me that while working with Habitat for Humanity building homes in Louisiana (quite admirable), the heat was almost overwhelming (she’s around 65) and she didn’t think she was going to be able to continue working. She sat down and said a little prayer to God to help her with this and “He sent a gentle cool breeze that was so refreshing.”

This same person told me that one day, after repeated failed attempts to load a lawn mower onto a truck by driving it up some ramps, she was so frustrated that she stopped, said a little prayer, and successfully drove the mower onto the truck the very next try.

Divine intervention?… or perhaps coincidence in the first case, and “taking a deep breath and calming down” in the second case. Why didn’t she pray for God to instantly create an already-built house in Louisiana? Why didn’t she just pray for God to fix the mower so she wouldn’t have to load it onto the truck?

Because prayer doesn’t work.

Prayer is the ultimate random cold reader. Guys like Derren Brown and Penn Jillette (both magicians) use cold reading in their acts to show they have psychic powers. They don’t and they say they don’t, but the way cold reading works is by using a shotgun approach to gaining information, repeatedly “missing” and eventually getting to a “hit,” making the target think that his mind was just read. Using this approach produces many, many more misses than hits, but more of a big deal is made out of the hits, and the audience, focusing mainly on the hits, is amazed.

Prayer works the same way, but less efficiently and more randomly, with considerably more misses than hits. The hits are touted as incontrovertible proof that God is listening while the misses are explained away as not being “God’s will” or as a test of faith. Sometimes, the misses are even explained away as hits, such as praying for a sick person to get better, only to have them die, in which case they got “better” by being taken home to Jesus.

Two anonymous quotes to sum it all up…

The hard work of one does more than the prayers of millions.

…and…

Nothing fails like prayer.

Amen to that.

Scary Church Signs

FireI try to take note of the church signs I see in my area and usually see the generic notifications of sermon times or guest speakers. A few churches, however, always try to have clever sayings out front, which is much more entertaining for me. One in particular seems to have some very clever ones and sometimes even makes me smile or chuckle.

Most of the more clever church signs are harmless puns, but every now and then, one makes me narrow my eyes and raise an eyebrow.

I saw this one yesterday:

Remember the banana. When he left the bunch, he got skinned.

It’s a clever play on words, indeed, but its whimsy hides one of the more sinister sides of religious belief… using fear as a tool to coerce obedience. Stay with the church or you’ll be doomed.

Another church sign read:

Try Jesus. If you don’t like him, Satan will take you back.

Clever. It’s also somewhat cute if you block out the image of burning in a pit of Satan-created fire for not liking Jesus.

Christianity tends to preach all about a just, merciful God and loving, forgiving Jesus. God’s love is immeasurable and glorious. Jesus is your loving and understanding savior. You’ll be swept up into glorious Heaven where paradise awaits you and you’ll be able to walk hand-in-hand with Jesus in eternal bliss.

All you have to do is believe what they tell you to believe.

Of course, if you refuse to accept Jesus as your savior and refuse to worship God in the way that is demanded, you’re going to be punished for all eternity in unspeakably torturous ways with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, doomed to spend an infinite amount of time surrounded by hellfire and brimstone and subjected to incomprehensible pain and agony.

But to avoid that horror, all you have to do is believe what they tell you to believe…

…regardless of whether it’s true or not.

There are FOUR lights! *

(* geeky Star Trek:TNG reference)

Ironically, he then knocked on wood

I’m not a big pro-sports fan and rarely watch any games on television, but I did watch this year’s Super Bowl because my wife was going to be watching it and I like the commercials (usually).

After the Cardinals’ loss, I was passively wondering what overtly pious quarterback Kurt Warner (who did a phenomenal job in the game, by the way) would have to say. I didn’t actually look for any quotes, but saw an interesting bit while reading a post on Pharyngula about Warner wearing the number thirteen on his jersey.

According to Warner, his spirituality “allows no room for superstition,” and his wearing number thirteen just emphasizes that point for him.

“A lot of people believe 13 is an unlucky number,” Warner said, “but I’ve kind of embraced it.”

He added: “A lot of negative things come with the No. 13. My life is never dictated by superstitions. My faith is first and foremost. If you believe that God’s in control, there is no reason to believe in superstitions.”

I’m sure that glorious bit of irony is lost on Warner. Even though you can’t believe that the number thirteen can somehow bring bad luck to someone, you can believe that an invisible, all-powerful being can be everywhere at once, see everything at once, hear everything at once, do everything at once, and has a dedicated interest in the personal goings-on of your everyday life?

…but your life is “never dictated by superstition.”

Wow.

Now, from what I’ve read, Warner is actually a terrific guy and does a lot of good in the community including putting up a ton of his own money to support Habitat for Humanity, so I don’t want to give the impression that I think the guy is a loser. Far from it.

I just hope he didn’t get a concussion from that irony smacking him in the head so hard.

Knock on wood.

Swearing on the Bible

Steve Wells over at Dwindling in Unbelief has a great post about Obama’s second round swearing in.

During “Take Two” of the Oath of Office, there was no Bible used for the ceremony. “So help me God” was still tacked on the end, despite the words’ glaring absence in the Constitution, but the lack of a Bible was a step in the right direction.

As Steve puts it…

The Bible, of course, is worse than useless when it comes to consistent advice on morality. But the New Testament (to avoid confusion, ignore the Old Testament on this one) is pretty clear about one thing: Christians shouldn’t swear. Not to God and not on the Bible or on anything else.

He then quotes Matthew 5:34-37

34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

…and James 5:12

12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

…to back up his argument. That seems pretty clear to me. Not only shouldn’t the Bible be used (according to the Bible itself), but the swearing in shouldn’t happen at all! Evidently, it’s a pretty UN-Christian thing to do.

So if our Constitution requires our President to take an oath of office, which is contrary to what the Christian religion allows, does that mean that our country isn’t a Christian nation?

I love irony.

Attempted Christian-Imposed “Morality”

From Reuters UK: Another example of Christians attempting to force their prudish ideological morality on others.

A group of conservative politicians is making headway towards a ban on topless bathing on some of Australia’s best known beaches.

Christian lawmaker and veteran morals campaigner Reverend Fred Nile has won backing from key politicians in New South Wales state, home to Sydney and its famed ocean beaches, to tighten existing laws covering nude sunbathing.

The move has provoked strong reaction from easy-going sun worshippers.

Penny Tweedie reports.

I particularly like that Reverend Fred Nile claims that a woman who sunbathes topless “demeans herself” and is “taking away her own self respect.”

Isn’t that something you should ask the woman sunbathing? How could he possibly know? Could it be, rather, that he himself somehow finds the issue titillating (pardon the pun) and is afraid it might awaken some inner urges that he feels are not proper given his “Christian” morals? And if so, could it be that he wants to impose restrictions in order to keep others from feeling the same amoral urges that he’s feeling in order to save their souls? It can’t be that he feels God’s creation is appalling, can it?

Politician Dave Clark also feels that children would be offended by seeing a woman’s breasts. He claims that there are people who want to be at the beach, but can’t because they’re concerned about their children “seeing it.” Amazingly, he said it with a straight face, too, which might indicate that he actually believes the nonsense he’s spewing. What child (who is not an evangelistically brainwashed fundamentalist Christian) would be offended by a woman’s breasts? “Taking offense” is a learned behavior.

The article says that topless sunbathing has been common on most beaches since the 1960’s and that nobody really complains about it. Perhaps the only ones complaining are the morally questionable Christians and politicians. Everyone else seems to be having a grand time getting a nice all-over tan.

A Dark Journey

Unreasonable Faith is in the top three of my favorite blogs and Daniel Florien has completed four parts (so far) in a series called “An Evil God? A Journey Through the Dark Parts of the Bible” in which he points out some (many) of the problems with the Bible… especially when it comes to using it as any kind of moral guidebook.

He does a great job of laying out his arguments and it’s definately worth a read.

License to Sin

Anyone who’s been an atheist for more than a few weeks has heard the accusation that without religion, there’s no basis for morality. Therefore, we’re told, we can run around like crazed hedonists, raping, stealing, and killing to our hearts’ content. We know it’s nonsense and generally speaking, the person who makes the accusation must know it’s nonsense, too, because it’s just not happening.

What I find ironic is that religion provides the biggest license to sin that any self-respecting, lascivious, lusting hedonist could possibly wish for. Atheism, having no dogma (since it’s not a religion and is purely the lack of belief in a deity), gives no free pass. Because of that, atheists must maintain a much higher interest in practicing moral behavior than religious folks do.

(more…)

Christian Bashing?

From the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission comes this list of the top ten instances of Christian bashing in 2008.

Ebonmuse over at Daylight Atheism wrote a nice piece about the absurdity of the whole claim of Christians being persecuted. intelekshual hits on the topic with her (I think) customary acerbic wit.

Christian Oppression?The whole idea of Christians being some sort of persecuted minority is just absurd. The criticisms generally only come when Christians attempt to push their ideology and dogma onto the real minority groups. The blind arrogance of acting as if they are somehow the underdog, as if they have a lock on the “Truth,” as if they’re better than those with different beliefs, as if they deserve pity for withstanding so much persecution… it’s just incredible.

The CADC’s mission statement is this:

The mission of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission (CADC) is to advance religious liberty for Christians by protecting Christians from defamation, discrimination, and bigotry from any and all sources by means of education and selected legal services including litigation, inside the United States and internationally.

“…protecting Christians from defamation, discrimination, and bigotry…”

Who will protect the rest of us from their defamation, discrimination, and bigotry? That remains the much larger issue.