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Web www.birminghamfreepress.com

January, 2007

New Art

Actually it's just a reworking of a painting I did years ago. But that's OK. I had all my good ideas back in my twenties.

Between 1990 and 2001 the percentage of Christians in the United States dropped by 8.5%. At the same time the percentage of nonbelievers increased by 6.6%. 2006 saw two atheist manifestos hit the New York Times bestsellers list. The long awaited national debate on religion has finally begun in earnest. The atheists will win. They not only have all of science and history on their side, but also the better rhetoric.

Unfortunately the boorish behavior and insensitivity of the currently dominant evangelicals have set the tone. Atheists feel free, as they come out of their closets, to publicly call their opponents what they are . . . morons. The atheists promise to be even more condescending than their fundamentalist forerunners because they lack the doubt implied in faith. The Christian knows in his heart-of-hearts that all that Jesus stuff is just bullshit. The atheist knows it too.

I, personally, have been an atheist/agnostic all my adult life. Being naturally curious and philosophically minded I read a lot about different religions beginning in my early teens. It became evident pretty fast that the Christianity I was raised in was just one of many competing worldviews. Since most had exclusive cosmologies they couldn’t all be right. But they could all be wrong. The only belief system that held up under the scrutiny of science was science itself.

As I learned about the various world religions it became apparent that these ideas were being actively suppressed in the Christian communities I had grown up in. There was little chance that I’d read some ancient manuscript and start worshiping Poseidon, but this wasn’t a chance the Baptist majority in Alabama was willing to take. I find it utterly amazing how many adults that I talk to have never questioned, or deeply thought about, their fundamental understanding of the universe.

Unlike so many who break these chains later in life, my deconversion was relatively painless. Still, I felt a deep resentment to the adults that had either been lying to me or were just too stupid or lazy to dig for the truth. It’s a shame that so many children of religious families never leave their world of make-believe.

If there was any chance of my rejoining the flock it was snuffed out when I started exploring the evolution/creationism debate. The young earth creationists believe the earth is 6,000 years old and everybody else believes it to be more like 4,540,000,000. That’s a pretty big difference. It seems, being able to put a man on the moon and a little car on Mars, we ought to be able to see who’s right.

6,000 or 4,540,000,000 years? This is such a huge discrepancy that almost 100% of the evidence should come down on one side or the other. Sure enough it does. But half of all Americans either don’t know this or choose to ignore it. The methods of the creationists are transparent. They tell lies (white and black) and tend to be unbelievably gullible. Their rhetoric is awful and their evidence nonexistent. To support their claim they rely on an enormous, possibly supernatural, conspiracy and their sheep’s inability to think objectively.

I was already entrenched in my atheism before I began to study Christianity itself. Sure I was raised knowing all about Jesus and his magic, but only as presented in a very specific Protestant dogma. It was only later in college that I became aware of the enormous amount that has been learned about Christianity by textural critics, historians, and archeologists in the past century. Jesus and the Hebrew people of history look nothing like those of the Christian fundamentalists. It amazed me that that the people who dedicate their entire lives to this nuttiness dare not learn anything about it.

Just like the young-earth creationists, evangelicals use willful ignorance, dishonesty and bad rhetoric to prop up their bogus claims. I remember a debate with a Christian trying to prove the existence of god. He told his opponent that, “you can’t see electricity, but you know it exists.” This is the beginning of a fallacious argument, which could be used to “prove” the existence of anything imaginable. Compare this to science, which not only can prove the existence of electricity, but also can explain it.

America might have an open religious dialogue soon if Mitt Romney becomes a serious presidential contender. So many of the claims of Mormonism are obviously not true and easily disproved. I’d love to see ol' Mitt on Meet the Press explaining how the American Indians are really some lost tribe of Israel. At least the Baptists have the horse sense to place their magic off in the distant past so we can’t prove it’s made up. But ultimately religious apologists fall back on faith in revealed truth. That and brainwashing children.

Stephen Smith

Atheism

If you're not an atheist today you can't hold a basic understanding of philosophy or even theology.

When I say atheist I mean in the occidental since — not believing in the god of Abraham.

Theism, as understood in the West, hasn't contributed anything significant to philosophy in 600 years.   If you want to read good atheist philosophy you might as well go back to the Enlightenment. That's when all the masterpieces were written. It's pointless to rehash these issues today.

Atheism is a given. No post-Enlightenment philosophical movement has dealt with Theism at all except to mock it or ponder it as a sociological or political force.  I'm not saying there haven't been theistic philosophers; I'm just saying that theology, as a discipline, hasn't been advanced in the West appreciably for half a millennium.

All the big stuff in philosophy, Romanticism, Nihilism, Marxism pretty much ignored theology. By the twentieth century the whole god idea was dismissed by all serious thinkers. Existentialism and Phenomenology don't even make sense if you factor in YHWH.

When Theism is practiced today it's best done using the old medieval arguments. It's been a long time since Christianity produced a Saint Augustine or Islam a Rumi. As far as the Jew go, I don't know. Most of the Jews I know are Atheists.

The juggernaut that can't be denied is Logical Positivism. When Theists have tried to battle science they've come up looking ineffectual.

Postmodernism has the best arguments against Logical Positivism, but, of course, both these philosophical movements presuppose Atheism.

Postmodernism is the newest, big philosophical movement. Being the newest it's the hardest to understand. But Postmodernism can challenge the near certainty of Logical Positivism. The system (or lack thereof) of Postmodernism is even more skeptical than science.

After all, I've heard that Wittgenstein was a devout Catholic.

Stephen Smith