selloutsamizdat asked:

Do you have a good suggestion for how to respond when people ask me to "pray for" someone, like their ill child or an ailing parent or something? These people are usually anguished by some serious medical threat. At times like this, it would be pretty rude to say "I am not going to pray for you because I don't believe..." yet I need so say something. I often try to say something like "It sounds like your child is getting the best medical care" or something like that. Any better ideas?

I don’t think it is rude to say I’m not a christian/muslim/jew/theist. You can follow up by saying that even though you do not pray for healing you do hope for such and that you are there to assist them in any way you can in order to make it so.

I know my response is not catchy or simple but the fact of the matter is that you response will depend on the situation.

Maybe something like this:

I’m not a christian, I’m not a believer in gods, but i do believe in hope and love. I do believe in people, I believe in helping you out anyway i can through these hard times. And at the end the day I believe that if  a god does exist, it will surely be interested in you, your well being and your happiness. Just as I am. 

Any thoughts or suggestions from the readers? Let me know. Will post a few of them later on today.

In reason:
-FA 

hey-cest-la-vie asked:

I think people pray because it's hard for them to accept that there are things they can't do anything about... thoughts?

As a former believer my reasons for praying were simple. I actually thought that a god would intervene positively in my life and in the life of others if i simply asked. (See Matthew 7:7, 21:22, etc..) Even on things I could do on my own. I mean, if I study for a test I will do good but if god is on my side I will do even better. Right? Or at least that is the logic… 

That being said the mind of a believer is one of contradiction, actually one of ignoring contradiction. My church would pray for healing of a sick individual, for example. If the person got healed it was divine intervention, if the person died no one blamed god or complained that he was sleeping or ignoring our prayers. (1 Kings 18:27) Convenient, right?

I used to be, at 18 years old, the director for evangelical outreach at my church (yes, i was that committed to the gospel back then.) I remember how once I was asked to lead a group to the house of an older sick man for prayer. Specifically to pray for a speedy recovery/healing (he had the flu or a cold). When I got there I realized the man had no legs as he was sitting in a wheelchair. Then it really hit me that I was there to pray for a cold… The fact of the matter is that I could not do anything for that man, and neither could god. NO matter how much we prayed. How could I in good conscience pray for the healing of a cold if I did not have the “cojones” to pray for the regeneration of the man’s legs? The inconsistency hit me square in the face. I knew at that second that prayer would not make that man whole (James 5:13-15) ever. That was the beginning of doubt for me…

As I think back on those days the words of Marian Noel Sherman ring true:

Religious people often accuse atheists of being arrogant and of placing ourselves in the position of God, but really it is the theist who has all the vanity. He can’t stand to think that he will ever cease to exist. As Freud said, Christianity is the most egotistical of the religions. It is based on the premise ‘Jesus saves me.’

Some may say that the reasons for prayer are not external (healing, miracles, rain, finding car keys) but internal (peace, humility, empathy). But such an argument misses the point (as it ignores hundreds of bible verses on the topic). If such argument is true then, what makes such a “prayer” different from meditation of positive self-talk? Why assume divinity where humanity is the one at action here?

People will pray because they have been taught to believe as much since children, because it makes them feel good to leave the future in the hands of an invisible “other”, because it is easier to see life as part of a grand plan that someone set up for them before they were born. It is easier to assume so than to actually realize that we are alone in this universe and that all that happens, or does not happen, is up to us and no one else. To me the latter is better than the former. To create my own purpose is to live. To recognize the frailty and shortness of existence is to value it even more. To know that relationships will end means that they have to be enjoyed completely because the here and the now is all we have.

Truly, hands that work do infinitely more than hands that pray…

In reason:

-FA

Question received…

Hello Friendly Atheist!

I am a big fan of yours and was wondering if you might tackle a question I myself haven’t been able to answer. I don’t have a tumblr so I’m emailing it — feel free to post the question and answer on your blog if you have a good response (or don’t, whatever :) )

Anyway. I’ve often heard a quote that goes something like “without religion, good people would do good things and bad people would do bad things. However, only religion makes good people do bad things.”

Can’t say I disagree that religion makes otherwise good people do bad things; my strained relationship with my Christian parents after I came out as gay is certainly testament to this.

However, a religious friend presented me with two criticisms of this saying.

The first is this: that religion can also pressure people into doing good things, such as mission trips, donating to homeless shelters, what have you. Can we overlook the possibility that religion could be responsible for otherwise BAD people doing GOOD things? In other words, might religiously inspired morals act as a check on society’s psychopaths? Is there any way to weigh the good things religion causes against the bad things? My friend suggests that at best, it is a draw, and the number of good people and bad people freed to follow their impulses would even out if religion were to disappear. 

The second criticism is that various political and cultural beliefs can also persuade good people to do bad things, and so the attention to religion specifically is undue. An example might be an average WWIII era German citizen who is brainwashed into hating Jews because of the ubiquitous propaganda. 

My impulse is to argue that there’s a strong rational basis for many morals, and so provided that religion is replaced with reason, moral behaviour would thrive if religion was eradicated. But I find this difficult to explain and so am wondering if you have any insight on this issue (I didn’t see anything on your FAQ that quite answered the question).

Thanks!
In reason,
~Ana

Some thoughts:

I don’t credit religion for “forcing people” to do good things. The fact that prisons are filled with the religious tells me that is not the case. Where is this “forcing” he speaks off? I don’t see it. Do you? Actually if you look at the history of religion what you will find is the total contrary. From the crusades to Islamic sectarian violence, for any good deed religion claims credit for, there are 20,000 evil deeds whose only and direct source it religious beliefs and dogma. To claim it is a “draw” is truly inane.

There is no way that your friend can prove religion prevents evil people for doing otherwise. How would you know someone is evil if they never do evil things? He just assumes that the good he sees in the religious has to come from religion. That is not true. The fact that atheists also do good shows that is not the case. He assumes people are evil by default (typical christian dogmatic assumption) and that religion is a tamer of such natural “sin”. Actually, since we are a social species that is not the case. The fact that we can live next to each other by the millions is a testament to that biological, not religious, fact. But that is another topic for another question.

Ask your friend, would he go murder someone tomorrow if he lost his faith. Would he? Of course not. Religion does not force anyone to do good. Religion just claims credit for something it had nothing to do with in the first place. Remember, religion is just hereditary myth and superstition (hence why religious beliefs are geographically dependent).

On the other hand I have seen what religious dogma does to people who are nice and caring otherwise. Historically religion has taken evil and redefined it as good (misogyny, slavery, killing of witches, genocide, suicide bombs, gay hate, hate of science, etc..etc…) . It takes secular societal progress and advancements in science and moral theory to drag religion towards modernity and equality. And still it is a fight  religion resists. 

 In regards to WW2 Germans, history shows that Martin Luther was one of the biggest antisemites in history. Why? BECAUSE THE JEWS KILLED CHRIST per religious non-sensical dogma. The catholic church fueled antisemitism in Europe for a thousand years. The fact of the matter is that if Christianity had not developed and promoted Jew hate, the Holocaust would have never happened. If there was any brainwashing, it had religious origin paired with a nationalistic catalyst.

Sam Harris said the following:

People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

Reason, empathy and a sense of our shared humanity are the only way forward. Religious myth and superstition are not. History has shown as much, sadly, for too long.

In reason:
-FA

newsweek
newsweek:

When leading neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander found himself in a 7-week coma in 2008, he experienced things he never thought possible - exclusively excerpted from his upcoming book Proof of Heaven, he shares his journey to the afterlife in this week’s Newsweek. 

I hope someone will pick up my new book entitled “Proof of Dreams” where I detail how I experienced things I never thought possible while sleeping.
-FA

newsweek:

When leading neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander found himself in a 7-week coma in 2008, he experienced things he never thought possible - exclusively excerpted from his upcoming book Proof of Heaven, he shares his journey to the afterlife in this week’s Newsweek. 

I hope someone will pick up my new book entitled “Proof of Dreams” where I detail how I experienced things I never thought possible while sleeping.

-FA

fdfrem submitted the following. My comments in block quote.
-FA 

Ok this will be fun in my opinion.

It always is.

I’ve read some of your posts and while I find some of them downright offensive to religious people (though I’m not one, not really) others were pretty fun. First of all, people should have a right to believe in anything, practice or do whatever they want to do with their lives as long as they don’t cause grief for others, I hope we can agree on that otherwise I’ll have to acknowledge you as a bigot and a fascist ^^.

Read the FAQ. I agree that people have the right to believe whatever they want in the same way that others have the right to criticize and not agree with said beliefs. To even hint that I am a bigot or a racist is to accuse others falsely. A cursory reading of the FAQ shows as much.

I don’t like most religious people either, but that’s because they are radicals, just like you with your atheism :)

I actually love most religious people. My family is religious and they are not radicals. Am I a radical just because I don’t agree with religious superstition and I have a tumblr that says as much? Is that being “radical”? I suggest you review your off base understanding of what radical is. Violently attacking embassies and killing innocent people because a crappy movie offended your religious sensibilities IS radicalism. Giving my opinion on a website is just free speech. So much is obvious to any honest, logical person.

Being a radical, for whatever purpose, distorts your logic to the extreme and makes you reject anyone else’s logic. That’s what’s exactly wrong with today’s world in my opinion. Everyone knows best! (So do I, I guess, by stating this in such strong manner:) ).

There is no such thing as “personal logic”. I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean. Either beliefs have evidence to support them or not. Simple as that. If it were otherwise there would not be a need for mental asylums. Beliefs are not true just because you have them. 

Let’s not deviate from the subject. You keep talking about proofs and disproving and science when you want to control the subject of “God”.

At this point this sounds like a copy paste from somewhere. I will google later to confirm. Is so generic that for all its many words it actually says nothing. For example, what does “disproving science” means? I have no idea but apparently I keep talking about it. LOL!! What does “control the subject of god” mean? I don’t know but apparently that is my purpose. :-D 
LOL x 2!!! 

I’m a scientist myself and I’ve studied Mathematics as my major and now I’m a Game Theorist. As a person immersed in so much theoretical discussions I can easily point out that most of the theorems have some suppositions in them and they can only be proved through these suppositions. And any proposition can be considered valid if you cannot disprove it. Note that I’m saying valid, not true, it has the possibility of being true but it’s not necessarily so.

Believers see their god as a real being that acts, wills, creates and it is interested in every single detail of their live. They do not see their god as a mathematical equation. Fact is that things are not true because they cannot be disproved. Can you disprove the flying spaghetti monster? How about the invisible pink unicorn? Can you disprove Thor, Zeus, or the invisible fairies at the bottom of the lake? Of course not. To assume that anything is real just because it cannot be disproved is asinine to the extreme. Anything and everything must be real and there would not be a difference between reality and imagination. It goes without saying that even a child knows this is not the case.

Things are true when there is evidence to support it. Not before. That is how reality works. Period. 

Also proving and disproving are only words that can be used with any context. For example: Can you disprove that God exists? Can you prove that God does not exist?

No one can disprove that which does not exist. Simple. Is this your best argument? Really?

Both mean the same thing, so using arguments like proving and disproving does not really help the subject when it’s a matter of belief and again people should be allowed to believe in whatever they want as long as yada yada…

They actually do help. I have written this post on tumblr. The fact that you can read it is proof that I did. You can ask others to read it and they will agree.

The same thing cannot be said of god. As a matter of fact this post has more evidence in its favor than belief in god has ever had.

People can believe what they want. Others can criticize them as they wish. Even more so when there is no evidence to support those beliefs. Simple as that.

Moving on, I do believe that there is a higher power in the universe. Because when I think about the vastness of the universe, I believe that it must have been created by something for some purpose. Hence, coincidence is not good enough for me :)

I am not so self conceited to assume there has to be any purpose for the universe. I make my own purpose. The universe does not owe you or me any purpose. I don’t assume anything nor do I prejudge it based on my puny opinions. Reality is what it is with my opinion or without it. You don’t like coincidence? Too bad. It might all be a big coincidence. The universe does not care how you feel about it. The cosmos just is.

When approaching the subject as a Game Theorist I can give you this model:

ZZZzzzzz….

Consider that there are 2 options you can choose from: Believing in God or not believing in God. There are also 2 possible situations: God either exists or not. Now you have a game with 4 outcomes: Believe in God and God Exists, Believe in God and God does not Exist, Don’t believe in God and God Exists, Don’t Believe in God and God does not Exist. Out of these 4 outcomes you have 4 different values of utility (profits if you want). Let’s call them A, B, C and D respectively. It is clear that D > A > B »> C for most people (unless you like burning in hell and C takes precedence :) ). Now let’s assume the probability that God exists is “p” and “p” is a very small non-zero value. Now both of your choices have the following values: A*p + B*(1-p) and C*p + D*(1-p). A little bit of mathematical knowledge show that the first group’s value is much higher than the second group’s value (as C is probably close to negative infinity for most people’s ordinary preferences).

Blah, blah, blah. Pascal’s Wager with numbers. How boring. And lame. And easy to disprove. I won’t waste my time commenting on it when it has already been done here.

Hence: it’s logical in a game theoretic sense to believe in God :)

Actually the opposite is true.

This is of course not a proof that God exist but a way to end the debate using scientific methods :)

Again, there is no way of proving that which does not exist. I do agree there is no debate. Fact is there is no evidence in favor of a god existing so the debate exists only in the minds of those who decide to avoid reality in favor of personal like, opinion and self centeredness.

Good luck in your crusade :)

Thanks but no thanks. I don’t embark on crusades, much less when we look back and remember the results of such by christians in the middle ages.

Peace!

In reason:
-FA 

npr
theatlantic:

A Map of Muslim Protests Around the World

The uproar over a 14-minute anti-Islam YouTube video has sparked furious protests from Somalia to Egypt to Sudan to Tunisia to Libya to Bangladesh to Indonesia to Pakistan. With new reports of protests surfacing every minute, we’ve compiled the latest reported incidents into this interactive Google Map.

[Images: Reuters/Google Maps]

All those millions of Islamic “misunderstanders”. Anyone who points this out must be a Islamophobe i guess…
-FA

theatlantic:

A Map of Muslim Protests Around the World

The uproar over a 14-minute anti-Islam YouTube video has sparked furious protests from Somalia to Egypt to Sudan to Tunisia to Libya to Bangladesh to Indonesia to Pakistan. With new reports of protests surfacing every minute, we’ve compiled the latest reported incidents into this interactive Google Map.

[Images: Reuters/Google Maps]

All those millions of Islamic “misunderstanders”. Anyone who points this out must be a Islamophobe i guess…

-FA

Maybe in 50 years, there will be no surprise when the loudest cheerleaders for Muslim presidential candidates and Supreme Court justices are evangelical Christians.

My Take: How evangelicals could grow to love Muslims – CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs

Of course no one with an ounce of common sense will be surprised due to the fact that both religions hate gays, apostates, atheists, and treat women as subjects/dependent/inferior to men. Since they have so much in common it will be only a matter of time…

-FA