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“You’re just going through a phase”

“You’re just going through a phase” is probably one of the more infuriating things we hear from the religious.  Strangely, it doesn’t only come from our parents, although they are a rich source of it.

As a parent myself I can assure you from bitter experience that saying this to anyone about anything is just about the least constructive thing I can imagine.  “Going through a phase” is something pediatricians like to say to parents struggling with their three-year-old’s tendency to throw tantrums in the supermarket.  Arriving at a logical epistemology and a fact-based worldview isn’t really in the same category as a meltdown on Aisle 4.  But the person who says, “You’re just going through a phase” is being every bit as dismissive of your genuine thoughts as the dad whose refusal to buy Fudgesicles has precipitated a mini-crisis.  That dad does not think his son has a position that needs serious consideration, he just wants the kid to quit making a scene so he can get out of the store and avoid further embarrassment.

Oh yes, embarrassment.  One of the much-touted benefits of religion is that churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. provide families with a larger community.  Well, one of the features of most communities is, judgy neighbors.  And when a member of a religious family comes out atheist?  The other members of that family get to experience another major benefit of religion: shame.  A desire to re-establish some of their standing in the community can be a root cause of shunning and worse.

And by the way, suppose “You’re just going through a phase” is meant in the best way possible: not as “I dismiss your ideas as unworthy” but as “I think this is not your final position, you will change your mind at some point soon.”  Well, what’s wrong with changing your position?  Feel free to do so as often as the facts and your thought process require it.  That logical epistemology and fact-based worldview aren’t just for show!  Take them out for a spin, whenever new evidence or ideas present themselves.

This is #9 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.
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“The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’.”

“The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God'” (Psalms 14:1) This is one of the Bible verses that the religious will quote as a supposed refutation of atheism. It tries to make a case for belief in God with what seems at first like logic. The statement is brought in to help construct the syllogism that:

  1. Only fools don’t believe in God
  2. You are (or at least want to be seen as) not a fool
  3. You should believe in God

 
Is it unfair at this point to bring up the multiple studies that show inverse correlation between education levels and religiosity of societies? It is? Aw, shoot. Yeah, yeah; correlation is not the same as causation. I get it. Still. 
Syllogisms can be powerful tools in logical reasoning but they are also very easy to use to construct fallacious arguments that only sound reasonable. In a syllogism, you have a series of statements where the first two must be true for the third to be true. Then you have to be very careful not to overtax the conclusion that’s supportable by those two and make your third statement too broad.

To show how this one works to trick us into the desired conclusion, let’s look at what it really says and what apologists try to torture it into saying. Here’s what we can correctly infer from the verse, if we take it at face value: At least one person who is a fool says there is no God. (He says this to himself because he knows how dangerous it is to declaim in Bronze Age Palestine; maybe he’s not such a fool after all.) If we think about it in terms of sets, it means that the intersection of the set of fools and the set of people who say there is no God is not empty. What it doesn’t mean is that the set of unbelievers is a subset of the set of fools; yet to support the argument, that is what the religious speaker has to imply. With the first statement of the syllogism shown false, the entire thing collapses. (Ironically, the actual plain meaning of the verse is almost certainly true. There has to be a fool somewhere who is also an unbeliever.)

This may be excusable; people who don’t think hard about the imprecise way common language expresses logical concepts really do have a tough time with this. The mistake may be an honest one, and we should assume good will as long as possible.

As atheists we will be challenged all the time by the religious, with arguments of approximately this level of quality. We need to be on our game.

One final note. The most famous cautionary example of why you need to be very careful with syllogisms,

 

  • Aristotle is an animal.
  • Cats are animals.
  • Aristotle is a cat.

 

 


means that I have an opportunity to rescue this logicians’ punching-bag by naming my next cat “Aristotle.”

This is #8 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.
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“You just want to sin”

In my dealings with the religious, especially those of my family who have remained within, there’s been an occasional grace-note of jealousy.  They rightly perceive the greater freedom afforded by a life that is no longer guided by arbitrary restrictions created to keep the priestly class in golden vestments and the rest of the people quiet. “You just want to sin”  is a formulation that “presumes facts not in evidence”, as the lawyers like to say on TV.

First, that word “sin.”  Doesn’t that come up a lot in conversations with the religious?  Doesn’t that come up pretty much nowhere else at all?  I was lucky; the Jewish tradition in which I grew up helpfully divided sin into two major categories.  One is between a person and God, and the other is between one person and another.   The first category includes what we can safely call all the “victimless crimes” of Jewish law: eating shellfish or cheeseburgers, driving your car on Saturday, wearing a wool/linen blend, and so on.  (By the way, wool/linen is the only fabric blend prohibited by the Bible, so the very popular tweaking of religious people about cotton/polyester etc. should stop now. KTHXBAI)   Yes, I became an atheist around the same time I shuffled off the coil of these arbitrary and rather silly restrictions, but it’s not like I needed to do either of those things in order to do the other.  Correlation is not causation.

The second category includes everything that I would classify as genuine morality; everything that Hillel, Jesus, Confucius, and hundreds of others intended when they formulated their versions of the Golden Rule.  Becoming an atheist has, if anything, made me even more careful about avoiding this kind of transgression.  We only have one life to live, and we only have the other people here with us to live it with.  No “world-to-come” promises eternal future reward to justify treating someone in the world right here right now like crap.  So if “sin” is a thing at all, it’s nothing more or less than treating someone poorly for no reason.

The notion that I became an atheist in order to sin is, on one hand, an insistence that there is indeed a God who indeed cares very much whether the fish I eat has fins and scales or is just delicious without them.  That’s the silly part.  Where the ludicrous becomes insult, shading to injury, is if the speaker is proposing that becoming an atheist somehow freed me to treat people badly.

Because what atheism really clarifies is: people, not gods, are the only fit objects of honor.

This is #7 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.

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“God still loves you.”

“God still loves you” is something atheists will hear from the religious toward the end of one of those conversations where the religious participant is starting to figure out there isn’t going to be a reconversion.  Not today, at any rate.

This is meant to create a nagging sense of obligation on the part of the atheist.   But let’s break it down logically and see what is really going on here.

God
This is the subject of the statement.  But the speaker already knows we don’t believe in it.  So by stating to us that God’s doing anything about us (even having an emotion about us is doing something), the religious speaker is dismissing our position as trivial and worthy of being ignored.

Still

This is a sneaky little word.  By adding this to the sentence the speaker works in the implication that this is an ongoing situation, which means it was real before and continues to be real.  It’s like the proverbial encoding a presumption of an answer into the question, when the reporter asked, “Senator, are you still beating your wife?”Loves You

There’s apparently an entire mode of Christian worship that consists of encoding the information about God’s love for us into large signs and banners at football games, which all say “John 3:16“.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV)

This supposedly unconditional love starts growing conditions and caveats right there in that single verse.  “Whosoever believeth in him…?” That no longer includes me, and it also doesn’t include a heck of a lot of other people, including several billion who never heard of the whole concept.  So this God manages to love “the world” but not many of its inhabitants.  And what will become of them, since they aren’t admitted into this rather exclusive “everlasting life” club?

Rev 21:8 “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (KJV)

Funny kind of love, that.  In the context of Bronze Age Palestine, just so you know, “idolaters” are anyone with a different religion from you.  “Whoremongers” are anyone whose sexual taboos aren’t the same as yours or a superset of them.  And the “unbelieving”, well, that’s me.  So I think I can safely say the best thing for me to do is to turn away from this abusive kind of love.

This is #6 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.

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“You can’t have morals without God.”

Morality comes from the need of primate communities to be cooperative.  Easily observable among any of the great apes today, our survival strategy includes keeping a group cohesive by not harming other members, nor stealing their things.  Notice how all the community-cohesiveness moralities are essentially the same all over the world.  Even though every event in the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Quran all took place within the same few hundred miles of mid-East desert.
The “golden rule” attributed to Jesus was also attributed to dozens of sources including Hillel (30 BCE), Confucius (500 BCE), Thales, Epicurus and Plato (600 BCE onward), and the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (2000 BCE).  I think it safe to say that unless he was the First Doctor and had a working Tardis, Jesus did not teach it to these others.

The layering on of sexual taboos on top of community principles like “don’t kill or steal from one another” was something that began along with patriarchal religion and its destruction of earlier, more matriarchal cults.  This was a way to deal with the priestly class’ need for power, by exerting control over something so important to everyone involved.  Men also became insecure and felt the need of assurance in passing on their genes and not someone else’s, since the realization was growing that all they knew for sure was, which woman was the mother of a given child.  Then they had their best guess and her word for who was the father.  This created an infuriating sense of powerlessness over the issue.  The resulting overreaction has been to nearly or completely enslave women and restrict their movements and activities until they can feel certain they know she has not “strayed.”  We’re still digging out of that.

As mentioned earlier, a lot of these strictures were pretty unpalatable to many, and it was a matter of gaining acceptance for them to attribute it to a powerful deity.  This became a kind of cycle which nobody now can remember starting.

  • “The rules came from God” as a dodge to gain them acceptance
  • “The rules must have come from God, they are in His book!” cementing the acceptance by putting it in a book which the priests then interpret for you
  • “It’s impossible for us to have these rules unless God gave them to us”  making sure that the rules as interpreted by the priests are always considered the supreme authority, overriding common sense and/or scientific discovery

One is left to wonder: why a basic principle like “not doing terrible things to other people” needs divine enforcement?  Isn’t the cooperative nature of our survival strategy obvious?

This is #5 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.

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