Archive for July, 2011

The Hidden Agenda of Witnessing

Posted in Uncategorized on July 30, 2011 by Derreck Bennett

 

“If you take a close look at evangelism, you begin to see that it has at least as much to do with fortifying the inner conviction of the born-again Christian as it has with saving the “unsaved.” [Presenting] Eric Hoffer:

The missionary zeal seems rather an expression of some deep misgiving, some pressing feeling of insufficiency at the center. Proselytizing is more a passionate search for something not yet found than a desire to bestow upon the world something we already have. It is a search for a final and irrefutable demonstration that our absolute truth is indeed the one and only truth. The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others.

Remember the “plausibility structure?” It is a social peer-support group within which we find a shared belief compelling despite the skeptical jeering of those outside, whose criticisms are put on the shelf while we breathe the heady atmosphere of mutual affirmation. Well, evangelism is an attempt to increase the plausibility structure attendant to our belief so that we may never have any more occasion to doubt it. If I can get everybody to agree with me, then I must be right! They all agree! More votes! A million Mustang owners can’t be wrong, can they? So let’s sell some Mustangs!

Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, in When Prophecy Fails, a study of a flying-saucer cult that set a date for a space invasion that ignominiously failed to materialize, saw the same dynamic at play. What are you going to do when you’ve been preaching that people ought to repent or face destruction when Klaatu gets back with his deadly robot Gort–and he stands you up? They started reinterpreting fast! Just like Jehovah’s Witnesses and others whose deadlines for the end of the world fell through in 2000. But this is not enough. One still suffers from a migraine of doubt. The alarms of “cognitive dissonance” keep going off in one’s head. Which would be less painful: to give up in shame and embarrassment and admit you were wrong, or to stonewall and hope the facts (and more important, the ridicule) will just go away? Many sects in such a situation (and it happens frequently) choose the latter. And then it is time to redouble one’s evangelistic efforts. Even though the product is now much harder to sell, thanks to the public debunking, the believers turn up the juice. Why bother?

If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct. Consider the extreme case: if everyone in the whole world believed something, there would be no question at all to the validity of this belief. It is for this reason that we observe the increase in proselytizing following disconfirmation. If the proselytizing proves successful, then by gathering more adherents and effectively surrounding himself with supporters, the believer reduces dissonance to the point where he can live with it.”

(The Reason Driven Life, pp. 340-341)

Your Savior

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2011 by Derreck Bennett

 

“Once I attended a fan convention and was prowling through the colorful bazaar called the Dealer’s Room. I was on the lookout for interesting old science fiction paperbacks, monster movie videos, and whatnot. Some people at these events just cannot seem to resist the impulse to show up in costume. All of a sudden I spotted a guy dressed as Jesus. So I could not resist the impulse to accost him with a smart remark. I walked up to him and asked him, “Excuse me, but have you accepted yourself as your personal savior?” I don’t even remember what he answered, because it suddenly hit me: that is the crucial question everyone must face: Have you accepted yourself as your personal savior? Because that’s the only savior who can do the job! You are your personal savior, without whose aid you will never get anywhere. Unless this savior intervenes on your behalf, nothing anyone has done to help you will do any good. You are going to have to decide to heed the advice some wise man gave you. You are going to have to decide the time has come for you to make an about-face. It is you, not me, nor anybody else, not even Rick Warren nor Jesus Christ, who can discover the meaning of your life. Only you can answer the question why you are not doing what you know you must do. Only you, not your church or some other peer group, can save you. That is the cross you must bear: free decision and responsibility for the results.”
(The Reason Driven Life, pp. 99-100)

 

Antitheism vs. Atheism & My Existential Crisis

Posted in Uncategorized on July 21, 2011 by Derreck Bennett

It has recently been revealed to me that I exhibit the behaviors of someone with Histrionic Personality Disorder, a condition marked by “excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, including an excessive need for approval and inappropriately sexually provocative [behavior] … includ[ing] egocentrism, self-indulgence, continuous longing for appreciation, and persistent manipulative behavior … These individuals are lively, dramatic, vivacious, enthusiastic, and flirtatious.” (Wiki) Me, me, me. Oh, yeah, definitely me. Fuck. Nailed me. All the way.

I don’t know whether it’s the scarily accurate nature of the diagnosis or the fact that I’ve gone all this time without knowing about it that I find most disturbing. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was clinically diagnosed in adolescence, but HPD had probably been too early to detect, given it “usually begin[s] in early adulthood.” (Wiki) Still, I find myself asking, where were you on that one, Dr. Hilton? Fucker. We weren’t paying you to let on that I was normal!

The question that naturally arises is, how did this come about? According to Wiki, “childhood events such as deaths in the immediate family, illnesses within the immediate family which present constant anxiety, [etc.] may be involved.” That’s spot on, given my father’s death at the hands of cancer when I was 12.

But, I’m willing to bet there’s more to it than that, at least when it comes to me. Primarily, that I was overly mothered. Given too much affection, too much attention during my early childhood. And when the big bad world doesn’t treat me in the same manner that my mother did, I become hugely disappointed–even downright hostile at times. Throw in booze or xanies, and, Houston, we’ve got a problem. The constant attention-seeking, the overtly provocative behavior, is an attempt on my part to seek out the approval so freely given me during my formative years. Heck, why the fuck do you think I’m writing this blog? And why was it necessary for me to employ the word “fuck?” Do ya get it now?

Part of me is forced to consider how much all of this plays a role in my atheism. When the big bad world doesn’t shower me with love like mommy did, when it spits in the face of my demands and expectations, I fail to see the loving hand of God at work.

And yet it’s not so simple as that. I do strive for objectivity, therefore I try not to be too self-centered when it comes to matters of theological concern. It’s not just my life that’s up for consideration. I look at the world around me, at the pervasive suffering that plagues humanity, and, again, I fail to see the loving hand of God at work. How can it be said that a benevolent deity, capable of divine intervention, exists when a child lie on its deathbed due to leukemia? The Argument from Natural Evil is the single most conclusive nail in the coffin for theism, at least as I see it. Here, the theist pleads that “God works in mysterious ways,” yet I find it quite telling that these “mysterious ways” in which God supposedly works are indistinguishable from his not working at all. Occam’s Razor bids us accept the simpler explanation, whether we find it desirable or not.

And that’s just it. A part of me does indeed desire that God exist. So that he could place his healing hand on that sick child. So that he could comfort me in my time of need. This is why, though I get a kick out of Christopher Hitchens, I do not identify with his brand of antitheism. It’s not that I wish there were no God; I wish there were, but I simply find the prospect utterly dubious. It smacks of wishful thinking, which is given the euphemistic term ‘faith’ by believers.  Frankly, I don’t find that kind of faith to be virtuous. Neither do I consider it internally honest. Nor practical.

So, chalk me up to good ol’ atheism. With one caveat. I am indeed an antitheist where it concerns Biblical Yahweh. I’m glad that, as Richard Dawkins so eloquently put it, such a “petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” does not exist. It would be horrific if he did!

But, the traditional idea of God that has evolved over the centuries, the benign father figure, is one that I do find desirable. I simply don’t find it tenable. Carl Sagan said it best: “It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

Perhaps I’ll look into whatever treatment exists for my disorder. Or maybe I’ll just revel in it. Who knows? In the absence of a loving mother, as well as that of a loving God, I must ultimately save myself. I am my personal savior. And thus I continue to tread the path of secular humanism. With the hopes that sympathetic friends will walk beside me. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find peace and self-acceptance along the way.

You Are Not Powerless.

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2011 by Derreck Bennett

 

 

Is there a brain disease that negates free will? Perhaps you have been told that your addictive behavior is caused by a brain disease which you inherited, and that free will and choice have been abolished by changes in your brain chemistry. You may also have been told that the power to arrest this disease can only come from outside of you through a benevolent deity, a sponsor, and lifelong attendance at recovery groups. If you doubted such ideas, perhaps you were confronted about being in denial, and told that your denial was proof that you have the disease.

Free will and choice really are important. It may come as both a surprise and a relief to hear that these assertions, which underlie the predominant disease model for addiction treatment, are simply not true. Despite what any addictions specialist or government agency may have told you, earnestly citing neuro-chemistry and brainscan studies, the existing body of research disconfirms this treatment model. There is no such thing as an inherited, addictive brain disease which completely subsumes your volition or free will. In fact, the research clearly shows that, despite obvious neuor-biological vulnerabilties, most successful recoveries are based upon the decision to change and the determination to make it stick.

Empower yourself with the kind of beliefs which research has shown to be effective:

  • Addictive behavior is a human problem with a human solution.
  • Lapses in the past do not prove that I will lapse forever.
  • I am not a moral degenerate for trying to be happy in stupid or self-defeating ways.
  • I am responsible for my thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
  • I am the only one who can change my behavior. Others may help, but nobody can do it for me.
  • It takes hard work and practice, not miracles, to overcome addictive behaviors.
  • I may benefit from help, but ultimately it’s up to me.

(SMART Recovery Handbook 2nd Edition, Section 3/Page 5)

Bill W.’s Blistering Blunders

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2011 by Derreck Bennett

 

Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, is just plain riotous. Really. You have to give it to the man; no one else knows quite how to pile up logical fallacies in such a way as to provide the textbook example of what not to do when it comes to matters of philosophical speculation. Following is my evisceration of some his greatest gaffes from “The Big Book” (as opposed to “The Good Book,” i.e. the Bible), after which I’ll address his inane drivel from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

“The prosaic steel girder is a mass of electrons whirling around each other at incredible speed. These tiny bodies are governed by precise laws, and these laws hold true throughout the material world. Science tells us so. We have no reason to doubt it. When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn’t so.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 49)

I don’t need to draw upon a “perverse streak” in order to point out the fatal flaw in Bill Wilson’s argument; I need only perform a reality check against his perverse reasoning. Here, Mr. Wilson has invoked the Natural Law Argument, which mistakenly conflates descriptive laws with prescriptive laws. Prescriptive laws are the type that human beings prescribe for the sake of social order. They can be obeyed, or they can be broken. Natural laws, on the other hand, are merely descriptions by human beings of invariable patterns observed in the natural world. As such, the word “law” here is not intended to convey an intelligent agent or “law giver.” This is a prime example of the fallacy of equivocation, in which one plays up the wrong meaning of a word that has multiple meanings.

Granted there are powerful forces at work in nature, it is fallacious to ascribe intelligence to them. Another precise law that holds true throughout the material world is the law of conservation of angular momentum. We know this to be the case, because it plays a vital role in the formation of galaxies strewn throughout the universe. It also plays a vital role in the formation of hurricanes, which leave untold death and destruction in their wake. If you wish to see a guiding intelligence behind this, you’re the pervert.

“We read wordy books and indulge in windy arguments, thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 49)

The irony is delicious, as this chapter of Bill Wilson’s work represents nothing if not a wordy book that indulges in windy arguments.

“Were our contentions true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing, means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 49)

Let’s start with the claim that, without God, “life originated out of nothing.” In fact, I’ll do him one better. Per the Cosmological Argument, it is said that, without God, the Universe itself would have to have originated from nothing. Funny thing is… it kinda did. But, we’ll get to that in a moment.

The logical fallacy inherent in this argument is that of the false dilemma. Bill Wilson has illegitimately restricted us to only two options, ignoring any viable alternatives. They are as follows:

  • Life/the Universe came from God
  • Life/the Universe came from Nothing

Our only choices? Not so fast. Here is the third option that Mr. Wilson has conveniently ignored:

  • Life/the Universe came from Something, i.e. Natural Phenomena

Indeed, we have a well-established scientific understanding of our natural origin, one which has no need of the God Hypothesis—evolution via natural selection. If we can account for our existence by means of Nature, why invoke God? Occam’s Razor comes in handy once again, suggesting that we need not multiply entities beyond necessity. Of course, the initial origin of all life at the molecular level—abiogenesis—is not yet fully understood, but this does not justify making an argument from ignorance by merely inserting a god into the gap. That much, history should have taught us by now.

And, please, let’s not continue to entertain any challenges to evolution by appeal to the “Intelligent Design” movement. This circus has had its day in court—literally (see Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District). Its sacred cow, irreducible complexity, has been flatly refuted in every aspect, from bacterial flagella and human eyeballs to blood clotting and the immune system. And yes, Virginia, transitional fossils do exist (see http://darwiniana.org/hominid.htm). Case closed.

That brings us to the Universe. Admittedly, it is finite. It has not always existed. The whole kit and kaboodle was birthed about 13.7 billion years ago in a fiery cauldron of cataclysmic chaos. So, where did it come from? Well, according to physicists… nothing. But, not exactly.

When physicists refer to the Big Bang as the emergence of the Universe from “nothing,” they are being rather misleading. They know full well that the nothingness of which they speak is not a state of absolute nothingness, but a quantum vacuum. To quote Christian philosopher William Lane Craig (for the sake of irony), “the vacuum is not nothing, but is a sea of fluctuating energy endowed with a rich structure and subject to physical laws.” Ergo, the Universe was indeed spawned from something, the quantum field—arguably the substratum of all existence. Where did it come from, you might ask? Well, why would it need to have come from anywhere? It has probably always been. As physicist Victor Stenger put it, “If God did not have to come from something, because she had no beginning, then neither did physics.” Therein lies your First Cause, i.e. the Uncaused Cause or Prime Mover: an indispensable, high-energy-yielding void. Go ahead and pray to it for some cake. Or a Transformers lunchbox. Or a cure to your addiction. Or for quick relief from your flaring case of genital herpes. (Hint: it doesn’t give a fuck.)

That brings us next to the assertion that, without God, life “means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.” This is really just a pathetic appeal to emotion, and one that is way off track, anyway. I highly recommend Dr. Robert M. Price’s The Reason Driven Life on this point—the antithesis, by the way, to Reverend Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. Meaning need not be handed down “From on High.” If Meaning can be diluted to merely a one-size-fits-all garment from God, then it is “derivative and secondhand” as Price puts it—not to mention, an affront to individualism, completely devoid of the beauty that springs from diversity and personal choice. Rather than speak of the meaning of life, we should speak of your meaning of life. Meaning is in the Eye of the Beholder—the core of existentialist philosophy. We determine our own meaning. We make of life what we will. It is truly as simple as that.

“How he does cherish the thought that man, risen so majestically from a single cell in the primordial ooze, is the spearhead of evolution and therefore the only god that his universe knows!” (The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 25)

Way to go, schlep, seeing as how I haven’t met a single atheist who proposes this kind of nonsense. This is a classic example of the strawman fallacy, in which the author must misrepresent his opponent’s position in order to more easily refute it. Fact of the matter is, we live on the outskirts of a galaxy consisting of a few hundred billion stars. And, strewn throughout the vast expanse of the cosmos, there exists something like a hundred billion galaxies–each practically its own universe, in and of itself. If you do the math, taking into account the law of averages of large numbers, you end up with literally millions of civilizations–even if life is rare! To think ourselves the most advanced form of life in this 14 billion year old universe is fucking preposterous. Bill W. was apparently so poorly read up on astronomy that even the Catholic Church would take issue during the time of Galileo.

 

The Empty Tomb: A Rhetorical Dead End

Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2011 by Derreck Bennett

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).

 

After attending an AA meeting last night, I had a moment to snoop around the Presbyterian Church in which it took place. I snuck into a dimly lit cathedral, accented with the glow of elaborate, stained glass windows, equipped with massive organ pipes and a sacred alter, upon which a golden cross and communion plates glistened in the dark. It was almost breathtaking. For all my disbelief, I had to admire the majesty of the atmosphere which now enveloped me. I even stepped up to the podium, flipped on the overhead light, and read from Romans–specifically chapter 6 in which Paul describes the theological significance of baptism. I almost fancied myself a preacher in that moment. The irony was palpable.

I couldn’t help but look out upon the empty pews and imagine them filled with believing inquisitors. What might they make of my atheism? What challenges might they pose? Almost immediately, my mind went to the empty tomb. For reasons that baffle me, this seems to be the stock argument of preference among believers in the resurrection of Christ. And that, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:17, is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Even apologist Lee Strobel expressed this on his syndicated television show, Faith Under Fire, declaring that, for Christianity, “everything hinges on the resurrection.”

So, what does an atheist such as myself make of that empty tomb? How else can it be explained except for the blunt fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead? And how am I supposed to get through this blog without snickering incessantly as I demolish this argument from every angle? I’ll just pop a benzo, I suppose. No, wait, we burnt that bridge, didn’t we? Fine. I’ll settle for cheap booze. Okay, fuck it. Nicotine. There, is everybody happy? Sheesh, leave me something with which to quell my raging hilarity.

For starters, appeals to the empty tomb are an exercise in circular reasoning. It’s tantamount to suggesting that we can be certain of the adventures of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow given the evidence of the yellow brick road. Wait, what? What yellow brick road? It’s part of the fiction! We can’t assume the historicity of the narrative setting any more than we can assume the veracity of the narrative action. So, we’re already knee deep in fallacious argumentation. Ruh-roh.

But, wait, it gets worse.

The story of Joseph of Arimathea and the rich man’s tomb is likely a literary construct to begin with, drawing upon a Midrashic interpretation of Isaiah 53:9: “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death.” Understood within its historical context, Isaiah 53 refers to the quintessential Israelite captive to Babylon and his eventual vindication at the hands of Persian intercessors–not a prophetic charade about Jesus some 500+ years later! Though the NT writers were all too happy to illicitly prooftext the OT for narrative ingredients that would flesh out their story. Shame on them.

Furthermore, Paul never mentions any “empty tomb” in his letters, which serve as the earliest testimony to Christian preaching. Quite a critical detail for one such as Paul to omit. We first encounter the story some 15-20 years later in Mark’s gospel, after which more than enough time had ensued for literary embellishment. Ouch.

But, wait, it gets even worse.

The whole notion of a “missing body” is demonstrably a fictive element employed by Mark, cut from the same cloth as contemporary apotheosis narratives in which the body of a hero or demigod goes missing, suggesting that some extraordinary miracle has taken place, i.e. the body has either been raised from the dead or raptured up to heaven to be among the gods. A few examples:

“…when the companions of Iolaüs came to gather up the bones of Heracles and found not a single bone anywhere, they assumed that, in accordance with the words of the oracle, he had passed from among men into the company of the gods.”
(Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4:38:3-5)

“Romulus, when he vanished, left neither the least part of his body, nor any remnant of his clothes to be seen… the senators suffered them not to search, or busy themselves about the matter, but commanded them to honour and worship Romulus as one taken up to the gods.”
(Plutarch, Romulus, Book 2, 27)

“A severe battle took place not far from Lavinium and many were slain on both sides, but when night came on the armies separated; and when the body of Aeneas was nowhere to be seen, some concluded that it had been translated to the gods…”
(Dionysus of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 1:64:4-5; translation by Ernest Cary).

Bottom line: appeals to the empty tomb are empty of cogency. The whole thing reeks of a syncretistic fusion of Hellenistic and Midrashic fiction. And if there was one, Paul never makes mention of it, which is pretty damning. But, hey, let’s keep it circulating just for my amusement. Circular arguments work because circular arguments work because circular arguments work because circular arguments work because circular arguments work because circular arguments work…

I need a goddamn cigarette.