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Friday, July 15, 2011

Atheism Friday: Ghosts, Holy and Unholy

Church Ghostphoto © 2010 Alex Roe | more info (via: Wylio)Last Friday I mentioned that I don't think "belief in God" is "the main issue" for most atheists. I think there is a much broader belief that has to be there before believing in God is even a possibility at all. But before I tell you what it is, I want to ask you a question: do you believe in spooks? You know, like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz said he didn't but he really did, and like Scooby Doo definitely does but (at least until more recent versions of the Scooby Doo shows and movies) he has no reason to. Spooks. Ghosts. Spirits. Do you believe they exist?

I don't believe in the ghosts that are usually portrayed on TV and in movies. Ever since I was a kid, as a matter of fact, I've wondered what people were so scared of anyway. I mean, they can go though walls. They're completely immaterial. What are they going to do to me? Stab me with a knife they can't hold? Hit me with a club that falls through their hands? Or will they use a ghost club that is solid to the ghost but goes right through me? Seems like the worst thing they could do is say "boo" and make me jump! The could startle me, but they couldn't really hurt me.

But Christians do believe in spirits. We believe in a realm outside of our physical experience, a "spirit realm" or a "spirit world" or whatever. We believe that this realm is inhabited by creatures called angels and creatures called demons. We also believe that human beings have a toe or two in that world, too... that part of us exists in that plane of reality as surely as part of us exists in the physical plane of reality. We believe this because we find it in the Bible. But the existence of a spirit world cannot be proven or disproven by hard science. Why? Because science is about the physical world. Tryign to prove the existence of a spirit world using a discipline designed to find out about the physical realm is like trying to dance a color or sing a flavor. It can't be done. We can't measure the spirit world with a yardstick.

Is there evidence of a spirit world out there? I think there is. I've heard stories of near-death experiences where people met God and were given choices to make. I've heard stories of people having visions of things they couldn't possibly know any other way. I've heard of other paranormal phenomena, and I'll bet you have too. There is easily enough evidence to convince someone with an open mind that there might be something going on behind the scenes which physical science can't quantify.

Most atheists will explain all of these phenomena away as trickery, hallucinations, or lies. And doubtless, at least some of it is... but there is only one reason to jump to that conclusion: not believing in the existence of a spirit realm at all. Believing that nothing exists except things we can see with our eyes (at least, if we augment them with strong enough microscopes and telescopes). If there is no spirit realm at all, then we have to assume that each of those paranormal occurrences is a trick, a hallucination, or a lie. And so are angels and demons.

And so is God.

Tell me, though. Given the vast number of occurrences of those paranormal experiences throughout the world and down through the centuries of time, what exactly makes it such a compelling case that they are all explainable as something other than paranormal? If one million people claim to have seen an angel, what makes one atheist so positive that he is correct in calling them all liars or idiots? Why would the human mind construct such a variety of fairy tales? What possible purpose could it serve? I think the evidence for there being something outside of the physical world is compelling. Whether each individual occurrence is true or not is not the issue; the issue is whether even one of them is true. If they are all false and there is in fact no spirit realm, then there is also no God. But if even one of them is an authentic brush with the supernatural, then it opens up the possibility of a being who exists outside of this plane of existence.

You don't have to believe in Casper the Friendly Ghost (or Malcolm the Angry Aggressive Ghost, or whatever) to believe in God. But if you don't believe in the supernatural at all, you cannot truly believe in God.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Never A Bad Deal

I never thought the book of Jeremiah would make me laugh. Isn't he called the weeping prophet? But when I closed my Bible, I was chuckling.

Last Thursday we received some discouraging information from our banker. We're working on a loan to make some repairs to our house, and the appraisal came back lower than we had hoped. It won't stop us from doing what needs to be done, but it certainly presented an unwanted bump in the road. My wife in particular was pretty crushed about it, and I knew it.

I am currently in the nineteenth month of my quest to read all the way through the Bible in one year (it's been a really long year!) and that evening after getting the negative news, I picked up my Bible and simply turned to the next chapter on the list: Jeremiah chapter 32. And that's the chapter that made me laugh. "Guess what my Bible reading was about tonight, Sweetie?" I said to my wife.

"What was it about?" she asked.

"A bad real estate deal!"

Let me set the stage for you. The nations of Israel and Judah, God's people, were in deep trouble. They had finally rebelled against God past a point of no return, and they were on the brink of being completely conquered by Babylon. Some of them were already in exile in Babylon, in fact, but there were still pockets of resistance to the conquerors; one such pocket was Jerusalem itself, where the king, Jeremiah, and the rest of the inhabitants of the city were barricaded in and under siege. Jeremiah, in addition, was under arrest in the palace; the king was very upset with him because Jeremiah had prophesied that indeed, Jerusalem was going to fall to Nebuchadnezzar, and the king himself was going to face some unpleasant consequences when it happened. So in the middle of Jeremiah being under arrest in a city that was about to be invaded and the inhabitants deported, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.

God told him to buy some land.

To his credit, Jeremiah immediately and publicly did what he was commanded to do by the Lord. But later on he went to the Lord in prayer, and after reviewing just about the entire history of the Jewish nation, Jeremiah asked a very logical question, but one that you wouldn't expect to hear from the lips of a faithful prophet of God. "Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it," Jeremiah prayed. "What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it. Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, 'Buy the field for money and get witnesses'—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans." (Jeremiah 32:24-25 ESV)

It gave me a chuckle when I read that, because it seemed so unexpected. Jeremiah is all like, oh Lord, You made everything. You save people, You punish people, You do mighty signs. And then at the very end he almost whines, God, you just told me to waste money on land that's about to be taken away from me by a conquering army! What's the deal here, God? What's going on?

I don't know if you've ever felt like that... wait, yes I do know. You have felt like that sometime if you've been a Christian longer than about ten minutes. We all do. It's nice to see that the mighty prophet Jeremiah felt that way, and yet he still acted in obedience. I guess that means that being a Christian doesn't always mean that you understand what you're being instructed to do, but you're being faithful and obedient right now and asking for an explanation later, right? Food for thought.

Anyway, as I was reading through it, God's answer to Jeremiah's question hit me like a ton of bricks, and it has become my theme verse for what we're doing with our real estate. "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh," God said to Jeremiah. And then God added, "Is anything too hard for me?"

What God knew but Jeremiah did not know was that buying the land was a prophetic act. God had his prophets do all kinds of weird things in Old Testament days. Live completely naked for three years. Marry a known prostitute. And, in this case, buy land that's going to be taken away almost immediately by a conquering army. These outlandish acts were done not to be outrageous, but to make a point. The point in this case was that one day, God was going to rescue His people from Babylon, and when that happened, they would return to the Promised Land and Jeremiah's land deeds would once again be valid. What looked like a crazy act turned out to be an investment in a future only God could see. And bringing that future to fruition was not in any way too hard for God! Jeremiah's bad business deal would one day turn into a valuable investment.

Well, despite our bump in the road, we're going ahead with the plan for our house which we believe God has placed in our hearts. Just because it seems like it's not going perfectly doesn't mean it's not God's wisdom. I'm certainly not advocating making wild business deals in hopes that God will somehow magically turn them into good business deals, but I am advocating a life of prayer and listening for the voice of God. When God is behind something, it will not fail.

"Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?" (Jeremiah 32:27 ESV)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Atheism Friday: Proof God Exists © 2010 Jeffrey Beall | more info (via: Wylio)Not too long ago I read a terrific book about the Christian church world written by a man who was and is an atheist, even though he has spent a great deal of time visiting various churches (read my review here). Now I'm no skilled debater, and I'm sure my chances of actually convincing someone that God exists when they've got their mind made up are slim, but I did have some thoughts while I was reading the book that I wanted to share over the course of the next several Fridays.

So I thought I would really hit the ground running right away. Let's talk about something atheists seem to think nobody has: proof that God exists.

There is a story in the Bible about a man who dies without acknowledging God, and he winds up in Hell. From Hell he is somehow able to talk to Abraham (who is not in Hell, but is in the afterlife), and he asks Abraham to send him back to persuade his brothers that they should turn to God before they die. "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets," Jesus quotes Abraham as replying, "neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31 ESV) Essentially, Jesus was saying through his story that the testimony of the Scriptures is enough evidence that anyone who hears the message and is open to the truth will be persuaded by them. I never write anyone off, but if someone has his mind made up, if we are to believe this Scripture, it's going to be pretty difficult to sway them.

But I think there is other persuasive evidence. The most comprehensive proof of the existence of God that the Scripture mentions is the world around us. In Romans 1:19-20, the apostle Paul, talking about people who reject God, declares that "...what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." Paul says that Creation itself is so amazing that it should point anyone who is open to the idea of a creator toward Him. And in fact, the more science discovers about the complexity of living things and of matter and existence in general, the harder you have to work to imagine that it could have all happened by accident. Science has not by any means disproved the existence of God.

In fact, ironically enough, one of the ideas that Science came up with in the twentieth century caused great consternation to Christians who believe that God personally created the cosmos, but it actually had presented a pretty huge obstacle to those who would like to say there is no creator and life developed spontaneously by chance over the course of many billions of years. The "Big Bang" theory says that the cosmos has not been around for an eternity past, but it originated only something like 13.7 billion years ago, which is kind of a tight schedule by evolutionary standards. Scientists also calculate that the conditions needed to create a universe with planets that could support life are pretty exacting; even a very small deviation from what they theorize must have happened would result in a universe devoid of life, or a universe that would collapse back in on itself or otherwise be destroyed long before life could have developed. The Big Bang theory actually points toward the existence of an intelligent designer; if you choose to insist that this designer is not the God of the Bible, that's one thing, but to insist that the designer does not exist actually runs counter to accepted scientific theory.

But let's quit looking at the world around us for a minute, and turn our thoughts inward. Let's examine ourselves. We are creatures that have two interesting features: first, we believe that some things are morally right and some things are morally wrong. And second, the human race has a strange habit of worshiping things. The existence of the idea of morally right things and morally wrong things does not fit with the idea of "survival of the fittest" which would seem to be the obvious way to live; if I want something and it exists, outside of morality, the obvious thing to do is to take it for myself, even if it belongs to someone else. If I do not like someone, if I have no sense of moral right and wrong, the way to make sure that person never irritates me again would be to kill them and eliminate the problem permanently. But somehow we've gotten the idea that some things are "right" and some things are "wrong." With no logical reason for those kinds of ideas to have evolved naturally, the evidence points toward a supernatural source for them.

Down through the centuries, people seem determined to find something to worship. It may be the Hebrew or Christian or Muslim God, or any of a huge variety of other gods and goddesses, but humans seem to really desire contact with something or someone larger and more powerful than themselves. To me, there are only two reasons why this could be: either there is a creator who has intentionally placed this desire within human beings, or we are a flawed and pathetic race, afraid of the knowledge that we might be alone in the universe. Why would human beings, who in general are fiercely independent, have an inborn weakness that makes them desire to place themselves under a deity? I don't buy it. I think God made us with an inborn desire to know Him.

But let's bring this all the way down to a key point. Does God have to prove He exists in order to exist? Could He possibly exist and not leave any clues at all? Of course He could, and if He exists, it doesn't matter if you believe He exists or not. I love this bit from an old Stan Freburg Christmas recording: "I still ain't made up my mind yet about Toledo!" Does Toledo exist, even if Grudge decides he doesn't believe it does? You tell me.

I think the evidence for a creator is actually pretty strong, and the arguments against that evidence are pretty flimsy. Next Friday I want to discuss what I think the real issue is for many atheists... I don't think the existence of God is the real issue. Find out what I think it really is next week!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Oh boy, was I stressed.

See, my boss just got married. Obviously, that would be a source of stress for him, but you wouldn't expect it to be a source of stress for me, would you? Well, it was. See, where I work we are basically a two-man shop. I'm a Web site programmer, and although we do have one programmer that works for us part-time off-site, and we do have a number of terrific, professional coworkers in the office, as far as on-site programming and technical support is concerned, there's only the two of us. So when my boss went on a two-week honeymoon outside of the country and largely outside of range of anyplace he could check his email on his phone (smart man, that guy!) it meant that it was me handling any emergencies that cropped up. On top of that, I had several complex and high-profile projects to try and get a handle on. The result was that I wasn't far into the first week when I started to feel the pressure. I started to feel "stressed."

I don't remember the first time I ever heard the word "stress" used to describe an emotional state; as a kid I remember just knowing that it meant something that could happen to a bridge or something and make it break. And I may be wrong, but using "stressed" as an adjective for that state seems like a relatively new thing to me. "Stress" sounds like a kind of grown-up thing to have, doesn't it? It sounds very business-worldy. Something that high-rollers on Wall Street and the guys in the corner executive offices have. So when I have some "stress," it kind of makes me seem important. Like a president of a company or something. But one day I stopped to think about what stress is, and when it occurred to me what we're talking about here, it was a little bit embarrassing.

Let me let you down easy: like the poodle said, stress is anxiety. Let me give you a second to simmer on that one, because "anxiety" is kind of a grown-up word too, although it's not quite as dignified to be "anxious" as it is to be "stressed." "Anxiety" at least sounds like something important enough to rate an expensive therapist visit to get rid of. But let's unpack it a little further.

Stress is anxiety. And anxiety is just plain old-fashioned fear. Stress doesn't mean being dignified like a CEO: stress means being afraid like a little kid hiding under his blankets so the monsters under the bed don't get him.

What are you stressed about? Upcoming projects, like me? A complicated contract you have to decide on? A business deal that might not come to fruition? How about stress that comes from having people interrupting what you're doing all day long with another issue that legitimately demands your attention? Or stress from having someone in your workplace who seems to have it in for you? Those things are all normal parts of the work world, and there's no reason they have to cause stress. The reason they cause stress is because of fears. You may have a fear, bubbling just under the surface, that you'll make a mistake that costs you some professional pride, that causes you to lose face in front of colleagues or coworkers, or that even costs you your job. Maybe you're afraid that the coworker that seems not to like you will embarrass you in front of a superior. Maybe that person is your superior, and you're afraid that they're going to fire you or demote you. Maybe you're afraid that you just aren't capable of truly accomplishing everything that everybody tosses your way. But whatever the fear is, whatever is causing you anxiety, whatever is stressing you out, stress is really just a euphemism for being afraid.

What does the Bible have to say about fear? Well, essentially it's not God's plan for His people to live in fear. It's interesting that a number of times in the Bible, God and Jesus give a direct command to "fear not." Would God give us a direct command that contradicts what is possible? Of course not! So if God tells us that we shouldn't be afraid, it must mean that it's possible somehow for us to reject fear. But anyone who's ever tried to talk themselves out of being afraid knows that it's pretty much impossible to just put fear out of your mind by sheer willpower. I was never able to make those monsters under my bed when I was a kid go away, no matter how long I hid under the sheets.

You don't get rid of fear by talking yourself out of it. There's something I've realized lately about living life successfully as a Christian: it's not so much a matter of something that you do, as it's a matter of something that you let God do in you. Getting rid of fear is not a matter of using your willpower to talk yourself out of it: it's a matter of making yourself vulnerable and saying, God, I'm afraid of this thing that might happen, but I'm choosing to let You be responsible for causing a favorable outcome. I'm releasing my right to pride and bragging rights at the end, and however it comes out, I'm going to give you the credit. Of course, if you were stressing about something that you have a role to play in, of course do your best work. Don't think God's going to write your contract or report up for you. But if you release your stress to God and connect to Him in faith, you can do your work free of the stress that was hampering you from doing your best work in the first place. You can live free of fear, anxiety, and even stress. Unclench your emotional hold and let God intervene in the situation. What do you have to lose? Well... except for your stress?

Friday, July 1, 2011

"I Sold My Soul On eBay" book review - part 2

In part one of this review, I discussed the merits of Hemant Mehta's very interesting book as a book. In this half, I want to address some of the things that I think the churches and people Hemant came into contact with seem to have failed to explain fully to him. I also want to discuss a few things from the book that struck me as not quite fully thought through.

Hemant does not believe in the existence of anything outside of the observable world. It's not just that he does not believe in the Christian God; he does not believe in a "spirit world" of any kind at all. This not only excludes Christian Theology, but it also excludes every world religion which contains deities, angels, life after death, or anything else "supernatural" (something that exists in or originates from a reality outside of our own). It also makes the title of the book a bit of a misnomer (Hemant acknowledges this in the book), since the author doesn't believe that he even has a soul! But the failure to understand the nature of the spirit world described in Christian Theology is the reason Hemant fails to understand a number of things about Christianity itself.

Before I get into that, I wanted to address two topics I brought up in part one: the racial mix of churches, and the animosity that many or most Christians seem to have for atheists. I think there are complexities to both of these things that go a little further beneath the surface than the book delves, and I'd like to briefly look at those to issues and plumb the depths a little more.

I fully agree with Hemant that most Christian churches seem to be, to one extent or another, racially homogenous. I also agree with him that a rich racial mix would be very desirable for any church. What I do not agree with is that this is necessarily a problem with the attitude of the Christians who attend those churches, or that it is due to worship styles that are unwelcoming to certain ethnic groups. Racism does exist, of course, and people certainly do have preferences as far as music, atmosphere, etc. which are culturally based. But particularly in the case of smaller and mid-sized churches, there may be some other factors. Smaller churches tend to attract a very local congregation; in those cases, the makeup of the neighborhood in which the church itself is located likely plays a big part. The racial makeup of the church may simply reflect a bigger issue in society as a whole: people of different racial origin tend to sort of flock together. Those churches may be very willing to accept someone from a different ethnic group, but if he doesn't live in the neighborhood, he may never come to a service.

In contrast, Hemant makes this statement: "Think about this: atheist gatherings are often a mixture of everyone in society. The people represent different ethnicities, ages, sexual identities, and races, Does it surprise you that secular people are leading the way in accepting others, no matter what their individual differences?" I think the idea that atheists seem to be better about this may be partly because, as Hemant mentions earlier in the book, atheist groups tend to be small and scarce. If there is only one atheist group in your town, you will have to attend that group or nothing. If there were atheist meetings on every street corner, as there are churches in some towns in the United States, you might see the same sorts of breakdowns happening in those gatherings.

As far as animosity on the part of Christians against atheists is concerned, I think that it exists in an odd kind of place in the American mind that can hold two completely opposing viewpoints at once and not notice it. I think in general Christians tend to be suspicious and a little bit afraid of atheists because the main times we hear about and from them is when they are doing something that directly assaults religion, such as trying to get "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance or removing a monument or picture of The Ten Commandments from some courtroom. When the news media reports these things, the perception on the part of the person hearing the report is that atheists are a large, aggressive, antagonistic organization which is seeking to eliminate all traces of spirituality from the world. But I also think that most Christians, encountering an actual human being who is an atheist, once they realize he is not going to take their Bible away and burn it right in front of them or try to force them to believe in evolution, will treat that atheist as a human being, with kindness and friendliness. They might try to convince him of their religious beliefs, that's true, but I don't think Christians as a whole seek out atheists in order to cause any kind of harm to them. I think it's a case of being fearful of "atheists" but not of "an atheist."

But let's talk about that "large atheist organization" that Christians may perceive. Hemant seems to say that it does not exist, that atheists tend to be more individualistic about their beliefs and activities, and I believe him that there is no worldwide atheist organization seeking to destroy religion in all its forms. But for a moment, if you are an atheist, consider the Christian concept of a spirit world in which there is a God who is the good guy, a Satan who is the bad guy, and a battle between them over humankind. The thing that God wants most of all in this scenario is the hearts of human beings. The only thing Satan can do to hamper God's plan at all is to turn human beings against God. Assuming that Satan has demonic agents across the globe, and that those demons have ways of influencing human behavior (I'd say most Christians do believe this), then no human organization is necessary for an assault on Christian beliefs to occur. It could occur through demonic forces, with a degree of organization, convincing as many human beings as possible that God does not exist, and giving them ideas of other things to do to undermine Christianity. I think that's where some of the ambivalent attitudes Christians have toward atheists may originate. When atheists do things that get them on the news in a negative light, say for opposing a Christmas display because of its religious nature, not only does it reinforce an us-against-them point of view, and not only does it assault religion directly (as Christians fear atheists will do anyway), but it assaults Christians on a cultural level that sometimes has little do do with their faith. I think atheists would do well to make pains to expose projects they do to help others to the world at large - humanitarian relief contributions to regions affected by hunger or natural disaster, literacy programs in low-income areas, things like that. Atheists might also do well to understand something that Hemant seems to have understood from the beginning: whether or not religious beliefs are true, more often than not they seem to turn people into nicer people. Why would anyone want to destroy something that has a positive effect on people?

I think a major misunderstanding on the side of atheists is to equate God, religion, and Christianity. The three are related, but they are certainly not the same thing, and to go looking for one in the other is going to lead to errors of understanding. For example: even if every Christian on the face of the world was a lying, dishonest, adulterous, murderous child molester, there could still be a God, and He could conceivably still be a Good Guy, even though his supposed "followers" weren't following His example very well. The failings of Christians do not prove the non-existence of God. Likewise, even if every church out there was found to be engaging in embezzlement and forced labor of congregation members, that doesn't prove that Christian beliefs are false. The word "atheist" means someone who does not believe in a god; realistically, you could reject God but still believe in a spirit world. And realistically, you could be an atheist but still accept religion as a positive thing. "God" is an all-powerful individual; "Christianity" is considering yourself a follower of Christ; "religion" is the set of rituals and observances that someone follows as part of their beliefs about spiritual things. So being an atheist visiting different churches is a step toward understanding Christian culture, but if you will not believe in a spirit world, you will not find God.

There were a few things in Hemant's "testimony" of converting to atheism that seem to me intellectually short-sighted at best, and dishonest at worst. For example: either God exists, or God does not exist. Whether I or you believe in Him makes no difference; if there is no god and we imagine one, it doesn't make him real. So saying that you "chose to become an atheist" seems to me to be nonsensical. It's like choosing to not believe in Toledo: whether you believe in it or not, Toledo does exist! So if some god does exist and you "choose" not to believe in him, you've done nothing but make a fool of yourself (at least, that's what the Bible says about it). If you think there is no such thing as a god, don't say you "choose to believe" that way; have the guts to say what you truly think. Say "I realized there was no God and became an atheist." Sure, it's not as live-and-let-live as the other, but it's much more honest.

But I think Hemant's original reasons for becoming an atheist are questionable. Saying that the "strongest argument for atheism" is that people question their parents' religious beliefs around age 14 is both bold and illogical. At age 14, young people are questioning everything. By that logic, there is a strong argument for promiscuity and teen pregnancy, driving recklessly, teen alcohol use, and all sorts of other things that parents of teenagers oppose. Fourteen-year-olds can't even vote for mayor; as a society we have decided that they are not yet ready to fully understand a question that big. How much bigger is the question "does God exist?" I'm not saying that teenagers shouldn't make up their own minds about big questions; I know a lot of very intelligent, responsible teenagers. But having questions in your mind when you are fourteen is proof of only one thing: you are fourteen.

Hemant relates a story about his sister that he says sort of pushed him over the edge from I'm-not-quite-sure to there-is-no-god. During that questioning fourteenth year of his, his sister voluntarily participated in a grueling religious fast which was probably inadvisable for a child of her age, and her parents let her do it. Watching his sister suffer for her religion was the straw that broke the camel's back for him; if his religion would allow that, then God must not exist. This is an example of that muddled thinking I mentioned earlier, where religious rituals determine the existence of God, like whether I own a DVD of Iron Man determines the existence of Hollywood. The existence of the Paryushana fast, the fact that Hemant's parents allowed his sister to participate, the fact that it was very hard for her... those things don't have anything to do with the existence of any god. For something like that to be the deciding factor in whether a person believes in the existence of a god or not is irrational, emotional, and anti-intellectual. If god exists and I drive a red car, God still exists. If God does not exist and I drive a green car, God still does not exist. The set of rituals a believer in a religion follows have no bearing on the existence of the deity they say they are doing them for.

For the next several weeks, I'm going to take Fridays out to address some of the questions people pose about the existence of God. Part of the reason I know about these questions is because I've asked them myself. I've read C. S. Lewis and I've read Lee Strobel and I've read other stuff, but I'm going to really try not to regurgitate anything I've read somewhere else without thinking it through for myself. These issues are too important to gloss over. Please join me over the next few weeks; comments are always welcome (I do moderate them, but only to avoid spam and offensive language, so keep it clean and civil and there won't be a problem); I pretty much always reply to comments on my blog posts, so feel free to debate if you are so inclined.

Hemant stopped by and checked out this post and Part 1, and he had a few clarifications to add:

-- Fair point about how, if there's only 1 atheist group, it's more likely to be heterogeneous.

-- I think getting "Under God" out of the Pledge and getting the Ten Commandments out of the courtroom are not assaults on religion (as many Christians perceive). I see it as the government endorsing Christianity over others faiths and no faiths. All the atheist groups want is for the government to stay out of the religion business. Many pastors agree with us when it comes to that. (Also, realize that no atheist group has ever tried to stop a child from praying on their own in a school... or a church from praying on a Sunday. We're only interested when public officials try to force their Christianity on others.) I think that's worth clarifying.

-- You're right that pointing out dickish Christians doesn't prove god doesn't exist. But when soooooo many Christians are hypocrites, anti-gay, anti-women, etc, it's easy to show that believing in god doesn't make you a better person, which is a claim a lot of theists love to make. When my sister was suffering during her fast, that wasn't proof god didn't exist. That was evidence suggesting Jainism isn't always a force for good and maybe I need to rethink what I've always believed.

-- Perhaps saying "I chose to be an atheist" was a bad phrase on my part. But so is "I realized there was no god." I think the appropriate thing to say is "There's no evidence god exists" and leave it at that. If Christians want to claim something exists that we can't see/hear/touch, then the onus is on them to prove it. That's a point I've tried to stress on my blog if not my book.

-- It's true that I began questioning god at 14, and that's an age when many things are called into question. Though, it's unfair to say "there is a strong argument for promiscuity and teen pregnancy, driving recklessly, teen alcohol use, and all sorts of other things that parents of teenagers oppose." I'd love to hear your version of the arguments teens make in favor of those things. I think that's a strawman. Anyway, I began questioning then, but it's not like I stopped reading about religion or questioning faith immediately after that. I've been doing those things ever since. And my atheism simply hasn't wavered. I was right then and I've only had that confirmed ever since. To say that my thinking is invalid because I became an atheist at 14 is unfair. (And I know plenty of Christians in youth groups at that age. Do you say they're being silly because they think they "know Christ" at 14?)

Good points all! Thanks for visiting, Hemant! Don't forget to stop by his own blog,!