How NOT to Talk to Atheists

So, there I was this morning going through my Twitter timeline (@persecuted23 for those interested) when I caught part of a conversation between an Atheist and a Christian. (I follow many Atheists, Pagans, non-Christians.) I find the conversations between Christians and Atheists particularly interesting.  I can really see why the Atheists get so damned frustrated. Actually, I remember the same conversations I have had as I was an Atheist most of my life.

The conversations tend to go something like this:

“Oh so you’re an Atheist, are you?”

“Yes, I am an Atheist.”

“But don’t you know what God says? That if you don’t believe in Jesus you are going to Hell.”

“Well, for starters, I do not believe in God, neither do I believe in Hell.”

“But God’s word, the Bible, says….”

What the Christians neglect that the frame of reference that they most often use in these conversations has been rejected prior to the conversation.  They keep going back to it in a never ending spiral of  the logical fallacy of petitio principii. These people can’t seem to understand that the argument that they are trying to make will never be made because the premise is rejected. For Atheists God, and therefore the Bible, have no authority because for them God is non-existent. So, to keep referring to God, to keep repeating the Psychologist’s fallacy becomes nonsensical within the conversation. I have never witnessed a conversation between an Atheist and a Christian where the Atheist hasn’t tried until she was blue in the face to get that point across. Yet, Christians keep pressing the petitio principii and the psychologist’s fallacy. You may well desire that your position, your frame of reference to be universally accepted and think it objective, but it just simply isn’t either.

Not only am I offended by the ridiculousness of the continued repetition of these fallacious arguments I am equally offended by the confrontational and combative nature of them. Instead of approaching people with an attitude of “I’m right, you’re wrong”, why not try to understand where they are coming from. Maybe, just maybe it was conversations like these that pushed someone from agnosticism to atheism. Maybe take a lesson from Paul when he visited Athens. He first explored the city, went to their temples and shrines and learned what they believe. Then used the truths that they possessed as a starting point. He found points of agreement before he engaged in conversation with non-believers. Paul did not look for points of disagreement. Jesus never looked for points of disagreement when He approached people, whoever they were.  Jesus and Paul honored people and their opinions, did not approach them with, “You’re wrong.”

Listen to the Atheists, the Pagans, the Muslims, the Buddhists, to everybody and find where we intersect, where we have common belief, common experience. Then, and only then, can you even begin to even communicate.

Advertisements

Jesus and the Death Penalty

Lately there seems to have been a rash of “Christian” pastors/preachers saying that certain groups of people should be put to death. While they are absurd and most of us think so, there are still those who buy into their hate and bigotry, “Yeah, put those people to death!” followers of these false teachers cry. These false teachers are not so much Christian as they are Leviticans (a really cool term coined by John Scalzi in his 2004 blog post Leviticans. These are people more interested in holding others to the holiness codes of Leviticus and not so much interested in the grace brought by Jesus.

It is true that the Levitical code called for a death penalty for a myriad of transgressions, among them was adultery. In ancient times adultery was a capital offense, just like murder. Even in Jesus day the punishment for adultery was death by stoning.

But here comes this rabbi from Nazareth with this radical teaching: radical love and radical forgiveness. Jesus reinterprets the law and reduces it to Love, God and everybody else. Just love, that is the law. In his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:2-7:27 Jesus turns the law upsidedown and inside out. No, He doesn’t abolish it, He redefines it, shows it for what it was meant to be all along. Go ahead, go check it out for yourselves, I’ll wait, it is only 108 verses long, I have time.

See? Did I lie? Turns the law and what the religious leaders have been teaching the people on its head. Then in verse 7:28 the people recognize that Jesus taught them what they should have been taught all along, ” Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” The scribes were the authority on the law, yet Jesus reinterpretation comes from one with even greater authority. Jesus reinterpretation, recasting of the law into the simple command to Love, increases the amount of love in the world, where the old interpretation, the old casting of the law served to diminish love in the world.

What’s this have to do with the death penalty, you ask? Well, stay with me a few minutes more and I just might make it clear. I certainly hope I can.

2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

We see that the religious leaders bring before Jesus a woman caught in the act of committing a capital offense, adultery. These leaders want to execute her, rightly under the law as written and interpreted for a millennium (Leviticus 20:10). Yet they ask Jesus what should be done with her, what should her punishment be? Basically Jesus says, you know the law and it calls for execution, execute her. Oh yeah, before you do you better make sure you are not guilty of any transgressions yourselves. If you have any guilt whatsoever then you may not execute this transgressor. The would be executioners drop their implements and walk away. The religious leaders recognize that Jesus has recast the law. In this recasting death is no longer a viable punishment. The death penalty is abolished because only the one with no guilt, no sin, can actually carry it out. We learned in the Sermon on the Mount that no one, no matter how righteous she thinks she is, is free from transgressing the law. That those who have lived by and obeyed the letter of the law have violated the spirit of the law. No one is fit, according to Jesus, to carry out a death penalty. In so interpreting and recasting, Jesus changes the law to the law of love, as it was always intended. Sure there are consequences and punishments for criminal behaviour, but the death penalty, for the Christian is no longer one of the options, it has been abolished through the fulfillment of the law.

More lenses: Racism

I am from the Chicago area. I was born in Zion and raised in Waukegan. I have lived in Round Lake, St. Charles, Evanston, Oak Park, and Chicago (the city I will always call home.)

 

Zion was a town formed by the Christian Catholic Church as sort of a separatist community. The church owned all the property, stores, etc. They had a couple of factories (if you lived in the area for a long long time maybe you remember the Zion brand of cookies (best darned fig bars ever)). The church needed workers so they advertised in the bible belt. So the population of Zion had family connections to rural Mississippi and Alabama, even 30 years after Zion became a real town. Now there were blacks in Zion, but you really didn’t see them much. I was born here prior to the civil rights movement so there were strong anti-black sentiments and attitudes. (My parents rejected racism as best they could, they were from Madison, WI that hotbed of liberalism.)

 

Waukegan was a little more progressive, yet there was still a segregation. Blacks had their neighborhoods, whites theirs. The grade schools and junior high schools were segregated due to districting. I did not attend school with a black person until high school in spite of the fact that my neighborhood was in close proximity to the black neighborhood (I had black friends whose houses I walked to, yet they didn’t go to my school, which was closer for them). I was lucky enough to watch this change over the years.

 

Zion, too became more integrated over the years. I think people learned that people are people. White and black living side by side when not so many years before they would never. Zion became a poor community, poor whites, poor blacks living side by side. Maybe not hanging out together, but living together.

 

Now I must talk about Winthrop Harbor. As late as the 1980s it was rumoured that the Imperial Wizard or Grand Dragon of the KKK lived there. No blacks lived in the town. When I was with the blues band and we were the house band at a club in Winthrop Harbor, I’d try to get my black musician friends to stop by and play. Well, they felt it unsafe for them to be in town after dark. Whether there was a real threat or not, these people actually felt one.

 

When I lived in the city of Chicago, I lived in several different areas. The North side was ethnically diverse when I lived in Wrigleyville. Little Italy over by the University of Illinois had at one time been Italian, but because of the university it had become diverse. We lived just blocks from the Abla Homes on Racine (I lived in these projects for a time too.) Then we moved into Bridgeport. Bridgeport was pretty white and racist, there and Canaryville. Matter of fact while we lived there a 13 year old black kid was beaten almost to death by two whites for daring to ride his bicycle through the neighborhood, this would have been 1997. Think he was in a coma for awhile and awoke brain damaged.

 

Prison in Illinois was quite integrated, the divisions were along gang lines with each major faction having members of all races. I was shocked at the racism in the California prisons.

I was arrested while walking through the Abla Homes for being white in a black neighborhood. I had a black lawyer who was incensed by me being a victim of racial profiling. The judge saw it exactly the same as if I had been black in a white neighborhood. Interesting because this was a single incident for me, but for blacks in white neighborhoods it is a frequent occurrence. Another day, when I was staying in the projects (Abla) I was walking with a friend or two, I was the only white guy. A young black man, a teen probably, it was dark, who was loaded accosted me (verbally, though there was some body language/positioning) for being white and the hundreds of years of oppression his people experienced at the hands of “my” people. My black friends almost got violent, I stopped them. Let this kid have his say, I am sure he has experienced worse from those who look like me. The kid didn’t really know how to deal with that and just sort of walked away. I saw this young man the next day or day after. He apologized and we were friendly after that.

As the song goes, “I’ve seen the goodside of bad, and the downside of up and everything between.” I have come to believe people are people and like Josie Wales tells Ten Bears, “Governments don’t live together, people do. With governments you don’t always get a fair shake….I’m saying men can live together.” From what I have seen and experienced people can set aside their racist tendencies when they can break away from the systems that encourage racism. That young man accosting me was a systemic evil manifesting itself in him for a moment, a systemic evil he had experienced from very early on. Yes, I could have taken offense, I never did anything to him, I never called him a n*&&%^, I was being falsely accused, yet I wasn’t. By accident of birth I inherited the legacy of my race and gender. I chose not to be offended, that in itself took the fight out of him and led to dialog and friendliness later.

 

I’m not sure any of this makes any sense to anyone. This is my limited America

The Embrace of Unknowing

Peter Rollins talks about the narratives of our lives.

Did the Grinch Really Steal Christmas?

I was watching the local morning infotainment show the other morning. They ran an animated ad for themselves based on the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. In this cartoon, they renamed the Grinch the Grunch (if my memory doesn’t fail me), and the Cindy Lou Who character was portrayed by the likeness of one of the anchors. The Grinch being one of my favourite Christmas programs I watched this lil’ short/ad.

There he is, the Grunch, loading the presents into his sack, the Christmas tree ornaments, etc. Just like in the original the Cindy Lou Who character comes and sees “Santa” stealing everything. Like the Grinch the Grunch begins to offer some explanation for why all the material goods need to be taken away. Just as the lil’ girl looks as if she will accept the explanation, she pulls out a giant cartoon hammer and chases the Grunch away.

I was appalled. Their lil’ remake of the Christmas classic completely misses the point of Dr. Seuss’ story. The good doctor provides us with a story that is anti-consumerism, anti-commercialism, and full of redemption.  The message of the Grunch is anti-Christmas, pro-materialism, pro-consumerism. It has the message that, “Yes! The Grinch did steal Christmas.” Yet, Seuss’ story tells us that Christmas cannot be stolen. Christmas is NOT decorated trees, presents, big dinners. No, even when the Whos of Whoville woke to find all of the material trappings associated with Christmas gone, they still celebrated. Christmas was in their hearts. When the Grinch sees this Advent happens to him. His heart grows three sizes. He is transformed, a new creation. The radical love of the Who community has touched him opened the door for the true spirit of Christmas. It’s as if Christ is born in the Grinch’s heart on that Christmas morning.

But the news show’s version allows for no such thing. Instead it is the trappings that are important. The material that is associated with the spirit of Christmas, with love itself. There is nothing for the Grunch to see, to open his heart for the birth of the Saviour. No, instead greed, what’s mine is mine, having material things was reinforced.

Later I was reminded of A Charlie Brown Christmas another story of the true meaning of Advent. Because aren’t we all that ratty, broken, naked stick of a tree despised by all. Then the transfomative power of the Spirit of Christmas changes the hearts of the kids who then pass that love along to the tree. I certainly am more that little unwanted tree, was until transformed by the birth of Christ within my heart.

I still watch the show knowing it is owned by CBS and is a tool of the 1%, but I was disappointed.

Guest Post: Why I Love Islam –Jennifer

When asked to write a few words about why I love Islam, I jumped at the opportunity! Of course I would write about the greatest gift I have ever been blessed with, but where to begin? So, out came my notepad and pencil and I began scribbling away.

 

“Islam is a religion of peace”, I wrote. I sat with that for a moment. Yeah, so? That is one cliche we’ve all heard ad nauseum, the line almost every Muslim uses apologetically or in defense to some accusatory comment about Islam. I’m sorry, but being a true lover of this faith and a writer at heart, those words simply aren’t going to cut it. Something inside of me, and the vastness of this beautiful faith, demand more. Here it is:

 

Yesterday, as I was leaving my Doctor’s appointment, I walked by a long row of bright red, yellow and orange bushes. Yes, it is Autumn here in Toronto and the landscape of colors is breathtaking. For some reason, I found myself unable to move. I stood there in awe of this perfect scene and felt completely overwhelmed by the beauty of nature before me. Without even a thought, I found my heart and lips uttering these words:

 

رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذا بَاطِلاً سُبْحَانَكَ

Our Lord, you have not created all of this is vain. Glory be to you!

 

That, is one of the reasons I love Islam. You see, Islam is not a list of do’s and do nots. It is not simply a dogma to be followed or a prescribed set of rules to govern, but rather a true love, a spirt, that dwells inside the hearts of those who believe. It is a gift for all of us to be blessed with so much beauty that surrounds us, not only in nature, but in science, language, human kindness, etc., but an even a more so profound gift for our hearts to be inclined to naturally associate beauty with God and his bounties. So, when we see something that catches our eye, makes our hearts flutter, such as the Autumn scene I fell in love with yesterday, it is not short of a miracle that we can see God’s intrinsic beauty in those things and in turn give thanks and duly praise Him! Islam lends that gift to its believers. It leaves us in a continuous state of internal worship, reflection and connection.

 

Connection, is one of the other many blessings of Islam. When I think of my faith I think of a family; a group of people from different places all over the world, speaking a myriad of languages, celebrating the richness in the diversities of their cultures and yet sharing in the love of One God, following the teachings of One final messenger and striving towards One ultimate goal: living a mindful, peaceful, content life in hopes of attaining God’s pleasure. It always amazes me when I’m out and about and someone smiles and says “As-salaamu ‘alaikoum Sister” to me as they pass by. It makes my heart overfill with a sense of belonging. There could be no greeting lovelier than “Peace be upon you, Sister”. Sister.  Just the thought of us all being a part of one big family, that binds us only by God’s love and mercy, brings tears to my eyes.

 

When I think of a family, I think of safety, security and well being. Those are all things that I feel my faith offers me. Yes, it would be nice to sit and write an entire article on things that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but the reality of the world we live in is that there are things that can lead us unto paths that aren’t  in our best interests.

 

Probably one of the most important things I’ve learned from my faith is Trust. I Trust that God loves me and wants what’s best for me. In that, I follow what He has lovingly and wisely prescribed for me so that I might live the best possible life I can. Having my faith to turn to for answers when choices are difficult takes a huge weight off of my shoulders. In essence, I turn my faith and trust to God and know that I am in good hands.

 

What I really love about Islam is its simplicity. There is no middle man between me and God. His promise to me, as revealed in the Holy Qur’an is this: “When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them), I respond to the prayer of every supplicant when he calls on Me”.  (Al-Baqarah: 186). Each time I read or hear this verse I break down in tears because it is a reminder to me of just how easy it is to be close to my Creator. I love this verse because it says “every supplicant”, not only the super pious ones, those in positions of power, saints, but EVERYONE, including me! It also says, “whenever he calls upon me”. It doesn’t say during the 5 daily prayers, or in the middle of the night or at any other prescribed time. It simply says, “whenever”. For me, this is the best gift God has given me: His presence and closeness in my life at all times.

Your Brain Fries on Biblical Inerrancy

 

Biblical inerrancy assumes God dictated the Bible exactly in the same way that God dictated the Qur’an. But the very name Israel suggests that this isn’t so.