Sunday, May 6, 2012

Facebook friends

Facebook is still a pretty good way to catch up with people that you've fallen out of touch with - but it's also a notoriously bad place for people to shoot their mouths off about politics and religion.

I have an old acquaintance that I caught up with on Facebook - decent enough guy as far as I can tell, but the years go by, and you just don't know what's happened to people. I could have predicted this guy becoming an outspoken believer - after all, he was "outspoken everything" back in the day. I don't spend any time worry about how people will evolve over time, but I hope the best for them. Recent expressions of piety from him on Facebook , however, were predictable, and serve as an launching pad for a little imaginary rhetorical exercise. To wit:

[Set the scene, imagine my friend Fredly has just expressed belief in Jesus on Facebook, and that I, wanting to hone my skills in discourse, use this as an opportunity to respond. Ignore the fact that a garden-variety expression of faith wouldn't normally rate responding to.]

So, Fredly, you say everyone should believe in Jesus like you do, because it will change your life. Why is that any different than saying that believing in Santa Claus will change your life? Most of us believed in Santa Claus when we were young, and it gave us the hope of presents at Christmastime, but we found out Santa wasn't real, and we got on with our lives. Are we to infer, similarly, that we'll get over believing in Jesus eventually, and will get on with our lives? Why start believing in Jesus in the first place then? We are, after all, adults by now!

[Fredly responds with the usual "I know Jesus is real because I feel him in my heart".]

Fredly, I appreciate that you believe this fervently - I really do - but just because you believe something that you, personally, believe is therefore important for other people to believe, is a poor reason for anyone else to in fact do so. I can imagine you thinking that doughnuts can talk to you, but you'll be looked on as a crackpot until you can demonstrate that they can.

If believing in Jesus helps you individually to be a better person, and leaves everyone else around you unaffected or better off, then good for you! I personally wouldn't recommend it, because the whole idea of worship seems like a cession of autonomy and responsibility that leaves you less able to fulfill your potential as a human being.

[...but he'll save you from Hell...]

And this Hell thing - I take it you believe in Hell as well? That's an interesting proposition. Now, since I'm familiar with the Old and New Testaments, and I understand that the God described in them is allegedly behind this whole Jesus and Hell - and Heaven - scenario, let's unwrap this just a little bit.

First, you know that lots of predecessors to Jesus had concepts of a good place and bad place that the soul goes to after you die. This looks pretty commonplace to me. The Greeks had it. The Romans had it. Hell is the ultimate revenge fantasy: "you may get over on me now, but my big brother will kick your ass next week!" Not compelling as an argument to believe! For the sake of addressing this completely, what kind of place is this Hell? It certainly doesn't show up on Google Maps - well, except for the one in Michigan. So - where could it be?

While we're on the subject, who maintains Hell? How is it done? Is it a parallel world? I get the impression that Christians believe sinners go to Hell for eternity. Sounds like a bummer! A little cruel and unusual, doesn't it? Think about this for a sec ... you live 60, 70, 80 years on this earth - you fail to express belief in Jesus, and no matter that you fed the poor, sheltered the homeless, cared for the sick, and guided the misdirected to a better life - you are consigned to eternal punishment for eternity.

See any problems there? I see a couple - care to discuss them? I thought you would! First - imagine this place. You'd presume it's not in the universe we observe because everything in this one changes over time ... stars and planets don't last forever - a few billion to a trillion years at best. Hardly an eternity.

Same problem with punishment - there's got to be something to punish. Therefore, we have to assume there's a soul - right? Seen one lately? Didn't think so - me neither. Let's assume there is one, though, so we can get on with the eternal punishing thing. So - is it just the soul that goes to hell? How does it feel torment? No nerve endings ... don't have a body. Vulcan Mind Meld perhaps? The devil is a Vulcan? That explains the pointy ears, at least.

Okay, I think we need a body. Uh oh! Another problem! Bodies break down! What's that, you say? God will keep them from breaking down? Hmmm ... so he can eternally torment us. Great guy. Are you sure we shouldn't kick this god of yours in the balls instead?

Okay - so there needs to be space-time and some energy, at least for this Hell to all happen. And our souls and space-time have to be maintained forever, and the sustenance for our souls needs to be available as we need it, which kinda sounds like a problem with the laws of thermodynamics.

I'm thinking this is pretty implausible - wanna give it a rest?

[...but God works in mysterious ways...]

God works in mysterious ways??? What do you think you are, Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 1? Where the heck did this idea of "God" come from anyway? They start yakking about God from the first verse in the Bible, but never attempt to give a real world description of him. If the Bible describes am omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent being, then I'm Sofia Vergara in a Burger King uniform!
This guy is passable at parlor tricks, but worthy of worship? Hardly!

So, presuming that the Yahweh character described in the Old Testament is the God we're talking about, let's dispense with the "God is mysterious" talk and just replace it with "God is incompetent" and on the disabled list.

[...but the Bible is proof that Jesus is the son of God...]

Is any book the proof of anything other than that the book in question was published? Anyone that's read the Bible seriously and completely knows what it says, and knows what a lashed-together compilation of stories and vignettes it is. Heck - look into the history of the Bible and the social and political context in which different passages were written, and you get an excellent idea of how the OT is essentially a tribal history/polemic/apologia that unifies the tribes of Israel and gives them continuity over the millennia. Does it hint at the existence of the supernatural? Of course it does! Does it clarify supernatural characteristics and behaviors? No - not even close. It appears as if written by Bronze Age goat herders to explain things that they had not the words and concepts to explain. Should we interpret this as existence of the supernatural? Of course not! We'd still be seeing all sorts of spooky stuff going on today if there were supernatural entities in the world - there's no reason that it would just magically stop when mankind started to develop the means of recording and preserving history, or measuring and investigating phenomena.

['re an atheist...]

Yeah ... so?

['re going to rot in Hell for all eternity...]

Oh good grief!

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