Category Archives: Religious belief

The connection between religion and childism.

I’ve felt for a long time now that atheism as we know it was a dead-end, that it was being built up as a community and an ideology but that it was really neither, that we could easily subsume it into the rubric of “critical thinking” or something like that. You can only argue against castles in the sky for so long before it becomes same old, same old. While I am happy enough that some prominent atheists are starting to look into the area of ethics, and I do think there’s some promising avenues there, I don’t think that’s enough.

I think there is one major obstacle that stands in the way of a deeper opposition to religion, and that’s childism. We all know that religion, like all social constructs, begins at home, in childhood indoctrination. And there are even a few people who will go so far, who will be so bold, as to say that extreme religious beliefs and practices (like believers in Hell, anti-vaxxers, or anti-blood-transfusion JWs) constitute child abuse. But that’s pretty much it.

We need to acknowledge that any indoctrination of children about religion, no matter how well-intentioned, represents an attack against their freedom of thought: not just extreme beliefs, but all of them, not just extreme practices, but all of them. I’ve already written an entry on that subject. We also need to look at the social and political influence of religion and how it enforces conformity, especially how religious schools make religions more credible and how they participate in the normalization of religion.

This is also connected to my complain that atheists refuse to look at culturally-enforced religious belief. Culture is one of those social constructs that is enforced upon children and, for people who believe for cultural reasons, we cannot dissociate the indoctrination of culture with the indoctrination of religion. Therefore we have to talk about culture as a social construct as well.

The indoctrination of children is predicated on the childist position that a child is a means to an end, that end being the adult they will become, and that children must be raised to be adapted to society. This is why we enforce religion and culture. We have to talk about that, too.

But childism in religion is not limited to childhood indoctrination. I think it’s reflected in a much more fundamental manner in the relation between God and humanity. Most obviously, we see Jesus telling his disciples that they must have childlike faith, associating children with purity and innocence, a standard strategy to dehumanize people. The Bible also clearly sentences disobedient children to the death penalty.

But more importantly, believers see God as the ultimate father. How do they see this fatherhood relationship? Well, they see God as the owner of all humans. They see humans as so inferior to God that humans cannot figure out what is moral and what is not without God telling them, and disobedience against God’s wishes as the ultimate evil. They see God as perfectly justified in punishing humans, up to and including genocide. This is basically the ultimate form of the Strict Father morality.

While breeders would shirk at the notion that they own their children, and don’t believe that creating a new human life implies ownership of it, childism does implicitly lead to the conclusions that parents own their children, that children are inherently inferior, and that punishing children is justifiable as long as it’s “discipline.” God as ultimate father is merely a more explicit version of childism. It is pure child-hatred laid bare as self-loathing. In this context, the exhortation that believers should fear God makes a lot more sense. After all, children who get beaten regularly and are threatened into obedience (like God does in the Bible) rightly have an overwhelming fear of their parents.

Humans are irrational and cannot make decisions for themselves. Humans have no rights towards the Father, only duties. Humans cannot claim to be equal to their Father, as the Father has all wisdom and all morality. The only proper attitude for humans to have towards their Father is humility and a desire to follow its desires. Does that all remind you of something?

I’ve complained that it seems like no one can define the word “faith” in a way that made any sense. Atheists claim that “faith” just means you’ll believe anything, but people don’t believe just anything. I would think this is a pretty obvious objection. Some define faith as a lack of rationality or skepticism. But in no case can they explain why people believe what they believe. Instead they sweep it under the rug of the word “faith.”

In his book Why People Believe Weird Things, Shermer lists five reasons why people believe: consolation, immediate gratification, simplicity, moral meaning, and hope. That’s all fine, but I don’t think anyone, even Christians, would argue that faith is any of those things. Furthermore, all religions claim to provide moral meaning and hope, and yet people don’t just adopt all the religions they can find. Obviously there is a reason why they adopt a certain religion and not all others.

The answer, of course, is childhood indoctrination. The vast majority of people don’t change their religious affiliation: the most common change is of a person dropping out and becoming non-religious or non-believer (statistics saying half of people change their affiliation are highly inflated because they count Catholicism, Protestantism, and other Christian groups as all being different affiliations). What faith is really about is the fact that people who are indoctrinated in a certain religion will tend not to leave it, for many reasons (such as powerful fixed ideas and social incentives). There’s no particular reason to apply this to religion, of course, although we don’t hear people talk about faith in masculinity or faith in the upper class.

Because faith is connected to childism, it should be no surprise that atheist cannot confront it (or for that matter detect it in themselves). That’s a huge blind spot. How can we speak meaningfully about religious belief if we can’t confront how and why it starts? The same can be addressed to skeptics: how can we speak meaningfully about “why people believe weird things” when we can’t confront the source of weird belief?

The antinatalist fine tuning argument.

The fine tuning argument, which should be familiar to anyone involved in apologetics from either side, aims to prove the existence of God by pointing out various features of the universe which are conducive to the existence of life as we know it. So for example they will point to the cosmological constants, assume a range that constant can take, and point out that only a small part of that range permits life to exist. Or they will point to various features of physics, such as the four fundamental forces, and that large changes in those forces would not permit life to exist.

Given these facts, believers argue that it is more probable that God is the source of these coincidences than they coming about by random chance.

There have been a great number of debunkings of this argument. One fatal objection is that we really have no idea what the possible range of the cosmological constants are, and so we cannot truthfully say if the universe is fine-tuned or not. Another fatal objection is that fine-tuning actually makes naturalism more probable, not theism: if naturalism is true, we should expect the universe to be fine-tuned, but if God created the universe, there’s no reason why the laws of nature should be so hostile to life.

However, my point here is not to talk about the argument proper, but rather to question the very framework on which the argument is based: that God wanted to create life and that this was in line with his nature as standard of morality.

From the antinatalist perspective, the creation of life would perhaps be the most evil act to ever be perpetrated. In short, life entails suffering, and suffering is always undesirable. The antinatalist solution is to cease procreating and therefore cease bringing about new life which will suffer and die.

If we assume that God exists and created the universe, he was faced with one fundamental decision: to create beings that suffer, or to not do so (note that this option does not necessarily mean to not create any beings). Christians argue that it was good for God to choose the former (because otherwise we wouldn’t be here), and antinatalists argue that it would have been good for God to choose the latter (because we wouldn’t be here).

If God was good, then he wouldn’t have created beings that suffer. The fact that suffering exists is the proof that either God is not good or God does not exist.

Applying the antinatalist perspective to fine-tuning follows from there: if the universe is finely tuned to support the existence and proliferation of life, then the universe either arose naturally or was the outcome of a deliberate, profoundly evil, act. It would be better if the universe was not finely tuned for life.

And if the Christians are right that it is extremely unlikely for a “random” universe to accommodate life, then the act becomes that much more deliberate, and therefore culpable. This leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the more effective the fine-tuning argument is, the more evil God is.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the issue of suffering is explainable. Physical pain, for example, is a signal to the body that it is being harmed. Emotional pain is more varied but it is also generally associated with damage to one’s psychological well-being.

Since this is a moral argument, albeit one based on moral principles that few people would argue with (e.g. suffering is a bad thing), objections can be made in the lines of those made against other moral arguments. I’ve seen quite a few play out on atheist shows, and I want to examine the two I’ve most commonly observed.

The first common response is that atheists have no standards of morality, and that therefore they cannot declare that something is good or bad. A statement such as “suffering is a bad thing” presupposes the validity of the Christian worldview.

My answer is that the first premise is incorrect. We are all equipped with standards of morality (moral intuitions), whether we’re religious or not. We are all capable of making statements about morality like “suffering is a bad thing.” Unfortunately our intuitions are often marginalized or erased by biases, including religious bias. Christianity hinders the formation of moral standards. How can it be the source of morality if it hinders it?

The clever Christian could then reply that the moral intuitions were put “in our heart” by God. Yes, of course, once you accept the primacy of the imagination you can posit any ad hoc rationalization for any inconvenient fact of reality. But the fact remains that they are accessible to all, Christian or not, and that using them or explaining them does not require one to presuppose any Christian concept.

Another fatal response to this rationalization is the following: if the God of the Bible really did implant morality in humans, then Christianity must be contradictory, since our moral intuitions often contradict the Bible’s idea of morality, which supposedly comes from God himself. If both are true, then Christianity entails that slavery is invalid and that slavery is valid, that genocide is invalid and that genocide is valid, that rape is invalid and that rape is valid. But both cannot be true.

The second common response is that God’s morality cannot be evaluated or compared to ours because God does not exist on the same plane as we do and his morality is of an entirely different order.

Now let’s be honest here, this is an ad hoc rationalization, pure and simple. But even if we follow along, it still makes no sense. If God’s morality has no relation whatsoever with human morality, then why follow it? We are humans and need a human morality to operate on this planet, just like monkeys operate on monkey morality, dolphins operate on dolphin morality, and so on. It would be just as imbecilic to demand that a dolphin follow human morality than to demand that a human follow divine morality.

In short, if God is such a different kind of thing that humans cannot evaluate its morality, then there’s no clear reason why we should even consider following divine morality in the first place, let alone take God’s side on any moral issue. Indeed, if we cannot evaluate God’s morality, then it cannot be good or evil from a human perspective. But we can still evaluate God’s actions from a human perspective, and call those actions good or evil from a human perspective. That doesn’t require us to evaluate God’s morality at all.

The main problem with the atheist culture.

Most of what I’ve been writing on atheism has been pretty negative. This is for good reason. When we look at what we might call the atheist community, what I think should be more correctly called the atheist culture in the Western world, we see a lot of issues and problems that are only half-heartedly being addressed, such as sexual abuse and harassment, low female and POC representation, and a bad public image even amongst their fellow seculars.

I think this is all mostly a culture issue, not a belief issue. This will not be a controversial statement, as such problems occur in all kinds of groups, including religious groups.

But here’s where I diverge sharply from the dominant view: I think the main flaw of the atheist culture lies in the lack of recognition that religion is a cultural identity at least as much as a belief system. I also think that’s a big handicap for them right now and will continue to be so in the future.

Much has been made of “New Atheism.” I admit I have not read the recent atheist books: they just sound like same old, same old to me. But as far as I can tell, they still concentrate on the belief systems in dispute. There is also a strong ethical current emerging, which I am thankful for because I think addressing the ethical issues is much more effective than issues of belief. Although I disagree with the specific ethical stances adopted by most atheists, that’s not particularly important in terms of fighting religion on ethical grounds.

But the issue of cultural identity is distinct from epistemic or ethical concerns. To address the latter does not, in general, address the former. This is why Western atheism is a monoculture and has failed to attract people outside of that culture.

The culture in question is white and male, and incorporates the nerd culture, a general pro-science attitude, and an overemphasis on skepticism, logic, and linear thinking to the point of ultra-rationalism. I’ve already commented on the nerd culture, skeptic, and ultra-rationalism aspects in the atheist culture and how they lead to misogyny and racism in particular.

I don’t identify with that culture, which is why I am reluctant these days to identify as an atheist (not to mention all the scandals). Atheism itself is just “lack of belief in gods,” but when we identify we’re not just identifying with an idea, we’re also identifying with a group, and with a certain group culture.

The problem is that, while atheists are an oppressed group in one way, a majority of them, as middle class white adult men with professional occupations, are part of most prominent privileged groups. As privileged people, they refuse to acknowledge these privileges, and that’s natural: privilege is, for the most part, invisible unless you know exactly where to look. That’s not the problem. The problem is that they also hold most positions of importance and refuse to relinquish them.

It also means that the concept of culture holds little importance to them, because as privileged individuals they do not hold to culture as an important way to self-identify. People who are dispossessed, including many POC and women, hold to their culture as a way to connect with others and gain safety in numbers in a society that is rigged against them. And religion is a part of those cultures.

Because atheists are very much into ultra-rationalism, they will resist the suggestion I’ve made here and accuse me of being prejudiced, of believing that POC and women are too irrational or stupid to become atheists. But my point is that this is not an issue of “rationality” or “intelligence” at all. My point is that it’s a cultural issue. Most atheists are atheists partially because they never identified with a strong cultural background.

I believe the first step to breaking the atheist monoculture would be to increase visible diversity, so POC and women would recognize the community as being a place for people like them. All humans want to feel like the groups they join are for people like them. For privileged people this is hard to recognize because everything is catered for “people like them.”

It’s been shown by studies that showing women videos of a group where women are equally represented makes them far more likely to join the group than they would otherwise. Again, this is just common sense. If representation of POC and women, especially POC and women speakers, is raised to 50%, then more POC and women will join and start breaking up the monopoly.

The next step would be to consciously break up the monoculture and present atheism as a viable alternative to other religious cultures. I think there is one major problem with this, though: there are plenty of people who would qualify as atheists but who do not join simply because of the existing monoculture. Instead, they call themselves humanists, seculars, New Agers, spiritual, whatever. So this is sort of a catch-22 situation: like all organizations where privileged people hold the reins of power and resist the introduction of new blood, any possibility of change only lies at the end of a long struggle.

Christianity as an elitist institution.

From Mimi and Eunice.

In pointing out Christianity specifically, I do not wish to protect any other religion. I do think most religions are elitist, and insofar as a religion is defined as worship of God, all religions are fundamentally elitist by definition.

The patriarchal nature of religion is well understood and a lot has already been said on that particular topic. What I want to do here is go beyond that conclusion and look at the fact that religion is inextricably bound to hierarchy and acts as a major vector of its propagation.

Whenever I talk about a topic like this, I get some benign fans of religion comment that I’m misrepresenting Christianity and that it’s really a religion of peace and understanding, that Christianity is not hierarchical at all, and that in fact Christianity is radically egalitarian because it’s all about “loving one another,” the Golden Rule, or things like that. They read the Bible very, very, very selectively.

Now, I have nothing against people who want to believe in such claptrap. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong about loving one another or the Golden Rule (although the Golden Rule is ultimately a support of the status quo). There are always religious people on both sides of any issue, including the good side, because holy texts can be made to support one’s personal position no matter what it is. But by whitewashing Christianity, they are thereby whitewashing the hatred for homosexuals, children, women, POC and Jews supported by the Bible. Liberal pick-and-choosers act as a defensive screen for the conservative hate-mongering bigots.

It has been a common observation that religion bolsters existing power structures. There are many possible reasons for that. Clearly a religion will spread much more readily if it is supported by the power structures in place (e.g. Christianity and the Holy Roman Empire).

But equally importantly, religion has probably always been a tool of cultural identity and social cohesion, therefore it must be conservative in the cultural sense (that is to say, it must always be reactionary in nature in order to fulfill the role of cultural identity). In Western cultures, where extreme power disparity has existed for a long time, this means that religions must support hierarchical thinking. In other cultures, which were more egalitarian before they were colonized or converted, traditional values may be less hierarchical, but this is not the case for Europeans.

So for us, religion is primarily a hierarchy-building and hierarchy-justifying enterprise. But because holy texts can be used to justify anything, they have also been used to justify various forms of egalitarianism; most important in this regard has been the belief that, thanks to Christianity’s innovative universality, salvation is available to all regardless of sex or race. But, and here’s the rub, salvation itself is not actually universal, only access to salvation, which means that anyone who is not Christian is still an enemy. And the demonic is beyond even access to salvation, so any group of people labeled as demonic is automatically excluded from salvation.

But these meager scraps of egalitarianism thrown to us as a consolation prize still exist within a context of universal power. We are only equal insofar as we are all subservient to God, creations of God, and made equal according to God’s plan. When God’s plan states, or is interpreted as stating that certain people (children, women, Jews, black people) deserve a lower place in the social hierarchy, then the egalitarianism goes out the window.

Equality must always give its seat over to the elitism of God-belief. It remains, as everything else in Christian “morality,” relative and conditional. God is the source of salvation, God is the judge, jury and executioner, God sends you to Hell (regardless of Christians’ delusions on that subject). Consider for example this statement from Christians For Biblical Equality:

We believe in the equality and essential dignity of men and women of all ethnicities, ages, and classes. We recognize that all persons are made in the image of God and are to reflect that image in the community of believers, in the home, and in society.

The first sentence makes no mention of the “biblical” aspect of this “biblical equality,” but the second sentence gives the game up: “biblical equality” can only be “biblical” by first acknowledging God as the ultimate cause and absolute standard, of which we are only a pale reflection. “Biblical equality” hides God as a jack-in-the-box behind its pretenses of “equality.”

Christians ignorant of history like to make ridiculous claims that Christianity eliminated slavery or that Jesus was pro-women. Given how much slavery there is in the Bible, and how slavery is not denounced anywhere in the Bible, and how slavery, you know, still exists even in Christian countries, the first claim is rather silly.

As for the second point, well, it’s interesting to note how badly Jesus talked to his own mother, treating her little better than a dog. While he gave lip service to loving your neighbor, Jesus, everyone’s favourite empty cypher or vanity mirror, never spoke up against any hierarchy, notably including slavery.

The Bible was a hierarchy manual and has been used as such for centuries. The us v them mentality has always been part of Christianity, because Christianity divides people in two categories, saved and unsaved, orthodox and heretic, good and evil.

All the major hierarchies are represented in the Bible: Patriarchy (under the guise of “complementarism” and the otherization of female biology as “unclean”), heteronormativity (promoting the death penalty for homosexuals), childism (promoting violence against children, including the death penalty), anti-environmentalism (stating that nature is the property of humans), natalism (be fruitful and multiply), statism (Romans 13), and so on.

What is the message that religious fanatics feed to their children? That they should live in fear: fear of God, fear of sin, fear of Hell. Whether you like it or not, religion is used to keep children in line, even by theetie-wheetie liberals (and yes, even atheists sometimes send their children to church in the hopes the fear will rub off!). Fear has always been a tool used to keep people in line.

Is natalism a religion?

Is natalism a religion? This question may seem cheeky, but there is something to be said for the connection.

First, let me set aside the traditional definition of religion, which is connected to the existence and worship of a god. Although natalism is strongly associated with religious fundamentalism, one does not have to be a religious fundamentalist to be a natalist.

This definition is usually seen as overly narrow. A more interesting distinction is that between the sacred and the profane, accompanied by a moral code, feelings of awe, rituals, and a social group bound together by belief in the sacred.

But natalists have nothing sacred, you might say. Of course they do! They say it themselves: childbirth is a miracle, childbirth is sacred, childbirth is the greatest thing that can happen in your life. If that doesn’t qualify, then what does?

Procreation comes with its own rituals (marriage, baby showers, “gender reveals,” hospital-run hypermedicated births, family rituals), its own sense of awe (towards the child), and social groups based around parenthood.

There is not one single moral code revolving around parenting, although many have been proposed and continue to be proposed: they’re called pedagogy (and, as Alice Miller would say, all pedagogy is poisonous). If we look at Christianity, we can observe many different moral codes ostensibly derived from the Bible; why should natalism be any different? Whether we’re talking about Dr. Spock’s “leave babies to cry” nonsense, helicopter parenting, or quiverfull doctrines, they are all ultimately taken on faith (for the sake of the discussion, I will simply define “faith” as passive or unthinking acceptance).

But beyond faith in pedagogy, natalists share one major faith: their faith in the benevolence of life. They believe without question that nothing wrong with happen to their child, and that nothing wrong will happen to them (obviously anything that incapacitates or kills one of the two parents would be greatly harmful to the child’s well-being as well).

And this is not an assessment of risk. Have you ever heard a prospective parent rationally assess the risk of their child being born with a birth defect, of contracting leukemia or whopping cough (with all the fucking anti-vaxxers around), of dying in a car accident, of bring raped, and so on and so forth? I would be genuinely curious to hear if this sort of thing has ever happened. My guess is, it’s extremely rare.

I have already discussed the conflict between the “benevolent universe” premise and the “malevolent universe premise,” pitting Objectivists to antinatalists. While I don’t think all natalists must adhere to this sort of fanatical optimism like Objectivists do, and may be pessimists about all sorts of things, I don’t see how they can be anything but fanatical optimists about their future children. Who would reproduce if they really confronted the risks to those they are supposed to protect?

This is one difference between natalists and the religious: while natalists believe in the benevolence of life, religious people believe in the benevolence of the afterlife. I’ve already pointed out that anyone who believes in Hell and decides to have children must logically either have faith that their children will not go to Hell (by losing their faith at some point in their lives) or be depraved beyond reckoning.

But that difference aside, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to call natalism a religious movement, or at least religious-like.

But now consider a specific kind of natalism, secular natalism which justifies itself through the theory of evolution. According to this view, evolution entails that we have a moral duty to procreate, and by doing so we inscribe ourselves within an endless (or at least, four billion years old) lineage of “successful” lifeforms. We are so “lucky,” they say, to be alive, one chance out of a billion.

At this point I would say we have a full-blown religion. Granted, this sort of belief has not yet been codified and organized, but if it was, such an organization would definitely be called a religion. It tells people their place in the universe, it has a singular moral code, it has an originator of the moral code (the theory of evolution, as they mangle it).

I’m sure some smartass will reply that ho hum, antinatalism is a religion too! Why, you all have faith that life is terrible and you all worship death (or something).

But this is a misunderstanding of the comparison. Natalism is the default, like religion was (and in most places in the world, still is). It takes a lot of mental effort to get out of the religion trap and the natalist trap. This effort is an effort to deconstruct dogma and confront how badly it measures up to reality. The end product in both cases is the freedom to think, and if some people become antinatalists because of it, how is that religious in nature?

Certainly some antinatalists may operate on faith, like some atheists also operate on faith, but that’s not the defining characteristic of the position. In both cases, the defining characteristic is the exact opposite: the desire to confront reality (such as confronting life’s pleasures and pains, unlike natalists, who only think about the pleasures). And the reasoning proposed by natalists, I think, is ample demonstration that they, like the religious, are guided by one principle: the refusal to confront reality.

What would make you believe?

From Atheist Meme Base.

There is a pretty common thing amongst atheists and Christians to ask the other side “what would it take to change your mind?” I’m not sure why this is the case. Perhaps both sides have been arguing for so long that there’s just nothing new under the sun and people are out of ideas on how to convert each other. Maybe it just seems like the other side is intractable and that asking them what would change their mind is a more direct way of figuring out what to say next. Maybe it’s just a desperate way to keep the debate going.

We must be clear that there are two different issues here: what would it take for an atheist to become a theist, and what would it take for an atheist to become a Christian.

My answer to the first question is: nothing. There is no possible evidence or motivation that could make me become a theist.

Let me take one of the “miracles” commonly cited as possible evidence of the existence of God: the stars aligning in a way that spells out something coherent, like “Jesus is Lord.” What would we make of such an event?

It seems to me that there are much more reasonable explanations than to believe that the event was engineered by God:

* Perhaps I am hallucinating.
* Perhaps my vision was tampered with in some way.
* Perhaps I am the victim of some elaborate prank.
* Perhaps the light coming to the Earth was tampered with by aliens.
* Perhaps I am a brain in a vat.
* Perhaps I am part of an elaborate dream.

Some of these explanations are obviously absurdly improbable, but they are still more probable than God’s existence. Unlike the God hypothesis, each of these explanations can be understood in an empirical way, and none of them rely on things we cannot define even in theory.

The basic issue here is that supernaturalist hypotheses are fundamentally untestable. To have evidence of the existence of God means to have evidence of supernatural intervention on our reality, and that’s logically impossible.

Why do many atheists say otherwise? I am not sure, but I think one issue is that atheists generally do not want to be portrayed as close-minded. To tell a Christian than nothing could change your mind may mean surrendering the “reasonableness” of open-ended “I just don’t see any reason to believe” atheism. But the only end result is that Christianity will be portrayed as more “reasonable”; it will not make Christians like atheists because their irrational hatred of atheists is based on their childhood indoctrination, not simply on false premises that can be corrected by appearing “reasonable.”

No doubt some atheists seriously believe that they could be convinced of the existence of God on such a basis. But then I’d say they were not very serious atheists, if it was so easy for them to believe all the God stories based on one event, however incredible…

Now on the second question, what it would take for me to become a Christian. It may seem like this is a non-issue, given what I’ve just said: since Christianity is based on the God concept, and I’ve rejected the possibility of the God concept, there must therefore be nothing that could ever make me into a Christian.

Still, I think that this general reasoning is incorrect, that in a sense it may be easier for one to become a Christian than to believe in God. Right now there is a significant proportion of Christians (in the UK 46%, in the US somewhere around 13%) who do not believe in a personal god. That’s food for thought, but most importantly it shows that identifying as a Christian does not necessarily mean believing in God, because religion is as much as matter of cultural identification as it is a matter of belief, an important point which the atheist movement largely ignores.

It’s another thing entirely to ask whether these people are really Christian. After all, one is a Christian, supposedly, by believing Jesus was the son of God, which would imply belief in God. But one does not necessarily have to agree with the fundamental premises of a religion to be a follower of said religion. There are some Buddhists, especially in the West, who do not believe in the soul but who meditate and follow the Five Precepts: are they Buddhists? I don’t see why not.

It’s not really relevant to the question anyway. What would it take for me to identify as a Christian? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s impossible, but I can’t imagine any plausible scenario that starts with myself as I am today and ends with me being a Christian. The ethics of Christianity, the narratives of Christianity, the sensibilities of Christianity, the politics of Christianity, the psycho-sexual fabric of Christianity, are all so profoundly aberrated and disgusting that it would require quite a drastic change in my personality (major brain damage, perhaps) to get me to even begin to accept it. I already have two religions anyway, and I don’t really need a third one.

I suppose a Christian could reply that I have never found myself in a situation where my atheism could have been tested. I wouldn’t say that’s true, however: I have had many strange experiences in my life that I certainly cannot explain. But unlike religionists, I do not have the reflex action that goes from “I can’t explain this” to “God did it” in 3.4 seconds. I am perfectly fine with (gasp!) not knowing something that’s obscured by the passage of time and the subjectivity of perception. Praise “Bob” and pass the ammo…

But here’s something further to think about: Christians may not be entirely honest when they ask the question. William Lane Craig, the most acclaimed living Christian theologian, has publicly said that if he went back in time and observed Jesus’ tomb, and never saw Jesus come back to life, he would still be a Christian. You can read about it here.

If William Lane Craig himself could not be convinced by such a direct, observable and fatal piece of evidence, then what could exactly?

Looking at the presuppositionalist script.

Picture of Sye Ted Bruggencate, infamous presuppositionalist who’s been making a fool of himself lately on many atheist podcasts and vidcasts.

Presuppositional apologists have been making the rounds in the atheist community for decades now, and it’s now become very obvious that they work on a script which only works if the atheist goes along with it. The problem with that is, it’s ridiculously easy for an unsuspecting atheist to derail the script simply by answering honestly. So presups generally don’t get anywhere, fast.

Karen S. made a step-by-step analysis of the presuppositionalist script in this entry. I thought this was a very interesting tool to look at and analyze. I am not going to go through every single step, but I do want to take a closer look at the general flow that the presuppositionist is trying to establish through his script and why it’s profoundly irrational.

Karen starts by pointing out that the whole process starts from the presupposition that God exists. I would further add that it also assumes that the concept of God is meaningful at all. I think that point does get lost in the discussion, insofar as the atheist starts the conversation letting the apologist make his case (actually, going down his script). This is probably the right thing to do in this circumstance, but it does give the presup a huge argumentative lead, not that they can exploit it to any advantage.

So the first question proper is, “Is it impossible for the god of the Bible to exist?” This seems to me to be an incredibly unwise question, as it brings up, quite directly, the issue of the meaninglessness of the concept of God.

Anyway, the obvious reply here is “yes.” Christian apologetics assumes that anything is possible if you can imagine it, but that’s not a view grounded in reality. In order to state that anything is possible, you have to show, at least, that the concept is consistent with itself and the basic facts of reality. This is Mission Impossible for theologians, the failure of centuries of theology, useless and irrelevant to human life.

At this point I think the presup would skip to question 11 and ask how I can rely on my own judgment, and so on. I will address that when we get there.

Step 2 is “Is it impossible for the Bible to be what it claims to be?” This is pretty similar to the previous question, so I won’t get into it further.

Step 3 is “Could you be wrong about everything you claim to know?” The answer they’re going for is “yes.” Here, Karen brings up an extremely clever answer, which is “No, because I am 100% certain that I am not the god you worship.” This is extremely clever and I don’t see how an apologist could possibly answer that.

The problem here is that step 3 is essential to the whole script. If you derail it, you’ve basically overturned the whole thing. So this would seem to be a rather major flaw. But the funny thing is that there’s no reason at all for the presup to rely on this step. All they really need to do is cast some doubt on the atheist’s ability to understand reality, not total doubt. It doesn’t really matter if the atheist can be 100% certain about anything or not. It just goes to show you how presuppositionalism is really based on nihilism and cannot be dissociated from it.

Step 5 is about “absolute truth.” Christians are obsessed about “absolute truth” because they believe they have it and others don’t. Christians operate under the delusion that the Bible provides them with absolute morality, absolute truth, absolute love. Absoluteness is their Holy Grail, their salvation, but they can never have it.

By discussing whether “absolute truth” exists or not, we’re really feeding their obsession about it. So there’s really no point in answering. Their trick of course is that if you say “no,” they can then come back and ask “do you know that absolutely?” It’s a parlor trick.

Step 7 is “Out of all the knowledge in the universe, how much do you have?” The answer they’re hoping to get is perhaps 1% or 0.1% or some even lower number. The interesting thing about this question is that it’s another trap: there is no knowledge “in the universe.” Knowledge is a human construct contained in our minds and in the objects in which we conserve data. This implies that, while an individual may only know a tiny sliver of all knowledge, humanity as a whole possesses 100% of all knowledge by definition (and any other sentient species in the universe may also say the same thing).

This answer defeats step 8, which is “Is there something in the 99% that could contradict the 1%?” What this is about is, could proof of God be contained in the 99% of knowledge that we don’t have, out there? But again, we have 100% of the knowledge that exists, there’s no knowledge “out there.” Objects are not knowledge.

So somewhere around this point the presup will either be asked how he knows anything, or will try to present his own “thesis.” This is displayed in point 9: “God has revealed things to me in a way that I can be certain.”

The obvious counter is, how the hell can you be certain of that? Remember that he’s already rejected the certainty of any of the atheist’s knowledge, which is gained through the senses. But presumably he’s aware of these revelations through his own senses, which you’ve already established cannot be certain. This is where the apologist’s nihilistic “cutting off one’s head” strategy falls on its face.

Karen’s comment on this point illustrates the problem. If the atheist could be wrong about the source of his percepts, then the apologist could be wrong about the source of his “revelations.” If the atheist could be deceived about anything, then the apologist could also be deceived. If the apologist can assert arbitrarily that some of his sensory input can be pinned down with certainty, then so can the atheist.

There is no way for the apologist to get out of this deadlock. If he argued from the Bible, as he inevitably will, then we must demand that the apologist admit that his perception of the Bible could be as flawed as any other perception. Whatever evidence, whatever means of knowledge presented by the apologist must at some point go through human senses and be processed by a human mind.

Skipping ahead to the next presup parlor trick, the next magician’s misdirection, which starts on step 11: “How do you know that your reasoning is valid?” Unless you’ve thought about epistemic issues, you’re unlikely to have a good answer. The presup is hoping to get a “soft” answer in order to set up the next step: “Are there people whose reasoning isn’t valid? How do you know that you’re not one of those people?”

Well obviously there are people whose reasoning isn’t valid. Presuppositionalists, for example. We know their reasoning is not valid because they’re making basic logic errors and are caught in their own reasoning traps.

We have no “absolute” way of knowing that we’re not irrational. But we can gradually improve through two methods: gathering more and better data, and improving our reasoning methods. I know I’m not one of those people because I can see the difference in reasoning abilities and scope of data between myself and a person who is outright irrational.

Do some people reason better than me? Certainly. So what? The quality of one’s reasoning is not an on-off switch, you’re not either a lunatic or a genius. There’s no such thing as a “person whose reasoning isn’t valid.” Our reasoning is always at least sometimes valid, and sometimes invalid.

The snapping of the trap is supposed to be that the atheist is using reason to figure out if ey’re being rational, and that therefore eir reasoning is inherently circular. Even if that was the case, the apologist’s reasoning would be equally circular, because relying on revelation still implies using one’s capacity to reason, which falls under the same problem.

The answer is that the kind of reasoning we use to determine, say, whether angels exist is not the same kind of reasoning we use to introspect on our own reasoning abilities and that of others. One should, ideally, be a process turned outwards, at understanding reality, while the other should be a process turned inwards. Calling all of it “reasoning” is to muddle the issue; one can be particularly good at one and not the other.

Step 13 is an extension of this: “What are you using to justify senses and reasoning?” This is another example of cutting one’s own head. If the atheist cannot trust the senses, then neither can the apologist when he reads the Bible or claims revelation. I’m sorry if this seems somewhat repetitious, but the presup script is repetitious.

The saddest fact is that they do not, and cannot, understand this, because doing so would make presuppositionalism untenable to them. They must believe that revelation is a sure foundation to a “stable epistemology,” because otherwise they have no “out” to the trap they’ve set on human epistemology. But whatever they do, they cannot escape the fact that they are human like the rest of us. That’s something Christians have major problems with, so it’s not surprising that presups do too.

At this point in time, most atheist outlets have given up trying to have reasonable debates with presups because its scripted nature and delusional assumptions are just too obvious to ignore.

On step 15, we enter the beginning of the conclusion of the script: ” The Christian worldview is the only consistent/plausible one because of the impossibility of the contrary!” You probably know that all theological arguments are rationalizations for some pre-established conclusion. Step 15 is that conclusion.

It’s also, as pretty much everyone who’s been confronted with it has figured out, an argument from ignorance and a circular argument. It’s really as simple as this:

1. Only an ideology founded on the Christian God could be consistent.
2. Therefore I can’t imagine that any other worldview could be consistent.
3. Therefore only Christianity can be consistent.

This is where the whole script was leading (consider steps 9, 11 and 13 especially). It’s about hammering home the point that your (atheistic) worldview cannot be consistent (because of the Christian’s profound nihilism), and that the Christian worldview is consistent (somehow, despite that profound nihilism). And now, this is supposed to be the final blow.

Unfortunately, it’s nonsensical. It’s an argument from ignorance because the apologist has absolutely no way to survey all possible atheistic worldviews and declare them all fraudulent, unless he can show that there’s something inherent about atheism which makes it automatically inconsistent with reality. The script fails to establish this.

It’s also a circular argument, like all theology, because it assumes the conclusion it seeks to establish. The apologist uses his assumption that God is necessary for a “stable epistemology” to “prove” that Christianity is the only consistent worldview. We’re not going anywhere except in a circle here.

Step 16 is more or less a reiteration of the first proposition of the last argument: “The laws of logic, science, morality which we use everyday are universal, immaterial and unchanging. How does a strictly natural world account for such unchanging laws?” A lot can be said about this rather quixotic question. What about naturalism prevents the existence of “unchanging laws”? Again, this is little more than an argument from ignorance (also, there is nothing universal, immaterial or unchanging about these laws: for instance, the laws of nature break down at the Big Bang).

Further, as Karen points out, how does Christianity account for the existence of these laws? A world where God exists is an inherently subjective world where universality cannot logically exist. I’ve written about this as a form of atheist apologetics called materialist apologetics.

Either way, looking out at the world for an explanation of the existence of natural laws is the wrong tack: we must look at the human mind instead. Laws are the way we articulate the ways in which objects in the universe interact with each other, the ways in which the concepts in our head interact with each other. How we formulate knowledge is the result of the way our brain works. But this is way beyond what the script can handle.

And we end with step 17, which just hammers in the same conclusion: “The only thing that can make sense of the immaterial, unchanging, universal laws of logic, science and morality is an immaterial, unchanging, universal god–the god of the bible and of scripture.” No point in rehashing the same counters I’ve already made. This is, again, an argument from ignorance and a circular argument.

I’ve previously shown the manipulative nature of Christian evangelism with Norman Geisler’s shady tactics. The presuppositionalist script is no different, with one exception: it’s so easily defeated that atheists routinely do it on accident, which is just pathetic.

Impositionists and their problems with consent.

In this entry, I want to make some general observations about some common characteristics that impositionists seem to share. When I say “impositionists,” I am referring to people who hold to an ideology which explicitly advocates imposing harm.

Invariably they have reasons why such imposition is just or reasonable (e.g. innate evil or sinful nature, innate gender, the innate stupidity of children and other species, might makes right, etc). I do not care about these reasons, or at least not in this entry. All I will say is that only the limit cases (e.g. saving someone’s life by pulling them out of harm’s way) have been proven justified; every systemic imposition of harm in our society is blatantly unjustified. Of course they don’t really care about justification anyway: harmful power has no motive to deconstruct itself, only its victims do.

* They have major issues with consent.

My first issue is that of consent. Consent is a vitally important topic because it represents the bare minimum standard that must be met by any action for it to be non-coercive; advocates of most ideologies are keenly interested in portraying them as non-coercive for the same general reason as advocates of some pseudo-science want to portray it as scientific: being explicitly unscientific or coercive is considered bad form in this day and age.

So again let me list the criteria for consent to be present. First, the obvious:

1. There must be a clear signal of approval of the action.

This is merely a slight extension of the standard definition. And now, for the corollaries:

2. If there is no signal that one or the other party would accept as a refusal (no alternative), then there can be no signal of approval either, and no consent.
3. A signal of agreement given where there is a credible alternative, but said alternative is not viable due to pre-existing conditions, is as invalid as one given without actual alternatives.
4. Any signal of agreement given under a threat of force is the product of duress, not approval, and is therefore not consent.
5. In a situation where one of the parties cannot communicate, there can be no consent.
6. If the signal of agreement cannot be given prospectively (i.e. to the action itself), then there is no possibility of consent for that action.

I would say that all impositionist ideologies break at least one of these principles. Before I get into examples, I do want to point out that probably all these ideologies fall into most categories I’ve listed, and when I say that a given ideology breaks a particular point, I am not by any means implying that there’s nothing else wrong with its attitude towards consent.


* Most religions heavily rely on childhood indoctrination in order to propagate. This breaks point 3, as childhood indoctrination is most definitely a “pre-existing condition” that makes alternatives (to belief in the religion one was raised in) non-viable. A person cannot be meaningfully said to consent to anything that they’ve been indoctrinated to believe (e.g. we don’t say a cult member consented to the hardships of being in a cult, such as false imprisonment or human trafficking).

The religious call it “freedom of religion.” They are incapable of explaining how being indoctrinated and peer pressured into a religion which keeps you in by threatening eternal torment has anything to do with “freedom.”

* Genderism is similar to religion in that it’s indoctrinated from the youngest age, and therefore there cannot be any freedom to live without some conception of gender, gender hierarchy and gender roles (which are all the same thing). It’s equally meaningless to say that the performance of gender is consensual, in any form.

* Statism always assumes that anyone born within a nation’s borders “implicitly consents” to whatever the State makes into law. As a citizen, you simply have no means to signal disagreement with the law, breaking point 2 (prejudice against prisoners would also enter into this).

Yes, I know, the standard argument is that voting is the signal of agreement. But that’s not really true, is it? Otherwise non-voters could veto any law applied to them, which obviously does not happen.

Another argument is that staying in a country is the signal of agreement to the laws of that country. But we don’t use this “go away if you don’t like the rules” in any other context. Either way, it’s only further proof that there’s no means to signal disagreement (compare to telling a child “you can’t get beaten by your dad if you just run away!”).

Related to statism is imperialism and neo-liberalism, which follow the same general pattern, except applied to other countries. You will be liberated whether you like it or not; consent is always assumed.

* Capitalism relies on pre-existing conditions for its docile workforce (poverty, expensive education, creation of artificial unemployment, need for medical insurance in the US). It is therefore part of point 3. The conditions that make capitalism possible (property rights, money system, corporatism) are set by States, so what I’ve said for statism applies here as well.

The usual sort of reply you get to capitalist consent issues is that no one has to take any specific job. That may be so, but it doesn’t provide an alternative to capitalism. Faced with the massive inequality, environmental destruction, human rights violations, objectification, servility and conformity inherent in capitalism, it’s natural to want alternatives. People do not naturally want to work for other people’s profit margin or to have no control over what they produce.

* As a way of often dealing with having limited possibilities (or no possibilities, in the case of trafficked women) within the capitalist system and often as a result of parental abuse ingrained in the personality, prostitution is also part of point 3.

* Natalism, insofar as it assumes consent to being born where consent cannot be obtained, breaks point 5. The usual natalist answer is that we should assume implicit consent because it’s necessary in order for them to experience the pleasures of being alive (compare with: brown people implicitly consent to us “liberating” them and will be happy later, after we’re done killing them).

But mostly natalists just don’t care about consent, because they assume that the impossibility of consent is a carte blanche to do anything you want, which is absolutely illogical and delusional. Impossibility of consent basically means you are not allowed to do anything, because consent is, again, the absolute bare minimum criterion.

* Pornography and BDSM both fall under point 6: they both pretend to be concerned with consent and contracts, but only prospectively, which means that there can be no agreement on specific acts.

Advocates would, I suppose, argue that a contract is enough agreement to signal consent to any act that’s part of it. But if you sign a contract to perform a series of acts, and then no longer wish to perform one of the acts but are coerced or intimidated into performing it, that’s rape pure and simple. No contract can contradict this fact.

* Misopedia and carnism, two ideologies which posit a hierarchy where children/other species occupy the bottom rung, both partake of point 1, because they just don’t care if children or other species consent. The “lower intelligence” argument supposedly justifies exploiting children and other species. Guess who gets to define intelligence? Adult humans, of course. Surprise, surprise.

When you do point out to misopedists and carnists that they are simply ignoring consent issues, they will use the “lower intelligence” argument to posit that children/other species cannot consent, therefore justifying coercion against them. Again, this is logical nonsense.


I cannot think of a single ideology which explicitly creates harm and does not also attack consent in some way. This is not too surprising, as they are also all hierarchies, hierarchies set people apart as superiors and inferiors, and inferiors cannot have the same freedoms as their superiors; a child cannot have the same freedom as a parent, a cow cannot have the same freedom as a human, a sub cannot have the same freedom as a dom, a worker cannot have the same freedom as a boss. There must be some imposition, and that imposition cannot be consensual (the superior-inferior relation is based on obedience backed by power, not consent), for a hierarchy to be maintained.

Note that you could do this same analysis with the term “scientific” and show how various pseudo-sciences line up.

What is the perspective on consent from their perspective? One credible model was made by Tom W. Bell and is called the “scale of consent”:

Now, from a rational standpoint, only the very first item on this scale- “negociated exchange”- is actually a form of consent (“standardized exchange” implies giving consent prospectively, which breaks point 5), so the idea that the top half represents different forms of consent is complete bullshit. “Negociated exchange” is basically consent, the rest of the top half represents all the non-consent that impositionists claim as consent.

If we look at this scale, not as any sort of truth, but as a tool to help us understand how impositionists think, then I think this scale can be used as a complement to my list of points. It’s basically a chart version of the impositionist’s rationalization playbook.

For example, consider “custom” as signal of consent. That is an exact description of cultural relativism and how it provides support for customs such as female genital mutilation, suttee, foot-binding and prostitution, to name only those. It is assumed that because it’s “their/our culture,” that the issue of consent is automatically resolved.

Granted, proponents of cultural relativism would not state outright that they think there can be no consent issues. Rather, they would say that we, as outsiders, have no grounds to criticize the practice, but this really amounts to the same thing; we are after all talking about harmful, non-consensual practices, and therefore suppressing criticism about them is the same thing as evacuating consent issues.

The concepts of “standardized exchange” and “consent per past agreements” are often used to justify rape, especially spousal rape. Marriage is supposedly a contract which grants mutual sexual ownership, and therefore spousal rape is seen as just sex. It’s also often argued that past interactions justify sexual demands (you made out with me, so you should let me fuck you).

Likewise, “hypothetical consent” is reflected in many different areas. Take the natalist justification “the vast majority of people are happy, therefore anyone would want to be born.” That’s purely hypothetical, since there’s no way to gauge a state of non-existence: anyone who is happy also exists, and has vested interests in being optimistic. It does not mean that e.g. a hypothetical person in Rawls’ Original Position would always want to come into existence. In fact, it seems more likely (from the antinatalist perspective) that a fully informed person in such a position would decline existence.

* They refuse to quantify the risk of harm.

Impositionists have to ignore the harm their ideology causes because that would mean they are cheering for the perpetrators, not the victims, which is why they have to claim victimhood in any way possible. Statists build up the big bad leftists and Anarchists as their persecutors, capitalists scream about the “entitlement” of poor people, the religious demonize anyone who stands in the way of their pseudo-moral agenda, parents claim to be slaves to their children, and so on.

Related to this fundamental dishonesty is the fact that impositionists refuse to quantify the risk they are willing to impose on others. For instance, I asked anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates to quantify the risk they bring about, and very few even tried. Of course they cannot, for doing so means no longer ignoring the harm their ideology causes.

I admit that asking such a question puts the person between a rock and a hard place: who wants to say they want such and such number of children to die as a result of their cause? But if you have this problem, why do you believe in an ideology that entails the death of children in the first place? Shouldn’t that make you think?

The quantification of risk can, and should, be asked for all ideologies which promote harm. For instance, here’s one that has been asked about pornography:

And a serious question for porn users in general: what’s the maximum percentage of risk you’re willing to accept that the scene you’re getting off to has a performer who was coerced into participating, who couldn’t consent to participating, who was forced to perform acts she was uncomfortable with or explicitly barred, who didn’t consent to the distribution of the material? Give me a number.

But we can make similar questions for everything else, too. In all cases, what we’re trying to find out is: what’s the point where the implementation or fulfillment of the ideology entails just too much harm? And most importantly, how do we determine that point?

That would be the start of any real discussion on the ethicality of harm and risk. But impositionists will not, and probably cannot, have such discussions (feel free to prove me wrong!).

* They treat people as means to an end.

This can be deduced easily from what I’ve said so far. Impositionists see other people, especially their inferiors, as resources to be controlled (non-consensually) by a hierarchy to achieve some level of control over society. Impositionists see harming other people as a tradeoff, that it’s okay to do so in the name of some higher goal, which is really some level of control over society. All of that is very anti-freedom, anti-individual and anti-human.

If there is any ethical principle that should be obvious, clear and basic, it is that we should not treat other human beings as means to an end. It is the most basic form of egalitarianism that one could conceive.

* They all fail the Chomsky Principle.

I’ve discussed before what I call the Chomsky Principle, that we should in principle reject any hierarchical relation or structure unless it’s proven to be justified in some way.

[T]he basic principle I would like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified- it has no prior justification. For instance, when you stop your five-year-old kid from trying to cross the street, that’s an authoritarian situation: it’s got to be justified. Well, in that case, I think you can give a justification. But the burden of proof for any exercise of authority is always on the person exercising it- invariably. And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else- they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top.

Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power


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