This Christmas Sunday I had the pleasure of attending my family’s church as an atheist. It was a pleasure because I got to see the religion I once knew as a stranger. The sermon was fairly typical, as far as Christmas services go. The pastor spoke about the story of the biblical Jesus and how he came to be born…that is, from a virgin. The problems with the factual analysis of Jesus’s life begins here and continues to this day. Ignorance of facts is a recurring theme in most faith-based religions. I will reference Christianity, as I am most familiar with it, but these criticisms can be applied wherever faith is substituted for reason.
I have often compared faith-based religion to a salve one uses to numb the pain of suffering caused by emotional wounds. This desensitizing salve has the effect of preventing long-term healing and is akin to applying duck tape instead of stitches to a laceration: remove it, and the wound gushes freely. The fact that faith-based religions do not rely on a cause-and-effect method for dealing with emotional trauma is the death knell for their efficacy. By deluding minds with incredible and dubious beliefs, believers blind themselves to the objective reality by fantasizing an alternate one.
For those unfamiliar with Christianity’s beliefs, Christians believe Jesus to be an all-powerful being who is ever-present and knows the thoughts/actions of every person. He lived a perfect life and was killed because he claimed to be god/king of the Jews, depending how you interpret the Bible. Defying all known observations and understanding of biology, Jesus purportedly rose from the dead after being killed by the Romans. A believer in the Christian faith puts faith that Jesus has the power to preserve their consciousness after death because, as the Bible claims, Jesus resurrected himself on Earth and disappeared into the sky. Not only did Jesus die to save humanity from eternal hellfire (the natural effect of separation from his father, the creator of the universe), belief that he died to cleanse humans from their perceived wrongdoings will save a believer from this hellfire.
The lack of cause-and-effect in faith-based religion is evident to an outside observer of religion. There is no evidence Jesus could have experienced resurrection. Even if he had this ability, it does not prove that believers will be resurrected if their body has been destroyed. Physical problems with human flight aside, disappearing into the sky does not imply Jesus teleported to the dimension of heaven; perhaps he disappeared into the clouds, took a turn west and started a new religion in America. Mormons certainly believe this to be the case.
Regardless, at some point in the future Christians expect Jesus to return (in an event known as the Rapture) to earth to save them, and only them, from the Creator’s impending destruction of the planet because of his dissatisfaction with humanity. Note: Christians who existed around the time of Jesus thought he would return to earth in their lifetime. He has not been seen in 2,000 years; most modern Christians still believe they will see him in their lifetimes. Coupled with the fact that the majority of the United States government is filled with Christians, religion begins to look more sinister. Do they care if the most of humanity is wiped out, or will they be selfishly thrilled that such a massacre signals the fulfillment of their faith?
This Christmas Sunday the pastor told a story of a man who explained to his family he could not believe the story of Jesus “because it seemed ridiculous”. As this man’s family left for church through a blizzard, the man sat at home waiting. After a while, he heard thumps against his door. Opening the door, the saw a flock of birds that were attempting to get into his house to escape the storm. Instead, he opened the doors of his barn, a distance away from his house and the birds, and attempted to shoo the birds inside. They feared the human and did not understand his actions or intentions. He could neither capture them nor lead them with breadcrumbs into the barn. The man realized they simply could not communicate, but if he were a bird he would be able to talk to them. The man suddenly understood what Jesus had done by becoming a man to “save” humanity. There were many audible “ahhs” and “mmms” after the pastor told this part of the story, in addition to one silent chuckle.
If the man had a bird’s brain, he wouldn’t have the capacity to understand the complex idea of indoor heating or retain any information about his human life. At this point if the man truly cared to save them, he would have let the birds into his house where they already intended to go. As the story was never finished, we can assume the birds died on his doorstep. Animals are run by instincts and habits: the birds understood the inside of the house was warm, but it would not make sense to venture from the warmth of the house to the unknown place, even at the urgings of another bird.
The pastor proudly pronounced “it is a fact Jesus was born, died, and rose again”. The evidence for this, he claimed, was “Jesus’s life was the most documented event in history. It is not a coincidence the Bible survived all this time, and the only thing worth putting faith in is Jesus.” Thankfully, Christians are not stewards of facts. But it is disturbing that a licensed civil engineer, who has intensely studied cause-and-effect relationships, can be so blinded by his emotions and beliefs as to mistake historical texts and emotion for evidence of supernatural events. There is no other aspect of life where this kind of thinking is acceptable, but in religion irrationality is praised as faith.
The pastor ended his service with three dubious claims in an attempt to instill doubt in non-believers with regard to their own happiness. “(1) Despite society’s attempts to distract you, remember this [holiday] season is about Jesus. (2) If any of you do not believe in the truth of Jesus’s resurrection, you may experience a happy day today…but it will be a very deceived day. Other kinds of happiness will not last. (3) Only faith in Jesus can bring true, lasting happiness.”
(1) The Winter holiday season did not start when Jesus was supposedly born. Historical Christians overtook the ancient pagan celebration of the winter solstice in an attempt to unify a population which was largely religious. However, there are other winter celebrations such as Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Yule, and Festivus, that have nothing to do with Jesus.
(2) Christian authority derives from the ability of Christians to disregard and disqualify the validity and emotions of others. By claiming to have experienced the apex of emotions (that is, the love of Jesus Christ), they assume the invalidity of all other forms of happiness. But to truly know if Jesus’s love is the peak emotional experience, other peaks and valleys must be visited; otherwise there is no experiential contrast from which to draw comparison. Having experienced and accepted the idea of Jesus’s love for most of my life, I can rest assured it is as fleeting an emotion as any other. Surely an emotion that is created and sustained by belief is less stable than one which is founded in facts.
(3) There is an inherent uncertainty built into emotional claims on reality. The claim that Jesus provides eternal happiness is undeniably false. Most Christians will not admit they experience depression and unhappiness just the same as the next person. Instead, they will put on a smile and repress these feelings using their beliefs, while claiming the superiority of their religion. It should be evident by now that faith is not a virtue.
Irrational beliefs, by their very nature, will not satisfy a rational mind. As a former Christian, I can attest to the many times my faith in Christianity caused me great unhappiness. As a Christian, the world was a confusing and irrational place. I expected things to happen because of my dedication to God, and less because of my own actions. I was told it was full of evil and temptations. I kept expecting to see a clear sign of Jesus’s existence, but I never did.
Instead of a literal God, my mind attempted to create connections that would cause me to believe I saw His fingerprints. To my successes I credited Jesus, my failures to the devil (and obviously myself). My main struggle was keeping my ego in check, I was taught that pride was not a virtue but a vice that should be avoided. Any sense of self-worth that I actively noticed became something shameful. My beliefs concerning Jesus caused me so much unhappiness that, in light of logic and in lack of evidence, I had no choice but to shed them.
The process of killing God was gradual at first and abrupt at last. When I accepted Jesus as my savior in 1998, I did so because I was terrified of burning in hell whilst my parents watched in heaven. It was the most rational solution to escape the situation I believed I was in. My first experience of betrayal by God came during Sunday service as a child. I became convinced I had been contacted by God, that the Rapture was imminent, and that I was going to be leaving this life shortly. As well observed, the Rapture did not occur and I felt sad I had to continue my life. This is the horrible truth of Christianity.
My faith began to waver in high school as my mind was inundated with new ideas and rationality. I felt guilt for abandoning the beliefs I had once cherished and I mulled religious ideas over while cross country skiing. During a day when the trails were covered with heavy powder, I had trouble staying upright on my skis. I prayed and asked for Jesus’s help not to fall, and for the rest of the day I did not fall down. I re-accepted Jesus as my savior at the top of a hill and that I made it to the bottom without falling was proof Jesus was assisting me. Looking back on this moment, I am somewhat embarrassed I somehow connected two entirely separate ideas as cause and effect; even if my belief in Jesus helped me to ski better, it does not prove that Jesus will save my consciousness from death.
When I was struggling with self-control in my teens and early 20’s, I took more drastic measures to control myself. I started swearing to Jesus (in his name) that I would not do something. For a while, this method worked. I felt that if Jesus were real, he would help control my desires because he would care about my promise to him and my good intentions in that promise. When my desires overpowered Jesus’s magic, I fully understood him to be a false god.
With the world suddenly emptied of my perception of a greater consciousness, I felt alone. After some consideration, I felt thankful I no longer believed in a contradictory and cruel deity. The power to control myself only lied within me, and I no longer felt the need to use the crutch that is the idea of Jesus.
I felt betrayed by everyone in the faith I trusted when I fully comprehended the depth of my deception. I briefly turned to Hinduism, then Buddhism, and am now a proud atheist. My pride does not stem from my current beliefs, but in using logic to overcome the irrational beliefs with which I was indoctrinated.
When I look at Christians now, I see people suffering from a delusion. Having recently shaken off the scruples of insanity and irrationality, I want to help them. They do not realize how arrogant their claims concerning Jesus are; by believing Jesus is an all-powerful being, Christians believe they are avoiding their own pride, but their unsubstantiated claims about the true nature of reality are the ultimate expression of an inflated ego.
It is clear to all non-Christians the height of narcissism is to believe this historical man has an omniscient and private relationship with anyone and everyone who holds these beliefs, and that these beliefs make them special in the universe. These believers worship their own idea of a god. The feelings these ideas create subjectively “prove” the veracity of these beliefs. It should be noted that a feeling a belief creates in a person has no connection to the truthfulness of said belief.
If any shred of evidence could be found to support the extraordinary claims of Christianity, Christians would never cease to speak of it. If the Shroud of Turin were carbon-dated and found to match the exact age Jesus was purported to have lived, Christians would sing praises of the technology. And if that shroud contained DNA evidence showing Jesus only has one biological parent, Christians would claim genetics the crown jewel of science. No such evidence has ever been found and Christians have disdain and doubt for the sciences of the geology and biology because these disciplines directly contradict their cherished beliefs. In fact, science has been gaining intellectual ground from religion since its inception, and it has been a one-way acquisition of property.
Due to the positive emotions a certain belief makes people feel, they are willing to accept what they would otherwise know to be false. The belief that President Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim is a prime example of a belief wherein people gain a good feeling despite contradictory evidence. Few people witnessed Jesus after his rebirth and one begins to wonder why he did not publicly flaunt his resurrection. Why sew seeds of doubt by hiding from the people yearning to believe in him? Why expose himself to just a few Christians? What did he have to fear, now that he has conquered death? He should have overthrown the Roman Empire and established a new order of Christianity for eternity.
The rational answer that conforms with all known observations of physics and biology is that Jesus never rose from the dead. His followers stole his body and spread stories about his resurrection and others jumped on the bandwagon because of how it made them feel. Those who openly lied about seeing the resurrected Jesus felt the power that comes from creating beliefs in others, knowing well these beliefs could outlast their own lives, perhaps spanning multiple generations. And who can blame them for trying to mentally rig people to be better? Even if their intent was not malicious, the core of the belief system they chose to propagate was full of logical holes. Christians will strain their minds rationalizing and referencing other parts of the Bible in order to justify contradictions, but words can mean anything if the interpreter is biased towards one interpretation. Christians make the illogical step of assuming the Bible is infallible and interpreting it as such, when they should start by assuming it was written by men and searching for infallibility.
They will not find it, but they will still attempt to justify their beliefs through ancient mythology and emotion.
I want to maximize my happiness and have begun the process without the help of an imaginary friend. No longer do I identify my self with my beliefs; I form them based off my experiences as well as evidence presented by others. They are subject to change with good evidence and rationality. I still retain a sense of wonder and am aware I will never completely understand the world, but no longer do I expect Jesus to magically save me from my troubles.
What I do understand is that every emotion I have experienced has peaked and faded, including my happiest times and my darkest hells. This awareness also includes the feeling of love the idea of Jesus created. This knowledge of temporal emotion itself can help me through my worst grief, because I know the feelings will pass with time. My consciousness is unique in the sense that I am the one experiencing it, but that does not make my life any more valuable than anyone else’s. I do not wish to lie about supernatural beings because I understand how much lies hurt; I will be honest in explaining what I do not know.
What has brought me the greatest long-term emotional peaks have been to be as self-aware and as present in my life as possible, cherishing experiences without clinging to them. When the mind is not focused on the future or past, or lost in thought, it is content; the feeling of being content is a longer-lasting peak than the peak of happiness. Whether through focused work, interactive play, or interesting conversation: when I stop focusing on myself I become content. I hope more people realize one doesn’t need imaginary friends to inhabit this ultimate emotional peak.