Friday, September 14, 2007

What's In A Name?

Christians hate leprechauns! Did that get your attention? Most likely it did. While most would not find this to be an offensive claim against the fervently pious, how is the claim that atheists hate God, Jesus, Christians and the bible any different? The common Christian reply would be, "Well, leprechauns are fictional characters and God is real!" to which I could easily reply with, "Just like unicorns, satyrs, behemoths, talking serpents, burning bushes and immaculate conceptions are real?"; but we won't go down that path.

Instead, I'd like to focus on defining a few key terms, explaining how adding value judgments and connotations to a simple word can make it much more divisive than if used by its denotation. To do this, I will draw from Todd Friel as an example.

Todd loves nothing more than... God. Second to his love of God is his love of deceit. He habitually deceives his listeners into believing that atheists abhor God, that we absolutely cannot stomach the thought of God because if we were to do anything but hate him, the light of His truth would shine down on our iniquities. Can you tell I used to be a fervent believer? I'm going to show you how it is impossible for atheists to hate God.

Referring back to my leprechaun illustration, it is easy to see that Christians don't truly hate leprechauns. They don't hate them because they don't believe in them or, to put it into the form of a positive statement, they believe them to be non-existent. Here comes a blustering Christian, "I know leprechauns don't exist!". Do you really? Todd likes to probe atheists by questioning their stock of knowledge; do we know everything? No way! No one knows everything. Therefore, it is disingenuous of anyone to say that something absolutely, positively, unequivocally does not exist simply because they have not seen, experienced or interacted with it. For that reason, the vast majority of atheists (myself included) do not say there is no God like Todd would like people to believe. Atheists have a lack of belief in God... much in the same way our Christian in the example does not believe in leprechauns... or psychics, UFOs, holistic medicine, trepanation, etc.

Ask yourself this question: "What is theism?"

If you are being honest with yourself (why wouldn't you be?), you would say that theism is "the belief in god (being a higher power). What is a "theist"? A person who believes in a higher or divine being. What is an "atheist"? An individual who does not believe in a supreme being. Do you see the path of logic? The atheist simply does not believe.

Contrary to Todd's frequent and dishonest claim that atheists "shake their puny little fists at God in rebellion and hatred", we simply don't believe there is a god to shake our fist at. Would you, Mr. or Mrs. Christian, curse a centaur? No.

One major difference that may be the root of the atheist's perceived anger must be addressed: all of the fictional characters I have mentioned in this entry don't have throngs of people devoted to converting the world so they can escape the torture of eternal damnation. God does.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dissecting The Dynamo

I've recently found myself pondering what makes Way of the Master such a force to be reckoned with in the evangelical Christian world. Whether non-theists want to admit it or not, WOTM is quite a dynamic and successful ministry; I have the financial reports to prove it (another entry for another day). However, just because they are good at what they do, it doesn't mean that what they do is good. Ray Comfort's Living Waters Publications (the umbrella organization of WOTM), has quite a heavy revenue (and expenditure) report and it is interesting to speculate why it has risen to such status in such a short matter or time. I think I may have the answer.

From my perspective there are three major roles at WOTM and one sidekick position:

Kirk Cameron -- The Notoriety

Everyone, but everyone knows who Kirk is and knows his claim to fame (and can probably even sing the show's theme song); Growing Pains was one of the highest-rated sitcoms in recent decades so where goes his name, so goes at least marginal success.

With his name recognition, Kirk could sell a ketchup popsicle to a man in a white suit in July. Having said that, the popularity and growth of the ministry is mostly due to that factor alone considering the fact that his participation in WOTM enterprises are negligible to the tune of one brief, weekly radio appearance, short promotional loops played during station breaks and the WOTM television production.

Ray Comfort -- The Message

This author and itinerant preacher from New Zealand is the puppet master of the entire operation. Cameron even admits that the foundation for the ministry is based on Comfort's theology in one of his recorded endorsements for Ray's breakout book and ministry namesake The Way of the Master in saying, "I had already been a Christian for 14 years but when I read (the book) it absolutely revolutionized the way I looked at evangelizing... ." Obviously it didn't take much for Ray to coerce Kirk to come on board; he has quite a way with words.

Todd Friel -- The Voice/Comedy

Our illustrious show host is the very notable and recognizable voice of WOTM Radio. Aside from his "Todd-isms" (another post for another day) and his usually self-deprecating humor, he is the main source of the hate-speech that is propagated from this organization. His false sense of humility and sincerity are all but transparent.

The message Todd spreads is strangely exactly in line with that of Ray Comfort (and the shows golden boy, Kirk) which leads me to believe that Todd is simply Ray's mouthpiece. After all, how are we to take Todd at his word or even to take him seriously when we understand that he was at one time a professional comedian? I hope for his sake that his affiliation with the business is nothing more than an elaborate hoax. My better judgments tells me it's not.

Our sidekick role, as mentioned earlier in this post, is filled by none other than show Program Director, Tony Verkinnes. His often dull and monotonous reactions to Todd's amped up charges allow me to fittingly designate him the title of Todd's comedic straight man. After all, Todd's very hyper and aggressive form of evangelism and apologetics must be counteracted with soothing commentary; rich chocolate chip cookies always go down better with a glass of cold milk.

As a business, WOTM has a great recipe. It's just a pity that the main ingredient is...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Willful Misrepresentation

This entry might also have been titled "Lying."

Todd uses the ten commandments to show the "lost" that they have sinned against a holy and righteous god, will stand in judgment before him after they die and must repent and receive the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ's shed blood on the cross of Calvary (let me know if I've misrepresented this; I think I've expressed it fairly accurately).

If Todd uses the commandments to show the unsaved their transgressions, why does he knowingly and repeatedly continue to break the ninth commandment by lying to his listening audience?

When Todd is asked of all the historical atrocities committed in the name of god by the pious, he indefinitely shifts the focus away from the reformation or the crusades and towards the Holocaust and other such contemporary examples of cruelty. He claims that the reformation and crusades weren't fought by True Christians™, but by heretics and hypocrites. Of course, if a freethinker were to use that sort of caveat against Friel, he would of course decry it as a foul.

Much to the chagrin of the WOTM staff, atheists do not feel it necessary to defend Adolph Hitler as an atheist because, in fact, he was not; Hitler was a Catholic mystic. Just take a quick glance at the photo embedded in this entry and you will notice that it is Nazi Germany-era military regalia. Now, for those of my non German-speaking readers, the script emblazoned across the top of this belt buckle reads "God With Us."

Todd Friel knows this historical fact and continues to disregard it for the spiritual benefit of his listeners. Shouldn't someone call him up and remind him what his god says about lying?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The (Opposing) View

For those of you who may be interested in reading more about views that differ from my own but don't have the time or the desire to wade through the mire that is Way of the Master, I have posted a new link in the left margin of this blog. It is relatively well-written and will give you a taste of what is being taught by WOTM. The writer's doctrinal views are incredibly similar to those of Friel, Comfort and Cameron all the way down to his concept of "grace through the law".

To better understand the mind of a fundamental, evangelical Christian literalist, visit Anathema Unbound (Jason Seipp) at "The 'ology' of Theology" and tell him Former Follier sends his greetings.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Absolute Proof God Exists -- Part Two

Second Non-Biblical Proof of God -- "Conscience"

Before we begin, let's define the word "conscience" and take a brief look at its root words:

Conscience: The inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action (from the roots con meaning "together" or "with" and scientia meaning "knowledge").

Supposing that humans are born with an innate sense of right and wrong, we must further assume that , at birth, we have enough information from which to come to "knowledgeable" conclusions. When my daughter was an infant, it became abundantly clear that she was a blank slate and was only ingrained with the most primitive of functions: the ability to drink, breathe, expel waste, sleep and explore her newly-formed vocal chords when she perceived duress or desire. Those are the basics that all human infants are born with; the basic will to survive.
All of my daughter's "knowledge" since her birth has come from her surroundings: interaction with her parents, brother, grandparents, sight, taste, sound, touch, etc. How, then, can fundamentalist evangelicals like Todd Friel claim the knowledge from which you make moral or ethical assessments to be an inborn trait? Nothing happens in a vacuum... certainly not the psychological growth and development of a child! Every factor imposed on a human (man, woman or child) will have some sort of affect on their perceptions and interaction with the world around them.

The human ability to discern between perceived "good" and "bad" decisions start at childbirth and grow through adolescence and into adulthood. When parents raise their children, the majority feel it their obligation to instruct them in a way in which they will grow to be productive, with the ability to make social contributions. It eludes me how theists can extrapolate divine providence from something that is so clearly socially driven.

More than half a century before the gospels of Christ were written, the ethic of reciprocity was first being alliterated. Today, we know this code of ethical conduct as "The Golden Rule", the foundation of humanistic (the only viable) ethical principles.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Absolute Proof God Exists -- Part One

We freethinkers should be embarrassed. Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort and Todd Friel have deftly and equisitely proven the existence of God. The best part? Biblical proofs are optional. How do they do it? They point out two proofs: one external and one internal.

First Non-Biblical Proof of God -- "Creation"

That's right! When you look out your window at the beauty that surrounds us, you are to see design. The WOTM staff claim that our universe is the epitome of form and function. Take, for instance, the placement of our planet in relation to the sun; if we were revolving any closer to the sun than we currently are, our atmosphere would be too warm to sustain life. If we were any further from the sun, our atmosphere would be too cold!

Looking at things from a creationist's point of view, this screams of intelligent design. "God set the earth in orbit around the sun in the precise spot for life to flourish!" With a bit of effort, it is possible to look at things from a naturalistic point of view. Rather than life being supported on this earth because of its placement, perhaps the placement of the earth enabled life to emerge. Notice the distinction? This is hardly proof of God's existence. Furthermore, the creation account (or accounts depending on which brand of creationism your brand of Christianity supports) can be found only in holy texts and are completely unsupported by modern science.

If theists are such firm believers in creation "science", why don't they rely solely on the fruits of those labors? That would mean no more chemistry-based products (sorry, Todd, hand sanitizer is out of the question). I challenge theists to show me one practical application of "creation science" in our modern world. If you want to understand how much evolutionary science contributes to your life, go open your medicine cabinet.

I would like to point out that the most powerful tool for evangelical Christians is the ability to obfuscate an argument with semantics. When one of the WOTM staff members try the old watch/watchmaker or painting/painter routine, keep in mind that they have carefully selected the words they wish to use to effect the outcome they desire. For instance: Todd might say, "Take a look at that building! It couldn't have just appeared because a building needs a... builder. Right! The same thing is true with creation (notice the switch?); you can't have creation without a creator!" Most of the people he proselytizes never catch the switch.

But consider this, if the wording is changed to something that is more neutral (something which is unattainable when dealing with any evangelical group) the ball falls squarely into the court of the naturalistic freethinker. "When you look around at nature (I've been on "nature walks" but never on a "creation walk"), you have to admit that natural selection takes place." Not too difficult, eh? If theists are taken aback by the abrupt way in which the table was shifted, they can begin by fumbling through their rationalizations for all of the "design" flaws that abound in nature.

Holy Crescent Hospital?

On Thursday's edition of WOTM radio, Todd made a well-timed, off-the-cuff quip about a hospital that was referenced in a recent news report saying, "Would that have been Holy Crescent Hospital?" Station engineer and comedic straight-man, Tony Verkinnes, replied with a well-timed, "No... that would be... Holy Cross Hospital." This from a duo that claims the worldwide variance of religion to be compelling evidence for the validity of the Christian faith and the bible from which it is founded.

I recently brought up this very point on a call to the show; I asked how Christians can suppose that everyone holds to the same beliefs as them when the social, geographic and demographic factors of religion are taken into consideration. How can Todd confidently tell a Muslim, Krishna or Hindu that he is absolutely right in his beliefs and they are unequivocally wrong? Doesn't he realize that his introduction to Christianity came in much the same way introduced to the English language?

Knowing that there are more than 30,000 Christ-centered religions worldwide and that we are living in the U.S. ("one nation under God"), doesn't it follow that the vast majority of our health care institutions are affiliated in some way with protestantism or Catholicism (depending on the ebb and flow of the social tide, Catholics may or may not be considered Christians)? I would no more expect to find a Muslim-run hospital in my area than I would a hospital with the marquis written in Sanskrit.

If Todd were visiting Dubai City or Kolkata, would he really expect to find a hospital chapel with a crucifix or a statuette of the virgin Mary? The answer is obvious, religions are vast and wide-ranging but they all share one common factor: The adherents of these faiths have created their own culturally and socially relevant god(s) to worship. Todd is no different.