An Introduction to Banana Man Evangelism

ImageThe first creationist I started to look into was Ray Comfort. I stumbled across one of his books when I was at a local CVS Pharmacy and decided to look at a small book rack that was filled with Christian books. “How to Know God Exists” caught my eye because there was a quote from Albert Einstein on the cover. The quote on the cover is “I want to know how God created this world”. I scoffed at it when I picked it up because I knew Einstein wasn’t a Christian, when he used the word “god” it was in a pantheistic way. I was still an inexperienced atheist at that point and didn’t know how often great thinkers like him are quote-mined by Christians. 

As I started to read the book I realized it was about intelligent design and I couldn’t help laughing really hard as I read it. I thought with the ambitious title of the book, there would have at least been an argument a little bit better then intelligent design. His descriptions of evolution and the Big Bang were dripping with ignorance and misinformation on the subjects. It was hard to continue reading, so I stopped and looked him up on YouTube. He was much funnier than I had imagined. The first thing I watched was his famous “Banana man” clip that many atheists know, and if you don’t know it here it is

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z-OLG0KyR4 

His banana argument was one of the arguments for the existence of god in “How to Know God Exists”. It was so unbelievable to me that someone thought they were being so smart when they made that argument, people around them agreed, it was published in a book, and it was video taped. Wouldn’t anyone bother to look up anything about bananas in that whole process? That’s the really striking thing to me when it comes to people like Ray Comfort. It’s always really clear that they don’t research with an open mindset, because if they did they would find out they were wrong right away and not share stupid things like that. It was really hard for me to wrap my head around getting away with not doing balanced research because I was going to school for sociology, the idea that I had to research and be knowledgeable about what I was talking about had been beaten into my head. My professors would also remind us to not have confirmation bias when doing our research. Comfort does have some pages of his sources in the back of the book, but it’s really easy to see that he stuck to a lot of Christian sources and whatever secular works he sourced were most likely quote-mined. 

So at first Ray Comfort gave me a lot of laughs because of how idiotic he is, but then I got really angry. People like him help people to stay stupid by boiling their bias down into easy to swallow packages so they can reassure their audience that they don’t need to look into the other side. The description on the back of “How to Know God Exists” explains that a recent wave of books on atheism was on New York Times best-sellers list and that this is a book to combat those books. It’s an older book, so I’m guessing it was referring to books like “The God Delusion” and “God is not Great”. I look at my copies of those books, and then look at Ray’s book, and I can’t help but laugh that he thought he could outwit people like Dawkins and Hitchens. The sad part is his followers do give him the same kind of status that men like Dawkins and Hitchens have and it is greatly undeserved. 

During my introduction to Ray, I had assumed he must have been very much on the fringe and not had many followers. I had assumed that because I’m always hopeful about the human race as a whole. Sadly I was very wrong though. Today on his Facebook page he has 417,550 followers. I know there is a chunk of those followers that are atheists that are interested in observing the horror show that is Ray Comfort, but a lot of those followers are people that fully support him. There are also fans of his that are not Facebook users and are unaccounted for. I know the number isn’t very huge, but it’s still a big number and it’s scary to me that there are so many people that are supporting a man who is emotionally manipulating them and encouraging closed minded thinking. 

Some of his major messages have been that abortion in America is similar to the Holocaust, there’s no evidence for evolution, and there are prophecies in the bible that say we are in the end times (You can find these messages in his “movies”: 180, evolution vs god, and Noah). He also encourages his followers to evangelize whenever they can and to go to places like universities and women’s clinics to share his messages. The people evangelizing for him are probably not converting many people, but I feel so bad for them. Ray encourages them to equip themselves with his tracts and other materials which they have to order from his ministry. I’ve always wondered if he thinks spreading the gospel is a thing that needs to be done to help people, why doesn’t he just put up his tracts as PDFs on his website and allow his followers to just print them at home? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t do that because he makes money off of them. I feel so bad for the followers that waste their money on his tracts that people will most likely throw away when they get them. They’re also wasting their time worrying about his message and could be doing more meaningful things with their friends and family. 

Breaking the hold that Ray has on his followers is a very difficult task because he has a strong hold on them. Along with his messages, he also talks about how atheists are immoral and arrogant, he tries to discredit other forms of Christianity and other religions, and he directly links the academic community to atheists. Their brand of Christianity also discourages their followers from trusting the mainstream media; they tend to stick to Christian news sources and Christian entertainment. The bubble they build around themselves because of what Ray and others like him preach is very strong and hard to get through, but I have a bit of hope that at least some of his followers will have some natural curiosity and look beyond their bubble. 

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Thoughts on prayer

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As an atheist, it’s always awkward for me when I come across a prayer posted online or am at a function where a group prayer takes place. When I was younger it always felt funny forcing myself to participate in a prayer when I didn’t believe in it. As I got older and more comfortable with being an out atheist, I got more comfortable with not closing my eyes or not putting my head down during prayer. The reason coming across prayers on the internet makes me feel awkward is because I have the gut reaction that I want to explain to them that prayer doesn’t work. I know, however, that it would be perceived as mean to say that and crush their hope. That’s why prayer often is a touchy subject, it gives people hope which makes them feel good. Why take that away from them?  Also, for many religions prayer is a very integral part of their doctrines. For many Christians, prayer is how they communicate with god. For some of them, that “communication” is proof of god. There are so many issues I have with those basic notions of prayer. If they think they’re communicating with god, does god speak back to them? What prayers did he answer? 

Most of the time I think people pray for generic things that they can accomplish on their own. For instance, if someone is on their way to a family member’s wedding they might pray to god to give them the strength to get along with certain people at the wedding and to enjoy themselves. I’m pretty sure someone does not need to have help from an outside source to do that sort of thing and are entirely capable of having the self control to do so. If the event they prayed about went well, it was most likely because the person who made that prayer really wanted what they prayed for to come true and they made unconscious decisions to make it happen. Many believers make even more generic prayers, like asking god to give them the strength to be a good person. With a request as generic as that, they could easily be “good” and say that god answered their prayer. But I’m sorry, god did not answer that prayer. The person who is concerned enough to want to be a good person will most likely be a good person. 

People also have very specific prayers that range from mundane things like doing well on a test to bigger things like a family member being cured of cancer. Christians love to point out the times that a specific prayer was answered but they usually neglect to address the great number of times when their prayers went unanswered. There are many times when people claim a prayer has been answered, but things are sort of twisted around to make it seem as if it has been fulfilled. Or when the prayer flat out isn’t answered, excuses are usually given like, it was all part of god’s plan or god has other plans for me. If you think god has a plan in the first place, why are you even praying to him? 

It’s the idea that people need to rely on this outside force for help that really bothers me. It’s like the football player or actor that thanks god for their great achievements. Why don’t they just give themselves credit for honing the skills that lead them to being successful? Or give credit to the people around them that aided them in their journey to success? I find it really sad to not give yourself and the people who support you credit and to give the credit to a supreme being there is no evidence of. This notion also reminds me of how when a doctor performs a very difficult surgery or heals someone of a terrible disease, and a Christian patient and their family will thank god for giving that doctor the skills to save the patient or for god bringing the doctor into their lives. God shouldn’t get credit for the doctor, the doctor worked hard to become a doctor and he was able to do what he did with modern medicine. 

At least there are those middle ground Christians that are a part of the religious world but are a bit more rational and use the benefits of modern technology and science. They may think prayer works, but they don’t entirely rely on it. When they get sick they do not only pray to get better, but they see a doctor as well. What scares me are the fundamentalists that do think prayer works and do not need to do anything else. There are cases all over the US of parents refusing to take their children to doctors, and instead taking them to churches. Many times these cases end badly and children end up dying of easily curable things (here’s an example: http://time.com/8750/faith-healing-parents-jailed-after-second-childs-death/ ). This way of thinking also can lead to parents thinking that their child’s bad behavior is demonic possession and not a treatable behavioral problem. Instead of doing something that would actually help the child, they are just prayed for or in some cases even taken to an exorcism. Many of those cases of parents praying the demons out of their children don’t lead to greatly terrible things, there might be some psychological scaring from being told they have demons in them but don’t usually have physical harm done to them. Although there are very terrifying times when a notion like that goes greatly out of hand when in the hands of a mentally unstable person ( http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/mom-charged-with-killing-2-kids-during-exorcism-1.2503113 )

So, I don’t care that prayer gives people hope. I think there are a lot more negative effects of prayer than there are positive effects. It encourages delusion. God hasn’t answered people’s prayers, people have just convinced themselves that god was listening.

I have one last point to make. What made these people who have claimed their prayers have worked worthy of being noticed and helped by god? He’ll help football players win games or help people to behave a certain way but won’t help AIDS babies? Do these people really think they’re more special then millions of people suffering throughout the world? In my opinion, it’s a very selfish and close minded way of thinking. 

Reading the bible can make you an atheist

A basic part of being a Christian is believing what is in the bible. This ranges from the fundamentalist Christians who believe that the bible is literally true to the moderate Christians who believe that some is metaphor and allegory. Even though different Christian groups have different thoughts on the bible, the basic notion that their belief in god is based on what the bible says is the common thread among Christians. But how often do Christians actually read the bible for themselves?

Christians tell me and many atheists all the time to just read the bible, we’ll see the light. The assumption that atheists haven’t read the bible and that’s why they’re atheist is always hilarious to me. Most of the time atheists know the bible far better than most Christians do.

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During arguments with Christians, there have been many times when they throw in a bible verse to attempt to prove their point. Sometimes they pick nice verses about how god is loving and merciful or they pick verses about how god will punish sinners and non-believers. For some reason it’s fine for them to use bible verses, but when I use a verse to point something out about their bible I’m told things like “you’re taking it out of context” or “you’re just cherry picking the bad parts”. So it’s okay for them to cherry pick the lovely verses and verses that fit their narrative, but if the atheist points out the awful or stupid things of their holy book they’re told they can’t do that. That double standard annoys me and other atheists so much.

Christians that are opposed to gay rights will often use verses like Leviticus 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” I agree with them that the bible says that being gay is wrong, but how does that actually make being gay or performing homosexual acts wrong? If you go a few verses before that in Leviticus you can see that 18:19 says “Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.” This line refers to when a woman is menstruating and that she shouldn’t be looked at during that unclean time. It makes me wonder how many men there that use a verse like Leviticus 18:22 to justify not giving homosexuals rights but don’t send their wives away for their time of the month. Or how many Christian women send themselves off for a while during their time of the month because the bible says it’s what they should do. 

As a woman, I’m always confused by Christian women who love the bible. Many churches have bible study that’s just for the fairer sex, the Christian book industry has many books that are directed towards women, and some sects allow for women to join the clergy. I’ve tried to point out to Christian women I’ve spoken with that their holy book is not a fan of their gender but most of the time I’m met with a “La la la! I’m not listening!” type of response or they try to justify certain things. It’s very easy to find awful things about women in the old testament, like how a rapist has to marry his victim (Deuteronomy 22:28), and often the “But that’s in the old testament” response comes up. I never understand the rejection of the old testament, if you reject the old testament then you reject what the new testament is based on. The new wouldn’t exist if the old didn’t, and the new has many references to the old. I’d also like to point out that it is not only the old testament that has a lot of misogyny and that the new testament has a decent amount too. A verse I usually like to point to is 1 Corinthians 11:3 ” But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God”. That’s just one of the many examples in the bible of it saying that women are not equal to men.  You can look at more examples of how the bible feels about women at http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/women/long.html 

Besides many terrible verses you can find in the bible, you can find very ridiculous stories. Most of what we know about bible stories growing up are summed up and cleaner versions than what are actually in the bible. I would suggest reading for yourself, but I would also suggest listen to two funny guys who read the bible and also share research they have done on what they are reading. Hugo and Jake of the Bible Reloaded are very entertaining and it’s always refreshing to come across a bible study that’s not justifying and glorifying an ancient book filled with bad morals and silly fairy tales.

“God’s Not Dead”: Hercules is taken down by an apologist (spoilers!)

Around last August I came across the teaser trailer for “God’s Not Dead”, the Christian movie produced by Prue Flix staring Kevin Sorbo in which he plays an atheist philosophy professor who is challenged by a young Christian student when he is asked to write “God is dead” on a sheet of paper. Between first discovering the trailer and going to see it in the theatre, I was very excited to go see this train wreck of a movie. There’s so much wrong with this movie it’s hard to figure out where to start.

First off, I grew up in the 90’s and I was very sad to see that Hercules had become an evangelical Christian on a mission to bash atheists. I really wish I could shake Kevin Sorbo and say, “You were the lead character in a show based on a mythical character, do you not see the parallels between that and your religion? Do you know there are some similarities between the character of Hercules and the character of Jesus? A guy who’s dad was god! Come on!”

Also as a 90’s kid, I was sad to see that Superman had gone the same direction that Hercules did. I could say something pretty similar to Dean Cain as what I wish I could say to Kevin Sorbo, you can just imagine for yourself what would be said.

There were three atheist stereotypes portrayed in the movie, as I mentioned before there’s an atheist philosophy professor, a successful business man, and a liberal blogger/internet reporter. Kevin Sorbo’s character was very arrogant and we barely saw him actually teach the class anything besides name a famous atheist like Dawkins and say they were right because they were. I kept wondering if the people that worked on this script or anyone involved in the movie had ever taken a philosophy class at a secular college because it was pretty obvious they hadn’t.  I took several philosophy classes at the state school I attended and the professors never shut down opposing views and forced their own views on the students, they always welcomed debate and could make actual arguments didn’t rely on arguments from authority. This was a clear case of demonizing the academic realm. Scare the Christians away from the secular colleges where their kids might actually be exposed to the world and think for themselves and instead send them to a school like Liberty University where they will be conditioned to be good Christian soldiers. The successful business man was played by Dean Cain and was the boyfriend of the liberal blogger and brother of the professor’s girlfriend. He also was very arrogant, or to be more blunt, an asshole. He was well dressed, only cared about money and would only do things if there was something in it for him. He also has a mother with dementia and doesn’t care about her. Why doesn’t he care about her? He’s successful and why waste his time! His mother is also stupid because she’s Christian! The liberal blogger girlfriend was younger and was the stereotypical liberal activist girl. When she interviewed Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson and his wife and later in the movie the Christian rock band the Newsboys, she tries to attack them with half arguments and a lack of understanding of who she’s speaking to. I admit, there are probably a good amount of bias reporters out there, but her character was so over the top. We also find out she has cancer, Dean Cain leaves her because he’s an asshole (duh cause he’s an atheist!), and then she freaks out about the thought of dying. Hmmm will she convert because she’s scared of not going to heaven? Yes, of course. It’s Christian propaganda.

In addition to the atheist stereotypes, there were racial and cultural stereotypes. The main student that is at odds with the atheist professor befriends a Chinese boy in his class. He has a thick accent, wears a sweater vest and dockers, and becomes fascinated with learning about god because he’s from the east! He’s never heard of Christianity! It makes me so confused when people in western culture still think they need to send missionaries and bibles to Asian countries. Calm down Christians, they’ve heard about your religion. We also meet a young Arab woman who wears a scarf on her head when her father is around but as soon as he’s not around she takes it off. Hmmm possibly a clue that she doesn’t want to be Muslim? Yes. She gets caught listening to an audiobook version of the bible and her father beats her and kicks her out of the house. Yes you read that right, the Muslim father beats his daughter for talking about Jesus. Totally happens all the time. I was in shock at the blatant “look how bad Muslims are” message that was slapping me in the face, at one point I looked away because I was so ashamed to be witness to such bigotry. As we were walking out of the movie my husband was talking about that part and said “That was racist!” and a Hispanic man walking by us with his son chimed into the conversation and said “That kind of thing happens all the time! They do that!”. We tried to explain to him that yeah maybe it happens in the Islamic community on occasion but abuse like that happens in many different cultures and isn’t exclusive to that one, that kind of abuse even happens to atheists in Christian families. He brushed those comments off and was firm in his belief that the movie was pretty spot on.

Now to the main story of the movie. The epic battle between the Herculean philosophy professor vs the Christian hero. One thing in their “debate” that stood out to me right off the bat was that the student used bible verses to argue a point about god’s existence. If the professor was actually a good philosopher he would have said that you can’t use your holy book to prove that your god exists. When someone references the bible as evidence for god it is circular reasoning because they are just saying that god exists because the book says he exists and then if you were to ask why the bible is valid you are told because the bible says it is valid. In other words, you could use that same reasoning to “prove” the existence of many other gods with other holy books or you could say that Harry Potter exists because he’s in books and the books say he exists. He also compared the beginning of Genesis to the Big Bang, which I still don’t know how to react to because it was so ridiculous. Other arguments were mostly straw men arguments that could easily be taken down, like the argument for Design with a lack of understanding of what evolution actually is which we come across all the time when looking into debates between Christians and atheists. The arguments in the movie are so easy to take down and have been taken down so many times in other forms, so it’d be ridiculous to debunk all of the arguments said in the movie.

I don’t think I’ve laughed harder while seeing a movie that was mostly not intended to be funny, except maybe The Room. There were parts that were supposed to be funny, they were really cheesy family friendly type humor that the audience laughed at but I sat there in amazement of how people could find that type of thing funny. It makes me wonder if their heads would explode if they sat through a Monty Python movie. The parts I laughed at were some of the things I’ve already mentioned and I also laughed a great deal at the terrible acting that was worthy of a high school play or a soft core porn. There were moments I was sad for the people that ate up that sort of thing and would continue to follow the herd because this movie helped reaffirm their biased and ignorant beliefs. I wanted to talk to as many of them as I could and tell them how flawed the movie was, but I knew it would have been a futile effort. I just hope that there were people in that audience that took the things in the movie with a grain of salt and thought for themselves after they saw it. At least if they don’t look into the philosophical arguments, I hope some people at least realize atheists and other people of non-Christian cultures aren’t as bad as they were made out to be. I would also suggest that atheists see this movie to see how flawed their arguments are and to get an understanding of their clear misunderstanding of us.

Apologetics: An Introduction

In the pursuit to defend the word of god, Apologetics has been very popular in the Christian world and growing ever stronger with the push to beat atheists at their own game. They’re just missing one big thing to take down the atheists, and that’s logic. 

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Sometimes the arguments seem really deep and clever, and the person using the argument is proud to drop a name like C.S. Lewis or Pascal. It’s all well and good to respect a great thinker from history and look into their works, but they were also a product of their time and things have advanced a bit further since then. It’s also a fallacy that is called “argument from authority”, which is an argument that is presented as valid because an important person or source said it. We can learn a lot from the words that great people said, but those words mean nothing if you can’t justify why that argument is valid. Also, these classic apologetic arguments have been around a pretty long time now and many have debunked their arguments and it’s easy to find those counter-arguments.

There are also arguments that don’t seem so deep and clever, it’s usually a script of questions that are meant to be thrown at the non-believer to confound and get them caught up in their own words. Creationists like Sye Ten Bruggencate and Eric Hovind push this type of argument for their followers to study and then go out to face the atheists with. Even though they have the intention of beating their opponent with this method, it isn’t that effective. The questions they ask are mostly malformed and if you were to accept their claims it would only be evidence for a deistic god and not the god from the Christian bible which they are actually trying to claim evidence for. 

Why a non-believer cares about talking about religion

I’m a very passionate atheist, I love to have discussions about religion with anyone I can and I try to study different aspects of religion. I have friends that are like minded, but they don’t understand why I care about talking about atheism and religion. They say things like, “Why can’t you just be an atheist and leave it at that? Why can’t you let people who believe be?”

This is usually a hard question to answer because people think I’m being intrusive and disrespectful by questioning people’s beliefs, we’ve always been taught in our culture that religion is sacred and personal so we shouldn’t question it. I think one of the best ways that sums up why I think it’s silly to not question religion is this quote by Douglas Adams taken from a speech he gave in 1998:

Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? — because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. 

The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.

It’s rather like, if you think back in terms of animal evolution, an animal that’s grown an incredible carapace around it, such as a tortoise—that’s a great survival strategy because nothing can get through it; or maybe like a poisonous fish that nothing will come close to, which therefore thrives by keeping away any challenges to what it is it is. In the case of an idea, if we think ‘Here is an idea that is protected by holiness or sanctity’, what does it mean? Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows, but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that’s holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we’ve just got used to doing so? There’s no other reason at all, it’s just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it’s very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.

Just like he said, if one rationally looks at religion there’s no reason it shouldn’t be questioned like other things in our society are. In my opinion religion should be scrutinized more than it already is. Many generally think of religion as relatively harmless and in some cases very helpful in people’s lives, and I do admit religious people and religious institutions do have some positive functions within society but I’d also like to say that those same functions could be done in secular ways as well. I strongly believe that the negative aspects of religion outweigh the positive aspects. In general, religion such as Christianity discourages critical thinking. Followers are told not to question because even that is a sin, or are told lies about science, or learn to blindly follow authority figures. Many will wrap themselves up in the warm comfy blanket of apologetics filled with confirmation bias, circular reasoning, and word games and are reassured that their faith is solid by shutting out the rest of the world and reason. These people aren’t a tiny minority, they do have influence. They are voters, or even elected officials. There are elected officials in the United States that are creationists, just think about that. There are people that have power in this country that refuse to try to understand basic middle school science and rely on a fairy tale. That is scary to me. How can a politician use sound reasoning making a decision related to health care if they strongly believe in the power of prayer working just as well or better than going to a doctor? Or what kind of decision they would make related to the environment if they refuse to look into what scientists say about climate change because their church leaders told them to distrust scientists?

This is just touching the surface of why I am so passionate about religion. Thanks for reading!

 

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