On Joshua Harris
I sort of came of age in the late 90s and early 00s, when Joshua Harris's book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" was all the rage.  He recently came out as an atheist and he's getting a divorce, which I schadenfreuded.  It's fun to watch popular people fall, especially when they become the very thing they railed against. 

But on closer inspection, he's not all bad.  A lot of people felt duped or damaged by his relationship advice, and that's fair.  But my takeaway from his book was that dating is kind of stupid when there's no goal involved.  It's kind of like just spending your feelings on someone and eventually getting your heart broken.  His whole philosophy as I understood it was to date with purpose, that purpose being marriage.  It made sense to younger Christian me, and it still makes sense to older atheist me.  I'm no longer as big a fan of the purity culture crap -- abstinence and promise rings and the like.  And maybe I'm just too practical to be a casual dater (also I'm an antisocial dork).  But I latched onto the idea of dating with the intent to get married.  It worked out for me. #religion

Atheism reluctance
I'm always surprised at people's reluctance to acknowledge their atheism.  Most of my friends and acquaintances have absolutely no involvement in any type of religion, apart from an occasional appearance at a church for an unavoidable obligation.  They have next to no knowledge of what the Bible says, or what their supposed religion believes or teaches.  In fact most of what they believe and think is in direct contradiction to nearly every organized religion's major tenets. 

Yet make the claim that they're an atheist?  "Oh I'm not an atheist.  There has to be something."  Does there?  I feel like that's just a remnant of growing up in a majority Christian nation, likely to Christian-ish parents.  The very idea of atheism is so abhorrent to some people that they won't even consider it as an option.  I understand it can be scary to acknowledge that there's probably no god and probably no afterlife.  But clinging to bits of a secondhand religion while being too afraid or unwilling to come to terms with what you actually believe seems a bit shortsighted.  Admitting to atheism doesn't effectively change your life much, but it's admirable to be intellectually honest with yourself. #religion

Robot religion
Assuming we humans eventually figure out how to create a machine that achieves some sort of consciousness, I think it's time we start worrying about the inevitability of a massive series of wars fought between competing sects of robot religions.  There are a few assumptions involved, but I don't think they're outlandish: 
  1. We'll probably create a Terminator-like robot that can teach itself.
  2. If it learns from us, it'll learn what we learned:  Racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, and religion.
  3. This will happen more than once.
  4. Different religions don't get along, therefore war.
The singularity is expected to happen sometime in the next 50-100 years, so expect a robot savior in about 150 years, a confusing and mistranslated series of robot religious texts in 500 years, and a robot religious war for the next several thousand years.  Enjoy! #religion

Be yourself
When I was a Christian, one of the things I spent a lot of time and energy on was acting like a Christian, or at least my interpretation of what a Christian should act like.  This involved being more outgoing, setting a good moral example, and voicing my views when topics came up in conversation that had anything remotely to do with religion.  Looking back, I still don't think I was wrong with many of the things I did, assuming my interpretation of the Bible was correct.  And while that's debatable, certain things in Christianity aren't really up for debate, such as attempting to live a morally upright life and spreading the message of salvation in the process. 

The thing is, a lot of the things I felt compelled to do as a Christian really didn't come naturally.  I'm a shy, reserved person; I'm relatively private and don't express myself too much.  So being asked to "always be ready to give an answer for the reason for the hope that you have" (Bible verse) often felt uncomfortable and unnatural.  I'll be the first to admit that Christianity also created opportunities for me that I probably wouldn't have had otherwise, largely by encouraging me to deal with discomfort.  But this brought up an unpleasant catch-22:  Either I could (a) practice a watered-down Christianity and feel guilty about it, or (b) pretend to be someone else until that someone else eventually took over.  In other words, Christianity told me I was flawed and that I needed to change.  Not that I was acting or thinking wrong, but that I was being wrong. 

The band Audioslave sings a song called Be Yourself with the following simple and precise chorus:  "To be yourself is all that you can do".  It's true.  The alternatives are to not be yourself or to be someone else, both of which are ridiculous.  That's what I always felt like Christianity was doing to me.  It was changing me by telling me to be someone else.  That worked fine for a while because I wanted to change anyway.  It wasn't until those changes started to go against my own desires that I finally paused to consider who I actually wanted to be. 

I'm not the same person I was when I was 5 or 15 or 25, but there are a handful of underlying qualities and interests I possess that feel completely normal and natural to me.  Trying to deny that I'm introverted or rational is the first step to discomfort and unhappiness.  All I can do is to be myself. #religion

Consistent logic
One of the unsettling things about religion is that it causes people to inconsistently utilize logic across different subject areas.  No reasonable person, for example, learns how to drive a car but then suddenly decides to attempt to decelerate by slamming on the gas pedal.  Logic consists at least partly of adhering to facts.  Famous Christian Joel Osteen said, "Choose faith in spite of the facts."  I have a problem with that line of thought.  Facts are what allow us to store knowledge.  They are the result of our observations and experiences.  You can't just ignore facts because they contradict your worldview.  That is profoundly narrow-minded and wrongheaded. 

I say all this because I used to employ this religious peculiarity.  It bothered me that I had an education and was in a profession that valued causes and effects, while in my free time I hoped an invisible sky fairy would grant me my wishes.  I've known tons of religious people who are otherwise extremely intelligent, but who persist in fencing off one part of their brain to devote to mythology and magic.  It would be better if it was just the idiots and the children who believed in things they couldn't see and couldn't hear and couldn't prove.  But it's more like the majority of adult, sentient humans.  That's scary. #religion

Religious hate
I was watching an episode of the Sopranos the other day, and some of the guys in the mafia murdered one of their own guys because he was gay.  The reasoning behind the murder was a combination of religious views and familial and/or masculine propriety, i.e. "It just ain't right."  I realize this is a TV show, and I recognize the fact that not all people who subscribe to a certain belief system take things to the same extent.  But I can't help but notice that religion created that hate.  The propriety side of it was simply an extension of the religion.  Remove the religion, and the hate has nothing to stand on. #religion

Standard Christian responses (3)
I've noticed Christians tend to respond to skeptics and debates with any or all of the following arguments: 
  1. Different brand.  This was the response that surprised me the most about the Ham-Nye debate, e.g. this headline:  I'm a Christian, and Ken Ham Doesn't Speak for Me.  It's the idea that since there are so many different ways to act out a religion, one person's interpretation doesn't always apply to other people of the same religion.  This is true in many circumstances, like the Westboro Baptist Church and other extremists, but where's the line and who draws it?  I'm reminded of a Scott Adams quote:  "You can't both be right. But you could both be wrong."
  2. Mistranslation.  This seems to be the go-to.  It's the idea that the Bible was written in different languages and translated to modern languages in a variety of methods, leading to words and phrases that could easily mean something else.  This is at least reasonable, since language does indeed evolve over time.  But honestly, can't an all-powerful God just state things clearly?
  3. Contradiction-ism.  This is the tactic of admitting that certain things in the Bible or the church are wrong, but that other things are right, i.e. don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.  It comes across in statements like, "Yes, the Bible is anti-gay, but it's also pro-love."  It's irrelevant.  How many positive things would you need to outweigh the negative ones?
  4. Philosophize.  Fall back on the classics:  "What happens after you die?" or "What's the purpose of life?" or "How do you determine right from wrong?"  It's the argument that since you don't know the answer to some important questions, you don't know the answers to any questions.
The reason I point these out is because (1) I used them myself when I was a Christian, and (2) I feel like they're overplayed songs.  If you can get through a discussion without falling back on these tired old rags, I'm much more compelled to have a conversation. #religion

Catholic language
It's always amused me how Catholics have their own unique words for everything.  They don't belong to a church, they belong to a parish.  They don't go to a church service, they go to mass.  They don't hear a sermon, they hear a homily.  Growing up Christian, all these words sounded so unfamiliar and unnecessary to me.  But I would probably feel the opposite if I was raised Catholic, and I would probably have no idea what anyone was talking about if I was raised without religion. #religion

Ham-Nye debate (1)
I watched the creation-evolution debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  I think Ham presented some decent arguments about the difference between historical and observational science, and Nye presented some good arguments for why the earth can't be young.  I thought Ham's presentation was more polished and organized, while Nye seemed to kind of be all over the place.  Nye was the first to make it a little argumentative, with his claim that Ham wasn't proving some of his points.  But other than that, things seemed to be pretty civil, which was sort of a win. 

I think the turning point in the whole debate was when a question was asked concerning what it would take to change either debater's mind.  Ham started off with "as a Christian" and ended with some variation of "nothing".  Nye simply though eloquently stated "evidence".  For me, that's what the whole thing is about, and it's what makes me happy I'm on the evolution side.  What would it take to completely destroy theories and science?  Evidence. 

To be fair, I would be completely surprised if even a single person who watched the debate had even the slightest doubt as to which side they supported and which side they thought would win.  So contrary to my normal opinion on such matters, there was no real winner or loser.  Each side presented their arguments, and the audience was left to go back to believing what they already believed. #religion

Objective religion (2)
I've always approached religion a little mechanically.  That's how I approach a lot of things, which is why I gravitate toward math and science (and also why I have trouble with the ladies).  Religion has a lot of components that don't make a lot of objective sense to me, such as faith and miracles and angels, so I sought to objectify them.  Make things more concrete.  I decided to simply trust what the Bible said, regardless of its shaky history, plethora of translations and interpretations, and people who've used it for nefarious reasons. 

Then I did what any person like me would do:  I put the Bible to the test.  I read it cover to cover, memorized parts of it, and learned it well enough to teach it to other people.  I knew the questions people typically ask about it, and I knew how to answer them intelligently, or at least as intelligently as there was a reasonable argument for.  I knew where it came from and how it got there, and I knew the basics of the original languages.  I wasn't a casual reader, I was a legitimate student. 

Things started to change as I realized the world wasn't always black and white.  Evolution is true; gay people are real; American law has nothing to do with the Ten Commandments.  Long story short, I found the Bible to be lacking.  And the idea of going through a book I didn't trust to determine which parts are legitimate and which parts are made up isn't exactly in my wheelhouse.  So the house of cards came tumbling down, and I denounced my faith. 

Part of me felt bad about this, because I failed the test.  But after I thought about it for a bit, I realized the Bible failed the test, which is exactly one of the possible outcomes of a standard science experiment.  When something fails the test, you either test it differently or you throw it out.  I threw it out. 

And the annoying thing is that I know the response a Christian is supposed to give.  You were doing it wrong.  I heard that from so many people throughout my Christian career that it was one of the factors that drove me away.  Maybe you should try surrender, or forgiveness, or worship, or service.  Tried; same results.  It's not about what you do; it's about what was already done for you.  That means nothing.  It's like the Parable of the Sower.  Maybe, but again that implies I was doing something wrong or not getting the whole picture. 

I feel like if there's one thing I can conclusively say about my religious experience, it's that I gave it a good shot.  I literally put everything I had into it, and it brought me to where I am today.  The bottom line is that Christianity doesn't pass the test of reason and evidence, and the conclusion for me is that it's all made up, as are all religions.  In that sense, it was a successful test. #religion

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