Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Thoughts on College Park Church Sermon

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch

A twitter user I was talking with asked for my thoughts on a Sermon in the College Park Church discussing Romans 9:30-10:13, "Whosoever Calls on the Name of the Lord Will be Saved". Since the response would clearly take more than a single tweet, I decided to capture my thoughts here. The preacher's name is Mark Vroegop.
The Bible verses are reproduced here for your convenience,
30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 
10 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
My first thoughts are why would "Faith" be important in the view of a just God? Under what sort of "universal ethical system" is such a thing fair or ethical?

There's a prayer at the beginning of the sermon for people to be converted. What a strange thing to ask for. If God simply appeared and communicated his demands, we'd all immediately believe. There'd no longer be any question. If God actually wanted people to believe, he could simply show up! Bam! Done! No more mystery.

Next, the pastor asks people which Bible verse they would give to quickly invite a dying person to become a Christian. What a horrific way to treat a dying person. Shove your ridiculous beliefs on them in a moment of pain or suffering? Like they would want to spend their last moments alive listening to your inane legends and threats of eternal torture?! Don't be an asshole. Keep it to yourself.

Then he says that somehow Christianity is different from all other religions. How absurd. It's called a faith for a reason. There's no evidence. If there were evidence, we'd call it history or science. I'm going to start posting time tags so those of you who are gluttons for punishment can follow along at home.

Time: 9:30-ish
Next, he goes on to explain how the Jewish prophesies haven't failed, and how any injustice we perceive in god is actually fair because god isn't under any obligation to give a shit about any of us. Finally, fairness needs to be redefined such that anything God does is fair, regardless what any normal rational observer may conclude.

Time: 11:00
All that matters is believing and confessing. Under this ethical system, Jeffrey Dahmer and Adolf Hitler could be in heaven.

Time: 11:45
Christians declare the Jews are wrong and the Christians are right.  What a stunning display of the beauty of God's mercy the arrogance of Christian beliefs
I fixed that quote for them. I like it better my way.

Time: 13:00
The preacher addresses two groups:  Christians, and "those of you who have yet to receive Christ".  Just so you know, I received Christ and then realized that it was unfounded, unproven, untestable, and absurd. I left. Christianity is a false religion. Just like all the others at

How wonderful it is that God RESCUED the Jews from Slavery!!!! (Which he allowed them to fall into)

Time: 14:00
Righteousness of the Gentiles is part of the liberal policies taught in the NT.  It was a message that the Jews weren't special "chosen people."  Ironically, Christians now act like God's "Chosen People". Of course, Jews don't believe this.  They say Jesus as a false prophet.  And they should know. It was their book that made the prophesies.

"Righteousness by Faith" somehow doesn't apply to Jews and Muslims? They have equal faith. In fact, the Muslims who flew planes into the towers on 9/11 had a hell of a lot more FAITH than most Christians.

Time: 16:00
All that matters is faith. Works don't matter. Do whatever you want, only your beliefs matter? This is the structure of a horribly broken ethical system.

Time: 17:30
The Jews trust in YHWH more than Christians, who added an extra two "bonus gods"

Time: 18:00
It's rather self-righteous of this Baptist Christian preacher to assert that the Jews are such horrible people and who couldn't be righteous because they didn't have his particular belief system?! This self-righteous denigration of Jews in the NT is not surprising.  Christianity is a separatist Jewish cult. And there's no evidence to show that the Christians are right and the Jews were wrong.

Time: 20:45
Christian culture doesn't produce righteousness. Jesus does.
What an arrogant and baseless claim. Why should anyone believe that? It makes no ethical sense. Remember that Jesus never actually shows up to anyone in real life. Only in imaginations, which are seeded by the picture of Jesus painted by … the church. The church is the proxy for the "real Jesus" who never actually shows up. They might as well say that only the church produces righteousness.

Time: 25:00
You can be zealous and be wrong, right?
You sure can! You're pretty zealous about Christianity. And you're wrong. Or at the very least, you have no objective evidence to demonstrate that you're right. You're in the same boat as  all Faiths. Faith is what people use when there's no evidence to be had.  It's a euphemism for self-imposed gullibility.

Time: 28:00
I'm starting to find this preacher's Christian zeal more and more ironic.
Time:  28:50.
"Zeal does not make you right! In fact, it can only serve to make you even more self-deceived" 
OMG, the irony is off the charts!  YES, YES, YES! You don't know Jesus or God is real, and your 50 years of zeal makes you blind and unable to even consider the possibility that you're wrong about that.

Time: ~30:00
"Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God."
How did you establish this claim to be true? First, how do you know god is real. Second, what makes you think righteousness comes from him?
Until you can show those two things to be true, I have no reason to believe this claim any more than the Muslim claims that righteousness comes from praying 5× per day.

Time: 31:40
Yup. Hypocrisy is a common human trait.

Time: 32:10 
"The heart of all this is that we are rebelliouslly resistant"
Though this is pitched as a message about resistance to God, in reality it's a message about rebellion against church doctrine. It's another threat to follow the church or god will torture you. Why should anyone trust the humans who run the church to give them honest guidance.

Time: 33:30 OMG. Seriously?! "I haven't killed anyone" isn't my answer, asshole.
Preacher: "The irreligious person feels like he can justify himself by all the bad things he hasn't done, while the religious person feels like he or she can justify himself by the good things he has done"
This quote really pisses me off. How dare he tell fabricated lies about my personal beliefs and the origin of my personal self-worth! How dare he paint Christians as better than atheists -- as if they're more inclined to do good deeds. What an ignorant, bigoted, self-righteous, zealous, hypocritical liar.

Time 34:30: 
Christ is all there is. Look how this guy passionately makes the congregation focus all their hopes on one single idol the church props up. None of them have EVER met Christ.

At best, they've imagined conversations with him.  They tell each other that Christ talks to them, and nobody ever wants to admit that they suspect it's just their imagination.

Time: 37:00 
Rigteousness does not come to those who work for their righteousness. … How do you receive righteousness? You don't work! It comes by faith"
So in this world view, you're a good person if you just have faith in Jesus. You can be a complete asshole (like this arrogant bigoted preacher).  Just put all your unfounded trust in this unproven claim the CHURCH is telling you to believe.

Preacher: "To believe means you put your trust in what God says about Christ, about your sin, and about atonement." 
The problem here is that God hasn't ever said jack shit. The preacher REALLY wants you to put your trust in what the CHURCH says. What this PREACHER says, what the BIBLE says. None of those things are God.

Preacher: "I'm fundamentally broken I'm a sinner at my core, I'm totally and utterly broken, … and that's how wholeness actually happens [applause]"
What a horrific and depressing worldview to push on people. Self-hate is love, punishment is justice, death is life. These are the fundamental teachings of the Christian church. Self-loathing and hatred, giving up control of everything in our life to the church (which conveniently represents the completely and utterly absent character of Jesus)

Time 46:20 
Preacher: "No matter what you did an hour ago, the salvation through Jesus""You only need to believe to receive and you'll be saved"
Under this horrific and immoral framework, the Bind Torture Kill (BTK) serial killer will go to heaven, and Mahatma Gandhi will be tortured in hell. And we're to believe the god who created this framework is a moral and ethical being? How patently absurd.

Based on this principle, when are we judged? Bible never says, does it? Just convention that we'd better do it by the time we die. If this is all real, I'll start believing it as soon as I see it.  If that doesn't happen until until after I'm dead, why wouldn't that be good enough for God? What's with the artificial urgency of deciding before we die?  God is clearly unwilling to provide us with the senses or scientific instrumentation necessary to detect his presence, let alone validate the truth of the absurd claims in the New Testament.

Time: 48:20 

All the horrible things that happen are just to make us trust god? What absurd rationalization. Nothing could happen that would help these people ever see their own delusions.

I want you to understand that God’s grace is extended to people regardless of what they've done or how bad they have been. … The solution, according to Romans 10, is simply that if you believe in Jesus, you will be saved. If you believe that he is the Son of God who died for you sins, and if you will look to him as the basis of your hope and your forgiveness, you can be saved, cleansed, and rescued. It doesn't matter if you blew it an hour ago, and now you are sitting in church. It doesn't matter that this is the only time that you've been in church for years. What matters is that you believe in Jesus. And if you believe today, you will be saved.
This isn't morality. It's manipulation by the church to get people to fall in line. Because if you believe in Jesus, you'll come to church and give and participate.

Here comes the grand finale:
So what is stopping you?
The complete lack of any verifiable evidence.
Why not come to faith in Jesus right now?
Faith is lying to yourself. Believing things that aren't evidenced in the real world. Through faith, we have Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Native American Tribal traditions, Mormonism, and a whole host of others. And that doesn't even count all the religions that have failed and are no longer practiced. We call these failed religions "myths". Some of us dare to call current religions "myths" too.
Why not confess that he is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead? Why not come to Jesus right now?
Show me where Jesus is. Tell me how to talk to him. I'd like to verify your story, but I've never met the guy. Don't tell me I just think the things in my head after I believe 'cause that's how all the other religions work, and we all know they're just talking to themselves in their heads. Odds are pretty good that yours is the same.
Everyone that calls the name of the lord will be saved.
Nope. That's wishful thinking. There's no reason to believe your holy book over all the other ones.

The conclusion is very emotional and manipulative. It's about convincing the people that only the church can save them from all the horrible broken things that are inherent to their nature.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Farcical Fables of Answers in Genesis

The Crystal King in Ohio Caverns would take 200,000 years to form at today's growth rates.
Science literacy is important to me. This massive stalactite we saw in the Ohio Caverns yesterday would take 200,000 years to form (at today's growth rate). It couldn't have started forming until after the cavern was eroded away. One of many, many examples requiring extensive mental gymnastics to fit into a young earth creationism model, but which is explained simply once we accept the earth is 4.54 billion years old.

It's funny to watch dishonest organizations like Answers in Genesis do the extensive mental gymnastics to make a story that sounds plausible. Here's a rather pathetic attempt to address Cave Formations by AiG that is worth a read for its humor value. Some key failures of their farcical story-telling:

  • Limestone formed in the massive flood
  • Stalactites formed very quickly, then slowed down by several orders of magnitude, and now appear constant.
  • Fossils were buried catastrophically, but in the same order all over the world?!
  • Look how they use the word "evolution" as a childish insult. WTF is an "evolutionary geologist?!!!" I think they mean "geologist". Evolution has NOTHING TO DO with geology, but I've heard people make such a claim before and now I understand where it came from.
The lengths these people go to is laughable, but the sad part is that their mission involves spreading the unsubstantiated, untested, and unverified story as if it were fact to children and adults who honestly don't know any better. Answers in Genesis is like the Onion or the Free Wood Post, but without the disclaimer that it's satire.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


"… these forced communal chants make skeptics feel like an outcast for sitting out or a liar for playing along. "

Photo by Jason Wohlford, used without modification under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.
As I stop and reflect on what bothered me the most about religion, it was the lack of honesty with ourselves and the congregation. This was most glaringly apparent in the certainty with which we claimed to know that Presbyterian dogma was True. This had a euphemism: "faith."

Faith was held up as an ideal to achieve, and rational skepticism was shamed. People with reasonable doubts were described as "losing faith" or "struggling with faith." This euphemistic language is clearly intended to attach a negative stigma to the people honest enough to look with rational skepticism at the extraordinary claims which formed the foundation of Presbyterian beliefs.  Faith is a goal to achieve, meant to imply that it's not just okay, but actually good to claim to have certainty about things for which you have no evidence or rational justification to believe.

This frequent communal statement of certainty known as "the apostles Creed" was recited at each and every Presbyterian worship service I ever attended. Something about a large sanctuary filled with many hundreds of people saying the same thing helped make us doubters feel silly for our rational doubts. And I suppose that's the crux of my problem with religion. It works to quell rational doubts in its members by weekly shows of unity in belief. When this culture is part of a person's social networks, the idea of turning against the group becomes frightening at an instinctual level.

It's bad enough that the church tells people what to believe. What's worse is that they instruct the congregation to recite an affirmation of belief that is provided by the church. For years, as my parents dragged my skeptical ass to church, I felt dishonest for even playing along with this ruse. I won't go to church with them anymore because these forced communal chants make skeptics feel like an outcast for sitting out or a liar for playing along.

Monday, April 6, 2015

No Traumatic Experience Necessary For me to Leave Christianity

Hubble Pic from NASA Goddard.
I'm sure as a believer it might be easy to think that all the ex-Christians left because of some sort of abuse or trauma or other bad experience in the church.  For me, this couldn't be farther from the truth.  I had wonderful, meaningful, loving, beautiful experiences in the Presbyterian church. The minister was a close family friend. She was kind and loving and nurturing. Same with the youth group leader.

The only bad experience I had was gradually realizing that all my religious experience was just as easily explained as my imagination. Discovering that my beliefs reinforced themselves by making me feel the good feelings during prayer, worship, etc. When I found out that I could feel the same emotions as prayer when I imagined an intimate conversation with a close loved one.

Because once I realized that these experiences of bliss and joy and closeness to God could also be experienced in my imagination, it became painfully clear all my religious experiences were exactly that. The explanation was so much simpler. All the evil in the world now made sense. The absurdities of the OT, which so plainly conflict with observed reality melted away.

The world is simply as we see it. Rigid, unbreaking laws of physics resulting in beautifully complex structures and behaviors. No need for external interference, so why carry it along? I could write:

$$ F + G = ma + G $$

But the G is pointless. It has no bearing on the results of the equation, so we might as well drop it. It adds complexity to the model with no additional explanatory power.

$ F = ma $ for me.

…  Ok, $ F = \frac{dp}{dt} $ because that works better near the speed of light.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Musings on LGBTQ Discrimination with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)

It's not the same as slavery. It's the same as  Jim Crow laws.  
Dear Christians: it's not a fucking "war." Nobody is trying to make churches illegal. The "war on Christianity" is an emotionally manipulative distortion of the truth meant to fire up your anger. Don't be played like a puppet. It's a lie. Lots of LGBTQ people are religious! (Sadly, IMO) 

Even the "scary evil" American Atheists and Freedom From Religion Foundation don't want churches to be illegal. They just want to defend our secular government so that the majority religion doesn't get preferential treatment. Just like it says in the first amendment and centuries of jurisprudence thereafter.  

 And frankly that's something even the most fervent religious zealot should agree with. Because the odds of our government picking THEIR particular sect of Christianity is vanishingly small. So the one government we all share must be fair and impartial.

Discrimination doesn't get a free pass for "minor" things like what events they'll cater or who gets to sit at the lunch counter. It doesn't matter if business owner is a bigot or a racist. That's the deal. If you want to run a for-profit business in this country, you follow the laws. And those include not acting on personal desires to discriminate. If you can't handle our country's antidiscrimination laws, Don't open a business!

The "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" is unconstitutional. Plain and simple. It's Jim Crow for LGBTQ community. And before you say, "But blacks can't hide their black identity and people can't tell who is LGBTQ!"   Remember that LGBTQ people shouldn't have to hide their identity.  Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone for a reason. It was discriminatory. When a gay or lesbian couple is out together, their identity is obvious. And they shouldn't have to hide it to avoid religions discrimination.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Check Your Ego Before You Say Science is Wrong

Science is a process of constantly facing challenge by experts to validate the reliability of results and
conclusions. I trust the scientific process to reach the best possible answers on all matters to which it applies.
To suggest that a layman can out-think the international scientific community or has uncovered a "flaw" in scientific consensus is almost impossible. This happens most often when science is politicized: global warming, vaccines, and evolution come to mind.
There are many sources of cognitive bias to which we are all subject, but the relevant one here is called the "Dunning-Kruger" effect. Simply put, it states that before we understand a technical field, we are likely to underestimate its complexity and therefore overestimate our own abilities in the field. In short, it's arrogance -- unwarranted confidence in our own abilities.

So check your ego before you claim to know that science is wrong.

If the Bible Were Really Divine

Bible in Candlelight by Vishnu gs
If the Bible were truly inspired by a benevolent, omniscient god, it would be filled with advice that was valuable for the peoples and times that wrote it.  For example, we know that sanitation was a huge cause of death and disease in ancient times, up through much of the 1800s. A more plausible Leviticus would instruct the people to take the precautions that would have prevented the  plague:

1. thou shalt always wash thy hands with soap and water after thou poopeth. 2. for The Lord thy God hath made thy feces unclean and he shall make thee sick if thou breaketh this commandment. 3. Also shalt thou wash thine hands before thou consumeth food. 4. Before thou drinketh water, thou must boil it for 10 minutes. 5. For The Lord, thy God hath filled the world with teeny-tiny parasites that shall consumeth thee from thine insides if thou consumeth them with thine food or drink. 6. Praise be to God, maker of all things including disease and parasites


It wouldn't even need to explain the germ theory of disease -- only demonstrate that the inspirational source of the book had knowledge of these things.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Religion is Like a Cathedral Built on a House of Cards

Note: If you're good with graphics, this is a very visual image analogy.  I'd love to have a better picture to illustrate it! 

"Canterbury Cathedral - Portal Nave Cross-spire" by Hans Musil.
This is a powerful analogy to explain why religion seems so beautiful to the believer but so patently absurd to a non-believer.  Whether you're on the inside or the outside makes a huge difference on your perspective.

What do I mean by this? When I was a Christian, I was on the inside of the Christian cathedral.  I admired the beautiful artwork on the walls, the complex network of hallways and sanctuaries.  Over hundreds of years, great minds had mapped and decorated the hallways of the Christian cathedral with such works as Dante's Inferno (1317), the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1512), and the Catholic Church's "Immaculate Conception" concept (1854).

Of course, there's some artwork in the Christian church that people disagree on: Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon (1830, older than "Immaculate Conception, by the way"), Cargo Cults (1885), Rastafarianism (1930).  People identify themselves by which of the many sanctuaries in the Christian Cathedral they worship in, which colors how they see the cathedral itself, almost to the point where it seems like they're in entirely different buildings.  Westboro Baptist would never associated with United Church of Christ, and they may not even admit they're in the same cathedral.

When I was on the inside of the Christian cathedral, I only associated with people who worshiped in nearby sanctuaries.  I didn't explore the whole cathedral, much less the outside. But in my late teens / early twenties, I learned about cognitive biases as sources of human error. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that all of Christianity might be well explained by these biases: Ambiguity effect, bandwagon effect, confirmation bias, congruence bias, gambler's fallacy, the observer-expectancy effect, the Semmelweis reflex, and subjective validation. There's a lot of ways we trick ourselves into believing things, and the Church seems designed to exploit them through weekly worship and structures which discourage challenging authority (AKA. blasphemy).

When I first started looking for objective reasons to believe my Christian upbringing, I believed it would be there, but I was careful not to leap to the conclusion I know I wanted to find.  I unknowingly used the outsider's test: Asking myself if I would accept each piece of evidence if it were presented to me for another religion like Islam or Hindu.

Taking the outsider's perspective was critical for me seeing my own religion for what it is: just one of many attempts by early man to explain the world around him.  By taking the outsider's perspective, I began to see the outside of the cathedral.  Still mostly looking up at its beauty, but more and more noticing problems with the foundation: "How could an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving god allow evil?" and "How could such a god punish non-believers when their only crime was not seeing the evidence I was having troubles identifying myself?" I decided he couldn't.  That the only moral choice was to conclude that god would chose our destiny based on our behavior, not our beliefs.  I didn't know it, but in hindsight this conclusion was heresy.  And for good reason.  It took away my fear of exploring my faith more deeply and more critically.

As I tore away the facade that concealed the foundation of my religion's cathedral, I discovered there was nothing sturdy supporting it.  What I once saw as strong stone walls, unmovable and indestructible, I now understood were human constructs with no supporting physical evidence. Unable to support or withstand any modern test of their strength.  The walls inside the Christian cathedral can stand ONLY because nobody is allowed to test them.

On the inside, we were taught to look at them but never to test their strength by questioning their validity. Prayer worked. And when it didn't, that was because "we lacked the proper faith" or "God was testing us".  The weakness of the cathedral walls was explained away by instilling self-doubt.

We were taught to take the strength of the Christian dogma "On Faith". As if that was a good thing.